While warming up between innings of a game against the Toronto Blue Jays two years ago, Dave Winfield of the New York Yankees struck and killed a sea gull with one of his throws.
Although the sea gull is not Canada's national bird, a fan watching the game on local television was so outraged that he called the Toronto police, who charged Winfield with cruelty to animals.
The charges were later dropped, but the Blue Jays' association with gulls was renewed Monday when the American League's Eastern Division champions entered into a one-year working agreement with a Class-A minor league baseball team that will play its home games next season at Ventura College.
The California League team will be called the Ventura County Gulls.
The team's owners--former major league players Ken McMullen and Jim Colborn, and retired funeral director Jim Biby--met last week with Bob Mattick, the Blue Jays' director of player development, at major league baseball's winter meetings in San Diego.
Said Gordon Ashe, administrator of player personnel for the Blue Jays: "Bob liked them as people and liked them as baseball people and basically thought that the Ventura site and city had more to offer than the alternatives."
Ashe said the Blue Jays also considered Miami and a return to Kinston, N. C., where they fielded a team last season in the Carolina League.
The signing of the player-development contract with the Blue Jays ends a long struggle for the Ventura County group, which paid $125,000 in March to buy the franchise from Stockton businesswoman Michele Sprague.
The team didn't even have a place to play until the Ventura County Community College District Governing Board voted last month to consider a contract that would allow the Gulls to roost at Ventura College. The board will vote Jan. 7 whether to approve the contract.
"There have been many, many roadblocks, stumbling holes and everything else," McMullen said. "Obviously, there may be a few more, but right now it's a go. We have the working agreement, we have the players, we have a place to play. We're ready to go."
Under terms of a working agreement, or player-development contract, a major league team farms players, coaches and a manager to a minor league affiliate. Salaries and meal money are paid by the big league team. The minor league owner markets the team and provides a place to play.
Ashe said last month that the Blue Jays had reservations about entering a working agreement with a West Coast franchise. Monday, he said: "It's still a concern in that our whole program is basically up and down the East Coast, but I think it's a workable concern. We'll have a complete club in Ventura County and, barring injuries, there shouldn't be a lot of shuffling."
Ashe called the 10-team California League a "high A" league and said the Blue Jays would send their better Class-A prospects to Ventura County. The Blue Jays will retain their association with Florence, S. C.,
of the Class-A South Atlantic League.
Last season, Florence won the league championship in a five-game playoff with Greensboro, N.C. Kinston won the Southern Division second-half championship in the Carolina League, but lost in the playoffs to Winston-Salem, N.C., the first-half winner. The Blue Jays' rookie league team in Medicine Hat, Alberta, was 26-44 and finished third in the Southern Division of the Pioneer League.
Ashe said that Glen Ezell, bullpen coach for the Texas Rangers last season, will manage the Gulls. Biby will handle the day-to-day operation of the club as general manager, McMullen said.
The Gulls will charge $2.75 and $1.75 for tickets, with season tickets for all 72 home games going for $150. . . . The California League season opens April 11 and ends Aug. 31. . . . In an unofficial survey, co-owner Ken McMullen said, the most popular nickname suggested for the team was Condors. The owners rejected the nickname, however, because Oxnard College already uses it. Also considered were Seals and Dolphins. . . . Information on season tickets: 805-642-0255 or 805-656-3314, or write to P.O. Box 6579, Ventura 93006. . . . McMullen said the Gulls hope to move to Camarillo for the 1987 season.