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Owners: Suns' move wouldn't mean end of baseball in city

November 17, 2004|by MARK KELLER

keller@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Mandalay Baseball Properties, the owner of the Hagerstown Suns, will move the team to Greenville, S.C., if it acquires the rights to that territory, a company executive said in a conference call Tuesday.

Rich Neumann, vice president of development for Mandalay Baseball, said that Hagerstown would not be without baseball, though. He said Mandalay is already in negotiations with another franchise to acquire a minor league team that would move to Hagerstown.

Neumann would not identify the franchise with which Mandalay is negotiating.

"I can only say that the new franchise, if and when it comes, will be as attractive, if not more attractive, to Hagerstown than the Suns as a New York Mets affiliate," Neumann said. "This evolution could be good for all parties."

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Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner addressed the baseball issue at the City Council's Tuesday night work session, saying he didn't think the news would change Mandalay's commitment to the city.

"Whether that involves the Hagerstown Suns in some fashion, I've been assured it does not, that we'll have baseball in Hagerstown," Breichner said.

Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said Tuesday that the Suns called him on Monday and informed him of its plans.

"I don't have any problem with them looking at expanding their overall business plan," Snook said. "Hagerstown is still part of their business plan."

Mandalay is one of three ownership groups with proposals on the table for a new team and stadium in Greenville County, which was left vacant when the Atlanta Braves moved their Double-A franchise to Pearl, Miss.

At a press conference Tuesday, Mandalay announced plans to build a privately funded $27.3 million stadium in the Greenville market and move the Suns there to begin play in 2006.

Neumann said Mandalay - which also owns minor league teams in Las Vegas; Frisco, Texas; Erie, Pa.; and Dayton, Ohio - had to designate a team for relocation and the Suns were their only choice.

Neumann was clear that the possible move is not intended to take baseball away from Hagerstown but to capitalize on a business opportunity. He said Mandalay is interested in "expanding its portfolio" of baseball teams to as many as 10 or 12, and the company plans to keep one of those teams in Hagerstown.

Neumann said Mandalay is awaiting results of a study by a project management company on a proposed redevelopment project in Hagerstown's East End that could include plans for a replacement for Municipal Stadium.

The plans from Brailsford & Dunlavey are scheduled to be ready for public review in January 2005.

"We want to be part of a revitalized Hagerstown," Neumann said. "I want to make sure everyone understands we are not pulling up stakes and leaving Hagerstown. We are very committed to the market. There's nothing definite in Greenville, but we would come in with another team if that happens."

Suns general manager Kurt Landes said the Greenville situation will not affect the team for the 2005 season.

Neumann said Mandalay's offer to build its own stadium in Greenville is based on several factors, calling the situation in that market "very unique." That the company made such a proposal in Greenville doesn't mean it would make the same proposal in Hagerstown.

Nor does it mean Mandalay wouldn't make the same proposal.

"I think the answer is different for each market," Neumann said. "There are different characteristics and different upsides. Mandalay will always take part in stadium funding. It just depends on all the elements.

"If Hagerstown comes back and says, 'Here's the deal. We'll give you 50 acres,' we very well might say, 'Fine. We'll build the stadium ourselves.'"

Staff writers Gregory T. Simmons and Tara Reilly contributed to this story.

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