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O's $10,000 pledge appears unlikely to halt Jacks' move


The Skipjacks got a $10,000 pledge of support from th Orioles yesterday.

The bad news is that it appears to be a moot point.

That's because the Baltimore City Council resolution that proposes $150,000 in city funds and $150,000 in corporate funds is only for an American Hockey League team in Baltimore and not an East Coast Hockey League team, according to Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi.

That represents a reversal of DiBlasi's previous position. Since writing the resolution, which contains no mention of the AHL, DiBlasi had said the pledges were for the retention of a professional hockey team in Baltimore.

Skipjacks owner Tom Ebright, in the final stages of transferring his AHL franchise to Portland, Maine, said he thought the resolution applied to professional hockey here, not just the Skipjacks. But he said he still would try to bring an ECHL team to Baltimore.

It is probably too late to prevent the Skipjacks' move to Portland, though. Ebright will go to Maine tomorrow, ostensibly to sign a three-year lease.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm going to Portland with the American League team," he said. "There is nothing new in Baltimore that will make me want to change my mind. The only glimmer of hope was what Joe did and I appreciate what he did."

Ebright said he did not need the money from the City Council -- "especially when there are teachers who haven't had pay raises" -- but still would welcome support from the business community.

DiBlasi said the resolution would have to be reworked if Ebright brings an ECHL team to the Arena.

"I'd be disappointed if they've already made that decision before getting a true reaction from the corporate community," said DiBlasi, chairman of the council's Professional and Municipal Sports Committee.

The Orioles became the first corporate entity to make a pledge to Ebright, who asked for corporate support in a news conference Feb. 19. In exchange for $10,000, Ebright was offering six season tickets, a sign board at the Arena and a company night at the Skipjacks with unlimited seating. He said he needed 30 corporations to make that commitment to make his AHL team self-sufficient. He estimates he has lost nearly $2.5 million operating the team the past six years in Baltimore.

It was at the news conference that Ebright also said he would give Baltimore one more season in the AHL. When there was no response to his initial plea, Ebright went ahead with negotiations to move the team to Portland.

Orioles president Larry Lucchino called DiBlasi this week to express interest in helping retain the Skipjacks.

"Baltimore is a great city," Lucchino said, "and part of the mosaic of the city is professional sports. It always has been, always should be. The Orioles have been beneficiary of a lot of affection and support in this town. It seemed like a small and appropriate gesture to make to the hockey team, and also to their fans. They have some die-hard fans."

Asked if his pledge was strictly for the retention of the AHL franchise, Lucchino said: "The idea is to save the Skipjacks. Whether the effort will apply as well to an East Coast league team is somewhat uncertain."

Not to mention problematic.

Clint Coleman, press secretary for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, said there seemed to be little corporate interest in the Skipjacks and that it was uncertain where the city would get its half of the $300,000.

"The mayor has held meetings with the GBC [Greater Baltimore Committee] and follow-up meetings with the chairman of the board of the GBC, as well as local business people," Coleman said. "Honestly, there doesn't seem to be a lot of enthusiasm among the local business community to retain the Skipjacks."

Still, Coleman said Schmoke was "absolutely committed" to the effort to keep the Skipjacks. "In Baltimore and outside of what it means to the Arena in terms of open dates, it has an economic impact," Coleman said. "The mayor's view is professional sports add something to the psyche of the city. He said we will do all we can to work with the private sector to keep the Skipjacks here."

DiBlasi said his plan called for the city to take $150,000 from its contingency fund. "If I have to find it [the $150,000] in the budget, I'll find it."

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