Cardinals Return To FSL

By Garry Overbey
August 30, 2002

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla.–The Rangers, preparing to move their spring training home to Arizona next year, have sold their Florida State League franchise to the Cardinals.

John McMichael of the Southwest Florida Sports Group, which oversees the Rangers, told Charlotte County officials Thursday the team had been sold.

An official announcement about whether the team will leave Charlotte County, along with other details of the sale, won’t come for at least another week, McMichael said.

“We made it official today,” said John Blake, Rangers executive vice president of communications. “Negotiations have been ongoing for several weeks. I don’t know how much the price was.”

The team could move to the Cardinals’ spring training facility at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., though the Marlins already have an FSL team playing at the facility.

Blake said the Rangers will look for another high Class A affiliate in either the Florida State, California or Carolina leagues. The Rangers’ low Class A team has been in Savannah, though that contract is up as well.

“The Cardinals probably can’t say where they could move the Charlotte franchise yet,” Blake said. “They could keep it in Charlotte, but that’s unlikely, or they could move it somewhere else. All we can really announce is the franchise has been sold.”

The announcement didn’t surprise county officials, who have been expecting a change in ownership.

“We’ve known for some time the Rangers would be sold,” said interim county administrator Pam Brangaccio said. “It was just a question of when and to whom.”

In case there was any doubt, the Charlotte Rangers’ 2002 pocket schedule, published in February, had the words “Final Season” on its cover.

Brangaccio said the Rangers organization will not release further details of the sale.

“We can’t say until after Sept. 6 where the Rangers are going, or if they’re going,” she said. “It’s up to the new owner where they are going to place them.”

Sept. 6 is the day major and minor league teams can begin negotiating new affiliation agreements.

At Charlotte Stadium, team officials were tight-lipped.

“All we’ve heard is that the franchise was sold,” said Pete Jackson, director of operations and concessions. “We expect to hear more by tomorrow.”

The Rangers wrapped up 16 years of spring training at Charlotte County Stadium this year, with plans to move into a new complex in Surprise, Ariz., next spring. The Rangers had an FSL team in Charlotte for each of those 16 years.

The possible departure of the Rangers raises more questions about the future of Charlotte County Stadium.

Brangaccio said the county has “left the welcome mat out for other minor league teams,” but officials aren’t placing all their hopes on another franchise coming here.

The county has talked with representatives from a new winter minor league and women’s professional softball about bringing teams to the stadium.

Officials now market the stadium as a “sports complex,” Brangaccio said, with tournaments, festivals and other events.

“We already have the schedule for next year,” she said. “It’s something minor league baseball could have been a part of and could still be a part of.”

It’s also possible the Cardinals could move their spring training to Charlotte, though that also seems unlikely. The Cardinals moved into the complex in Jupiter in 1998.

“We always have an open-door policy as far as big league baseball coming to Charlotte County,” commissioner Tom D’Aprile said. “I’m welcoming any ball club that wishes to use our stadium. I don’t like seeing the stadium used for things it wasn’t built for.”

Until St. Louis talks more about its plans, there’s only speculation. And Charlotte officials don’t have a lot to work with in that area.

“The only thing that means anything to me is whether they have any interest in staying,” commissioner Adam Cummings said.

Garry Overbey is a reporter for the Charlotte Sun Herald.