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Fielders: Don’t blame us, blame Zion

Lake County FieldersReps from the Lake County Fielders (independent; North American League) say payroll issues leading to a player revolt is not their fault — instead, they point the finger at Zion, Ill. for failing to provide an adequate ballpark.

As you’ll recall, the Fielders released 14 players and traded nine others after an open player revolt that also saw coaches Tim Johnson and Pete LaCock resign. The issue: lack of any payments (payroll, per diem, travel) whatsoever this season. The team retained one player and set to build a new roster.

There’s a little pushback from the Fielders about the whole sordid situation. Don’t blame us for our financial woes and lacking adequate capital to operate a professional baseball team; blame Zion, Ill., for not adequately funding a ballpark:

‘‘There is another side to this,’’ Fielders spokesman Bernie DiMeo told the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘With no stadium, you can’t sell tickets, you can’t get sponsorship commitments. But we’re still leading the [North American Baseball League] in average attendance.’’

Well, no. The Chico Outlaws are now leading the league in attendance. And Zion fans certainly don’t seem happy with the front-office shennanigans: the team drew a reported 984 fans last night after averaging a reported 2,500 or so fans in the seven previous games.

In any case, we don’t recall anyone drawing a gun and forcing the Fielders ownership to field a team this season. It’s been a rough 12 months for the Fielders ownership, but mostly of their own making: they also owned the Schaumburg Flyers (independent; Northern League), a team evicted from their home for owing more than $900,000 to the city in back rent, user fees like utilities and penalties. So there’s some history there, and blaming Zion (and your fan base, for that matter) for not providing an adequate facility is more a matter of laying the groundwork for a future lawsuit than it is a way to curry favor with your potential paying customers. Yes, Zion was anticipating some federal stimulus funds to pay for a ballpark, but it’s been well-documented that no major facility was coming online this season. It would have made far more business sense to shut down for a year and work out a ballpark plan than move ahead in a league where your closest competior is more than a thousand miles away and a schedule where you begin play with 32 games on the road.

One thing we would be interested in knowing: whether the team is paying its league dues. If so, there’s something wrong with priorities; if not, there are grounds for the league to make some changes.

RELATED STORIES: Unpaid players revolt in Lake County; 9 traded, 14 released

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