Councilmen to discuss Twins stadium upgrades, funding

Published 9:56 am Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Contributed Photo  Mike Mains cited baseball and softabll team parties as part of the community impact that the presence of the Twins has in Elizabethton.

Contributed Photo
Mike Mains cited baseball and softabll team parties as part of the community impact that the presence of the Twins has in Elizabethton.

Officials from both the Minnesota and Elizabethton Twins have identified inadequacies in the facilities at the Minor League stadium in Elizabethton, Joe O’Brien Field.

Since they have agreed upgrades must be made in order to meet industry standards, the City of Elizabethton must determine if the investment in the facilities is worth the cost. At the most recent Elizabethton City Council budget workshop, Elizabethton Twins General Manager Mike Mains presented the issue to City Councilmen, who understood the funding dilemma when City Manager Jerome Kitchens said they could only add it to the budget by removing other budgeted items. Mains said he hopes private donors will help invest in this cause to improve facilities and keep the Twins in Elizabethton.

Another workshop is being held specifically to facilitate discussion on the value of these upgrades and how to move forward. It will take place at 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 17 for City Councilmen and Elizabethton Twins representatives. The public is invited, but there will not be a scheduled public hearing at this workshop.

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Mains said without local investment in the upgrades, there is the potential to lose the city’s Minor League Baseball team.

The upgrades include the clubhouse offices, home and visitor locker rooms, and stadium seating. Mains said the Minnesota Twins have offered to pay up to $594,000 or 33 percent of the total project cost. For the city or private donors, Kitchens estimated this could cost the city or private donors between $586.250 and $1,519,725, not including the Minnesota contribution.

Both Mains and the Minnesota Twins have called this funding offer “unprecedented,” as Mains said no Major League Team has ever made such an offer to improve Appalachian League facilities.

Recently, the Minnesota Twins issued a statement regarding their hopes for the future with the minor league team as it is currently based in Elizabethon. The release said they have enjoyed a wonderful relationship for more than 40 years.

“We understand this is a big project for the city of Elizabethton and we have never taken this great relationship for granted,” the press release said. “It is our sincere hope that together we will be able to upgrade Joe O’Brien Field and the Carmon Dugger Sports Complex to the benefit of the Twins and the high school and amateur teams who call this field home.”

Mains said it has not only produced Major League Hall of Fame All-Star Kirby Puckett and numerous players in the current Major League starting lineup, but it has been a focal point unifying families and community members of all ages in Elizabethton for decades.

“This professional baseball team creates a sense of pride in our community because we are fantastic on and off the field, and people know about this team all over and come to see this team play,” Mains said.

Not only for the baseball, but he said the community enjoys game night events like Mayberry Deputy Night, Veterans Night, autograph opportunities for kids and adults and pre-game opportunities that showcase local talent.

“I don’t think people see all the time we spend in the community, this is just not a team that shows up and plays,” Mains said.

The team spends a great deal of time off the field with nonprofit organizations, community visits and free baseball clinics.

The field is also used by churches and by the Elizabethton High School baseball team for ten months out of the year.

“We appreciate the use of the field,” said Director of Elizabethton Schools Dr. Corey Gardenhour. “Any potential business also looks at what recreation we have in the city before they are willing to invest. It is an important economic development tool. The Twins also create something positive for families in our community.”

Mains said the sense of pride it creates provides a draw to prospective families and businesses. He said it gives kids confidence that they can learn a skill and achieve a goal.

“Seeing those Minor League players builds excitement in kids for the game of baseball,” Mains said. “It’s something that they can dream about. Just taking them to a ball game and spending time with them is a whole other opportunity. It brings families of all ages together — seniors, adults and kids.”

Mains said he hopes private donors will see the value not just in the sport, but in maintaining the relationship with the Twins in order to keep the Minor League team here in Elizabethton.

“We desperately need somebody to believe in this program, not only in the game and watching these future Major League players play, but for someone or a group to see what it does in the community,” Mains said.

Mains has received letters of support from the Elizabethton Housing and Development Agency, the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce, Ingles Grocery Store and others.