History of the Legends
Lexington's love affair with professional baseball unceremoniously ended in 1954, when both the Lexington Hustlers and the Lexington Colts disbanded. Prior to that, professional baseball, in one form or another, had been a part of Lexington's sports scene dating back to the late 1800s.
Beginning in 1984, community leaders began to entertain the idea of bringing baseball back to the Bluegrass. At the time, Lexington was one of the largest cities in America without some form of professional baseball, more specifically minor league baseball, and the community seemed to be a perfect fit for the minor league team.
From 1984 to 1992, several unsuccessful attempts were made to return Lexington to the list of cities with a professional baseball team. A persistent group of community leaders refused to give up on the idea and continued to explore every possible way to keep the dream alive.
In July 1992, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that the Cincinnati Reds' minor league affiliate in Charleston, West Virginia, was interested in relocating to Lexington, however coming up with the money to finance a new ballpark would be a challenge. A task force was formed to address the issue of stadium financing, but no decisive answers were found and the opportunity slipped quietly away.
By the summer of 1993, community leaders had changed their focus to developing an entertainment complex with a minor-league baseball park and an amphitheater near Jacobson Park. Speculation as that Lexington would have a double-A minor league team within two years. Unfortunately, the idea of using state money to build the complex was rejected and another opportunity for Lexington was lost.
In April 1994, another committee was formed to identify potential funding sources for a baseball facility suitable for a minor league team. Although "build it and they will come," seemed to be the prevailing philosophy at the time, an effort to underwrite a $12 million stadium project by increasing the hotel bed-tax failed. Soon after, the Lexington Herald-Leader asked, "Can't somebody figure out how to make baseball a reality here?"
For a brief time in 1995, there was talk of Lexington getting an independent league team when the president of the Texas-Louisiana League announced plans to contact officials here to discuss such an endeavor. A year later, investors were lined up to attract a double-A minor league expansion team, and a downtown location near Rupp Arena was identified as a potential site for a new stadium. By October of 1996, it was apparent that the deadlines for application would not be met, and another opportunity was missed.
The Knoxville Smokies offered to relocate to Lexington in 1997 if a new stadium could be built. Community leaders sought state and local money to finance the construction, however a new ballpark failed to make the list of projects to be funded with a state appropriated budget surplus. It seemed that Lexington was destined to remain baseball-free despite repeated attempts to the contrary.
A New Approach
Then, in March of 1999, the problem was attacked from a different flank. A group of private investors, led by Alan Stein, announced that they were poised to finance the construction of a stadium and purchase the franchise rights for a Single-A minor league team -without using taxpayer money. This new approach seemed almost too good to be true.
A business plan was developed, financing secured, and in June 1999, the South Atlantic League granted Lexington preliminary approval to proceed with plans to begin play in 2001. Shortly thereafter, a site on North Broadway was selected and contracts were awarded to Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects and H&M Company to design and build a multi-purpose baseball stadium.
On December 18th, 1999, the proposed stadium site on North Broadway received final rezoning approval from the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Board of Adjustments and on February 7th, 2000, a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony was held. On hand for the groundbreaking were South Atlantic League President John Henry Moss; Pat O'Conner, vice president of Minor League Baseball; and Tim Purpura, assistant general manager and director of player development for the Houston Astros.
When David Cottingham, a University of Kentucky student, heard about the groundbreaking ceremony for the new ballpark and the announcement about an initial season ticket drive, he decided he would be the first person to buy a ticket to a game. That night, Cottingham camped out at the Hyatt Regency, where tickets were to go on sale four days later and carried a hand-made sign that read, "The line starts here." Cottingham was rewarded for his patience and determination with a lifetime pass to the new ballpark.
Season tickets went on sale on February 12th, fourteen months before Opening Day, and the community turned out in force. Despite bitterly cold temperatures, more than 200 people were lined up thirty minutes before tickets went on sale at 9 am. By 4 pm that afternoon, 1,9500 full season tickets had been purchased and a new South Atlantic League record had been established. A "name the team" contest was announced shortly thereafter, and by mid-May, Lexington Professional Baseball Company, had received over 5,400 entries consisting of 674 different names. During the last month of the contest, over 14,000 fans voted for their favorite nickname - that's more than voted in the 2000 congressional primary in Lexington!
It Becomes Official
In June 2000, Lexington was officially admitted to the South Atlantic League's Northern Division. Two months later on August 3rd, team officials unveiled the Lexington Legends official logo, colors and uniforms. More than 5,000 people attended the downtown ceremony at Courthouse Square where "Big L," the Legends' mascot, was also introduced for the first time.
The inaugural season schedule was released on October 26th, with the Legends' opening game on the road in West Virginia against the Charleston Alley Cats on April 5th. The first home game was scheduled for Monday, April 9th, against the Hagerstown Suns. At a morning press conference on January 12th, the Player Development Contract with the Houston Astros was signed and the team's first manager, J.J. Cannon, was introduced. Cannon also introduced his staff - Pitching Coach Charley Taylor, Hitting Coach "Jayhawk" Owens and Athletic Trainer Keven Eichorn.
Having overcome countless missed opportunities and failed attempts to bring baseball back; the dreams of a few courageous and dedicated individuals had become a reality. After nearly 50 years, the game that is America's Greatest Past-time is alive in the Bluegrass, and a new stadium stands proudly on Lexington's north side as a monument to persistency and perseverance.