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Baseball Tourney Selling Well Despite Curves

Questions surrounding the inaugural World Baseball Classic, an international tournament that concludes March 18-20 at Petco Park, continue to hamper sales at other venues, but not locally.

About 30,000 tickets for each of the three games here have been sold, according to Padres spokesman Michael Uhlenkamp. The tickets were sold in three-game strips and are no longer being sold. Once Major League Baseball determines what its needs are, the team will offer individual game tickets for the event , assuming it happens, Uhlenkamp said.

The 16-team international tournament, a huge coup for San Diego and the Padres when it was announced in September, is in jeopardy of being canceled.

Pat Courtney, a Major League Baseball spokesman at its headquarters in New York, could not say when the U.S. Treasury Department would decide on issuing a license to members of Cuba’s national team, putting the entire event in jeopardy.

Courtney said after the Treasury Department denied Cuba a license to play in December because of federal prohibitions on doing business with the communist nation, MLB reapplied for a new license, changing the way the funds paid to the Cuban team are allocated. The team agreed to donate its money to victims from Hurricane Katrina, he said.

Courtney declined to speculate when asked what would happen if the Treasury Department denied the license, saying MLB was hopeful something could be worked out.

A huge factor in the diplomatic snafu is the International Baseball Federation, the sport’s international governing body that initially sanctioned the event, but may revoke its sanction should Cuba be denied entry, Courtney said.

The initial denial also caused Puerto Rico to threaten a boycott of the event. If Cuba doesn’t play, then Puerto Rico will stay home too, officials there have stated.

All the uncertainty comes about six weeks before the tournament is supposed to begin March 3 at five first-round venues: Phoenix, Scottsdale, Ariz., Orlando, Fla., San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Tokyo. After a second round of games, the semifinals and finals are to be held at Petco Park.

When the tourney was announced, the other 13 teams besides the United States, Puerto Rico and Cuba were Japan, South Korea, China, Chinese Taipei, Panama, the Netherlands, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Australia and Italy.

Some of the biggest names in baseball have committed to play, even though it would put a crimp in their spring training routine. Among the more notable stars are Alex Rodriguez (who was initially playing for the Dominican Republic but switched to the U.S. team); Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Jake Peavy (the lone Padre) for the United States; Vladimir Guerrero and Albert Pujols for the Dominican Republic; Ichiro Suzuki for Japan; Mike Piazza for Italy; Nomar Garciaparra for Mexico; Carlos Beltran and Juan Gonzalez for Puerto Rico; and Edgardo Alfonzo for Venezuela.

MLB announced that of the proceeds from the event, including TV rights and ticket sales, 47 percent would go to prize money, and 53 percent would be divided among MLB, the Major League Baseball Players Association, the IBAF and participating organizations.

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Getting Together:

After the San Diego Chargers announced they were unable to line up a development partner for their proposed new stadium project, there was a flurry of activity at San Diego City Hall to at least talk to the team about its plans.

Chargers point man Mark Fabiani said part of the problem in not finding a partner was the continued negative reaction from City Attorney Mike Aguirre.

Aguirre was part of the San Diego negotiating team that met with Chargers representatives Jan. 20, along with another outspoken Charger critic, City Councilwoman Donna Frye. Other members of the team include Mayor Jerry Sanders, Chief Operating Officer Ronne Froman, City Council President Scott Peters and hired attorney Paul Jacobs (the same lawyer who helped the city in negotiations with the Padres).

Sanders and Peters, along with top Sanders communication head Kris Michell, also met with Chargers Chief Executive Officer Dean Spanos, Fabiani, and Chargers CFO Jeanne Bonk on Jan. 16 for about 45 minutes, said Sanders spokesman Fred Sainz.

Sainz said the latest meeting (scheduled after the San Diego Business Journal’s press time) is not a negotiation session, but simply a chance for both sides to meet.

“It’ll be a good basis for discussions we’ll have over the next few months,” Sainz said. “There is no set agenda.”

Supporters of the Chargers’ plan are seeking to change language in the current contract to allow the team to speak to other cities in the county about moving the team there. The current contract prohibits the team from talking with any potential host city until Jan. 1. But that date also opens up the team to any city in the nation. Recently, the mayor of San Antonio expressed interest in attracting the team, but the Chargers sent a letter informing him there can be no talks at this time.

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Record Purse:

The Jan. 26-29 Buick Invitational golf tournament at Torrey Pines features the biggest prize money in the tourney’s history.

According to the event’s fact sheet, the purse was increased to $5.1 million, up $300,000 from 2005. First place would be a record $918,000. Back in 1968, when Tom Weiskopf won the event, he received $30,000 from a total purse of $150,000.

This year’s field of 156 players includes some of the sport’s biggest names, including three-time defending champion Tiger Woods; local golfer Phil Mickelson, who also has won three times here; Tom Lehman; and Mark O’Meara.

The Torrey Pines course will be open for free admission for a Jan. 23 practice session. After that, advance prices for watching the event range from $18 to $22, with the top price for Jan. 28 and 29.

Send any sports business stories to Mike Allen via e-mail at mallen@sdbj.com. He can be reached at (858) 277-6359.


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