MISSION VIEJO — The president of the Long Beach Riptide minor league baseball team said Friday it will play its 1997 season at Saddleback College, pending approval of an interim lease by the school district and the city.
The commitment means that the team would sever ties with Long Beach and commit to playing in Mission Viejo even without a permanent guarantee of a home while an environmental impact report on the move is completed.
"You might consider it a huge risk, but we are confident about how the EIR will turn out," team president Pat Elster said. "Nothing good ever comes without risk."
The city has proposed building a 4,500-seat stadium on the Saddleback College campus for the team, but the trustees of the Saddleback Community College District have said they need more information, in the form of an EIR, before approving it.
That report, commissioned by the city, is expected in six to eight weeks--after the Riptide's Dec. 31 contractual deadline to commit one way or another to Long Beach.
So, the idea of an interim lease was proposed by the college. Under it, Mission Viejo would renovate the field currently used by the college team and arrange for temporary bleachers, at a cost of about $800,000, in time for the start of the Riptide's season in May.
The plan allows the ball field to be readied while the environmental report is done. Once the report is ready, the district would make a final decision on allowing Mission Viejo to build the $6-million ballpark.
Elster acknowledged that if the EIR is negative and the district turns down the stadium proposal, the team would be without a place to play.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the interim lease on Wednesday. The district trustees are expected to discuss it in closed session Monday night.
If both of them approve the lease, the ballclub will make the move, Elster said.
Mission Viejo officials and the ballclub have been enthusiastic about minor league baseball in South County.
But district trustee Dave Lang said the board needs more information.
"We all feel that this is an opportunity that would be of substantial benefit to the college under the right set of circumstances," he said. "We want to move the process along, but we haven't seen a lot of hard figures from feasibility studies" on the stadium.
"A lot of people are talking about this being a no-cost proposition, but there are a lot of associated costs that have to be identified, like the cost of insurance and maintenance," he said.
The interim lease will buy time for the district to get that information, City Manager Dan Joseph said.
"This is a great step forward," Joseph said. "It allows the Riptide to play here next year and allows them to start selling season tickets."
Elster said the move also requires the approval of team investors and the Western Baseball League.