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Ticket sales up for Mustangs

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Martinsville Mustangs baseball team has not yet started its 2013 season, but it already may have hit a home run under new management.

The city-sponsored, college league team has not made a profit in the seven years it has played at Hooker Field. Last fall, Martinsville City Council hired a private firm, Team Cole & Associates of Gastonia, N.C., to run the team this year in hopes of improving finances.

Jesse Cole, the firm’s president, told the council on Tuesday that compared to last year, season ticket sales are up 379 percent, team sponsorships have tripled and more than 2,000 “group tickets” — such as those businesses buy for their employees — have been sold. No group tickets were sold last year.

“It’s rocking and rolling” at the field, said Cole.

The Mustangs’ first home game of the 2013 season will be on May 29 against the Florence RedWolves.

Cole noted improvements to Hooker Field that baseball fans will see when the stadium opens for that game. They include more seating and children’s attractions such as “bouncy castles” and a “dunk tank.”

He mentioned upcoming special events planned at the stadium, including plans to bury a diamond ring valued at more than $2,000 in the infield.

Following a game this season, visitors will get a chance to dig for the ring.

Three fireworks exhibitions also are planned during the season.

“We want to make sure there’s something for everyone at the ball park,” not just baseball fans, Cole said.

Team Cole officials have said they want people to come to Mustangs games to have fun, even if they are not baseball fans.

Cole said his firm aims to hire 20 to 25 people to work at home games. He said about 150 applications so far have been received. The firm is holding a job fair on Monday.

The city’s net cost last year was about $67,000. It is paying Team Cole $50,000 to manage the Mustangs this year.

Basically, it will be Team Cole’s problem if the Mustangs’ revenues this year do not meet or exceed expectations, officials have said.

“Our goal is to be here (managing the team) as long as we can,” Cole said.

The city’s proposed fiscal 2014 budget includes $45,000 to pay Team Cole to operate the team next year. City Manager Leon Towarnicki said a reduced fee was negotiated with the firm.

Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge said she has nothing against the firm but she opposes extending its contract and will be asking for that money to be removed from the budget proposal. She did not explain why.

Other council members were pleased with Team Cole’s work so far.

“You’ve really shown us that baseball can be played” locally at a lesser cost to taxpayers, said Vice Mayor Gene Teague.

“You all have the baseball expertise,” Councilman Mark Stroud told Cole. “You all should be able to pull it (an excellent season) off.”

Also Tuesday, the council heard a presentation on a survey of Martinsville-Henry County residents conducted by students in Nina Huff’s junior research class at the Piedmont Governor’s School.

Survey results were intended to show area residents’ feelings about the quality of services provided by the city, opportunities to get involved in community life and the overall local quality of life, according to Huff.

More than 2,000 surveys were distributed to city and county residents at least 18 years of age, and 743 were returned. Most were from county residents, according to students in the research class.

County residents were allowed to be included because many work, shop and do business in Martinsville, Huff said.

Results showed that only 28 percent of the respondents would recommend that family members or friends move to Martinsville-Henry County. Students said that was largely due to a lack of job opportunities here.

However, results showed “we do have potential” to become a better place to live because the community is family-oriented, friendly and “a great place to raise a family,” said student Makenna Jones.

According to the students, many of the survey respondents think the city and county should combine law-enforcement agencies, or the governments themselves, to be more efficient and save on financial resources.

Students showed the council a patchwork quilt they created with scenes depicting what they had learned. The quilt was donated to the city to be placed on public display.

Hodge voiced offense at one of the squares on the quilt that depicted a dark-colored person. She angrily said the quilt should not be put on display and chastised the student who created the square for not checking to see whether it would be found offensive.

Huff and the students said they did not mean to offend anyone.

Hodges’ remarks prompted many of the students to cry and leave the council chambers, followed by parents and school officials.

Councilman Danny Turner indicated he thought Hodges’ comments were inappropriate.

“I totally and completely support those children,” Turner said.

Stroud said there were comments he would like to make about Hodge’s remarks but he thought they would be inappropriate for a public meeting.

Teague complimented the students’ work. He said it was obvious they “learned a lot” through the research they did.

He said he would like to find out in the future what recommendations the students would have for the council based on the data they collected.

“Data is great,” Teague added. “The tough part is figuring out what to do with it.”

In addition to Jones, students who took part in the research project included Austin Shively, Austin White, Megan Oliver, C.J. Manning, Hunter Jennings, Laura Davis, Corey Thompson, Ryan Wilkerson, Sydney Cobbler, Yanisha Patel, Guadalupe Corona, Cassidy Agee, Nicole Whitlow, Jacob Tawney and Tanner Campbell.

See the Martinsville Bulletin on Thursday for more coverage of Tuesday’s council meeting.


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