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Tampa woos prep baseball

The Yankees and Hillsborough County bid $125,000 a year to keep the state tourney at Legends Field.

By KEITH NIEBUHR

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 13, 2000


Thanks to New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, Florida's high school baseball tournament is close to returning to Legends Field for another four years.

Bob Hughes, Florida High School Activities Association commissioner, hinted strongly Monday that he will recommend that Tampa be chosen over Sarasota as the tournament's host site.

"Based on what I've said, I think that's a fair assumption," Hughes said.

He will make his recommendation to the association's board of directors at its meeting in Tampa on Friday. Once a site is selected, Hughes will negotiate the final contract.

The Yankees, in partnership with the Hillsborough County school district, submitted a bid last week of $125,000 a year for four years to the FHSAA to keep the event at Legends Field. The Yankees' bid, up $25,000 from the previous proposal in 1996, also gives the FHSAA a 50-50 split of any gate receipts that exceed the guaranteed yearly dollar amount.

The city of Sarasota, which guaranteed the association $20,000 a year over four years, was the only other group to make a proposal.

Disney's Wide World of Sports expressed interest in hosting the event but did not bid. Disney, which hosted last year's state volleyball tournament and is home to the Atlanta Braves' spring training facility, was thought to be Tampa's biggest threat because of its strong financial backing.

"The Yankees' bid is extremely strong and very attractive," Hughes said. Tampa has hosted the event since 1997.

During its four-year run at 10,000-seat Legends Field, the tournament twice set attendance records. This year, bolstered by local teams Berkeley Prep, Jesuit and Zephyrhills, it drew 16,836 people.

"It's been a quality event (in Tampa)," Hughes said. "It's a first-class operation."

Yankees representatives could not be reached Monday.

Sarasota's Ed Smith Stadium, which seats 7,500 and is the spring training home of the Cincinnati Reds, hosted the tournament from 1992-96. The '96 event drew a then-record 15,062 people.

One week before the FHSAA's June8 deadline for submitting bids, Pat Calhoon, Sarasota's sports facilities manager, said his group had yet to secure a major financial backer. Calhoon could not be reached Monday for comment.

Sarasota's bid was substantially less than it submitted in 1996, when it guaranteed the FHSAA $65,000 a year.

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