The Druck Report. Big changes for the ’20 Rome Braves: New boss, new spring training base, upgraded stadium and where to after Rome?

The Druck Report. Big changes for the ’20 Rome Braves: New boss, new spring training base, upgraded stadium and where to after Rome?

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The Rome Braves’ Henry Quintero is safe at home in this June 2019 photo by Mills Fitzner.

 

John Druckenmiller, president and publisher of Hometown Headlines Inc.

We’ve still not settled on college football’s st team from this past season. We’re about a month out from crowning the next Super Bowl champion (and it won’t be a repeat).

So why not rant a bit about baseball. For one, pitchers and catchers reported in 34 days. Also, the 18th season of the Rome Braves begins three months from Thursday at State Mutual Stadium.

No matter how you look at it, this is going to be a very different year for the players, coaches and staff of the Rome Braves.

First, there’s a new general manager. David Cross moves up from the Danville Braves to replace Jim Bishop. Jim had just finished his second season in Rome when the change was made.

The man Bishop replaced, Mike Dunn, was the architect of the Rome Braves and State Mutual Stadium in 2002 and 2003 if we can use that word generously. For 16 seasons, Dunn was the face of the team. He earned a promotion to lead development of a new spring training facility near North Port and Venice on Florida’s southwest coast.

David Cross is Rome’s new general manager.

Mike and staff have worked their normal magic, based on the photos and Facebook posts we’re seeing from what’s known as Cool Today Park prepares for its first full spring training session. They played all of one game there a year ago. We believe it is our duty to visit the stadium this spring – just to check it out for our team, of course.

But that stadium also is one of the changes facing the Rome Braves. The team had been training at Disney World’s gorgeous sports complex for years but that contract expired and Southwest Florida is a hot bed for team relocations. A deal was reached and the Braves now have a $100 million training center to use year-round.

So the major and minor leaguers in the Braves’ organization will be getting some new experiences in just a couple of weeks. For sure, Southwest Florida isn’t Orlando-Kissimmee. There are some gorgeous beaches, great restaurants and tons of snow birds – tourists on vacation for the winter – in the area. The Braves have a bunch of teams to the north and even to the south to ease some of the spring training travel headaches as well.

So for the big leaguers and minor leaguers alike, it really is a whole new ballgame.

Next up is State Mutual Stadium itself. Thanks to the voters’ approval of a special tax package, the ballpark is getting a needed update. The Atlanta Braves’ organization likewise is chipping in seven digits so expect to see changes in the stands and on the field three months from now.

And then there’s the final change awaiting the 2020 edition of the Rome Braves. Exactly where will some of the players be going if and when the major league club decides a they need to move up a level in the baseball hierarchy.

Last year, a Rome Brave got promoted to the Florida Fire Frogs, which played in Kissimmee just below the Disney training center. Last year was not kind to the Fire Frogs in terms of attendance. Plus they were bought out of their lease of the Astros’ former springing training home. As of this writing, the Fire Frogs are a homeless High-A baseball team. One note: the Fire Frogs are not owned by the Braves.

So, if you’re a Rome Brave who gets promoted this coming season, exactly where you’ll play is a location to be named later.

And then there’s the real issue on the table: What exactly happens to some 40 or more minor league teams if Major League Baseball is successful in a push to contract the number of community teams in the overall professional baseball system? The nearby Chattanooga Lookouts are said to be a casualty if one plan holds up. The Fire Frogs as well.

That’s a problem for 2021; however, as all of it must be negotiated.

Cool Today Park in Southwest Florida hosted the final game of the 2019 spring training season and will be home to the full slate this year. Activity begins Jan. 18 with the first Hot Stove Gathering including Braves’ executives and several bands.

Let’s focus on 2020 with this recap:

  • There’s a new Rome Braves’ general manager now in town.
  • There’s a new spring training complex and location two hours south of the other one near Orlando. Bye-bye Mickey, hello beaches.
  • State Mutual Stadium will have some new bells and whistles to greet the newest batch of Braves – and returning fans – in early April.
  • And where exactly will the players go as the mature in the baseball system.

So what does it all mean? It means pitchers and catchers report in 35 days. It means some of us who like to take in a game or two of spring training have new travel plans to make (NOTE: Sarasota airport is recommended; I-75 near Tampa is a nightmare).

It means baseball returns to Rome, Ga., on April 9, with a new boss and a glossed up State Mutual Stadium that you’ve helped pay for with another penny tax.

It means expertly cut green grass, surprisingly good hot dogs, dazzling sunsets over the third base line and another chance to see tomorrow’s Atlanta Braves today.

It means baseball is back – and we think that alone is meaningful.  The rest will work itself out. That, too, is part of baseball.

 

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