In Lancaster, MLB promised baseball. The city might prefer an amphitheater

Bill Shaikin
·4 min read
Pastor Shane Idleman leads a church service at the Hangar in Lancaster.
Pastor Shane Idleman leads a church service at The Hangar in Lancaster, where the JetHawks used to play before Major League Baseball removed them from the California League. (Courtesy Westside Christian Fellowship of the Antelope Valley.)

The team office is closed for good. The remaining merchandise is on sale, at 50% off. The hope that the lone minor league team in Los Angeles County might play some sort of baseball this year has been extinguished.

Three months after Major League Baseball threw the Lancaster JetHawks out of the California League, the team has thrown in the towel.

“The JetHawks are no longer in business,” Lancaster City Manager Jason Caudle said Wednesday.

Caudle said the team and the city have reached agreement to terminate the JetHawks’ lease at the city-owned ballpark known as the Hangar. He declined to share the terms of the agreement before the city council confirms it.

However, he blasted MLB officials for what he called a broken pledge to keep baseball in Lancaster, even after streamlining the minor leagues by stripping 43 teams of their affiliation with a major league team. The city’s lease with the JetHawks had extended through 2024.

“They didn’t follow through on their promise to this community,” Caudle said. “They didn’t follow through on their promise to these fans. That’s the reality of it, and it’s all for the benefit of billionaire franchise owners.”

MLB officials dispute that characterization. The league attempted to facilitate an agreement between the city and the Pecos League, a bare-bones independent league, for a team to play in Lancaster this year.

The Pecos League took the possibility seriously enough to plan for a team with a new nickname — the Lancaster Sound Breakers — and feature a logo and merchandise for what the league called “a proposed expansion team.”

“We 100% wanted to go there,” Pecos League commissioner Andrew Dunn said Wednesday.

Many of the minor league teams that lost their affiliations joined established independent leagues, three of which formed partnerships with MLB. There is no such league near Southern California, and besides, the JetHawks had made clear they would not consider the independent ball option.

“I’m not interested in independent baseball,” JetHawks general manager Andy Dunn told The Times last year. “We’re a member of the Cal League, period.” (Dunn, no relation to the Pecos League commissioner, did not return a call Wednesday and has not returned calls for weeks.)

For its part, the city had little interest in maintaining its 7,000-seat ballpark for the Pecos League, which plays a two-month schedule and had an average game attendance of 217 in its last full season, according to the annual Number Tamer professional baseball attendance analysis. In the JetHawks’ final season, in 2019, their average game attendance was 2,342.

The Hangar is home to the JetHawks.
The Hangar, formerly known as Lancaster Municipal Stadium and Clear Channel Stadium, hosted the JetHawks from 1996-2019. (Lancaster Jethawks)

Since the ballpark opened in 1996, the city has spent $30 million on it, according to city records. Caudle said the city has commissioned a study to see how the ballpark might be best used now that the JetHawks are dead, citing an amphitheater as one option.

“It’s not likely [to be] baseball,” Caudle said. “We’ve got architects working right now to identify what opportunities exist there."

Last year, as MLB planned its contraction of the minor leagues, Commissioner Rob Manfred told The Times: “Every plan we have put forward with the minor leagues involved preserving some sort of baseball in every single community that currently has it.”

In a statement to The Times, MLB said it “remains committed” to working toward the preservation of baseball in Lancaster.

“However, should the local community make the determination that it wishes to use the stadium for another purpose, we will of course respect that decision,” the league statement said. “We have been in contact with ownership and elected officials. To date, we have not had willing partners for a solution in Lancaster.”

The JetHawks served as a training ground for such future All-Stars as Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Dallas Keuchel. One of the items in the JetHawks’ going-out-of-business sale is a Keuchel T-shirt.

“It’s one of those things people have had fond memories of for 25 years now,” Caudle said. “I have memories of taking my child there. That’s all it is now, a memory."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.