Denver Bears doing well, but city still wants a big league baseball team

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Kathy Taylor moved to Denver from Los Angeles two years ago and what she misses most is major league baseball.

''We used to go to the Angel games at least once a week and I really feel the loss of a regular team,'' she said. ''I used to take the kids because it's a relatively inexpensive way to have fun. I keep planning to see the Bears, but I haven't made it yet.''

Taylor is referring to the Denver Bears, the Texas Rangers' Triple A, American Association team, the only baseball game in town. Denverites must travel 606 miles to Kansas City if they insist on seeing major league ball.

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Not all Coloradans do, however, as proven by the record-breaking crowd of 65, 666 that turned out to see the Bears and a fireworks display on July 4. That sellout figure at Mile High Stadium broke the former high of 59,691 set July 4 a year ago. And as Denverites enjoy pointing out, it was also well in excess of the 59,057 who attended the major league All-Star Game in Montreal nine days later.

Despite its success with minor league teams -- or perhaps because of it -- Denver has been seeking a major league franchise for years. Hopes have been bolstered and then dashed repeatedly since 1977 when Marvin Davis, an oil magnate and Denver resident, made a deal with Charley Finley to acquire the Oakland A's only to have it voided by legal entanglements over the lease in Oakland.

Davis made two more futile attempts to acquire the A's, and since then rumors have been circulated about teams such as Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Cleveland, or San Francisco possibly moving to Denver.

''There's been a lot of hype, but nothing new has been said,'' stated Bob Burris, the Bears' business manager the past seven years. ''It's very, very difficult to move a franchise anymore because of all the lawsuits. When Charley Finley moved the Kansas City Athletics to Oakland, that city made an iron-clad lease with the team and that's the reason Denver has no major league team today. It's easier to start a new team.''

A new team, however, would require major league expansion, a move that most team owners and executives oppose. The National League, with 12 teams to the American's 14, would be the obvious place for expansion -- in which case Denver would be a top candidate.

''Denver has a lot of advantages. It's a nice city with a nice ball park that has good lights and dressing rooms, '' said Burris, son of General Manager Jim Burris. ''Denver has been working on getting a franchise for years, and we seemed to be the top contender for a while, but now a lot of cities, like Indianapolis, Vancouver, and Tampa are making strong bids.''

Denver's central location would fit ideally into the big league travel schedule and a team here could draw from a multi-state area. Denver, a city with an ever-growing metropolitan population of 1,620,000, also has a professional baseball tradition that dates back to 1862. The Colorado capital also seems major league in other respects; it has its own symphony, ballet, and opera companies housed at the new Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

The city, however, has had trouble supporting some pro teams, as witness this year's loss of the National Hockey League Colorado Rockies, who moved to New Jersey. The Denver Nuggets of the National Basketall Association and the Denver Avalanche of the Major Indoor Soccer League also both suffered financial losses in 1981-1982.

Football is another story, though, with the popular Denver Broncos of the National Football League selling out every home game at Mile High Stadium, and with interest so high that the organizers of the new US Football League are also putting a team here.

As for major league baseball, of course, that's a question which can only be answered when and if a team does wind up here.

The owners of the Bears, Gerry and Allan Phipps, have been majority stockholders in the club since 1965. The two brothers have expressed their desire to retain that ownership, but have said they are not interested in purchasing a major league franchise.

In the meantime, the Bears, who have won seven division championships in the past 11 years, continue to rack up attendance records. Through mid-July the team averaged about 8,500 fans per game at prices ranging from $1.50 to $4.50 per ticket.

''There are so many seats here that it's hard to stress season tickets,'' said the younger Burris, who as a child started out in the business by sweeping the stadium before being promoted to scoreboard duties for nine years. ''So, we have to promote the event. We're in show business.''

Promotions have included kazoo night, kite day, broken bat night, the world's largest banana split, and sponsorship of a five-kilometer road race that finishes in the stadium.

Burris, 31, commuted 65 miles to operate the Bears' scoreboard when he was a marketing major at Colorado State University.

''I loved doing it,'' he said. ''I just love the game.''

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