Blue Rocks extend Wilmington lease to 2030
WILMINGTON – Two years after worries that Delaware might lose its longtime Minor League Baseball team amid a nationwide restructuring, the city can breathe easier after the Blue Rocks extended their lease for another seven years.
The new lease at Judy Johnson Field at Daniel S. Frawley Stadium in Wilmington’s Riverfront runs through the 2030 season, with an extension option, allaying the fears made real in other markets where MiLB teams chose or were forced to move markets. The Blue Rocks prior lease was set to expire at the end of the 2023 season that starts in April. Finalized before the New Year, the new agreement has been formally approved by Major League Baseball, which manages the MiLB, officials announced this week.
“This is a great day for all Blue Rocks fans,” the team’s managing partner, Dave Heller, said in a statement announcing the deal. “In making all of the facilities improvements now required by Major League Baseball, this lease ensures our fans can continue to see the next generation of Major League stars right here in Wilmington today, then turn on MASN and see those same players starring for the Washington Nationals very soon thereafter.
“All of us with the Blue Rocks are grateful to Megan McGlinchey, Andrew Layman, and the Board of the RDC for working with us to bring this great day to fruition. We also deeply appreciate the efforts of Governor Carney and the Delaware legislature to fund the MLB-mandated player improvements to keep affiliated baseball right here in Wilmington,” he added.
The stadium is now owned by the Riverfront Development Corp. (RDC), a nonprofit established by the state and city to lead redevelopment efforts along the Christina River, after its merger last year with the original nonprofit owner, the Delaware Stadium Corp.
The Blue Rocks originally relocated from Hampton, Va., where they were known as the Peninsula Pilots, following the 1992 baseball season. Frawley Stadium (originally Legends Stadium) was built by Minker Construction, whose principal, the late Matt Minker, went on to buy the team. The cornerstone of the redevelopment of the Wilmington Riverfront, the ballpark opened in less than six months.
In the last 30 seasons, the five-time champion Blue Rocks and Frawley Stadium have hosted 10 Mills Cup Carolina League Championship Series, four All-Star Games and a host of future MLB stars like Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Zack Greinke. Frawley Stadium has also played host to a handful of concerts over the years, including The Beach Boys, Journey, Steve Miller Band and Wilco, among others.
Among the team’s owners is Matt’s son, Clark Minker, who has worked closely with Heller to oversee the team’s operations and ensure its viability in his hometown.
“The experience of building the stadium with my late father, and the father-son catch we had in the outfield just before the gates opened 30 years ago, are memories I will forever cherish,” Minker said in a statement. “I am grateful to the State of Delaware, the RDC, and the entire team of people that came together to renew our lease for the next decade of families to enjoy baseball on the riverfront.”
The Wilmington Blue Rocks survived a contentious period during the COVID pandemic, when Major League Baseball pared its minor leagues ranks by 42 teams, including one each in Maryland and New Jersey. The Blue Rocks were able to sign a 10-year contract as the High-A affiliate with the Washington Nationals farm system in part because of the commitment by the stadium owner, state and team to invest in upgrades to Frawley Stadium.
The Delaware partners invested about $3 million into installing a batter’s eye in centerfield, redoing pitching bullpens and renovating locker rooms and workout facilities. MLB may require as much as $2.5 million in additional upgrades in coming years to retain a minor league franchise, according to a report issued in conjunction with state funding last year.
“As the new owners of Frawley Stadium, the RDC wanted to ensure that professional, affiliated minor league baseball would stay in Wilmington,” RDC Executive Director Megan McGlinchey said in a statement. “The Blue Rocks were the pioneers of riverfront development in the early 90’s, and now with this new lease, they will continue to be an integral part of our plans for many years to come.”