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Pro ball in Ocala? Not likely, per the numbers

Florida State LeagueThough there’s some public enthusiasm to bring a Florida State League team to Ocala, the chances of it happening are very slim, say owners who know the circuit well.

The topic of pro baseball in central Florida came up at the Winter Meetings with several owners; it’s an area we know well after spending a lot of time in Ocala and a neighboring area to the east, The Villages, over the last decade.

A little background: Ocala officials have approached the New York Yankees braintrust around relocating the Tampa Yankees (High Class A; Florida State League). Ocala is located north of Tampa past the I-4/Turnpike split; it’s horsey country with some history hosting pro baseball.

The big question: why Ocala and the Yankees? Beats us, past a previous association with the Steinbrenners (the late George Steinbrenner owned a horse-breeding operation in the area and had once floated the idea of bringing the T-Yanks closer to home). Ocala is small — just 56,000 or so residents — and once you get past the health-service and government sectors, the largest employers in the city are Wal-Mart, Publix and AT&T, not exactly representing a high-end demographic. There’s also talk that an Ocala team could draw from the 100,000 or so residents of The Villages, but we are not buying it: the retirees there tend not to wander far from the three town squares after dark.

This article from the local paper paints a pretty rosy picture of the potential pro team in Ocala and argues that if Dunedin can host pro baseball, so can Ocala, but the author misses out on one key fact: the Dunedin Blue Jays exist not because Dunedin is such a great pro market, but because the team is subsidized by the Blue Jays as a developmental expense. In Ocala, you wouldn’t see the Yankees subsidize any team or invest in a new ballpark. And while the notion of spending $40 million on a FSL ballpark is laughable, spending a more reasonable amount, like $20 million, would be a lot for a community with a modest financial structure. Do Marion County and Ocala officials have the stomach to raise taxes to pay for a Yankees ballpark? That’s the question.

RELATED STORIES: Ocala, Tampa Yankees talking new ballpark


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