Cardinals To Buy El Paso Franchise

Club will move to Springfield, Mo. for 2005 season

By J.J. Cooper
August 23, 2004

After six months of denials from almost everyone involved, John Q. Hammons’ proclamations have proven true.

While officials with El Paso and the Texas League denied rumors of the Diablos’ move to Springfield, Mo., Hammons spent the last year promising a Double-A team would move to newly built Hammons Field in time for the 2005 season.

It looks like he’ll keep his promise. Barring unexpected hurdles in the approval process, the St. Louis Cardinals will buy the Diablos and move the club to Springfield in time for Opening Day next year. A pair of press conferences will make the move official. Diablos managing partner Bobby Brett has one scheduled for Monday evening, while Hammons will have one in Springfield on Tuesday.

The moves come at the beginning of minor league baseball’s reaffiliation process. This week, major and minor league teams can notify Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball of their intention to seek a new affiliation for the next two seasons. The Cardinals have notified the Tennessee Smokies (Southern) of their intent to see a new affiliate.

The new club will play at 8,000-seat Hammons Field, which the club will share with Southwest Missouri State. The $32 million stadium opened last spring for the Bears, but it was built with Double-A baseball in mind, with the capacity and amenities to easily handle a Double-A team. The stadium has 28 luxury suites, a souvenir shop, indoor batting cages and separate clubhouses for SMS and a minor league club.

Hammons, 84, is a hotelier who owns more than 50 hotels through the United States. He paid for the $32 million ballpark himself, but because some of his hotels include interests in casinos, he can’t own a minor league team.

The announcement ends months of denials by nearly everyone except for Hammons. Just a week ago, Texas League president Tom Kayser said in an interview with the Knoxville News-Sentinel, “Whatever is coming out of Springfield (Mo.) has no basis. Nobody in my league is looking to sell. There is no movement whatsoever.”

El Paso managing partner Bobby Brett had also denied the move. “If (Hammons) has a team, it sure isn’t ours,” Brett told the El Paso Times in February. “We’re not up for sale. There has been no offer, written or oral.”

Diablos general manager Brent Miles had offered to buy a steak for anyone willing to bet the Diablos would not be in El Paso in 2005. Contacted on Monday, Miles declined comment until after Monday evening’s press conference.

“There have been no offers to buy the team and the team is not for sale,” Miles told the El Paso Times in March. “We will be here next year and for years to come.”

In an interview with the Times, Brett said he is willing to try to bring a Triple-A team to El Paso if the city pays for $4 million in renovations to bring Cohen Stadium up to Triple-A standards.

But it looks likely that next year El Paso will be without affiliated baseball for the first time in 34 years. The Central League is a likely candidate to move to El Paso in the meantime. The league has a pair of clubs in Coastal Bend and Jackson that will face competition from affiliated clubs next season.