USPBL celebrates five-year anniversary

By: Zachary Manning | Metro | Published June 4, 2021

 Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers pitcher AJ Kullman gets ready to deliver to home plate on Opening Day of the USPBL season May 28. The Beavers were bested by the Utica Unicorns 5-4.

Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers pitcher AJ Kullman gets ready to deliver to home plate on Opening Day of the USPBL season May 28. The Beavers were bested by the Utica Unicorns 5-4.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Utica Unicorns outfielder Aaron Takacs rounds third base during Opening Day at Jimmy John’s Field May 28. The USPBL is celebrating its fifth year of existence. The league has weekend games throughout the summer.

Utica Unicorns outfielder Aaron Takacs rounds third base during Opening Day at Jimmy John’s Field May 28. The USPBL is celebrating its fifth year of existence. The league has weekend games throughout the summer.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

UTICA — Though COVID-19 presented plenty of obstacles to the United Shore Professional Baseball League, the league is still going strong, kicking off its fifth year May 28 at Jimmy John’s Field.

The Utica Unicorns knocked off the Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, 5-4, in the opening game of the Memorial Day weekend. At press time, the Unicorns were 2-0 overall, the Westside Wooly Mammoths and Eastside Diamond Hoppers were 1-1, and the Beavers were 0-2.

USPBL owner and CEO Andy Appleby noted that there was extra energy at the ballpark for opening weekend. Fans were allowed in a limited capacity last season, but the league welcomed a larger crowd to the opening weekend.

“It was absolutely amazing. It really and truly felt like a grand opening of the ballpark again,” Appleby said. “Who gets to open a ballpark like this twice? The fans, most of which hadn’t been in two years, were just coming up and hugging me. It was such a great, wonderful feeling in the air the whole weekend.”

Over the five years of existence, the league has grown exponentially, getting more sponsors and fans, while having multiple players signed by Major League Baseball organizations. A total of 38 USPBL players have been signed by MLB organizations so far.

In its early stages, Appleby said the league did a good job of finding the right people to manage teams and take over the operations aspects. With that team, the league has built a reputation of being very professional in the way it runs, which gives players a good idea of what they could expect in minor or major league baseball.

While the USPBL players have a lot to do with the league, they are only a part of the fun. Appleby notes that the league provides a competitive, professional experience for fans for a lower cost than major league games.

The USPBL regularly works with charities and uses sponsorships to provide theme nights at the park. From drink specials and meeting the players, to fireworks and giveaways, the league tries to be a family-friendly experience for all in attendance.  

As with any league, the goal is to continue building a following and brand, while helping players and fans continue to play and watch the game they love.

“We’re not going to play the World Series here, but we do have a great alternative for fans wanting to have a nice night out, baseball under the stars in a beautiful, very fan-friendly, very clean, very safe environment,” Appleby said.

Though the league has steadily grown over the years, there is even more room for growth according to Appleby. Going forward, he’d like to see the league open another stadium in the Midwest and add more teams.

This would allow even more players to continue their dream of playing professional baseball and possibly get scouted by professional organizations.

Appleby did note that, while the league plans on growing, the main vision of high-quality baseball with a great atmosphere will never change.

“These players don’t take a pitch off. They are so focused, and in many ways they are like Hollywood actors and actresses where they just need to be noticed,” Appleby said. “Fortunately, we have several scouts come to our games, so they have that opportunity to still chase the dream.”

For a full schedule and list of promotional events at Jimmy John’s Field, visit https://uspbl.com.