After sitting unused for over a year and a half — and costing the city over $500,000 in upkeep — Staten Island’s minor league ballpark is homing in on a new team in time for the 2022 season.
The city’s Economic Development Corporation is in discussions with the Atlantic League –– a quirky eight-team league that signs former pros, but isn’t affiliated with Major League Baseball –– to take over the lease from the defunct Staten Island Yankees at the Richmond County Bank Ballpark, THE CITY has learned.
Staten Island Borough President James told THE CITY on Friday that he expected an agreement in place for a specific team to be announced soon.
“We have reason to be optimistic. I think that by the end of the month we’ll have news on the baseball front,” said Oddo. “Obviously, I would’ve loved to have made news already on that front, but the goal here is the 2022 season. There is sufficient room for EDC to get this right.”
An Atlantic League team coming to Staten Island would mean that the site would operate 60 home games a season — a significant uptick from the 38 games the stadium hosted when the Yankees were part of the short-season NY-Penn League for novice pros. Wagner College’s Division I baseball team also made use of the field from March to June for years, but hasn’t been on the field since 2019.
EDC meeting minutes from March state that the Staten Island Yankees’ owners were approached by an “entity” to take over the site. The agency’s goal is to have a new baseball team in place and to use the 20-year-old stadium more frequently for other events.
“We are thrilled that numerous private parties are as excited as we are about reactivating the stadium, and look forward to bringing top-notch programming to St. George, anchored by baseball as the core use,” Chris Singleton, a spokesperson for NYCEDC, told THE CITY.
Pizza Rat Custody Battle
The 24-year-old Atlantic League, which wants to expand from eight to 12 teams over the next few years, includes the Long Island Ducks in New York and squads in Pennsylvania, Maryland and North Carolina, among other states.
The league has recruited controversial stars like tarnished slugger Jose Canseco, who wrote about his use of steroids in his 2005 tell-all book “Juiced,” and former Atlanta Braves reliever John Rocker, who became a New Yorker pariah for his homophobic and anti-immigrant rants.
The league also also has different rules, such as allowing players to steal first base on any wild pitch and limiting catcher visits to a pitcher on the mound. MLB teams with the league to experiment with rule changes and new equipment.
Last year, the Staten Island Yankees were having conversations with professional soccer and rugby teams about renting the stadium.
But now, Mayor Bill de Blasio and other stakeholders believe that bringing in another baseball team is the best use for the stadium, according to a City Hall spokesperson.
The EDC also recently approved spending $567,873 to help the Staten Island Yankees’ owner, Nostalgic Partners, cover utility and maintenance costs the stadium has incurred since the team’s league was cut in last fall amid the pandemic.
Staten Island Yankees officials announced they were ceasing operations for good in December 2020 after the MLB sliced the number of its affiliated minor league teams. The New York Yankees had the option to retain the Baby Bombers, but in November chose another team instead.
“The best thing we can do for the community is step aside and let others try to save baseball in Staten Island,” the Staten Island Yankees wrote in a news release.
Another Blow to Waterfront
The decision of the minor league club to pack up its gloves and bats marked the latest blow to efforts by several mayoral administrations to use city-owned land on Staten Island’s North Shore to attract mega developments — including an outlet mall and a giant Ferris Wheel to rival the London Eye.
Most of the projects, which collectively represent over $1 billion in development, remain half-finished, at best, in the area around the St. George Ferry Terminal.
Empire Outlets still has numerous closed and empty storefronts and its entire top floor, which was supposed to boast a food and beverage deck with sweeping views, is shuttered. And for all the hundreds of millions of dollars poured into the New York Wheel, a closed off parking garage is its only completed segment.
Will Smith, a former president of the Staten Island Yankees, believes getting the surrounding projects activated will be essential for a new team’s success in the ballpark.
“It’s been terrible with the construction,” said Smith, who is helping the defunct team’s owners as a consultant as they look to exit their lease. “I love that area. I think there is a little bit of a renaissance in that area. It’s great to see new tenants and businesses come in, but certainly the Outlets and the Wheel have been a blight. It’s been terrible.”
Smith said the EDC and City Hall should be prepared to make numerous changes to the stadium — including installing synthetic turf, increasing parking capacity and adjusting seating.
Oddo echoed the call for artificial turf at the stadium, which would allow others to use the field without affecting baseball.
“The city needs to embrace the fact that they’re going to have to spend money on the bones, not the bells and whistles, of this facility to begin to activate it to the level we want,” said Oddo.