Monday, April 7, 2008

Catfish purchase finalized, move application filed

I'm telling more than I know here. Or, at least, more than I can confirm on the record. So keep that in mind.

But here's the deal.

I got word last week from a source -- not connected with the Columbus Catfish -- that the South Atlantic League had approved the purchase of the Catfish by Art Solomon, owner of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats of the Eastern League. Solomon has an agreement to put a SAL team in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in 2009.

My source also said that, not only had the purchase been approved, but Solomon had also filed the application to move the team.

Solomon's moving this team would be a two-step process. First, he'd have to buy the team, getting league approval. He applied a few weeks ago.

Then, he'd have to get league approval to move the team, but that couldn't happen until he actually owned the team.

He now owns the team. The Columbus Catfish announced the completion of the purchase today.
"As a passionate baseball fan, I have been in the market to purchase another minor league team," said Solomon. "Along with team president Rick Brenner and the Fisher Cats' front office staff, I have worked extremely hard building strong relationships with the business community, non-profit groups and fans throughout New Hampshire. And our staff will be just as active in creating lasting partnerships with this franchise."

The previous owner, David Heller, never wanted to be in Columbus in the first place. He put a team in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 2001. The Wilmington Waves played one season at a college stadium, moving to Albany, Georgia the next year, under the name "South Georgia Waves."

That lasted a year. The Albany part, I mean.

Following what was essentially a pissing contest between Albany and the Waves, the Waves left Albany in 2003, eight days before the season started, moving north to Columbus. They kept the name "South Georgia Waves," even though Columbus isn't in South Georgia. Some folks from Atlanta might think it is, but they're smoking crack. Nothing in the old 404 area code is south Georgia. But you can't tell some folks in Atlanta nothing.

Anyhow, they moved to Columbus because it was available. The RedStixx had left for Eastlake, Ohio, during the off-season, and became the Lake County Captains.

So, Columbus suddenly had a team again. Only no one knew. Well, that's not true. An average of 452 people per game showed up that season. The Wife and I were part of that average, making about 50 of the home games.

The Waves became the Columbus Catfish in 2004, getting all new uniforms, a new logo, and a new name for the same old mascot. Crash, the Wave, became Hook, the ... whatever Hook is.

And the Catfish showed that they could not only fight with Albany, they could also fight with Columbus.

The city and the team never saw eye to eye on the ball park, which suffered from poor planning and/or execution in the remodeling and resurfacing that happened in 1996 for the Olympics. Somebody did a piss-poor job, took the money, and the trouble didn't show up until later.

The field didn't drain very well. Still doesn't, but it's a heckuva lot better than it was. The city put a lot of work into it a year ago, and it helped. Still not like it ought to be, but it's on par with other ball parks in the league.

And, it does look really nice.

But the fans never did embrace the Catfish. Oh, sure, attendance has increased every year, but the Catfish have been at the bottom of the league in attendance every year they've been in Columbus.

Now, Heller, who had unsuccessfully tried to put the team in Evansville, Indiana, has his out. He sold the team to Art Solomon.

Solomon, according to my source (who was right about the purchase approval), has applied to move the team.

The South Atlantic League has wanted to keep a team in Columbus. Columbus baseball history goes back to 1885, when the Columbus Stars were charter members of the original Southern Association. Of course, historians may notice that the Stars didn't complete the season, being one of two teams in the league to fold.

Still, Columbus is something the South Atlantic League wants. But even wants have to draw the line somewhere.

Though I haven't obtained confirmation from an official source that will go on the record with me, my source -- who does not work for the Catfish, but is in a position to know -- says the application to move the team has been filed with the league.

Don't know when the approval will come. But it will.

When it does happen, and at the end of the season, when the team leaves, Columbus will be the largest city in Georgia without a baseball team. And that's a shame.


  1. Heller has been trying to move the team every year since it came here to Columbus it seems to me. It may be part of the reason the Catfish couldn't get a larger following or the stadium issues fixed. What city is going to dump several hundred thousand into a stadium when the team is signing year to year contracts at the last minute.
    Columbus needs that 20yr contract like Bowling Green is getting. Now we'll probably have to endure a nonfunctioning scoreboard screen this entire season. It is a shame. I will hate to see professional baseball leave columbus. It is one of the few ways to get away from it all, without leaving the city


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