Monday, August 15, 2011

EXTRA: No Hawaii trip for Fielders?

On the surface, it sounds absurd. Somebody does not want to take a trip to Hawaii.

We also have a professional sports team that doesn’t want to play out its regularly-scheduled season.

IT’S HARD TO think of logical reasons to be sympathetic to the plight of the Lake County Fielders, one of those independent minor league ballclubs (no direct affiliation to a major league team) that is playing this season in the North American League.

I write this commentary in response to my quip earlier Monday about how the Fielders are the team that didn’t know what league they play in – implying they’re confused.

Although until late Sunday (just after I wrote the commentary in question), the Fielders didn’t know. They were the team that was threatening to quit their league because they didn’t want to have to make a trip to Hawaii to play the Maui Na Koa Ikaika.

The Fielders (the ballclub that claims its niche of celebrity because actor Kevin Costner is among its owners) say they can’t afford the trip. In fact, it seems that many of the teams in the North American League are having financial problems and can’t cover their expenses.

THE FIELDERS ISSUED a statement late Sunday saying that they will be playing part of the remainder of their season (which is scheduled to end Sept. 5) by playing a Kenosha-based team. Much of the ballclub’s schedule says the games are “to be determined.”

Which makes me wonder if officials have given up on the idea of playing a real season schedule in 2011 – and are merely playing ballgames so that people will come out and buy stuff at the concessions stands.

Baseball for the purpose of selling hot dogs and beer, and possibly a souvenir cap. Definitely not an ideal situation.

But it is a situation that seems all too inevitable for the North American League – which actually is playing its first season this year from the remnants of the old (and independent) Golden, United and Northern leagues.

THE LATTER WAS the league that used to have Chicago-area ballclubs in Joliet, Schaumburg and Gary, Ind., but which had half the league (including the Gary South Shore Railcats) split away to join another league – the American Association, which is playing its season this year without anything resembling the drama of the North American League.

Originally, it was thought that all four of the abandoned Northern League teams would join the North American League. Except that officials in Joliet and Rockford jumped for the chance to play in an alternate league (the Frontier League, along with the Crestwood-based Windy City Thunderbolts) and the baseball people in Schaumburg decided that playing nowhere this season (with dreams of resuming in 2012) would be a better option.

So the Lake County Fielders of Zion (which is in the process of building them a stadium) wound up all alone in a league with teams in places like Maui, Hawaii; Chico, Calif.; and Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada.

The team says it will be back, and stronger than ever, in 2012. Then again, I’m sure there are Chicago Cubs fans who will claim their ballclub isn’t out of the running this year.

BASEBALL HAS A way of making people eternally optimistic.

Although perhaps the Fielders’ plight ought to make us realize that the Chicago Cubs condition these days with Carlos Zambrano is rather tame and the White Sox’ .500 record seems like excellence by comparison.


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