Frontier League rosters are typically populated with players who recently advanced from the collegiate ranks after strong careers and want an opportunity to show major league organizations that it was a mistake to bypass their talents.
Lubbock (Texas) Christian senior Karl Seiter fits that description. An NAIA second-team all-American this season, Seiter led the nationally ranked Chaps in nearly every offensive category by hitting .408/.494/.675 with 13 home runs and 59 RBIs.
“Karl is one of the better hitters I have seen in a long time,” Oklahoma City coach Keith Lytle said. “He is a dangerous, well-rounded, and polished hitter that has the ability to change a ballgame with one swing of the bat.”
After receiving multiple glowing reports from reliable sources, Evansville Otters manager Andy McCauley was excited about the opportunity to add Seiter to his roster and contacted him during spring training.
“He got this call and got really excited because he loves going out there and playing baseball,” Lubbock Christian teammate Richard Bohlken said.
But Seiter will not be able to play in the Frontier League this season. In his previous career as an Army Ranger, Seiter was a member of the elite 1st Ranger Battalion and spent six months in Iraq and 24 months in Afghanistan. Seiter’s unit was responsible for guarding former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s palace after he was removed from power. Seiter earned a Purple Heart (given in person by President George W. Bush) for a wound he sustained in Afghanistan. He returned to the United States to resume civilian life and his baseball career in 2009.
Because of the late start to his baseball career, he’s too old for the league. According to the Frontier League bylaws, players must have been born after Jan. 1, 1985, to be eligible for the 2012 season. Seiter, 27, misses that deadline by just over two months.
After hearing Karl’s age, McCauley contacted Frontier League commissioner Bill Lee and asked if Seiter could receive an exemption.
“The eligibility of players is black and white and that has to remain,” Lee said. “Allowing a kid to play would be me really bending a rule, and I wasn’t going to go out on a limb on my own to say that this kid can play, as much as I would have liked to.”
The Frontier League does have what it calls a “veteran classification” for players older than 27 to play in the league. But that is for baseball veterans, not veterans of the service, as the rule exclusively applies to players who have been on Frontier League rosters the previous two seasons.
“I told Karl, ‘I can’t make any promises, but I hope we can make something happen. Be patient because we are trying to do whatever we can,’ ” Lee said.
Frontier League bylaws state that league rules can only be changed through the rules committee. Lee submitted a proposal to the committee, which is composed of managers, general managers and owners. The rules committee sends all proposed rule changes to the league board of directors. But league bylaws govern that rule changes can only occur at the annual meetings, which occur during the offseason. The committee has never met during the season to address potential rule changes.
After learning that the rule couldn’t be changed, McCauley proposed a creative solution.
“I told Bill, ‘I would obviously like have this kid play for me, but if the other teams are against it because of his age, let’s just open it up to a lottery and whoever wins the lottery would get his rights,’ ” McCauley said. “The Frontier League is all about giving rookies an opportunity to play.”
This effort also did not gain any traction. McCauley is a longtime baseball man with ties to the American Association and Can-Am League, and he has called his contacts in those leagues as an advocate for Seiter. But those leagues have smaller rosters, and Seiter’s position of first base is typically occupied by former minor and major league players, not first-year professionals. Some believe that Seiter can be an impact player if he can get the opportunity.
“If Karl plays in an independent league, he will prove to people that he can hit at the next level. There have been plenty of guys that didn’t get drafted and went to play in the indy leagues,” Lytle said. “They proved their value and then got an opportunity to play minor league baseball and I think Karl has a chance to do that. If Karl had gone on and pursued baseball immediately instead of serving our country, he would in a position to be drafted.”
“He is an incredible baseball talent and if he wasn’t 27, he is a prospect because he is a great glove guy and can flat-out hit” Lubbock Christian coach Bob Fannin said. “You wish that somebody would say, ‘Let’s honor this guy because by honoring this guy you honor every single guy that has fought for our freedom.’ ”
In the Frontier League, the issue has been tabled until the offseason. Lee said he is glad it has been brought to the league’s attention, and it will likely add a “Karl Seiter Rule” for military exemptions for next season.
“It’s unfortunate the way things have turned with giving Karl an opportunity,” McCauley said. “I am still holding out hope that he gets a chance because sooner or later somebody is going to give him a chance and I don’t think they’ll be disappointed when they do.”