The summer-collegiate Coastal Plain League is continuing to expand its footprint in the South.
In early June the CPL announced the addition of a 16th franchise in Macon, Ga. The most recent franchise added to the league, in 2016, also was based in Georgia: the Savannah Bananas.
The CPL has two teams in Virginia, 10 teams in North Carolina, two teams in South Carolina, and with the addition of the Macon franchise, will have two teams in Georgia starting in 2018.
“Obviously our footprint is in the ACC, SEC area,” CPL chief operating officer and commissioner Justin Sellers said. “We wanted to put our footprint down in there and create the opportunity to bring future CPL markets on board.”
The Macon franchise will move into historic Luther Williams Field after a $2.5 million renovation. The ballpark last hosted the South Atlantic League’s Macon Braves in 2002 and has had two short-lived independent league teams play in it since.
Luther Williams Field was also featured in the movies “42” and “Trouble With the Curve” and the TV show “Brockmire.”
Last season, the Bananas moved into Grayson Stadium, which previously had played host to the Savannah Sand Gnats of the SAL. While the Sand Gnats drew an average crowd of 1,900 fans per game in their final season, the Bananas led the CPL in attendance at 3,659.
Sellers said he hopes the success of the Savannah franchise and the addition of Macon will help the CPL expand to other unexplored markets.
“We’re not done,” Sellers said. “We’re continuing to grow. We’re looking at new markets across our entire footprint and even some places that might not be in the CPL footprint right now that, hopefully, in three, five, six years will be.”
Since 2008, the CPL has seen five new stadiums built, two in South Carolina (Florence and Lexington County, just north of Columbia) and three in North Carolina (Forest City, Morehead City and, most recently, a $13.5 million, 1,800-seat facility in Holly Springs).
There will be a sixth added to that list soon.
The Gastonia, N.C., franchise plays at Sims Legion Park, which last had major construction in 1977. In October, the Gastonia City Council approved the Franklin Urban Sports + Entertainment (FUSE), which will include a $15 million ballpark.
“It’s something that will be advantageous for our league and our future and also give markets an opportunity that in the past haven’t presented itself,” Sellers said.
“When they come to us and say, ‘This is what we did in Savannah,’ it matches what we want done here. We recognize that if we’re going to bring baseball back, it’s gotta be done right. We believe we found owners who know how to run baseball that will be successful here.”
In addition to Macon’s renovations of Williams Field, the CPL also has several other construction projects going on. The Peninsula franchise in Virginia Beach is renovating War Memorial Stadium. Savannah also announced the addition of a club box at Grayson Field.
“We’re doing everything we can to advance the game, but also create an atmosphere unlike anything else and an atmosphere—playing field, fans, all that stuff—that is advantageous for the college athlete to come in, get better and get ready for the next level,” Sellers said.
Jon Spoelstra and Steve DeLay will own and operate the Macon franchise. Both are limited partners with Savannah and have history in minor league baseball with Mandalay Baseball Properties.
“Frankly, it’s a little easier than affiliated baseball,” DeLay said, “because you play fewer games and you can really put a lot more time and effort into really entertaining the fans . . . We’re looking forward to getting the community involved.”