Article and photos by Joe Mock, BaseballParks.com
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Amarillo is the winner. Helena is the loser — although folks in Colorado Springs and Wichita might not be feeling very happy right now, either.
In a move that changes the caliber of baseball that will be played in four cities, the Elmore Sports Group announced that three teams they own will be moving following the 2018 season. In a series of moves that has been rumored for months, the Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox of the Pacific Coast League will move to San Antonio, while the Alamo City’s Double-A Texas League team currently called the Missions will move north to Amarillo. The short-season rookie-level team currently in Helena, Montana will transfer to Colorado Springs. The Helena Brewers are in the Pioneer League.
This will leave Helena’s Kindrick Field (see adjacent photo) — arguably the worst of the Pioneer League’s eight facilities — without affiliated baseball in 2019. Except for 2001 and 2002, the Pioneer League has fielded a team there every season since 1978. It’s likely an independent-league or college-wood-bat team could fill the void at Kindrick once the Brewers move to Colorado Springs.
When the Texas League moves to Amarillo in 2019, the team hopes to be in a new ballpark planned for the city’s downtown. The City has undergone quite a bit of squabbling about the funding for the new stadium (including a non-binding referendum at the ballot box), but with a pledge from Elmore to make it happen, the former San Antonio Missions will likely celebrate opening day in 2019 in a brand-new stadium.
A press conference announcing the news was held at the new $42-million headquarters of Xcel Energy in Amarillo. The nine-acre site for the ballpark is directly across the street.
Elmore has been pushing the City of San Antonio to build a new ballpark close to its vibrant downtown, pledging to bring Triple-A baseball to town if they do. Even though no definitive plan is in sight, the owners of the Missions decided to move forward with their musical-chair franchise shifts anyway. Almost undoubtedly, the relocated Sky Sox will play at Nelson Wolff Stadium (photo at the top of this article), considered one of the true gems of Minor League ball when it opened in 1994. “The Wolff,” however, has seen its surroundings deteriorate in recent years, and the park itself is no longer considered modern. It will most likely be a temporary home for the Pacific Coast League franchise until a new park can be constructed.
Security Service Field in Colorado Springs (see photo) will see its tenant go from full-season Triple-A in 2018 to short-season rookie-level ball in the Pioneer League in 2019. In Elmore’s press release announcing these changes, they cited the area’s poor weather in April and May as a contributing factor for the move. Regardless, the Sky Sox have been at or near the bottom of the PCL in attendance for a number of years.
So while Helena is the community that’s about to lose its affiliated Minor League team in this series of moves, another city that’s being left out in the cold is Wichita. The city fielded a Texas League team from 1987 through 2007, when the Wranglers left to move into a new park in Springdale, Arkansas. City leaders in Wichita have had serious discussions about building a new ballpark, reportedly drawing the interest of Elmore as a destination for its Texas League team when it moved from San Antonio.
Wichita will now have to wait for the next round of moves in Minor League Baseball.
UPDATE: Despite the announcement that the San Antonio Missions are moving to Amarillo, Wichita officials say they are moving ahead with plans for a new baseball park, probably near the site of Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, the city’s current venue. An interesting sticking point, though, is that the State of Kansas requires that it be an affiliated Minor League team that inhabits the new park in order for Sales Tax Revenue Bonds to be used to pay for the project. “So we’re out looking for affiliated baseball,” Wichita’s mayor Jeff Longwell told the local NPR station. “We know there are teams that are looking for a new place to play.”
Personal thought: if a new ballpark falls through in San Antonio for the relocated Sky Sox, — and that’s a strong possibility — perhaps Wichita’s new stadium could be the landing spot for the PCL team. Nelson Wolff Stadium isn’t, in my opinion, a long-term solution for a Triple-A franchise.