Even before a site for the stadium was selected, the Atlantic League’s vision for an expansion club in Texas was not viewed as a one-and-done deal. The team’s ownership group, Opening Day Partners, and league founder/CEO Frank Boulton agreed that the league would need a west division. It was the only way travel costs could work for a league looking to fly its teams for the first time.
In the final stages of construction, Constellation Field is expected to be a model for what other Texas markets could expect from ODP and the Atlantic League.
“The finish work (some of which is pictured above) is going to blow people away,” ODP chairman Peter Kirk said. “Just the quality of it.”
Constellation Field (construction rendering pictured at right) will mark the fourth ballpark that ODP and Kirk have opened in the league, but Sugar Land will be something totally different.
The field will feature a scoreboard seven stories tall in the shape of Texas and a large water park beyond the outfield fences.
The field could prove to be a showcase for the league.
And even though flying in the league’s 15th season is a move that has been criticized, including by American Association commissioner Miles Wolff when the idea was first floated in 2010, it was necessary if the Atlantic League wanted a more national footprint.
No longer content to be an East Coast only operation, the Atlantic League wants to plant franchises in and around Houston.
“We’d very much like to get another market in the Houston area,” Kirk said, “because it would help travel.”
Sugar Land is located on the south side of Houston, but if the league can land a market on the north side of the city — a commute of an hour or more — the Atlantic League could add another built-in rivalry like it has done in places like York/Lancaster and Bridgeport/Long Island.
The creation of a west division could raise the profile of the league, and cause major league baseball to depend more on the league — signing a higher number of free agents out of the league. After all, if the league and players are more visible, and not just on the East Coast, it could mean more players turn to the Atlantic League.
Other implications: The creation of a west division could also lead the way for divisional realignment.
If the Atlantic League can build four franchises in the Houston/Texas area, the league could be split into three divisions.
Long Island (N.Y.)
Sugar Land (Texas)
more expansion needed
*Loudoun was originally scheduled to join the league in 2012, but construction has been delayed.
Hopefully that will pave the way for a return to geographical divisions. Not only would it rid the league of some terrible division names (Freedom and Liberty), it could also mean fewer bus rides from Bridgeport to Southern Maryland or York to Long Island.
Currently, every team in the league plays non-divisional and divisional foes an equal number of games. The balanced schedule seems silly, when playoff spots are clinched by winning a division. In other words, why should the Revs play 20 or 18 games against Long Island when the two are not competing against each other for a first-half divisional title? Wouldn’t it make more sense for the Revs to play more games against divisional foes, like Lancaster, than letting non-divisional games have the same type of impact on playoff implications?
An unbalanced schedule could also drive interest in the league. If fans only have a few dates each year to see Sugar Land or other Texas franchises, perhaps it could draw more fans to the park.
But those decisions will have to be made years from now. Right now, the league plans to be in Texas, and find other cities in Texas willing to build franchises.