Watertown, NY, Aug 19, 2011 — The Watertown Wizards summer collegiate baseball team may be leaving Watertown. The owner has put the team up for sale, and he blames the city for his decision. Joanna Richards has the story.
The Watertown Wizards are part of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, a summer league for college ball players. Players are hosted by families in the area, and games attract scouts for professional teams. About 24,500 people attended Wizards games in the season that just ended.
Owner Paul Simmons says he and his family made the decision to sell the team after frustrations mounted in their dealings with the city of Watertown.
We didn't even get a contract until like May 23, 24th of this year. So it was impossible for us to go out, buy souvenirs, you know - why would you order them if you're not gonna have a team? We had trouble recruiting proper players. We had trouble getting our sponsors in place. All because of this. The city held us up for a long, long time.
The season began June 9 at the facilities the ball team leases from the city at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds. The contract was delayed while the city, the Disabled Persons Action Organization, which sponsors concerts at the fairgrounds, and the Wizards argued over rights to concession profits.
A further point of conflict between the baseball team and the city was the discovery in April that the Wizards owed $46,000 in back bills to the city. That prompted the city to audit the books of its Parks and Recreation Department, which was responsible for billing the team and other users of fairgrounds facilities. It turned out the department had failed to properly bill many users. A restructuring of the department is now in the works.
Simmons says mistrust began to develop between the city and the team. And, he says, talk of the city taking over more and more of the Wizards' ways of making profit made him worried about how the team would finance its operations.
What they want to do is to put in a plan to take over concert sales - that's one of the few places that a ball team actually makes any money. And they also talked about taking over the outfield fences. They wanted to sell the advertising themselves. Well, then where does the income come to cover a seventy-five to eighty-thousand-dollar a year program?
But Watertown mayor Jeff Graham disputes Simmons's version of events. He says in the case of concession sales, the City Council decided to take away the team's exclusive ability to grant concession sales rights in May when the city suspected it wasn't being given its contracted 10 percent of sales.
You know this was something that a duly elected public body decided to do because they felt it was in the public interest. And, ah, if that precipitated a decision not to do the team anymore, then what that tells you is that the team was probably not viable anyway.
Simmons says four parties have expressed interest in possibly buying the Wizards. Two are from outside Watertown and would move the team. He says he would like to keep the operation local if possible, but whether the Wizards will continue to play in Watertown remains to be seen.
For North Country Public Radio, I'm Joanna Richards in Watertown.