It's official - the Coastal Bend Aviators are no longer welcome in Nueces County.
Nueces County Commissioners last week unanimously voted to terminate the lease agreement with the Aviators and also the license agreement with Horn Chen, the team's owner. Commissioners also authorized the county attorney to "re-enter and take possession of the stadium and remove all known persons and property" and sue the team for monies owed.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Oscar Ortiz, whose precinct includes Fairgrounds Field, said the county was left with no other option but to sever ties with the team, since the club still owes $20,000 in fees for using the stadium this season. The Aviators' average attendance was about 1,400 a game. The attendance figures for this season were third worst out of the 10 teams in the American Association of Independent Baseball.
"It's part of doing business. It's another day at work and we have to deal with things as they come up," Ortiz said. "The fact that this happened at the end of the season worked out because it allows us to go out and get somebody good to come and use this facility."
Two of the leagues Ortiz mentioned last week were the United and Continental baseball leagues, both independent leagues that claim to have former players playing in the Major Leagues.
Ron Baron, president of the Continental Baseball League, said he has not heard from the county yet on a proposal to move or form a team to play at the stadium, which is located at the Richard M. Borchard Regional Fairgrounds, but Baron added he would strongly consider the possibility, even with the more prominent Corpus Christi Hooks playing less than 30 minutes away.
"I understand with the Hooks, things changed a little bit down there," Baron said. "There's still solid support there for another team and we think we can make it work very well. The league is very interested."
However, Baron said league officials would not make any decisions until they get word from the county.
"We won't get involved until the county tells us it's legally appropriate," Baron said.
The Continental Baseball League, which celebrated its inaugural season this year, currently has four teams, but league officials said plans are in the works to add six teams by next year. In addition, Baron said because the league has a total operating budget of about $250,000, compared to $750,000 to $1 million for other independent leagues, costs for those looking to attend a game would theoretically be low.
"We're a little bit different than other leagues in that our economics are different," Baron said.
The American Association held a league meeting Oct. 5 during which the Aviators and another team, the St. Joe Blacksnakes, were given a month to decide if they would remain with the league, said league Commissioner Miles Wolff.
"Both clubs weren't sure if they were going to be able to return next season, so we gave them a month to come to a decision," Wolff said.
Wolff said he was aware that Chen and the Aviators were struggling with costs and attendance, adding that Chen had been trying to separate himself from the team for a while.
"He's been trying to sell the team for the past year," Wolff said. "I don't think that's going to be possible now without a lease or a home."
Attempts to reach Chen were unsuccessful and calls made to former Aviators general manager Bob Flanagan were not returned.
Ortiz said it is that lack of communication and the way the team left without a word that gave the county little choice in seeking a legal resolution to the matter.
"First and foremost in our minds is getting that building up to date and severing all ties with Chen," Ortiz said. "It's not just about money - they're not honoring their contract."
County attorney Laura Garza Jimenez said she sent a letter to the team Friday notifying it of the lease termination, but said she has yet to receive a response. A lawsuit will be brought against the team in about two weeks, she added, since the county is going to focus first on repossessing the stadium.
"We're going to be looking for damages or equity and anything else we're entitled to by law," Jimenez said. "But the $20,000 for sure, so that's a start."