Santa Maria Sun / Breaking News
Minor league dreamsBY KRISTINA SEWELL
The city of Santa Maria is rich in baseball tradition. On June 11 at City Hall, the Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Commission heard a proposal from an investment group hoping to bring some of that tradition back to Santa Maria. The purpose of the meeting was to present the idea to the commission and interested members of the public; no official approval for the project has yet been made.
According to city officials, it's been about five years since the collegiate-level Santa Maria Indians left and took up residence in Templeton. They played for decades at Elks Field prior to the move.
The interested investment group—hoping to become "Santa Maria Baseball LLC—is represented by Kim Karabatsos, Jim Whiteside, and Mike King. All three have vast experience with baseball and team management.
The proposal calls for the establishment of an independent, professional minor league team in Santa Maria. According to Whiteside and his counterparts, independent baseball leagues form their own rules and regulations, but still bring baseball to smaller cities.
"This is a great community that fits the demographic of what independent baseball is looking for," Karabatsos said.
Whiteside said another benefit of independent baseball is that players have more chances to form a bond with the community.
"That's what independent baseball is all about," he said.
The proponents said independent baseball allows for more flexibility in choosing players. Whiteside emphasized that a team like this would be a great opportunity for local talent from Allan Hancock College and other sources.
As of right now, the proposed team would share use of Elks Field through a standard rental agreement; revenue would be shared with the stadium owners.
The investment group said team revenue would be generated through ticket sales, advertisement, sponsors, licensed merchandising, and special events. Engaging schools and other parts of the community is a significant part of the proposal as well.
Despite the promise this project holds, the public comments portion of the meeting revealed some concerns with the logistics of available parking and field use. Currently, numerous wreck league teams &mdash the Santa Maria Reds, Packers, and Babe Ruth league—already use the field.
"I love the idea but we already share the field," said Ellis Kane, local resident and parent of a Babe Ruth league player. "I don't know how this would work; we already accommodate a lot of people."
Stacy Newby, president of the Babe Ruth league, said there are 16 teams currently sharing the fields.
"Someone tried this 10 or 12 years ago and it didn't work," Newby said. "I don't know if we have enough parking."
The public also aired concerns that a team like this would take away from existing organizations—something Whiteside immediately addressed.
"We don't want to move forward without community support and we do not want to bring down what is already functioning," he said, emphasizing a joint partnership with all involved parties working together.
The commissioners did interject that the idea of this team would be to provide opportunities to players after high school, and they said there might be solutions to the field use issue. One of the more important questions raised at the meeting was, out of all the Central Coast communities, why Santa Maria?
"One thing Santa Maria has is a true history of baseball—and that's one of the things we look at," Karabatsos said.
At the end of the meeting, the commission gave the group consensus to move forward with the due diligence process, which includes gauging public support, fiscal analysis, and reporting findings to the city.
The next step for the investors is to evaluate fields through development of a volunteer advisory committee. If all goes well, they want to play ball by 2014.
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