You can’t accuse Wenatchee AppleSox owner/general manager Jim Corcoran of being a small thinker.
Corcoran, who established the team in 2000, has aspirations for a $6-8 million project that would significantly upgrade the AppleSox game experience. But, as with most sport arena renovations, the process toward improvement has been a slow one.
The AppleSox currently play in Paul Thomas Sr. Baseball Stadium on the Wenatchee Valley College campus.
“We have a lot of things that are working for us playing at the college,” Corcoran said Thursday. “Some of the advantages include the relationship we have with the current athletic director, Greg Franz. We also have no issues with the (college’s and the AppleSox’s) schedules overlapping. And the parking is something I know our fans enjoy.”
But Corcoran would like to see some upgrades that would better serve the baseball fans and families of North Central Washington: Under the current setup, there is nowhere for groups to ensure they sit together and some flaws in the park’s infrastructure make it difficult to provide the ideal experience.
“The facilities, as they are, were built in a hurry, with a lot of the goods and services donated. With that said, they’ve been great for 14 years, which is a long time for us to be there,” Corcoran said. “But there are some shortfalls. … The biggest thing is the access details inside the ballpark. As you walk in, you’re walking on gravel. You have gravel all the way until you get to the seating area. It’s hard to get a wheelchair through that. We do everything we can to help, but I see the frustrations.”
The owner also noted that there is only one water faucet in the entire ball park and the drainage system is not modern enough to handle rain storms like what hit the region last week. He also said that he would like to have more chairs. The park holds 520 fixed seats, with 680 bleacher seats. Corcoran would like to double the stadium’s seated capacity to 2,400-2,500 with space on grass berms available.
These annoyances have led Corcoran to weigh several options in the area that would not only upgrade the AppleSox facility, but also serve as a resource for the whole community. Corcoran has had design and planning work drawn out for both the field on WVC’s campus and Recreation Park, which is owned by the Wenatchee school district.
The history of Rec Park — where the Wenatchee Chiefs played from 1937 to 1965 — drew Corcoran’s interest.
“When people who have lived here a long time talk about baseball, they remember the Chiefs games at Rec Park, and they are really good memories,” he said. “That’s essentially what we’re trying to re-create with the AppleSox.”
But for every advantage a facility provides, Corcoran is met with significant drawbacks. In this case, the park’s grandstand would have to be completely rebuilt — “In the condition it’s in, it would be condemned if it ever got inspected,” he said — and there would be some obstacles regarding the ownership of the park to maneuver. Corcoran would like to see the park swapped back to the city, which could more easily allow the AppleSox organization to manage the park year-round, while still allowing the Wenatchee High School baseball team to play there.
An impediment that Corcoran is running into when it comes to renovating Paul Thomas Sr. Stadium is the fact that it is owned by the college, and thus falls under the jurisdiction of Title IX, which stipulates that any money that goes into the men’s facilities must be matched for a women’s program.
None of this, though, is stopping Corcoran from trying. The Sox owner believes if the correct field turf were installed to either stadium, the park could then be a year-round venue for the community: Corcoran said he would like to see the field used for car shows, movies and swap meets, as well as winter festivals.
And Matt Kearny, director of marketing for the Wenatchee Valley Sports Council, agrees that an improved facility could be a real asset for the area.
“When you look at the baseball facility situation in the Wenatchee area, we’ve got some first-class youth softball and baseball facilities,” Kearny said. “… But we do lack that full-size multi-field complex that would really put us on the radar big time, make us very competitive for WIAA bids and other tournaments as well. Teams like to come here, so do spectators. We’ve got the central location, we’ve got the weather … We’re missing that major link as far as the facility side is concerned.”
Not surprisingly, out of all of the obstacles, paying for the project is the biggest impediment.
“In today’s environment, it’s tough to find funding for a baseball facility,” Corcoran said. “Nor would I be interested in getting funds in tax-based places that some have done before. Particularly so here in Wenatchee, where we just got done with an uncomfortable process with the (Town Toyota Center) arena. Last thing I want to do is create a similar situation for this community. This community has been too good to us, I don’t want to hand it a mess in return.”
So Corcoran says he has to be “creative and find funding through a non-traditional channel.”
The owner is currently in talks with a few local businesses and a couple families about potential donations that could help the project, but he still needs help from others, he said..
“Right now we’re just hoping to find that one — or those few — generous people in the community who wants to leave a great legacy,” he said.
Corcoran references a recently-completed multi-million dollar project in Hillsboro, Ore., that has been an advantage for that previously baseball-starved area outside Portland. The Hillsboro group built a $14.6 million stadium — twice as big as what the AppleSox owner aims for.
While the project would certainly be expensive, you can see the passion Corcoran has for the area and baseball when you ask him why he wants to improve the accommodations here.
“As corny as it sounds, we’re in the business of creating this Norman Rockwell picture every night when we have a game,” he said. “There are grandparents and grand kids and everybody in between. And everybody can find a way to have fun.”
Corcoran is emphatic about the advantages an upgraded facility could offer AppleSox fans, but he remains a realist in what the real aim of a project like this should be.
“These facilities are not going to generate the millions of dollars in profit that the (Town Toyota Center) promised,” he said. “They just won’t do that. You do arenas and baseball parks for the same reasons you do parks and libraries, because you want to make the community a better place to live.”