PROVO -- The city administration has decided to begin negotiations with the Pioneer League to bring a minor league baseball franchise to Provo.
Owners of the Helena Brewers will work with the city over the next few months on a variety of issues, including construction of a stadium, toward taking the field for the 2000 season."We want to make sure baseball is right for Provo," said Leland Gamette, city economic development director and member of the mayor's seven-member ad hoc selection committee. "Again, we're not saying this is the team."
The Brewers, a late entry into Provo's baseball sweepstakes, are a rookie league affiliate of the major league Milwaukee Brewers, although that relationships might change after this year. The Ogden Raptors, also a Milwaukee affiliate, are member of the Pioneer League.
Major league affiliation apparently played a determinative factor in the committee's recommendation. Gamette said members liked the idea of having a connection to the big leagues.
The committee also liked the fact that the Pioneer League has been around for 60 years. "A lot of it has to do with tradition," he said.
The Helena team beat out an expansion team in the Western Baseball League that has courted the city since January. The WBL is an independent organization whose franchises are not associated with major league clubs nor is it governed by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. The Zion (St. George) Pioneerz joined the WBL this year.
Helena owners Rob Owens and Linda Gach Ray, a pair of Los Angeles attorneys, recently acquired the rights to Utah County from Salt Lake Buzz owner Joe Buzas. Under national association rules, Buzas maintains the rights to the county because it is contiguous to Salt Lake County.
Jim Goldsmith, who made the bid to bring a WBL team to Provo and courted city officials since January, called the competition between his team and Helena a "beauty contest." He said his operation and league has much more to offer Provo than does the Pioneer League. Goldsmith noted that it was Buzas who blocked some Salt Lake businessmen from bringing a Pioneer League team to the city three years ago because he would not relinquish his territorial rights.
"Don't forget, Joe's teams play on Sunday, his biggest-selling item is beer, and I am sure his deal with the Brewers provides for them to pay him first or they don't play," he said.
Gamette said the committee looked at the pros and cons of both leagues.
"There were some pluses and minuses on both sides. It was very hard to weigh out. It was not comparing apples to apples. It was comparing apples to oranges," Gamette said.
Committee members also felt Ogden's proximity to Provo would make for a more attractive rivalry than it would with distant St. George, Gamette said.
Finding a place to play for the 2000 season will be among the first orders of business. Both Brigham Young University and Utah Valley State College are possible temporary locations. The city ultimately wants to build a ballpark. A 5,000-seat stadium could cost as much as $9 million. Mayor Lewis Billings said he will not raise taxes to construct the facility.