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No long-term solution for substandard Johnson City ballpark

Appalachian League champions on the diamond the past two seasons, the Johnson City Cardinals’ home field conditions are not up to those high standards. Shrinking city budgets meant needed repairs have piled up over the last decade. The club’s owner and parent, the St. Louis Cardinals, has given the facility “continued poor marks,” reports the Johnson City Press.

Johnson City town officials continue to struggle with what to do about the growing list of repair items to the home of the Cardinals, Howard Johnson Field. The five-acre sports area, called Cardinal Park, is primarily used by the Appalachian League farm team, as well as for Eastern Tennessee State University (ETSU) and local high school baseball games.

The existing problems at Cardinal Park are considerable. A survey forwarded to Major League Baseball officials last summer indicated the facility is not in compliance with a number of Professional Baseball Agreement standards. Items flagged include inadequate seating capacity, lighting, playing surface quality, security, toilets, concessions and bullpen and dugout amenities.

Nearly $1 million of repairs are on the most immediate requirements list, which include a new playing surface, left field wall as well as lighting and electrical improvements. With little funds, City Manager Pete Peterson dismissed the study results as a “wish list.”

Rather than repair the facility, built in 1950 and the continuous home of the Cardinals since 1975, some officials suggested the Cardinals move their home to ETSU’s new stadium. Others note the new ballpark, already under construction, is not a solution as it does not meet minor league facility standards, either. Upgrade costs involved for additional locker rooms, bathrooms and seating may be significant and the source of those funds has not been identified.

In the meantime, the situation at Cardinal Park remains a challenge for local officials. The city is looking for an increase in user fees from the Johnson City Sports Foundation, which operates the team for the parent St. Louis Cardinals. The contention is the current fees do not even cover maintenance expenses.

More facility band aids will be applied in the interim. A $163,000 bid to remove and replace the left-field fence only was deemed too high but a $96,000 offer was accepted on Thursday. The city also has proceeded with a $17,000 contract to re-grade the uneven infield and replace its sod.

Even that work was not approved until the Cardinals “made a verbal commitment” to remain in Johnson City. Local officials apparently wanted that assurance before spending any money on even the most-pressing items on the long list of problems identified in the survey.

One positive change was made to Cardinal Park last off-season. The 15-foot-high berm in right field that ascended at an angle of 55 to 60 degrees was removed. Once the adjoining football field was razed, the berm could be taken out. Also gone is the injury-protection rule implemented by the Cardinals that the right fielder could not take more than two steps up the berm.

Still, no long-term solution appears in sight for the facility situation overall, about which one city official likened this past fall to “trying to hug Jello.”

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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23 Responses to “No long-term solution for substandard Johnson City ballpark”

  1. CariocaCardinal says:

    Why isn’t the ETSU stadium being built to minor league standards? They should have been talking during the stadium planning stages. Not sure how many minor league clubs share stadiums with college teams (never heard it noted before so I doubt it is common) but it would seem like something that should be done more – a win-win scenario.

    I do remember watching a Cardinal’s – Blue Jays Spring training game that was a Blue Jay’s home game and it was being played on a HS field that had been expanded as the Jays had just moved their Spring training site to that area and there stadium wasn’t done yet.

    Will always remember that game as when I went to the ticket window it was sold out and on the way back to the parking lot (without a ticket) I mentioned to this guy that was walking towards the game that if he didnt have a ticket already he would be out of luck. Turns out he had a fist full of extra tickets as he was the Budweiser rep for the area and he had a whole section divided between Cards fans and Toronto fans as Bud had recently started distributing Labatt’s at that time who was the owner of the Toronto franchise – he had all sides covered. So not only did I get a free ticket I got free beer the whole game!

    • Brian Walton says:

      Great spring training story! Though Jupiter is swanky, I still miss the old days on the Gulf Coast.

      In Omaha, the home of the College World Series, they have two new baseball stadiums. The CWS wanted a new park that seats in the mid-20 thousands, but the owner of the Royals Triple-A team would accept no more than 8-10K capacity. The two sides could not come to agreement so each built a new park – at the same time! Creighton U, alma mater of Bob Gibson and Alan Benes, uses the CWS stadium. The old park that they all shared, Rosenblatt Stadium, was torn down.

    • blingboy says:

      Sounds like a dream come true, CC.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    Maybe it is good there is no long term solution. All over America, politicians have been happy to sell debt to build grandiose pleasure domes (stadia). A nexus of politicans, jobs, and banks. In housing, it led to a huge bubble that popped.

    Johnson City is East Tennessee, Howard Baker Republican territory. Should Pete Peterson knuckle under and kow tow, because city slickers think JC’s stadium is not deluxe and gold plated enough for their wish list, big debt taste? The stadium has been good enough for the Cards since 1975. If the Cards can find a better deal elsewhere, they should shift the hometown for the franchise.

