With a deal in place to convert a former Minor League Baseball ballpark into a soccer stadium for 2025, we should see the announcement this week of a new Lancaster USL League One team.
In September the City of Lancaster approved a request to spend $10 million on alterations to The Hangar, the former home of the Lancaster JetHawks (High-A; California League), with team owner John Smelzer pledging another $1 million toward the renovations. With that commitment, Smelzer is moving forward with his plan to bring an expansion Lancaster USL League One team to the Antelope Valley.
For many in the community, the addition of pro soccer is a logical one–and one they hope can make a positive impact on the area. The Antelope Valley is not in the best of shape, with an alarming crime rate and plenty of city officials working to bring some positivity to the community. The loss of the JetHawks in the 2020 downsizing of Minor League Baseball led to the loss of affiliated baseball in the Antelope Valley; the ballpark has since hosted Pecos League ball, but that circuit didn’t draw much attention from locals. From the Los Angeles Times:
“The town just kind of went,” said Erika Schwerdt, program manager for a social services agency housed on the site of an abandoned middle school. “This area is really high in the index for crime, for lack of jobs. There’s so many people living in RVs in the middle of nowhere because they literally have nowhere to go.”
In many ways, hope evaporated when the water did.
John Smelzer can’t replenish the lakes, but his plans to place a professional soccer team in the Antelope Valley can bring back the hope, Schwerdt said.
But the hope is that soccer will. There’s a strong Hispanic population in the Antelope Valley, and with a 35-field soccer complex, the area has produced plenty of soccer talent over the years. The old ballpark grandstand will stay, while the playing field will be expanded in left field to accommodate the longer soccer pitch. New seating in the old outfield will expand capacity to 5,300.