12-21-11: Fort Worth Cats sold, will play in 2012

Posted Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011

By Drew Davison

The Fort Worth Cats are getting a fresh start.

Owner Carl Bell has agreed to sell the baseball team to a group led by John Bryant and Byron Pierce, co-founders of United League Baseball. The Cats will be the fifth independent team owned by Bryant and Pierce.

Former Texas Rangers President Mike Stone is also part of the ownership group, Trinity Vision Partners Llc., and will be the team's chairman.

Financial terms were not disclosed, although Bell said he did not profit from the sale. The costs of independent teams vary depending on financial conditions, attendance and other factors.

LaGrave Reconstruction Co., which Bell runs, still owns LaGrave Field and the surrounding 131/2 acres.

Bell felt that the proper business decision was to split the two entities. Most professional teams are tenants of the stadiums they play in, and the Cats have a 20-year lease at LaGrave.

"The Cats are a very attractive team for us because they're in one of the finest sports markets, and have a 125-year-old brand," Bryant said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon. "We're excited to start."

Added Pierce: "We are very excited to continue bringing baseball to Fort Worth. Tickets are on sale today."

Stone, the Rangers' president from 1982 to 1990, said he looks forward to building the team from scratch. No players or coaches have been signed.

The Cats will play in the North American League next season. They had been affiliated with the American Association, which dropped them in October, partly because the Cats failed to file a $200,000 letter of credit with the league.

The new ownership group feels that the North American League is the proper route because it has four other Texas teams: in Edinburg, Harlingen, McAllen and San Angelo.

Stadium concerns

LaGrave Field is facing foreclosure and is scheduled to be auctioned, but Bell is confident that everything will be resolved.

"The auction of this property on Jan. 3 on the courthouse steps will never happen," he said. "It will never happen. We will protect those rights.

"The last few years we've had some hardships, financial and otherwise. But this afternoon is not about explaining or laying blame on issues of the past. It's about the future of the Cats."

Bell said his company has been in negotiations with several parties, including its lender, to transfer the ownership of the land and stadium.

"I can't go into details about the parties involved," he said. "But I believe and am very optimistic that a resolution to those obligations that are friendly and amicable will be announced in short order."

Even if the stadium and land go on sale Jan. 3, the new owners said, it will not affect the Cats' 2012 season.

Bell, who revived the Cats and built LaGrave in 2002, had mixed emotions about the day but said he looks forward to returning to the stadium as a fan.

"It'll be nice not to worry about the attendance," he said.

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @drewdavison

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