TAMPA — The New York Yankees acknowledge "very preliminary discussions" regarding the partial sale of their minor league Tampa Yankees affiliate, but deny the possible deal would have any impact on the major league team's spring training situation.
"These exploratory conversations will have no impact on the Yankees' spring training facility or the Major League team," the New York team said in a statement. "The Yankees are in very preliminary discussions regarding the possibility of a partial sale of their Single-A Tampa minor league affiliate to a potential group of Orange County, Fla., investors. The investors will make an announcement tomorrow."
Vance Smith, the Yankees director of Florida operations, maintained that discussions are in the early stages and no deal is imminent. Steve Densa, director of media relations for Minor League Baseball, said his office has yet to receive any request from any team regarding relocation. He said a club would first have to make a request through its league (in this case, the Florida State League) and then be approved by their office as well as Major League Baseball.
Smith also cast doubts on a report that a deal would involve splitting their games, with half in Tampa and half in Orlando, saying it doesn't seem "economically feasible" to do it that way.
Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty and the owner of the New York Yankees met Tuesday to discuss a plan with local politician/businessman Armando Gutierrez Jr. Crotty and Gutierrez are expected to make an announcement Thursday.
Tampa officials were puzzled over the news that the baseball team could be moving to Orlando.
"We don't want anything to leave Tampa," Mayor Pam Iorio said Wednesday morning.
Iorio said many of the area's residents and visitors enjoy watching minor league baseball as much as the spring training games that are played at Steinbrenner Field, which was renamed from Legends field in 2008.
Iorio said she doesn't understand why the team would want to leave.
"The public has made a big investment in Steinbrenner Field," she said. "We have a first-class facility. I don't see how you could get anything better than Steinbrenner Field."
The Tampa Yankees have had a local presence since the mid 1990s, when they began playing at the University of South Florida when Steinbrenner Field, first called Legends Field, was under construction.
The $29.5 million facility owned by Hillsborough County opened in the late '90s. The county pays $1.9 million a year from tourist development taxes to pay off the construction costs. Tourist development taxes come from hotel room stays.
In 2006, the county authorized spending $7.5 million to make improvements to Steinbrenner Field. Payments on that authorization are $488,000 a year in tourist development tax money.
The county receives a $30,250 licensing fee each year from the owners of the Tampa Yankees. The New York Yankees pay the county $60,500 a year through the licensing agreement, plus 75 cents per ticket sold for Yankees spring training games.
Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi suggested that a stadium would need to be built to accommodate minor league baseball , and it would have to be financed mostly with private funds.
Late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was an influential philanthropist in the area after moving to Tampa in 1973. He died of a heart attack in July at age 80.
Times staff writers Joe Smith, Marc Topkin, Bob Putnam, Emily Nipps and Janet Zink contributed to this report.