Questions of new stadium continue for Sounds, Nashville

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Rubber boots encased with dried mud sit in the corner of Brad Tammen’s office at Herschel Greer Stadium.

On the back of the door hangs a bright yellow rain jacket, underneath yet another jacket for when the unpredictable spring weather around these parts hits a cold spell.

“I bought that rain jacket a few weeks ago,” the Nashville Sounds vice president and general manager said with a chuckle. “It already has come in handy.”

One moment he could be working on details for a possible new stadium for the Sounds; the next, he might be down on the field wielding a rake while helping get the field ready for that night’s game. Or, he could be pounding the pavement around Music City in attempts to attract fans to the 71-home game schedule at the venerable baseball park.

So it goes for Tammen, who wears many hats while running the Triple-A minor-league affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers in the Pacific Coast League. A veteran of two-plus decades in various minor-league managerial roles, the Eastern Illinois graduate knows that goes with the territory.

Also coming with the job these days is answering “the” question about the Sounds that he figures comes about nine out of every 10 queries.

And that’s: “What’s up with the new stadium?”

What’s up is that Sounds owner Frank Ward and Nashville mayor Karl Dean are tight-lipped about any specifics of their ongoing discussions concerning a new ballpark. But they are scheduled to meet again soon and renew talks about a possible location and financing requirements.

“Everybody is very eager,” Tammen said, “and they know it is needed here. People are really hungry for it. It’s overdue. It’s a world-class city. It needs a world-class baseball park. I feel we can get it done.”

In December, 2011, a study commissioned by Dean to recommend potential stadium sites was released and identified three locations – the old Sulphur Dell site north of the state capitol that once held a minor-league ballpark, the trendy “Gulch” area just west of downtown, and along the east bank of the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville, the site preferred most by the Sounds.

As for financing a new stadium, Sounds ownership prefers a public-private partnership, but Dean and previous mayors have undertaken many major projects for the booming city in previous years, including the opening later this month of the $585 million Music City Center convention and multipurpose facility. Sports partnerships over the years have included assisting in building LP Field for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans and Bridgestone Arena for the NHL’s Nashville Predators as primary tenants.

“Mayor Dean supports having minor league baseball in Nashville,” Dean’s press secretary, Bonna Johnson, said Thursday. “But any sort of future investment must be led by the private sector and must make sense for the city.”

In the meantime, the Sounds go about their business in Greer Stadium, a city-owned facility that is 36 years old and void of many amenities featured at modern ballparks. Since purchasing the team following the 2008 season, current ownership has invested more than $3 million in upgrades and maintenance, according to Tammen, but understands that there comes a point of concern about throwing good money after bad.

“Ideally, we would not want to be in here in several years,” Tammen said. “So where do you draw the line with how much you continue to put into it when you hope, in the end result, you are in a new stadium in one of the hottest minor-league markets in the country?”

The prospect of a new stadium is what keeps the Milwaukee Brewers re-signing with the Sounds since 2005 as their top minor-league affiliate. Before the start of this season, the Brewers and Sounds signed a new two-year player development agreement.

“We have a good relationship with the Sounds on a number of different fronts,” said Scott Martens, Brewers manager of player development and minor league operations.

Just as quickly, though – and just like most everybody else — the subject of a new stadium for the Sounds comes up.

“I can tell you from the Brewers’ perspective that we love the city of Nashville,” Martens said. “It’s the ballpark that always has been and always will be the issue until they get a new ballpark.”

As far as fan support, the Sounds have been steady in attracting more than 300,000 fans per year. Last season, the Sounds had 321,042 fans come through the turnstiles at an average of 4,792 per game. That was down a little from the previous year when they drew 335,143 fans, but they did have a league-leading five rain-outs of home games in 2012.

“We are holding our ground here at Greer Stadium,” Tammen said. “Would we like to see more? Absolutely. In Greer Stadium, if we did 300,000 to 350,000, it would be a successful season. If we pushed it higher, it would be a tremendous year.

“Moving forward into a new facility, we would be looking at 500,000-plus, and that’s the ultimate goal down the road.”

Like most minor-league teams, the Sounds offer a variety of promotional options and in-game entertainment for the fans. Tammen often feels that he is part general manager and part circus barker.

“We will do some crazy promotions throughout the night,” said Tammen, who came to the Sounds in 2010 after spending nine years in the front office of the Salt Lake Bees, the Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels; and 11 years in similar roles with the Oklahoma City 89ers/Redhawks, the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers.

“The atmosphere is very important,” he said, “but there are differences in what we will do and what we won’t do when it comes to affecting the integrity of the game.”

All those years in minor league baseball management has been with teams in the Pacific Coast League, in which the Sounds and Memphis Redbirds, the top affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, are the only teams east of the Mississippi River.

“It really hits us tremendously budget-wise with our travel and flying commercial 30 people every four days when we are on the road,” Tammen said. “Ideally, the International League would be the best. It would be great for us from a budget standpoint and developing some different rivalries.”

Speaking of developing, Nashville has been the proving ground for a wealth of future Brewers talent, including former National League most valuable player Ryan Braun, slugger Prince Fielder (now with Detroit), outfielder Corey Hart, second baseman Rickie Weeks, catcher Jonathan Lucroy and top pitcher Yovani Gallardo, to name a few.

“All our players who have come through Nashville and who are still there all say how much they love living and playing baseball in Nashville,” Martens said. “And when you look at our current roster, you see a lot of players who once played in Nashville.”

Which is a notion not lost on Tammen.

“A lot of people don’t understand Triple-A minor league baseball,” he said. “They don’t realize, even though it is considered minor league baseball, it’s really major league baseball-caliber talent in a minor-league setting. Any one of these guys could be up (to Milwaukee) the very next day. It’s important to educate the fans that this is darn good talent and really good baseball, the best you are going to see in Tennessee.”