DADE CITY — Retired baseball player Gary Sheffield earned his legendary status as a home run hitter. On Tuesday, he was the one doing the pitching.
Sheffield joined business partner James Talton to brief Pasco commissioners on the plans for a massive youth baseball complex in Wesley Chapel and ask for a 90-day extension to complete the financing arrangements for the project that could now exceed $60 million.
“I’m excited and happy to make the motion to grant the 90-day extension,” Commissioner Ted Schrader said. The vote was unanimous.
The project includes nine Major League Baseball regulation-sized fields and a stadium, plus 10 youth-sized fields and on-site dormitories for travel teams. Other amenities include parking garage, players lounge, cafeteria, restaurant and indoor training facility.
Sheffield stressed that the fields will be designed so they could be configured for softball, soccer and lacrosse. “We have the capabilities to transform the fields,” he said.
In January, Pasco commissioners agreed to a 45-year contract with Talton to build and operate the complex in Wiregrass Ranch, just north of Tampa. Talton had a July deadline to raise $23 million in private funding before Pasco would release the $11 million it pledged. He said the private investment could end up doubling to $50 million, but he needed more time to complete the negotiations.
Commissioner Henry Wilson said Sheffield’s involvement as a partner and co-owner gives him confidence in Talton’s ability to bring the project to fruition.
“It’s foundational,” Wilson said. “His involvement moves the project leaps and bounds.”
Sheffield, who played 22 years in the major leagues, has lined up dozens of former players from the Tampa Bay area to coach during clinics, camps and tournaments. Some even offered to work at the complex. “They reached out to us. I’ve had calls from 30-35 former MLB players saying they want to be involved,” he said. “We’re going to get everyone’s philosophy and put it all down in a manual. That way we know these kids are being taught the right way.”
He said the complex would be an international destination for youth, high school and college-age players. Sheffield said he isn’t concerned with the escalating cost, if that’s what it takes to build the best baseball park in the nation. “You always worry about cost, but you can’t put cost before service,” he said.
IBC Baseball owner Chuck White, another partner in the company, brings expertise in running large-scale amateur baseball and softball tournaments, camps and showcases where college and professional scouts can see a huge assembly of talent. He said he is in negotiations with eight different countries that are considering using the complex as a training center for their national teams leading up to the next World Baseball Classic. He’s also recruiting hundreds of collegiate teams to train at the complex.
“I’m just really excited about this project,” Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said. “There’s a real synergy that’s going on in Wesley Chapel with the ice skating rink and now the baseball.”
Talton said his goal is to be able to open by 2017.