Get out: 20 years and counting 

Sky Sox wrap up their second decade in America's highest-altitude professional ballpark

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In the late summer of 1987, Dave Elmore came to a difficult but inescapable conclusion.

As much as Elmore enjoyed owning the Hawaii Islanders, a Pacific Coast League baseball franchise in Honolulu, the travel and operating costs were simply too much to bear.

Elmore announced he would move the Islanders to the mainland. But where?

Several cities lined up to pursue the Triple-A franchise, and soon Elmore narrowed his choices to Sacramento and Colorado Springs.

Obviously, Sacramento had many advantages, including size, status as a state capital, huge growth potential and the history of having been home to the same franchise from 1903 to 1960.

But the more Elmore and general manager Fred Whitacre visited and learned about Colorado Springs, the more interested they became. Finally came a deal, including a private loan to build a new stadium on land designated for park use as part of the Stetson Hills development.

In the fall of 1987, Elmore and then-Mayor Robert Isaac announced the team's relocation to Colorado Springs. Soon thereafter, Elmore resurrected the nickname used by local teams going back to the 1940s.

And the Sky Sox were (re)born, starting with the 1988 season. That makes 2007 the franchise's landmark 20th year in Colorado Springs, playing in the highest-altitude ballpark (6,531 feet) for organized baseball in America.

Unlike many minor-league operations that have dealt with multiple parent clubs, the Sky Sox' history is much more clear-cut. Colorado Springs was the top farm team of the Cleveland Indians from 1988 to 1992, and the Colorado Rockies ever since.

Along the way, more than a few soon-to-be-famous players and managers have passed through the home-run-friendly stadium known today as Security Service Field. Mike Hargrove, now the Seattle Mariners manager, was the skipper here in 1989. Charlie Manuel, currently manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, led the Sky Sox from 1990 to 1992.

That first team in 1988 also included a veteran first baseman named Terry Francona, who managed the Boston Red Sox to the World Series title in 2004.

Though the top priority for Triple-A players is earning a shot at the majors, two Sky Sox teams have distinguished themselves by winning the PCL championship.

In 1992, with Manuel as the manager, Colorado Springs ended its partnership with Cleveland by pulling off the first title. That team, including future big-league star Jim Thome, wrapped up the playoffs with a victory at Vancouver.

But the high point in Sky Sox history came at home on Sept. 15, 1995, when Colorado Springs scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to edge Salt Lake City, 8-7, in the decisive game for the PCL championship. Jim Tatum had the game-winning hit for the Sky Sox, whose roster also included Craig Counsell, Quinton McCracken, Trenidad Hubbard, Ryan Hawblitzel and Alan Cockrell.

While there haven't been any titles since, the franchise has steadily added improvements to the local stadium, both for the fans and the players.

Perhaps the biggest change, though, is one whose merits are up for debate. In the early days of what was then known as Sky Sox Stadium, fans actually could see antelope beyond the outfield fences. Now the ballpark, surrounded by Stetson Hills and the sprawling growth along the Powers Boulevard corridor, sits in the middle of suburbia.

The 72-game home schedule includes all kinds of promotions, topped by fireworks starting May 11 for Friday night home games (11 in all). Ticket prices are $9 for lower reserved, $7 for upper reserved, with a $1 discount for seniors (60 and older) and children (2-12). Group packages also are available. Season tickets are $375 per seat, one of the lowest rates in Class AAA. For more information, call the ticket office at 591-SOXX (7699) or go to skysox.com.


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