Just two years ago, the Atlantic League’™s Pennsylvania Road Warriors
fielded a team where Spanish was spoken in the clubhouse nearly as
often as English.
The Road Warriors are no more, replaced by the Lancaster
Barnstormers. And the Latin American influence is disappearing as well,
as independent teams find it harder to secure visas for foreign players.
The trickle of visas that made signing players in 2004 difficult has
now been shut off completely. While a few teams were able to apply for
work visas for specific players they knew they wanted to bring back,
independent leagues were shut out in their attempts to acquire
Indy teams used to be able to get three or four visas each season,
but immigration officials have strictly enforced visa limits in the
past few years in the wake of Sept. 11. The 65,000 available visa slots
this year were exhausted by January, well before most independent
leagues were signing players for this season.
So unless a foreign player has a green card, or a visa that he
retained after he was released by an affiliated club, he can’™t play in
the U.S. With a new league adding about 200 jobs in independent ball,
the talent pool will be mined deeper than ever before.
“The Golden League has made it tougher to find players,” Can-Am and Central League commissioner Miles Wolff said.
The scarcity of talent also should lead to a busy year for
transactions once the season begins. Last year, independent clubs sold
a record 112 players to Organized Baseball, which has the same problem
filling roster holes as independent league clubs before their season
“It’™s a situation where it will create more opportunities,” Golden
League director of player procurement Kash Beauchamp said. “For every
visa player who doesn’™t get a job, it’™s another job for a kid in the
states. It creates a domino effect. When an affiliated club signs an
independent league player, it creates a job in the independent leagues.”
The visa scarcity has actually created an advantage for the Northern
League’™s two new Canadian expansion clubs. Canadians, obviously, can
play for Calgary and Edmonton with no restrictions, but foreign players
can also get visas in Canada, which also allows them to enter the U.S.
“We’™ve got eight Canadians coming to camp, and we expect at least
six to make our final roster,” Calgary owner Peter Young said. “We also
have four Dominican players. It’™s Team United Nations.”
The Edmonton club also targeted a number of experienced Canadian
players, including a couple of former Triple-A players who might not be
able to play in the U.S. The CrackerCats signed 10 Canadians, including
infielder Stubby Clapp, who gives the team a public face for its first
year in the Northern League. Clapp is well known for his work with Team
Canada and a brief stint with the Cardinals.
“Clapp is bigger than Triple-A in Edmonton,” Edmonton general
manager Mel Kowalchuck said. “For us, if we needed icing on the cake to
show we’re a legitimate ballclub talent-wise, he’s icing on the cake.”
There is one problem for the Canadian clubs. Young said the Vipers
were having trouble getting their four Dominican players out of Santo
Domingo because all flights from there to Calgary include a stopover
and change of planes in the U.S. While the players will be fine once
they arrive in Canada, they can’™t fly through the U.S. without a valid
visa–which the players can’™t receive until they get to Canada.
“We have three Dominicans who are all stuck,” Young said. “Carlos
Duncan, our veteran outfielder–I have no way of getting him to
Calgary. He can’™t change planes, so he’™s stuck in a Catch-22.”
As with most things in indy ball, the Vipers will probably find a
way. And while the talent level may be thinner this season, independent
leagues are confident the old adage is still true–you can always find
“I don’™t think it will damage the product,” Beauchamp said. “It may
cost you some superstars, but take them out and there still are some
guys who can hit the ball 400 feet and guys who can throw 90 miles an