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Baseball league makes pitch to council


Shannon Keith

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The possibility of a summer league baseball team in Greenville will be one of the topics discussed during the City Council’s annual planning retreat on Jan. 27.

Justin Sellers with the Coastal Plain League discussed the possibility of adding a Greenville team to the league during Thursday’s City Council meeting.

The wood-bat collegiate summer league features college players recruited throughout the United States. It was formed with six teams in 1997 and currently includes 15 teams in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia.

“We will be adding an additional five teams by 2018,” Sellers said. “The league is continuing to grow at a phenomenal rate.”

Sellers said almost 1,400 Coastal Plain League players have been been drafted by Major League Baseball franchises. Sellers said more than 90 have gone on to play in the Major Leagues, including 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, 2009 All-Star and Gold Glove winner Ryan Zimmerman and three-time All-Star Kevin Youkilis.

“Those are just some of the players that have come out of this league,” he said. “And ECU Baseball Coach Cliff Godwin played and coached in this league as well. He is very much in support of the league coming to Greenville.”

Sellers said teams in the league have occupied former minor league stadiums in their areas or have constructed their own stadiums that range between $3 million to $13 million. 

“In 2016, the top five Coastal Plains franchises finished with a higher average attendance than 30 minor league teams,” Sellers said. “The league offers quality and affordable entertainment. Ticket prices average about $7 and some of our teams offer a package for $15, which includes ticket price and all-you-can-eat food and drink.”

Sellers said a franchise would give residents a hometown team to rally behind, elevate Greenville’s identity for marketing and deliver assets including affordable family entertainment, a regional fan base that would draw visitors and secondary events.

“We are definitely catching on,” he said. “In fact, we have had five minor league owners start teams and have gotten out of minor league baseball ... that’s a good sign.”

Several council members during the meeting spoke in favor of exploring the possibility.

“Baseball has a long tradition in Greenville,” At-large Councilman Calvin Mercer said. “There has been talk for years about whether Greenville was ready for a minor league team. I don’t think a minor league team is feasible right now ... but I got a strong sense that people here were interested in some kind of summer baseball.

“I don’t know if it is feasible, but I think it is definitely worth exploring,” Mercer said.

District 5 Councilman P.J. Connelly, who played Summer League and Minor League baseball, agreed.

“I think this is a wonderful opportunity for the city,” Connelly said. “I’m pleased that you are considering Greenville as a possible addition to your league. I think this a neat idea and could even benefit ECU in recruitment.”

Some residents who spoke in favor of a team expressed concerns about where it would play, particularly Guy Smith Stadium, where many baseball and softball tournaments are held during the spring and summer.

“We are not against baseball ... we love baseball here,” former Recreation and Parks director Boyd Lee said during the meeting. “We are just asking that the City Council take Guy Smith Stadium off a list where this team would play. This facility is very valuable to youth baseball in this area.”

“I am very much in favor of the Coastal Plains League,” J.H. Rose High School baseball coach Ronald Vincent said Thursday. “But we cannot give up Guy Smith Stadium ... it is used almost every night during some months of the summer and we cannot take that away from our young people. To take Guy Smith Stadium away from them would be an injustice.”

The council unanimously approved a motion Thursday to direct city staff to explore the possibility of bringing a summer league baseball team to Greenville and to work with representatives with local baseball programs to make sure a team would not be detrimental to Greenville’s youth baseball programs.

Staff will present recommendations to council members, who will discuss the issue during their annual planning session on Jan. 27-28.

Contact Shannon Keith at skeith@reflector.com and 252-329-9575.