Jan.10, 2007 — Build a stadium and the teams will come. That's the hope of officials from the Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation, who were on hand Wednesday at the Lionel Roberts Stadium on St. Thomas to watch tryouts for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Standing on the field, former Housing, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Ira Hobson and Deputy Commissioner Arol Abel surveyed the tryouts conducted by representatives from the Angels. The professional baseball team was in the territory this week scouting local talent, Abel said.
Abel added that the lack of a proper facility, such as a AA- or AAA-class baseball stadium, has generally prevented big-league teams from coming to the territory to train in the off-season or to conduct exhibition games or scouting workshops.
"I recently came back from a conference in Kansas City, where I met with representatives from all the major teams," Abel said. "And pretty much what they're saying is that if we can get a good enough stadium, we can attract collegiate tournaments and things like that."
Abel said major league teams could use the facility — which could be located on either St. Thomas or St. Croix — as a training center for players. "If that happens, we can possibly get professional baseball back here like it was in the 1960s," he said. "All that's needed is the proper financing."
Hobson added that building a stadium would cost the territory $12 million to $15 million. "But it's going to be worth it for the amount of interaction and input we can get from the Angels and other baseball teams," he said. "I think it's based on investment — do we want to invest in our kids, how much do we want to invest in them, and what do we want to receive from our investment."
Abel explained that baseball was once a prominent sport in the islands but has now been put on the back burner, thanks to the emergence of famous V.I. basketball players, such as Tim Duncan and Raja Bell.
"In the '60s, we produced over 100 professional baseball players, and we're trying to do that again," he said. "This is just the first step in the process."
Three and a half years ago, Abel's brother, Arnold Brathwaite, after becoming a scout for the Angels, came to Housing, Parks and Recreation with a proposal for "rekindling" baseball in the territory. The two entities have since formed a partnership, where the Angels come to the territory twice a year to work with local kids.
"We do talent scouting, like today, and then we also do a clinic for younger kids," Abel said, adding that this is the first year that a top official from the team has also attended the tryouts.
Eddie Bane, scouting director for the Angels, said that he flew in on Tuesday from California in hopes of drafting two or three local players. The organization has already drafted 19-year-old Timothy Brewer and expects to sign him by June, Bane said.
"The Angels are an international team," he added. "I just signed a player from Cuba last year, we signed a player from South Korea, and we're going to sign a player from the Virgin Islands this year, Brewer, who we've drafted. We're trying to be more active all over the world, and one of those places in particular is going to be the Virgin Islands."
Bane echoed Abel's statements, saying that the organization wants to "re-establish baseball to a more prominent position in the Virgin Islands."
"We think there should be more players in the major leagues from the Virgin Islands," he added. "You see the success Tim Duncan and those other guys are having with basketball, and we want to bring it back to baseball. Professional baseball has done a lousy job in the islands here, and we're going to do a better job now."
Wednesday's workshop was a good start. Scattered across the field, players warmed up or ran sprints for Brathwaite and Angels' Midwestern scouts, Kevin Ham and Ron Marginy.
According to Abel, many of the players, ranging in age from 13 to 19, came from local baseball leagues. Players from Tortola also made the trip over, hoping to show the scouts from Anaheim their skills.
"We put out a call to get the kids to come to tryouts, and we got a lot from our local leagues, along with some kids today from Tortola, who came down here for the opportunity," Abel said. "And that's what this whole thing is about — creating opportunity."
For Brewer, that opportunity may come as early as June 1, when he may be given the option of signing with the club. Over the past year, Brewer has been attending Connors State College in Warner, Okla., where he has been training as a pitcher.
"They make you work out a lot," he said, laughing. "It's really hard. I was a skinny boy before I left here, but now I'm a lot bigger."
Brewer added that he would be signing with the Angels if an offer is put on the table, and if it's "good money."
For future baseball hopefuls, Brewer also offered a piece of advice: "Stay off the drugs and alcohol. If you love the game, stick to it."
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