Fielders now sour on Zion baseball diamond

Improved seating and amenities such as a beer garden were cited by the Lake County Fielders as reasons the team looked forward to starting its second home season at a bare-bones baseball diamond.

But Fielders spokesman Bernie DiMeo is now criticizing the temporary facility owned by the city of Zion, saying it isn't what was promised to the minor league team before its inaugural season in 2010.

DiMeo spoke in the wake of a controversy that included the resignation of manager Tim Johnson after a claim he had not been paid, and 11 players refusing to take the field July 9 as a show of support for their former boss.

Conceding there have been cash-flow problems this year, DiMeo blamed Zion for the creating the situation by not completing a stadium.

DiMeo said the Fielders couldn't make money immediately this season because the lack of a permanent ballpark forced the team to start on the road in Hawaii, Canada, Arizona and California.

“Had the Fielders known they would be forced to take a 32-game opening road trip and come home to another temporary stadium, they would have taken a year off until the stadium was built,” he said.

Zion Mayor Lane Harrison didn't return several calls seeking comment Wednesday. Ron Colangelo, the city's public works and engineering director in charge of the diamond, also did not return multiple messages.

Just days before the home opener July 3, the Fielders were positive about their temporary park at Route 173 and Green Bay Road.

Regular seats with backs — instead of bleachers — the beer garden behind home plate and party decks were cited by a Fielders spokeswoman as upgrades for this year. Colangelo said before the opener the diamond would be “fantastic.”

Richard Ehrenreich's Grand Slam Sports and Entertainment operates the Fielders, with actor Kevin Costner promoted as a co-owner.

In February, Ehrenreich's Schaumburg Flyers were evicted from a long-held lease at publicly owned Alexian Field. A judge issued a court order that returned the Flyers' lease to the village of Schaumburg and Schaumburg Park District, as well as requiring the team's ownership to pay $551,828.92 in overdue rent.

Last year, the Fielders played their first 15 home games at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., before shifting to Zion. The team was supposed to pay $100,000 in five equal installments to Zion for use of the temporary facility in 2010.

Originally, a stadium was pegged for a 55-acre former landfill site near Ninth Street and Green Bay Road in Zion. Work never started on a 4,000-seat ballpark with suites, party decks and a concert stage.

Fielders and Zion officials announced a shift to the current site a half-mile south at Green Bay Road and Route 173 in April 2010. Different plans have been floated for that location.

Zion city council members last month approved paying $174,710 to companies that worked on the temporary facility in 2010. The mayor said at the meeting the city had to pay the vendors because promised state funding for the ballpark never arrived.

Council members in February approved borrowing $1.8 million from the city's water fund to pay Panattoni Construction Inc. for work performed on the baseball facility and to allow the project's second phase to proceed, meeting minutes show.

  The Fielders took the field with their new new manager Chris Arago and several new players during their game against the Chico Outlaws Wednesday night in Zion. Steve Lundy/
  FieldersÂ’ players Brad Payne, left, and Alan Rick stretch before taking the field. New manager Chris Arago leads the team with several new players during their game against the Chico Outlaws Wednesday night in Zion. Steve Lundy/