The Everett AquaSox face the Vancouver Canadians during a game on June 29, 2021, at Funko Field in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The Everett AquaSox face the Vancouver Canadians during a game on June 29, 2021, at Funko Field in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Patterson: AquaSox’s facilities need major upgrade

Funko Field’s facilities aren’t up to MLB’s standards, so Everett’s time as a partner with the ESD will likely have to end.

Sometimes relationships, through no fault of any individual party, need to come to an end.

We’ve all known people — maybe it was you — who were involved in relationships that were largely positive, but didn’t work out. A time just arrived when circumstances dictated the relationship had to end.

Which brings me to the Everett AquaSox and the Everett School District (ESD). This has been a good relationship, one that’s lasted nearly four decades. But the events of the past week suggest the relationship may have run its course.

On Wednesday both the Everett City Council and the Snohomish County Council passed resolutions to study the feasibility of a new outdoor multipurpose stadium in Everett, which would have the AquaSox as the anchor tenant.

Should the new stadium become a reality, it would bring the relationship between the Sox and the ESD to an end.

Ever since the Sox joined the Northwest League as the Giants in 1984 they’ve called the baseball field at Everett Memorial Stadium (now Funko Field), which is owned by the school district, its home. But when Major League Baseball took over the administration of the minors following the 2020 season, it vowed to improve the standards of the playing facilities.

It seems those standards are forcing a breakup between the Sox and the ESD.

During Wednesday’s Snohomish County Council meeting, Everett economic development director Dan Eernissee said the options were to raze and rebuild Funko Field or build a new complex, a sentiment that was echoed in Everett City Council meeting and by the Mayor’s office. For their part, the AquaSox have pledged to sign a 30-year lease to be the new stadium’s anchor tenant.

So what is it about Funko Field that has been found wanting? There were few details shared during the meetings, and AquaSox general manager Danny Tetzlaff isn’t talking. However, being a former AquaSox beat writer, I think I’ve been around enough to have some theories.

I suspect the biggest issue isn’t with the stadium itself, but with the clubhouses.

When Major League Baseball took over the minors, BallparkDigest.com ran a story that detailed proposed facility standards, and the most significant ones involve the clubhouses. I doubt Everett’s clubhouses are up to spec. To my knowledge the clubhouses haven’t seen meaningful upgrades since I began covering the Sox full-time in 2004. They’re old and cramped, and I’d be surprised if they meet the proposed 1,000 square foot standard. And given the need for extra locker rooms in the building to accommodate high school football doubleheaders, I’m not sure there’s anywhere to expand.

But that’s just part of the issue with Everett’s clubhouses. The other big issue is their location. The clubhouses are located in the building overlooking the football field. Therefore, the players have to walk through Funko Field’s concourse to get to and from the field, exposing themselves to the fans. In some ways this is endearing, as it gives the fans unprecedented access to the players, and it’s great for getting autographs. But it’s also a major security concern, especially with the Sox moving up levels and thus featuring higher-profile prospects. And there’s nowhere else to put the clubhouses.

The changes to Everett’s schedule caused by the change in classification are also a likely factor. When the Sox were a Short Season-A team they began playing in mid-June. By then all the high school and college events at the complex were done. But the new schedule has the Sox starting in April when both the high school and college seasons are still in full swing, creating all kinds of scheduling headaches. Not only do the Sox have to share Funko Field for nearly two months, they can’t play while any soccer games or track meets are taking place next door, either. The result has been some unusual start times early in the season, which is an inconvenience.

Finally, the fact is that Funko Field is an older stadium. The ESD has done a lot of work to upgrade and upkeep the stadium over the years, including installing artificial turf in 2018 — and for the record, I don’t think the turf is an issue since the Seattle Mariners raised no objections at the time. But one thing I discovered when operating the manual scoreboard this summer is that there are spots that could use some repair. And while the short porch in right-center is a fun target for high schools and even Short Season-A, it may be a little too reachable for High-A hitters.

The agreements to study whether the Sox need a new stadium are just the beginning of this process. If the studies conclude a new stadium is necessary there’s still a lot that needs to be done before a single shovel is placed in the ground: a site needs to be found, a timetable needs to be developed, and they’ll have to figure out how to pay for it. Funko Field will be the Sox’s home for at least a little while longer.

“We love baseball,” ESD facilities and operations executive Mike Gunn said. “We hope they stay in Everett. We hope they stay here.”

But not all relationships are meant to last. And if minor-league baseball is to remain in Everett, then it seems just a matter of time before this relationship is over.

Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.

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