Triple Crown fields at bat

Officials debate long-term solutions to city's shortage of baseball fields

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Improving one ball field and building another will help keep Triple Crown coming to Steamboat, but it isn't a long-term solution for those who want to secure the lucrative summer business.

A sports complex is.

That is the thought shared by Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association Exec--utive Vice President Sandy Evans Hall and Triple Crown Founder Dave King, who said a sports facility with four or more fields is needed to solve Triple Crown's field-shortage problem.

"What we are looking for, long range, is a sports complex that would be a facility with a few more fields," Evans Hall said. "I don't know the number, where that would be or what that would look like."

In 2002, the city approved a five-year contract with Triple Crown under the condition that, within a year, the city would present King with a plan to add two to four more ball fields that Triple Crown could use. If not, King could break the contract after the 2004 season.

A turf field planned at the Christian Heritage School and an improved baseball field at Steamboat Springs Middle School will help fulfill the five-year contract, but it likely won't help keep Triple Crown in Steamboat any longer.

The current contract expires in 2007, and King said one of the items up for discussion is building a sports complex.

"We would love to stay," he said. "We have no real desire to go anywhere else. But a substantial quality facility is needed, both for citizens and special events."

Triple Crown, a company that organizes national sports tournaments, helps drive summer tourism in Steamboat Springs, but it also is a lightning rod in Steamboat's growth debate. The company and the people who come here to play in its tournaments pump about $10 million into Steamboat's economy each year.

King said that a sports complex in Steamboat would help his organization keep up with the competition.

"We compete against full-fledged sports facilities, facilities that were designed specifically for baseball. I don't have a single field in Steamboat designed specifically for baseball," he said.

He points to two tournaments that moved out of Steamboat. One tournament is held during two weekends in Park City and brings in 300 teams and $5 million. Another moved to Grand Junction and brings in 30 to 35 teams and about $500,000.

"Those are decisions we had to make to stay with the competition. It was the number of facilities and timing. A sports complex might have helped, but it might not have solved it," King said.

If a sports complex were built to support Triple Crown in Steamboat, the major unknowns are location and funding.

"That is going to be the question we look at over the next six months," Evans Hall said.

With two-thirds of Triple Crown games played outside of Steamboat -- in Craig, Hayden and Oak Creek -- it would be possible for the complex to be built in one of those communities, King said.

He thinks the facility would require contributions from Moffat and Routt counties, all four municipalities and maybe the school districts.

As for a contribution from Triple Crown, King said the organization already gives $15,000 a year to help maintain local fields. Helping build a complex could be too large of a risk if the towns decide they no longer want the tournaments here, King said.

"The citizens are left with a great facility, but we're out," King said.

Even as the city looks toward the future of a sports complex, it is embroiled in the details of finding short-term solutions.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, the council discussed two fields that would serve residents and Triple Crown teams.

Heritage Park homeowners expressed their concerns about a proposed turf field to be built next to the subdivision. The homeowners said they thought the field, which has been planned since the subdivision was approved for development, would be used for soccer. They objected to the greater use they feared Triple Crown teams would bring.

Last fall, the city received a $150,000 state grant to help build the artificial-turf field next to the Christian Heritage School. The field would allow high school sports teams to practice outside in early spring and provide another field to Triple Crown during the summer time.

"Triple Crown is a commercial use. It benefits commercial enterprise in Steamboat Springs," Heritage Park homeowner Kenneth Hamil told the council Tuesday night. "My neighborhood is not a commercial enterprise and should not be burdened by such."

Hamil asked why the city had agreed to preserve Emerald Park for local users after complaints from Pamela Lane residents, but chose to build a field next to a young neighborhood in the county.

"It is not even in the city," Hamil said. "Could this issue be that I can't vote in the city?"

The council agreed to work with Heritage Park homeowners to come up with a master plan for the field area.

The council also discussed on Tuesday a contract with the Steamboat Springs School District that will have the city spend $50,000 to $75,000 in improving fields at Steamboat Springs Middle School. In return, the city can use the ball fields in June, July and August. Part of that use will be for Triple Crown.

"It doesn't solve a lot of issues. It's a small patch and definitely beneficial," King said.

The Heritage Park and Steamboat Middle School fields would help meet Triple Crown's current overflow needs, Evans Hall said.

But King predicts that Triple Crown numbers in Steamboat will be up by 5 percent to 10 percent this year. Only one weekend has fewer teams coming to town than last year.

Evans Hall said the city should see an extra economic boost because of Triple Crown's change to double-elimination tournaments, which will keep more teams staying here longer.

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