By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
COMMITTEE: Probably not.
Remember the Beach Boys' 1988 hit "Kokomo"? Oooh ... I wanna take you down to Kokomo/We'll get there fast/And then we'll take it slow/That's where we wanna go/Way down to Kokomo....
If Greg Aaron, the development director for the city of Kokomo (population 47,000), has his way, Gary Sheffield and the boys will be singing that tune all the way to the team's new home in central Indiana.
AARON: We certainly think Kokomo is a good place for baseball, especially when you look at the area.
AARON: We are right in the center of Chicago, Toledo, Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Cincinnati. They are all within a 300-mile radius. We think we've got a great market for baseball here.
This steel town in the northwest corner of the Hoosier State is the birthplace of Michael Jackson and family. It's also the home of Mayor Scott King, who called us personally.
KING: I'm putting together my response, but I was wondering: Are you aware of our proximity to Chicago?
COMMITTEE: Ahhh, sure.
KING: Good. We were trying to get a professional football franchise and ran into trouble with the NFL regarding their rules against new franchises within 60 miles of existing teams. So baseball doesn't have that rule?
COMMITTEE: Not to my knowledge. [Actually, baseball has precisely such a rule.]
COMMITTEE: How do you think baseball would go over in Gary?
KING: It would go well. I'm a lifelong Cubs fan. How's the Marlins' attendance been?
COMMITTEE: Just okay.
KING: The Cubs and the Sox draw very well.
King then noted that owing to the city's failed bid to lure the NFL's Chicago Bears to make the 30-mile move to Gary, they already have a lot of information about building a new sports facility. He also touted Gary's newly redeveloped waterfront along the southern shore of Lake Michigan. (A ballpark would be the perfect complement.) And then the mayor dangled the biggest carrot of all: the possibility of state financing for a new ballpark.
KING: The timing would be right for a new facility!
While the daydream of a Marlins move swelled the egos of more than a few civic leaders, our letter also exposed some budding inferiority complexes, as was the case in Providence and also in Beaumont, Texas. We received a call from David Louvier, manager of economic development for the Beaumont Chamber of Commerce, who had gotten word from Beaumont Mayor David W. Moore.
LOUVIER: I doubt we'll be high up on the list. We're just outside of Houston, which I must say, your team was all busy beating up on our poor Astros last night.
COMMITTEE: I'm sure it was nothing personal.
LOUVIER: Houston is rather close, about 100 miles east. That said, you've got teams in San Diego and Los Angeles, and multiple teams in both Chicago and New York. Houston, certainly, is the fourth-largest market in the United States, so I guess that's the next logical step in the progression.
COMMITTEE: Do you have a minor league team?
LOUVIER: We did recently, but they underwent some ownership changes -- as you are now familiar with! [Laughs.] The new owner wanted them to move to another town, and basically he took them. That was three, four years ago. But we've had 'em in the past, so it's something we're familiar with. That's why when we saw the letter we said, "Well, that's certainly interesting. But we'd hate to send you a bunch of crap that goes right down the toilet."
COMMITTEE: Don't eliminate yourself, David! We're not going to discount any city that shows interest.
LOUVIER: Well, it's a good sports community here. There's a strong affinity here for Lamar University. And high school football here is real big -- for a good game we can get 20,000 fans. It's like college football is in other areas.
COMMITTEE: What about baseball?
LOUVIER: Baseball is similar. We don't get quite the crowds, but we have a lot of big-time fans. And right now we'll make many, many trips over to Houston to see the Astros. I'm sure the community leaders will see if there is interest to make an effort at something like this.
We had always considered Fresno an attractive option for the Marlins, though for purely economic reasons: The team could keep the same hats! (You know, the big F.) This fact, however, was not one of the selling points that Mark Bayhi, Fresno's economic development manager, or Rod Webster, the city's economic development analyst, used when they tag-teamed the committee.
WEBSTER: You know, Fresno is located in central California, and this is a big baseball area. Baseball is really strong here. Professional baseball would be welcome here.
BAYHI: We were playing with the idea of building a stadium anyway, to try and bring a Triple A franchise to Fresno. It wouldn't take too much to change the designs to accommodate a major league team.
COMMITTEE: Well, if you had your hearts set on a Triple A franchise, maybe we should look somewhere else.
BAYHI: Obviously we'd rather have the Marlins.
COMMITTEE: Are you sure?