Diamond Mines

Minor league baseball franchises have soared in value in recent years. Here's how you can still get into the game

Though minor league baseball formally dates to the formation of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL) in 1901, it has existed since American boys and men dreamed of driving a baseball into the warm haze of a summer afternoon. Owning a minor league club, it's safe to say, has never held quite the same allure. As the old baseball maxim goes, "Baseball is too much of a business to be a sport, and too much of a sport to be a business."

In recent years, however, minor league baseball as a business has become more intriguing financially, as evidenced by a surge in interest on the part of investors. It started in the 1980s, when a new breed of businesslike, well-heeled owner began expanding the market, bringing not only new cash but the expectation of making money. "Good businessmen have now bought in, and they demand a return on the investment," says Miles Wolff, president and commissioner of the independent Northern League and president of Baseball America, Inc., publisher of Baseball America, a biweekly aimed at the player development side of baseball, and Baseball America Directory,the "bible" of baseball contacts in both the major and minor leagues. "The first indication was when one owner took out an ad in The Wall Street Journal to sell his team, a dog of a money-losing club. He wanted maybe $4,000, and he got $40,000. Everybody in the industry was shocked. We realized for the first time that people outside baseball might want to buy these things."

Eighty new stadiums have been built in the last decade. Prices of teams, Wolff says, have gone "through the roof, though they have leveled off a little in the last few years." According to the NAPBL records, not one minor league franchise has folded in the past 15 years, and the bottom line of minor league clubs has improved to the point that major league clubs, some of which are losing millions, envy their own farm teams. "I would bet that two-thirds of the farm clubs make money," says Wolff, adding that six of the eight teams in the independent Northern League are clearing an operating profit.

Furthermore, some owners are making considerable capital gains profits on clubs. CPA Steven Resnick, of Resnick, Amsterdam, Leshner, and his partners bought the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Senators in 1995 for $4.1 million and sold the club in 1996 for $6.7 million. The AAA Ottawa Lynx went for a $5 million expansion fee in 1995 and is now on the market for $10 million. Northern League teams went for $50,000 in 1993 when the league was formed; today at least one, St. Paul, has an estimated market value exceeding $5 million (no, it's not for sale, yet). "I tell potential buyers if they work hard, do their homework, find the right area, and hire the right people they can make a return of five to eight percent," says Bob Richmond, owner of Baseball Opportunities, Inc., a minor league baseball team brokerage firm, who has sold the same teams as many as three times and is co-owner of the Midland Angels of the Class AA Texas League. Resnick is more optimistic: "Ten percent is do-able, given the right set of circumstances." Bob Bavasi, owner of the Everett (Washington) AquaSox, puts it even more simply: "We've got a great product. It's outdoors, it's fun, it's family entertainment. You've got to work hard to blow it."

However, even given these numbers, the owners and former owners we interviewed—giddy newcomers, seasoned veterans, members of baseball dynasties, Hollywood denizens unconcerned with cost, entrepreneurs, and flinty-eyed businessmen attracted to asset appreciation—say there are still a few reasons not to buy a team.

First, if you have no passion for the game itself, don't buy. "It's a business you should get into only if you love baseball," says Richmond. "If you're looking at it from a purely investment standpoint, there are a lot better places to put your money. Some teams do very well, and some do very poorly. Make sure the capital you invest is risk capital, and be prepared to spend a lot more time than you think." Jay Goldinger, whose year as owner of the Salinas Spurs ended in disillusion (see Strike Out), is even blunter: "If you want an outstanding investment and pick baseball, you need to have your head examined. Just understand why you're buying. But if you're a big baseball fan and don't mind the idea of losing some money, then go for it."

Second, if you're not prepared to take the business side seriously, you're better off not becoming involved. "Simple love of the game isn't enough," cautions Wolff. "You've got to work hard and run it right. There have been a lot of guys who loved baseball and bought a club, but three years later they lost a lot of money and had to get out." Resnick advises, "Understand the business, do the due diligence, and know the club's strengths and weaknesses before taking that final step."

