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New Utica ballpark to host startup indy league

New Utica ballpark

A new ballpark in Utica (MI) has a name — Jimmy John’s Field — and a business plan calling for the three-team independent United Shore Professional Baseball League (USPBL) playing all its games there.

Rochester (MI)-based General Sports and Entertainment, led by former MiLB exec Andy Appleby, is financing the $12-million ballpark, which had been previously announced. The news here: naming rights, on two levels. First, we have the naming rights for the ballpark itself, as the sandwich giant Jimmy John’s and GSE struck a deal. Second, we have a naming-rights deal for the startup league itself: United Shore Financial Services, a mortgage and lending firm, is the league’s naming-rights partner. This is, to our knowledge, a pro league has sold naming rights to itself (though we’re sure we’ll hear from our educated readers if this is not the case).

Of course, there’s nothing normal about this ballpark. First, let’s start with the decision to create a three-team independent league playing out of a single facility for a 50-game season. The player base will be recent graduates who went undrafted and are looking to showcase their talents. Not new: that approach was used in another Utica ballpark — Murnane Field in New York state — and other venues like Macon’s Luther Williams Field. Now, these efforts were relatively underfinanced and were more pay-to-play ventures than real professional leagues. But that doesn’t mean this venture won’t succeed.

“This is a great opportunity for overlooked young players, mostly with college experience, who haven’t made it into the major league farm system,” Appleby said. “It will be a highly competitive and entertaining style of baseball.”

Perhaps. But we’re guessing the success of Jimmy John’s Field won’t rest on how well players perform on the field. Instead, the success will depend on the ballpark experience, which includes (but is not limited to) baseball. We’re in the age of the experiential, and if fans love the ballpark experience, the level of play won’t matter.

Some specs on the ballpark: it will seat approximately 4,000 people and include a grandstand, five dugout suites, five penthouse suites, 12 private patio suites, a grass berm and four picnic areas. Again, given the number of premium spots in a relatively small ballpark, we’re taking ballpark experience here — not baseball.

RELATED STORIES: New Utica ballpark groundbreaking set; Macomb County, General Sports announce new Utica (MI) summer-collegiate ballpark

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