ONEONTA _ Like any good salesman, E. Miles Prentice III offered a guarantee Thursday at the Clarion Hotel.
"We need to sell, sell, sell. That's the way you'll guarantee baseball in Oneonta for the next 25-30 years," said new Oneonta Tigers owner Prentice, who appeared at a meet-and-greet luncheon that drew about 70 community members.
"It's pretty simple," continued Prentice, a New York City attorney who also owns Double-A teams in Midland, Texas, and Huntsville, Ala. "We don't have to make a fortune. I came in to have fun, but it's no fun if you are calling investors every year (looking for money). It is a business and I think that's one thing people have to appreciate.
"It's like the local car dealership. If people don't buy his cars, he isn't going to be around."
Prentice and his general manager, Andrew Weber, discussed everything from selling beer at Damaschke Field to the future of Single-A New York-Penn League baseball in Oneonta during the two-hour, sold-out event, which was sponsored by the Otsego County Chamber and The Daily Star.
"I thought it was a roaring success," said Rob Robinson, the Chamber's president and chief executive officer. "The turnout was great and the conversation and questions were good. People were concerned where things are headed and very supportive. I couldn't have asked for a better event."
Prentice, 66, led an investment group that purchased the O-Tigers from longtime owners Sam Nader and Sid Levine last year. Terms of the sale, announced July 1 and completed Dec. 5, were not disclosed.
Neither Nader nor Levine attended the luncheon. Also absent was Nader's son, Oneonta Mayor John Nader.
Prentice said Thursday's luncheon provided the newcomers their first chance to become part of the community.
"This was extremely important," he said. "We didn't want to infringe on Sam and Sid in any way until we actually closed and, as they say, got the keys. We wanted to come in and be accepted by the community and be part of the community. This was a great first start."
Prentice said he'd like the franchise to stay in Oneonta past the 2010 season, which is when the O-Tigers' contract with Detroit expires. After the 2010 season, though, the team's future in Oneonta may be linked to its earning potential.
"I'm basically a salesman," he said, "and I'm selling baseball."
In an effort to make money, Prentice said, changes are on the horizon. Those changes may include selling beer at Damaschke Field, which is something that Nader and Levine refused to do after buying the franchise in 1966.
"You can check any ballpark in the country and the three biggest sellers are beer, hot dogs and peanuts," said Prentice, a non-drinker who said the O-Tigers would need to get the OK from city council and obtain a liquor license to sell beer. "It's something I'd like to be able to offer the fans. But I want people to drink responsibly and I don't want them to upset the family environment that Sam and Sid wanted to maintain and I want to maintain. ... I stopped the sale of beer in the seventh inning in Midland when I bought the team, right off the bat. We were the first professional team to do that."
"A lot of people want to come and relax," he continued. "They want to go to a ballgame and have a beer and a hot dog, and I think that it would be nice if we could allow it."
Prentice also said his organization will build a picnic area down the right-field line this season in an effort to attract more group-ticket sales.
"One of the things we found demographically when we built the new ballpark in Midland, our season tickets sales went through the roof," he said. "We sold more season tickets than any team in the Texas League that year. We had 2,400 season tickets. It was unbelievable.
"Over the next couple years, it started dropping," he continued. "It was still good, but it was around 1,800 or 1,900. We had to find more ways to get people to the ballpark and concentrated on groups and picnics. We actually drew more people last year than we did the first year of the ballpark with fewer season-ticket holders. We did it because we increased our group sales. A picnic area will help."
Prentice also mentioned the possibilities of expanding concession areas and adding another level to the outfield advertising boards.
"It would make it harder to hit a home run and it can help my pitchers a little bit more," he said with a laugh.
Outside of the picnic area, Prentice said, there are no plans for major renovations to Damaschke Field.
"I don't need the Taj Mahal," said Prentice, who added the team may consider upgrading the bleachers in the future, "but you want people to be comfortable and feel safe."
Prentice said changing the name of the team to strengthen its bond with Oneonta has been discussed, as well as partnerships with the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and the many youth baseball camps in the area.
Weber said there will be more promotional events between innings and that ticket prices will be announced Feb. 9.
P.J. Harmer can be reached at email@example.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 229.