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Ferguson buys team formerly known as Yuma Panthers
When the Golden Baseball League started, all teams were owned by the league, which was run by Diamond Sports and Entertainment. While that group eventually started selling off other properties, it's maintained ownership of the Scorpions. Beginning in 2009, the league brought in different groups to run the day-to-day operations of the franchise to help reduce costs. That resulted in an affiliation deal with a Colombian professional league in 2009 that produced a league-worst overall record. In 2010, Golden Gloves Professional Baseball and president Ricky Smith took over operations. While the team nearly won the first-half title, the group sold off the best players, some of whom weren't paid by the team. Smith left in the middle of the season allegedly owing businesses around Yuma money, and local businessman and booster club president Jim McDermott had to step in. He supplied some capital for the last half of the year, then Diamond Sports took a hands-on approach in 2011 and brought in Jose Canseco. DSE announced after the 2012 Arizona Winter League they were discontinuing running the North American Baseball League. According to McDermott, DSE still owed money to people such as concession stand workers, as well as bonuses to managers from the Winter League.
Tim Ferguson knows all about the recent past of the Yuma Scorpions.
But the new owner of the team, renamed the Panthers when it was taken over by Godfather Media, also knows all about the upside of Yuma baseball.
Before deciding to purchase the team, Ferguson talked with people involved with the Arizona Winter League. He talked with Tim Johnson. He talked with Brooks Carey. He talked with others.
Ferguson said he determined the failures of the past had nothing to do with Yuma. So he bought the team.
“We all know the things that have happened. But for me, this a new day in Yuma. The point is those guys told me how much they loved Yuma. They told me the pitfalls of what happened here, and none of it had to do with Yuma. It had to do with other things.”
Now he and his family — his wife, Amy, a professional vocalist, and youngest children, Brady, 3, and Riley, 1, — are looking to move to town.
“We are going to be Yumans,” said Ferguson, who also has two older children, Ashley and Dylan, living in Florida. “Our lives are built around being involved in the community.
“One of the reasons I got back in to baseball after a career in real estate is to minister to these young kids. ... It's real important to us that it has to be built around community.”
Ferguson is president of the team and has brought aboard Tina Eaton, owner of Tina Eaton Realty and Yuma resident of 13 years. She's handling more marketing and community relations.
She said she provides a local aspect team ownership has lacked in the past.
“There's a lot of talent here that just gets left behind,” Eaton said. “With the talent, and the facility, the vision is there.
“With Tim and his family on board, it felt right for me to associate myself with the new organization. I have had no doubts, and I think we can do a lot with and for the community.”
Eaton said there will be local tryouts once the season gets closer. As for the Arizona Winter League, which would normally be starting in a couple of months, Ferguson said he's not sure what's going to happen this year.
Ferguson said the America West Baseball League — the new league started by Embark Holdings, formerly Godfather Media — does plan to have winter and fall leagues but is unsure of any timetable or location.
“Regardless of any league-wide stuff, I want to have our hand in something the community can get behind, particularly the winter resident community,” Ferguson said. “We want to be a hub of sportsmanship and baseball based on the jewel you guys have in town.
“It's not just going to be a May to September quick hit. We're reaching out to find out where we can be a value to this community, and not just in the summer months but throughout the year.”
When the team was bought by Godfather, Garry Templeton was announced as the manager. Ferguson said he is no longer the manager and he is currently looking for a replacement.
Ferguson was a minor leaguer in the Montreal Expos organization and a scout for the Cleveland Indians. He said he was drawn to buying the team after his experience the past two seasons in the independent Pecos and Frontier leagues.
He was looking to start a fee-based placement service for baseball players out of El Cajon, Calif. When he heard about the AWBL, he looked to start a team there. But between a minor league team in Escondido. Calif., and the major league Padres, the AWBL ownership pointed him in Yuma's direction.
“Before we know it, we kind of nixed the plans for a team in east county San Diego ... and the proposal came on the table of taking over the Yuma franchise,” Ferguson said. “As a historian and a fan, I knew it faced a series of challenges in the Yuma market, but that of itself intrigued me. That and it has a spring training facility and auxiliary fields and an oversized clubhouse. There were a lot of good opportunities.”
Eaton said that despite the team's past problems, she is confident she and Ferguson can rebuild the reputation of pro baseball in Yuma.
“Whatever happened in the league, I don't know. I don't need to know. All I know is that I have some one who is here for the community this time.”