READING, PA – In a city that has taken to calling itself Baseballtown, the sport is more than a pastime. It’s become something of a lifeline.
The hometown Reading Phillies have come to symbolize endurance and pride for a community that the 2010 U.S. Census ranked No. 1 in the nation in poverty. The Phillies remained long after the railroad screeched to a halt and the city’s “Outlet Capital” moniker faded. They’ve provided a welcome diversion from financial struggles and an 8 percent unemployment rate.
Given the 46-year love affair with the Philadelphia Phillies‘ Double-A farm club, there was an understandable citywide gasp when the team announced it is changing its nickname, logo and jerseys. The move was an unexpected change-up that is testing tradition and the city’s identity and polarizing a fiercely loyal fan base.
Ed Oswald, a retired hairstylist who lives outside the city, is among many who have balked at the idea.
The Reading Phillies want to extend their lease of the city-owned FirstEnergy Stadium by 16 years to allow the refinancing of a loan that paid in part for the stadium’s recent $10 million makeover.
But City Council first wants to ask R-Phils‘ managing partner Craig Stein if the team is willing to pay more than its current lease that brings the city only $22,000 a year.
The current lease and the loan payments expire in 2021.
Michael Vind, the city’s financial consultant from S&Lutions, told council last week that Fulton Bank had been unwilling to extend the loan beyond the lease, but had to keep the annual payments to what the R-Phils could afford: $278,000 a year.