By Anthony A. Mestas

The Pueblo Chieftain

PUEBLO — A young baseball player baking in the hot sun over Andenucio Field at the Runyon Sports Complex Wednesday let out a brand of new call in the Steel City — one that was appropriate for the ceremony he was attending.

"Hoot, hoo," the boy chanted over the loud speakers. "Hoot hoo," he repeatedly rapidly to cheers from the more than 300 people gathered on the diamond on the field.

It just may be a new battle cry for a Minor League Baseball team moving to Pueblo.

Jeff Katofsky, the owner of Utah's Orem Owlz, and his family were in town to announce that he will move his team to Pueblo with the goal of the "Pueblo Owlz" debuting in June of 2020.

The team will change its first name only and will be known as the Pueblo Owlz.

The ceremony was held a day before the Orem Owlz, an affiliate with the Los Angeles Angels, opened the 2018 season in Utah.

"The Owlz were in a situation where our lease was up and we had to move," Katofsky said. "We looked at Utah for a long time and Utah was certainly viable. I looked all over the place.

"And selfishly you might wonder what this carpetbagger is doing here in Pueblo. I'm going to be selfish now and tell you why and I am standing on it here and it's that field that one and this one and the six more," he said pointing to the fields surrounding him at Runyon.

"For me, this is more about giving me the opportunity to do a youth program. The other things go with it."

County Commissioner Sal Pace, who has taken the lead on the project, and Commissioner Terry Hart spoke as well, as did several other city and county leaders.

Katofsky said he would like to break ground for the project before the end of the year. There are several more hurdles the county must clear before the deal is final. Details as to where the stadium would be located are not finalized, but a proposed site publicly discussed is near Lake Elizabeth.

The commissioners gave the approval for environmental tests to proceed on both the expansion of Runyon and the proposed stadium site.

Commissioners Pace and Hart said they are ready to roll up their sleeves.

Katofsky said he wasn't going to take his team anywhere without the youth program aspect of Pueblo County's Youth Entertainment and Sports project that will bring the team to Pueblo and build a new $25 million multi-purpose stadium and six new baseball fields at Runyon.

The project also calls for construction of three hotels — two along the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo and another near Runyon.

Pace said the project is about activation Downtown Pueblo and bringing economic activity and vibrancy to the historic neighborhood. Hart asked the public to give the project a chance.

Katofsky said his team was his hook to get what he really wanted, a legacy of having a place where children can play and learn how to play baseball and softball.

"I grew up in baseball," Katofsky said. "My dad was my coach. I was my son's coaches. My partners in the Owlz are the little league coaches I coached with, with their children."

"We are all about kids."

He said he wants to bring more baseball to Pueblo.

"The good news is that you already have it," Katofsky said. "You just don't have enough space. You need more space."

Katofsky said that he has been in talks about this project since February of 2016 and he has visited Pueblo several times.

"We are nearly 2 1/2 years into this and we've just started," he said. "Now we have to do the hard part, which is getting it all built. That's the fun part, but the hard part. This is a baseball town. This is a community that has a lot of children that want to play.

"Not only will you have a chance to play, but your businesses will do better because we are going to bring tourism here that you haven't seen before ... Youth sports is a phenomenon. It's a $10 billion business and it is growing as fast as possible."

He said he's been to youth facilities across the country and Runyon is in the top 10.

Katofsky said he will bring in youth tournaments that will attract 400-500 families a week in the summertime.

He said the key to making the project work well is in the hotels he plans to build.

Katofsky said the project will bring in 1,300 hotel room nights during the tournaments, with hotel construction staggers and taking 12-14 months to complete.

The first two will be built before the team's first game in 2020 and another will take a couple of years to finish. He anticipates that the stadium construction would takes 12-14 months as well.

"The youth fields should take less than that," he said.

The multi-use stadium has several opportunities, he added.

"You can have soccer games there. You can have graduations there, Easter egg hunts, Halloween festivals. Even your Chile (and Frijoles) Festival ... That stadium should be used 300 days a year. It is a park. We call it a stadium, but it's a park and a park is where families can come where people want to be," he said.

Katofsky said the stadium can become a hub for all other events.

The Orem Owlz, who currently play in the eight-team Pioneer Baseball League, have produced 78 Major League Baseball players in the last 14 years.

"That's a lot for a level that's five levels down from the majors ... The baseball is really good (in this league)," Katofsky said.