WMBD/WYZZ-TV - PEORIA, Ill. - The man who helped bring professional baseball to Peoria 30 years ago wants to make one thing clear about Tuesday night's city council discussion regarding the downtown ballpark.
"This is not about Pete Vonachen, this is not about Rocky Vonachen. This is about the quality of life in our community," said Pete Vonachen. "We might lose our hockey team. Now to lose baseball would be a catastrophe."
That's why Vonachen, who bought the Peoria Chiefs in 1983, will be holding his breath. He's hoping the deal to restructure the team's finances receives the city's blessing and baseball will continue to be played at the park he helped build in 2002.
"I didn't start (pro baseball) for me. I didn't start it for personal gain," said Vonachen. "I just wanted a nice place for people to go for years and years to come."
Vonachen's Chiefs were a hot ticket in the Midwest League in 1980's. He sold the team in the early 90's only to form a group of local investors and buy it back a few years later.
In 2000, Vonachen helped orchestrate a deal to build a ballpark in downtown Peoria. The Chiefs, the Class A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, have playing their for 11 years.
But the Chiefs, no longer owned by the 87-year-old patriarch, have been losing money for several years and are seeking financial assistance from the city to stay alive.
When the St. Louis Blues sold the Rivermen last month, hockey's future became uncertain in Peoria. team. The news his hometown could lose pro hockey sent chills down Vonachen's spine.
The idea Peoria Chiefs stadium could go dark is having the same effect on him.
"We need these things in Peoria. We need them so badly," said Vonachen. "We're on a list to be an All-American city. How can we be an All-American city when we're losing two of the greatest activities for people in our community."