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Column: Greenberg cleaning Hicks' mess in Texas

SURPRISE, Ariz.

Cue up the irony card:

Tom Hicks is spending the weekend here with family and friends, enjoying all the well-earned spring training freedom afforded a baseball owner.

Meanwhile, Chuck Greenberg is spending the weekend in Beaumont, Texas, taking a brief break from being holed up in his office at The Ballpark in Arlington.

Basically, Greenberg can't be in Surprise, hanging out at the batting cage, chatting up the athletes, and enjoying the same kind of hero's welcome here that he now receives anywhere within a 100-mile radius of home plate in Arlington.

Chuck, you see, is normally tied down to a 12-hour Texas day attempting to clean up the mess Hicks's money woes made of the Rangers' ownership situation.

So go ahead, Tom. Enjoy yourself on this final farewell spring training tour.

Back to you, Chuck, in Beaumont, where there was a rare opportunity Saturday for the Greenbergs to watch their son, an infielder on the Penn State baseball team, play in a college tournament.

"The way I see it, we are still on schedule for April 1," said Greenberg, meaning his due date on a final harness being slapped on the moving parts, financially and legally, for the transfer of the Rangers from Hicks' hands to the Greenberg-Nolan Ryan group.

"Arizona is where I'd like to be," he added. "But if I'm in Surprise for a week or so, and if something, hang-up wise, came up again [on the sale], then I'd be in the wrong place. That'd be bad.

"Right now, I'm totally occupied with getting the deal finalized. But this quick trip to Beaumont to see our son is a good thing."

Greenberg also admits to some superstition being involved. In other words, don't be in Arizona acting like a major league owner until the deal is "officially" done.

"But if I can slip into Surprise for one day, and then get back to Texas, I'd sure like to see the place out there," he said. That brief visit may come later this week.

Several voices from within MLB say the Rangers' sale process is the most complex they've ever observed, except maybe in a couple of cases where nasty husband-wife divorces created World War III vendettas.

While Chuck's partner, Mr. Ryan, continues in his role of team president, and arrived in Surprise over the weekend, Greenberg's Arlington duties are to wrestle with lawyers, lenders and lawsuits. The lenders and the lawsuits revolve around Hicks, but they bleed over into the transfer of ownership.

"We've had delays, not of our making, but you deal with it and move on," said Greenberg. "Nothing yet has knocked us off the April 1 date. What's best for us, for Tom, and for the team, is to finally get this thing done."

Once that happens, the work has only just begun for Greenberg/Ryan.

The franchise revenue stream is at an all-time low since the new ballpark opened in 1994. And all involved admit the ballpark itself is in desperate need of a total and expensive upgrade.

Plus, while a promising, even contending team is back on the field for the first time since the late 90s, interest level of a hip-pocket variety is "only" improved. "Only" because the revenue bottoming-out process was reached two seasons ago under Hicks, and improved just gradually last season.

The Rangers were flush with a 16,000 full-package season ticket base in 2001, coming off a strong finish to the 90s, and then the signing of A-Rod.

Right now, the season ticket base is a meager 9,000, at best.

Last week, a list of baseball Opening Day salaries for 2010 was released and the Rangers had a payroll of $58 million, the lowest in nearly 15 years, and only 25th out of 30 teams.

"I saw that list," said Greenberg, "and, actually, I'm looking at a different number. I've got it maybe $10 million higher than that, but I know there are different ways to count the payroll dollars.

"No matter what it is, it's not enough, but that's no surprise. Yes, the Rangers are in the bottom half in payroll. No, that's not the way it should be."

General manager Jon Daniels confirmed both numbers here Saturday. He said the $58 million would be current for talent on the field, and that other money owed in deferred payments to departed players is what Greenberg is seeing on the ledger.

Greenberg, of course, also pointed to the obvious up-side of a franchise with a low-end player payroll.

It's a baseball owner dream world to be paying only $58 million in salaries and also have your team regarded as one of the best in it's division and at least rank in the top half of the American League, respect-wise.

"If only that could last," laughed Greenberg. "But in a way, you don't want it to last. You want the young players, not making much money, to all reach potential, and then they make a lot of money. That means you are a real good team. A team that makes the playoffs, and wins in the playoffs."

Greenberg repeatedly mentions his goal of the Rangers returning to those days of a player payroll near the $100 million mark, where the once free spending Hicks had it long ago, although with disastrous results.

"None of this, of course, happens immediately," said Greenberg. "We've got to win back the fans, win back the sponsors, win on the field. We've got to do all of that, and also commit our dollars to getting it done. But that's why Nolan and myself are involved in this. We believe good things can happen."

This weekend, Hicks is having a final spring training good-bye visit to those once sweet days of baseball ownership.

Greenberg is seeing college baseball in Beaumont, and will be back in the Arlington office Monday morning.

Cleaning up the mess is not a glamour job, but somebody's got to do it.

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