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Stockton Baseball Owners Make Pitch to Ventura County Cities

Sports: The team has contacted officials from seven municipalities in hopes of finding a site to build a 5,000-seat ballpark.

June 24, 2000|CATHERINE BLAKE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Mudville Nine may strike out in Stockton, but Mighty Casey might get another at bat in Ventura County.

Although two minor league baseball teams have failed to make it in the county in the past 15 years, owners of the Stockton-based Mudville Nine are considering relocating here if they can find at least 25 acres on which to build a $20-million, 5,000-seat ballpark and parking area, said Tom Seidler, president of Top of the Third, a group that bought the baseball team two years ago.

The stadium could be used for other activities, said Seidler, the nephew of Peter O'Malley, former president of Major League Baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers.

Although he wouldn't name them, Seidler said he has contacted seven of the county's 10 cities to work in partnership toward construction of a stadium. He would not indicate how much taxpayer money he might be seeking from city governments.

Based in Stockton since the 1930s, the team was going to be a partner with the city to build a new stadium, but the deal fell through, a Stockton official said.

"We asked them to sign a letter indicating that they would be here through construction and that they would not romance any other cities in the meantime," said Bob Sivell, economic development manager for the city of Stockton. "We were asking for nothing more than any business person would reasonably ask."

The city was offering to build a $13-million stadium and rent it to the team for a nominal fee, Sivell said. "They couldn't have found a better deal financially."

Team owners said they gave Stockton full attention for two years. The owners, however, said they thought they could get a better deal when the city asked for a commitment.

"Ultimately the mayor issued an ultimatum and it was something that didn't make any sense to us," Seidler said. "We were not moving forward quickly enough."

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The team is not currently courting any other counties, said Seidler, who moved with Vice President Kevin O'Malley, his cousin and son of Peter O'Malley, to Oxnard in the past two weeks.

But Stockton's Sivell said officials from two other counties had called to tell him they had been contacted by the team.

Jim Walker, Ventura community services director, said he met with leaders earlier this week for an "exploratory meeting."

"It was a question of whether the city of Ventura could offer assistance in providing space or resources for their relocation, and frankly we don't have any space that would be available for that purpose," he said.

In 1996, the city was mired in controversy over a proposal to build a minor league baseball stadium in celery fields behind the Ventura Auto Mall. The plan was withdrawn in early 1997 over disagreements on how much taxpayer money would be spent on the project.

"I think some of the controversy associated with the history doesn't help their cause," Walker said.

Officials from several cities said the county's strict growth laws would make it hard to find enough land for a stadium.

"We don't have the land in our city and there are strict environmental concerns. It's as simple as that," said Mary Jane Lazz, Thousand Oaks city manager.

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Team owners said while teams and stadium proposals have failed in the past, the Mudville Nine has a specific and marketable theme which revolves around the 1888 poem "Casey at the Bat." The owners hope for a retro-style wooden stadium that would evoke the era of old-time baseball and have themed concession stands.

Also, the team is in the Class A California League and is affiliated with Major League Baseball. "That provides a more stable organization and is the training ground for guys for the major leagues," Seidler said. "It all comes down to finding the right partners."

The California League has 10 teams, the nearest in Lancaster. If the team moved to this county, it would play 70 home games and more than double that in a year.

In 1986 a Class-A California League team known as the Ventura County Gulls came and went after being based at ill-equipped Ventura College. The facility lacked lights, locker rooms or a ground crew. In 1998, another minor league team, the Pacific Suns, was kicked out of its league after one season for being insolvent.

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