Bay City?

Beware: Although there are facts in this essay, much of what follows is speculation.

The Bay City Times is reporting that a minor league team “with a major league affiliation” has approached the city about building a ballpark, probably on the Saginaw River, in time for the 2006 season. By most standards, that has to be treated as a credible rumor. What can we do with this information?

Spotting the most likely league is simple: We’re talking about the Midwest League. There are no other nearby Class A leagues, and the Tri-Cities don’t look viable as a market for the Eastern or International Leagues.

The most likely Midwest League team is the Battle Creek Yankees. It’s not just that are they the only MWL team looking for a new home; it’s that no other MWL team appears even slightly interested in moving. Except–well, I don’t think it’s the Yanks. We’ll return to this.

A thing I want to know: What other towns have been approached? Let’s build a candidate list of perhaps-viable places I’ve heard to be interested in joining the MWL within the past five years:

  • Evansville, Indiana.
  • Dubuque, Iowa (yes, I’ve not written off Dubuque).
  • Keokuk, Iowa (I consider this rumor to be pure speculation, but….)
  • Marion, Illinois.
  • Rockford, Illinois (even with mitigating factors).
  • Traverse City, Michigan (hope never dies, near as I can tell).
  • Oakland County, Michigan (these last two efforts are somewhat related).

Just for kicks, let’s wonder whether Champaign-Urbana has been approached, and whether any of the other Frontier League cities has any interest.

Now, I haven’t heard anything to relate the Bay City story to any of these other towns, but it’s nearly always true that folks trying to move baseball teams play town against town until they get a favorable deal. So I’m very interested if anyone connected to any of these towns has heard, well, rumors….

If not Battle Creek….

We can rule out most MWL teams–they’re playing in very new ballparks and locked into leases. The teams in older ballparks–Beloit, Burlington, and Clinton–are all community-owned, and don’t seem to be for sale. That leaves Battle Creek: The Yanks’ owners are dissatisfied with their current situation, are on a year-to-year lease, and have the MWL’s permission to move the team after the 2004 season.

Ah, there’s the catch: I expect the Yanks to move toward Iowa–I’d guess to Rockford–late this year. Reminder: This is speculation. I have no inside information about their plans.

So what’s going on in Bay City? I think it’s a Sally League team–perhaps the Albany, Georgia, franchise, whose owners have had conversations with Evansville officials in the recent past. The obvious solution to the odd geography of the South Atlantic League would move Lakewood (in suburban Cleveland) and another team to the MWL. I think that’s what we’re going to see, and that this effort is a manifestation of that realignment.

Disclaimer: I’ve made predictions about team relocations before. I’ve been right some of the time….

Late addition: Joyce Higgenbotham, who grew up around the old Kokomo ballpark, was kind enough to point me to an article (no longer available) from the Kokomo Perspective, which certainly implies that Kokomo Parks has had some contact with prospective tenants….

Even later addition (3/28): Howie Magner of the Battle Creek Enquirer reports Scott Sailor’s denial that it’s the BC Yanks. Howie’s discussion of the issue parallels mine.

Still later addition (7/15): Albany team owner David Heller denies my speculation….

Edit 10/1/2007: As we now know, the Battle Creek team eventually moved to Midland, which is close enough to Bay City for most purposes….

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