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JetHawks' new owners eager to soar01/29/2009 5:00 PM ET
By Benjamin Hill / MLB.com
Minor League Baseball teams often put a strong emphasis on skits, contests, giveaways and all manner of unexpected tomfoolery, so it's no surprise that operating a team is often compared to putting on a show.
Jeff Katofsky and Lawrence Lyttle understand this principle better than most. The duo head an ownership group that recently purchased the Lancaster JetHawks, a Class A Advanced California League club located just 70 miles from the entertainment epicenter that is Los Angeles.
The sale, which still needs to be approved by both Minor and Major League Baseball, was announced last week. The JetHawks' previous owner, Peter Carfagna, will remain involved in the industry via his ownership of the South Atlantic League's Lake County Captains.
Katofsky and Lyttle have strong roots in Southern California, and as such are committed to running the team in a hands-on manner. Katofsky has served as the majority owner of the Orem Owlz since 2004, and in that time the club has consistently ranked among the Pioneer League's attendance leaders. Lyttle, who has an extensive resume as a television executive and producer, is making his first foray into the world of Minor League Baseball.
What unites both men is a passion for the game of baseball, as well as a desire to immerse themselves into the unique world of the Minor Leagues.
"Minor League Baseball is a lot of fun," Katofsky said. "The half-tone sepia in the background is a baseball game, but the rest is a blank canvas, and you can draw anything you want on top of that. In this fast-paced world, Minor League Baseball is one of the few things that allows you to be a kid, to be creative. There are rules, but not many. We're going to take pride in doing things that other people notice, because that means the fans are noticing too."
Lyttle has made a name for himself in the television industry as the producer of shows such as "Murphy Brown," "China Beach" and "Life Goes On." He thinks his extensive experience in that arena will serve him well in the world of Minor League Baseball. And who knows? It also might help the JetHawks lure some big names to the ballpark.
"Minor League Baseball reminds me of local TV in its conceit and intentions -- you want to put eyeballs in front of the set and attract an audience," he said. "It's incredibly grass-roots and a real piece of Americana, very Norman Rockwell. The theory behind it is entertainment for the entire family at affordable prices, so we need to provide an environment that is conducive to having a good time."
Under Carfagna's leadership, the JetHawks increased attendance and made a name for themselves by offering unique giveaways, such as team logo skateboards and the Boston Red Sox tattered t-shirt. Katofsky and Lyttle still see even more potential for growth over what has been achieved in recent years.
"We need to expand the marketing, and keep on reminding people that they have a professional baseball team in their area," Katofsky said. "We need to make our fans understand that we really want them to be there. Entertainment is an important escape, so come escape with us."
"There are about 700,000 people in the greater Lancaster area, of whom a couple hundred thousand are Hispanic," Lyttle added. "We need to diversify, hit that new demographic and really open this thing up."
When it comes to the '09 season, Katofsky and Lyttle are hamstrung somewhat by the fact that the sale of the club is not yet official. But both are ready to hit the ground running, certain that the Lancaster JetHawks' best years are yet to come.
"With Larry's experience in the entertainment industry, and my experience with the Owlz, we know what works and what doesn't," Katofsky said. "Our goal is to make everyone happy. Can we do it? Well, if it's almost everyone, we'll consider that a win.
"This is going to go well, because we're going to make sure it goes well."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.