Group finds ways to keep baseball alive, for now

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 3, 2002

Saturday afternoon at Bloch Park painted a gloomy picture of professional baseball.

Overhead, skies threatened to cancel the Cloverleaf’s double-header with Americus (Ga.) in an instant. Never mind the skies, though. Maybe 100 people stretched across empty Bloch Park bleachers — most of the 100 were non-paying children.

If Saturday afternoon was gloomy, Sunday and Monday became a black hole for pro baseball in Selma. According to Noopie Cosby, a member of the Leafs’ ownership, players due to receive paychecks had received nothing. To make matter’s worse, Tuesday’s scheduled game with Pensacola was canceled.

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In Montgomery, where the Wings gathered 2,000 fans per game last year, attendance has dropped to 200 and some players have quit because their paychecks bounced back from the bank.

Tuesday afternoon, the management of the Southeastern Professional Baseball League cleared up ongoing rumors that the league would fold. The clarification, though, hardly sounded firm.

“The Montgomery Wings Management Group is prepared to commit to the obligations required to continue the Southeastern Professional Baseball League,” a short release said. “Player salaries will be available [Wednesday] from the GM of the respective team.”

In short, Selma’s players were scheduled to receive a paycheck today. Players from other teams, including the Wings, were scheduled to do the same.

Then again, those “other teams” aren’t quite so clear either. According to some reports, the Americus team will fold. There is a possibility they will remain in the league as a traveling team, though that wasn’t clear as of press time, either.

Cosby said Tuesday night that his team may lose six home games, though he couldn’t confirm any rumor about Americus.

The Wings Management Group, which helped keep pro baseball alive after the breakup of the All American Association last year, did not say teams would finish out the rest of this season. They also did not confirm how many teams will remain in the league.

“The game schedules will be announced from James Gamble, commissioner of SE Pro Baseball, effective July 3,” the release said. “Local ownership for Selma, Ozark and Pensacola will be announced at a later date.”

According to Cosby, there may be a group of people in Selma ready to purchase the team. He would not elaborate on who those people are or how much money it will take to fund the team for the remainder of the season.

Admittedly, the livelihood of professional baseball is in jeopardy in Selma. Cosby, an eternal optimist, does believe play will continue for the remainder of this year.

“We’ve just got to get people to the park,” he said. “It’s a matter of do [Selmians] want a team or not?”

When the Leafs began play in Selma more than a month ago, it appeared citizens did want a team. More than 1,000 people showed up for opening night. That’s a far cry from Saturday’s attendance, though.

“We’re averaging about 300 people a game,” Cosby said.

That attendance number, however, does not mean 300 people pay to watch the Leafs play. As part of a promotion, any child who wears his or her baseball uniform to the park is given free admission.

With his dream of pro baseball hanging in the balance of local support, Cosby admits he has “a big knot in my stomach.”

“I’ve got faith, though,” he said. “I really hope the folks will come out and support this team.”

Mayor James Perkins said Cosby deserves a ton of credit for the work he’s done with baseball in Selma.

“I want to commend him on his efforts and the efforts of all the owners,” Perkins said. “You know, in March we didn’t even know we’d have pro baseball in Selma. Now, I’m optimistically looking forward to next season.”

Next season is still a long way away. Right now, pro baseball will only stay alive in Selma if fans support the team.

“This community has to embrace the team,” Cosby said. “Every time Jos Colon comes to the plate, I want people to know who he is.”