Rumors that back-to-back Appalachian League Champion Johnson City Cardinals may play at East Tennessee State University’s shining new baseball facility have proven unfounded and unworkable, at least for the near term.
When asked if anyone at anytime from ETSU has approached him about the Cardinals sharing space with the Buccaneers at the new field off State of Franklin Road, Lee Sowers, Johnson City Sports Foundation president quickly replied, “No.”
Michael White, ETSU’s assistant athletic director for communications, said about six months ago that he had spoken with Dave Mullins, ETSU athletic director, who conveyed the fact that the university’s new field did not conform to Minor League Baseball specs and that franchising entanglements would make it even more difficult to work something out.
“Improbable,” is how Sowers phrased it Thursday.
The foundation, which manages the Rookie League team, has no plans to leave Cardinal Park despite a recent survey that showed the park was not up to Minor League Baseball standards. The results showed the 55-year-old facility was not in compliance with a number of Professional Baseball Agreement standards. The PBA includes contractual obligations between Major League Baseball and minor league general managers, operators and players.
“The Cardinals (St. Louis) have made a verbal commitment to us,” Sowers said. “That survey was like a home inspection. There are some things that need to be taken care of, but we can live with them. We’re very pleased the city is committed to help out with what they can.”
In November, the City Commission balked at the option of forking out nearly $1 million for major repairs at the 55-year-old park. In December, commissioners cringed at the idea of paying Rentenbach Constructors $162,630 to tear down and replace the left-field wall. They previously shot down a roughly $700,000 proposal by the company to replace the wall, replace light poles, install new batting cage netting, and perform electrical and other work.
On Thursday, commissioners OK’d a nearly $96,000 bid by Johnson City’s Rainey Contracting to replace the left-field wall. Last month, commissioners approved a $17,000 bid from Baker Construction to remove the old infield sod and grade the playing surface where sediment had shifted, creating an uneven surface.
New sod will be placed on the infield only, and the job should be done in about one month, depending on inclement weather, said Charlie Stahl, assistant city manager.
The bid was $8,000 lower than the $25,000 estimate that had been hanging out there for months.
Meanwhile, Stahl said a new $18,000 scoreboard secured through an agreement with Coca-Cola is ready to be put in place on that left-field wall.
The fixes are very much needed. But the repairs have been a no-frills deal, and workers will have to hustle to get things ready for Science Hill High School’s varsity baseball team and the Cardinals’ home openers.
SHHS Athletic Director Keith Turner was not immediately available for comment, but Stahl said the city’s Parks and Recreation Department has been communicating with the school regarding possibility that the baseball team may need to play its home games this spring on the Science Hill campus.
Science Hill High School’s varsity baseball team plays their conference home games at Cardinal Park; other home games are played on the Science Hill campus. The team’s first conference home game is in March.
The Cardinals first home game is June 19.