JEFF6Houston Astros President Reid Ryan came to Fayetteville last week, four days after he purchased a California minor league baseball team for $10 million. He plans to move the club to Fayetteville where it will join the Carolina League as an expansion team. Reid, 43, is one of the youngest team presidents in the game. He stopped in at Fayetteville City Hall for a few minutes to introduce himself to members of City Council’s Baseball Committee. Consultant Jason Frier was on the phone as the son of Hall of Fame Major League pitcher Nolan Ryan was introduced. 

Frier is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Hardball Capital whose core business is the operation of affiliated Minor League Baseball teams. He owns stadiums in San Antonio and Columbia, S.C., and has been hired to guide Fayetteville through the process of building a $33 million stadium. City-owned property behind the downtown Prince Charles hotel building is the site of the new ballpark. It will be modeled after Frier’s Triple-A stadium in Columbia. He told the committee that he expects a formal lease agreement will be ready for council’s consideration in the next 30 to 45 days. “That’s when the city’s memorandum of understanding becomes a binding contract,” said Frier. At the same time, a stadium architect will be selected. Thereafter business details will be finalized with an eye toward executing the contract and beginning site construction in July. 

The South Carolina facility, Spirit Communications Park, was honored by Ballpark Digest as its 2016 Ballpark of the Year. It was selected as the top park across Minor League Baseball nationally for 2016. “Spirit Communications Park is not only our Ballpark of the Year, it’s also one of the best ballparks opened in the last decade,” said Publisher Kevin Reichard. It’s “the centerpiece of serious economic development in Columbia,” he added. Fayetteville’s Baseball Committee members and city staffers visited the Columbia facility this summer and came away committed to patterning the local stadium after it, albeit on a smaller scale. 

The team the Houston Astros purchased is one of two franchises that are leaving the California League at the end of the 2016 season. Both will join the Carolina League. Kinston, which has a professional baseball history dating back to 1956, landed a Texas Rangers MiLB team. With the Sept. 30 purchase of its California team, the Astros have committed to Fayetteville for the second Carolina League club. “We are happy that professional baseball will return to Kinston and we are pleased with the steps Fayetteville has taken to bring professional baseball back to that great city as well,” said Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O’Conner. 

Fayetteville won’t be thought of as home of the new team during construction of the stadium. It will play in a yet to be determined temporary location, probably not in Cumberland County because officials are not optimistic that a Fayetteville location can be found. County government is said to be negotiating an extension of its agreement with the summer college league Swamp Dogs for use of J.P. Riddle Stadium. Jim Perry Stadium on the campus of Campbell University is under serious considered as the temporary home until the new Fayetteville stadium opens for the 2019 season. Jim Perry Stadium seats fewer than 700 fans. Buies Creek is 35
 miles from Fayetteville in Harnett County.

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