Will troubled Fielders show today for game in Maui?
Amid financial problems, squabbles with Zion over an unfinished stadium and hints the franchise may fold, the Lake County Fielders are scheduled to travel to Maui to play baseball.
The question is will they make the trip.
Na Koa Ikaika Maui officials said they were optimistic the troubled Fielders will show up Wednesday night to begin a scheduled four-game independent baseball league series.
However, Fielders owner Richard Ehrenreich said Tuesday afternoon it still was “to be determined” if the team will travel to Hawaii. He said he may have a decision on the team's future Wednesday.
Maui Assistant Chief Operating Officer Aaron Emery said North American Baseball League teams typically arrive on the island the day before a game. The English translation of the team's name is Strong Warriors of Maui.
“We're prepared to have a game (Wednesday) and we're hoping upon hope we can honor the agreements with our sponsors and our fans,” Emery said.
A fan-appreciation day is set for Saturday with the Fielders in what's supposed to be Maui's final home game. Regular-season play ends in early September.
As part of the Fielders' dispute with Zion over $185,000 in back rent officials say is owed for using the city's temporary baseball stadium, Ehrenreich said the team may suspend operations and not complete the season.
Last week, Zion officials announced Ehrenreich's Grand Slam Sports and Entertainment, the Fielders' parent company, received a default notice for the unpaid rent dating to the 2010 inaugural season.
City Attorney Scott Puma said the Fielders had not paid anything toward the debt as of Tuesday afternoon. The default notice was a formal request for the $185,000 and not a court action.
But Ehrenreich said he stopped paying rent on the temporary diamond because there is no hint of a permanent stadium coming as promised.
Ehrenreich said Zion must commit to starting the permanent ballpark this month because the Fielders are in the second year of playing in a temporary facility, which is causing financial stress.
About $1.3 million in state taxpayers' money went toward infrastructure and utility work for what's supposed to become a permanent baseball stadium at Route 173 and Green Bay Road.
State funds were used for permanent elements such as lights, the playing field, dugouts and a parking area. Zion coffers covered the payment for 4,500 temporary seats and other items.
Zion went public about the unpaid rent after responding to a Daily Herald Freedom of Information Act request for Fielders-related documents. City records show the team also bounced two rent checks.
Meanwhile, North American league spokesman Justin Reschke said officials are investigating why the Fielders were unable to provide enough quality balls for Friday's home game against the Calgary Vipers.
It led to umpires suspending the game in the top of the second inning.
“The umpires had the final say to suspend the game after it was realized that the balls that were being used did not meet specifications required for professional play,” Reschke said.
Ehrenreich said while recreational baseballs purchased at a sporting goods store were not the official ones manufactured by Rawlings for professional play, they weren't so bad as to force the game's sudden suspension. He said the team's uncertain future is why he didn't place a bulk order for Rawlings baseballs last week.
Controversy has swirled around the Fielders since early July when a manager and radio announcer quit over allegations they weren't paid all they were owed.
Ehrenreich's now-defunct Schaumburg Flyers were evicted from publicly owned Alexian Field in February. The village of Schaumburg and Schaumburg Park District claimed the team owed about $920,000 in overdue rent and other payments.
Flyers ownership, per a judge's order in that case, was directed to pay $551,829 in overdue rent. Ehrenreich said the Flyers were a limited-liability corporation and don't have assets to pay.