Farm Leagues Versus Independent Leagues

There are two types of professional minor league baseball teams, affiliated (governed by the NAPBL) and independent. The kind of club you buy determines how much money you spend up front, how much you will spend to run it, and whether you have any control over the players.

Affiliated teams are what are called farm teams. They consist of 237 member teams in 20 leagues (158 "domestic" teams in 14 U.S. and Canadian leagues that operate as a business, including two Rookie leagues; two domestic Rookie leagues that do not operate as a business; and leagues in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela). Each of the 158 domestic teams is affiliated with a major league club, which supplies the players and pays some of the farm club's expenses. In return, each farm team signs a Player Development Contract for two or four years with its affiliate.

The farm club system has existed since the late 1920s, when St. Louis Cardinals president Branch Rickey conceived it. Before then all minor leagues and their teams were virtually independent of the majors, and gifted young players made it to the "Show" when their contract was sold to a major league team. These transactions were the lifeblood of revenue for the minors, as well as a source of grief to major league owners who paid for fully developed talent. Rickey's grand scheme was to tie as many minor league teams as possible to a parent major league club. By 1949 there were 448 minor league clubs in 59 leagues.

It was a double-edged sword, and the death knell of the local baseball show. Owners lost control over their players. A single phone call could send a prize shortstop up the ladder to the next-level team, ruining the original team's season. Even today, as an affiliated owner, says Richmond, you have "zero percent control over what goes on between the white lines. Some owners spend a lot of time in the locker room, and some don't walk in it at all." And, adds Bruce Corwin, who owns a minority stake in the Lake Elsinore Storm (see second Owner's Box), "the purpose of minor league baseball is to help the major league teams—period." For some, however, this is not a problem. Bavasi, for instance, thinks it's great that he's not involved in the ball playing end. "I don't make any bones about knowing about players," he says. "On the rare occasion that I do have an opinion about a player's performance, I keep it to myself."

The farm system also almost killed the independent minor league ball clubs: By the early 1960s they had largely vanished. But in 1993 independent teams made a comeback. The Northern and Frontier leagues were founded, and today there are four more. "Each major league club has about six minor league affiliations, and they don't need any more than that," says Wolff. "That leaves out a lot of cities that would like professional baseball, or leaves them in the position of having to steal a team from another city."

One lure of independent league baseball is getting in on the ground floor of something new, with considerable potential for asset appreciation. But most who have done it say it makes you feel more involved with the actual sport than is possible with an affiliated team.

Stepping Up To The Plate

Before the 1980s the minor league marketplace was pretty much closed. Baseball people sold to other baseball people, which kept prices down. Particularly below the AAA level, minor league teams tended to be run on a shoestring, with little emphasis on the business side. "Mostly the teams were mom-and-pop operations where their preparation consisted of showing up to turn on the lights," says Bob Bavasi, who purchased his franchise, the Walla Walla Blue Mountain Bears, with his wife, Margaret, in 1984, just as the minor leagues' radical changes were beginning. And, says Wolff, who bought the Class A Durham Bulls in 1980 (in 1998 it will become a Class AAA team) for $2,400 and sold it "for much, much more" 10 years later, "minor league franchises had no real value until the early 1980s. Back then you could buy them for debts." (In fact, that is precisely what the Bavasis did.)

Today, says Drew Weber, who bought the Class A Lowell Spinners of the New York-Penn League in 1997, "you don't just go out and buy a minor league baseball team. It's not as easy as it looks." That's true. Minor league baseball still has a small-town aura, but mom and pop have now gone to Wharton. According to Bavasi, the typical minor league team owner is "someone with a marketing background who likes baseball but doesn't love it, so they don't get too wrapped up in the team and how it's playing." Although there's a consistently active market for minor league teams, for the most part sales are conducted quietly, sellers afraid that communities will be offended if they find out the team is for sale (and possibly about to be moved).

