YAKIMA, Wash. -- While most of baseball is winding down and wrapping things up, there was an opening-day feel at Yakima County Stadium on Tuesday.
That’s where representatives from Pacific Baseball Ventures and the Central Washington State Fair Park Association officially signed a lease securing Yakima’s entry into the West Coast League for the 2014 season.
“In our case, there’s a lot more hard work to do, but we’re very excited to be here,” said John Stanton, chairman of PBV, which also operates the league’s Walla Walla franchise. “We love baseball and we love being here in the Yakima Valley.”
That sentiment was shared by State Fair Park president and general manager Greg Stewart, whose group operates County Stadium.
“With what I’ve seen the last two years, this is a professional organization and an quality operation,” Stewart said of PBV. “I’m pleased to represent the baseball fans of the Yakima Valley. I think it’ll be a win-win situation.”
PBV officials and WCL president Dennis Koho said the addition of Yakima is important because of its size and central location in relation to the other 11 teams in the wood-bat summer league for college players.
“It makes a difference,” Stanton said of Yakima, which becomes the WCL’s second-largest market. “There’s more potential fans and sponsors and that will allow us to succeed more.”
“In a year or two, this is going to be the premier stadium in the league,” Koho said. “I look forward to having all-star games here.”
Under the lease, which is for three years with several options, Pacific Baseball Ventures will control all aspects of the ballpark.
“We worked out an arrangement where they operate everything and they pay us a flat fee,” Stewart said, adding that the two sides will share costs for future improvements to the ballpark. “We had a desire to get a tenant back in here and also bring baseball back to Yakima.”
“We have the ability to control the whole stadium,” Fraser said, making a specific point about parking. “There will be a parking fee ... but we have an ability to be more aggressive with parking prices (and charge less). We don’t want fans staying home because they think the parking price is too high.
“The bottom line is we want people to be here at the park.”
With the lease signed, PBV turns its attention to getting the Yakima office up and running, with Zachary Fraser, current vice president and general manager at Walla Walla, spearheading those efforts.
“We want this to become a community product, built from the ground up with local people,” said Fraser, adding that includes fans, sponsors and the vendors they’ll use at the stadium. “As much as possible, we start local. Our first call is always to a local vendor.”
That approach is crucial for all teams in the WCL, where annual budgets range from $400,000 to $750,000, and will be a focal point in Yakima, where Fraser hopes to draw roughly 1,500 fans per game.
“That (attendance) can be realized with hard work and good relationships in the community,” he said.
Even though PBV owns both teams, Fraser said the Yakima franchise will have its own identity.
“The front office will be here year-round. They will have autonomy,” he said. “I expect them to engage the community as we do in Walla Walla. To be a successful business, you need to be active getting people into the stadium.”
Fraser’s first order of business will be hiring a coach to start building the team for next summer, followed by the front office staff, things he hopes to complete in the next several weeks. Later this week, an online poll to select the team name will go up at the team’s website, www.yakimabaseball.com.
“The most important priority is to get a coach hired,” he said, adding that the group can’t wait to get started.
“We’ve gotten a warm welcome here,” Stanton said, “and I hope is the first of many warm welcomes we receive here in Yakima.”