Donald Watkins has been a banker, lawyer, energy company executive, and political activist. Now the chairman of $17 million-asset Alamerica Bank in Birmingham, Ala., hopes to add baseball team owner to this resume.
Late last month Mr. Watkins, who founded the bank, wrote to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays expressing interest in buying the club from an ownership group headed by Vincent J. Naimoli. The cash-strapped team is not officially on the block, but it did announce April 27 that its owners were considering a sale, and Mr. Watkins responded immediately.
"I have been shopping for over a year and a half for a team ownership opportunity, and I wanted to be first in line," he said.
A Devil Rays' spokesman declined to discuss Mr. Watkins' letter or any say whether anyone else had expressed an interest in buying the club.
The Devil Rays' record as second worst in Major League Baseball, a lack of fan support, and its mounting debt do not deter Mr. Watkins.
"I will continuously reinvest in the team to transform the talent to a level that can consistently perform well and win championships," said Mr. Watkins who founded Alamerica a year ago.
Though the franchise is viewed as a prime candidate for relocation, Mr. Watkins said he wants to keep it in the Tampa Bay market.
He's even talking about setting up an Alamerica branch in the area, which undoubtedly would become the official bank of the Devil Rays if he buys the team.
Mr. Watkins has not named his price except to say that he expects it to be above the $135 million that Mr. Naimoli's group paid for the team. He added that he is "not going to lose this opportunity based on price," and that he does not want to share ownership, except possibly with family members.
Mr. Watkins, who concedes that he knows little about baseball, would not be the only banker to own a Major League team. Andrew N. Baur, chairman and chief executive officer of Mississippi Valley Bancshares in St. Louis, is co-owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Carl Pohlad and his family are majority owners of both Marquette Bancshares in Minneapolis and the Minnesota Twins.
Mr. Watkins would be the first African-American owner, though he said the fame that would come with that "is not what drives me."
"This is first and foremost a business decision," he said.