By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
Weeks after the Pecos League severed ties with Clovis, another league is trying to put professional baseball in the city this summer.
Officials with the independent Southwestern States League are working on an agreement to lease Bell Park for 40 games, half of the 80-game schedule for the Clovis Rhythm, starting in the second week of May.
Gene Beiker, executive director of operations for the Clovis Schools, said paperwork is ready for the $8,000 lease agreement.
“I think it’s a good deal for Clovis to have a league here,” Beiker said.
The Rhythm would join the Kingfisher (Okla.) Pioneers, Brenham (Texas) Bulls, Elk City (Okla.) Wranglers and Blackwell (Okla.) Broncos. The team name was picked due to the area’s musical history with Buddy Holly and Waylon Jennings, and the league already had a Pioneers squad.
Media Relations Director Nathan Snyder said another team could be added with the need to sacrifice a balanced schedule. With five teams in an 80-game season, teams would face each other 20 times. Teams would play each other 16 times in a six-team league.
Ticket prices will be $7 per game, and season tickets will likely be in the $150 to 175 range, Snyder said.
“We’re not expecting a massive group of people,” Snyder said, “but we’re figuring we could get 250 people at a game and the team would be fine.”
Teams would have an $80,000 salary cap to divide amongst the 22-man roster, with a minimum player salary of $600 per month. How much individual players are paid is otherwise at the manager’s discretion, Director of League Operations Brian Ramsey said.
“If they wanted to bring in a big guy and build around him,” Ramsey said, “they could do that, or get multiple players and spread out the money.”
There are no designated days of the week for games, but Snyder said games would be either 7:05 p.m. Monday through Saturday and either 1:05 p.m. or 1:15 p.m. Sundays. If inclement weather forces doubleheader makeups, teams will play two seven-inning games.
The Pecos League was interested in adding the Clovis Pioneers, but pulled out in mid-January. League Commissioner Andrew Dunn cited inability to sell alcohol at Bell Park, a high lease charge at the school-owned park and an inability to play elsewhere due to youth leagues receiving priority.
Ramsey said the Southwestern States League will consider itself lucky if it hits the break-even point in the first season, and hopes to be a permanent fixture in the area.
“There are no anticipated problems, as far as talking with the city,” Snyder said. “The Southwestern States League does have an agreement in place. There was never any agreement on the table (with the Pecos League).”
Talks are still required, Snyder said, with the city’s parks and recreation department. Although Clovis Municipal Schools owns and maintains Bell Park, utility services are provided by the city.
Clovis Parks and Recreation Director Bill Bizzell said his department has had no discussions with the league yet.