Thursday, March 29, 2012
By Brian Waller - Columnist

I've never taken the time to analyze just how truly essential  sponsorship is in baseball. At the major league level its important, but in the minor leagues, especially at the single-A level, its a matter of survival. That may seem a little dramatic to say but it's the truth, and it's reality for many single-A ball clubs around the country. Fortunately for the Angels single-A affiliate the Inland Empire 66'ers, they have a long-standing relationship and tremendous support from one of Southern California's most generous entities, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. This past Wednesday the long-standing relationship between the 66'ers and San Manuel grew even stronger as the two came together for a joint press conference announcing a 5-year sponsorship and the renaming the home of the 66'ers to San Manuel Stadium. The ball park had previously been called Arrowhead Regional Credit Union Park. The setting seemed perfect, a sunny day, a slight breeze and temperatures in the high 70's. Approximately 150 spectators congregated for the big announcement,  including members of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, members of the local media and San Bernardino city officials. Oh, and I cant forget Bernie, the team mascot, who was already in mid-season form as he playful joked with all in attendance.

Inland Empire 66'ers Director of Broadcasting Sam Farber hosted the press conference which took place in front of the stadium's main entrance. Speakers at the event included San Manuel Tribal Chairman James Ramos, Inland Empire 66'ers Owners David G. Elmore and Donna F. Turtle, Director of Business Relations Byron Marquez, and team Assistant General Manager Joe Hudson. San Manuel is no stranger to 66'ers baseball, their relationship with the team began in 1996 when they purchased their first suite at the stadium. The relationship grew through the years, to the point where in 2009, San Manuel purchased a new scoreboard for the team which is displayed in the outfield. It's not exactly your everyday minor league score board however, as co-owner Donna F. Turtle describes it as THE best scoreboard west of the Mississippi River. When the opportunity came about to purchase the naming rights to 66'ers stadium and to sponsor the team, it was an opportunity San Manuel couldn't pass up. Financial terms of the agreement were not discussed but it was made clear that the sponsorship is for five years and at the conclusion it will be re-evaluated and possibly extended. San Manuel's sponsorship is important for the 66'ers because it has allowed for improvements throughout the stadium including fresh paint, improved field conditions and an overall  positive and re-energized attitude amongst employees. Five brand new signs were also added to the stadium and front gates proudly displaying "San Manuel Stadium" across a baseball diamond. It was a special ceremony that signified continued stability for the 66'ers. 

After the press conference concluded I was able to sit down and speak with 66'ers co-owner David G. Elmore. The  press conference was understandably mostly focused on the relationship between San Manuel and the 66'ers so I wanted to take a few minutes to get his thoughts on a few other topics.

Waller: Mr. Elmore, my name is Brian Waller from Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today and congratulations on the new sponsorship.

Elmore: Thank you Brian, I appreciate it. It is a good day for the Inland Empire 66'ers. We are glad you were able to come out and celebrate with us.

Waller: During the press conference it was briefly mentioned that sponsorship is important for minor league teams, can you please explain a little further why it is so important?

Elmore: Of course. There are a lot of costs involved when it comes to running a minor league team. Sponsorship allows us to finance that cost. We are required to provide a facility for the players to play and train in, uniforms for them to wear, places for them to live and transportation to and from games. Those costs add up very quickly so it makes it very important to find a sponsor to help. As an owner I feel very fortunate that we have such a terrific partner in San Manuel. 

Waller: What are some of the things you enjoy about being an owner of a team.

Elmore: This may seem like a corny answer but I would say knowing that family get such joy from coming to a baseball game. Let me tell you a story Brian, I own another minor league baseball team as well, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. A few years back a man approached me and explained that he and his father did not have a close relationship, in fact they had been estranged for several years. One day the two ran into one another randomly at a Sky Sox game and the two struck up a conversation. This man went on to explain that after that game, they began working on their relationship and he wanted to thank me because he credits the game of baseball, specifically the Sky Sox as a major reason they were able to reconnect. I've been involved in baseball for over 30 years, owned multiple teams and it's stories like that that really make me love my job, knowing that families are getting such enjoyment about something I am passionate about. Again, I know that may seem corny but it's an honest answer.

Waller: I don't think it's corny at all, I think as fans we appreciate owners of teams that are passionate about the sport and also are caring about their fans. Now you mentioned that you have been involved in baseball for over 30 years, not to put you on the spot but if you had to pick 1 that played for one of your teams that really stood out to you, who would it be and why?

Elmore: (Laughs) Wow, that is a really difficult question to pick one. I would have to say...Tony Gwynn. In 1982, I owned the triple-A team the Hawaii Islanders and Tony came up and played with us. I have to say, he is one of the nicest and hardest working men I have ever met. You could just watch him play and know that he was going to be something very special.

Waller: We discussed the importance of having a sponsor like San Manuel, can you tell us a little bit about what your affiliation with the Angels means to you and your team?

Elmore: My experience with the Angels so far has been very positive, they are very easy to work with. We've only been partners for a very short time but I have enjoyed our partnership very much. They have great players in their system and it's a pleasure seeing them play in a 66'ers uniform.

Waller: Now you mention that your partnership with the Angels is fairly new, your team was previously the Dodgers' single-A affiliate. Can you give us a little insight into the process of switching affiliations between teams, how it comes about and finally how you ended up as an affiliate of the Angels?

Elmore: That's a good question. Just like everything else in baseball, a contract is signed between minor league teams and teams and the major league clubs. When the contract comes to an end, it can be renewed or the parties can go their separate ways. The Dodgers and the 66'ers ended up parting ways and at the same time the Angels' partnership with the Quakes was coming to an end as well. There was mutual interest on both ends and we were able to work out a partnership. I am looking forward to a long and successful relationship with the Angels.

Waller: Any rising prospects wearing a 66'ers uniform that we should be on the look out for this season?

Elmore: I'm actually excited to see all of our players. It should be a fun season this year and I am looking forward to it.

Waller: Well Mr. Elmore, on behalf of I want to thank you for your time today. I know it is a very busy day for you but we greatly appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today.

Elmore: It was my pleasure Brian. I hope to see you and other Angel fans at the ball park this season.

It was a good day for the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the Inland Empire 66'ers and Angel fans as well.The sponsorship ensures that the team's single players will have a strong team foundation for years to come and the support of one of the Inland Empires most generous entities. would again like to thank the Inland Empire 66'ers for their hospitality and look forward to covering 66'ers baseball this upcoming season.
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