The Lake County Fielders (independent; North American League) might disband this week because of the lack of a permanent ballpark in Zion, but officials there say they’re living up to the terms of the lease.
Without a permanent ballpark, it was difficult to sell sponsorships and season tickets, according to Fielders spokesperson Bernie DiMeo. And that’s led to the financial woes suffered by the team, which includes $185,000 in back rent for Fielders Stadium. That’s certainly true, but there’s one big hole in that theory: the Fielders lease with the city gives Zion four years — the 2010 through 2013 seasons — to actually build a permanent ballpark. Zion officials say they were under no obligation to build a permanent ballpark no matter what the Fielders claim.
The Fielders are stuck in the temporary facility; there are no plans to spend more city money on a new ballpark at this time. The city has already put $1.3 million into the temporary facility, mostly from federal stimulus funds.
It’s not clear whether either side has an exit strategy. Fielders owner Rich Ehrenreich wrote the city this week and asked that the city spend $75,000 to buy all the tickets to three Fielders games; he also suggested folding the team was an option. By contrast, city officials say they want their $185,000 — money the Fielders say isn’t owed because there’s no permanent facility. (Then again, if the team didn’t owe the money, they wouldn’t have bothered to make a payment of $60,000 last year — on a check that eventually bounced.)
“I think we’re certainly within days (of folding) if they’re not going to come to the table to discuss this with us,” Ehrenreich said.
The Fielders have certainly been in the news this season. Opening the 201 North American League season with a 32-game road trip, the team quickly encountered financial adversity. 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.
We’re guessing this whole mess ends up in court. It would not be the first time: This past offseason Ehrenreich and his Schaumburg Flyers (independent; Northern League) owners were evicted from Alexian Field for more than half a million dollars in back rent.
RELATED STORIES: Zion: Fielders owe us $185,000 in back rent; Fielders’ Zaman quits on the air; Fielders continue blame game for financial woes, adding league to mix; Fielders: Don’t blame us, blame Zion; Unpaid players revolt in Lake County; 9 traded, 14 released
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