SPARKS - The dream is still very much alive.
Not much has been heard from Sierra Nevada Baseball, the group that is attempting to bring Triple-A baseball to Northern Nevada. The group started in 2003 with hopes of having a stadium built and a Pacific Coast League team purchased in time for the 2006 season.
However, the group has hit some tough times in the last 12 months. Lack of an investor and the inability to purchase a current PCL team because of that, has pushed back the proposed start date to 2007.
The local group is looking for an investor and a current PCL team to purchase. The Las Vegas franchise (Los Angeles Dodgers farm club) is for sale, according to Sierra Nevada Baseball general partner Phil Zive, and Tacoma is another franchise that was mentioned several times at the Triple-A all-star game recently in West Sacramento, Calif..
Zive and Branch Rickey, PCL president, are remaining optimistic that a deal can be struck.
"We hope to finalize something very shortly," said Zive Wednesday morning, "Under a confidentiality agreement I can't say any more than that."
The entire project will cost $60 million, according to Zive, who admitted it's been tough to find people who can or are willing to put up that kind of money.
"We've got to find the right person," Zive said. "We are being very careful about that."
Rickey said the process is a long, tedious one. Besides county and state approval all teams must go through, franchise relocations and ownership changes must be approved by the PCL and Major League Baseball.
At the recent all-star game, Rickey again expressed confidence that the project would eventually get done, but he wouldn't give it a timetable.
"We've hit some bumps in the road," Rickey said. "There are things preceding that cause us to believe that legitimate progress is being made."
Rickey did say that the death of C.J. Jones, who originally spearheaded the effort, had an effect on the negotiations.
"C.J. did a lot of the negotiations," Zive said. "He didn't tell everything to everybody. Things were happening so quickly back then. We didn't know what he had promised people or what had been promised to him. It took time (to find out all that)."
Rickey said that he likes the character of the community and growth rate of the Northern Nevada region. The Northern Nevada entry would be the second-smallest in the PCL, but Rickey said that he envisions it to be on par with at least four other franchises by the time the stadium is built.
Zive did say for the team to play in 2007, an agreement had to be reached soon and the stadium would have to be started by January, 2006. He said it would take 14 or 15 months to complete the stadium, though it could be done faster if needed.
The stadium site, which is located near the Sparks Marina, is expected to cost nearly $30 million, and Zive admitted the project was a few million over budget because of the cost of concrete and steel. Approximately $19 million came from bonds financed with a 2 percent rental car surcharge authorized by the Nevada State Legislature in 2003 and enacted by Washoe County in 2004.
Zive said that the PCL has allowed the Sierra Nevada group to decrease capacity (in seats) from 10,000 to 9,000. In return, Zive said that there will be a bigger berm in the outfield for the fans to watch the game from. The berm area is extremely popular at West Sacramento's Raley Field.
Zive said his group will be service oriented. He wants to make sure that the franchise gets repeat business, and he stressed that it was for locals. Zive believes that tourist will make up a small percentage of the attendance. Tickets will range from $6 (grass) to $12 or $14 for a seat behind the plate. Zive said he wants to make it affordable for families.
Zive did say another reason why the project was put off for a year was because of Player Development Agreements with the Major League teams. The majority of the agreements don't end until after the 2006 season. Zive said he wanted to avoid being affiliated with a team for one season and then having a different affiliation the next year.
Air transportation is always considered when a franchise is moved to a new location. One writer who covers Minor League baseball said that Rickey had expressed concerns about Reno because of the lack of flights going in and out on a daily basis.
"We've given consideration to transportation in and out of the Reno area," Rickey said on Wednesday. "It has better transportation than some other areas. We do not feel in any way that it will be a problem."
Having a Northern Nevada franchise could cut down on travel expenses. Teams from Salt Lake, Fresno and Sacramento could easily bus to the Sparks-Reno area, thereby saving a great deal of money.
Another consideration is the weather.
Weather in Northern Nevada, especially in the spring, isn't the greatest. Rickey said that if a franchise lands in Northern Nevada, no special treatment will be given.
"Weather is a concern for every city we operate in," Rickey said. "Some people say it's too hot in some places (Las Vegas, Tucson and Sacramento). Some say we're too close to hurricanes. We will be even-handed. We can't start a team on the road 22 of 30 days (because of weather) because then they have to be home 22 of 30 days. That's not fair to the other teams."
Darrell Moody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calluing (775) 881-1281