Fan support not a fall barometer League for top prospects begins today with players from 26 organizations

September 22, 1998|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Officials are not expecting any attendance boom for the new Maryland Fall Baseball League, but if the books almost balance, they will be satisfied.

"It can help baseball," said Peter Kirk, chief executive officer of Maryland Baseball Limited Partnership, Inc., which will oversee operations.

"We have a real good shot of doing this at close to a break-even level, it will give players a little head start [toward the majors] and we can serve the fans who'll get a chance to see the top Single-A and young Double-A prospects."

Said league president Keith Lupton: "I don't think these teams will draw the numbers they do during the season. But we might just stumble into something here.

"All these teams have a track record of hard-core fan support."

The league -- which replaces the defunct Hawaiian League -- starts play today with teams in Bowie, Frederick, Salisbury and Wilmington, Del. Teams will play a 42-game schedule with no games Monday and doubleheaders on Sunday. Play concludes Nov. 1.

Farm directors and scouts are excited about the change in location because of the reduction in travel and operating expenses and accessibility to the games.

"What we're talking about is a working league," Kirk said. "Logistics were bad in Hawaii, and a lot of players took it as sort of a Pro Bowl vacation. I think they're more enthusiastic about this, too, because of their chance to develop more quickly."

Players from 26 of the major leagues' 30 organizations will participate at modern stadiums on four teams within three hours' driving distance of one another. They will wear the uniforms of their respective major-league teams.

"Most of the places in Hawaii didn't have fans," said Orioles director of player development Syd Thrift. "And here these players will go against a high level of competition in an area where attendance is proven. It is a special training environment.

"Players at this level needed an opportunity like this. They're the most neglected group in the system because they haven't played much in the rookie leagues. With the good fall weather, it should be a great league." Lupton said sales "are really strong on the Eastern Shore [Delmarva Rockfish base]. They have a nucleus of real baseball fans there."

The league has been sanctioned by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, Inc., which assigns the umpires. Coaches and managers are picked by the baseball commissioner's office.

If successful this fall, there are plans for expansion to six or eight teams with Hagerstown, Prince William, Va., and Harrisburg, Pa., among the possible new sites.

Maryland Fall Baseball League

Teams: Bowie Nationals, Frederick Regiment, Delmarva Rockfish, Delaware Stars.

Game times: 7: 05 p.m. weekdays and Saturday; 1: 05 p.m. Sunday doubleheaders.

Ticket prices: Same as regular season at each park, with children 5 and under free, senior citizens, military personnel and children 6 to 12 receiving reduced rates. Prices range from $3 to $12.

Pub Date: 9/22/98

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