The boys of summer are calling

Is Chico on the verge of getting another pro baseball team?

BUTTS IN THE SEATS? If pro baseball returns, the crowds surely will as well.

BUTTS IN THE SEATS? If pro baseball returns, the crowds surely will as well.

Photo By Tom Angel

It’s been nearly two years since Chicoans last heard the crack of wooden bats in the summertime. Although Chico State’s Wildcats still contribute their aluminum “pings” to our springs, the Chico Heat team has yet to be replaced.

However, despite the few false starts and dashed hopes of a couple of promising replacements, it looks like this may be the last summer this baseball-hungry town has to do without a professional baseball team.

“We’re close to it,” said former Heat minority owner Bob Linscheid about the prospect of the new pro team, adding, “It’s close to happening again.”

Linscheid and local Clear Channel Vice President and Market Manager Dino Corbin have been acting as an “informal task force” that has been pursuing bringing another pro baseball team to town. The latest prospect is the newly formed Golden Baseball League.

“I think it’s pretty imminent,” said Corbin. “You keep your eyes on the next couple, three weeks.”

The league has yet to finalize contracts with the charter cities, so no one can confirm that Chico will definitely be one of the teams chosen for the inaugural season opener in June 2005. But, Linscheid said, discussions with the GBL are currently underway.

Jim Weyerman, chief marketing officer for the league, would say only, “We’re in different points of discussion with 15 different cities.” But he also pointed to Chico’s positive history with the Heat, saying, “Chico’s already proven itself.”

The Golden Baseball League is the brainchild of 28-year-old David Kaval, a Stanford business grad who has the impressive credentials of working on the national-security budget for the Office of the President of the United States, as well writing The Summer that Saved Baseball, a chronicle of his journey to 30 Major League baseball parks in 38 days.

Kaval has brought together a group of investors (including local football legend and former Dallas Cowboy Mike Sherrard and Wheel of Fortune‘s Pat Sajak) to create a single-entity ownership model for the new league. The GBL will own all the teams, as opposed to individual ownerships in each city. The hope is that with one central owner, teams that might otherwise fold and thus damage the league—as happened to the Heat’s old Western Baseball League—will have the benefit of a larger organization supporting them.

GBL will announce the eight or so charter teams in August, and soon thereafter cities will begin preparing for opening day. The season will be between 72 and 90 games long (the Chico Heat played a 90-game season) and will run through early September.

Both Corbin and Linscheid sounded almost weary while they explained how they “can’t count” how many times people have approached them asking, “When are we getting another team?”

While the Heat’s years of play saw a slight dip in attendance over time, the first Heat season in 1997 had many sold-out games, and in its six years of Western Baseball League participation Chico’s home team became a cherished part of the community’s identity. While five of the league’s seven teams were suffering, the Heat consistently drew the highest attendance and had won the league championship in both its first and last seasons.

Pulling out of the failing league after the 2002 season, the owners had hoped to join the Major League-affiliated California League, but the cost of buying a team and the scheduling problems of trying to include an additional 25 home games in a park that housed both the Heat and Chico State’s powerhouse Division II team proved insurmountable. The loss left Heat majority owner Steve Nettleton without a team and partially idled the stadium he had built.

“It’s been proven. There’s a track record,” Corbin enthused regarding Chico’s ability to recreate the experience. “I’m tired of hearing about it—let’s do something about it.”

If Chico gets in the league, it’s a safe bet things will get started pretty quickly, especially if Linscheid has anything to say about it.

“The approach is, once local teams have been established, the team will hire a local management group,” Linscheid said.

“I think this area is a real sports-oriented area. Sports is a fancy term for family entertainment."