From the AAA at the top of the ladder ("just a phone call from the majors," according to the old saw) to the Rookie leagues at the bottom, picking a level is a function of money, availability, and preference. Prices vary widely from franchise to franchise and league to league (see Ballpark Figures). Many new owners make their entrance in A ball—split into "Long A" (so called because of the 140-game season, the same as AA and AAA) and "Short A" (76 games per season)—which has the most teams and leagues. A novice investor might conclude that Long A teams offer the greater chance of return since they play more games. Yet Long A teams begin play in April, when the weather is often miserable and fans tend to stay away from the ballpark; Short A season opens in June, so a greater percentage of the season is played in good weather. Plus, says Richmond, "some Short A teams are more profitable than triple A teams." With just 38 home games, fan burnout is less of a factor too. "We always leave them wanting more," says Bavasi.

The main responsibilities of NAPBL minor league owners include operating the ballpark and paying for transportation, accommodations, and meal money during away games. "When you're running a farm team, it's sort of like running a movie theater," says Wolff. "You get to sell the popcorn but have no control over what's on the screen."

There are, however, some additional expenses. There is an annual NAPBL membership fee that varies depending on the level: $7,650 for AAA; $7,350 for AA; $6,200 for Long A; and $3,750 for Short A and Rookie. There is also an annual NAPBL guarantee deposit: $5,000 for AAA; $3,000 for AA; $2,000 for Long A, Short A, and Rookie. The new Professional Baseball Agreement requires minor league clubs to pay for team uniforms (the major league affiliates did so until last year), along with a greater percentage of balls, bats, and other game equipment. Because getting people into the ballpark is the primary way a minor league team makes money, all teams—affiliated and independent—also have the cost of advertising, community relations, and a nonstop lineup of pre-, during-, and after-game promotions. "Baseball isn't a complicated business," says Resnick, "but knowing what works—food, programs, souvenirs, merchandising, promotional events—can help you run your operation successfully."

Owning independent teams, on the other hand, "is financially a much tougher deal," says Wolff. They cost somewhat less to purchase but considerably more to operate, since there's no subsidy from a major league team. "The independent leagues are second-chance leagues, a player's last opportunity to make it in professional baseball," says Wolff. "From an operator's standpoint, it's a lot more fun because you get to buy, sell, and trade your players." Owners run their own baseball show free of any supervision or interference from the major leagues. They field teams, contribute to on-field decisions, and decide which players to keep, release, or sell. With independent teams, says Richmond, "you're really in baseball."

Independent teams have an on-the-field payroll that can add up to $150,000 to $300,000 (Northern League players' salary maximum is $82,000), plus front office staff. However, the latter are usually in baseball because they love it, and work for less than they could make elsewhere. "People like me will work for peanuts, just for the love of the game," says Jim Wadley, a Californian who bought into the Duluth-Superior Dukes of the Northern League in 1994 after a deal to buy a Class A club fell through. As with farm teams, transportation, lodging, and meals during away games can add up quickly. One bus or more must be hired or leased, and in AAA ball, where cities are farther apart, plane tickets must be bought. In addition there are hotel rooms and per diem meal expenses, often $10 per player. "It's tougher, riskier, and more challenging than owning a farm team," says Wadley. But there are rewards. After three full years of ownership, Wadley's Dukes finally reached the break-even point in 1997, and this season, says Wolff, the team's expected to turn a profit.

Affiliated and independent teams derive income from five major sources: ticket sales; food and beverage sales; merchandising of logo clothing and other items; logo licensing; and advertising, such as that on the outfield fence and in the scorecard. An independent team also can profit from the sale of player contracts to other teams or big league clubs, but that may mean little. "Basically, the major leagues don't like to pay anything," Wadley says. "We've sold players for $2,000, for $500, and for a case of balls." Wolff concurs: "The major leagues are really jerks about this. They talk us down to $300 because they know we can't say to a kid, 'No, I'm not sending you to the Cincinnati Reds.'"

