By The Herald Editorial Board
Funko Field at Everett’s Memorial Stadium — where the Everett AquaSox, and before them the Everett Giants Minor League Baseball teams have played since 1984 — has its charms.
Among them: a quirky and relatively small field — 330 feet to the right field fence, 380 to center and a home run-friendly 325 to left — a hand-operated scoreboard (with a fresh coat of paint) and on a clear night a stunning view of strawberry-hued Cascade mountains at sunset.
As the High-A Northwest League AquaSox open its 132-game season there Friday night — first pitch 7:05 p.m. against the Eugene Emeralds — it’s a great place for a baseball game; at least in the opinion of many fans. In the minds of players, perhaps less so — and definitely not in the minds of Major League Baseball, which is now largely calling the shots for its 120 minor league affiliates throughout North America.
When the MLB pared some 40 minor league teams from its list of major league affiliated-teams in 2021 — in part to offer better pay to its players in the farm system — it let the teams remaining know that it would be requiring extensive improvements for stadiums, fields and player facilities.
For Funko Field, that means larger clubhouses for home and visiting teams with direct access to and from the dugouts, kitchen and dining facilities as part of the clubhouses, training rooms and more; all items lacking at Funko. And with 40-some communities still stinging over the loss of their minor league teams, that’s provided all the leverage that the MLB needs to make affiliates pay attention, leaving a choice of substantial renovations of existing parks or even new ballparks for many teams. Missing that catch will almost certainly mean losing the team to another community.
But rather than view the league requirements as a visit to the mound, Everett city officials, team supporters and others are looking at the prospects for a stadium upgrade as a way to increase the benefits of what’s already a veteran economic player for the city and county and a contributor to the region’s quality of life; and do so by the start of the 2026 season.
Field of Dreams: Moving quickly, the city of Everett and Snohomish County launched a feasibility study last fall to consider major renovations to Funko Field or the construction of a new stadium in Everett. Part of that study includes an economic analysis that considers several options for renovation and new stadium locations, and their potential economic benefits.
While it remains an alternative for further consideration, renovation of Funko Field, a property owned and managed by the Everett School District, is among the least workable. Renovations would be major to the point of complete replacement, and it would still leave the AquaSox and its 66 home games having to work with the school district and the need for use by students and athletes and others, including community colleges and others.
Among locations for a new park — needing about 8 acres of property — three sites in south Everett were considered as were two downtown locations that drew further study; one using portions of property east of Broadway between Hewitt Avenue and Wall Streets and near the Angel of the Winds Arena; and a second at the city’s current location for its Public Works Department.
The advantage of the Public Works site is that it would knock about $20 million off the park’s $80 million estimate — literally a ballpark figure — for a new stadium, said Dan Eernissee, the city’s economic development director. But depending on how quickly the city can find at least a temporary home for its public works needs, it could be 10 years before that site is available.
Moneyball: A closer look at the economics around the two downtown sites show their potential, offering direct and indirect economic impacts that are comparable and complementary to what the city enjoys from Angel of the Winds Arena. In 2019, the AquaSox at Funko brought in $6.6 million in business revenue and another $2 million in labor revenue for 45 jobs, compared to Angel of the Winds’ $47.5 million in business revenue and $17.2 in labor income from 385 jobs.
Because a new stadium would be able to offer more dates for concerts, exhibitions and other events, the potential for added business at the two downtown locations would offer business revenue of between $45 million and $55 million and labor income between $17 million and $21 million from 360 to 440 jobs.
Local officials seem committed to funding property acquisition and construction through a public-private partnership and without reliance on new taxes. But Mayor Cassie Franklin, who touted the stadium drive in her state of the city address last month, remains confident that a collaboration of state, city, county, private developers and the club’s owners will be successful. Toward that partnership, the state Senate’s capital budget announced a proposed $7.4 million allocation for a new stadium.
Still, Franklin said, it will be a challenge to get some in the community to understand what a new ballpark could accomplish even as the city continues to confront issues with affordable housing, homelessness, public safety and a nagging structural budget deficit.
“But this is how we address it,” she said. “We need a high quality of life, and part of getting a high quality of life is ensuring there’s positive growth, positive things going on in our community.”
“This is an investment in our city for the long term, for quality of life,” Eernissee said.
A League of Their Own: As part of their investigation, Franklin, Eernissee and others made trips to new stadiums for Low-A teams in Kannapolis, S. Carolina, and Columbus, N. Carolina.
“The investment of new ballparks have been transformative for these communities,” Franklin said, with new housing and retail development planned and being built around them. The key draw being the ballparks’ park aspects, as an attraction for the community.
“The minor league baseball stadiums that we’ve been most inspired by really function as community parks,” Eernissee said.
The same is intended for a new stadium downtown, with its facilities — a playground, a walkable concourse and green space — open to the public when not in use for games. And during games, a variety of seating options, picnic areas and greenspace for spectators, all with the game in view.
“The baseball stadium becomes an anchor for a neighborhood and a community,” Franklin said.
Take Me Out to the Ballgame: Randy Bolerjack has been an Everett baseball fan since watching the Giants as a kid with his parents, a tradition he is now passing down to his son, William, who attended his first game last season when he was only six days old.
“I hope that all the new babies in my neighborhood can experience the fun, and the camaraderie and excitement of professional baseball. When a future big leaguer hits a double down the line or a future Mariners ace mows down some star prospect, that’s fun.”
It’s something Bolerjack said has to be protected by keeping the AquaSox here, by making the investment in baseball’s future in Everett.
“It’s the magic when I caught my first foul ball by myself. Meeting players who at time we didn’t know were just kids themselves; that level of accessibility is incredible.”
It means more park space, games of catch and introducing kids to Webbly, the AquaSox mascot.
“Our community needs more communal experiences that bring joy and opportunity — and to be cheesy — it can be our own field of dreams that marks time generationally for families.”
Regarding those generational moments, Bolerjack recalled a game last season with his wife, son and parents.
“It was so cool to have him in his grandparents’ arms as we sang ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ during the seventh-inning stretch,” he said. “That’s an incredible life moment that I didn’t even know I was looking forward to.”
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