Elizabethton City Council’s workshop session Tuesday included proposed upgrades at Joe O’Brien Field, the home field of the Twins’ Appalachian League team.
Although the Council cannot vote on the proposal until its Aug. 10 meeting, that proposal calls for a 5,000 square-foot clubhouse that would include home and visitor locker rooms, a player lounge, bathrooms and showers, a training room and a weight room. It would also include new seating for about 1,600 to 1,800 fans.
The cost of the upgrade is expected to be around $1.5 million and would be funded by proceeds of a bond issue.
One private citizen pledged his own funds to help get the upgrade going.
Richard Barker pledged $28,000 to pay for the architect fees on the upgrades. Barker is a member of the Elizabethton Twins Task Force, which has been working on a solution to keep the Twins in Elizabethton.
In addition to his interest in keeping professional baseball in Elizabethton, Barker also has a personal reason for his pledge. His grandfather was Joe O’Brien, the man for whom the stadium is named. Barker also was a teenage laborer with the city at the time the Twins came to Elizabethton and helped build the stadium and field.
Lee Landers, president of the Appalachian League, attended Tuesday’s meeting and told the Council that the driving force in requesting the upgrades to the stadium were not coming from the Minnesota Twins but from the minimum standards of Minor League baseball. He said many other clubs in the league have recently upgraded their facilities.
Landers warned that if the Twins were to leave Elizabethton, there could be difficulties in getting a new team. He said current rules have minimum distances between competing teams, but Elizabethton is grandfathered. If a team did not play in Elizabethton for a season, that may no longer be true.
Pat O’Connor, president of Minor League Baseball, said the same thing in a letter to Mayor Curt Alexander, which was dated July 13.
“Over the last 25 years, baseball parks throughout Minor League Baseball have undergone tremendous growth and Major League clubs like the Twins must provide to caliber facilities to entice college and high school players to sign professional contracts, and thereafter, develop their talents.””
O’Connor said Major League and Minor League standards are being enforced. He said Joe O’Brien Field facilities “fail to meet some of the minimum guidelines,” and they fall well below the standards of other Appalachian League clubs.
O’Connor concluded by saying “it is my sincere hope that the City of Elizabethton and the Minnesota Twins can reach an agreement on a baseball facility that you both can be proud of and one that will keep the Twins in Elizabethton for decades to come.”