November 14 - The Silber family’s 20-year pursuit of a new ballpark finally gained finality last night, when Fredericksburg’s City Council unanimously approved the development and shared use agreement for a $35 million multi-purpose stadium that will open in April 2020 as the new home of the Potomac Nationals.
The agreement will mark the end of the long relationship between the Single-A Carolina League club and Woodbridge’s Northwest Federal Field at Pfitzner Stadium, their home since 1984. The agreement was initially announced in June, but needed final approval from Minor League Baseball and the City of Fredericksburg.
It ends an effort by the club’s owner, Art Silber, that initially began in 1998 and has since included several rejected stadium proposals. In recent years, Silber’s daughter, Lani, who is the club’s president, has also played a key role during the pursuit of a new ballpark.
Per the agreement, the state-of-the-art stadium will be financed, built and maintained by the club in the Celebrate Virginia South economic development area. Fredericksburg will be considered an “anchor tenant” in exchange a $1.05 million annual payment over a 30-year period.
The franchise was initially established as the Alexandria Dukes in 1978 behind the efforts of the city’s longtime mayor, Frank Mann, and played its home games at Municipal Stadium (now Frank Mann Field) through the 1983 season. However, hurt by an inability to sell alcohol due to the ballpark sitting on public school grounds, the club sought a new stadium and moved into what is referred to simply as “The Pfitz” in 1984.
Over its four decades, the club has transitioned from the Dukes to the Cannons and for the past 14 seasons, has been known to many simply as the P-Nats. Mickey Mantle’s son played his lone (and forgettable) professional season in Alexandria, Bobby Bonilla became the most-famous player to don the Dukes’ threads, Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols made their Minor League debuts with the club, and much of the core of the Yankees’ dynasty from 1996-2000 learned the pro game while suiting up at Pfitzner.
Here’s a timeline of important dates in the club’s 41-year history:
1977 - In December, a year after securing his third term as Alexandria’s mayor, Frank Mann gains the commitment of the Single-A Carolina League to award a franchise to Alexandria. It would mark the return of professional baseball to the Washington, D.C. area seven years after the Senators left to become the Texas Rangers.
1978 - In their inaugural season at 1,800-seat Municipal Stadium at Four Mile Run Park, the Alexandria Dukes played without a Major League affiliate and finished in last place in the first and second halves of the Single-A Carolina League season. In his lone professional season, Mickey Mantle Jr. hits .070 in 17 games, going 4-for-57 with 26 strikeouts.
1979 - After being picked up as an affiliate of Seattle, the club’s name is changed to the Alexandria Mariners, though just for one season. Gary Pellant makes professional baseball history, hitting grand slams from both the right and left sides in the same inning on April 30. After the season, Seattle moves its Single-A affiliate back to San Jose, CA.
1981 - After playing without an affiliate again in 1980, the Pittsburgh Pirates reach a six-year agreement with the club and re-adopt the Dukes as the team’s name. Pittsburgh’s affiliate had been based in Salem, where it played its home games at Kiwanis Field.
1982 - Behind the likes of future Major League outfielder Joe Orsulak, the Dukes win their first Carolina League championship, finishing 80-52 in the regular season and beating the Durham Bulls, 3-1, in the league championship series.
1983 - In July, team owner A. Eugene Thomas announces that the team will move to a new stadium the following season in Woodbridge. Bobby Bonilla, who would go on to become a six-time Major League All-Star, hits .256 with 11 home runs and 59 RBI in 136 games that season. He would be the highest-profile player to suit up for the Dukes.
1984 - In April, the newly-named Prince William Pirates open their inaugural campaign at Davis Ford Stadium, a $1 million ballpark with a seating capacity of 6,300. Two years later, the ballpark would be renamed Prince William County Stadium. In 1995, it was renamed again in honor of late Prince William County Board of Supervisors member and local lawyer G. Richard Pfitzner.
1985 - Barry Bonds makes his professional debut in late June, then earns Carolina League Player of the Month honors in July. He’d hit .299 with 13 homers, 37 RBI and 15 steals in 71 games during his tenure with Prince William and would make his Major League debut less then a year later in May 1986. Bonds would later win seven National League MVP Awards and set baseball’s all-time home run record.
1987 - After the Pirates move their affiliate back to Salem, the club reaches an agreement to become an affiliate of the New York Yankees. The partnership would last seven years and a number of players who would help the Yankees win four World Series championships from 1996-2000 would suit up for the club, including Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada.
1989 - The team adopts the “Cannons” moniker, which is would keep through 2004 as an affiliate of the Yankees, Chicago White Sox (1994-96), St. Louis Cardinals (1997-2002) and Cincinnati Reds (2003-04). That September, led by future Yankees manager Stump Merrill, the Cannons defeated Durham, 3-1, in the championship series to claim the club’s second Carolina League title.
1998 - A two-decade effort to secure a new ballpark begins, but Prince William County officials reject a proposal for a $150 million sports and entertainment proposal near the Potomac River. Owner Art Silber announces the team will change its name to the Potomac Cannons and an effort to move to Fairfax County.
2000 - In his first professional season, a 20-year-old Albert Pujols hits .284 with two homers and 10 RBI in a brief 21-game cameo with the Cannons. A year later, he’d win the National League Rookie of the Year Award after hitting .329 with 37 homers and 130 RBI with the Cardinals. Pujols has since won three NL MVP Awards over his 18-year career.
2001 - Fairfax County officials reject a proposal to build a $250 million stadium and apartment complex next to the Dunn Loring Metro station.
2005 - In February, with the Washington Nationals set to make their debut after the Montreal Expos relocated to the nation’s capital, the Cannons are acquired by Washington and renamed the Potomac Nationals. Silber also announces preliminary plans for a new stadium scheduled to open at an undecided site in Prince William County in 2007.
2007 - Still without funding approval for the new ballpark in Prince William, Silber’s proposal for a $22.5 million stadium is ultimately rejected by the county’s Board of Supervisors. The proposal called for the stadium’s funding to be split between the club and the county.
2008 - Behind future Washington Nationals pitchers Jordan Zimmerman, Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen, the P-Nats win the first of two Carolina League titles over a three-year period.
2012 - In June, a fire caused by a gas leak damages the club’s business offices at Pfitzner Stadium and burns the costume of Uncle Slam, putting the club’s mascot out of commission for the remainder of the season.
2014 - The club wins the fifth Carolina League title in franchise history, and the third since affiliating with Washington.
2016 - In December, a renewed stadium proposal initially established in 2010 reportedly gains steam, with a potential $35 million ballpark along I-95 keeping the club in Prince William on a 30-year lease. The following July, however, the proposal was withdrawn when it became clear it wouldn’t garner enough votes from the county’s Board of Supervisors.
2018 - In January, Silber announces the club has extended its lease at Pftizner Stadium through the 2020 season, though would need to gain the approval of Minor League Baseball, which had mandated a new ballpark be secured by 2019. In June, the club finally gets approval for a new home and announces an agreement with the City of Fredericksburg to build a $35 million multi-purpose stadium that will open in April 2020. The deal for the stadium, which will have a capacity of 5,000 and will include a 300-seat club facility and 13 suites, was finalized in November.