    Memphis has a great stadium for the AAA location for the Cards. Too great. The owners went bankrupt with crazy spending on their stadium. Go Pete go!

    • JumboShrimp says:

      I like this Pete Peterson. Johnson City is not going to get rippped off spending $163K on a left field fence, when somebody else will do the job for just $96,000.

      I can understand why Albert went to Anaheim of Los Angeles. Arte offered $246MM over 10 years, while Pete probably offered about $7.99 over 10 years. Arte “won” the spend your brains out on jocks contest. Pete could care less.

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    What if Westie’s dot dot dots are really Braille? Could he be blind? Based on his comments, this possibility however low cannot be entirely eliminated.

    dot dot dot dot, Westie, dot dot. We will help you to find the light…….dot…

    • CariocaCardinal says:

      I don’t think Westie is blind but for some reason his vision is still clouded 🙂

      • JumboShrimp says:

        I have an idea about how Westie could make a towering pile of money.

        He should start his own blog about Albert. He would write his awful dot dot cancer dot dot piffle cloudy blind stuff.

        It would demoralize Angels fans. To begin with, they might think its a joke or silly and ignore him. But day in, day out, there would be the raving lunacies about the Caymans and deep oil and Fox TV. Westie would pound the key board, throw in some dot dot dots too. After a while, Arte Moreno would have to crack, under the uncessing torrent of negative nonsense about Albert.

        Arte would need to pay Westie heaps of money to stop damaging Albert and the Angels. Hush money to cease and desist.

  4. blingboy says:

    Appy league teams, including the JC Cards, draw less than 1,000 fans per game. About the same as Batavia and Palm Beach. How much stadium can that justify, really.

    Maybe the Batavians will need a new tennant pretty soon.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      I wonder if minor league stadium “standards” are adjusted for the level of play and size of the market.
      I have been to nearby Kingsport, TN, a few times. Its nice country. The Cards have been at Johnson City for 36 years, so its not like the situation there is new. Lots of good players got their pro starts at Johnson City. Now that we have won the league championship a couple of times, the Cards must be advocating for some improvements at the ballpark. It does not sound like we are eager to move somewhere else, because there may not be another town with a better ballpark that is unoccupied.
      Brian says the situation at Jupiter is “swanky.” This may be so, but lots of other teams have moved to Arizona, possibly leaving the Cards overinvested in Jupiter and stuck there. Thus both the Cards and the City of Johnson City may be well swerved not to aim for more swanky, just put together a gradual gameplan to effect repairs and upgrades, suited to this particular market and within its means.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        Before the JC Cards play, the field is used by Science Hill High School. In 2011, this high school had one of the elite pitching prospects in the country, Daniel Norris. He probably collected a $1MM signing bonus.
        If so, this helps put things in perspective about the stadium. It did not ruin the career of young Mr. Norris. He made gobs of bonus money, even if the infield needs a $17,000 facelift. Nor did the JC park stop Big Matt Adams or Aldron Chambers or many others.

  5. T8Ball says:

    Clearly the MLBPA and Selig wanted the Giants to win the Super Bowl. It wasn’t about baseball 😉

  6. T8Ball says:

    Alex Cora signed to a Minor League deal. Sadly, I can see him outhitting Tyler Greene this spring and perhaps making the team. Sigh.

  7. WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

    I’m marking this point in time for my records …………………. at this moment in the evolution of the dialog on this blog ……… the Morlocks after feeding ………. begin to gravitate towards their underground lair ….. content to enjoy their confinement …….. and their full bellies ……. …… the Post Beat writer preparing to begin a new era…….. the After-Albert … or A*P designation should hold ….. I bet they’re happy to be able to catch up with all the latest news………. right here………..

    How about those Rangers …………… letting Hamilton’s “companion” go………just to see what product they might have to pay for? ………… that sword has two edges ………………. don’t it ……………… They will stick a band-aide back on it…… having saved 60-70 Million dollars by picking the scab ……… I bet that tempered the FA market about that much too ……………. its just business ………… no leather and maple in that one …………….

  8. JumboShrimp says:

    The Blue Jays ponied up $2Million bucks to sign Daniel Norris. He was the high school southpaw who played for the high school that used the Johnson City ballpark.

    I find this very helpful for keeping things in perspective. Maybe city manager Pete Peterson does to. Some kid uses the JC Cards stadium and makes $2million bucks for his efforts. Just how bad can such a field be? If it was a good field, would he have made $4MM?

    Should we ask millionaire Norris to fix the infield and left field wall himself? He sure has enough moola. Why does the town of Johnson City have to pay for everything? Can’t the big city Cardinals fix the stadium, they just won the World Series? Fun situation.

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