Punt Road Oval could become the home of a new Victorian baseball team in a proposed national competition that is expected to be announced within weeks. It is understood Richmond Football Club has explored the feasibility of converting the ground for three months a year to host baseball under lights, as the code seeks to bring the competition into the heart of the city and considers options away from its home in Altona.
The Richmond Cricket Club plays on the ground over summer, so for baseball to be played there the Premier cricket club would have to move its home ground. Talks have already been held with the City of Yarra about resurrecting an oval in the MCG car park. A report by sports marketing consultants, Sweeney Sports, assessed the viability of inner-city venues should baseball opt to move from its unpopular location in Altona. The Age understands Punt Road Oval and Bob Jane stadium in South Melbourne were the two stand-out choices.
Plans for a new team and its playing venue are no further advanced than feasibility as officials wait for a decision on whether the new national competition will go ahead. That decision hinges on whether the US Major League Baseball commits $15 to $20 million to underwrite the competition for the first five years. It would be expected that every capital city would field teams in the competition, which would likely be televised on pay TV network Fox. It has been suggested the season would run for about 10 weeks through November, December and early January.
It is understood Richmond FC would consider incorporating the baseball plans in the $7 million final stage of the Punt Road Oval redevelopment that begins at the end of the football season. That stage includes indoor player facilities, a new social club and parking and possibly medical and sports science suites. One option under consideration is for new cricket practice wickets to be cut into the hill below the existing scoreboard near the corner of Brunton Avenue. That would enable the cricket club to train at the ground throughout the summer and play at the nearby new oval.
Richmond chief executive Steven Wright confirmed he had met baseball executives, who had expressed keen interest in the potential of Punt Road Oval. "Obviously, with football and cricket at Punt Road, it is a difficult exercise, but like any football club, you examine any and all possibilities and we are waiting for them to come back to us with a submission."
Baseball Victoria chief executive Steve Nash, who was Melbourne manager of West Coast for 15 years, said no decisions had yet been made about moving from Altona. "We have got Altona already and that is the only purpose-built baseball stadium in the country. But there is some thought that the land at Altona may be sold," Nash said. "I know my predecessor had discussions with Steven Wright at Richmond Football Club about whether that was a possibility but I have only been here (in his job) a month.
"Look, at the moment there is no national competition and one of the biggest problems the ABF (Australian Baseball Federation) has at the moment is that it does not have a CEO. It makes it very hard to make a decision without a CEO. We really can't do anything until we know for certain it is going to start. We are reasonably confident it will happen but it is not over the line yet."
There has been no national baseball competition in Australia since the Australian Baseball League folded in 2000. There are 115 Australians who play professionally around the world.