Will Baseball Return to Atlantic City? [AUDIO]
(Hear the Mike Gill's full interview from the Sports Bash with Mario Perrucci below.)
Over the past few days, rumors have begun swirling about the possibility of baseball returning to the Atlantic City.
A report in the Wednesday edition of the Press of Atlantic City suggested that Former Atlantic City Surf general manager Mario Perrucci was scheduled to meet with the City of Atlantic City on Thursday Jan. 19th - a report he confirmed on the South Jersey Sports Report Saturday morning with John Leon.
"The city has been very receptive," said Perrucci. "I have a very important meeting with the city on Thursday and I am going to make a proposal."
What kind of proposal is the big question. There seems to be a misconception that the return of the Surf is coming soon, but that doesn't seem to be the case - at least not yet.
"I have already been talking to the Atlantic League," Perrucci admitted. "If we can get the field in playing order, we can bring in maybe Camden vs Bridgeport and do some fireworks for a game."
The playing condition of the field is a huge issue.
Currently, the concourse areas, and other parts of the ball-park that were destroyed by vagrants that occupied the stadium while it was in limbo have been fixed. However, the playing surface and dugouts are nowhere near ready to be used for a game.
"The field is not in playing shape, Perrucci sadly stated about the field that hosted the 1998 Atlantic League Champion Surf. "First step is number one, we need to get that field in order."
The key for Perrucci is to show people in the area that the stadium can be used and to allow local teams, high schools, colleges and tournaments to be played there for eight-to-nine months a year.
"For a kid to step on a professional field is something for the kids to marvel and they will remember it the rest of their lives," Perrucci gushed.
However, to bring baseball back there are some issues other then just fixing the field.
"You can't get involved with a long-term lease," Perrucci explained. "That land is for sale."
Currently the land at Bader Field where Sandcastle Stadium sits is up for sale and the future of that land is always a question.
If baseball were to come back to Atlantic City - a long-term lease would not be able to be signed. That is however, unless an agreement with the City can be reached to keep the stadium in tact if-and-when they sell the land.
One of the biggest questions about the Surf when they were he is will they be supported by South Jersey.
"This area I believe can support baseball," Perruci says. "It just needs to be done in the right way."
What is the "right way?"
South Jersey has shown time-and-time again that it will not support local minor league sports teams. Most, if not all the teams that have been in Atlantic City have been successful on-field, but off-the field is another story.
From 2001-2005, Atlantic City it hosted the Boardwalk Bullies. In 2003, the team won the Kelly Cup, beating the Columbia Inferno in the finals. Even though the Bullies found success on the ice, the team's attendance was poor. In its championship season, attendance averaged slightly above 3,000 per game in the 6,979 Boardwalk Hall. In 2005-2206 the team moved to Stockton, California and has not been replaced.
From 1996-2001, Atlantic City was home to the Seagulls of the United States Basketball League. In their first season, the Seagulls were runner-up in the USBL. In season two, they won their first of three straight USBL championships.
A few years later, the team folded with little-to-no support or fanfare.
In 2004, the Atlantic City CardSharks of the National Indoor Football League, folded after just won season of playing at Boardwalk Hall. The team went 9-5 in its first and only season, losing in the first round of the 2004 NIFL Playoffs.
Another team with success on the field that had little to no success off the field.
And finally, there is the Surf.
While in the Atlantic League, the Surf won the first-ever Atlantic League championship in 1998 while also hosting the inaugural Atlantic League All-Star game. Following that successful season, the Surf were routinely one of the leagues best, making the playoffs seven times in 10 seasons. However, after 10 years of poor attendance and a struggle for attention blocks away from the casinos, the Surf ceased operations March 30, 2009.
In their last season, the Surf averaged 2,765 fans per game in a stadium that could hold more than twice that amount.
And now, there is talk of coming back.
"Its my ultimate goal to bring professional baseball back," Perrucci stated.
The movie Field of Dreams said "if you build it they will come". But in Atlantic City, building a stadium and having success on the field wasn't enough the first time, lets just hope they can fix it enough to re-open it and maybe, just maybe - this time, they will support it.