Rochester facing stadium decisions Debate overshadows opener tonight

April 09, 1992|By Patti Singer | Patti Singer,Contributing Writer

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- The future of the Rochester Red Wings may rest on what the community decides about its stadium.

While Orioles fans celebrate this week's opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, fans of the Red Wings, the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate, continue to debate whether a new stadium is needed, or if 63-year-old Silver Stadium should undergo another renovation.

"If we don't do something, we won't have the Red Wings in three years," said Monroe County Executive Robert L. King, who favors a new stadium in a downtown site.

The outcome of this debate will affect the Orioles' minor-league players, but for now the major-league club has remained neutral. The Orioles' working agreement with the Red Wings expires after this season. The teams have been associated for 31 seasons, the second-longest tenure in the game.

Orioles assistant general manager Doug Melvin said the Orioles want the best facilities for their players, and cited the new stadiums in Frederick, Md., and Kane County, Ill., as examples.

Melvin said Rochester's stadium decision will have some bearing on whether the club renews its working agreement.

When the Orioles sent infielder Juan Bell, outfielder Luis Mercedes and pitchers Alan Mills and Jim Lewis to the Red Wings, they completed the Red Wings, 23-man roster for tonight's season opener at Pawtucket, R.I.

The average age of the Red Wings is 25, and they average slightly more than one year's experience at Triple-A or above.

Four of the pitchers have never pitched in Triple-A, and a fifth, starter Richie Lewis, still is considered a rookie.

"Every club I've been on had a lot of six-year free agents," third baseman Tommy Shields said. "[They've had] a lot of guys with big-league time."

The Orioles only filled in with veterans, such as left-handers Dennis Rasmussen, Israel Sanchez and catcher Mark Parent. Fourteen of the Red Wings have come through the system with TTC manager Jerry Narron.

Arthur Rhodes is scheduled to start tonight's game.

With questions about the facility, Red Wings fans wonder how many more season openers are in their future.

Rochester still would have baseball for the next two seasons, as it has for the past 106, even if the Orioles do not renew the agreement. Beyond 1994 is in doubt as long as the stadium question is unsettled.

The ballpark received $4.5 million in improvements during the winter of 1986-87. Most of the money went into replacing the steel superstructure and concrete base for the seats.

Last fall, Major League Baseball, as part of the contract signed in December 1990 with the minor leagues to provide working agreements, inspected Silver Stadium and found 19 deficiencies.

Some of the problems were minor -- not enough shower heads in the clubhouses and no anti-skid surface on the dugout steps. Others -- upgrading the lighting, regrading the field and enlarging the dugouts -- are more extensive.

"This came down the pike and set the stadium back 10 years," said Fred Strauss, chairman of the Red Wings, who served as president during the renovation.

Estimates for the work range from $500,000 to $6 million. The low figure might just meet the requirements. The high figure includes some repairs that go beyond the requirements. Neither figure includes what the Red Wings call fan amenities, such as a restaurant or sky boxes, which club officials feel are necessary.

All minor-league stadiums will be inspected, and clubs have until April 1, 1994, to comply. Failure to meet the requirements could result in the loss of the franchise, which is what some fear may happen with the Red Wings.

The community group representing the neighborhood where Silver Stadium is located, as well as the city council of Rochester, said it wants the stadium to stay where it is. Rochester Mayor Thomas P. Ryan has not expressed an opinion, other than to voice concern for the neighborhood, if the stadium is relocated.

The divided community was one reason for postponement of a meeting between the city, county and the state for a feasibility study. Too many proposals needed attention, according to a state spokesman.

"The message. . . is we have to get our act together," King said. "I hope we can do that."

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