When Fran Riordan was hired by the expansion Lake County Cornbelters (Northern) in the offseason, it marked the end of an era. Riordan had either played of managed in the Frontier League since 1997, winning three league titles as a manager.
But he hasn’t forgotten his Frontier League roots, and he brought along a core of his final Kalamazoo Kings team to prove it. On Feb. 1, Riordan swung a 11-player swap with his old team to bring seven ex-Kings to Lake County.
“Most of those guys I was able to acquire I’ve had for multiple years. Combine that with the expansion draft. You’re not starting for square one. You have a good core group of guys,” Riordan said.
The Frontier League limits its teams to only one player who’s 27 or older. The Northern League is one of a number of independent leagues with no age restrictions and a higher salary cap.
A number of Frontier League players have successfully made the jump to the Northern League in the past, but no team has ever bet as heavily on proving that success in the Frontier League can translate into wins in the Northern League.
“There’s a lot of conversation about that between managers and organizations (about how the leagues stack up),” Riordan said. “It’s my opinion that a good player is a good player. Good play will transfer from league to league. If you can play, that will translate well in any independent league.”
Hit The Road?
While the Fielders have a roster put together, they will be waiting for a stadium to play in.
Just two months before the start of the Northern League season, Lake County moved the site for its stadium. The team broke ground in early April, with actual construction beginning a week later. With the home opener scheduled for June 11, the Fielders know they won’t be playing in a finished ballpark.
But faced with a choice of becoming a travel team or playing in an unfinished stadium, the club decided to work around the construction.
“The best way to describe it is minor league baseball meets county fair, and it will be priced like that too,” Fielders president Rich Ehrenreich said.
The team says it will have seating for 6,000 fans in temporary bleachers, some of which will be fold-up chairback seats, and will have concessions set up in trailers. The team hopes to have its bathrooms in place for the opener, but if not it will also bring in trailers for that as well.
The most crucial aspect of the rush to get ready for the opener is the field. Work on it didn’t begin until April 27. To put in proper drainage and then lay the sod in time for it to set is expected to take five to six weeks, which should have it ready just in time for the home opener on June 11.
When the club hits the road, the bleachers will be pulled out and workers will go back to work to finish the stadium.
In a reflection of the less-than-permanent nature of the surroundings, every seat at the stadium will cost $5 this year. The hope is that fans will see their new team this year while building anticipation for another grand opening when they unveil the completed ballpark in 2011.
The Golden Baseball League is going back to its original rules by eliminating the designated hitter for the 2010 season.
The rule tweak will likely eliminate one higher-priced player per team, as DH spots are usually filled with veteran sluggers, but that’s not the main intent. The league hopes the tweak will help reduce offense in a league where a 10-8 game is much more common than a 3-2 result.
“It’s not like we need more offense,” Golden League commissioner Kevin Outcalt said.
Six different teams in the league had ERAs above 5.00 last year, and the Calgary Vipers batted .332/.409/.516 as a team.
The Frontier League has also made a significant adjustment. The league has always had an age cutoff that forced players to leave the league at 27. This year the league will allow each team to keep one veteran beyond the age limit. The hope is the new rule will allow teams to keep fan favorites instead of forcing them to leave for another league.
As long as there has been independent league baseball, SportsTicker/Howe Sports has been the company compiling the stats.
While leagues came and went, they all sent their stats to Howe. When a league didn’t sign up Howe as its official statistical provider it was often a sign of financial instability.
This year that won’t be the case, as all six of the largest independent leagues will use Pointstreak.com. Pointstreak, which signed up the Golden League last season as its first pro baseball contract, has also lined up deals with many of the largest summer collegiate leagues.
Howe was looking to get out of the business. The company lost the contract to be the official statistical provider of the affiliate minors five years ago and had recently been sold to Stats LLC. The independent leagues could have forced Howe/Stats to compile the stats for another year because they were under contract, but with Pointstreak’s desire to land their business it was an easy choice.
“They wanted the business, but we’re hoping they can do as good a job as Howe has done. The Howe site has been pretty remarkable,” American Association and Can-Am League commissioner Miles Wolff said.
Pointstreak got its start as a hockey stats provider in 2000 before quickly branching into lacrosse and soccer as well. The company didn’t move into baseball until buying another company in 2008 that had a stats system that fit baseball. The software is scalable down to recreation and youth leagues, but Poinstreak says it’s also powerful enough to handle everything the independent leagues need.
For fans, the switch will be noticeable because of some of the new features at Pointstreak.com. For the first time, the independent leagues will have live, in-game box scores, and after the game the box scores will include play-by-play of the game as well as links to individual player pages.
At the same time Poinstreak is working to add the archive of past years statistics that they purchased from Stats LLC to their current data.