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August 22, 2014

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Q+A: Derek Stevens:

The Las Vegas 51s owner and his lifelong love for baseball

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Steve Marcus

Derek Stevens, new owner of the Las Vegas 51s, said he wants to sell part of the Triple A baseball team to people with local business connections and to athletes and entertainers.

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  • Derek Stevens discusses why all those naysayers who call this a bad time to invest in baseball aren't necessarily right.

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  • Stevens discusses whether the 51s purchase is a stepping stone to buying a professional team.

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  • Stevens talks about his plans to incorporate other big names into the 51s franchise.

Despite stories to the contrary, Derek Stevens did not buy a ticket to a Las Vegas 51s game last season, watch a few innings at Cashman Field and then — on the spur of the moment — decide to buy the team.

Stevens, 40, did buy a ticket to a game — as he had numerous times during the past two decades when business or pleasure brought him to Las Vegas — and he did meet with team President Don Logan during that game. But Stevens, whose family has significant business interests in Detroit, had been running a business, Desert Rock Enterprises, in Las Vegas for four years and was well aware the team was for sale.

“I knew that Mandalay Sports had attempted to sell the team back in 2005” but didn’t close the deal, Stevens said. “I’ve always loved baseball and when we started taking a look at some of the numbers and some of the opportunities to do a few things in Las Vegas, we thought there was an opportunity here, that there were some things we could do.”

So he formed the Stevens Baseball Group, of which he’s the chief executive, and purchased the 51s. Stevens said his interest in the 51s stems from his lifelong passion for baseball — not from the lucrative territorial rights that will come into play if Major League Baseball ever decides to grant Las Vegas a franchise.

Stevens talked about his background in baseball and his decision to get involved in an ownership role after he was introduced to the local media this week.

Why did you decide to venture into baseball ownership and why do it in Las Vegas?

We love the business environment out here and we love the people and the energy and the growth. I’ve been a lifelong baseball fan, so it was really something that just came up as I met with Don Logan.

Was it really a matter of walking in here, buying a ticket to a 51s game and liking what you saw, or did you have it in your mind that you wanted to buy the team?

I knew that Mandalay Sports had attempted to sell the team back in 2005 and didn’t reach a transaction. But earlier in that specific day, I called Don and I said, “Don, I’m just a fan and if you have an opportunity, I’d love to spend five minutes with you.” Don took the call and then Don actually met up with me, which was pretty good, just to have a cold call. We quickly bounced a couple ideas off one another, and things started moving forward.

Did Don know who you were when you called him?

No, I think at that point he didn’t. In the middle of our conversation, he broke away for about 15 minutes, he had to take care of something, and I think he quickly went down to the computer and made a couple of calls and came right back.

You mentioned being a lifelong baseball fan. Did you play baseball growing up?

Yes, but just as a kid. Like any other kid, I played just through high school.

What position?

I usually played third base. But that was at a different level compared to these (Triple-A) guys.

What’s your favorite memory from your playing days?

Truthfully, if I had to pick one, it’s just as a Little Leaguer and the night before Opening Day, you can’t sleep, you get the butterflies in your stomach. That’s as a little, little kid, but that feeling is a feeling that carries with me to this day. I even got a little bit of that coming out here (to Cashman Field) for the press conference.

Did you grow up in Detroit?

Yes, I grew up in the Detroit area. I went to the University of Michigan — so I’m a Wolverines fan — and then I got my master’s at Wayne State in downtown Detroit.

Are you a Tigers fan?

I’m a lifelong Tigers fan, no question.

What’s your favorite Tigers memory?

I would have to say in 1984, when Kirk Gibson hit the homer against the Padres in the World Series. That was a memory that I’ll never lose.

Were you there or were you watching on TV?

I was at the game.

Did you see a lot of games in person as a kid?

I worked out a lot of ways to get down there one way or another. Back then, bleacher tickets were $1.50 apiece and we could take the bus downtown for 50 cents. I spent an awful lot of summer evenings in the bleachers as a kid, that’s for sure.

With the current steroids scandal, some people say this isn’t baseball’s finest hour. Why pick this point in time to make your first venture into baseball?

I guess some people might say that. But at the same point, I think on a going-forward basis, baseball is a sport that is very well orientated toward technology, toward the Internet, toward statistics. I really think baseball is much more in an upswing and the attendance numbers indicate that.

What MLB.com has done has gotten so many more people involved in the game. The Extra Innings package that you can get on cable and DirecTV is something that I really think is bringing baseball to a new level.

You have said you want to sell a portion of the team and get some celebrities involved in ownership. Why do that?

We have an interest in selling about 25 percent of the team to some people with local business connections and some people with some athletic celebrity and Hollywood celebrity because I want to try to create a little bit of buzz for the community. Las Vegas is a city of entertainers, it’s a city of stars, and I’d like to have a few people as my partner in that process.

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