Fort Worth

Are the Fort Worth Cats coming back to a restored LaGrave Field?

Fort Worth Cats fans saddened to see dilapidated state of LaGrave Field

A new group pitches a plan to acquire LaGrave Field through a land swap and put it under the control of a nonprofit foundation that would help maintain it as a public asset. (Video by Max Faulkner/Star-Telegram)
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A new group pitches a plan to acquire LaGrave Field through a land swap and put it under the control of a nonprofit foundation that would help maintain it as a public asset. (Video by Max Faulkner/Star-Telegram)

Baseball fans may once again hear the crack of the bat at LaGrave Field.

The Fort Worth Cats could be coming back to the ballpark north of downtown. Jim Lane, a Tarrant Regional Water District Board member, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Tuesday he expected the board to vote on a contract next week that would bring back the team and restore the stadium.

“Hopefully we’ll be approving a contract to bring the Cats back,” Lane said.

Few other details were available Tuesday afternoon. Water district spokesman Chad Lorance said nothing definitive had been set for the meeting.

The water district agreed to swap the property with the previous owners, Houston-based Panther Acquisition Partners, last July.

Under the land deal agreed to last year, the water district swapped 15.3 acres appraised at $8.39 million along the West Fork of the Trinity River for 8.1 acres that includes LaGrave Field and a small adjacent tract that is appraised at $7 million. To make the swap equitable, the water district will also receive $1.3 million in cash.

The water district’s board members last year also approved a letter of intent for a 40-year lease with Save LaGrave Foundation Inc., a nonprofit, to operate the stadium. The agreement required an immediate payment of $4 million by the foundation and another $3 million in prepaid rent within 18 months. Save LaGrave was to spend at least $1 million in capital improvements within the first 18 months and another $1 million in the following 18 months. The non-profit was also required to pay all stadium costs, including maintenance, insurance, utilities and taxes so TRWD will spend no dollars on the stadium.

Scott Berry, a Decatur lawyer who leads the foundation and a former Cats executive, said that while the deal was pending board approval he remained “enthused” that baseball could return by 2020. Without providing details, Berry said funding sources had been found as well as members for the nonprofits board of directors.

Fort Worth enjoyed minor league baseball from 1888 to 1964 and again from 2002 to 2014. LaGrave was built in 1926, and later demolished and rebuilt in 2002 around the original base paths.

The stadium has since fallen into disrepair and may need millions of dollars in repairs. Berry speculated the stadium would need $2.5 million to $10 million to bring it back to life. Once the board approves the deal, the focus will be on returning the field to its former glory.

“It’s an exciting deal,” Berry said. “Everything is coming together in a positive way.”

It’s unclear which league a new Cats team would join.

During the Cats’ time as a Brooklyn Dodgers’ affiliate, hall of famers like Duke Snider played for the Cats and the Dodgers regularly held exhibition games in Fort Worth. Baseball legends Hank Aaron, Yogi Berra, Bob Feller, Pee Wee Reese and Brooks Robinson are among those who played at the original LaGrave Field.

Lane has been a long time Cats cheerleader.

“I think it’s an important part of Fort Worth’s history and heritage and I’d love to see us bring it back,” Lane said.

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Luke Ranker covers the intersection of people and government focused on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He came to Texas from the plains of Kansas, where he wrote about a lot, including government, crime and courts in Topeka. He survived a single winter in Pennsylvania as a breaking news reporter. He can be reached at 817-390-7747 or lranker@star-telegram.com.
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