Revived league eyes area

Tuesday, July 9, 2002

The revival of a multi-state independent baseball league could lead to a minor-league franchise playing ball in Sikeston, Mo., by next spring.

Gary Jones, a retired stock broker from Evansville, Ind., says he and Randy Morgan, a retired economic development specialist with the State of Kentucky, plan to have the Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League operating for the start of the season in May 2003 with teams in Sikeston, Paducah, Ky., Fulton, Ky., and Dyersburg, Tenn.

Teams also could debut in two other undisclosed cities in Southern Illinois next season as part of the KIT League, a pro league that originally lasted from 1903 to 1955.

The league, as it was before, would not be affiliated with a Major League Baseball team.

"Independent baseball is going through a revival period," said Jones, the new league's commissioner and a former owner and president of the Springfield (Ill.) Capitals of the Frontier League. "There's still work we have to do, but things are falling into place and we're finding there's a lot of interest out there in this type of a league."

Plans are for the league -- with corporate sponsorship -- to own each team and lease their stadiums. Individual general managers and a coach would oversee day-to-day operations of each team, serve as a community liaison, and be responsible for signing players. As many as 10 teams could make up the league within a couple of years, although Jones said even more cities have expressed interest in securing a franchise.

Morgan said Cape Girardeau was a key market and was contacted about securing a team, but expressed no interest. Cape mayor Jay Knudston argues that the city is interested, but that plans were never formally submitted for review.

"We'd love to sit down and discuss it a little more," Knudston said. "We'd certainly look at their proposal."

Either way, Jones said Capaha Field would have to be expanded by the city to seat 2,000 fans, and scheduling around its existing baseball tenants -- the Capahas' semi-pro team and the American Legion team -- could be a problem.

"We'd love to be in Cape," Morgan said. "It only makes sense. But the biggest obstacle would be finding a place to play."

A Sikeston team would use the existing VFW Stadium, which has seating for 1,300. A team there should average about 500 fans, Morgan said, with bigger crowds for special promotions or corporate nights.

Sikeston mayor Jerry Pullen said the city has only a "verbal agreement" with the KIT League so far, but said a signed agreement is still "in the making."

"It's in the early stages," Pullen said, "but it's do-able on our end. If they decide to go through with it, we're open to it."

Deals with existing fields in Paducah and Dyersburg aren't compete yet, either. At Fulton, an existing field must undergo significant improvements, but Jones said a group there will soon begin raising funds for the work. At Paducah, the league and city are at odds over a lease agreement.

Jones said he's confident that deals with at least four cities will come through by next season, which he said is the minimum needed for the first year.

Plans are for each team to carry a 20-player roster. Many of those players, Morgan says, would have experience in larger minor-league systems. Each would be paid less than $1,000 a month and would play about 80 games a season from May to August.

"This is the kind of league that attracts quality players," Morgan said. "It's a second chance for guys who didn't get drafted or got released from a team, and at the same time brings minor-league baseball to this region.

"There's been such a resurgence in minor leagues the past few years. I don't know if it's that fans are disgusted with the majors or what, but we've discussed this idea for years, and now seems like the right time to do it."

jhall@semissourian.com

(573) 335-6611, extension 174

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