A little more than halfway through the 23rd consecutive season of minor league baseball in Augusta, the Augusta GreenJackets are on pace to entertain 200,000 fans at Lake Olmstead Stadium this year. General manager Nick Brown leads the team under the banner of the Ripken Baseball Group, and took time out for a question and answer session about the status of the organization.
Q: This is the fifth season the team has operated under the ownership of the Ripken Baseball Group. Is the team meeting Ripken's expectations?
A: Based on our current stadium circumstances the team is meeting the company's expectations. We have continued to grow the fan experience and created a larger fan base each and every season. We have had our trials and tribulations, but we have continued to plug away and make an honest and hard attempt at being an asset that not only Cal can be proud of, but the city of Augusta as well.
Q: Though the possibility of a new stadium in downtown Augusta hasn't died, it certainly has taken longer than the Ripken Baseball Group initially hoped. While the mayor has led a charge in support of a new stadium, other Augusta leaders oppose the idea. What do you say to critics who are happy with Lake Olmstead Stadium the way it is and don't see a need for a new stadium?
A: Building a multi-use entertainment destination is not an easy endeavor. We never expected it to be easy, as these projects never are. The reality is that the current stadium is not a long-term viable option. It lacks so many vital things in its infrastructure that I could make a very large list. But off the top of my head, the major challenges are easy ingress and egress, more concession space, air-conditioned suite levels and event space, wider seating and views of the field from the concession spaces, a larger concourse and -- the one that concerns affiliates -- modern player development amenities.
Lake Olmstead has some charm, but it is badly outdated by today and even yesterday's standards. Renovating it doesn't even work because the footprint is just too tight. There will always be people who like things the way they are, but that way of life for this ballclub can't go on much longer as it is just too challenging to operate. Lake Olmstead is not Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. It is a baseball stadium that was built in 1995 for very little money and quickly to secure the team. It was not built with vision. It was built to be adequate and even by 1995's standards that is in essence what it was. ... We aren't replacing a legend; we are looking to build something iconic on the riverfront -- not just a stadium but an entertainment destination. Yes, this place would be home to the GreenJackets, but this place would also be home for concerts, all types of outdoor events, from Border Bash to possibly the SEC or ACC Baseball Championships. We intend to host well over 100 events a year, and we can't do that here. But the facility is just part of that. The mixed-use development that will be attached and surrounding it will breathe even more life into downtown and be a partner in downtown development.
Q: Lake Olmstead Stadium's scoreboard was deemed not fixable just before the season began. What are the future plans for the broken scoreboard, the current manual scoreboard and/or a possible new one?
A: The manual scoreboard has gotten rave reviews from our fan base, and I tend to enjoy the manual scoreboard, but maybe that's because I am getting up there in years and I appreciate those things from years past. With that being said, we are exploring our options in putting in a new LED scoreboard and message center for the season, and we have located one that is near completion. ... We had some very interesting discussions with a potential new partner just last Friday, and we hope to make an announcement in the very near future.
Q: The two-year player development contract with the San Francisco Giants expires at the end of this season. Do you expect to re-sign or will there be an affiliation change coming?
A: I think a lot hinges on where this stadium development shakes out. The Giants' goal is to contend for the World Series and to do that they need to develop their players. We have worked on temporary solutions and band-aiding, and it really comes down to their patience and belief in our organization on a time table. They have been great partners and provided some amazing teams here, so we hope that we can continue this great chapter in Augusta baseball history.
Q: It's been a rocky time for many other Augusta minor league teams over the past few years. What is the financial stability of the GreenJackets? Are things improving or declining in this area?
A: I can't speak to the hockey or to the other efforts at indoor sports here in town. We are unique that we offer America's pastime, a generational tradition playing outdoors in the springtime and summer. Some of these start-ups are created for little investment and little experience in operating a team with hopes of making something happen fast. That is obviously not our model, and franchises in affiliated minor league baseball are not inexpensive or easy to get access to. Just being able to write a big check doesn't guarantee you a team. Our club is stable and improving, but we are reaching ceilings.