Twins leave Beloit for Cedar Rapids
BELOIT It came down to the ballpark.
The Minnesota Twins, affiliates of the Beloit Snappers since 2005, signed a four-year agreement with Cedar Rapids on Wednesday. That decision leaves Beloit with the options of the Oakland A’s, Los Angeles Angels or Houston Astros to supply the franchise with players starting next season.
When the Twins, with Janesville native Terry Ryan as the team general manager, came to Beloit in 2005, Pohlman Field was the center of contention. The Milwaukee Brewers pulled out of Beloit after the 2004 season and located a Class A team in West Virginia, citing weather and facilities as the reasons for the move.
At that time, a new stadium for Beloit seemed more likely than not. With Ryan running the team, the Twins were willing to give Beloit a shot.
“When we came to Beloit, the expectations were high they were going to get a new ballpark,” Twins Senior Director of Minor Leagues Jim Rantz said in a phone interview Wednesday night. “It’s been a struggle.”
Over the years, new parks have been built. Beloit, with the General Motors plant closing in Janesville, and a struggling economy in the area, has not been able to come up with financing for a new stadium.
The Twins ran out of patience.
“It comes down to the facility, to the ballpark,” Rantz said. “It’s always about the players. You want to put your players in the best situation available to develop their skills.
“Cedar Rapid’s ballpark is just 10 years old. It has everything you’re looking for to bring players in and develop them.”
The past season’s Snapper players said during the second half of the season that the Twins were looking at Cedar Rapids. Rantz said Twin officials set up an appointment with Cedar Rapids on Sunday, the first day they could begin negotiations.
They visited the Cedar Rapids facilities Monday, and signed the four-year agreement on Wednesday.
Rantz said everything else in Beloit exceeded the Twins’ expectations.
“I have to say in the eight years, we had a great relationship with the front office staff and the people involved,” Rantz said. “They tried hard and have done everything they could to get a new ballpark started in Beloit. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen.”
Kernels President Gary Keoppel said, “We are very excited to begin a new chapter in Kernels baseball with our agreement with the Twins. Our fans have expressed their desires for an affiliation with a Midwest team and now that has happened.”
The franchise is guaranteed an affiliation for next season, but the list of Major League teams looking for a Midwest League home is dwindling, with the Oakland A’s, Los Angeles Angels and Houston Astros left seeking places for a Class A team.
Quad Cities, Burlington, Iowa, and Beloit are the three remaining chairs in which to sit.
The Cardinals on Wednesday said they have agreed to a new four-year player development contract with the Peoria Chiefs. The Cardinals had been at Quad Cities in recent years.
Peoria had been serving as Chicago Cubs’ entry in the Midwest League. The Cubs are moving their Midwest League affiliation to Kane County, signing a two-year agreement with the Cougars.
Cedar Rapids averaged 2,320 fans last season. Peoria averaged 2,798, while Kane County averaged 5,587.
Beloit averaged 1,013 fans, the second lowest in the 16-team Midwest League. Burlington had the lowest at 856.
It’s not a coincidence that Burlington and Beloit have two of the oldest stadiums in the league.
Jim Franz, the Beloit Daily News sports editor and former Beloit Brewers board of directors member, wrote in a column Wednesday that the present board is considering selling the franchise, although no one will comment on that publicly.
Franz also suggests that the Midwest League might take the franchise away eventually because Pohlman Field won’t meet league standards.
If that happens, Franz suggests Beloit enter the Northwoods League, a summer collegiate wooden bat league that includes the Madison Mallards and Lakeshore Chinooks, a team based in Mequon and coached this season by UW-Whitewater baseball coach John Vodenlich.
And when the A’s, Angels or Astros decide to be an affiliate, the new Snappers will face the old Snapper affiliate immediately. Beloit opens the 2013 Midwest League season at Cedar Rapids on April 4.