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Texas cities may be wrangling for move to take Sky Sox from Colorado Springs (vote in poll)

January 14, 2016 Updated: January 14, 2016 at 4:09 pm
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photo - A crowd of 6,520 watches as the Sky Sox defeat the New Orleans Zephyrs 5-4 Tuesday, June 3, 2014, at Security Service Field in Colorado Springs.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
A crowd of 6,520 watches as the Sky Sox defeat the New Orleans Zephyrs 5-4 Tuesday, June 3, 2014, at Security Service Field in Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Note: Scroll down in this article to vote in our poll. Should the city try to keep the Sky Sox with a new stadium?

Efforts by one Texas city to land a minor league baseball franchise and another to upgrade the team it has could create a domino effect leading to the Sky Sox leaving Colorado Springs.

The owner of the Triple-A Sky Sox, Utah-based Elmore Sports Group, didn't return telephone calls, and Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers had no comment, other than to say the team is a valued part of the community and he wants it to stay. City Council President Merv Bennett said he was shocked at the possibility of the team leaving.

But a chain of emails uncovered by the Amarillo Globe-News suggests the Sky Sox ownership is seeking to move the franchise from the Springs, where it has been since relocating from Hawaii in 1988.

The newspaper, in a story this week that recapped Amarillo officials' hiring of a consultant to help land a team for a new stadium, reported on communications between that city's leaders.

In one email, Amarillo Councilman Randy Burkett described the work of Rich Neumann, a vice president with national consulting group Brailsford & Dunlavey. The company was bidding to become Amarillo's consultant to help the city bring a team to a $35 million stadium approved by voters Nov. 3.

"He (Neumann) is working now with the San Antonio team owner to relocate their AAA team to San Antonio and also finding their existing AA team a new home," Burkett wrote.

The "San Antonio team owner" is the Elmore Sports Group, and "their AAA team" is the Sky Sox.

Amarillo doesn't have an affiliated minor league team to move into its stadium once it's completed. But emails suggest a Double-A Texas League team would be its target.

Meanwhile, San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor has supported her city making the leap from a Double-A team to a Triple-A franchise. The San Antonio Business Journal reported a nonprofit was hired in December to conduct a feasibility study for a baseball stadium that could accommodate a Triple-A team.

The potential sequence would be a move of San Antonio's Double-A team to Amarillo and the Sky Sox to San Antonio.

Still, Sky Sox general manager Tony Ensor didn't seem concerned.

"Every time the possibility of a new stadium arises in a community that has no current professional team, speculation is bound to arise," Ensor said in a statement to The Gazette approved by the Elmore Sports Group. "This happens on a regular basis every few years at all levels. For any professional baseball team to move from one city to another there would at minimum need to be serious discussion at the league, affiliate and major league levels and no such discussion has taken place. For the Sky Sox, it is business as usual and we couldn't be more excited to start the 2016 season."

Dave Elmore, who heads the Elmore Sports Group, didn't return several phone calls seeking additional comment. Taylor, San Antonio's mayor, also couldn't be reached.

Suthers, meanwhile, responded via email that he had no comment on reports about the Sky Sox.

"The Colorado Springs Sky Sox and the Switchbacks are a valued part of our community and we hope they will remain so for many years to come," he said.

Bennett said he had heard nothing about a Sky Sox move and has had no discussions with anyone - including team officials - about the possibility.

"I hope it's just a bad rumor," Bennett said, adding he'd talk with Suthers before deciding whether the city needs to respond to the reports.

It would be easy to imagine the Elmore group wanting to leave Colorado Springs for San Antonio, for reasons ranging from facilities to player development to attendance.

The Rockies ended their 21-year partnership with Colorado Springs before last season, moving to a stadium in Albuquerque built for $25 million in 2003. Security Service Field - formerly Sky Sox Stadium - was built in 1988 for $3.7 million. The venue, just east of Powers Boulevard and Barnes Road, is controlled by the Sky Sox.

Colorado Springs city leaders proposed the City for Champions tourism initiative in 2013, an endeavor that included plans for a downtown stadium for the Sky Sox. Many residents rejected the idea of moving the team from its longtime home off Powers, and the downtown baseball stadium was converted into a multisport facility. Other proposals have occasionally surfaced to build a downtown Colorado Springs stadium, but they never went anywhere.

Teams have often complained about the disadvantages of developing pitching in the Springs, home to the highest-altitude professional park in North America at 6,531 feet. The Brewers saw their Triple-A team ERA jump from 3.85 to 5.01 in their first year at Security Service Field, while the Rockies' Triple-A staff improved from 5.43 to 4.97 in its first season in Albuquerque.

The Sky Sox have routinely finished in the bottom half of the Pacific Coast League in attendance and dropped to second to last in 2015, their first season as Milwaukee's top affiliate.

Security Service Field crowds have averaged 4,927 per game over the past five years, which is slightly more than San Antonio has averaged (4,369) over the same time frame. However, the Pacific Coast League in general outdraws the Texas League by a wide margin. Six of the PCL's 16 teams averaged more than 7,500 fans last year. Only half of the Texas League was over 5,000, and none reached 7,000.

The potential for growth is clearly much higher in the PCL, a more advanced league on the minor league development ladder.

Further, the PCL's two teams in Texas - the Round Rock Express and the El Paso Chihuahuas - averaged 8,385 per opening last year. San Antonio is ranked No. 33 in media market size compared with No. 88 for Colorado Springs/Pueblo.

Texas League president Tom Kayser told the Globe-News in November that, "the San Antonio Missions are not moving anywhere."

But Amarillo voters have approved a $35 million investment and are going to continue to try to lure a team into that stadium.

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