Q&A with American Association commissioner Miles Wolff
FARGO – American Association commissioner Miles Wolff was at Newman Outdoor Field last week to watch the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks celebrate paying back the city of Fargo – which invested more than $5 million to build the team’s baseball stadium.
Wolff was the Northern League commissioner in 1996, the year the RedHawks joined that league and Newman Outdoor Field opened. Wolff was one of the key figures in helping bring minor league baseball back to Fargo-Moorhead.
The Forum sat down with Wolff for a Q&A to discuss the RedHawks and other league issues:
Q: What’s it like coming back to this Newman Outdoor Field after being there in the beginning and seeing what it’s grown into?
A: If felt really good. It was so good to see a lot of the people that helped start this and hadn’t seen some of them for 18 years, 19 years. … We all worked hard and had different angles that we were coming from.
Nearly 20 years later, could you envision this franchise being this successful?
No. … It’s grown and it’s so successful. They’ve been able to keep the level up for so long. It hasn’t fallen off or up and down, it has been so steady for all these years.
From a league perspective what does that do when you see they have been able to pay back the city for the stadium?
It certainly gives us credibility as a league because you do see so many teams go back to the city and say ‘We can’t make our payment.’ … It just helps us in our efforts when we’re looking at new stadiums.
St. Paul is moving into a new stadium next season. How does that help when one of the marquee franchises in the league is moving into a new facility?
It’s something like $60 million, which is mind-boggling that they’re spending that much. It certainly will take the league to another level because they have fallen off (attendance-wise). But their ballpark was almost not adequate when we first went in there. They made it work.
Newman Outdoor Field was built for less than $6 million. Value-wise does it rank as one of the best ballparks in the league?
The fact this quality of stadium was built for $6 million is a pretty great bargain. If somebody we’re saying ‘I want to build a stadium like Fargo.’ I would say it is 15-20 million now.
Where is the health of the league right now?
We’ve got a problem in the South Division. Other than that, I think we’re very, very strong. Ultimately, there may need to be some changes in the South, but that’s something we’ll discuss in the fall. Either they’ve got to come up to the level of the rest of the league or it may be a different structure down there.
Is it the entire South?
Wichita is not a problem. The three Texas teams (Amarillo, Grand Prairie, Laredo) need to upgrade and they haven’t been able to thus far.
Are there any viable expansion options out there?
In the Midwest there are no more cities that have the population base or stadium. We expect Joplin, Mo., to be in the league next year. They’re really spending a lot of money to fix up their existing ballpark. But other than that, no, it’s not like there are cities out there we’re pinpointing. It’s just the markets aren’t there.
How does it help to have franchises like the RedHawks, Winnipeg and St. Paul as traditionally strong franchises?
It makes the league so strong. The Lincolns, Kansas City, what an amazing franchise they are. We have 6 to 8 really, really good ones. … The core of the league is so strong.
Do you see the $115,000 salary cap changing?
It will be tweaked, but it doesn’t hurt us getting players. … You would like to pay the players more, but you have to worry about the whole financial health of the league that you don’t price yourself out of some cities. Long term, let’s say if a Sioux City, Sioux Falls figures they can’t keep up with the Fargos and Winnipegs. You would hate to lose them.
RedHawks manager Doug Simunic has been around independent baseball for a long time and is outspoken at times. What is it like to have a manager like Doug in the league?
He’s really been great for the league. He does care. I think that’s his best thing. It’s more over the winter he will call the league office … to give us an idea in the front office what the players and the managers want, because we hear from the owners and GMs. It’s good for us to hear that in the office.