By Rob Costello
When the Astros were moved to the American League for the 2013 season forward, a bit of a predicament was created within the world of Major League Baseball. With a now-odd number of teams in both leagues, officials are scrambling to find ways to implement scheduling changes that are fair for every team. Meanwhile, in backrooms everywhere, rumors of expansion are starting to surface.
And it might just be time for the MLB to seriously consider it. The last time the MLB expanded, in 1998, the Diamondbacks were established in Phoenix and had won a World Series within four years. And the Rays (formerly Devil Rays), while not yet having brought home a title, became competitive in the very difficult AL East within six or seven years. So while bringing in two new teams may seem like a daunting task, there is ample proof (consider the Nationals too) that with enough patience and planning not only can expansion teams survive but, more importantly, they can succeed.
That being said, it’s always interesting to consider where exactly the next MLB teams would call home. So, without further ado, here are my top three picks for the next MLB hometowns and why I think they might just work:
1. Charlotte, NC
The southeast United States is arguably the number one baseball hotbed in the entire United States of America. In some parts of the south baseball is basically religion, and fans in the Carolinas/Virginia would love to see a game closer to home. For now, the Atlanta Braves are the team of the south, maintaining a loyal fan base from Louisiana to Virginia. A team in Charlotte would provide not only a compelling regional rivalry with Atlanta, but also the option for MLB fans far from Atlanta to get out and see a game.
Why Charlotte? Located in the heart of North Carolina, the city boasts a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) population of 2,539,789, which is on par with Denver and higher than Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Cleveland, and Milwaukee. Added onto that would be the Greensboro-Winston Salem-High Point MSA located only an hour away. The population of that area adds 1,599,477 to the already running total. Combined, the total area of 4 million+ would be great for attendance in an already baseball-crazed area of the nation.
In terms of being able to support a team, Charlotte would be able to do so, plentifully. A brand new 10,000-person stadium is planned for the city and while it would need to be expanded in order to host an MLB team, the foundation is there. Financially, the area is home to 10 Fortune 500 companies and hosts the second most bank headquarters in the country, after New York City. Luxury suites and boxes would be auctioned off at ease, and sponsorship would certainly not be an issue.
Charlotte, to me, makes the most sense to host an MLB team. The support would certainly be there, and it just plain makes sense. While other cities mentioned may not seem as credible or realistic, it only seems like a matter of time before we see a team come to North Carolina.
2. Portland, OR
Portland is often one of the first cities mentioned when the conversation about expansion comes about. I think it could be well suited, and every problem that comes with placing a team in the Northwest is more or less solvable (see: Seattle Mariners). Similar to the Charlotte example, the Northwest is probably looking for somebody perhaps a little closer to home than Seattle. The two cities are 172 miles away, not exactly an easy hike to see a game for a day.
Speaking of Seattle, and again similar to Charlotte, a team in Portland would provide for another interesting rivalry. Both teams would either be in the same division (AL West), or, if Portland went the NL route, a great interleague rivalry would be formed. It’s not like fans have much to root for in Seattle right now, so the next few years may be a great time for Portland to hop on board.
While the Portland MSA is only 2,226,009, the number is deceptive because of numerous cities within driving distance. Eugene, just an hour and a half south of Portland hosts the University of Oregon, with the MSA’s population standing at 351,715. So while a team in Portland would be a smaller-market team for sure, there is a large enough population for a ball club to function, without a doubt.
Financially, while Portland doesn’t offer many Fortune 500 or large corporate headquarters, Nike is located in the city and would be expected to be a large contributor to all aspects of the team. There would be no reason to say no; any pro team’s front office would love to have the largest corporation in sports right in their backyard.
Overall, while I don’t think Portland is as fertile for baseball as Charlotte, Oregon would be a safe pick and it would be very hard to fail, at least immediately. A little competition with Seattle would throw an interesting card into the pile, and would be a great sell for the MLB.
3. Indianapolis, IN
A much less talked about candidate, Indianapolis kinda makes sense. Although the Midwest has a good amount of teams (Chicago x 2, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Cincinnati) none of these are too close to Indianapolis, and the city is certainly large enough to hold its own team. There are already two major sports franchises (Colts and Pacers) located in the city, and both of them enjoy very loyal fanbases. While the current baseball fans in the city may root for different teams all over the region, a team in the city may gain loyalty literally overnight.
The city, which is Indiana’s capital, is the 12th largest city in the United States and according to Forbes is one of the fastest-growing cities in America. Indianapolis’ MSA stands at 2,080,782 and honestly, the fanbase would most likely be limited to that population. However, the seemingly-smaller population has not seemed to have an effect on the Colts (who sell out every home game) or the Pacers (who fill up 85% of the stadium every time).
Three Fortune 500 companies are located in Indianapolis, and it is generally a Midwest hub for many major companies. The city sure doesn’t struggle financially, and in one that is growing as fast as it is, more and more money should be circulating. Building a new stadium isn’t an issue, because there’s already a 12,000 person one located right in the downtown area. Victory Field, as it’s called, was voted by ESPN the best minor league baseball field in America. And while it would need to be expanded just like Charlotte’s situation, the foundation is there and that’s 90% of the battle.
Overall, Indy falls back in the pack of prospective cities. However, it is certainly a viable option and would add some spice to whatever division it would end up in. I’m sure the people of Indianapolis wouldn’t mind it either.
Facts and photos courtesy of the United States Census, Forbes, ESPN, NBA.com, NFL.com, and tripadvisor.com