The Orem Owlz announced Wednesday that the rookie affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels will relocate to Pueblo, Colorado, pending approval from both Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball.
The exact date of the relocation move has yet to be determined, but is at least two seasons away, the Owlz said.
"We are hoping to have first pitch here in 2020," Owlz majority owner Jeff Katofsky told Pueblo Chieftain reporter Anthony A. Mestas in a video posted on Twitter.
The team will retain the Owlz name, Katofsky said. "The first name will change, not the last name."
A determining factor in moving the team to Colorado in part was Pueblo's willingness to further develop its youth program, something that never came to fruition in Utah County. Katofsky told KOAA News 5 that the Pueblo community's planned $8 million expansion of youth baseball fields at the Runyon Sports Complex was important to him.
“It has always been my dream to have a youth facility that could host tournaments and help develop young players from all over the country, including disadvantaged and special-needs athletes. Pueblo, Colorado, has embraced the concept and provided us with the opportunity to not only accomplish this legacy but also to have a new stadium built for the Owlz,” Katofsky said in a press release.
The Owlz have been a part of the Utah County community since the early 2000s. The organization first joined the Pioneer League as the Provo Angels in 2001, playing at BYU's Larry H. Miller Field.
They then moved to Orem and changed the name to the Owlz in 2005 while playing at Utah Valley's baseball stadium, now named UCCU Ballpark. During its time playing in the Pioneer League's South Division along with the Ogden Raptors, the Owlz have won five league titles and eight division crowns.
“Utah County has been my family’s second home for almost 15 years. This was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, but this is an opportunity to involve and teach our kids baseball and, hopefully, leave a mark," Katofsky said in the press release. "We have loved our time in the Provo/Orem and surrounding communities. We are so grateful for the Owlz fans and community/corporate partners in which we have been associated.”
Attendance has been dwindling for the Owlz in recent years in Orem. Since moving from Provo to its home at UVU, the Owlz reached peak attendance numbers in 2007 (2,872 per home game) and 2008 (2,927), according to Pioneer League attendance figures. While the team averaged more than 2,200 fans per game every year from 2011-15, attendance was on a steady decline.
The Owlz have averaged just over 1,500 fans per game during home contests the past two seasons, the third-lowest attendance figure in the Pioneer League in both 2016 and 2017. Orem, which is 1-4 on the year, will host its 2018 home opener on Thursday against Ogden.
Katofsky told The Pueblo Chieftain that with the team's lease in Utah coming up, he began looking at a half-dozen cities that would fit into the Pioneer League footprint, including Pueblo.
"It was one of the six cities I got the rights from Minor League Baseball to go look at. Pueblo is a baseball town, which is a big part of it. I love the historic downtown here," he told the Chieftain.
Katofsky was in town Wednesday to make the announcement, along with the Pueblo city officials.
In assessing Pueblo as a potential site for the Owlz organization, Katofsky determined that the town was in need of more hotels to accomplish his vision for a more vibrant youth program, he told KOAA, to help accommodate families visiting town for baseball tournaments. Part of the deal will include Katofsky building three new hotels downtown with a combined capacity of at least 350 rooms, KOAA reported.
"I looked around and I said 'I can't do this, you don't have enough hotels,'" Katofsky told KOAA. "They said, 'Well, we've got to find someone to build hotels.' And I said, 'I'll build them.' They said, 'You'll build them?' And I said, 'Yes' and that started the process."