League: Aspen may be diamond in the rough | AspenTimes.com

League: Aspen may be diamond in the rough

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

The banner on the fledgling Continental Baseball League’s website continues to count down the days until opening day, May 25, 2007. Only 374 to go …Nearly one week after they first pitched the plans, league executives reiterated their interest Wednesday in pursuing Aspen as a team site.”Colorado is an untapped market that provides a wealth of opportunity,” president and CEO Ron Baron said. “I would love to have a team in Aspen. It has drawing power. A team on the Western Slope can thrive.”In the past week, Baron said he has been inundated with a “slew” of e-mails from supportive Aspen-area residents, including one high-profile inquiry from a former Major League Baseball player residing in the valley. Two former Major Leaguers from the state have already expressed an interest in team ownership, Baron added, but he declined to divulge names.Elsewhere, in addition to a group of high-powered New York lawyers eyeing the purchase of as many as four franchises, singer Tony Orlando is interested in becoming owner of a team in Missouri, league operations and communications director Bob Ibach said. Currently, 42 sites in eight states are on the league’s radar; to date, at least 14 are “A-list” contenders.

“These places are strong from the point that public seems to want them,” said Ibach, a former public relations director for the Chicago Cubs. “And there are interested investors in those towns. We knew we weren’t going to bat 42-for-42. We want to make sure these franchises are strong and financially stable so they’ll be around for a long time.” Aspen is seemingly an anomaly when compared to the six other sites in the state under consideration. Pueblo, Fort Collins, Thornton, Longmont, Greeley and Boulder have an average population of 98,383, according to 2004 census data; Aspen’s population in July 2004 was 5,717. Ideally, the league is pinpointing sites with populations between 80,000 and 190,000, according to a CBL news release. In addition, Aspen has little of the infrastructure necessary to support what Ibach hopes are crowds in excess of 1,000 at home games. Aspen High School’s field would need significant renovations in order to accommodate such traffic. The town has its fair share of skeptics, too.”The real question mark is will a summer league in Aspen be enough of a draw for the community?” Ibach said. “You have to go into this with an open mind and look at the cities and talk with the powers that be. If some people say this isn’t what we want, we’re not going to try to fit a square peg in a round hole. “Once we collect further information, some cities may fall by the wayside and eliminate themselves.”

Ibach confirmed that three sites, including one in Louisiana, have been ruled out thus far. The issues stemmed from previous attempts – and consequent failures – with sports franchises.”Those kinds of things can leave scars,” he said.Aspen does have a leg up on its competitors when it comes to marketability, Baron said. In addition to its economic strengths, the town has an allure, a proven name that has been used to sell everything from big-screen features to ChapStick. The reputation is capable of drawing tourists and fans from beyond the valley.And the CBL, should it choose Aspen, would attract a captive audience, Ibach said.”You don’t want to be close to other franchises, you want to be the only game in town,” Ibach said. “This is a great entertainment opportunity and a strong point for Aspen.”

While Front Range locals have the sheer numbers to fill seats, potential issues could arise over competition with the Rockies, Ibach said. It is an issue that the CBL will factor into the equation. Baron is planning to meet with Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud in the next month, as well as heads of other cities to “get the pulse of the community,” he said. The CBL is shooting for anywhere from six to 12 franchises to be in place before its inaugural season is under way next spring. “We believe in the grand old game, and on a summer evening in Aspen, I think it’d be a nice, wonderful addition to the community,” Baron said. “As for potential interest, I hope it would be supported. But again, it’s up to businesses and the community.” “It’s not like we’re proposing to bring in synchronized swimming. This is a good idea,” Ibach said. “I don’t want to strike it off the list. Once we have those face-to-face discussions, we’ll have a better idea of the landscape.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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