Who exactly are the Lake County Fielders playing this week?
A semipro team called the Kenosha Kings? Or a new squad called the Kenosha County Fielders?
Both, it turns out.
Fielders officials had announced Monday the team would play the Kings following a challenge from that Wisconsin-based team.
The day before, Fielders brass had announced they’d play a new minor league team also called the Fielders. The schedule changes were needed because at least one North American League team wasn’t expected to travel to Zion to play the local squad.
When the Fielders hit the diamond Wednesday night for the start of a season-ending homestand, the public-address announcer identified the visiting team as the Kenosha County Fielders.
The Kenosha team went on to beat the Lake County ballclub 1-0.
On Thursday, Lake County Fielders spokesman revealed the visiting squad consisted of members of the Kings and athletes from other teams in their semipro league.
“They wanted to field the best team possible,” DiMeo said.
Although wearing red Kings jerseys, they chose to play as the Fielders because of their “all-star” status, DiMeo said.
According to their website, the Kings play in the Wisconsin State Baseball League. The team is “a semipro team that consists of present college players, as well as ex-college and professional players.”
Kings assistant coach Billy Behm said his team needed extra players because some regulars have returned to college. The Kings regular season ended two weeks ago, Behm said.
Only nine Lake County Fielders players were in uniform for Wednesday’s game. That happened, DiMeo said, because many players left the organization after the team skipped a series against the Maui Na Koa Ikaika the previous week.
Many of those departed ballplayers are on their way back to Lake County and will rejoin the team for the remaining games, he said.
DiMeo reported 1,000 people attended Wednesday’s game. But an unofficial tally by the Daily Herald estimated 125 fans were in the mostly empty park at the opening pitch.
This week, the North American League announced it would end its regular season a week early on Aug. 28. Playoffs are still scheduled and have been expanded to seven-game series, according to a statement on the league website.
The Fielders have been approved to complete their season against the Kenosha team, the statement said.
The Fielders had been set to play six games against the Yuma Scorpions, Aug. 24-29, and then eight games against the Edmonton Capitals to wrap up the season Sept. 5.
DiMeo didn’t know if either team would make the trip but said an as-of-yet-unidentified North American League team could be in town to play the Fielders.
The Kenosha team will fill in when needed, DiMeo said. Fielders games against Kenosha will be considered exhibition contests, he said.
Phone calls and emails to the North American League office and its chief executive officer were not returned.
The Maui team the Fielders ditched this month has since scrapped the rest of its season, the Maui News reported Tuesday. Its players have been released.
It’s been a rough season for the Fielders.
In July, manager Tim Johnson and a radio announcer quit over allegations they weren’t fully paid.
An Aug. 4 game was suspended after the Fielders were accused of providing subpar baseballs for the contest against the Calgary Vipers.
As for the skipped series against Maui, a message on the Hawaiian team’s website said the Fielders will be fined $25,000 for each of the four missed games.
Additionally, Zion officials have said the Fielders owe $185,000 in back rent for use of the city’s ballpark, which received $1.3 million in state funding but has yet to be completed.
Team owner Richard Ehrenreich has said he stopped paying rent on the diamond because there is no hint of a permanent stadium as promised.
Ehrenreich’s Grand Slam Sports and Entertainment, the Fielders’ parent company, struck a 25-year operating agreement with Zion for use of the city’s baseball facility.
The document, obtained by the Daily Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request, states it is the intent of all parties to pursue construction and use of a permanent stadium within three years.
In addition, the team “shall schedule and play each and every one of its home games exclusively at the (Zion) facility during the entire term of this agreement.”
Under the agreement, Zion gets to keep parking revenue at the temporary stadium not to exceed $5 per car for baseball games in exchange for paying workers to operate and control the lot.
Ÿ Daily Herald staff writer Bob Susnjara contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.