Not since the post-war days of the 1950’s has there been affiliated Minor League Baseball team in Pueblo. That drought could soon come to an end as community leaders are in talks with a Single-A team owner who plans to relocate his club to the Steel City.
News 5 has been in contact with the team owner but will not reveal his identity until the deal is complete. The owner told reporter Andy Koen that Pueblo taxpayers deserve credit for this good news because they passed Ballot Issue 1A which let the County keep excess tax revenue rather than refunding it.
The so-called "debrucing" measure requires the County to spend that money building a Youth Entertainment Sports complex at the Runyon Sports Complex. The ball club owner said the new youth sports fields attracted him to Pueblo more than anything else.
He plans to invest $50 million building new hotels, restaurants and retail shops in downtown Pueblo. In exchange, he would use the new youth sports fields to host traveling tournaments for a few weeks each year. Similar tournaments regularly bring in 400 to 500 hundred players who would all need places to eat and sleep.
The deal also calls for the construction of a new multi-use stadium downtown.
"Our vision is something that is adjacent or on or near the Riverwalk, it could be used for fireworks on the Riverwalk, for the Chile Festival for Boats Bands and Barbeque," said County Commissioner Sal Pace.
He added that the County is still finalizing a location for the stadium because of "land issues, easements, and whatnot."
The Steel City is no stranger to professional baseball. The Pueblo Dodgers, an affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers, joined the Western League in 1947 following the Post World War II reform.
The team finished third place in their inaugural season. Attendance climbed through the late 1940’s with more than 138,000 spectators watching games at what is now called Hobbs Field in 1949.
Dave Dudley, General Manager of the Runyon Sports Complex, remembers coming to watch Dodgers games here as a child.
"It’s probably the reason that I’m a big Dodgers fan," Dudley said.
Late Pueblo businessman Sam Jones, who brought the Babe Ruth World Series to Runyon Field in the 1970’s, is credited with helping bring the Dodgers to town. Jones was enshrined last year at the Ballpark’s Wall of Fame.
Attendance at Pueblo Dodgers games started to slip during the 1950’s. Their final season came in 1958 when the team became a farm team for the Chicago Cubs.
In 1995, the Pueblo Bighorns played games at Runyon Field as part of the independent Texas-Louisiana League, but that team folded before the end of the season.
Dudley said other independent league teams have approached him before to use the stadium but has turned them all down. However, an affiliated Minor League team is a whole different ballgame.
"This could be a big boost to the City and it could be a big boost to our economy," Dudley said.
He plans to install an upgraded net backstop and Major League-style dugouts during the upcoming off-season to meet league requirements, just in case the new team needs a place to play before the new stadium is built.
Dudley explained that 1A team play a shorter season from mid-June to late August. So, he doesn’t anticipate much interference between the new team and high school clubs that currently using the ballpark.
In order to conform to league standards, Hobbs would likely need to upgrade its stadium lights as well. That’s a bigger expense and would likely require an allocation from the County. However, the upgrades would help Runyon be eligible to host high school state tournaments and even college games.
Stadiums for 1A baseball teams typically seat around 2,800 people and cost between $15 and $17 million. Pace said that the County plans to use tax increment financing to pay for construction. That same mechanism has been used by the City of Pueblo and the Urban Renewal Authority to expand the Pueblo Convention Center and by the City of Colorado Springs for various attractions being built as part of the City for Champions Regional Tourism Act project.