Visalia is calling on First Pitch Entertainment LLC, the owners of Minor League Baseball team Visalia Rawhide, to return to mediation to solve the stalemate over Major League Baseball-mandated stadium upgrades.
Without an agreement by both sides, MLB could relocate the Rawhide from Visalia, leaving the city without a minor league team since the organization was founded in 1946.
The backstory: When MLB reorganized Minor League Baseball in 2021, it placed certain standards on Minor League stadiums and later audited Valley Strong Ballpark, which revealed a number of deficiencies that put the stadium out of compliance with the new standards.
- Visalia filed a lawsuit against the Rawhide in December 2022, arguing that the city is not responsible under the lease agreement with the team to maintain compliance with MLB standards. The Rawhide filed a countersuit also requesting declaratory relief on the lease language.
- Last month a Tulare County Superior Court judge declined to issue declaratory relief on either complaint, which punts the decision back to both parties to either work out a deal for stadium upgrades or risk having the team relocated.
- Following the ruling, Rawhide President and Co-Owner Sam Sigal said the ownership group is committed to keeping the team in Visalia but cannot do so without the city’s help, arguing it is the city’s obligation to improve the stadium.
Terms of the lease: First Pitch Entertainment leases Valley Strong Stadium for $1 a year. The city provides $300,000 annually in improvements and operational costs.
- Per the lease, the city is also responsible for the cost of renovations to meet MLB standards up to $200,000 per year.
- There is still $1.4 million available of the $2 million that is due over the 10-year life of the contract.
- The city is also responsible for major maintenance, which includes maintenance, repair and replacement of main systems at the stadium such as the HVAC units, the elevator, electrical and plumbing.
The big picture: The city released its own statement on the issue over the weekend saying that two requests for First Pitch Entertainment to join in mediation discussions since the ruling have been rejected.
- MLB contacted the city on Jan. 4 to discuss the situation, but the city told MLB that it will meet when First Pitch Entertainment returns to mediation.
- Visalia and First Pitch Entertainment first discussed the new MLB standards on June 4, 2021. First Pitch Entertainment estimated that the improvements would cost $10 million.
- Both sides formed a working group to develop a renovation plan and participated in 11 meetings between March 2022 and May 2022, determining that the cost of renovations could range from $5.7 million to $7.1 million.
- On July 13, 2022, Visalia City Councilmembers Brian Poochigian and Greg Collins met with First Pitch Entertainment and proposed $3.6 million for the working group’s estimation, which was rejected
- That eventually led to mediation sessions in November 2022 and September 2023
What they’re saying: The city said in its statement that it remains committed to working with First Pitch Entertainment and an experienced mediator ro reach a settlement.
- “The Visalia City Council values having the Rawhide as part of our community,” Poochigian said in a statement. “This dispute has never been about whether the City supports baseball in Visalia. The issue here was simply whether Major League Baseball could demand an open checkbook requiring the taxpayers of Visalia to pay whatever amount of money to do whatever MLB wants done to the City’s ballpark.”