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Wednesday, Aug 20th

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Lackawanna County: In a ballpark bind and mad

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SWB Yankees

After years of neglect, Moosic's PNC Field is falling apart. But Lackawanna County officials, lacking the funds to fix the ballpark and increasingly unwilling to sell the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (Class AAA; International League), find themselves with no attractive choice to address the future of baseball in the area.

Commissioners yesterday discussed the future of the team and the ballpark, but it pretty degenerated into squabbling over past campaign promises and saber-rattling about breaking the agreement to sell the team to the New York Yankees and Mandalay Baseball. The pair have an option to buy the team for $13 million; if the sales date slips past October 1 (which increasingly looks like will be the case), the sales price rises to $14.6 million.

Lackawanna County commissioners do have some reasons to feel frustrated. Financially, the county is cutting employees and scaling back services. There's a ballpark option on the table: if a new $40 million ballpark is constructed, the state will kick in $20 million, with the rest coming from Lackawanna and Luzerne counties. The sale price for the team will not cover what must come from the two counties, and neither wants to spend taxpayer money to make up the rest.

Here's where Penn. Gov. Ed Rendell really blew the ballpark deal: he should have demanded whoever owned the SWB Yankees to at least help make up the rest. It's customary for a ballpark tenant to put something toward a new facility, and basically giving the Yankees and Mandalay a new ballpark for nothing just smacks of backroom politics.

That, apparently, did not occur to Lackawanna County commissioners yesterday. There are solutions to this mess, but instead of trying to map out a solution, one commissioner suggested hiring an antitrust attorney to wiggle out of the agreement and offered to raise private funds to do so. (Money, by the way, that could be raised for a new ballpark.) Given the politics of the situation, it may be best for the Yankees and Mandalay to exercise their option and then get the franchise the heck out of Dodge -- and let the good residents of Lackawanna and Luzerne counties decide if they really, really want pro baseball.

RELATED STORIES: Squabbling could derail new SWB Yankees ballpark; Pols: Let's not fix up PNC Field -- or sell team to Mandalay, either

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