Whichever type of team you decide to buy, there are some things to keep in mind before putting cash on the table.

• Decide whether you want to own a team by yourself or with others. "You have to use the vehicle that best suits your situation," says Resnick. In the past, teams were often owned by individuals, but now, says Richmond, "it's typically a group of people who have done well in other businesses and want to be involved in professional baseball." That means forming a syndicate or limited partnership. "Today there are a lot of people willing to invest who don't want to leave their jobs," says Bavasi.

• Hire a minor league guru. "As much homework as I did, I became obsessed," says Drew Weber, who spent two years visiting minor league teams, going to games, and "asking, asking, asking. I felt, 'Give me a team, any team, and I will go on to another one later. I'll meet the people in the industry, I'll get a foothold, I'll rescue the team, then I'll go on to another one I like a lot better.' Wrong!"

"Study the marketplace," says Wadley, so that your dream does not get the best of your wallet. He "didn't go in blind" because he enlisted the help of a baseball man with 36 years' experience. "I wouldn't have done it without his advice," he says, "and I would advise anybody else to get expert help." What's most important, says Richmond, is finding the right attorney to safeguard your interests in structuring the sale and satisfying the complex requirements of baseball's Control Interest Transfer, the basic documents that regulate an NAPBL team's sale. "Hire the right people to make the deal work," says Weber. "If I had hired a lesser attorney, he could have screwed the whole thing up."

• Set parameters. First, look at the cost of the team and its past performance, fiscal and athletic. Then, look at the city and league it's in, the playing facilities, and the relationship with the community. The majority of minor league clubs are now owned by absentee owners or partnerships, but communities often resent this. "The relationship between a ball club and its community should be a close one," says Bavasi, "and therefore absentee ownership is a tricky proposition." Resnick, who owned the Memphis Chicks with Craig Stein, says they sold the team after two seasons because it was too far from their Pennsylvania homes. "Absentee management just couldn't have the same impact," he says.

• Anticipate contractual obstacles—and leave yourself a way out if they become too great. Sales of independent teams normally take a couple of months to complete and require the approval of the league's other team owners and president. There is a league fee you must pay (10 percent of the total sale), and there are sometimes brokers' fees and nonrefundable fees for background or financial checks as well.

• Finally, if you want to move the team, the NAPBL has rules governing the territorial rights of teams. The important thing is to divulge your plans to the NAPBL during the Control Interest Transfer process.

The often arduous NAPBL application process to buy affiliated teams, called the Application for Control Interest Transfer, has two approval steps—the league of the team involved and the NAPBL—and includes an evaluation of financial statements and financing sources, organizational structure, and a three-year proposed budget. It costs $10,000, plus the expenses of a thorough background check. Weber found that negotiating the deal with the majority owner of the team was the most difficult part of the buying process—one that stretched from August 4, 1996, when he first discovered that the owner wanted to sell, to June 3, 1997, when the closing occurred. Bruce Corwin says that "the biggest hurdle for us was getting the approval of the nine other minor league owners." When you do sign an agreement to purchase, make sure there are back-out clauses if you do not get the required approvals within a reasonable length of time. Ninety-nine percent of applications are deemed incomplete and kicked back to the applicant, according to the NAPBL legal staff. As a result, applicants often feel wrung out, even harassed. "They looked me up and down, back and forth," says Weber. "I wanted to buy the team as soon as possible for the good of the community, the good of the league, the good of everybody—and here I was in limbo." One consolation: NAPBL records indicate that just two complete applications have been disapproved in the last four years.

