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Like Nashville's, Huntsville's Future Is In Doubt; Latest -- Speculation About Possible Move

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Mincher hopes he'll get to keep seeing Stars

Ex-owner, current league president unsure of future

John Pruett, Huntsville Times


This is no secret for those who've been keeping up: The future of the Huntsville Stars is in serious doubt.


Nobody directly connected with the franchise is saying it in so many words. Not publicly, anyway. Not yet.


But the truth is, just two decades after emerging from nothingness and quickly evolving into the hottest new name in minor league baseball, the Stars organization - a fixture in the Double-A Southern League since 1985 - is fighting for its life.


In medical terms, the patient's long-range condition is guarded at best, critical at worst.


The situation is especially distressing to the Southern League president, Don Mincher, for reasons that go well beyond his current job. This isn't just business. It's also personal. A native Huntsvillian who played 13 seasons in the major leagues, Mincher was the Stars' first general manager and later the club's principal owner.


Mincher and Larry Schmittou of Nashville and Huntsville's late mayor, Joe Davis, were mainly responsible for bringing pro baseball to town in the mid-1980s, and Mincher was primarily the man who turned the dream into such a shining success story throughout the rest of the '80s and on into the '90s.


But interest in the Stars has waned in recent years. Attendance has tailed off to an average of about 1,400 per game, less than half the overall league average and about 4,000 fewer than Jacksonville, Fla., the league leader. Joe Davis Stadium is now the oldest and most outdated park in the league. The current owner of the club lives hundreds of miles away.


There's a certain tone of melancholia when Mincher assesses the current state of the Stars.


"The Southern League is stable and in good shape - with a couple of exceptions,'' he said in a wide-ranging interview this week. "The two exceptions are West Tenn and Huntsville.


"There's a lot of talk about moving the West Tenn club, and a lot of talk about the stadium in Huntsville. Those are the only two real issues in the Southern League right now.''


Asked for a candid prediction on the future of the Stars, Mincher's answer was straight to the point.


"In my opinion,'' he said, "the Stars are going to have to do one of two things. They're either going to have to move, or they're going to have to get a new stadium.


"But I'm a citizen of Huntsville. Frankly, I don't know if I'd vote for a new stadium or not because of the tax implications and so forth.''


Miles Prentice's call


The city invested considerable money last year in improvements to Joe Davis Stadium, including a renovated home clubhouse. But none of the key city officials seem inclined to support the construction of a new baseball stadium anytime soon, if ever, and that might exactly what it would take to keep the franchise in the long run.


A new stadium, regardless of tax implications, would definitely enhance the area and ensure a significant revitalization of pro baseball in the Tennessee Valley.


"It's something that pours blood into every area where we build a new stadium,'' Mincher said. "We've seen it in Chattanooga. We've seen it in Montgomery. We've seen it in Mississippi.


"The improvements to Joe Davis Stadium have been very good, and the cooperation we're seeing of late between the city and the Stars is a great thing.


"My only hope is, it's enough to keep us here.''


Ultimately, it'll be Miles Prentice's call. Prentice, the Stars' absentee owner, is a New York lawyer whose firm represents foreign and domestic banks, insurance companies and corporations.


He owns a minor league baseball team and a minor league hockey team in Texas. He once tried to buy the Kansas City Royals for $75 million, give or take a few million. His pockets are deep. But he's also a practical man.


"Miles has said he'll never move the ballclub, and I believe him,'' Mincher noted. "But that doesn't preclude him from maybe selling it one day. I don't think he will. I think he's dedicated to making it work in Huntsville. But I also know he's not going to lose money. The bottom line has got to improve.


"You might see a sale, and the person who buys the club may consider moving it. That's a possibility.''


If that's what happens, nobody in town will take it harder than Don Mincher.


"I'm looking for the word,'' he said. "I'd be very disappointed. I'd feel very bad. I remember how we fought so hard to get that Double-A club out of Nashville and get a new stadium, and how excited we all were in those early years of the Stars. If the Stars left town, it would break my heart.


"Hopefully, it's not going to happen.''


