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Stadium likely key to Snappers’ survival

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Mike Johnson
February 2, 2010
— The topic of conversation at the Country Club of Beloit on Monday evening was as much about a new stadium as one that hasn’t been built.

The Beloit Professional Baseball Association, Inc., kicked off its 29th season for the Snappers with its sixth annual Winter Hot Stove Banquet. It featured current Minnesota Twin and former Snapper Brian Duensing, Twins legend and current special assistant Tony Oliva, Twins director of minor leagues Jim Rantz and former Twins general manager Terry Ryan, a Janesville native, who now is a senior advisor to the general manager.


It also included Snappers pitching coach Gary Lucas and new Snappers hitting coach Tommy Watkins.


And while members of the Twins organization glowed over sparkling new Target Field, set to host the Twins this spring, they were also mindful of the plight of their Class A affiliate, the Snappers, in an effort to build a new stadium.


Venerable Pohlman Field is a Midwest League staple and has hosted the Snappers since 1982. But it’s outdated, and if a new stadium isn’t built in the near future, the Snappers could be forced to leave Beloit.


“I think, ultimately, to keep professional baseball in the area, it’s going to be something that’s going to need to take place,” Snappers general manager Jeff Vohs said on Monday.


Longtime Midwest League commissioner George Spelius agreed.


“Back in 1982, when we opened up in Beloit, that’s what a Class A facility looked like,” Spelius said. “But today, that’s not it.


“If you’ve gone to any of our stadiums, they’re really something else. So if you want to say ‘keep up with the Joneses,’ we’ve gotta do that.”


It’s not like the Snappers haven’t tried.


Back in 2007, they thought they had a secure plan in place before being hit with some crippling setbacks. Now, said Vohs, the emphasis is on doing “due diligence,” studying other stadiums, figuring out financing and plotting the site for a new stadium.


“We’re basically focusing on a plot of land right on the Interstate, basically right by where 43 and 90 share,” Vohs said. “We did a study last summer that came back positive, basically checking to see if the site was able to support a stadium.”


Vohs said that using tax dollars to finance the stadium would be “pretty much impossible.” As far as a timetable for construction, it’s definitely too early to tell. Vohs said the absolute earliest season to begin play in a new stadium would be 2012 if everything goes well.


“We don’t want to go and start showing pictures all around town or around the area, and then all of a sudden the money isn’t there,” Vohs said.


From a baseball standpoint, the Twins organization, entering its sixth season of affiliation with the Snappers, loves both Beloit and the Midwest League for geographical and developmental purposes.


“We like it so well here we’ve already extended our contract through 2012, so that should have a lot of weight in the community,” Rantz said. “We like it. We like the people we work with in the front office, and it’s just a good marriage.”


There’s probably not a bigger champion of the Twins’ affiliation with Beloit than Ryan.


“It’s ideal for what we’re trying to do developmentally,” Ryan said. “We’ve got a good relationship with Beloit, and the stadium issue down here is very similar to Minnesota.


“They’ve been trying for a long time in Beloit. They haven’t really scratched anything here (like) what we went through in Minnesota, so we’re hoping that they end up getting their positive result.


“But what they do with us and for us here, we have a good relationship.”


And the fans seem to have a good relationship with the Snappers, too.


Despite high unemployment rates in Rock County and Winnebago County in Illinois and bad weather last summer that forced the rainout of three out of 15 fireworks nights—always the Snappers’ biggest draws—Vohs said attendance at Pohlman Field increased by about 300 in 2009 over 2008.


“When you’re talking basically one out of every five people, almost, didn’t have a job, that says something when they’re still willing to be entertained and they come out at the prices (that are) affordable, like we are,” Vohs said.


Still, rampant support from the Twins organization and even the fans doesn’t make it a cinch by any means to finance a new stadium.


Just ask the big-league club.


“I know the staff here has worked very hard, in particular (Snappers chairman of the board) Dennis (Conerton), trying to get that new stadium here,” Rantz said. “It’s just one of those things that’s going to take time.


“For us, (in) Minnesota, it took us 10 years to get a new stadium.”



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