EVERETT — The new Everett AquaSox owners are ready to splash some cash.
On Tuesday, the Tom Volpe-owned company 7th Inning Stretch, LLP, announced it was purchasing the AquaSox from the Carfagna family, which owned the team since 2004.
On Wednesday, new team president Pat Filippone said that while the new ownership group likes what the Sox have built, they’re ready to spend the money necessary to enhance the franchise.
“We’re definitely going to invest in the team,” Filippone said. “We’re looking at more personnel. We’re looking at some ideas for capital investment in equipment at the ballpark. We’re definitely going to invest in the facility and operation from Day 1.”
Filippone was in town Wednesday and outlined the new ownership’s plan for the future of the Sox, which includes much of the same, only more so.
“We’re very impressed with the job the staff has done,” said Filippone, who has retained most of the front office staff, including general manager Brian Sloan. “Obviously we’re going to make some changes, I don’t know the specifics yet, but our goal is to continue on providing the best family entertainment and being the best neighbor we can. We do want to grow the business, we want to increase ticket sales primarily. So we’re going to add some folks to get that goal.”
The new group has a track record that suggests it can achieve that goal. Volpe is a member of the board of trustees for all of Minor League Baseball. Fillipone has 18 years of experience in the minors. New executive vice president Tom Backemeyer, who will take over day-to-day operations, is entering his eighth season working in minor-league baseball. And Everett becomes the third team in 7th Inning Stretch’s empire, joining the Stockton Ports of the California League and the Delmarva (Md.) Shorebirds of the South Atlantic League.
And injecting money into the Sox shouldn’t be a problem for Volpe, the CEO of the Dubai Group, which is a major global investment firm.
“They’ve definitely (invested money in the team),” said Delmarva general manager Chris Bitters, whose team has increased attendance each year since purchased by Volpe in 2006. “We play in a 14-year-old facility and they’ve invested to keep the facility up to date.”
Bitters specifically mentioned a new sound system and an upgraded kids zone since Volpe purchased the team.
“Overall you’re going to find the ownership is committed to the team and the community,” Bitters said. “They’re very actively involved in various parts of the community. They’re very aggressive with their ticket sales and they’re committed to the facility and the team.”
Sloan, who has worked for all four groups that have owned the Sox in their 25 years, had a positive first impression of the new owners.
“It’s been very good,” Sloan said. “I definitely looked at the other two franchises they own. Their real strength is the ticket selling end of things. So we’re really embracing some new ideas.”
The sale has been approved by the Northwest League. It still needs to receive approval from Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball. Northwest League president Bob Richmond said he expects that to take four-to-six weeks.
Filippone said the new owners are committed to the Everett market, and Richmond said the league is also committed to Everett.
“The league would not approve the sale if someone was going to buy this franchise and move it,” Richmond said. “The league would say, ‘no dice,’ because this is a great market. The Northwest League is not about to lose this market, I can tell you that.”
The Carfagnas, who purchased the team from Mark Sperandio in the fall of 2004, are selling the team for family purposes. They will continue to own the Lake County (Ohio) Captains of the South Atlantic League and the Lancaster JetHawks of the California League.
“When we bought the club, I was a bachelor,” said Pete E. Carfagna, the son of majority owner Peter A. Carfagna and the team’s executive vice president the past four seasons. “Since then, I’ve gotten married and my wife and I have chosen to settle back in northeast Ohio, where we have deep family roots. With that, two teams for us right now are manageable. Three is why we’re here today.
“But for the change in our family situation, we would continue our involvement,” added Carfagna, who hadn’t been able to devote his time to Everett in recent years. “It’s really been a rewarding experience to get to know this community and the staff. We leave it with the fondest memories.”
The Volpe group has bought a 100-percent stake in the team, including the Baseball Club of Everett’s minority interest. However, that doesn’t mean that the local ownership group, which includes former Seattle Mariners star Jay Buhner and Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, won’t have a role in the future. Carfagna said he encouraged further cooperation between the new owners and the local group.
“We wish to thank the Carfagnas for the opportunity and look forward to continued conversations with the new owners about what our role might be in future seasons,” Baseball Club of Everett managing member Tom Hoban said in an e-mail.
Said Filippone: “They’ve expressed an interest in staying involved moving forward. My response to them was, ‘Let’s close the transaction, get all the approvals, then sit down and have meaningful dialogue to see what makes sense.”