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It's a Win! Sand Gnats Open Season, with More Improvements at Grayson Underway

By Lou Phelps

April 9, 2010 – Savannah’s minor league baseball team, the Savannah Sand Gnats, opened their 2010 season Thursday night with 9-3 win over the West Virginia Power in front of a nearly sold out crowd.

The Gnats begin the season with eight home games, first against the Power, followed by four games with the Augusta Green Jackets. It will be the 84th year that baseball has been played in Grayson Stadium on Victory Dr.

The team’s owners, Hardball Capital and new team president, John Katz, have a number of new strategies planned for the 2010 season aimed at improving the fan experience at the games, and in the ballpark, including a new round of capital improvements to Grayson Stadium.

Originally built in 1926, Municipal Stadium, as it was formerly known, was damaged in the August 1940 hurricane that ripped through the city leaving only two sections of bleachers standing, and the need to rebuild the municipal stadium. Those improvements will continue this year with a major change to the right-field bleacher area.

In 1995, Grayson Stadium took on some of its current form when the current press box, along with a new computerized sound system, enlarged restrooms and a stadium club were installed.

Over the past five years, major improvements to the exterior of the facility have been completed, including to the parking areas, as well as upgrades to picnic areas and the fields, all using SPLOST sales tax funds.  

But this year, significant interior area upgrades will be completed with a major change to the right field bleachers area. According to Pearson DeLoach, assistant to DeLoach at the City’s Leisure Services Dept., the bleachers area project is going to be completed by May 15. “There will still be bleachers to be installed about halfway back for the Gnats to open the season,” he explained.  

In total, 750 seats of the area’s 1500 seats are being removed for the new decks. “The Sand Gnats gave us this plan. They wanted the bleachers taken out as part of the Grayson Stadium capital improvement plan,” said DeLoach.

“Half of the area is going to be a party deck, where companies can have parties and regular people can sit and eat and watch a game. There will be a brand new concessions stand in the area which will serve all three levels of decks,” he added.

No other capital improvements are planned for the 2010 fiscal year due to available revenues, said DeLoach. Improvements over the past three years have been funded by SPLOST sales tax revenues, which are running below previous projections due to the depressed economy.  

In 2009, the Sand Gnats signed a two-year extension to use Grayson Stadium, and added the new position of Team President.

For the 2010 season, Katz is focused on “expanding the fan experience,” according to Ryan Kerwin, communications director. “It begins with when the fan first enters the park,” she explained. “We want fans to feel welcomed and appreciated.”

“A Sand Gnats game is a safe, fun and affordable family experience,” she said, “and that’s a marketing message that we’re focused on.”  Outside food and drinks are not allowed at the park, adding a level of control to what goes on at the park.

Kerwin, who arrived in January, has been spending time out in the community promoting the team and building relationships with all groups in the community.

“We will be getting out into the community more,” she said, with a goal of insuring that all residents of Savannah feel welcomed at a game.

The Gnat’s owners, led by Jason Freier, managing partner of Hardball Capital of Atlanta,  acquired the team in 2008 and made good progress last season, according to Joe Shearouse, bureau chief with the City of Savannah Leisure Services department which manages the park for the City.  

The company specializes in owning minor league baseball franchises, and is the lead investor in a new ownership group that purchased the team March 2008.

Hardball Capital currently operates the Fort Wayne Wizards, Class-A Midwest League affiliate of the San Diego Padres, and previously owned and operated the Salem Avalanche in Salem/Roanoke, Va.

The Sand Gnats are a Single A-Level team, part of the South Atlantic League, and a New York Mets affiliate. 



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