Batting A Thousand

Once you own the team, the real fun begins. However, owners agree that it's essential you understand the business you're in, your responsibilities, and your place in relation to players and the community. "It's not really baseball, it's the family entertainment business," says Goldinger. Players, in particular, can pose a problem. The friendlier you are, the easier it is to get talked into added expenses."It's easy to go too far on the player end," cautions Wolff. "Players are never satisfied—they always want more." In terms of the community, it's even simpler: "A good owner will tell you that he really holds the club in trust for the community," says Richmond.

You also have to watch out for stadium standards. The community almost always supplies the stadium and related facilities (sometimes including electricity and other utilities), though teams usually pay for use of them through rent, lease, or a ticket tax. As of 1990, those facilities must meet requirements outlined in the Minor League Facility Standards section of the NAPBL Rules Book. This created an uproar when it was first promulgated, as some owners suspected the regulations were designed to put marginal minor league teams out of business, thus reducing the number of clubs each major league team would be required to subsidize. But it turned out to be a tremendous boon to the minors.

"They gave us what they thought were impossible goals, and they were met," says Wolff. "We thought it was the worst thing in the world, but it turned out it was a great hammer to go to your city and say: You're gonna lose the team unless you fix up the ballpark." It resulted in a boom in new stadiums, zooming attendance, and the virtual makeover of the minor leagues.

Today it is still true that the better the ballpark, the bigger the crowds and the more supportive the fans.

"We have an authentic all-brick stadium that is reminiscent of a miniature Wrigley Field," says Wadley of Wade Stadium, where his Duluth-Superior Dukes play. "It holds 4,100 people, and has a full canopy over the grandstands and bleacher seats."

Then there are the promotional activities—that's where creativity can really pay off. The minute the baseball season ends, the selling season for the next year begins. Stay visible in the community, talk to groups whenever possible, visit potential advertisers, cultivate the media, and personally sell season tickets to key individuals.

Showmanship is the byword, and nothing is too corny or contrived. Some teams have staged an Elvis Night, when everyone dressed as the King got in free, or Used Car Nights, giving away a junker after each inning. Others schedule water-gun duels, spelling games, sack races, and contests in which sub sandwiches are fired for distance with a big slingshot. One team had a kazoo night where fans bought 50-cent kazoos on the way in and the local maestro led the ballpark in a version of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. At Everett AquaSox games, eight-dollar haircuts are administered in a chair behind home plate, and Webbly, the frog mascot, lumbers around the bases in races with children.

You'll also have to invent a cool logo. The AquaSox's—a frog snaring a ball with its tongue—is one of the top ten logos nationwide among minor league teams in terms of merchandise sold. That's meant big bucks for the ball club.

In the end, marketing and showmanship boil down to one thing, says Goldinger: "The key to making money in this business is to get the fans to fall in love with the team, not the players." For though the team will last, the players may be gone tomorrow.

While Goldinger is so disillusioned by his owner experience he's not even a big baseball fan anymore, other owners with whom I spoke feel that even when profits are thin they are lucky to be part of the dream. Drew Weber says he has to pinch himself each morning, still surprised at his great fortune of being the owner of the Lowell Spinners. "I was in men's clothing and I used to go to war each day, and I thought that was typical," he says. "Now I can't wait to go to work."

Ballpark Figures

The quality ladder for affiliated minor league teams has five rungs, from AAA at the top to Rookie at the bottom. Here are the 1997 market values for each rung. Also listed is the market value for independent Northern League teams, which are not part of the affiliated farm team system.

