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Blenckstone sells Hagerstown Suns

January 08, 2001

Blenckstone sells Hagerstown Suns



By SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer
photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer


New Suns ownerThe Hagerstown Suns baseball team has been sold and the new owner said Monday he will not guarantee the team will remain in Hagerstown after the coming season.

Andrew K. Rayburn said he plans to keep the current staff for at least one year, Suns owner Winston Blenckstone announced Monday.

The Suns are committed to play in Hagerstown for this year because most contracts for the 2001 season are already signed. The team has a year lease to use Municipal Stadium along with contracts with hotels around the South Atlantic League where the team will play on the road.

Rayburn said it was too early to make a commitment on how long he would keep the team in Hagerstown.

Asked how long he would stay if a new stadium were not built, he said he prefers not to make ultimatums.

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Rayburn, 45, owns Big Game Capital, a company based in Chagrin, Ohio, near Cleveland. He also owns the Daytona Cubs, a Class A team in the Florida State League.

An Ohio resident, Rayburn said he has no plans to buy a second home here, but will come to Hagerstown once or twice a month.

Rayburn purchased 100 percent of the Suns through an asset purchase agreement signed Dec. 29, 2000. As part of the agreement the amount of the sale was confidential.

He will not be involved much during his first season as owner of the Suns, and has not made staffing decisions about the second season, he said.

Blenckstone said he would not have sold the team without the promise to keep the existing staff on for at least one year.

Blenckstone will remain through September 2001 as a consultant and the team's chief operating officer. He said he does not know what he will do after that.

Rayburn created Big Game Capital in August 2000, using the proceeds from a sale of Flexalloy, a company he ran for 18 years, to a company called Textron, for a confidential amount in April 1999, he said.

He purchased the Daytona team in June 2000 and first spoke with Blenckstone about a possible purchase of the Suns in October.

Three members of the stadium task force said a new owner could breathe life into the push for a new stadium.

"He brings new energy to the project," Hagerstown Councilman Al Boyer said.

The change also gets rid of the argument that the new stadium was being built for the benefit of the Blenckstone family, he said.

"It puts new life into our task force," said Washington County Commissioner Paul L. Swartz.

"It's a new chance to look at this thing," said Richard Phoebus, president of the task force.

The task force hasn't been meeting regularly but the meetings can resume if there is renewed interest under the new ownership, Phoebus said.

Describing himself as a "rookie owner," Rayburn said he knows he will like owning the Suns because the team has that "family feeling and traditions."

He called Municipal Stadium a "classic."

Rayburn said he was not familiar enough with the debate about whether a new stadium should be built to comment.

The South Atlantic directors have tentatively approved the transfer application. Approval is expected by April 1, 2001 from minor league baseball.

"I am delighted to have found an individual in Andy Rayburn whom I believe shares the same passion for minor league baseball as I do," Blenckstone said. "Hopefully, I have left this franchise in better shape than when I arrived in Hagerstown in 1992 and the new ownership will improve on my efforts."

"I hope the public has an appreciation for what we as minor league owners do for a community and not look at us as trying to take advantage of our community," he said.

In the past, Blenckstone has said he would sell the team unless a new baseball stadium was built.

Blenckstone said in September he had signed a two-year player development agreement with the San Francisco Giants organization, effective with the 2001 baseball season. That ended his 14-year affiliation with the Toronto Blue Jays organization.

Blenckstone signed with Toronto when he acquired the minor league franchise in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in 1986. He brought the affiliation with him when he moved the team to Hagerstown in 1992.

The Suns, a Class A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, play at the city-owned Municipal Stadium, which was built around 1930.

A recent plan called for demolishing most of Municipal Stadium and building a new facility on that Memorial Boulevard site. That plan was scrapped after cost estimates came in too high.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said he and other city officials met with the new owner earlier Monday. Rayburn seemed a pleasant, nice person, he said.

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