The story last week out of northern Alabama that the Mobile BayBears may be sold and moved caused quite a stir locally. However, it has remained business as usual at Hank Aaron Stadium.
WHNT-TV, a CBS-affiliated station in Huntsville, first reported that a company based in Arizona is seeking investors to buy a minor league baseball team and move it to nearby Madison County. The club being mentioned as the most likely target is the BayBears.
Chris Morgan, the team’s general manager, spoke to Lagniappe about the rumors. No matter what is being said in the news, he said, he and his staff still have a job to do.
“We will continue to work hard for the folks who come out to the BayBears’ games,” Morgan said. “From my standpoint, we have 23 games left in the regular season. After that, we will start to prepare for the 2018 season.”
Talk of a possible move took place a few years ago when Biloxi was granted the rights to host a Southern League team. The BayBears were mentioned then as well, but it ended up being the Huntsville Stars who moved to Mississippi and became the Biloxi Shuckers.
“At this point, everything is still speculation,” Morgan said. “There has been talk in the past. This time there seems to be more meat to this story.”
Morgan said many factors would have to fall into place for a group to buy a team and move its location. First is the actual purchase of the team, which must be approved by the Southern League. Relocating a team to another city is another vote that is usually not approved unless a stadium is ready.
In this situation, the old stadium used by the Huntsville Stars still exists and could be used while a new venue is built.
According to the WHNT report, the company — BallCorps LLC — has met with officials near Huntsville who have “expressed a willingness to construct a state-of-the-art ballpark within the largest mixed-use development in Alabama, slated to open for the 2019 season.” (http://whnt.com/2017/07/18/investment-group-looking-at-bringing-minor-league-baseball-to-town-madison-development/)
The BayBears became a farm club for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2017. On Sunday, they broke a five-game losing streak with a 6-4 win over league-leader Chattanooga. Mobile is currently 1.5 games out of first in the South Division of the Southern League with a 13-16 record.
Despite improvements to The Hank — including a new playing surface and better seating — WHNT reported the club is last in attendance in the Southern League with an average of 1,744 fans per game. Last season, the average was only 1,527 fans per game. (http://whnt.com/2017/07/19/meet-the-mobile-baybears-the-baseball-team-that-could-migrate-to-madison/)
WHNT reached out to Mobile City Councilman John Williams, whose district includes the area where The Hank is situated. He said the city has a contract with the BayBears until March 2020 and he had no knowledge of any potential move.
Mike Savit is the managing general partner of the HWS group, which has owned the BayBears since 2003. During that stretch, Mobile won Southern League titles in 2011 and 2012.
The HWS group, which includes his brother Jeffrey as a founder, also manages the Dayton Dragons, a Class A team in the Midwest League; the Modesto Nuts, a Class A Advanced team in the California League; and the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, a Class A team in the New York-Penn League. In the past, they have owned three other minor league teams.
“As far as I’m concerned, I know nothing about this story,” Savit told Lagniappe from his office in Massachusetts. “I haven’t spoken to anyone in Huntsville, and I have no plans to speak to anyone in Huntsville.
“I am just worried about finishing out this season. I will definitely say the BayBears will be playing in Mobile in 2018.”
The BayBears have four more series at Hank Aaron Stadium during the regular season. They host the Mississippi Braves from July 30 to Aug. 3, the Montgomery Biscuits Aug. 4-8 and the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp Aug. 16-20. The regular season closes out with the Shuckers from Aug. 31 to Sept. 4.
“It is business as usual here for the BayBears,” Morgan said. “We have games to play and will continue to do so. Our job is to make sure we do the best for our fans, so when we open those gates they have a great experience.”