Sliding into second

Talk of bringing professional baseball back to Chico brings pleasant memories of summers in Chico with the Heat of the Western Baseball League. But the optimistic talk should be tempered with caution.

The people behind the push to bring a California League team here—notably Bob Linscheid and Dino Corbin—say the league has told them that, if they provide a stadium, it will provide the team. On the plus side, the California League is affiliated with Major League Baseball, which contracts with the players and pays the salaries. The league has been around since 1940, and its current president has held that post for more than 20 years. That means greater stability than the WBL had to offer. If we learned anything from the days of the Heat, it’s that a baseball league is only as sound as its weakest member.

Bringing a team here is the easy part. Finding the land and money to build a stadium presents a greater challenge. Backers have said the stadium will be privately financed. But, unless they can find another Steve Nettleton—the man who donated millions of dollars to bring the Heat here—to pay for a new stadium, financing it privately is not likely.

One councilmember, up for re-election this year, has climbed aboard this latest baseball express and already made vague references to mysterious people willing to donate land and financial help.

But until we hear the details, we can’t help but think that at some point the city will be asked to join the effort, either by selling a revenue-generating bond, which will be paid off only if the team turns a profit, or via redevelopment funding, which will restrict where the stadium can be built and quite possible take up space better used for residential development. Either way, the city could be left holding the bag for a failed franchise.

Is Chico really a baseball town? Interest in the Heat began to wane in the last few years. “Paid attendance” figures were at times twice the actual number of people in the seats. And Chico State University’s baseball program, one of the most successful in the nation, attracts only a smattering of fans each season.

Let’s not get too far off base when considering this proposal. We might get picked off.