Facebook For Baseball

When John Wolff was at Harvard, he lived down the hall from Mark Zuckerberg, the student who created Facebook.

“I remember when he started it as this silly site,” Wolff said. “You
had your picture and your info. It was open just to Harvard students.
But month after month, and year after year it grew.”

Now Facebook is one of the largest social networking sites on the Web
with estimates of more than 50 million members. Wolff, a self-described
computer nerd, wants to bring that feel to a much smaller group by
creating eFieldHouse, a social networking site limited entirely to
athletes.

For now, the new site is limited to just baseball players. Wolff, a
former minor league player himself, has opened it up to former
teammates and acquaintances and is watching it grow from there.

“I had a pretty bumpy road from affiliated ball to indy ball. I’ve
always been a computer nerd, so I wanted to develop a site similar to
Myspace or Facebook, but limited to baseball players. As I was playing,
I worked on it more and more on the side. Sure enough we had a few
people interested in the idea,” Wolff said.

Wolff, who partners with former indy leaguer and Cardinals farmhand Ian
Church to market the site, hopes that the site will allow players to
connect with former teammates, as well as make connections with friends
of friends that could help out down the road.

“I thought it would be convenient to have an online network of guys who
can offer bits of insight from the player’s viewpoint,” Wolff said.
“Whether it’s where to eat around the ballpark in Kalamazoo or what to
do during rainouts in Florence, Ky., there are guys who have the
answer.”

The site, which boasts about 300 current and recent pro players, hopes
to add an e-commerce side in the not-too-distant future that would help
hook players up with bat, glove and other apparel companies. But for
now, Wolff is busy trying to continually improve the functionality of
the site.

“From the computer end it’s me on my couch writing code,” Wolff said.

South Coast League Shuts Down

It had been six months since an independent league folded.

It’s time to reset the counter to zero.

The South Coast League announced that after one season it is going dark, suspending operations for the 2008 season. The league has held out hopes of returning in 2009.

The league’s primary owners, the Ferro investment group, based out of Joliet, Ill., are currently searching for additional investors. Peter Ferro is also the chairman for the Joliet Jackhammers. A call to the group was not immediately returned.

For the league to continue, the owners would have to find additional capital that would help cover the debts left from the 2007 season as well as cover expected losses for 2009. If no additional investors are found, there’s a good chance that the league will announce that it’s fully shutting down.

“They are making a concentrated effort to make things cleared up and be back in 2009,” said J.D. Hardin, the league’s chief development officer who has become the de facto league head after CEO Jamie Toole stepped down. “I know it’s never been done before, but that hasn’t scared them away. We’re going to try prove everyone wrong.”

The league’s office is still operating and the league is now refunding tickets and advertising contracts for 2008. Of course, that money going out at the same time that the league faces significant additional debts will make it even more difficult for the league’s other creditors to get their money.

“It’s not an ideal situation,” Hardin said. “Shutting down play and having to give money back when we need the money is not ideal, but it has to be done. You have to get that part taken care of. It falls back to the ownership group. It could be they find some new investors to keep this going.”

It’s been a meteoric rise for Hardin. He was hired as an intern just last year. Now he’s running the league less than 12 months later.

“I’m kind of the last man standing,” Hardin said. “That’s a lot to take in for someone, especially for someone who just started in baseball last year.”

The league had six cities for its inaugural season. It had scaled down to four teams for 2008 before announcing that it was suspending operations. The league had announced an expansion team in Jackson, Miss., for the 2009 season, but that, of course, is now completely up in the air.

If the league does fold, it would give one more example of the difficulties of operating an independent league in the Southeast. No Southeastern-based independent league has ever successfully completed a second season. The league’s attendance during the first season was in line with what could be expected, but the league went in the red partly because of its inability to reign in expenses. The league went into last season with nine league front-office executives. In comparison, several other more established independent leagues have operated successfully with as few as three or four league officials.

Savannah Sold

Hardball Capital had a little spare change after selling the Salem Avalanche (Carolina) to an ownership group headed by Red Sox executives. The Atlanta-based group invested those funds in low Savannah (South Atlantic), purchasing the Sand Gnats from Illinois-based owner John Simmons for an undisclosed amount (recent sales figures put the cost in the $5 million range).

“Savannah is a great city and close to home. We’ve been interested in doing this for a while,” Hardball Capital CEO Jason Freier told the Savannah Morning News.

Hardball Capital also owns the Fort Wayne  Wizards (Midwest) and is in the midst of constructing a $125 million stadium complex that will include a hotel, retail space and condominiums.

The Sand Gnats play in Grayson Stadium, which first opened its doors in 1941 and is in the midst of a two-year, $5 million renovation project. In preparation for the 2008 season, the city-owned park is got a brand new field, a new irrigation and drainage system and new lights. Deteriorating left-field bleachers were in the process of being removed and replaced.

“We are trying to be good landlords in making improvement to the stadium,” Savannah mayor Otis Johnson told the Morning News.

 QUICK HITS

• The College World Series’ move from Rosenblatt Stadium to a new Omaha ballpark was all but finalized when Omaha mayor Mike Fahey and Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority chairman David Sokol reached an agreement to construct a new baseball stadium on Qwest Center Omaha parking lots.

The NCAA had already given its support for the ballpark plan, but wanted the city and MECA to reach an agreement.

“This was a critical component of moving forward with the NCAA on a long-term contract for the College World Series,” Fahey told the Omaha World Herald.

The ballpark plan still needs to be approved by the local city council.

• Carrie Adams and Rob Dadez were hired by Minor League Baseball to join its licensing department. Peter Martinez was promoted to assistant, baseball operations.

Adams was named the assistant director of licensing for nine years as merchandise and special events coordinator in Clearwater for the Philadelphia Phillies Florida operations and the high Class A Clearwater Threshers. Dadez is a recent graduate from Saint Leo University and will serve as an assistant. Martinez previously served as an intern in the league office.

• Double-A Binghamton and the Mets announced a two-year extension to their player-development contract on the eve of Opening Day. The B-Mets’ 17-year relationship with their parent club is the fourth-longest in the Eastern League, behind Reading’s 42-year relationship with the Phillies, Arkon’s 20-year stint with the Indians and Harrisburg’s 18-year connection with the Expos/Nationals.

“We are pleased to extend our working agreement with the Binghamton club for another two years,” Mets farm director Adam Wogan said. “The ownership group, office staff and fans of the Binghamton area have been inviting and gracious to our players and organization for the past 16 seasons, and we look forward to continuing our great relationship.”

The Rays and Double-A Montgomery also extended their player development contract two years through 2010 prior to Opening Day. The Biscuits are entering their fifth season under the Rays and have won the Southern League each of the past two seasons.

“We’ve been very pleased with the Rays in every way,” Biscuits owner Tom Dickson said. “Their organization has been a joy to work with, and obviously, they’ve provided us with some pretty good baseball teams over the last couple of years. We’re happy that the Rays have made this commitment to us. We’re confident that this is the right match to bring great baseball to Montogmery for years to come.”

• Low Class A Quad Cities has a name for its new mascot. A name-the-mascot contest, which garnered roughly 10,000 votes, resulted in the winning name of Rascal, the mischievous raccoon that is the centerpiece of the organization’s new team identity.

Minors | #2008 #Business Beat

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