Lake County Fielders: Season goes on, league or no league
Lake County Fielders owner Richard Ehrenreich says his team will play baseball one way or another next week at Zion's temporary stadium.
Ehrenreich also disputed the notion his team could be immediately booted from the independent North American Baseball League because it failed to show up for a series in Maui.
Na Koa Ikaika Maui was supposed to host the Fielders in a four-game set Wednesday through Saturday. But the Fielders canceled the road trip at the last minute because it would have cost about $60,000, Ehrenreich said.
After the no-show, the North American League released a statement claiming the Fielders "eliminated themselves" by staying home. League representatives then rescinded the statement Thursday and said both sides were in discussions.
Ehrenreich called the initial announcement a "knee-jerk" reaction. He said the Fielders weren't served a proper default notice for not traveling to Maui, and that it's a lengthy process to kick a team out of a sports league.
"The Fielders intend to play all remaining (25) home dates scheduled in Zion, whether against teams in our current league or others, and we'll have an announcement in the next two days regarding the teams we'll be playing," Ehrenreich said Thursday.
If the Fielders stay in the North American League, Maui is slated to play an 11-game series in Zion starting Monday.
Fielders spokesman Bernie DiMeo said the team is plotting "a unique and daring schedule" if they don't remain in the league.
DiMeo said the Fielders this week provided notice to the league the team was considering termination of its membership, in part because of burdensome travel expenses that would have included a third trip to Maui on Wednesday. He said independent league baseball teams can't afford such travel.
Launched in 2010, the Fielders have been playing home games at Zion's temporary stadium at Route 173 and Green Bay Road. Actor Kevin Costner is touted as a co-owner and appeared at the Zion ballpark donning a Fielders cap on an off-day last year.
Costner's publicity agent, Arnold Robinson, refused again Thursday to make the actor available to discuss or provide a statement on his stake in the team. Ehrenreich described Costner as an investor.
Others with a financial stake in the baseball venture include state and Zion taxpayers, as well as those who travel from a Milwaukee airport. Public money has gone toward a team sponsorship and for infrastructure at the temporary stadium.
Zion reported receiving a $1.3 million state grant in infrastructure and utility work for the unfinished ballpark. The facility has 4,500 temporary seats and permanent elements such as lights, the playing field, dugouts and a parking area.
In June, Zion city council members approved using city funds to pay $174,710 to companies that worked on the facility in 2010. In July, the council authorized wiring $348,355 to Chicago Title Co. for work on the project last year.
Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport paid a $35,000 sponsorship fee to the Fielders that officials say was a good deal despite the team's woes. Mitchell spokeswoman Patricia Rowe said airport user fees went to the marketing effort.
Rowe said the $35,000 for the Fielders originally was for only the 2010 inaugural season, but a second year to be the team's "official airport" was negotiated at no additional cost.
Mitchell received the extended sponsorship because the Fielders were late in playing at the Zion facility and started with 15 home games at Carthage College in Kenosha in 2010, Rowe said. The airport's deal covered 34 games in Zion last year.
"In 2010, we were pleased with the attendance reported at more than 115,000 and our in-stadium visibility from outfield signage, in-game announcements, giveaways and contests," Rowe said.
Last week, Zion officials announced Ehrenreich's Grand Slam Sports and Entertainment, the Fielders' parent company, was served with a default notice seeking $185,000 in back rent for use of the city's baseball facility dating to 2010.
But Ehrenreich said he's stopped paying rent on the temporary diamond because there is no hint of a permanent stadium coming as promised.
Zion's 25-year operating agreement with the Fielders states the intent of all parties was to pursue construction and use of a permanent ballpark within three years of the deal dated June 30, 2010. The Daily Herald obtained the document through a Freedom of Information Act request.