After a tumultuous summer at times, the North American Baseball League wrapped up its regular season on Sunday, leaving several teams to pick up the pieces of a dreadful summer and the NAL to end its regular season a week early. We can give Maui Na Koa Ikaika the runner-up trophy for worst professional baseball season in 2011, but they were nowhere near the disaster that took place in Zion, IL this year. That
honor privilege humiliation belongs solely to the Lake County Fielders.
Without further ado (and for the same reason everyone slows down on the highway to look at an accident), here’s our running diary of the 2011 season for the Lake County Fielders:
May 26 – Fielders begin season as a road team, playing their first 31 games away from Zion. The front office tells fans the stadium will be ready for the home opener on July 2.
July 3 – Home opener held against the Yuma Scorpions in a makeshift, temporary stadium that features temporary seating (bleachers) and bathrooms. Announced attendance: 6,762.
July 8 – Despite playing mostly road games up to this point, the Fielders find themselves in first place in the North Division, with a record of 25-15 at their high water mark. With the benefit of hindsight, this was the last day of “normalcy” (and “respectability”) for the Lake County Fielders before all hell broke loose.
July 9 – In protest of not being paid, manager Tim Johnson and 11 players quit the team before the Saturday night game against Yuma, while interim manager Pete LaCock fields a team of pitchers playing the field and position players pitching. In a show of solidarity, Yuma manager Jose Canseco does the same, with Canseco and his knuckleball picking up the win after 6 IP. After the game, 14 more players are traded or released (new acquisition Alan Rick is the lone exception) in an effort to “start fresh,” as the front office put it. LaCock also quits after the game, was fined $2,500 by the league for “making a mockery of the game,” and had a few choice words for Fielders ownership when all was said and done.
July 13 – Fielders announcer Qumar Zaman quits on air, in a speech that went viral among fans of both baseball and CM Punk.
August 3 – The city of Zion announced that the Fielders owe $185,000 in back taxes, but owner Rich Ehrenreich claims the team owes nothing, saying the city never built the ballpark they promised. While both sides have broken promises up to this point and neither should be called trustworthy or in the right, the situation is starting to sound like another Ehrenreich-owned independent league team that went under before the start of the 2011 season. The Schaumburg Flyers folded after owing over $900,000 in rent, but are currently in the process of playing again next year at Alexian Field under a new name and new ownership.
August 5 – A game between Lake County and Chico is suspended on account of baseballs. Namely, rec-league baseballs from a store like Dick’s Sporting Goods. In a short-sighted move by a front office that might not have counted on baseball being played this far into the season, there were no official league balls available, so a staffer was sent to a sporting goods store to buy what were essentially Little League balls for the game. Naturally, when the pitchers couldn’t grip the slippery baseballs to throw anything other than fastballs, the umps called the game in the second inning.
August 7 – Official attendance at Fielders game: 149 people.
August 11 – After failing to show up in Maui for a scheduled road trip, the Fielders are kicked out of the league. This press release placed on the NAL website and Facebook page read:
The North American League is disappointed to announce that the Lake County Fielders have eliminated themselves from the league by failing to appear for their scheduled series today. Schedule changes will be announced shortly.
August 12 – Nope, they’re back in the league! With what I suspect was wizardry and black magic (or lots of lawyers…), the Fielders somehow convince the league to let them play out the season in some way. We covered this in the last Indy Ball Rundown on this site.
Current – And how will they play out the season? Against a made-up “professional” team called the Kenosha County Fielders. The team from Kenosha County, looking suspiciously like the semi-pro Kenosha Kings of the Wisconsin State League (hmmm, they’re even wearing the same uniforms…), was created to finish out the schedule of games (that won’t count in NAL standings) so the Fielders can honor the terms of their stadium lease in their never-ending quest for a permanent stadium. This will also legally allow them to play in a different league next year, though it looks like the chances of that happening are slim to none.
The Kenosha County and Lake County Fielders are both supposedly comprised of professional baseball players, though that implies that they’re being paid. To be fair, not much about this team or its ownership is professional anymore, both in regards to paying players and to their reputation.
So the Fielders finish their first (and probably last) year of baseball in the NAL with an official record of 27-36, riding a 14-game losing streak. Sad developments for a team that started with a 25-15 record, and for players, coaches, and employees that deserved a better situation. Here’s to hoping independent baseball as a whole attracts better headlines in 2012, because frankly the game of baseball deserves better too.