HAGERSTOWN -- The bid to secure a Single-A baseball franchise in the South Atlantic League is gathering momentum in Hagerstown.
Local business leaders have formed a corporation, Hagerstown Community Baseball, Inc., to raise the $1.5 million necessary for improvements to Municipal Stadium. South Atlantic League president John Moss has invited the group to make a formal presentation of its offerings at the league meeting next week in Columbia, S.C.
If all goes well, the city should know by the end of the summer whether it will have a team to replace the Double-A Suns, who are leaving the Eastern League after this season.
The South Atlantic League is expanding by two franchises for next year and Moss said that, ideally, each division (North and South) will receive one new member. He is planning a visit to Hagerstown shortly after the league meeting.
"There are some things transpiring that would not necessarily put Hagerstown too badly out of position," Moss said from his North Carolina office. "Our future plans involve a relocation of a franchise. That is one of the things that could make it do-able."
The South Atlantic League could stretch as far south as Tallahassee, Fla., if that city is admitted in the expansion. Hagerstown would be the team farthest north. Other applicants include Hickory and Wilmington, N.C., Rome and Waycross, Ga., and a Tennessee-based team to be named the Smokey Bears.
"In my dreams, I'd like to be talking about having this done at the end of July," Moss said. "But, realistically, I think the earliest date possible to have these people functioning is around Labor Day."
The Hagerstown business group has pledges totaling $300,000 and will offer stock shares to the public to raise the rest of the $1.5 million needed to upgrade the stadium.
Merle Elliott, an accountant serving as president of the corporation, said a petition to sell public stock will be filed with the Maryland Securities Commission shortly.
"Based on my experience, the prospectus should become effective in about 30 days if everything goes right," Elliott said. "With a new corporation, there shouldn't be a terribly long wait. So, we're talking roughly the end of July."
The plan then is to offer shares in the team in multiples of $1,000, a number that could be reduced if enough people express interest in smaller shares.
"We want to make it available at a price that will generate the greatest amount of interest and produce the broadest based ownership," said Elliott.
The corporation includes Peter Kirk, whose Maryland Baseball, Inc., owns the Suns, Hugh Schindel, another Suns' owner, and business people interested in baseball and the community, Elliott said.
Hagerstown mayor Steve Sager, a strong proponent of keeping baseball, said the city hopes to continue to be affiliated with the Orioles.
"If we don't get an expansion team, there is another possibility," said Sager. "Franchises occasionally get sold. Our hopes aren't solely pinned to expansion."