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ARCHIVED  October 22, 1999

Rookie-league decision expected by month’s end

Greeley, Laramie up on deck

Plans to establish a minor-league baseball system in Northern Colorado are still on hold, but may soon take the plate.

“This whole thing has been pending for such a long time it’s hard to say this week or the week after, but the potential is there to have a clearer picture of what may happen within the next few weeks,´ said Marc Gustafson, assistant director of player development for the Colorado Rockies. “We’d hope the communities can have an answer one way or the other by the end of October.”

The Colorado Rockies are acting purely as mediators in the project that would transplant the Arizona Rookie League into the Rocky Mountain Region, Gustafson said. He added that the hold-up is not with the Major League Baseball Commissioner’s Office and involves issues focused outside of Northern Colorado.

“We need to work through issues so that all six communities are going to get a fair chance,” he said.

Cheyenne, Fort Collins, Greeley, and Laramie are among the eight communities vying for a team, Gustafson said, but approval of the project will turn on the level of preparation of participating cities, making Fort Collins and Cheyenne — neither of which have stadiums built — second-tier options.

“We’re not as far along as some, but we’re still optimistic,” said Larry Atwell, president of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce. “We just won’t be one of the first communities.”

Atwell would not discuss where in Cheyenne a stadium might be built, but reported that “a number of potential sites are currently under consideration and that the community, which thus far has not looked for investors, is “trying to take it one step at a time.”

Gustafson acknowledged that Cheyenne and Fort Collins need to build something.

“Geographically that would be a nice tight fit to have four teams within an hour and a half of one another,” he said. “But to get the league off the ground, Greeley and Laramie would go first.”

Joining Laramie and Greeley as front-runner candidates for hosting teams are Pueblo, Grand Junction, Scott’s Bluff and North Platte.

“We’d like to start with four teams initially and then expand if there’s interest from other clubs, which we think there will be,” Gustafson said.

But right now, concerns about which particular team would take their field are far off for most communities.

“We’re just waiting for the minor-league office to get with us,´ said Laramie city manager Kelly Arnold. Greeley and Laramie are probably ready today with minor improvements, but we have not heard or seen anything since [the Rockies] got a new general manager.”

Cowboy Field, University of Wyoming’s baseball stadium, has not had a college team since the university’s program ended in 1996, but apart from needed improvements in its lighting and locker rooms, the field is ready for a minor league team, Arnold said.

He added: “We have the shell in place and a group ready to work on it. Now it just depends on when.”

Greeley is similarly optimistic and just as well-prepared. The University of Northern Colorado’s stadium, Jackson Field, needs lights and minor renovations, city manager Leonard Wiest reported, but is essentially ready to host a team, which he believes will be a Rockies affiliate.

“I think it’s been determined that the franchise here would be owned by the Rockies,” he said.

Hopes are much higher than they were seven or eight years ago, Wiest added, referring to the region’s first attempt to garner a baseball league, which failed because communities would not prepare to host teams until they knew the teams were coming, and the Commissioner’s Office would not approve a league until the communities were prepared.

This time the communities have taken the initiative. “It’s definitely a lot closer to reality this time than it was before,” he said.

But not necessarily for everyone.

There is still no end in sight for Fort Collins’ ongoing search for a stadium location. A move to locate the field within the Aztlan Community Center in downtown was recently dismissed by the city, and no new possibilities have surfaced thus far, said Mike Hauser, president of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce.

“We really haven’t found any at this point, but I’m not sure Aztlan is dead,” he noted. “I think the city wants it dead because they’re concerned the field would be too close to the [Cache la Poudre] river, but I’m not sure the voters would agree.”

Downtown Development Authority executive director Jay Hardy is not so optimistic. “Aztlan is not a site that the DDA will pursue anymore,” he said.

“I’m confident to say that [the stadium] won’t end up in downtown. If it does end up somewhere, it will have to be someone else to take the ball and run,” he added. “We will be very willing to assist anybody who wants to do that, so they don’t have to re-invent the wheel — we will try to help with the process as much as we can — but we won’t be able to lead the charge.”

Potential investors in the stadium are not getting discouraged, both Hardy and Hauser asserted, but Hauser noted: “We operate on the principal that everything in Fort Collins is contentious. To assume anything will happen in this city without an uproar is not realistic.”

Greeley, Laramie up on deck

Plans to establish a minor-league baseball system in Northern Colorado are still on hold, but may soon take the plate.

“This whole thing has been pending for such a long time it’s hard to say this week or the week after, but the potential is there to have a clearer picture of what may happen within the next few weeks,´ said Marc Gustafson, assistant director of player development for the Colorado Rockies. “We’d hope the communities can have an answer one way or the other by the end of October.”

The Colorado Rockies are acting purely as mediators…

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