The Portland Beavers are getting booted out of their ballpark by a soccer team and will likely land in Lake Elsinore, at least for the time being.
Jeff Moorad, CEO of the Padres, is organizing a new ownership group that will buy the Pacific Coast League franchise—which also happens to be the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate—from current owner Merritt Paulson. The new ownership will move the Beavers to Lake Elsinore while a permanent facility is built elsewhere in Southern California, several sources confirmed.
The Beavers will be without a home after this season, as PGE Park will be converted into a soccer-only facility to house the Portland Timbers. The Timbers are also owned by Paulson and will make the jump from a lower league to Major League Soccer next season.
Paulson went forward with the plans to convert PGE Park, with the expectation that he would be able to get a baseball-only facility built in Portland. But those proposals were rejected by local officials or voters, leaving the Beavers with nowhere to play.
In Lake Elsinore, the Beavers would share The Diamond, a 7,866-seat ballpark that opened in 1994, with the Lake Elsinore Storm, a California League franchise that is also a Padres affiliate.
Minor League Baseball has made it clear, sources said, that the arrangement in Lake Elsinore can be for only one season.
“The situation is something the California League and Pacific Coast League would not consider a long-term solution, but a one-year interim is a possibility,” Pacific Coast League president Branch Rickey said.
The move to Southern California has been made possible in part by Storm owner Gary Jacobs, who is a longtime Padres board member. Jacobs would likely have a stake in the new Portland ownership group, assuming the team does make the move to Southern California.
Jacobs was out of the country and not available for comment.
Looking For Permanent Home
Moorad’s Beavers ownership group includes as many as 12 people, ranging from former NFL quarterback Troy Aikman to San Diego businessmen Al Baldwin and John McEvoy, to Save Mart Supermarkets CEO Robert Piccinini and Panda Restaurant Group CEO Tom Davin.
Rickey said he expected the ownership situation to be settled shortly, with a decision on Portland’s 2011 home to follow soon after that. He and other sources confirmed the Padres are working on a couple of potential permanent locations in Southern California.
“Once we have ownership in place, the dialog of territories, the 2011 location and schedule will continue,” Rickey said.
Moorad shed more light on the subject. “We’re still negotiating with the Paulson group,” he said. “Some of the discussions will turn on where that club finds a permanent home. We’ve had discussions about playing in Lake Elsinore for a year. All we’ve discussed is the 2011 season.”
Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner said he is monitoring the situation.
“I’m a facilitator, not a roadblock,” O’Conner said. “I’m aware of everything that’s going on with the Portland franchise, but I really don’t come into play until there is something in place. When I’m presented with a plan, if it looks good, I’ll OK it.”
Many financial issues remain to be worked out. The cost for the Portland franchise could run between $20 million-$25 million, though some sources have mentioned a low-ball figure of $16 million. Because Paulson is in a distressed situation with nowhere to play next season, he might not be able to command top dollar, but the PCL’s Oklahoma City franchise recently sold for around $20 million.
Next would come the ballpark, which will go a long way toward determining the franchise’s permanent home.
The two places that appear to be the frontrunners are the San Diego suburbs of Escondido, an inland community of about 150,000, and neighboring San Marcos, a city of about 85,000. Both communities are about 45 minutes north of Petco Park and downtown San Diego.
Tucson has been mentioned as a possibility, but the Padres are cool to that idea. Sources also said an ownership group in El Paso “would love to get the Portland club.” El Paso has 9,000-seat Cohen Stadium, which was built in 1990 and renovated in 2003. It was originally home for a Texas League franchise but currently houses a club in the independent American Association.
Going To California
Moorad clearly wants his team’s Triple-A franchise in California. “We’ve had talks with several municipalities, including Escondido,” he said.
The cost of a new ballpark is expected to be around $45 million-$60 million, depending on the cost of the land, the size of the ballpark and the bells and whistles attached to it. City of Escondido officials have discussed a plan to fully finance a 9,000-seat ballpark in a part of the city that has been targeted for redevelopment. Escondido mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler said she believes a ballpark would spur development of a district of shops and condos.
San Marcos looked like the frontrunner for a time, with a proposal to build a new stadium on the Cal State San Marcos campus that would house the university’s proposed NCAA Division II team as well as the PCL franchise. The land on the campus is already graded, with parking structures in place.
San Marcos officials envision the stadium as a centerpiece of a 194-acre University District, with shops, restaurants and housing.
“We’re waiting on the Padres on plans, stadium requirements and financing,” said Tom Seitz, athletic director at Cal State San Marcos. “The Padres are now working through our president’s office.”
Escondido, though, appears to have jumped in front because it has a financing plan. Escondido officials previously pitched the area to the NFL Chargers as a spot for a new stadium. The drawback in Escondido is that several large buildings would have to be cleared before construction could start.
“We’re on the record and excited about operating a Triple-A franchise in Padres’ territory,” Moorad said. “And we want to break ground, start turning shovels of dirt within four to six months.
“To be clear, though, our ownership group—not the Padres—will make the deal that makes sense to all parties.”
Padres general manager Jed Hoyer is a product of the Red Sox organization. He sees the advantage of having the parent club’s minor league affiliates within driving distance, such as Lake Elsinore or North County.
“From the baseball side, it’s tremendously efficient to have your minor league franchises lined up,” Hoyer said. “It’s better for major leaguers on rehab assignments and it saves a lot of money.”
Hoyer gave an example from his time in Boston. “Daisuke Matsuzaka was warming up for a start in Boston,” he said. “He had to be scratched just before game time, but the Red Sox were able to make a call to Pawtucket and have a reliever in uniform by the fifth inning.
“Things can happen when you have teams in close proximity.”
Pawtucket, Boston’s Triple-A affiliate, is 36 miles from Boston. Portland, the Double-A affiliate, is 110 miles away.
“I’m not involved in the day-to-day dealings on this relocation, but I was asked about the efficiency of the Boston minor league situation, and I told our people it was fantastic,” Hoyer said. “Certainly cost is an issue, but there are a ton of positives from the baseball side as far as getting players to the big leagues and scouts watching prospects.”