Some have suggested that if the Stars go away, Huntsville could perhaps drop down to Single-A ball. Mincher hopes it never comes to that.


"To me, Double-A baseball remains the most important level of baseball there is, except for the major leagues,'' he said. "If you can play in Double-A, you can play in the big leagues some day.


"In Class A ball, you've got players who still don't know if they can play this game. But if you get to Double-A, you can flat play and you've got a chance to get from here to there. That's the reason I love Double-A baseball so much.


"I wouldn't want to see us go Class A,'' Mincher said. "I wouldn't even want us to go Triple-A. I want us to stay Double-A, just like we are.


"That's my dream, and hopefully it'll come true.''

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Wow, that's sad about the stadium situation. I wonder how much Hoover (AL) High School (from the TV show Two-A-Days) paid for their stadium. I have a feeling that if they wanted a new stadium, it would get done.
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this seems like a decent place to mention tht i've heard many well connected people here mention that Greensboro is actively shopping for a AA/AAA franchise...the stadium was built to be expanded, and with an average attendence of around 6,000 and the ability to expand to 12,000 or so seats, i tend to believe they are serious...


so, you can add that to the possible places a team could expand to..

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edit: Actually, never mind, it makes perfect sense.


Please enlighten us. I was wondering about Huntsville. Nashville I understand.

"Dustin Pedroia doesn't have the strength or bat speed to hit major-league pitching consistently, and he has no power......He probably has a future as a backup infielder if he can stop rolling over to third base and shortstop." Keith Law, 2006
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well, just because the Brewers are not a glamorous or competitive franchise. They've had some good prospeects the last 5 years or so, but it will take awhile for affiliates to realize that the Brewers may be a desirable team.
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Star fans offer ways to help

John Pruett, Huntsville Times


When Southern League president and Huntsville native Don Mincher talks baseball, people in these parts tend to take notice.


And why not? After all, he's one of us. Always has been. Even during those years when he was making a living in places like Minneapolis, Washington, Seattle and Oakland, playing in the major leagues.


In a recent interview in The Times, Mincher expressed concerns about the future of two Southern League franchises. One was West Tenn. The other was the Huntsville Stars.


The problem in both places? Empty seats.


Much has changed since the glory years of the mid-1980s and mid-'90s when the Stars routinely set the pace in attendance. Now, even with a team that just won its division in the first half of the SL split season, the club is looking up at nearly everybody else in that crucial bottom-line statistic.


Mincher, the Stars' first general manager and later the principal owner, fears the city he loves may lose the franchise in the not-too-distance future unless something happens to reverse the trend.


He's probably right.


Yet there are plenty in this community who don't buy into the notion that Double-A baseball has run its course. We've heard from a number of them over the past couple of weeks.


A few, such as Paul Hays, suggest the attendance figures could be misleading. "I believe you should provide some additional information explaining the attendance figures,'' he says. "For example, Jacksonville's MSA - metropolitan statistical area - is 3.3 times larger than Huntsville's.''


He also notes that Huntsville is seventh in population among the Southern League's 10 teams and eighth in MSA.


Many have offered suggestions worthy of serious consideration. Take Toni Reynolds, for example.


"My husband and I had season tickets from the beginning of the Stars until he died last year,'' she says. "We thought for the future of baseball that they should let in all children in baseball uniforms, Scouts, and so on. They'll eat and buy twice or more of the ticket price and the chaperones. I think doing something like this would really help attendance to the Stars games.


"Most of the season ticket-holders are World War II era, basically. Baseball needs to develop the next generation.''


Debbie Davis is another longtime Stars fan who "swallows hard'' every time she sees a story on the future of the franchise.


"I love baseball,'' says Debbie. "I love the Stars. Our daughters have always felt that Joe Davis is their home-away-from-home in the spring and summer. But it's a whole new world now, one that makes my heart break.''


While refraining from "delving into business operational goings-on, investment issues or farm system goals,'' she does have a strong idea or two about what's broken and what can be fixed.


