Baseball's pennant races are sizzling, and Mayor Oscar Goodman usually loves to talk sports. The fact he's a two-fisted ball-game bettor doesn't hurt.
But if you're looking for a way to quiet a conversation with Goodman, mention the ongoing push to bring a Major League Baseball franchise to Las Vegas.
How about it, Mayor?
Suddenly, the man of many opinions goes silent.
The mayor figures to know plenty about the big-league lobbying effort. City Hall sources say he's been briefed regularly on the subject. But after having chattered so much in the past about his field of dreams, this time he goes all Simon & Garfunkel on the subject.
That doesn't mean the story is echoing the sounds of silence.
In recent weeks, Strip sources have reported being contacted by businessman Jack Sommer about the possibility of bringing a Major League Baseball franchise to Southern Nevada. Sommer's local track record is mixed, but the driving force behind the creation of the new (and bankrupt) Aladdin isn't without substantial capital and contacts.
Is Sommer's lobbying part of some sketchy pipe dream?
Multiple sources report Sommer is part of an investment group led by Chicago businessman Lou Weisbach's Teamscape, a company created to carve out a big-league niche in the dynamic but deceptively competitive Las Vegas market. The club most often mentioned in association with Teamscape is the Montreal Expos franchise, which has fielded competitive teams but failed to awaken the Canadian baseball market. (Monday's game in Montreal against Atlanta, the team with the best record in baseball, drew just 9,696 warm bodies. Montreal has drawn so poorly that it has played some of its "home" games in San Juan, Puerto Rico.)
The local media has speculated for months about Goodman's dream and has even hinted at the Expos as a possibility, but Teamscape finally went public after Review-Journal gossip columnist Norm Clarke turned up the heat late last week. Goodman and Weisbach met with MLB's executive vice president of administration, John McHale Jr.
That neither Weisbach nor Goodman are watching their big-league dreams through a hole in the fence. If they're not yet in the box seats, they're at least bleacher bums.
Weisbach is well known in Chicago and penthouse political circles. He is the powerhouse businessman behind Ha-Lo Laboratories, a brand marketing company. As chairman of the Jefferson Trust for the National Democratic Party, he's also a major contributor and fund-raiser.
The Chicago Sun-Times has reported that the Teamscape team includes Cubs broadcaster Steve Stone, who is a big believer in the Las Vegas market. Other competing cities and areas mentioned include Portland, Ore., Northern Virginia, and Washington, D.C. -- all of which appear safer bets than Las Vegas.
Las Vegas hasn't yet maturely dealt with legalized sports betting. Big adjustments must be made to accommodate a big-league sports franchise. And that will call for assistance from Gaming Inc., which to date hasn't been excited about the prospect of bringing a professional baseball, football, basketball or hockey team to Las Vegas.
Beyond that, there's the local fan base. Even with 35-plus million visitors each year, the locals would have to break away from the video poker machines and embrace their very first major league franchise. Do they have the hearts for it?
Here's where I think the locals might make the transition: Start with an abbreviated schedule like the
one the Expos had this year. Make it a 40-game home summer the first year, or even split the franchise among the top two competing cities.
Las Vegas undoubtedly outshines all the other possibilities for pure sizzle and excitement. If you've seen the droves of big-leaguers who love to come here in the offseason, it's clear there would be no shortage of interest from an All-Star team's worth of top talent.
Still, a deal remains a million miles away.
So don't buy those season tickets yet.
But if you're a fan, the mere thought of having a home team to root for feels pretty good.
John L. Smith's column appears Fridays in the Nevada Appeal. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0295.