Visalia could soon be without its Minor League Baseball team as Major League Baseball-mandated stadium upgrades could force the team out.
Following a decision in court last week, city leadership will have the power in its hands to either upgrade the stadium or see the Visalia Rawhide be relocated.
The backstory: The Rawhide, the Single-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, have played at Valley Strong Ballpark since the team started in 1946.
- While the Rawhide survived MLB’s Minor League reorganization in 2021 – cutting the total number of teams from 160 to 120 – MLB placed certain standards on Minor League stadiums. If a stadium does not meet compliance, MLB will look into relocating the team.
- MLB conducted an audit that revealed a number of deficiencies at Valley Strong Ballpark, meaning the stadium is not in compliance.
- The city responded by filing a lawsuit against the Rawhide in December 2022 arguing that it is not responsible under the lease agreement with the team to maintain compliance with MLB standards.
The big picture: Last week a Tulare County Superior Court judge declined to rule in favor of the city or the team on if the city is obligated to ensure MLB compliance.
- That punts the decision back to the Visalia City Council to either take action or risk letting MLB relocate the Rawhide.
- Rawhide ownership previously filed for a special extension to work out an agreement, and MLB extended the compliance deadline to April 2024.
What they’re saying: Rawhide President and Co-Owner Sam Sigal said in a statement that he was disappointed the ruling did not clarify what the city’s obligations to the stadium are.
- “While we wished there was a more favorable ruling, we still believe the City has obligations to make health and safety improvements to their stadium as outlined in the lease,” Sigal said.
- Sigal added that the ownership group is committed to keeping the Rawhide in Visalia, but cannot do so without the city’s help.
- “When we were told that the City was fine losing baseball, we didn’t believe that lined up considering the Rawhide’s positive impact to our local economy and decades of community support,” Sigal said. “But without support from City leadership, the future of professional baseball in Visalia is at stake.”