USPBL set to open sophomore season

By: Timothy Pontzer | C&G Newspapers | Published April 28, 2017

UTICA — After a successful inaugural campaign, the United Shore Professional Baseball League will start its sophomore season May 11.

Now boasting four clubs, including the expansion Westside Woolly Mammoths, USPBL Commissioner Andy Appleby is excited for the opener.

“We’re really looking forward to this year; we think it is going to be very special,” Appleby said. “Our last game was Sept. 11. Our league is very intense, because we play all summer long and every week, but that eight-month space in between is perfect because you have a break, but then our entire staff and fans are raring to go.”

After selling out 42 of the 75 games last season, Appleby has challenged his staff to top its first year of business.

“I’m excited, because we had thousands of testimonials of people, sponsors, charities and more having a wonderful time with us,” Appleby said. “We believed we doubled or tripled the amount of service offered in any sporting venue in the country, but I think we can do even better with our game presentation, customer service, and even the baseball itself is only going to get better and better.”

Appleby said opening day will feature numerous festivities before and during the contest. A flyover is scheduled before the first pitch, and the newest renovations to Jimmy John’s Field will be on full display.

A new fire pit is beyond the left field wall, while three new full-service bars will be featured. In right field, a stage has been constructed for postgame Saturday night concerts, and a fireworks show will follow each of the 18 Friday night games.

“We hold this stadium to a very high standard. We want to have the cleanest ballpark in all of baseball; we don’t want a napkin to be on the ground for more than five seconds,” Appleby said. “We also pride ourselves on having the safest ballpark in America with a top-of-the-line invisible netting covering the entire field from the seating area. We did not have a single serious foul-ball injury last season, a testament to our design.”

Appleby added that concession offerings have also been upgraded and that the stadium planted its own herb garden to be utilized.

“My big goal is to focus on fresh, local, Michigan-made products,” said Dave Parker, the league’s director of food and beverage. “We want to do the ballpark staples and do them well. We want it to be affordable, so a family of four isn’t breaking the bank on food.”

The 7:05 p.m. season opener is a rematch of last season’s title game, as the Birmingham-Bloomfield Beavers take on the reigning champion Utica Unicorns.

“To be part of something special is always a great feeling,” Beavers manager Chris Newell said. “The atmosphere that Andy has created along with the fans is something that us as managers and players are very fortunate to be a part of. If opening day 2017 is anything like last year, we’re all in for a dream day.”

Newell’s club, along with the Unicorns, Mammoths and Eastside Diamond Hoppers, will be filled with talent garnered from around the country. More than 100 players were slated to participate in tryouts April 27-29, after press time, with roughly 25 percent of the rosters returning from last season.

“A big difference from last year is that we have more talent, with players who have had professional experience already at some level,” said Justin Orenduff, the league’s executive director of baseball operations. “As things build up, we did a good job of taking talented players and producing them up to a prospect level.”

A dozen USPBL players were signed to minor league contracts via MLB teams last season.

“Most, if not all, of those players would not have been playing baseball still if not for the advent of this new league serving as a finishing school,” Appleby said. “By creating a first-class league, we were able to get 12 kids signed while also creating something special for this entire community to enjoy.”