Former major league player Ken McMullen and two partners purchased a Class-A minor league baseball franchise for $125,000 Wednesday, although the Camarillo-based group still does not have a stadium site or a major league player-development contract.
It was the last day the group could exercise its option to buy the Lodi franchise of the California League.
"We're going ahead on blind faith," said Jim Biby, one of McMullen's partners. "If you were to put down all the facts down, the pros and cons of this deal, few businessmen would do it. But we sincerely believe it will be an enjoyable experience for all the residents of Ventura County."
What McMullen's group purchased was only a right to do business in the 10-team league. The Lodi team did not play this season because its affiliate contract with the Chicago Cubs expired last year.
"All we have is a piece of paper," Biby said. "We don't have a team or a place to play. We're going to be building a minor league team from scratch."
Biby said the group's first priority is to secure a playing site in Ventura County for the 1986 season. As potential stadium sites, they are considering Freedom Park in Camarillo and an unspecified 20-acre tract in Camarillo.
Before making a decision on the purchase, McMullen's and his partners met Wednesday with Camarillo City Planning Director Tony Boden to discuss the possibility of rezoning the 20-acre site, which is part of a 158-acre agricultural preserve zoned to prohibit commercial use. Although the group would not reveal details of their discussion with Boden, Biby said that they were encouraged enough after the meeting to proceed with their purchase.
"The gist of the conversation was that it (rezoning) was viable," Biby said. "We felt comfortable enough to spend all that money."
Boden could not be reached for comment.
Over the past six weeks, McMullen and Biby--and a third partner, former major league pitcher Jim Colborn--have tried to reach an agreement with the Camarillo City Council regarding the funding of a multipurpose stadium at Freedom Park, but the body has rejected their proposals.
"I don't think a lot of people understand that when we talk about building a stadium for the club that it is not going to be our stadium," Biby said. "We're just going to be renting the facilities for a few months a year. The stadium will belong to the city and can be used for concerts, special events, anything the people and council want."
McMullen said that if his group cannot reach agreement on a site in Ventura County for the 1986 season, it probably will operate the club in Lodi for a year.
"Our conclusion is that if we did operate it in Lodi the first season it would at a loss," he said. "We would much rather operate it in Ventura County and lose money here."
The group's second priority is securing a contract with a major league club. It is considering affiliating with the Dodgers, Angels or Padres. The investors believe the minor league team's close proximity to the major league clubs would offer advantages to both teams.
If McMullen's group is successful in moving the Lodi franchise to Ventura County, the club will the only minor league team operating in Southern California. The other franchises in the California League are in Modesto, Bakersfield, Visalia, Redwood City, San Jose, Salinas, Fresno, Stockton and Reno.