Describing his 16 years as owner of the Minnesota Twins as a "great ride," owner Carl Pohlad said Friday he's confident a new stadium will be built to clinch his agreement to sell the team.
Pohlad on Thursday agreed to sell the team to Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor and Wild lead investor Robert Naegele Jr. for $120 million if a new stadium is built.
"At this point there is not a new owner," he stressed. But Pohlad said he's confident St. Paul voters will approve a Nov. 2 referendum calling for a sales tax increase to finance one-third of the $325 million stadium.
The team would pay for one-third of the ballpark and state taxpayers would foot the remaining third. The plan needs approval from the state Legislature, where opposition is considerable. Gov. Jesse Ventura also opposes public funding of a new ballpark.
If St. Paul voters approve the tax hike, Twins president Jerry Bell said the team will be under dual leadership until the remaining hurdles are cleared.
"We will agree on a plan before spring training on how the team is going to be run," Bell said. As part of the plan, Bell said the Twins will pick up their 2000 option on ace right-hander Brad Radke's contract this week.
"This is a day of high emotion for me," Pohlad said at a news conference at the Metrodome, where the Twins showcased their world champion 1987 and 1991 teams. "I look back and I think about the 16 years and the great ride."
"I wish I were a few years younger," said Pohlad, with his wife, Eloise, at his side. "We enjoyed those magic moments of the two great World Series."
In addition to his wife and Bell, Pohlad was accompanied by manager Tom Kelly and former stars Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek, who played on both World Series teams.
Pohlad, who bought the Twins in 1984 for $36 million, said recent losing seasons have been difficult. But he said it takes time to rebuild a team from the farm system and trades during an age when corporate ownership of teams is changing the financial structure of the game.
It also has been hard for Pohlad to find himself criticized for slashing payroll and letting the team decline as he pushed for a new stadium financed in part by the public.
"Nobody likes to hear anything negative about themselves but that's the price you pay to be in sports. We have to accept it," Pohlad said.
"If any team in baseball doesn't have the machine, the stadium, they're not going to be able to compete," he said.
Pohlad said his desire to keep the Twins in Minnesota was paramount in negotiations with potential buyers.
"I had quite a number of opportunities to sell in the last few years, all of which involved taking the team out of Minnesoa," he said. "Our whole object (was) to keep baseball in Minnesota for the next 30 years."
Twins officials have had some preliminary talks with Major League Baseball leaders about the pending sale to Taylor and Naegele but will need to give them statistics showing it's a good move, Pohlad said.
Convincing the Legislature may be tougher, even though Taylor, who owns the Minnesota NBA franchise, is a former state senate minority leader.
"Bob Naegele and Glen Taylor are fine people, but that isn't the issue," House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty, R-Eagan, said Thursday night.
Two years ago, after intense opposition from voters across the state the House voted 84-47 against a stadium-funding plan.
That plan relied almost entirely on user fees to pay for a ballpark and would have required little or no direct state spending. That proposal also had strong support from then-Gov. Arne Carlson.
"While the change of ownership is refreshing, I don't think it really changes the dynamic of the debate," said Pawlenty, who voted against the stadium bill in 1997.
But state Sen. Randy Kelly, DFL-St. Paul, said he might be more willing to approve state dollars for a stadium with Taylor among the new owners.
"Glen Taylor having served in the Legislature, having been a really good corporate citizen in Minnesota, having been a great owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves with all that, there is a reservoir of good will at the Legislature," Kelly said.
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