Bowling Green Hot Rods Chief Operating Officer and General Manager Eric Leach said the fact that Bowling Green was able to maintain a Major League Baseball-affiliated team this year was “kind of a miracle.”
But that miracle will come with a price.
Leach spoke at last week’s meeting of the Warren County Downtown Economic Development Authority. The authority owns Bowling Green Ballpark and leases it to the Hot Rods.
As part of sweeping cuts, Major League Baseball cut ties with 43 minor league baseball teams going into this season. Teams from many markets much larger than Bowling Green fell victim, including in Lexington, Trenton, N.J., and Staten Island, N.Y.
Leach said maintaining a team came down to local support, the willingness to make ballpark improvements and a strong relationship with the Hot Rods’ major league affiliate, the Tampa Bay Rays.
Hot Rods owner Jack Blackstock said the Rays “liked the facility, and they liked the city.”
He said the MLB organization was also impressed with the local efforts to always accommodate needs of the Rays’ organization.
As part of the realignment, the Hot Rods signed a 10-year agreement with the Rays to be their High-A affiliate, up one rung from the Low-A affiliate they had been.
But MLB is mandating some stadium improvements as part of the deal. This includes things like expanded training areas for players, new stadium lights, locker room improvements and even seemingly small items like dugout flooring.
“It’s all about player development and safety,” Leach said.
A final price for those improvements is not yet known. The improvements must be done by the end of 2022.
Blackstock said there is no choice but to meet the mandates as MLB is now effectively running the minor leagues.
“We must now meet the specifications of Major League Baseball,” he said.
Bowling Green Ballpark underwent major renovations in recent years, including installation of a new playing field, splash pad and state-of-the-art video scoreboard.
The Hot Rods were slated to host the Midwest League All-Star game last season, only to see the season wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Hot Rods now play in the newly formed East League.
The Hot Rods are scheduled to return to the field May 4 at the Greenville (S.C.) Drive and are scheduled to have their home opener at Bowling Green Ballpark on May 11 against the Asheville (N.C.) Tourists as part of a 120-game schedule.
– Follow Managing Editor Wes Swietek on Twitter @WesSwietek or visit bgdaily news.com.