Politics & Government

NBC World Series faces an uncertain future at new Wichita ballpark

Roger Clemens pitches in the NBC Tournament

Pitching sensation Roger Clemens delighted the crowd as he pitched for the Kansas Stars in the National Baseball Congress Tournament on Wednesday at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. (Video by Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle/Aug. 10, 2016)
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Pitching sensation Roger Clemens delighted the crowd as he pitched for the Kansas Stars in the National Baseball Congress Tournament on Wednesday at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. (Video by Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle/Aug. 10, 2016)

The National Baseball Congress is unsure of its future in a new ballpark after the city tore down Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, the ballpark it played in for eight decades.

The leader of the organization said he doesn’t know if the NBC will get to play its annual World Series tournament at the new ballpark planned for a minor league team or if it will have office space there.

Kevin Jenks, the NBC’s general manager and tournament director, said the NBC wants to be a part of the new ballpark and he’s optimistic that will still happen. But he said he’s disappointed that the city did not secure office space for the organization at the new stadium.

“I guess our frustration is purely directed at things that we have been told and things that weren’t delivered,” Jenks said.

City officials had told NBC leaders that the organization would have a “permanent home” at the new ballpark, Jenks said. Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell told him in a private meeting that the project would include permanent office space for the NBC, he said.

At some point, that changed, Jenks said.

“Plans do not include offices at this time,” an unidentified city official said during a social media town hall.

Longwell did not respond to an emailed request for comment. Instead, Elyse Mohler, assistant director of strategic communications for the city, responded.

“The City understands the NBC’s concern and will work with the team and the NBC to see if an accommodation can be made,” Mohler said in an email response to questions about that conversation.

She would not say whether Longwell told Jenks the NBC would have office space.

Lou Schwechheimer, the principal owner of the New Orleans Baby Cakes, a Triple-A Minor League Baseball team that has said it is moving to Wichita, was not immediately available for comment. The team won’t formally commit to play in Wichita until the city sells land near the ballpark to an undisclosed group of developers for $1 an acre, Longwell said last week.

The NBC has held its World Series tournament at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium since 1935. Its founder, Raymond “Hap” Dumont, was instrumental in getting the stadium built and bringing barnstormers, young prospects and ex-major leaguers to the annual tournament across the Arkansas River from downtown Wichita.

Now that Lawrence-Dumont has been demolished, the NBC World Series 2019 tournament will be at Wichita State’s Eck Stadium. After that, it’s unclear where the team will play.

“We want to play at the new stadium in 2020 and beyond,” Jenks said. “That’s been the plan all along, and we knew we might have to split our time between the new stadium and Wichita State. But we’re waiting to find out what it looks like after this year, as nothing’s set in stone.”

There’s nothing in the city’s facilities use agreement with the Baby Cakes that guarantees the NBC World Series will play in the new stadium. At most, the team could play a week of its two-week tournament at the new stadium. Scheduling would be subject to approval by the Pacific Coast League and any minor league games would have priority over the NBC tournament, according to the agreement.

Jenks said his talks with the Baby Cakes management have been “very positive,” but they haven’t been detailed discussions. He said leaders from his organization have not been able to sit down with the owners of the Baby Cakes to talk about the project.

“We simply want to be a good player. We want to be a good partner with everyone,” Jenks said. “We just were told that our offices would be in the new stadium, and then we were told that they won’t be. And so we’re just making plans for how the future may look for us going from there.”

Plans for a new ballpark include an NBC Hall of Fame Museum, but it won’t be managed by the NBC. Instead, it will be managed by the minor league team.

Until five years ago, the city of Wichita owned the NBC tournament, after buying it for $1 million from Wichita Wranglers owners Bob and Mindy Rich in 1997. In 2014, the City Council transferred ownership to a nonprofit board. The board has had its offices at the High Touch Building, 110 S. Main, since it was formed.

Jenks said he had been excited to move into the new stadium. It would help him to be able to showoff the new facility during meetings with potential tournament sponsors, he said.

“From an operations perspective, it’s always better to have your offices on site. . . . It’s not a situation where the NBC can’t operate if we’re not in the stadium, if we don’t have offices there,” Jenks said. “It’s just, I think the disappointing aspect of this whole situation is that we were told from day one that the NBC would have offices permanently at the new stadium when it was built.”

“I don’t feel like our organization and our tradition has been respected,” Jenks said. “Maybe it will be with the museum and that’s great. But at the end of the day, we’ll move on and we’ll keep moving forward.”

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Chance Swaim won the Betty Gage Holland Award in 2018 for distinguished service to honor and protect the integrity of public dialogue on America’s college campuses. He has been a news reporter for The Wichita Eagle since 2018. You can contact him at 316-269-6752 and cswaim@wichitaeagle.com.

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