190724_SNAPPERS

The Beloit Snappers play the Kane County Cougars at Pohlman Field in Beloit during the 2012 season. The stadium looks essentially the same nine years later. A new stadium deal for the Snappers appears to be increasingly unlikely, which means the 2020 season could be the last in Beloit for the team.

Any attempt by me to count up the number of hours I’ve spent at Pohlman Field over my nearly 35 years on this earth would prove futile.

Old photo albums show birthday parties at Beloit Brewers—yes, this was pre-Snappers mascot change—games.

By middle school, my brother and I were down there chasing foul balls at least once a homestand.

In high school and at least one summer home from college, you could find me slinging pizza, pouring beer or chalking lines as part of the Snappers grounds crew.

I was there the summer Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks and Tony Gwynn Jr. all came through at once. And my dad almost certainly has a bin of worthless minor league baseballs that once felt like such prized possessions.

So when I say what I’m about to say, know that I am not just throwing it out there without thought, feeling or emotion.

It might just be time for everyone to move on.

A new stadium for the Class A-level team has seemingly been in the works since I worked for the Snappers in the early 2000s. It appears time might run out.

On Sept. 4 of last year, the Snappers announced a Memorandum of Understanding with two unnamed investor groups with strong ties to Rock County. The memo was said to signify “significant progress toward a new stadium in Beloit to meet the standards required by Major and Minor League Baseball for its affiliate clubs.”

That was a nice-sounding press release, but even it said there were still a number of steps and documents needed before anything could be finalized—though the framework of the memo was said to include a new stadium in downtown Beloit for the 2020 season.

It’s July 2019, and there’s been no update to this memorandum, let alone any groundbreaking for a stadium to be ready for next year.

In March, Midwest League president Dick Nussbaum told the Beloit Daily News that while progress had been made, it hadn’t been enough to quell the sense of urgency felt around the league that Pohlman Field is no longer an acceptable facility for professional baseball.

Nussbaum said time was of the essence. The Snappers are part of the Professional Baseball Agreement, which runs through 2020 and essentially ensures the Snappers will play at Pohlman Field at last through next season.

Snappers president Dennis Conerton told the Daily News in that same March article that the team was at the point “where we are just pushing for the last 5 or 10 percent of the funding to push this thing through.”

However, in late June, he told the Daily News they were still working to get that “last piece of funding.” And he said they were putting together a professionally-run campaign, including hiring a consulting firm.

He also said at that time the team had been in discussions with potential new owners, just in case the funding didn’t work out to keep the team in Beloit.

In July, the Beloit Daily News reported the Snappers had hired lobbyists Peter Kammer and Nels A. Rude. They were authorized to lobby the state for $2 to $3 million in funding, according to a source familiar with the situation.

But that potential funding was likely going to come from a “Non-State Local Project Grant Program” in the state capital budget. The $25 million originally part of that proposed program was partially vetoed down to $3 million by Gov. Tony Evers, who earmarked that total for an economic hub in Nekoosa. The remaining $22 million has been directed to support the Wisconsin Department of Corrections construction efforts in building a new juvenile justice center.

What’s it all mean?

Well, to me it smells like the Snappers are attempting to—and maybe already have—exhaust every last possible option to keep the team in Beloit with a new stadium.

And nothing seems to be working to finalize a deal.

Meanwhile, the Snappers continue to develop players as part of the Oakland Athletics organization. Before 2005, the club fed to the Milwaukee Brewers, which made attending games at Pohlman Field a great draw. If you got the chance to see a Prince Fielder or Rickie Weeks, or even a pitcher on a quick rehab assignment, you had to try and do it.

Now that scenario is saved for the Timber Rattlers up in Grand Chute. And beyond that local Brewers draw, they’ve got a fancy stadium in Neuroscience Group Field, which also hosts the WIAA state baseball tournament every year.

Average attendance at a Timber Rattlers game? Just over 3,000. Average at a Snappers game? Just over 1,000. ... And, in both cases, that’s tickets sold.

On Wednesday, the Snappers announced an attendance of 1,222. The actual attendance was likely half of that, and many were part of two corporate parties going on down either foul line.

I didn’t have one of those corporate tickets, so I paid my own way in. And I very nearly fainted when my ticket cost $9.

It appears that cost is the only thing that has changed since I worked at Pohlman Field 16 years ago. And for what? The on-field and off-field products haven’t changed one bit. The gameday promotions and giveaways are nearly identical. Even the soundtrack stays the same, as I noted when the Dropkick Murphys’ 2004 release “Tessie” came blaring through the speakers between innings.

Stopping at Pohlman Field will always take me on a trip down memory lane. But I should have to dig into my brain to remember some of those good times instead of having every one of them sitting right there in front of me at the park as if I had just graduated high school yesterday.

The players, coaches and fans have long deserved a respectable facility that is updated and upgraded as time moves forward.

It’s looking more and more like franchise will need to find that somewhere else.

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