Bakersfield ownership up in the air

By Lance Pugmire
December 14, 2001

LOS ANGELES–Confronting a collapsed deal, California League President Joe Gagliardi said he remains patient about placing a new owner and new ballpark in Bakersfield, despite last week’s decision by Hank Stickney to scrap Mandalay Sports Entertainment’s bid to purchase the Bakersfield Blaze.

“If Mr. Stickney says the time restraints aren’t right, that’s his decision,” Gagliardi said before departing for baseball’s winter meetings. “He wanted to pull out. He did. That’s for him and the Mandalay people to think about. I’m not going to worry about a [darn] thing until Dec. 12.”

Yet, on Wednesday, members of the Bakersfield City Council did not extend the Dec. 18 deadline for developer Ray Olmscheid to provide loan documents for his planned $30 million to $35 million city center project, which would be anchored on a 35-acre site by a new ballpark. Stickney, owner of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, has not commented on the matter, but several reports of Olmscheid’s financial problems are believed to have led to Stickney’s decision to back out.

In October, Stickney said, “The only thing that can ruin this deal now is the developer.”

Mandalay was prepared to take over daily operations of the Blaze in January. The California League was going to purchase the team from Blaze owner Pat Patton for $3.9 million, then turn the team over to Stickney and Mandalay if Minor League Baseball overturned its rule against dual ownership in one league–an item to be voted on during the winter meetings.

Although the deal had been agreed to in principle–Stickney appeared at a news conference in Bakersfield to announce the strategy–Gagliardi has acknowledged that nothing was signed. A league source said Patton received a $50,000 nonrefundable deposit with the agreement, but Gagliardi denied that.

“[Patton] is in the same position he’s always been, owner of the franchise,” Gagliardi said.

While Bakersfield city manager Alan Tandy has said the city will pursue another developer if Olmscheid fails, Gagliardi said, “I’ve had other people interested [in owning Bakersfield] on the back burner behind Mr. Stickney.”

Visalia owners Tom Seidler and Kevin O’Malley are interested in a new ballpark, and league sources have said High Desert owner Bobby Brett is interested in the Bakersfield proposal.

Yet, Gagliardi conceded if Olmscheid fails to meet the loan deadline, it would delay a new ballpark in Bakersfield until at least the 2004 season.

“This is not over,” Gagliardi said. “A lot of things in business happen in the 11th hour.”