BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- Local business leaders Gene Voiland and Chad Hathaway have purchased the Bakersfield Blaze, the current Class A Advanced Minor League affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.
Voiland and Hathaway, who will own and operate the team as the Bakersfield Sports Group LLC, will use their extensive business and civic expertise to create significant improvements to the Blaze fan experience.
The sale has been approved by the California League, but remains subject to approval by Minor League and Major League Baseball. The sale is expected to close before the 2012 Minor League season begins April 5.
"We are thrilled to bring local ownership back to the Blaze," said Voiland, a longtime Bakersfield resident who is chairman of Valley Republic Bank, and past president and CEO of Aera Energy LLC.
"We know that this baseball franchise can be one of the most successful not just in California, but in the country, and we look forward to making the team a real civic asset and a center of excitement for the community." The Blaze is managed by former Major League Baseball great Ken Griffey, Sr. Griffey is a two-time World Series champion, three-time All-Star, and was the 1980 MLB All-Star Game's Most Valuable Player. He was a member of the famed "Big Red Machine" squad that was managed by the late Sparky Anderson, and featured baseball greats such as Johnny Bench, Pete Rose and Joe Morgan.
Griffey played a total of 19 years in the Major Leagues.
Voiland and Hathaway believe that Bakersfield has the attributes needed for a highly successful baseball franchise, including a growing population, excellent baseball weather and top-rated youth leagues, high school and college baseball teams.
"Baseball is a sport that brings families and friends together like no other," Hathaway said. "We want to create an exciting, family-friendly environment, and field a team that can make all of Bakersfield proud." General manager Elizabeth Martin, who is in her second year at the helm of the Blaze front office, will continue to oversee the franchise. Martin's keen grasp of baseball economics and incredible drive have led to her quick rise through the baseball ranks, which has included positions with the Visalia Rawhide and at the Minor League Baseball headquarters.
The Blaze will continue to play in Sam Lynn Ballpark, but the new owners have plans to review all aspects of the organization in order to significantly improve the fan experience at the stadium.
"There's no question we need to upgrade the fan experience, and that's what we plan to do immediately," Hathaway said. "We are excited to put into action many of the best practices we've found throughout the country."
"We have a business plan that will address immediate and long term needs, "said Voiland. "It's no secret that the current ballpark is not up to standard, and while we plan to make immediate enhancements, we also plan to evaluate opportunities for a new stadium in the near future."
Gene Voiland is a longtime resident of Bakersfield. In addition to serving as chairman of Valley Republic Bank, he is a director and acting president of Orion California LP, and a director and former chairman of the board of the California Chamber of Commerce. He serves as director of the Kern Community Foundation, Pyles Boys Camp and California Forward. Voiland graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from Washington State University. He lives in Bakersfield with his wife Linda, and they have four adult children.
Chad Hathaway was born and raised in Bakersfield. He attended East Bakersfield High School, Bakersfield College and Fresno State University. He currently owns two locally based companies, Hathaway LLC, an oil and gas production company, and Payzone Directional Services, which provides directional drilling for oil and gas companies. Hathaway is active with several organizations in the community, and currently serves on the board of the Bakersfield Petroleum Club and is cofounder and current vice president of Kern Citizens for Sustainable Government. He received the Thomas Jefferson Community Service Award, and was named one of the Top 10 People to Watch in Kern County in 2009 and 2012 by the Bakersfield Californian and Bakersfield Life Magazine. He lives in Bakersfield with his wife, Kacie, and their three children.
This year, the Blaze boasts 70 promotions, including Fireworks Fridays and Souvenir Saturdays. 2012 season tickets and weekly packages are available at discounted rates.
Blaze fans are encouraged to visit the club's website, BakersfieldBlaze.com, to learn about the team and promotions for the upcoming season. Fans can also follow the club via twitter, @BakoBlaze, and on the team's Facebook page.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.