Allentown, Pennsylvania is located just about an hour outside of Philadelphia. The Allentown area, which combined with the cities of Bethlehem and Easton is known as the Lehigh Valley, is the third largest metropolitan area in the state. It's an area filled with Phillies fans and before long, it will be filled with Phillies prospects.
The Scranton Wilkes-Barre Red Barons and Philadelphia Phillies have enjoyed a long relationship that has lasted nearly 20 years. Their current affiliation agreement ends after the 2006 season and it is not likely to be renewed. The plan calls for Craig Stein, who owns the AA Reading Phillies and is a co-owner of the Class-A Lakewood BlueClaws, to team with Joe Finley, owner of the AA Trenton Thunder. The two have reportedly reached an agreement to purchase the Ottawa Lynx and would then move the team to a new stadium scheduled to be built in Allentown and possibly ready for the 2007 season. The Phillies would then drop their affiliation with Scranton and sign with the new Allentown team.
The stadium is set to be built on property that housed the former Agere company plant just outside of the downtown portion of the city. Funding appears set for the $34 million project which would seat approximately 7,000 fans. Hopes are that the stadium can be completed for the 2007 season, but if not, Stein and Finley - whose group is known as Gracie Baseball - could keep the team in Ottawa for a season before making the move to Allentown in 2008.
Allentown was home to minor league baseball in the 1950s when the St. Louis Cardinals fielded a team on land that currently holds the Lehigh Valley Mall. Independant baseball came to Allentown in the mid-90s when the Allentown Ambassadors joined the Northeast League. The Ambassadors went out of business and the area has been without minor league baseball since then. There have been a number of attempts to bring affiliated baseball to the Lehigh Valley, but the Phillies, who own the territorial rights to the area blocked plans. This time, they appear to be behind the plan thanks in no small part to the involvement of Stein and Finley, with whom the Phillies have a strong working relationship.
Meanwhile, in Scranton battles over the stadium operation and upkeep have scarred the franchise, which is owned by the Lackawann County Stadium Authority. It's likely that Scranton will get another AAA team, at least on a temporary basis. The Orioles, who are currently affiliated with the Ottawa franchise, may be a possibility. Geographically, the Mets and Yankees would make the most sense, but both have strong affiliation relationships with their AAA clubs and aren't likely to move.
Gracie Baseball recently put down a $750,000 non-refundable deposit to purchase the Ottawa Lynx and are due to put another deposit down next year before officially purchasing the club in 2007.