AAA Class
Teams: 30
Market Value: $7-$10 million
Sold In 1997: 4*
Teams Sold: Nashville Sounds, Tucson Toros, Iowa Cubs, Charlotte Knights
Pending Sales: 0
Operating Cost: $2-$4 million

AA Class
Teams: 28**
Market Value: $4.5-$7 million
Sold In 1997: 0
Teams Sold: n/a
Pending Sales: 0
Operating Cost: $1-$2 million

Long Season A Class
Teams: 60
Market Value: $2-$4.5 million
Sold In 1997: 2
Teams Sold: Modesto A's, St. Petersburg Devil Rays
Pending Sales: 3
Operating Cost: $500,000-$1.5 million

Short Season A Class
Teams: 22
Market Value: $1-$2 million
Sold In 1997: 1
Teams Sold: Lowell Spinners
Pending Sales: 0
Operating Cost: $500,000-$1 million

Rookie Class
Teams: 18
Market Value: $500,000-$650,000
Sold In 1997: 1
Teams Sold: Helena Brewers
Pending Sales: 1
Operating Cost: $200,000-$500,000

Northern League (Independent) Class
Teams: 8
Market Value: $750,000-$2 million***
Sold In 1997: 2
Teams Sold: Sioux City Explorers, Sioux Falls Canaries
Pending Sales: 0
Operating Cost: $700,000-$1.5 million

* Plus two expansion teams at $7.5 million franchise fee.
** Expansion adds two teams in 1999 at $4.5 million franchise fee.
*** Can be much lower in other independent leagues; St. Paul has an estimated market value exceeding $5 million.

Before You Buy

Due diligence is a little different when it comes to a baseball team. The profit and loss statement tells only part of the story. Here's what else to ask.
• Why is the team on the market? "The reasons Mr. Jones wants to sell his baseball team can tell you a lot," says Duluth-Superior Dukes co-owner Jim Wadley.
• When does the Player Development Contract—usually lasting two or four years—with the major league club expire? When it is up, either party has the option to pull out.
• Does the general manager come with the team? His baseball savvy and his knowledge of team history make him invaluable.
• What caliber players has the parent club generally sent? The key is to find out if the club is the backwater of the system.
• What is the deal on the stadium and related facilities, and when does that deal expire?
• What is the team's history of community relations? You want to know if there has been local cooperation or opposition and from what quarters, and whether key politicians have been supportive or not. The relationship with the community is crucial. A minor league team lives, dies, or moves, depending on it.

Strike Out

When Los Angeles businessman Jay Goldinger bought the Salinas Spurs in 1987, things started out well enough. On opening day he had a parachutist land on the pitching mound and throw out the first ball. Fans were so enthusiastic they set a California league attendance record. Then everything went wrong. The team lost constantly, the community turned its back, and nothing Goldinger did helped. "I couldn't have made more wrong decisions or mistakes," he says. "I was running a brokerage at the time, and I thought I could run anything, but I was totally out of my league." He sold the team after a year, and ended up losing about $500,000. "I think I lost more money more quickly than anybody ever in the minor leagues. But the big mistake was that I led with my heart, not my wallet. I dreamed I would come up in the bottom of the ninth and hit a home run for the team. I thought I could play a little, practice with the team. I wanted to be a part of it, and I wasn't. I would never buy a baseball team again, not even if I had hundreds of millions of dollars."

Owner's Box

The Dreamer "I could list all kinds of other investments that would give me a greater rate of return," says Drew Weber, who bought the Lowell (Massachusetts) Spinners just before the start of the 1997 season. During his quest, he admits, "I was not the consummate businessman at all. I wanted it, and they knew I wanted it." But things have worked out well—so well, in fact, that the team made money during his first season owning it. And, he says, there was another reward: "You're like a celebrity, you sign autographs. I was chuckling all summer."

In His Blood Bob and Margaret Bavasi, both lawyers, were working in San Diego when Bob decided he wanted to become part of the game. His father, Buzzie, was a legendary baseball executive for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, and California Angels; his brother, Peter, general manager of both the Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians; and another brother, Bill, general manager of the Anaheim Angels. "I had grown up around baseball, and my intent was to get back into it."

They bought the unaffiliated Walla Walla Blue Mountain Bears in early 1984 for what the owner had lost for the last two years. "It was a license to lose money," says Bob. "The team was unaffiliated, the stadium was lousy, and Walla Walla is a nice town but too small for professional baseball."