"It used to be the players would take part in community events to help promote their team,'' she says. "I recall several instances of players speaking to students at local schools, appearing at a variety of functions and making themselves available for people to simply get to know them. There was a sense of community about the Stars that I haven't seen in recent years.''


Businessman Joel Beasley, also a Stars fan, raised a similar point in an impassioned e-mail, some of which has been previously discussed here. He believes the Stars' absentee owner, who lives in New York, is missing out on "dozens of ways they could be promoting this franchise.''


Asks Beasley: "When have you seen any Huntsville Stars at Little League parks on opening day, or talking to P.E. classes in the public schools? Or how about volunteering time at the local hospitals or Meals on Wheels?" Good questions.


Of course, some of the players might argue: "With our busy home-and-away schedule, when do I have time for things like that?''


The counter-argument would be: "Are you any busier than those players in the '80s and '90s?''

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City could lose waiting game with baseball

Everyone - fans, leaders - needs to step up to the plate

Contact Mark McCarter at markcolumn@aol.com

Huntsville Times


MIDLAND, Texas - Just beyond the left field fence, with its subtle Coca-Cola bottle curve designed to play tricks on defenders, is an advertisement for the Texas Lottery.


On this early August night, the jackpot is up to $11 million.


I am sitting in Citibank Ballpark, on the western fringe of Midland, just before it turns into the prairie that stretches toward Odessa, 17 miles away.


It is the home of the Midland RockHounds who, like the Huntsville Stars, are owned primarily by Miles Prentice, the New York attorney whose presence in both cities has been scarce. Prentice's Midland club is in a relatively new park, opened in 2002. His Huntsville team plays at Joe W. Davis Stadium, the oldest park in the Southern League, opened in 1985.


Two thoughts have struck me:


One, I wish Huntsville's government and city leaders and all those who still think Joe W. Davis Stadium is a really good place could see Citibank, to see what a minor league stadium should be these days to best serve its fans and tenants.


Two, I wish Huntsville would win that lottery. Because that's the only way it can afford to build something this nice. Or would justify doing so.


Aside from sending off dollar bills to friends in Texas, here's what Huntsville needs to do:


First, and most importantly, what it shouldn't do. Midland's former mayor Bobby Burns championed the cause of a new stadium, almost to the point of obsession. Loretta Spencer should not - she cannot - do the same. There are too many other priorities.


Second, and almost as importantly, Huntsville's sports fans need to do their part. Their apathy speaks volumes. This has been a team that has won consecutive division titles. It is in another pennant race.


But this past week, you could have counted fans on fingers and toes. If this city is to keep professional baseball, it's up to the fans to say so, not for the government leaders to build a new park.


A group of city leaders should be formed to seriously look at various options in renovation, construction and financing. One was being put together earlier this summer, but fizzled out when Prentice failed to respond to the group leader.


Prentice needs to invest more time, money and energy in this franchise. His front office needs to do a better job of outreach and marketing.

Game-day operation needs to be more professional. Prentice needs to provide the resources in staffing to do so. It needs a special effort in group sales, where the team has been sorely lacking.


The left field corner needs to be eliminated and a building placed there that would actually come into play, like some Green Monster version. It could house team offices, clubhouses, the Huntsville-Madison County Sports Hall of Fame, the Huntsville Sports Commission and perhaps other sports-related businesses. A year-round restaurant would be placed on the top floor, providing revenue for its construction.


Maybe we, as a community, should indeed accept a new tax, maybe some increase on entertainment tax. (What's another penny on the dollar atop the $8 movie tickets and a trip to the theater concession stand that costs more than a five-course meal?) It could improve not only Joe W. Davis Stadium, but also be applied to the Von Braun Center.


There are few parallels between Midland and Huntsville. Midland has a Jekyl-and-Hyde economy built on the capricious oil business.


Huntsville lives on high-tech.


But both are modest-sized, growing places. Both have wide-open spaces. Both boast of broad interests in sports and culture.


But Midland has citizens willing to push for modern facilities and willing to sacrifice a little to see it come to fruition. It remains to be seen if Huntsville has that - or if it's content to send off a few bucks and see if it hits the lottery.

