For owner, both sides now

Ray Pecor: His Ottawa Lynx may be losing money, but the owner of Orioles and Nationals minor league teams has no regrets.


July 10, 2005|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

BURLINGTON, Vt. - For this season, at least, Ray Pecor has dual baseball citizenship in the Baltimore-Washington region.

The man whose family owns the ferry boats on Lake Champlain also owns the Ottawa Lynx, the Orioles' Triple-A franchise, and the Vermont Expos, the Nationals' Single-A team.

"I'm the local boy who got lucky," said the gregarious 65-year-old with an infectious laugh. "Now, if both the Orioles and Nationals get to the World Series, I have a problem. I guess I'll have to root for the individual players."

Thirty major leaguers have gone through Burlington, and countless more have passed through the gates in the Canadian capital. One - Nationals infielder Jamey Carroll - played for both teams and had his number retired in Ottawa. So, in some respects, Pecor has a lot to cheer for.

But if luck is losing as much as $1 million a year for the past five years, it staggers the mind how Pecor defines disaster.

The Lynx are the International League's attendance cellar dwellers, playing in a 10,000-seat ballpark with 800 parking spaces. The first two months of the season are played in cold storage, which is appropriate in a hockey-crazed country.

After setting a league attendance record in their inaugural season in 1993, the Lynx began their slide; for the past nine years, they've been below the break-even Mendoza line of a 4,000 average.

Pecor has had the team since 2000. If optimism were fans, Lynx Stadium would be sold out every night.

"I thought we could turn it around," he said in his waterfront office by the ferry terminal. "We've tried everything. It just hasn't worked."

Joe Foss, the Orioles' chief operating officer, said the parent club doesn't blame Pecor.

"It's apparent the Canadian people don't embrace baseball," he said, citing the relocation of the Montreal Expos and the turnstile struggles of the Blue Jays. "Ray is going to have to leave Ottawa."

Foss said he respects Pecor. "We hit it off the first time we met. In many respects, he is the epitome of the old-fashioned businessman. He is direct. He is honest. He is a man of his word. He is a tough negotiator, and a fair one."

Pecor may sell the team to two Pennsylvania men who would move it to Allentown, less than three hours north of Baltimore, for the 2008 season.

"This isn't his fault. He's all I could ask for in an owner," said Randy Mobley, president of the International League. "Ray has not invested in [the Lynx] because he's on an ego trip to wear the uniform and sit in the dugout. He hired a general manager who knows what he is doing and lets him do his job."

Not that Pecor wouldn't know what to do in a uniform. His Expos play at Centennial Field on the campus of the University of Vermont, the same on which he played first base in high school and on which Ken Griffey Jr., Omar Vizquel and Barry Larkin sharpened their skills.

Now, when he attends games, he stands alone below the light pole near the third-base dugout.

"This is Ray's seat," he joked. "The owner's box doesn't exist in minor league ball in Vermont. If people want to say something to me, they have to come find me. I'm here to watch the game."

Pecor bought the Lake Champlain Transportation Co., a sleepy little ferry boat outfit, in 1976, with a few boats, one of them run aground.

He decided to improve it from a summer service for tourists going between New York and Vermont to a year-round commuter line, "and it worked," he said. The company now has a dozen boats and 150 full-time employees who move 2,000 cars a day. Several years ago, he turned the business over to his son.

The Burlington native has long been a force in waterfront planning and in helping social service and youth groups. So in the early 1990s, when civic leaders wanted to bring baseball back to town after a Double-A franchise relocated to Ohio, they turned to Pecor.

"The community really wanted baseball, so off I went and bought a team," he recalled. "I wanted either the Expos, Red Sox or Yankees, but I hit it off with Bill Stoneman, the baseball operations guy with the Expos, who promised great teams with a parent club not far away."

The team debuted at Centennial Field in 1994 before a crowd of 5,000 and never looked back. Even when the Montreal Expos began sliding and Pecor didn't get good players, the fans continued to fill the park.

"The ballpark seats 3,600, and any day we have good weather we have a sellout. This is something special here. The community and the business community supports us," he said.

"It's funny. I have perhaps the oldest minor league ballpark where we fill the stands every night and an almost new stadium with no one in it," he said.

Still, the businessman who bought a broken-down ferry boat company 30 years ago and turned it into a floating gold mine said he's satisfied the way his life has turned out.

"When I die, I want to come back and do it all again and not change a thing," he said.

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