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Pitch Made for Ventura County Farm Team

March 26, 1985|JERRY CROWE | Times Staff Writer

Three Ventura County residents are trying to bring back minor league baseball to Southern California after an 18-year absence.

Former major league players Ken McMullen and Jim Colborn and their business partner, retired funeral director Jim Biby, have an option to purchase the Lodi franchise of the California League.

They plan to buy the Class A franchise and move it to Ventura County for the 1986 season if they are assured by May 1 that fields will be upgraded to league standards.

Facilities at Freedom Park in Camarillo and at Oxnard College are being considered.

McMullen, who played with the Dodgers and Angels in a 14-year major league career, said it would cost about $500,000 to $750,000 to install adequate lighting and build a stadium with a minimum seating capacity of 3,000 at either site.

Commitment Needed

"We have to have a commitment from one of the cities to finance the project," said McMullen, an Oxnard High graduate who has lived in Camarillo for 10 years. "We certainly wouldn't want to make an investment like that without some sort of written agreement that we're going to have a park."

McMullen said his group will pay more than $100,000 for the franchise.

Camarillo and Oxnard city councils have formed committees to study the practicality of building a stadium.

McMullen told council members a minor league team could generate up to $50,000 a month to be spent with area businesses, including players' living expenses and visiting teams' lodging.

"People are positive about having a team," Camarillo City Manager Tom Oglesby said. "But there is a considerable amount of concern, of course, about who is going to sign on the dotted line for $750,000."

Jim Faulconer, deputy city manager of Oxnard, likes the idea if financing can be found. He said the city also is trying to attract the Los Angeles Raiders to hold their summer camp there.

Enhancing City's Image

"This would be another step toward enhancing the city's image," Faulconer said.

The Lodi franchise, owned by Michele Sprague of Stockton, became available when Sprague's player-development contract with the Chicago Cubs was not renewed after last season. The Cubs then signed a contract with Winston-Salem of the Carolina League.

Sprague did not reach a working agreement with another major league club, so the Lodi franchise is not playing this season.

Sprague, vacationing in Europe, was unavailable for comment.

(Major league teams farm players, managers and coaches to their minor league affiliates. Lodi, without a player-development contract, is without players.)

McMullen believes he can reach an agreement with a major league club. His top choices are the Dodgers and Angels.

"It's somewhat of a risk," he said of his group's attempt to purchase a team without first acquiring a player-development contract, "but we feel confident that if we provide a first-class facility we'll be able to get a working agreement."

The Dodgers have a California League team in Bakersfield and another Class A team in Vero Beach, Fla. The Angels have a California League team, the Redwood Pioneers, in Rohnert Park, Calif., and another Class A team in Quad City, Iowa.

Dodgers and Angels spokesmen said they would be interested in talking to the Ventura County group--if it completes the deal to purchase the Lodi franchise.

Bill Schweppe, director of minor league operations for the Dodgers (a former parent club of Lodi), has talked to McMullen, he said, "on several occasions."

Said Schweppe: "As far as the Dodgers are concerned, we're committed to Bakersfield for 1985; 1986 is pretty far down the road. We're happy in Bakersfield, but we wouldn't rule out (moving to Ventura County). . . .

"We take it one year at a time."

Bill Bavasi, director of minor league operations for the Angels, said his team's three-year contract with the Redwood Pioneers expires at the end of the 1985 season.

"After this year," he said, "we would have to look at how things went with our affiliation. If the Ventura County site was available, we would definitely look into it."

The California League this season has teams in Fresno, Modesto, Salinas, San Jose, Stockton, Visalia, Rohnert Park, Bakersfield and Reno, Nev. Each will play 143-146 games this year because of an odd number of teams in the league. Last year, each played 144.

A Ventura County team, McMullen said, would have 60 to 65 home dates, including double-headers. Tickets would cost $1 to $3.50.

Last season, Lodi drew 45,027 spectators in 65 home games, an average of 693. Bakersfield led the league in home attendance, drawing 102,053 in 64 dates, an average of 1,595.

The league's stadiums seat an average of about 3,500.

McMullen said his team would have to draw about 1,000 to 1,500 a game to show a profit, an average he believes would not be difficult to maintain in a tri-city area (Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura) with a population of 250,000.

California League President Joe Gagliardi said he would "love to have that area in the league. . . . I'm enthusiastic about that area because I think it has expanded greatly since when baseball was there before."

Southern California has not had a minor league team since the Santa Barbara Dodgers folded in 1967. The Channel Cities Oilers, who played in Ventura and Santa Barbara, moved to Reno in 1956.

Gagliardi said he has talked in the past with McMullen and Colborn, a 10-year major league veteran who is a pitching coach in the Chicago Cubs' organization, about starting an expansion team in Ventura County.

He said, however, that the league had decided against expansion until all 10 teams are fully supported by major league teams.

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