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They’ve Made Their Marks in Many Different Arenas, but They Have One Thing in Common: These Men and Women of Sport Figure to Be Major Players in the Year Ahead : MATT ELLIS : Lancaster’s Baseball Team Already a Hit

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Matt Ellis helped bring minor league baseball to Lancaster for the simplest of reasons.

“We just wanted to be wanted,” he said.

Ellis, vice president and general manager of the California League’s Lancaster JetHawks, helped move the team from Riverside because of lack of support from the fans or the city.

Ellis has had no such problems in Lancaster.

The city is building the team a shiny new 4,500-seat ballpark. About 1,000 fans already have purchased season tickets. And they snapped up all the hats the team could keep in stock when they went on sale earlier this month.

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“It’s just been unbelievable how phenomenal the community has been,” Ellis said. “I think we are going to have a team that is going to be part of this whole Antelope Valley in a big way.”

When the JetHawks begin play April 4, they will be the only minor league team with major league affiliations in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties. The JetHawks are a Seattle Mariner affiliate.

Ellis said he saw the immediate impact of the team’s move when he was at the winter baseball meetings earlier this month, and people were talking about the JetHawks.

“People now know there’s a Lancaster, California, and not just one in Pennsylvania,” he said.

Ellis is probably a geography expert by now. He has worked for minor league baseball teams in Phoenix; Bellingham, Wash.; Modesto; Lethbridge, Alberta; and Riverside.

He was the Pioneer League’s executive of the year in 1994, when he helped boost Lethbridge’s average attendance from 500 to 1,300.

Ellis hopes he can use the same methods to bring in crowds of 4,000 or more in Lancaster. He’ll have to do it by creating an atmosphere that will be fun for fans who will be watching mostly anonymous 22- and 23-year-old minor leaguers.

“We try to expect we are going to lose, 10-1, every night,” Ellis said at a press conference this fall, “because if you can have a good time when we lose, 10-1, then we know we’ve done our job.”


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