Birmingham-Bloomfield Beavers outfielder Daniel Oliveri delivers a hit during the USPBL championship game last season. The Beavers will face the Westside Woolly Mammoths in a rematch of the title tilt May 11 for the league’s opening contest.

Birmingham-Bloomfield Beavers outfielder Daniel Oliveri delivers a hit during the USPBL championship game last season. The Beavers will face the Westside Woolly Mammoths in a rematch of the title tilt May 11 for the league’s opening contest.

Photo by Sean Work


USPBL preps for opening day

By: Timothy Pontzer | C&G Newspapers | Published March 26, 2018

 Westside Woolly Mammoths Thomas Fuessel (18) and Alex Abbott (21) round the bases following a home run during last year’s title game. Along with the Mammoths and the Birmingham-Bloomfield Beavers, the league features the Utica Unicorns and the Eastside Diamond Hoppers.

Westside Woolly Mammoths Thomas Fuessel (18) and Alex Abbott (21) round the bases following a home run during last year’s title game. Along with the Mammoths and the Birmingham-Bloomfield Beavers, the league features the Utica Unicorns and the Eastside Diamond Hoppers.

Photo by Sean Work

ROCHESTER — As the spring thaw melts the ice and snow around the metro area, countless baseball diamonds are being readied for the season.

Out in Utica, Jimmy John’s Field will host opening day for the United Shore Professional Baseball League May 11. In its third year, the venture will feature 75 games throughout the summer as its four member clubs compete for the championship decided Sept. 9.

“It’s been a whirlwind first two years, but I’m not sure I could’ve hoped it to have gone better,” league owner and CEO Andy Appleby said from his office on the second floor of the Rochester Mills Beer Co. building. “We just need to build on it. We know we have many areas we can improve on.”

Appleby said ticket sales are already up close to 30 percent from last year, with many fans lighting up the phone lines when the temperature plays tricks and offers a glimpse of summer sun.

“After this winter, which seems to be a bit colder and snowier than past years, we’re all looking forward to it,” Appleby said.

 

Path to the big leagues
A core of the USPBL business model is the showcasing of the talent itself, giving young pitchers and position players a chance to continue their careers. Since the league’s inception, 20 USPBL products have signed with major league organizations.

“Two years ago, I would’ve been really happy with one or two players. To have 20 is really magnificent,” Appleby remarked. “We’ve given them a chance to prove themselves. We’re trying to differentiate ourselves from independent baseball. We look at ourselves as a major league development league.”

 

Back to business and beyond
The opener will be a rematch of last year’s title game, pitting the Birmingham-Bloomfield Beavers with the Westside Woolly Mammoths. The Mammoths were added as an expansion team last season while still maintaining the unique format of sharing the same ballpark and ownership group as the Beavers, Utica Unicorns and Eastside Diamond Hoppers.

This season will not see a fifth team added to Appleby’s portfolio, but he hinted that new franchises could soon be added to the league.

“We’d been targeting the Midwest looking at potential cities and sites, but we’ve heard from over 40 different communities,” Appleby said. “It’s a matter of finding the right opportunity.”

Appleby’s group privately financed the construction of Jimmy John’s Field. He believes that four teams competing at once in the Utica stadium is the maximum. In terms of scope, he said the next site could be anywhere from Colorado to New Jersey.

“We’d planned to grow organically through the Midwest, but we’ve heard from some great cities that would make wonderful additions,” Appleby said. “We’d like to add two more teams and could possibly move one of our teams from Jimmy John’s Field. With their name, really the Mammoths could move anywhere.”

 

Sights and sounds
Fans will notice new changes including a summer picnic deck in right field, a craft beer garden, a fire pit, an outdoor kitchen, a team merchandise shop and a speed pitch machine.

“We’re working really hard to create a memorable experience every time you come out to the ballpark,” said Scott MacDonald, the league’s vice president of marketing and public relations. “The value you get is incredible. We’ll have performances, bands and a great family atmosphere.”

A state-of-the-art FlightScope device will be installed, providing both fans and the league with information on pitchers and hitters. Utilizing 3-D radar technology, metrics such as speed, spin and break can be read on pitches, and launch angle and velocity can be tracked off the bat.

“This will give us so much more information,” said Justin Orenduff, the league’s director of baseball operations. “More and more scouts are being taken off the road, so major league teams look at these data-driven reports to make an evaluation. We want to be able to give organizations reports that mirror that and give our players the best shot at being considered.”

 

Getting their shot
The league will host tryouts April 20, with spring training slated to begin April 30. Orenduff said that roughly half of the players will return from last year’s rosters and an additional 75-100 prospects are expected for tryouts.

Each roster will feature 11 position players and eight pitchers, three of whom are starters. New this year, each club will also have one “development player.” If an injury occurs during a game, that player can be activated to fill in.

“Every year we’re just getting better and better players to start with,” Appleby said. “Now some of those really good Division I college players that were maybe not sure, or hadn’t even heard about us, now know that we deliver a first-class opportunity for upward mobility.”

Orenduff agreed, saying he expects the USPBL to feature its best talent in its junior season.

“We’re going to start 2018 well ahead of where started in 2017, and that’s based entirely on what we’re getting out of each player and how we can sell them to the majors,” Orenduff explained. “This offseason really helped because many more organizations are starting to understand what the USPBL is really about. With the success we’ve had with our players succeeding at the next level, they can trust us to find quality guys.”

The 100 prospects at tryouts will be competing for two or three spots per roster in the four-team league. The majority of those players will be one or two years removed from college.

“We’re looking for a player that has value and can come into our program and turn into a prospect,” Orenduff said. “My goal is to build more relationships with organizations so that when they have a need in independent baseball, they come to us as their first option. Fans are going to see some really talented players on opening day.”