He once was the pied piper that brought the NBA to Orlando–and now Pat Williams is going to try again, this time with Major League Baseball (MLB).
This week, Williams brought together the media and well-wishers to announce he will push for one of two MLB expansion teams and wants to call the franchise the Orlando Dreamers.
For now, Williams is still warming up to make the pitch.
“I know questions will come up about where would you play and who would the owners be, who would be the mascot and so forth,” Williams said. “That’s not pertinent right now. What is pertinent right now is finding out how badly this community wants to do this and, if we get the kind of response that we think we are going to get and we are hoping for, Then we are going to keep plowing forward.”
What Williams would not do is rule out going after an existing baseball team, pointing out the struggles of both the Tampa Bay market and Miami. The Rays and the Marlins started out as expansion franchises during the 1990s.
“It hasn’t worked in either city,” Williams said. “In fact, the combined attendance of Miami and St. Pete last year is 1.9 million. They didn’t hit the 2 million mark which is kind of the standard, so it has not worked and I am convinced that this market is different.”
Could Orlando go after the Rays in seven years when the lease ends at Tropicana Field? The team owner should be on high alert and making calls to Williams as the Rays consider splitting time between Montreal and Tampa Bay.
“Our job with any team like that, or any potential owner, is to make this package here so attractive, and so, how about this word, luscious, that people say ‘boy we’ve got to get there,’” Williams said.
Now 79, Williams just retired this year from an executive role with the Magic that was largely ceremonial. He said he decided to come out of retirement earlier this year when MLB announced it will consider adding two teams via expansion and naming six candidates all of which are in smaller media markets than Orlando. MLB is considering Montreal, Nashville, Portland, Charlotte, Vancouver and Las Vegas for expansion franchises.
“With no offense to any of these six cities, I must tell you when I read that, my competitive blood rose and kept rising and kept rising. There was no mention of Orlando,” Williams said.
The push to bring baseball to Orlando is a long time coming for the host of the afternoon show on ESPN 580. Scott Anez has been pushing to get the Rays to move to Orlando after seeing the dismal attendance numbers in Tampa Bay.
“The bottom line was, like Pat, I saw other cities getting involved. I remember being here in the 90s and we were in every expansion discussion. I thought, somebody has got to bring this up, wake the echoes, stir up the local politicians,” Anez said.
As Anez bangs the drum on local radio, Williams is taking things slowly. He has no stadium, no owner, no tickets sold. He does have a website already launched though.
“The question is, are people going to be clamoring?” Williams told Florida Daily and the
website is the first place to find out. Williams is trying to get people to go there the same way they flocked to give deposits for season tickets when the idea of bringing an NBA team first came about.
“Do you believe Orlando is ready to be a Major League Baseball city? Do you think it is important? Is it something you would express yourself saying yes?” Williams plans to ask.
Next would come the push for season tickets.
Williams believes the market will be different for Orlando than other cities in Florida, in part because of the more than 70 million tourists that visit each year. Drawing 2 percent of the visitors would almost match the attendance of the two current Florida markets combined. Central Florida continues to grow with 2,000 people moving to the area every week.
While he might not have a stadium or an owner, if anyone can pull it off, it’s Williams who studied under legendary White Sox owner Bill Veeck, Williams insisted he is able and ready to bring an MLB team to Orlando, even if it takes years.
Reach Mike Synan at firstname.lastname@example.org.