NEW ORLEANS — When New Orleans Zephyrs radio broadcaster Tim Grubbs heard Monday that the team could be sold and moved to a Houston suburb, he said he was concerned.
“It was a big surprise,” said Grubbs, who is entering his 12th year as voice of the Z’s. “I didn’t know that our owner (Don Beaver) was currently in talks at all.”
Then Zephyrs General Manager Mike Schline called a Tuesday meeting of the 20 full-time employees.
The first thing Schline did, Grubbs said, was calm the staff down.
“I just told them it was two people who had a talk,” said Schline, who is in his ninth year as general manager. “That’s all it is at this point.
“I said I can’t guarantee anybody where we’ll be in 2016, but I can guarantee you’ll be working for the Zephyrs for the foreseeable future, for Don Beaver.
“If there’s anything they need to know about, they’ll hear it from me, and not to let it affect their jobs, and to concentrate on opening day,” Schline said.
“If something were to transpire, keep doing their jobs and to have faith in the new ownership and work hard. Just because something like that happens doesn’t mean they are in a bad situation.”
News first broke when new Houston Astros owner Jim Crane, being interviewed on ESPN before his team’s American League debut against the Texas Rangers, said he had talked with Beaver about purchasing the Zephyrs and moving the franchise to Montgomery County, Texas.
Schline and Grubbs pointed out, however, that there is no stadium there.
Although the land for a stadium is available and so is the money to build one, the process could take a couple of years.
“In my experience, I’ve seen a lot of deals go down in the league from initial conversations, which is where we’re at now, to actual sales and building stadiums, and it could take two, three, four years,” Schline said at the Zephyrs’ team offices.
Zephyrs Chief Operating Officer Ron Maestri said it should be no surprise that Beaver has talked to someone about selling the team.
He has said the past three years, Maestri said, that the team was for sale at the right price.
Beaver owns the Class AAA team in Charlotte and has just built a $50 million stadium.
He also owns a Class A team in Hickory, N.C., where he lives.
That might fuel speculation that a sale is imminent to free cash for the Charlotte operation.
Maestri, though, said he there’s no need to panic, even if the Zephyrs are sold to the Texas group or any other group.
“Oh, we’ll have a team,” Maestri said. “I don’t think, I know.
“Should something happen, the Pacific Coast League will not let New Orleans to go without a team.
“Now, whether it’s AA, AAA, whatever it might be, there will be baseball here,” Maestri said.
“I’m confident from talking to (league) people just over the years.”
He said New Orleans remains a desirable market because of its size, facility and fan base, even though the Zephyrs had a down year in attendance last season.
That, however, was partly because of Hurricane Isaac, which knocked out eight season-ending home dates.
There are 72 home dates in a season.
The eight dates, he said, at a minimum would have boosted attendance by 40,000 and put the Zephyrs in the middle of the pack of league teams or higher.
Schline said anything could happen regarding a sale, but he has known Schline to have business talks.
“Don has had initial discussions with parties interested in buying the team several times over several years, and he still owns the team,” Schline said.
“That’s where he is now. He’s having a conversation with someone interested in buying the team.
“That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen, but this particular person who is interested made public comments about it. So there’s curiosity.”
The Zephyrs have been affiliated with four teams during their stay here — the Astros, Nationals, Mets and now Marlins — although Beaver has been the owner through all of them.
Beaver and Schline said they’ve known new owners in a market to keep a good, hard-working staff who knows its area.
Grubbs said he’ll wait and see.
But for now, he’s awaiting opening day, excited to get back behind the microphone.
“I’m not putting my house up for sale,” he said. “There’s a lot that has to play out.”
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