The city of Binghamton is set to enter the ring and fight to keep the Binghamton Rumble Ponies in the community.
A Major League Baseball (MLB) proposal, first reported by Baseball America last month, would radically reorganize minor league baseball (MiLB) leagues across the country. If MLB gets its way, the four Single-A short season leagues would be eliminated, meaning 42 MiLB teams would no longer exist. While the Rumble Ponies are the New York Mets’ Double-A affiliate in the Eastern League, MLB’s plan would make the Mets’ current Single-A short season team, the Brooklyn Cyclones, its new Double-A squad, leaving Binghamton without a team.
Rumble Ponies owner John Hughes, city of Binghamton Mayor Richard David and State Sen. Fred Akshar held a press conference at NYSEG Stadium on Monday and expressed their objections to the plan.
“This plan that’s been proposed by Major League Baseball is outrageous,” David said. “It’s unacceptable and we will fight tooth and nail to protect our team here in the city of Binghamton.”
Hughes said game attendance was not listed as a factor in the league’s plan; however, it is an area in which the Rumble Ponies have struggled. The Cyclones led their league last season by attracting an average of 4,848 fans per game, while Binghamton was last in the Eastern League with an average attendance of 3,000.
Despite the recent reports, Hughes said the plan has not been finalized and the team and city will be involved in every step of the fight.
“There has been no formal vote on whether a plan has been accepted by MiLB or has been approved,” Hughes said. “That vote has not happened. We will continue to be informed and educated as things move forward until there is ultimately a decision. I think we’re a ways away from a decision at this point. But you know how negotiations work — anything can happen.”
The MLB has expressed that one of its top concerns with MiLB is the condition of team facilities. However, the Rumble Ponies’ NYSEG Stadium is in full compliance with MiLB standards, per the team.
Since 2014, New York taxpayers, the city of Binghamton and Hughes have invested $9.5 million in stadium renovations. David said the proactive renovations should put Binghamton in a strong position to keep its team.
The MLB has also voiced concerns with travel, geography and hotel accommodations for MiLB players, though Hughes said none of these issues pertain to the Rumble Ponies.
David and Akshar said investing in NYSEG Stadium was a wise decision, citing the up-to-standard stadium conditions. They added there is nothing the MLB can complain about regarding the team’s facilities.
Akshar also criticized the MLB’s plan, and said he believes the move is motivated by monetary gain.
“Shame on [MLB commissioner Rob Manfred],” Akshar said. “The fact that we would let a group of millionaires and billionaires turn small communities like ours on our heads is despicable and it’s motivated by one thing — greed. That’s what it comes down to. The commissioner should be ashamed of himself that he would even suggest something like this.”
Under the proposal, each MLB team is expected to save $660,000 per season. Akshar called these savings a “rounding error” for a league that generated $10.3 billion in revenue in 2018.
“What this baseball team means to this community goes without saying,” Akshar said. “It’s incredible what it does to our economy, what it does for the spirit of the people who live here and the fact that a group of millionaires and billionaires could make this random decision to upend communities is ridiculous.”
David described the Rumble Ponies as an “economic engine,” and said the MLB’s current plan would seriously hurt Binghamton.
“We actively have plans right now to invest and improve around the stadium,” David said. “The stadium has been an anchor for major public investment and we have plans to address some of the other blighted areas around the stadium.”
Binghamton was close to losing its team in 2015 before Hughes purchased the club and worked with the city to keep it in Binghamton. With its future in doubt once again, Akshar called on fans and community members to join the fight to save the Rumble Ponies at Monday’s press conference.
“What this minor league team means to this community is significant,” Akshar said. “We need the entire community — we need the Southern Tier — to stand up.”