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Commentary: If Sky Sox leave there exists a logical candidate to take their place

January 30, 2016 Updated: January 31, 2016 at 3:43 pm
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Could Security Service Field in Colorado Springs become the home to a rookie league team? (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

There could still be affiliated minor league baseball in Colorado Springs, even if the Sky Sox do skip town.

Figuring out which team could serve as a replacement requires only some simple connecting of dots.

First, here's the situation. Emails revealed by a newspaper in Amarillo indicate the Sky Sox owners - the Elmore Sports Group - are working behind the scenes to move our local Triple-A team to San Antonio. The move would be part of a shuffling of the group's teams that would include taking its current Double-A team in San Antonio to a voter-approved stadium in Amarillo that should be built and ready for the 2018 season.

Assuming this all happens, Colorado Springs would be an awfully large market to leave without a team. The Elmore Group owns Security Service Field. Coincidentally, the group also owns another team (the Helena Brewers) that plays in a league (the Pioneer League, a short-season Advanced Rookie League) that already has a footprint in Colorado (the Grand Junction Rockies are part of that league). And, Helena ranks last in its league in attendance.

The dots starting to connect?

There would be complications in moving the Helena club to the stadium at Powers and Tutt boulevards. The Pioneer League comprises mostly teams in Montana, Idaho and Northern Utah, and travel is exclusively by bus. Grand Junction will travel approximately 7,654 miles this season. If a Colorado Springs team was playing that same schedule, it would be looking at 11,060 miles on the bus. That's a difference of about 280 miles per week for the three-month season, but a little finagling of the schedule could reduce that tremendously.

It would be a lot of time on a bus, but Rookie League baseball is a stepping stone. Players at that level will tolerate just about anything as long as the big leagues remain a potential destination.

Helena has averaged 892 fans per game over the past three years. The seven other teams in the Pioneer League have averaged 2,392 during that span. The Sky Sox have averaged 5,010 fans in attendance, which puts them near the bottom of the Pacific Coast League, but would make them the standard bearer in the Pioneer League assuming fans continue to show up.

I would argue that they still would.

The on-field product doesn't seem to be driver for baseball crowds in Colorado Springs. The team flipped its affiliation from the Rockies to the Brewers last year and attendance dropped just 9 percent. Can't-miss prospects like Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa and Kyle Seager have played here in the past year and a half, and their presence didn't change attendance pattens.

Guess what does impact attendance? Fireworks. Two-dollar Tuesdays. People here like the giveaways and promotions. The specifics of the baseball being played are secondary. And not to be ignored, the Rookie League has a far shorter season. Rather than playing 72 home dates starting in the April cold, there are only 37 home dates that run from mid-June through early September. Average attendance at Sky Sox games last year jumped from 4,253 in April and May to more than 5,600 in June, July and August.

If all of this fell into place for The Elmore Group, it would get to put a Double-A Texas League team into a brand new stadium in Amarillo, place a PCL team in a top-40 market in San Antonio and take a Helena team that is drawing a third of the fans of the other teams in its league and put it in Colorado Springs during the time of year with the best weather and when residents of this city of half a million have shown they are most likely to catch a ballgame.

This hypothetical switch wouldn't be ideal for local hardcore baseball fans, but if it is indeed where things are headed, we have no one to blame but ourselves. We don't show up in droves (the Sky Sox had 16 games last year with fewer than 3,500 fans). We didn't want any part of building a new stadium. We sealed our own fate, and our fate seems to be on a trajectory for a significantly lower level of baseball.

Will we tolerate it? That depends. Will there still be fireworks?

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