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.”