By BOB PARASILITI
6:12 PM EST, February 14, 2012
The majority owner of the Hagerstown Suns minor league baseball team said Tuesday an official letter dictating a stricter level of minimum standards for Municipal Stadium forced the team to consider their possible relocation.
The latest push in the long-running battle to improve the stadium came to a head in October when owner Bruce Quinn received a letter from Major League Baseball and the Washington Nationals concerning facility improvements that would be required to keep the Suns in Hagerstown.
It started the sequence of events that have put the Single A affiliate of the South Atlantic League on the brink of a move to Winchester, Va., Quinn said in a telephone interview.
“We were told that a ‘compliant stadium is absolutely necessary,’” Quinn said. “We were forced to search for a home.”
Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said Tuesday that he has heard talk of the letter, but has not seen it.
Before that, Suns officials had been asking for improvements and added amenities to 80-year-old Municipal Stadium, Quinn said.
In the letter, MLB and the Nationals requested that “the stadium be brought to compliance for player, coach and fan safety” to provide an “ability to continue player development and MLB rehab assignments,” Quinn said in an email.
“I like Hagerstown and we want to stay as an affiliate of baseball,” Quinn said. “At this moment, the only thing I have in writing is from Winchester in regards to a new stadium.”
Quinn runs a regional business out of Florida and has a background in baseball. He played Division I college baseball at Hofstra and now has made connections with the Nationals, which helped bring Washington's top minor league prospect Bryce Harper and pitcher Stephen Strasburg — Washington's top pitcher who was recovering from elbow surgery — here to play.
He teamed with local businessman Tony Dahbura and Dr. Mitesh Kothari to buy the Suns. The group assumed ownership in October 2010 with the intent on keeping the team in Hagerstown.
Quinn owns a house and maintains interests in Hagerstown.
Problems with Municipal Stadium continue to crop up and the compliance letter forced the Suns’ hand, said Quinn, who noted he notified the city he was starting to look for other alternatives for the team.
Two of the major problems for compliance for Municipal Stadium are the playing surface and the clubhouse facilities.
The Suns owners tried to remedy the field problems last offseason by personally footing a $500,000 project to laser grade and re-sod the stadium’s playing surface. The process failed when the new grass died because of drainage and flooding problems causing mold. The stadium is on a rocky base of land, which didn’t allow the sod to take root.
It was compounded when a light standard fell during a storm late last season, which not only presented a danger, but further scarred the field and canceled a few games.
Hagerstown helped with those improvement efforts by renovating the clubhouse facility, including the plumbing. A water leak “ruined (the) renovated clubhouse in November,” Quinn said in the email.
All requests to upgrade or build a stadium failed to achieve results for the Suns.
“I have a great relationship with Mayor Bruchey and he has worked hard to get all the government organizations to work together to come up with an offer.”
Winchester entered the market to acquire a minor league baseball team for the town located about 45 miles south of Hagerstown. Winchester officials created a package that included a market study for a $15 million stadium and parking facility and a proposal to annex 12 acres of public land to build.
“Winchester came to us and said we will build a stadium and we will have all the approvals by April 18,” Quinn said. “It was the only offer we had and, as any business would, we signed the letter of intent.”
Meanwhile, Hagerstown continues to look at alternatives to keep the Suns here, which include discussions of two possible sites to build a new stadium.
It is a process that was magnified by the letter.
“The Suns had no choice but to look for alternatives/new stadium to maintain the professional relationship with the Nationals and the SAL,” Quinn said.
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