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May 31—Reading needs to make costly improvements to FirstEnergy Stadium or risk losing the team, officials said Monday.

State Rep. Manuel Guzman Jr. confirmed that an agreement between minor league and Major League Baseball organizations calls for upgrades to minor league facilities.

“It’s true that the Reading Phils with their agreement are requiring updates to the city-owned stadium,” he said. “It is public knowledge.”

The required “modernizations” could cost up to $15 million, he said, and if they are not made, the team could be required to move to another facility or community.

Guzman said he is working with state Rep. Mark Rozzi, Mayor Eddie Moran and others to help find federal, state and local funding for the project.

“I have spoken with Rep. Rozzi and we realize baseball is a cultural institution here in the city,” Guzman said. “We are called Baseballtown.”

The situation is not unique to Reading, he said, and has played out in Erie and other cities.

It is the result of the Professional Baseball Agreement, which effectively binds the minor and major leagues. The agreement revised standards for minor league facilities and calls for changes that could include larger clubhouses, brighter stadium lights, covered batting and pitching tunnels and other amenities to improve conditions for players, Baseball America reported in October.

The stadium has undergone renovations and expansions over the years. But as Guzman noted, the facility is 70 years old.

The stadium, completed in 1951, was dedicated as Reading Municipal Memorial Stadium, a monument to area military veterans.

Coincidentally, it was built to replace older city ballparks after the Brooklyn Baseball Company withdrew its franchise from Reading in 1942, citing the local stadium’s inadequate playing and seating facilities, said Richard M. Polityka, a city historian and trustee of the Berks History Center.

A 1985 article by James T. Reedy in the Historical Review of Berks County tells the story, Polityka said.

Since the early years of the 20th century, the city has enjoyed an association with organized baseball, Reedy wrote.

Prior to 1952, baseball games were held primarily at Lauer’s Park at North Second and Elm streets, though some early 20th century games took place at Circus Maximus, now part of Albright College’s stadium.

Lauer’s Park was considered inadequate due to disagreements over its leasing price, small seating capacity and lack of parking, Reedy wrote. It was dismantled during the World War II era.

The new stadium on North Front Street was intended, in part, to attract professional baseball back to the city, Polityka said. The Cleveland Indians agreed to lease it for a minor league team in 1952.

Polityka said the Indians moved to Charleston, W.Va. in 1962, A Boston Red Sox affiliate played in Reading in 1963 and 1964. The Indians came back for one season in 1965. The Philadelphia Phillies have operated an affiliate here since 1967.

The team is the oldest in what was the Eastern League, now the AA Northeast League, to play in its original city and stadium, Polityka said.

“The team and the stadium are an institution,” Guzman said. “We working to figure out a solution that helps meet the needs of the Fightin Phils and the city.”

City Councilwoman Donna Reed, who represents the district where the stadium is located, pledged to collaborate with other officials to make sure there’s funding to make necessary improvements.

“I will do everything possible in working with our state legislators, the city administration and my fellow council members to help secure the funding necessary for the MLB requisite improvements to ensure that the Reading Phillies remain in Reading and in our award-winning “America’s Classic Ballpark.” Reed said.

A representative of the Fightins was not available for comment Tuesday.

Mayor Eddie Moran did not respond Monday to a request for comment.