ATLANTIC CITY — Professional baseball is slated to return to Sandcastle Stadium on Labor Day weekend for what could be the first step toward fielding a team there full-time in 2013.
The Camden Riversharks will play a three-games series against the Houston-based Sugar Land Skeeters in Atlantic City instead of Camden as scheduled — if local officials get the field ready in time, said Atlantic League of Professional Baseball Inc. CEO Frank Boulton on Wednesday.
“It’s a good way to see if people want the product. It’s good way to see if the corporate market down there wants to support it. This would be a nice little snapshot of what the future could be,” Boulton said. “We’ll be looking at how many people come to games, how many corporate sponsors sign on for season tickets — we’ll be monitoring that if and when we play the games (this summer).”
Now owner of the Long Island Ducks, Boulton owned the Atlantic City Surf independent-league baseball team based at Sandcastle when the 5,000-seat arena opened in 1998. Boulton sold the team in 2007; two years later, the team folded and the stadium fell into disrepair.
The city, which owns the facility, ultimately stepped in and spent $300,000 rehabilitating most of the mezzanine level — one of three — last spring. That will be fully complete this summer, meaning the kitchens, concession stands, former gift shop and broadcast room can be used, city public works director Paul Jerkins said Wednesday.
Although local officials have not introduced this year’s budget yet, Jerkins said the 2012 financial plan includes money to rehab Sandcastle’s third floor — but not the first.
That shouldn’t matter, said Mario Perrucci, one-time general manager for the Surf who’s organizing eight weekends of baseball this summer in hopes of getting an Atlantic League club hosted at Sandcastle again by 2013.
“We don’t need all the offices and clubhouses and locker rooms (for the exhibition games), but it would be good to have a training room (with) running water,” Perrucci said Wednesday. “If the city’s going to do what they say — and I believe they are — and do an infield and outfield, the only thing I would caution the city to do is laser shoot the infield to make sure it’s a smooth, level infield to put the sod it.”
Last week, the city started advertising for proposals to replace turf at Sandcastle, which sits near Route 40 at the 143-acre former municipal airport Bader Field.
The proposals are due April 3, when officials will select the best offer and seek approval from City Council at its next meeting April 11. Councilmen already agreed to spend $800,000 needed for the turf project and roof replacement at their last session Feb. 21.
With another approval, city administration can finalize the contract for the turf, which would be ready to play on within three or four weeks of installation, Jerkins said.
“I’m ready if they give us a facility to play in on Labor Day,” Boulton said. “That gives them plenty of time, but I’d probably need to know in the next month or so that there’s a commitment to get field ready, and lights and stands and everything up to where it should be.”
In the meantime, Perrucci will work on getting Amateur Athletic Union youth baseball teams signed up for tournaments he wants to book for the seven weekends still available at Sandcastle during July 4 through November.
“I’m scheduling this and hoping we make money and hoping there’s an interest in it,” said Perrucci, who is partnering with former Surf manger Jeff Ball on the endeavor. “If we have a successful weekend and the city is (on board), then I think we have a good shot of baseball coming back here.”
Perrucci said he plans to file special-events applications at city hall on Friday, and expects to get approval because city officials have been supportive during recent meetings with Perrucci.
So has Boulton.
“I spent nine years there owning the (Atlantic City Surf). So I have a certain amount of good feelings and if I can help bring professional baseball back to Atlantic City, I want to do that,” Boulton said Wednesday. “We’ll certainly do everything we can do to get it there.”
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