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USPBL concludes a ‘fantastic season’

By: Mark Vest | C&G Newspapers | Published September 13, 2019

 Utica Unicorns pitcher Donald Goodson prepares to deliver a throw during the United Shore Professional Baseball League championship game Sept. 8 at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica. Expansion could be in the future for the USPBL.

Utica Unicorns pitcher Donald Goodson prepares to deliver a throw during the United Shore Professional Baseball League championship game Sept. 8 at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica. Expansion could be in the future for the USPBL.

Photo by Donna Agusti

UTICA — For the fourth consecutive year, the United Shore Professional Baseball League has proven that there’s enough room for two professional baseball organizations in the metro Detroit area.

The league concluded its season Sept. 8 with the Utica Unicorns beating the Westside Woolly Mammoths 6-5 in the championship game at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica.

According to a press release, the USPBL broke a single-game record with a crowd of 4,926 in attendance at the championship.

Scott MacDonald, the league’s vice president of marketing and public relations, said there were a record 62 sellouts this year. Next year the USPBL could surpass 1 million for all-time attendance.

“A fantastic season,” said USPBL owner and CEO Andy Appleby. “We continued to trend upwards, which is always great. We really finished off with a bang with the last six weeks. … We’re so thankful to the fans of metro Detroit.”

On its website, the USPBL is described as an “innovative developmental finishing school for players seeking to make it to the majors.”

Although the USPBL has had success with former players earning chances with minor league affiliates of Major League Baseball teams — nine this year and 36 overall — this year was a landmark one for the league. Former Unicorns pitcher Randy Dobnak earned a spot on the roster of the Minnesota Twins.

Appleby said Dobnak’s story is an “amazing” one, as he is a former Uber driver who was given a chance in the USPBL.

“He’s actually a very good prospect,” Appleby said, “so there’s an excellent chance that he might stick up there. The beautiful thing, I guess, from our standpoint is that he quite possibly wouldn’t even being playing baseball now had we not had (the) advent of the USPBL.”

Dobnak’s opportunity can help provide motivation for players such as Jimmy Latona, who was selected as the championship game MVP after he and his Unicorns teammates came away as the season champions.

“We see guys get signed, and that gives everyone hope,” Latona said.

Having a player make it to the major league level could help bring even more talented players to the USPBL going forward.

“It’s not an up-and-coming league anymore,” MacDonald said. “It’s a destination league for a lot (of) these college guys now. And they know because of Randy Dobnak now pitching for the Twins, and all these guys that have been signed, that if they come to the USPBL, they’re (going to) get time to develop and hopefully move on.”

Among the other “great stories” there are in the USPBL, one that came to mind for MacDonald was that of pitcher Ty Hensley, who was drafted by the New York Yankees in the first round in 2012.

After injuries stalled his career, Hensley was offered the chance to pitch for the Unicorns this past season.

According to MacDonald, Hensley threw over 70 innings this year, which he hadn’t done since high school.

Although whether or not Hensley ends up in the majors remains to be determined, one thing the USPBL has provided him and others with is a chance to garner attention from major league teams.

“We’re our own independent league,” Appleby said. “The advantages are that we can market our players to all 30 (MLB) teams. If we were, just say, the Padres or the Red Sox affiliate, we may (have) only had four or five players sign in the last four years. But by virtue of being able to market ourselves to all those teams, all those teams need various things. … I think that’s the reason that we’ve had 36 players sign.”

As of now, there are four teams in the USPBL, with all of the league’s games taking place at Jimmy John’s Field.

However, in the near future, the league may have an announcement to make.

“We continue to meet with several communities across the Midwest, and really across America, to find our second, third, fourth stadiums, and I would expect that sometime here in the next three to six months, that we’ll be able to announce something,” Appleby said. “We were hoping to (do that) earlier than this.”

MacDonald also discussed the potential for expansion.

“We need another ballpark, and once we get another ballpark, more teams,” MacDonald said. “I think we’re pretty close to that. … Once we do that, this thing will just continue to grow.”