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Fielders: We’re still in NAL — for now

Lake County FieldersThe independent North American League has pulled back on kicking the Lake County Fielders from the circuit for the time being, as Rich Ehrenreich says the team will finish out the season playing against NAL teams or squads from a different league.

This isn’t to say that a league action won’t come shortly: we get the sense the whole mess means the terms of the divorce are being settled, not whether there’s a divorce. Late last night the league posted the following on its website and its Facebook page:

The North American League is disappointed to announce that the Lake County Fielders have eliminated themselves from the league by failing to appear for their scheduled series today. Schedule changes will be announced shortly.

That note was deleted from both places this morning. Ehrenreich told a local newspaper it’s because there was not proper notice to the Fielders and no determination of a proper punishment for skipping a series in Hawaii. Proper notice, of course, is ridicuously simple to fix, and when there are “discussions” going on between two sides in this situation, it means the lawyers are probably involved. Given this quote:

“We’re still in discussions with the league, as well as other options,” Ehrenreich told a local newspaper. “The Fielders intend to play all remaining (25) home dates scheduled in Zion, whether against teams in our current league or others, and we’ll have an announcement in the next two days regarding the teams we’ll be playing.”

it merely means the exit strategy is still being worked out. Indeed, for claiming the Fielders are still part of the NAL, Ehrenreich is leaving the door wide open to leaving on his own. Indeed, we’re seeing lawyering as a business strategy here: the Fielders cannot claim damages from the league or the city if the team fails to play its games, especially in a situation where the team is hosting games. (It actually was defensible for the team to skip out on an expensive road trip from a business viewpoint, especially if it’s already been decided the Fielders are leaving the NAL.) And you know what? For all the problems this season, for all the issues with the Fielders, we’re not ready to declare baseball dead in Zion. Remember: the original business plan for the North American League had four teams in the Chicagoland area, but one by one they dropped out, leaving the Fielders as the last team standing and a rather Frankensteinish schedule to manage.

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. Team owners have stopped paying rent at Fielders Stadium because of the temporary condition of the ballpark; the city has demanded $185.000 in back rent. The icing on the cake: when the team forfeited a game after substituting league balls with off-the-shelf rec-league, cheaper baseballs.

At some point, though, there will be notice and there will be action on the team’s status if the league truly wants to rid itself of Lake County. Given Na Koa Ikaika Maui is in its own financial straits — it’s being sued by its team broadcaster for lack of payment — we’re still not seeing a scenario where the NAL would force a team to play a series in Zion after the Zion team skipped out on a trip to Maui, depriving that team from sorely needed revenues from a season-ending series. The Fielders may be in for the moment, but moments are fleeting.

RELATED STORIES: Fielders tossed from North American League; Fielders skip on Hawaii road trip; season in question; Fielders game scrapped because of sub-par baseballs; Fielders may disband because of city inaction on new ballpark; 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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