From the start two years ago, Steve Ruud wanted local ownership for the Wichita Wingnuts independent baseball team.
Monday, Ruud happily announced reaching that goal at a news conference at Wichita Ice Sports. He recently purchased 55 percent of the team from Horn Chen, making Ruud, 64, the majority owner with 82 percent of the American Association franchise.
"The opportunity arose, and I jumped on it," Ruud said. "This gives us an opportunity to maybe give a little something back, and in turn have a lot of fun doing it."
Ruud declined to divulge the price he paid for Chen's share.
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Ruud is one of six local investors who joined with Chen in 2007 to bring the franchise to Wichita. Chen owns the Wichita Thunder hockey team, and the two teams share administrative staffs. Ruud said he expects to own around 60 percent of the team after Gary Austerman, Nick Easter, Steve Ruud, Dan Waller and Detroit Tigers pitcher Nate Robertson are given an opportunity to increase their share. Wingnuts general manager Josh Robertson said his brother wants to increase his stake from three percent to 12-25 percent.
Local ownership in minor-league sports is rare, Robertson said. He likes seeing his owners at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, where they can talk to fans. He likes knowing he can solve a problem with a phone call or a face-to-face meeting.
"They have a huge passion for the game of baseball," Robertson said. "They have a huge passion for the city of Wichita."
Ruud, who owns R.A. Ruud & Son Inc. concrete and construction company, pitched at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium for 13 years in the National Baseball Congress World Series.
"It's not my team; it's the city of Wichita's team," Ruud said. "The fans are the greatest. We want to do little things as we go along to make this thing even better."
The local owners say they believe they are taking over an organization with a good future. Wingnuts attendance rose from 144,000 in 2008 to 161,000 in 2009. Manager Kevin Hooper recently signed a two-year extension after guiding the team into the American Association playoffs. Planned renovations to the stadium include new concession areas. New dugouts and artificial turf are on the wish list.
"We looked at a five-year plan, and we've far exceeded our plan so far," Ruud said.
Robertson said the Wingnuts and Thunder will share staffs through the hockey season. Neither team wants to disrupt the Thunder's move into Intrust Bank Arena. Chen, who bought the Thunder in 1992, will remain owner.
"We've got the big transition into the new downtown arena in January," Robertson said. "We're going to get through that and discuss those future possibilities a little bit later on down the road."