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Stars owner committed to city

'It's up to us' to attract more fans, Prentice says
Times Sports Staff markcolumn@aol.com

NASHVILLE - There may be daunting odds against him. Dwindling attendance figures. The oldest stadium in the league. Myriad other entertainment options.

However, Miles Prentice, the majority owner of the Huntsville Stars, remains steadfast.

"I'm committing to making (baseball) succeed in Huntsville," Prentice said Tuesday at the baseball winter meetings.

"Huntsville should be the best Double-A team city in baseball. That's what we want to accomplish."

The Stars have not been a profitable venture, Prentice acknowledged. Though offseason sales are up, he said "we've got to get more people into the ballpark."

He knows Huntsville has a large market to draw from and "it's up to us" to make sure attendance grows. The Stars' official attendance last season was 164,079, an average of 2,448, ninth in the 10-team Southern League.

As with many conversations with Prentice, the subject of a new stadium was mentioned. He stressed the importance of a stadium in a city that wants to attract new businesses and residents.

He even endorsed the idea of a major renovation for Joe W. Davis Stadium, built in 1985. Prentice has had architects from the firm HOK, one of the most prestigious stadium design companies, visit Huntsville and offer a plan for renovation. That would include, but not be limited to, revamping the "luxury boxes" with outside seating.

Still, he said, "If you just keep patching it up, it's not cost-effective to the city."

According to team general manager Tom Van Schaack, one planned offseason project has been tabled. The Stars were planning to build a walk-in souvenir store to replace its concession stand-style operation currently in place. It would be a way to leverage the team's more modern newly revealed logo.

However, the team was recently informed that any expansion in the stadium would have to include fire-prevention and sprinkler-system upgrades to meet the city's fire code - a substantial investment more than twice the cost of the store itself.

The Stars' player development contract with the Milwaukee Brewers is up for renewal at season's end, but there is little indication on either side that it would not be renewed.

The Brewers have expressed concerns about the stadium but were pleased with the construction of the new home clubhouse, built before the 2007 season. Prentice and Van Schaack met with Scott Martens, who handles much of the business operation for the Brewers' minor league system. They discussed what Van Schaack called "a bullet-point list" of items, some as minor as having sufficient electrical outlets.

The Brewers have greater stadium concerns in Nashville, where its Triple-A team plays. Plans for a downtown stadium to replace ancient Greer Stadium seem to have fallen through. Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin expressed disappointment that "we were led to believe" a new stadium was all but assured, leading to an extension of the contract with the Nashville club.

The Stars and Brewers have been affiliated since 1999, a period resulting in four trips to the Southern League championship series.

The nucleus of the Milwaukee lineup - Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, J.J. Hardy, Rickie Weeks, Billy Hall and Corey Hart - came through Huntsville.

Said Prentice, "They've told us we've got another bunch of good players coming in this year."

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Now that the major league club is so popular maybe there's enough surplus good will to support a strong minor league affiliate in Wisconsin. The facility in Beloit seemed kind of recreation league level. Maybe they could find a better one somewhere.
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I agree that a team in Madison would be nice (as I am a resident). However, I wonder if the people would support real baseball. The Mallards draw big crowds (over 5000 on weekends) but most people come for the promotions and the atmosphere is more like that of a circus than a baseball game. Perhaps the Huntsville front office could evaluate some of their promotions though.
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From everything I've heard, the Brewers will probably choose to stay in the south if at all possible (should Nashville and/or Huntsville leave). They get in all the games and rarely get rained/snowed out. That's important to the Brewers in the development of the players -- get playing time and avoid cancelled games.
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  • 3 months later...

Scary rumor for Huntsville fans:

The group that owns the Southern League's Mississippi Braves in the Jackson area has reached an agreement with the city of D'lberville (MS) in the Biloxi area to build a new ballpark. The league's West Tenn Diamond Jaxx and Huntsville Stars could be possible relocation candidates, if the project moves forward. The town of D'lberville is only about 35 miles west of the Mississippi-Alabama border and close to the territory of the league's Mobile BayBears.

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