They found Walla Walla, now part of the Short A Northwest League, by "asking around and calling some league presidents. We didn't have a lot of money, and we wanted to stay on the West Coast." Before the purchase they talked the San Francisco Giants into accepting them as a farm team. After the sale was finalized, they moved to Everett, Washington, as the Everett Giants.

"It took three or four months to visit all the places the Northwest League had on file as wanting a baseball team. Everybody told us to stay away from Everett, that it was a crummy old mill town. But it had a nice stadium right off the freeway, and the town turned out to be enthusiastic about getting professional baseball. They came up with enough funding to meet the minimum league requirements for us to play ball there, so we made the deal."

It took the team three years to reach profitability, but it's been in the black ever since. The only changes have been a new affiliation with the Seattle Mariners that began with the 1995 season, the resultant name change to the whimsical Everett AquaSox, and the debut this year of an enlarged (to 4,000 seats) and upgraded stadium.

The Risk-Taker Los Angeles movie theater chain president Bruce Corwin's baseball adventure began with a 1985 game of Trivial Pursuit among friends, during which everyone agreed they wanted to buy a minor league team. Half of the Trivial Pursuit players decided his approach to owning a team wasn't businesslike enough for them. "I wanted anybody who had $5,000 to be part of it, and they really wanted to own a team and make money," he says. "So they bought the Stockton Ports." A few months later Corwin was managing partner of a 108-member limited partnership (including the former head of Columbia Pictures and the chairman of William Morris) that owned the Class A Redwood City Pioneers. "It was a total lark," Corwin says. "We were baseball fans. The numbers were not our driving force. We wanted to be able to go around and say we owned a baseball team." What sold investors was the benefits of being listed in the team prospectus, business cards identifying them as owners, and a team jacket with their name on it. The group paid $250,000 and sold for $1 million five years later. "Everybody was annoyed they made money," Corwin chuckles. "They had to go back and recapture the write-offs." Today, Corwin owns a minority interest in the San Diego Padres and the minor league Lake Elsinore Storm. "Don't do it for the money," he says, "do it for the fun."

Just For Fun "There are more level-headed investments, but once in a while you like to have some fun," says Jim Wadley. In December 1994 Wadley, a Californian who had cofounded a frozen food company, became the principal owner of the Duluth-Superior Dukes, founded in 1993 as one of the first franchises in the independent Northern League. "I don't golf and I don't fish, but I've always liked work that I enjoy," he says. "The club is a lot of work, but it's kind of my golfing and fishing." In 1993, the team lost $30,000; in 1994, $334,000; and in 1995, $225,000. In 1996 things began to look up again: It lost only $95,000. And in 1997, he says, "It actually made a couple of bucks. We're finally getting it turned."

Batter's Box Office

By 1949 there were 448 minor league baseball clubs in 59 leagues. Then the minors went into a slump, largely the result of competition from televised major league games. It was not until the 1980s that outside investors took interest and minor league fans started coming back.

The Baseball Winter Meeting

Held annually by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the Baseball Winter Meeting (813-822-6937, ext. 3115; www.minorleaguebaseball.com) has seminars attended by representatives of more than 200 minor and major league clubs. It also includes the Baseball Trade Show (813-822-6937, ext. 3103), with booths of baseball-related service and merchandise companies, especially useful for equipment, promotional materials, and souvenirs.


Baseball America, Inc. 800-845-2726
Baseball Opportunities, Inc. 602-483-8224
Resnick, Amsterdam, Leshner 215-628-8080
National Association Of Professional Baseball Leagues (Napbl) 813-822-6937.
Independent Leagues:
Frontier League 614-452-7400
Heartland League 765-474-5341
Northeast League 914-436-0411
Northern League 919-956-8150
Texas-Louisiana League 915-673-7364
Western League 503-203-8557.

Richard John Pietschmann is Departures' contributing editor for the West Coast and Mexico.