RENO - It started three years ago as a Stanford grad school project for Amit Patel and Dave Kaval, and if the first year is any indication, the Golden Baseball League is the real deal.
The eight-team GBL has expanded to Reno for the 2006 season and willl call Peccole Park home. The Reno franchise will be called the Silver Sox, the same name that the California League franchise used for more than 40 years.
The deal was finalized Wednesday between GBL and University of Nevada officials, and the Board of Regents must now give its final approval. The cost of the project is expected to be about $1.5 million, and Patel hopes to have the lights installed and the turf down by Feb. 17.
"I remember the first day that I saw Peccole Park," said Patel at Thursday's press conference. "It was a beautiful ballpark even though it was covered in three feet of snow. I knew it would be a great place to put an Golden League team here. We're excited to be here. It (the area) has tremendous growth in families and businesses make it an ideal market for us.
"We want to bring great baseball to the Western United States. We had 500,000 fans our first season. They watched Rickey Henderson and the San Diego Surf Dawgs win the inagural championship and we had the Japan Samurai Bears, the first all-Japanese team to play in a United States league."
And, the agreement gives Northern Nevada residents something they have lacked - summer professional baseball. The GBL plays a 90-game schedule that starts Memorial Day weekend and runs through Labor Day.
"Reno deserves professional baseball," said Dwitch Dortch, Reno vice-mayor and city councilman, who will serve as the team's general manager. "It's been gone for too long."
Patel said that Dortch's knowledge of the community was key to his hiring.
"We wanted somebody that was familiar with the community; that understands the community and was as passionate as Dwight is about baseball," Patel said.
Patel and Dortch stressed that they are looking for a family atmosphere, and that tickets will be affordable enough for a family of four to spend less than $50.
"We'll have a bounce house and other things for the kids," Patel said. "We'll create a kids' area. The Mesa team was called the Miners, and we had an area where kids could pan for gold. In San Diego, we had boardwalk where kids could throw darts and throw rings at a bottle."
Another positive is the econmical impact the team could have in the Reno-Sparks area. According to league officials and Nevada president John Lilley, the Chico team brought in $4.6 million last year.
"It's a great opportunity; fabulous for the community," Dortsch said.
The real winner in this venture is the University of Nevada, which will get lights installed and is in the process of getting field turf installed at Peccole. Nevada baseball coach Gary Powers is ecstatic about that.
"A number of people have come to talk to us about these kinds of things in the past," said Powers, who actually got the ball rolling with Patel approximately 18 months ago. "I had to share Moana Stadium with a pro team (the old Silver Sox) and it was one of the worst things when you have to share a facility with a pro baseball team.
"They are not trying to compete (for fans etc...). A lot of things needed to fall into place before this could happen. Cary (Groth, Nevada athletic director) did a great job with the overview of the project. I had to get the athletic administration to go along with this and then go to the university administration second. It's been a long haul, but it's worth it."
Powers said that five anonymous members of the community came forward and fronted money for a loan to get the field turf project under way.
Powers said the only dirt on the field will be on the pitcher's mound. The batter's box will be all field turf, and Powers said that players like the surface because it's consistent since there won't be holes or loose dirt. The warning track will be a different-colored turf. He said the turf comes in brown and green.
"They (the lights) complete the stadium," Powers said. "We'll have a nice playing surface. We'll have a better lighting system than anybody we'll play against.
"When William Peccole came forward 19 or 20 years ago and so graciously gave us the money for the stadium, he said he'd like to see the park used 365 days a year. This is a step in that direction."
Groth said that having the turf and lights will be a huge recruiting advantage for the Wolf Pack. She said that Powers will be able to attract top players.
The lights will enable Nevada to host an NCAA Regional event and bid yearly for the Western Athletic Conference post-season tournament. Nevada has pulled out of the running for this year's WAC tournament because school officials weren't sure whether all the work would get done, especially if the area undergoes a harsh winter as it did last year.
"If we're going to do it, we want to do it right," said Cindy Fox, Nevada's associate athletic director.