While uncertainties remain regarding the long-term fate of the team formerly known as the Portland Beavers, this much is clear: The Pacific Coast League franchise will play in Tucson in 2011 as the Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres, with veteran Minor League executive Mike Feder serving as general manager.
The Pima County Sports Tourism Authority and the Padres conducted a press conference Thursday to officially announce the move to Tucson, with Feder formally introduced as GM. The nickname, uniforms and logos are expected to be unveiled in the near future, in conjunction with the launch of the team's website.
Feder is currently the PCSTA's executive director, but prior to this he served as general manager for a pair of Tucson-based PCL franchises: the Toros and the Sidewinders. (The Toros relocated to Fresno following the 1997 campaign and were immediately replaced by the Sidewinders, who moved to Reno in 2008.) Like the Sidewinders, the new ballclub is expected to compete at Tucson Electric Park. The 11,500-seat facility served as the Diamondbacks' Spring Training home from 1998 through 2010 and was the White Sox's Cactus League home from 1998-2008.
"Tucson is home for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Toros and Sidewinders. Once I heard that [the Beavers] could end up in Tucson, I knew it was something I wanted to go after," said Feder via phone Thursday.
This latest chapter of Tucson Minor League history is expected to be a temporary one. The move from Portland was precipitated by the team's failure to secure funding for a new stadium, as the previous home of PGE Park is being converted to a soccer-only facility that hosts the Portland Timbers, a new Major League Soccer club.
In the wake of this setback, Beavers owner Merritt Paulson sold the club to a group led by San Diego Padres owner Jeff Moorad. His group is seeking to build a new stadium in Escondido, Calif., located just 30 miles from the Padres' PETCO Park home.
Such a facility, however, is contingent on the Escondido city government approving the necessary funds. A City Council vote on the issue is scheduled for Nov. 30, and if it passes, the new ballpark should be ready in time for the 2012 campaign. If not, then the team's stay in Tucson could extend indefinitely.
"We're not looking at this as one-year deal," said Feder, who has recruited local investors to fund the team's day-to-day operations. "Whatever the Padres choose to use us for is great, but the bottom line is that we have to change the perception regarding Tucson and the PCL. We're auditioning for down the road. If we do a great job as a Triple-A city, then if the Padres do go to Escondido there may be interest from another club about relocating here. This is about the future as much as it is the present."
Next up on Feder's agenda is to assemble a front office staff, one capable of getting the word out about the PCL's imminent return to Old Pueblo. Jack Donovan, a former Minor League general manager and Spring Training operations director, is already on board.
"I have a lot of pre-existing relationships here, so it should be fairly easy to put together a staff," said Feder, who said his hires will be 99 percent local. "Still, other teams have been working since September [on the 2011 season]. We'll be playing catchup, so we have to work hard and work smart."
And for Feder, that translates into communicating just how meaningful Minor League Baseball will be for the Tucson area.
"Triple-A Baseball started here in 1969 and lasted until 2008, so there's a great history here," he said. "I hope the community understands that this is a way for us to get back on the map. We lost the Diamondbacks, White Sox and the Rockies [as Spring Training tenants], and we lost Triple-A Baseball. Now we're getting something back. We needed this victory."