El Paso is now a Triple-A baseball city.
Pacific Coast League President Branch Rickey on Thursday announced that MountainStar Sports Group has officially acquired the minor league Tucson Padres, who should play their first game in the Sun City in 2014.
"I'm so pleased to be welcoming El Paso to the Pacific Coast League for 2014," Rickey said during the announcement in the Philanthropy Theatre in the Plaza Theatre Downtown.
El Paso is one of only 30 Triple-A cities in the nation, and only the second in Texas to have a Triple-A minor league team. Round Rock, near Austin, is home to the Express team.
"There is a wonderful, wonderful, contagious affiliation that comes to El Paso with baseball," Rickey said. He added that the Pacific Coast League and both Minor and Major League Baseball approved the sale of the team and its relocation to El Paso. "As your city's name is mentioned in the (sports news) coverage, you are identified with other member teams in the league -- teams whose stature draw attention to what El Paso has become in recent years."
Rickey was joined in the news conference by new MountainStar President Alan Ledford and MountainStar founders Paul Foster, Alejandra de la Vega Foster, Woody Hunt and Josh Hunt, as well as Mayor John Cook.
"This is El Paso's team," Josh Hunt said. "We want it to be a treasure for our community to embrace, to cheer on and to enjoy for the decades to come."
MountainStar Sports reportedly purchased the Tucson Padres from Jeff Moorad, owner of the San Diego Padres, for about $20 million. Group officials would not confirm the final purchase price.
"It's a very exciting day for El Paso," said Cook, who last month threatened to veto a City Council decision to approve a contract with MountainStar for the lease of the yet-to-be built ballpark.
In a split vote, the El Paso City Council on Sept. 18 approved a contract with MountainStar for the lease of a ballpark, which the council in June agreed to build if the investors secured the Triple-A team. Cook opted against the veto.
The move has not been without controversy, as some object that the ballpark will be built where City Hall and the Insights El Paso Science Center now stand and that the project was not taken to the voters for approval.
Officials said that having a minor league team in El Paso will not only help stimulate the economy and redevelopment of Downtown El Paso but also provide quality family entertainment for the entire region.
"This binational region where we are bound by ties among families, friendships and businesses will be the new home to a team in a sport that's king," de la Vega said. She added that Juarez is just as proud as El Paso to have a Triple-A team.
Mexico, and in particular northern Chihuahua, has a great baseball history and a great passion for the sport -- which will attract many into El Paso from across the border -- de la Vega said.
Rickey said security across the border was an initial concern in awarding El Paso a team, but it became a non-factor after studying and visiting the region many times during the past few months. He said the population in the region and the rich Mexican baseball history de la Vega spoke about soon became seen as an attribute instead.
Ledford said it's about more than a ballgame.
"We are not just in the baseball business. We are in the memory-making business, in the entertainment business," said Ledford, founder and CEO of Perfect Game Ventures LLC, a sports advisory and management company based in San Francisco.
Ledford was a consultant to MountainStar during the acquisition process.
"We love baseball fans, but we love people who just want to come out for a night for a great baseball experience," Ledford said.
Ledford now has the task of transitioning the team from Tucson, where the Padres will play in 2013 while the El Paso ballpark is built.
A construction starting date has not been set, but city officials said it needs to be no later than March 2013 for the ballpark to open in April 2014.
MountainStar officials would not comment on whether the federal lawsuit filed by former Mayor Ray Salazar on Oct. 4 to stop the demolition of City Hall would affect their plans, but Cook said he didn't think the lawsuit had merit.
Salazar and two other El Pasoans are seeking a permanent injunction against razing City Hall. The lawsuit also asks that voters decide whether to build the ballpark at the selected site.
City Manager Joyce Wilson said Thursday that she expects to finalize the purchase of the El Paso Times building on North Campbell Street and another on Texas Avenue in early November, if not sooner. If negotiations stall, she said, she will present the City Council with lease options to relocate city operations.
Cook said he's pushing for leasing rather than buying buildings, but would wait to see all the options available to weigh their costs, advantages and challenges.
In the meantime, Ledford said MountainStar will soon begin a community input process in which residents will be involved in naming the team and selecting its colors and mascot. Under contract, the team's name must include "El Paso."
"That's where the fun will begin for El Paso," Ledford said. He added that individual ticket prices will begin at about $5, and that information on tickets and sponsorship opportunities will be announced in the coming months.
"This is El Paso's team now," he said, "and we hope the community will really begin to take ownership of it."
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