It’s official! The new independent league baseball club down in Sugar Land finally has a name that matches our area to a “T”. The Sugar Land Skeeters will begin play in the fairly-new-itself independent Atlantic League in 2012.
The Atlantic League started play in 1998 as direct result of a conflict that popped up within organized baseball. When the New York Mets objected to owner Frank Boulton’s decision in the late 1990s to move his Albany-Colonie Yankees to Long Island because of the former’s claim to their minor league territorial rights in that area, Boulton bolted from organized baseball to form his own small independent circuit and made the move anyway.
From the start, the new Atlantic League was modeled after the old Pacific Coast League. They played more games, they signed a large number of superior ability players, and they dedicated themselves to building small, but first class ballparks for their various clubs. The thirteen year result of this effort now finds the previously all eastern seaboard circuit expanding into the Houston area in 2012 with the start of the new Sugar Land Skeeters operation.
Here’s a brief look at the league membership as it stands with the 2012 inclusion of new clubs here and in Loudoun, Virginia. Each new club is preparing to play a 140-game home and road games schedule in 2012. Sugar Land is the first of four-to-six clubs that will be created to form a new Western Division of the league:
Current Atlantic League franchises
Team Names (Years Founded/Joined League)
Lancaster (PA) Barnstormers (2003/2005)
Road (no home) Warriors (1998/1998)
Somerset (NJ) Patriots (1998/1998)
York (PA) Revolution (2006/2007)
Bridgeport (CT) Bluefish (1997/1998)
Camden (NJ) Riversharks (1999/2001)
Long Island (NY) Ducks (1998/2000)
Southern Maryland (MD) Blue Crabs (2006/2008)
Loudoun (VA) Hounds (2010/2012)
Sugar Land (TX) Skeeters (2010/2012)
Sugar Land Stadium. The City of Sugar Land is building the 7,000 seat capacity venue that will house the new baseball club. With an estimated price tag of $40 million, the stadium will not be funded with general fund tax dollars, however, $30 million dollars will instead be paid for with a portion of sales tax revenues that may only be used for economic development purposes. The $10 million dollar balance will come from Opening Day Partners, a Lancaster, Pa.-based ballpark developer that owns and operates several minor league baseball teams, including the new operation in Sugar Land. The stadium will be located on a 21-26 acre tract, northeast of the Highway 6 and Highway 90A intersection.
Field Personnel. The club has yet to sign any players, but players with ig league and high league experience and potential will be in the signing sights of Skeeter scouts. The field manager could end up being someone with a recognizable local name too. Former Astros Terry Puhl and Norm Miller, plus former Astros manager Hal Lanier have all been mentioned as possible managerial candidates.
Astros & Skeeters. The Skeeters are not a threat to the Astros, but they are capable of stoking further interest in professional baseball among people who never drive downtown to see a more expensive major league game. In fact, some of these people may now be stimulated to go see a major league game for the first time as a result of their experience with the Skeeters. It will be up to the Astros to produce a club and and a plan that makes that marketing connection a harvest of attracted new interest in baseball.
The worst thing the Astros might do here would be to treat the new Skeeters club as though it didn’t exist. Who knows? Maybe the Astros will one day have a AAA or AA club operating in some near region like Sugar Land, Katy, or The Woodlands. – It sure would simplify certain player reassignments during the long season, would it not? And, if the Astros happened to own these particular clubs too, it would make for even more lucrative opportunities to treat the home base fan population with an ongoing look at coming attractions.
Those are just my thoughts. All I know for sure while we’re waiting to see if the Sugar Land operation can succeed in the Houston area is that I will be out there to see some games, if they actually do start playing. The lure of night baseball in the small ballpark under open skies is just irresistible – even in the heat of Houston summers – and even with Skeeters on the loose.