The El Paso Chihuahuas will have to wait to don those home uniforms the new Pacific Coast League franchise unveiled two days ago.
El Paso announced Friday that its home opener, scheduled for April 11, has been pushed back until April 28 due to delays in the construction of the downtown ballpark being built for the Padres Triple-A affiliate. Instead, the team will kick off its home schedule on April 11 in Tucson at Kino Stadium, where it has spent the past three seasons, with a four-game series against the Reno Aces. The Chihuahuas return to the road with scheduled series at Albuquerque, Las Vegas and Sacramento before finally coming home to El Paso on April 28 against the Grizzlies.
Construction of the Chihuahuas' $64 million ballpark has been complicated from the start and the timeline to have it ready for Opening Day was equally aggressive. El Paso’s city hall was demolished last April to clear space for the still-to-be-named ballpark, and groundbreaking followed six weeks later on May 29, leaving just 10 months to have it ready for the start of the 2014 season.
The team prepared for the possibility of the ballpark not being ready by extending its lease at Kino Stadium in Tucson through 2014, and Pacific Coast League president Branch Rickey III said the delay is "not upsetting, not concerning and everyone in the league—especially the Reno ballclub—were keenly aware that this could occur."
As apparently were city officials, who on Wednesday promised the ballpark would be completed by the end of April and announced that crews could begin working around the clock to meet their deadline. Chihuahuas president Alan Ledford refused to call the delay a disappointment, but instead noted it is “just four games out of 72” this season that have been moved. “Over terms of our lease, we are going to play over 2,000 games at that ballpark.”
The extra 17 days before Opening Day will be used to finalize public safety components, concession spaces, and state-of-the-art amenities, the team announced in a press release. Ledford declined to point toward a particular part of the project as the culprit for the delay, but instead said such setbacks are typical for a project of this scope on such a short timeline.
"I would not characterize it as a circumstance as things not working or things going wrong," said Ledford, who previously helped oversee the opening of the Sacramento River Cats' Raley Field in 2000. "We all had our eye on April 11 . . . but at the end of the day, given the very aggressive schedule and the objective of wanting to create a first-class fan experience, we decided the best decision was to focus on April 28."
League officials recognized the possibility of a delayed opening and scheduled just four home dates over the first four weeks of the season, Rickey said.
"We wanted to enable them to have the best alternative our schedule would permit," Rickey said. "That enabled Plan B. If the stadium construction was running as tight as we anticipated, this way they wouldn't be opening at home and losing perhaps 12 games in that time. This very much falls into the just-in-case scenario we had allowed for."