It's a formula that has proven to work.

Players come to the independent Atlantic League in the hopes of putting on a good enough performance to get picked up by an affiliated club, with the ultimate goal of making it to the big leagues.

A total of 71 former Atlantic League players have gone on to play in the major leagues. Just a year ago, 16 former Atlantic Leaguers saw action with a big league club.

At the same time, Atlantic League franchises can bring revenue and jobs to a town, and provide entertainment for fans, whether it's the play on the field or the between-innings entertainment.

York Revolution pitchers Ian Thomas and Stephen Penny warm up before the team begins practice Wednesday evening at Constellation Field in Sugar Land,
York Revolution pitchers Ian Thomas and Stephen Penny warm up before the team begins practice Wednesday evening at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas. The Texas state shaped video scoreboard has been the talk amoung local fans. (Randy Flaum) MORE PHOTOS

Now in its 15th season, the Atlantic League is welcoming a new member to its family this year. For a league that has been primarily located in the northeast United States, bringing the Sugar Land (Texas) Skeeters on board may be perhaps the league's boldest step yet in its short history.

Sugar Land opens the 2012 season Thursday night by hosting the York Revolution at Constellation Field, located about 30 minutes southwest of Houston.

Constellation Field: A little more than a year after its groundbreaking, the construction of Constellation Field is nearly complete.

Still being built are the offices for the front office staff, the pool located in the left-field corner of the park and a walk-up bar in right-center field.

The stadium sits on a tract of land that used to be a dairy farm until being turned into wetlands in the 1950s.

In many ways, Constellation Field somewhat follows the blueprint used for Sovereign Bank Stadium in York and Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster.

There are 21 suites and upper-level and lower-level seating, with a total capacity of 7,500 fans for baseball games and 9,500 for concerts. Similar to features in York, there is a manual scoreboard in the outfield wall in left field, a playground beyond the left-center-field wall and grass seating beyond the right-field wall.

Perhaps the most distinctive feature, though, is the giant Texas-shaped electronic scoreboard in center field.

Support: By all accounts, the Skeeters expect to receive good fan support in the franchise's inaugural season.

According to 2010 U.S. Census results, there is a population of nearly 79,000 in the city of Sugar Land and more than 585,000 in surrounding Fort Bend County.

The club has already sold 2,300 season tickets for the 2012 campaign. That's positive news for a club that's basically located in the backyard of the Houston Astros. Then again, it helps having former major leaguer and Houston Astros hitting coach Gary Gaetti managing the Skeeters.

"I think it could be a nice relationship," Gaetti said last week about Sugar Land and Houston. "The Houston area is certainly big enough to handle two (pro) teams, possibly three. It's such a big baseball town. I'm not expecting any problems in terms of competition."

Move out west: Sugar Land becomes the first "western" team for the Atlantic League. The Skeeters join a group of seven other teams located across Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Long Island (N.Y.), New Jersey and Maryland. So, why the move out west?

"The plan has always been to be nationwide," said Peter Kirk, chairman of Opening Day Partners. "Ideally there's an East Coast eight-team division and West Coast eight-team division. That's the direction we're going."

Opening Day Partners owns five of the eight teams in the Atlantic League, including Sugar Land and York.

Travel costs: The added expense of flying to Sugar Land might be a concern -- all teams will use Southwest Airlines this season. Kirk estimates each team spends about $60,000 a year on bus travel alone. Air travel should be about a fifth of that, Kirk said.

"(Air travel costs) have gone up but it's part of what we're trying to do with the Atlantic League and that's to have a nationwide footprint," Kirk said. "Once we get a couple teams in that western division, the travel (costs) improve dramatically."

Expansion: Kirk isn't kidding when he talks about expansion. He said there are "already a couple communities" in the Houston area that are interested in adding a second franchise to rival Sugar Land.

And Kirk confirmed the league is looking into putting a team back in Atlantic City. It's unclear what the status is of the Loudon (Va.) Hounds franchise. The Hounds were originally slated to begin play in the league in 2012, but construction of a new stadium has yet to begin.

Multiple reports have also said Boston (Mass.) lawyer Alex Bok would like to build a $50 million baseball stadium in Boston and join the Atlantic League.

To Kirk, where the league is headed in the future is just a matter of timing.

"Timing is everything. Very seldom have I heard (from community leaders) 'Absolutely not. We don't want our town to have a ballpark,'" Kirk said. "It's always 'Yeah, it would be nice to have it but the timing isn't right.' So, people in the community just have to keep working at it until the planets align."

York Dispatch photog rapher Randy Flaum con tributed to this story. Reach John Walk at 505-5406 or jwalk@york dispatch.com or follow on Twitter @YorkSportsGuy.