Professional baseball in Durango?

By 2013, the Pecos League could call the Fairgrounds its home

Durango could have its own professional baseball team by next summer – a development that not only would give fans and families a local team to cheer on but also could bolster economic development in La Plata County.

The independent, professional Pecos League is considering an expansion to the Four Corners region that would place teams in both Durango and Farmington.

“It’s an economic development activity with the capability of bringing several thousand people, not just locally but regionally, into Durango,” said Bob Kunkel, director of the Durango Business Improvement District.

Although discussions of the expansion are in “very, very preliminary stages”, according to Farmington City Manager Robert Mayes, Pecos League commissioner Andrew Dunn said his league is looking to expand by next summer. Dunn met with Durango and Farmington officials to talk about the expansion last week.

The Pecos League, based out of Houston, currently has six teams located in Alpine, Texas; Las Cruces, N.M.; Roswell, N.M.; Sante Fe, N.M.; White Sands, N.M.; and Trinidad, the only Colorado team to date. Dunn said the league wants to expand to eight teams to get it to “the right point.”

Durango and Farmington fit the bill, he said, because they provide a regional rivalry competition, good economies and stable local governments.

“From the Pecos League perspective, the Four Corners is a good area for us. It’s the best expansion we can get,” Dunn said.

The commissioner said a Durango team would act as a “facet of economic development,” bringing local and regional fans into town to enjoy $6-games complete with hot dogs, peanuts and beer.

“For our economy and our family-oriented population, 20 bucks and a night at the ballpark sounds like a pretty nice thing to have added to our choices,” said Kunkel, who met with Dunn last Thursday.

“We’re going to bring people here,” Dunn said. “Every (team) we’ve done has been successful.”

In order to bring the league to Durango, both cities need to OK the expansion and work through the league’s logistical requirements; the league will not expand to one city without the other.

Mayes said talks in Farmington are so preliminary that he didn’t want to speculate on what hurdles need to be overcome, but “as with all inquiries, we will maintain an open mind and evaluate feasibility, benefits and obstacles.”

Farmington definitely will have to work through a schedule that allows homestands at its Ricketts Park, which also hosts youth baseball games throughout the summer, Dunn said.

Pecos League teams play a 70-game summer season, which runs from May 1 to July 31, with postseason play lasting through August 15. Durango would have between 30 and 40 home games a season.

A Durango team would play at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, which Dunn, who toured the field last Thursday, said isn’t quite on par with the AA-accommodating Ricketts.

“It is what it is,” Dunn said. “It could work.”

The best thing about the park is its location right on Durango’s main drag. He also noted Durango’s ballpark has “great lights”, something which makes a big difference for minor pro teams.

Still, hosting professional games locally would take some work. La Plata County, which operates the fairgrounds where the desired field is located, would need to bring in more bleachers to accommodate more fans and would need to secure permits and contracts to allow local nonprofits to sell beer and baseball fare.

“We want it to be better than adequate; we want it to be a home run,” Kunkel said.

In addition, housing arrangements both for the home team and visitors would need to be worked out.

Dunn said the league would need to find local host families for the Durango baseball players and a “very, very low-budget” host hotel for visiting teams.

Finally, the county will need to examine the scheduling issues associated with the league game schedule, estimate the facility and utility costs for hosting games at the fairgrounds and analyze the potential economic benefits that would come with leasing the field to the Pecos League and from the fan base.

Team revenue comes primarily from ticket, concession and merchandise sales, Dunn said, and the league would need to make sure a Durango team would be able to at least break even.

Dunn will be back in June to talk more with the city and county about the possible expansion.

Kunkel said the city is so busy that oftentimes “big ideas come along, and they just don’t move forward because people don’t have the time,” but since the expansion wouldn’t happen until 2013, it gives officials time to get the summer’s big projects behind them and to look to the 2013 budget for appropriate planning.

“It felt doable,” Kunkel said. “I felt it was definitely doable and would be a nice addition.”

jsojourner@durangoherald.com