Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Field of Dreams or big load of Bull Durham?
Costner's Chicago-area park/team makes one wonder about the NL
Odds are you have never heard of Zion, Illinois, a bedroom community located between Chicago and Milwaukee.But you will know all about it soon.
Because at a news conference there Wednesday night, city officials and an ownership group headed by Hollywood bigshot Kevin Costner are expected to announce the name of the community's sparkling new Northern League baseball team.
And then next Monday, if you believe all the players involved -- and there seems no reason not to now after some false starts in the past -- they will break ground in Zion on a new ballpark that the Northern League is counting on to be ready in time for the first pitch of the 2010 Northern League season.
It all looks great on paper. The ballpark is going to be located near a Six Flags amusement park and a huge retail area -- and all of it plunked down just minutes away from a couple of major American cities.
Throw in an Academy Award winning owner in Costner, with an instantly identifiable baseball pedigree as the star of Bull Durham and Field of Dreams, and everything sounds perfect.
Except for one thing. The addition of Zion to the Northern League family will bring the league to an awkward seven teams -- a schedule maker's nightmare.
An odd number of teams worked in the CFL for decades. But baseball is meant to be played every day, with a few exceptions, and an odd number of teams would mean one team would have to sit for at least three days at a time all summer long.
That would be a nightmare for the Northern League, which as badly as it wants the cachet of a new celebrity owner for a league that was neutered with the defection of four strong franchises in 2005, can't afford to have its credibility stretched even further with teams sitting around all summer doing nothing.
The league has publicly acknowledged the problem and last week in Kansas City, Harry Stavrenos, the director of baseball operations, told Goldeyes radio announcer Paul Edmonds that the league is in active discussions to add an eighth franchise for next season.
There's some talk it could be an existing team currently playing in another league and/or a second team in the state of Kansas, where the Kansas City T-Bones have been a huge success on the field and off.
And there's also the possibility the league could add a travelling team for the 2010 season -- although Stavrenos all but ruled it out -- as the league had in 2002 when the Gary Southshore Railcats travelled all summer while their ballpark was still being built.
Either situation would be an improvement over the current six-team loop that sees each team play each other as many as 21 times in the regular season alone. Although you do have to wonder as a Winnipegger after awhile about a league that is adding a fourth team in the Chicago area -- and maybe a second in Kansas -- potentially leaving the Goldeyes and Fargo looking increasingly as two of those things that don't belong together, two of those things that ain't kinda the same.
But whatever happens, you also have to seriously wonder about the overall health, wealth and organization of a league that still hasn't announced -- with less than a year to go until the first pitch of the 2010 Northern League season -- whether there will be six, seven or eight teams playing.
Costner memorably built it in Field of Dreams and they came. But it bears remembering that he also got released in Bull Durham.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2009 C4
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