Fans hoping to see professional baseball return to Surf Stadium in Atlantic City got some good news with the recent formation of the Diamond League of Professional Baseball.
The league’s CEO, Frank Boulton, said in a phone interview Thursday that, while it is early in the process, he would be open to having a team in Atlantic City.
Boulton also is the CEO of the Atlantic League, another independent minor league, and he was the founder of the Atlantic City Surf, which played in the Atlantic League from 1998-2006.
The Surf then played in the Can-Am League from 2007-08 before ceasing operations under a different owner.
The Diamond League might be the best opportunity since then for Atlantic City to get another team. It will have short seasons and only young players — and it is looking for six teams for its inaugural season.
“The concept would be perfect for Atlantic City, and I believe Atlantic City would be in the mix,” said former Surf executive and Brigantine resident Mario Perrucci, who has stayed in contact with Boulton and plans to be involved with a new team in some capacity. “There’s a lot of wood to chop yet.”
The league hopes to start play with six teams playing 60-game schedules next year. Boulton said he and other executives, along with an advisory board, are in the process of selecting cities. An announcement will come in August, he said.
While Atlantic City is not among the cities that have contacted Boulton since the league was announced June 17 — he declined to say which ones have — he met with officials from the resort about six months ago.
“They were good listeners and they’ve communicated with me,” Boulton said.
The biggest obstacle appears to be the lack of lights for the field at Surf Stadium, the 16-year-old facility on Albany Avenue that has sat mostly unused since the Surf left. The stadium had fallen into disrepair before undergoing some renovations last year. It still needs new lights, a new scoreboard and new or repaired outfield fencing, Perrucci said. Lights, specifically, are a requirement for the Diamond League.
Boulton said he has not heard much from Atlantic City officials recently, but it is early in the process.
“I don’t really believe that this is a really high priority from their office at this point,” Boulton said. “They have a lot of other things on their plate to look at. Certainly, post-(Hurricane) Sandy there’s a lot of work being done.”
Efforts to reach Mayor Lorenzo Langford on Thursday were unsuccessful.
Perrucci said if the city and Boulton can work out a deal, there are local investors interested in owning a team.
The Diamond League will feature players who are between the ages of 21-25 as of Jan. 1 each year. The goal is to get up to eight teams playing 84-game seasons in 2015.
Perrucci said the short season would be perfect for Atlantic City because it is “conducive to the summer market.”
The Surf averaged 2,466 spectators in their first year and 2,718 the next, but by 2006 attendance had dipped to 1,984. Mark Schuster leased the team that year and eventually purchased it before shutting it down in March 2009.
“Even though there are a lot of naysayers (saying), ‘Well it didn’t work the first time’ — it almost worked the first time,” Perrucci said. “I think if things break well here, it can come back and it will be supported.”
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