By Geoff Wilson
November 29, 2001
The rest of the baseball world may not know much about it, but the secret is out in Shreveport and in the north Dallas suburb of Frisco: The Shreveport Swamp Dragons are one year away from extinction.
Rumors have floated around the Louisiana city since the Shreveport Times first reported rumblings of a franchise move in early November. The Times broke the news this week that dual press conferences will take place in Shreveport and Frisco on Monday.
At those press conferences, Mandalay Sports Entertainment, which owns the Swamp Dragons, is expected to announce the Texas League franchise will leave Shreveport when its lease at Fair Grounds Field expires after the 2002 season. The apparent destination is Frisco, where Rangers owner Tom Hicks is building a $300 million entertainment complex with a 9,000-seat stadium, slated to open in 2003.
The move would require the approval of the Texas League, but no formal request had been made yet.
“We have not applied to relocate the franchise as of this minute,” Mandalay spokesman Kevin Mortesen said. “But I’d be happy to talk on Monday.”
League president Tom Kayser confirmed no request has been made, but he said such a request could be put to a vote at the league’s annual meeting, which will take place at the Winter Meetings in Boston in two weeks.
“If there’s a request made before our meeting, it would be appropriate for anyone to ask for action,” Kayser said. “Anyone can have an item placed on the agenda, either prior to or at the time of the meeting.”
The franchise has struggled to draw fans in Shreveport in recent years and had the worst attendance in Double-A in 2001, drawing 59,316 fans for an average of 913 a game.
The struggles took place in part because the local market didn’t take kindly to Mandalay’s preseason changes, which included switching the team name and logo from the traditional Captains.
A planned move would leave the Swamp Dragons a lame-duck franchise in 2002, and the team has already pared its front-office staff down from more than 15 to two. General manager Roxy Dancy is trying to make the best of the situation, though.
“We’re making plans to play baseball here in 2002,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a challenge. It’ll be an interesting season.”
Interesting? Maybe. Fun? “I don’t see anything fun about it at all” Dancy said. “But we’re just forging right on ahead. We’re not doing anything different than we’ve done in the past.”
As for Frisco, Hicks and his Southwest Sports Group plan to build a complex that will include shops, restaurants, the minor league stadium and a training facility for the NHL’s Dallas Stars, which Hicks also owns.
The new Frisco team could be a Rangers affiliate in 2003, as the franchise’s existing player-development contract with the Giants expires after next season.
That would be a significant change because the Rangers have had their Double-A affiliate in Tulsa since 1977. Drillers GM Chuck Lamson said he has not heard anything about a potential change from the Rangers, and he certainly isn’t going to make the first move.
“We’re happy with our relationship with the Rangers,” he said. “We’ve been with them for 25 years. We’ve read the newspapers, too, but until they approach us, our assumption is that they’re happy working with us, and we’ll be staying with them through the 2004 season.”
Mandalay is looking for quick approval, regardless of the affiliation. In addition, Mortesen said the group has no intentions of selling the franchise.
“Speaking hypothetically, I’d assume we would hope it would be a pretty quick move,” Mortesen said. “We’re in the business of owning and running franchises, and that’s the business we’re going to stay in.”