Charlotte Knights

Atlantic League president: Very early talks about Raleigh baseball team

The Carolina Mudcats and Durham Bulls may eventually get company as the Atlantic League considers Raleigh as a home for a future professional baseball expansion team.

“We have had very, very early preliminary conversations with an interested party,” said Rick White, president of the Atlantic League.

The Atlantic League, whose players are analogous to those in Minor League Baseball’s Double-A system, is independent of the major leagues and thus can ignore the territorial rights rules that would prevent a franchise from landing in Raleigh. Both the Bulls and Mudcats would be able to block a Major League Baseball-affiliated team from playing in the area. The Bulls are a Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Mudcats are a Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.

The Atlantic League consists of seven teams scattered across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, as well as an organization in Sugar Land, Texas. Expansion plans for the league, which has been around since 1998, include Virginia Beach, Va., and several other Mid-Atlantic and Southwest locations.

Our notions of the conversation is that Raleigh is a terrific community. Yes, we would have interest.

Atlantic League President Rick White on “very, very, early preliminary” talks about a baseball team in Raleigh

White said there is no current government involvement, and there have been no talks with potential owners.

“Our notions of the conversation is that Raleigh is a terrific community,” said White, who stressed the infancy of the unsolicited expansion talks. “Yes, we would have interest.”

Raleigh City Council member John Odom said he hadn’t previously heard news of a potential expansion team, but he said Raleigh would be interested in welcoming a team to the area.

Odom mentioned the city’s history of hosting professional teams, which include the Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks of the World League of American Football, the Carolina Cobras of the Arena Football League, the Raleigh Bullfrogs of the Global Basketball Association and the Raleigh Cougars of the United States Basketball League. Each of those teams folded, but Odom said he sees no reason not to pursue this most recent opportunity.

“I’d be more than willing to look and see,” Odom said. “Why wouldn’t we entertain looking at it?”

At this point, though, Odom said there are “too many unanswered questions” and not enough answers with the expansion talks still in an infancy stage.

As the timeline progresses, the “single-biggest hurdle” to bringing a team to Raleigh will be finding a facility, White said.

The Atlantic League aims to build its own stadiums to fit a number of specifications, which include outfield picnic areas, walk-around concourses and concession stands that face the field of play. Players also typically enter the field from a location other than the dugout to promote interaction between fans and the teams. Virtually all of the existing stadiums were built in conjunction with local municipalities, White said.

While a new stadium is not a requirement – the league is evaluating a facility for an expansion team – White called it a “very strong preference.” Often, the markets in which the Atlantic League has teams – Bridgeport, Conn., Lancaster, Pa., Sugar Land, etc. – can benefit from the economic boom of a new facility.

“We love the idea that the ballpark can be the centerpiece of (a community),” White said. “(The stadium) can provide quite a nice stimulus to local development.”

The extent of a new organization’s impact on existing teams, however, remains unknown. Officials for the Bulls and Mudcats declined to comment.

Dennis Edwards, the president and CEO of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he hadn’t heard of potential expansion plans and thought an additional team might oversaturate the Triangle with baseball.

“Baseball is kind of cluttered right now,” Edwards said. “It would be very challenging to start another league of that caliber in this market.”

Two’s company. Three might be a crowd.

DiLalla: 919-829-4835; @AricDiLalla