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Joliet approves Steel City Baseball lease for Silver Cross Field

Frontier LeagueThe pieces are almost all in place for Steel City Baseball to field an independent Frontier League team in Joliet’s Silver Cross Field, as the City Council approved a 10-year lease; John Dittrich will be GM of the new effort.

Yesterday was a big deal for Steel City Baseball, headed by local resident Alan Oremus, who has deep roots in the Joliet area. First, his group closed on the purchase of assets from the Joliet JackHammers (independent; Northern League), where he was a minority investor. (That purchase, by the way, did not include the JackHammers, despite what other press reports indicated.) After that, the City Council approved a 10-year lease  that calls for an annual rent of $150,000 (down from the $220,000 annually the JackHammers were paying — or not paying, depending on your viewpoint) and additional payments should paid attendance go over 150,000. In addition, Steel City Baseball will install new artificial turf in the ballpark to allow for high-school football, long a goal of the city (Joliet Central lies just past the right-field fence; this will give the school a practice venue as well) and something supported by the Frontier League in its ballparks.

The new lease kicks in Dec. 1.

As mentioned, Dittrich will be GM of the new effort; his extensive baseball experience includes time with the Texas Rangers, the Calgary Cannons (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks (independent; Northern League), the Schaumburg Flyers (independent; Northern League) and the Fort Worth Cats (independent; American Association). Ron Biga, formerly of the Southern Illinois Miners (independent; Frontier League) will head operations, while Bill Waliewski will serve as president of Steel City Baseball.

The next question: How this affects the fledging North American League, the result of a merger of sorts between the Golden Baseball League, the Northern League and United League Baseball. The defection of Joliet leaves only three teams — Rockford, Schaumburg and Lake County — in a proposed Midwest division. We could in theory see the same sort of thing happen in Schaumburg as we saw in Joliet: the team is being sold, and what’s being sold isn’t the actual Flyers team, but rather a lease and assets. Even if the three teams remain, having them play 74 or so games against each other really isn’t feasible, and adding Omaha to the mix — some seven hours from Rockford — isn’t ideal, either. NAL owners will be meeting next week to map out the league’s future.

RELATED STORIES: Joliet to enter Frontier League if lease approved; Joliet bid to enter Frontier League under consideration; Joliet city officials to lobby at Frontier League meetings; Joliet throws monkey wrench in league mergers; New for 2011: North American League; Three indy leagues joining forces for 2011?; Seals: Canaries in the coal mine?

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