Baseball enthusiasts have reason to be joyous this holiday season. The Chico Heat baseball team is returning to the North State to entertain baseball fans and provide great family entertainment.
The Tuesday announcement made at the Chico Elks Lodge in conjunction with a Chico Rotary meeting is welcome news for baseball fans who have missed the game during the hot Chico summers. There is great reason for optimism regarding this new baseball venture. Steve Nettleton was one of the primary architects of the highly successful Chico Heat baseball franchise in the late 90’s. Nettleton built the baseball park on the Chico State campus, endowed it to the University and saw fans show up in droves to support the Heat from 1997-2002. As successful as the Heat were, the Western Baseball League couldn’t capture the Nettleton magic in other cities. The league folded after the 2002 season but not because of the Heat, which were still drawing big crowds at Nettleton Stadium.
This baseball venture garners instant credibility with Pat Gillick’s involvement. The Hall-of-Fame baseball executive and Butte County native is one of the smartest baseball men in the game. The son of long-time Butte County Sheriff Larry Gillick has been one of baseball’s best general managers over the past 30 years. Gillick built back-to-back World Series championship teams in Toronto in 1992 and 1993. He also built the 2008 World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Gillick also had successful runs as General Manager of the Seattle Marines and Baltimore Orioles. Gillick has long been a proponent of baseball in the North State and knows from a personal perspective that the greater-Chico area loves their baseball.
Gillick said during the Tuesday press conference that he likes the model of college players developing their skills (in a league like this) to try to become a professional baseball player.
I have heard some subtle comments that maybe this Chico Heat venture will not work, just like the Chico Outlaws attempt at baseball in Chico. Let me state this and I can’t state it loud enough. This Chico Heat baseball club is NOTHING like the Chico Outlaws. First, the Outlaws had more of an adversarial approach with Chico State University. The Pleasanton-based ownership did not fully embrace the Chico community and they never understood or WANTED to understand how baseball would work in Chico. The Nettleton-Gillick led Chico Heat are in a partnership with the university. That will go a long way in creating an amicable partnership that the community will feel night in and night out.
Second, Steve Nettleton and Pat Gillick understand Chico. They live here, have done business here, have friends and business associates here. They are committed to the area and have shown that they won’t abandon their friends.
This model is one that I have long supported. If Chico can’t get an affiliated team to call Chico home then the college baseball summer league model works the best. Every summer, college ball players from around the country will come to Chico and play baseball in a community that loves the game. With smart leadership, the league will flourish with quality baseball in a family friendly environment. These will not be professional baseball players. These will be college kids playing the game in a minor league environment and they will relish the chance to be part of this tremendous fan base. As a baseball fan and supporter of collegiate baseball, I couldn’t be more thrilled.
I can picture it now, 3000 fans in the stands, Heater joyously entertaining the kids, the smell of garlic fries wafting over the Stadium, the cold Sierra Nevada flowing, all with the sun setting beyond the right field wall…..June of 2016 can’t come soon enough !
Lets Play Ball !!!