It’s been 60 years since Waco had a professional baseball team to call its own, and the wait looks to be ending.
The Southwest League of Professional Baseball plans to start play in April 2018, and a league source said the SWL has been in negotiations with a community surrounding Waco about building a ballpark there for a new independent team.
The league plans to start teams in six Texas cities currently lacking professional baseball. Stan Hough, a Waco native and former professional baseball coach, is a partner in the ownership group for the potential Waco team, and he said he’s overjoyed about the prospect of bringing a pro baseball team back to the city.
“It’s a great thing for civic pride,” Hough said. “It’s a quality-of-life deal. This is baseball, but the ballpark would be a multiuse facility, so it’s going to be open year-round, hosting things like concerts, soccer, football games, whatever. I’m sure it’ll be rented out for select (baseball) tournaments as well.”
The SWL has named Mark Schuster, managing partner of Ventura Sports Group, as its league president. In a press release, Schuster said the markets for the new teams would be announced “in the coming weeks and months.”
The league plans to build multiuse stadiums of about 2,000 to 4,000 capacity in each of the six cities, a league source said.
Each stadium would feature a fan-friendly design that includes play zones for children, luxury suites, private party areas and an LED video board.
Another facet of the plan calls for an adjacent “ballpark village,” which would include restaurants, stores or office space for outside businesses, the source said.
The ballpark would sell alcohol at games, he said.
“One-hundred percent, we’ll sell alcohol,” the source said. “We’d never go to an area or build a ballpark where we couldn’t do that. It’s too big of a profit line item.”
Waco proved attractive to the SWL because of its central location, its population base and the city’s baseball history. The Waco Pirates fielded teams from 1947-56, playing at the now-defunct Katy Park.
The Pirates started as the Waco Dons before adopting the mascot of their parent club, Major League Baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates.
“Waco is a very exciting market,” the SWL source said. “It’s currently under-served by baseball, and it’s a market that meets the minimum criteria of having a large customer base within a 30-mile drive. It’s a sports-oriented market, and it pretty much has its own media. Plus, we’d have opposite seasons from Baylor, in the summer when there’s a void in entertainment.”
Unlike those long-ago Waco Pirates, which were affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the prospective SWL franchise would be an independent team. That means it would not be affiliated with any big-league team.
“The quality of baseball would still be very good, and I think fans would enjoy it,” the SWL source said. “Independent baseball has come a long way.”
Cost of building
The Southwest League wants to partner with different cities to share the cost of building the ballparks, the source said. It is aiming to get city leaders to sign an agreement to start a formal partnership between the league and the city but has not yet finalized a deal with the Waco suburb it is targeting, the source said.
The teams themselves could either be owned by the league or by individuals or ownership groups within the respective cities, the source said.
“We’ll probably have some of both in the league,” the source said. “But the track record that I’ve seen, the teams that have the most success are those with owners who focus on that one team specifically.”
The SWL plans a 112-game schedule, with 56 home games and 56 on the road for each team. Once the partnership with each city is cemented, the league will hold name-the-team contests in those communities, where residents can submit name suggestions.
Hough, 62, has witnessed more baseball games than he can remember. He played for 11 years in the minor leagues before moving on to a long coaching career. He coached in the organizations for the Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, Montreal Expos and Baltimore Orioles, in cities on both coasts and even in Canada. He also has past firsthand experience as the manager of an independent team, the Fort Worth Cats, for three seasons.
Hough said bringing pro baseball back to Waco would fulfill a lifelong dream.
“Baseball has taken me everywhere,” Hough said. “This would be an opportunity for once in my baseball life to actually go home each night.”
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