It is often the smallest details that matter most. The crack of a baseball bat when contact is made. The sound of a 2-seam fastball popping into a catcher’s mitt. While these small details are often lost among the sights and sounds of Major League Baseball, they can be found tucked away in the Frontier League.
Like all great baseball stories, the Frontier League started out of love for the game. The thought process behind starting the league was simple — bring baseball to areas that would possibly never have a chance with an affiliated club coming to their cities. The league would serve West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and the areas of southeastern Ohio — growing as years went on and a multitude of teams came and went.
“If you build it, he will come,” may be a direct quote from Field of Dreams, but it is also fitting for the independent league that has been in operation since 1993.
In October of 2019, the league announced they would be merging with the Canadian American Associate of Professional Baseball. The Frontier League absorbed five teams from the Can-Am league and then separated the league into two divisions: Can-Am and Midwestern.
The merger allowed the Frontier League to become the largest independent baseball league in North America. “For those of us who have been in this business for a long time, to see where this thing can go, we’re so excited for the future,” Frontier League commissioner Bill Lee said during a news conference back in October.
Each team will play a 96-game schedule from May 14 until Labor Day weekend. Everyone will play 12 games against five teams, six games against four teams and three games against three others. Not only does this give more opportunity for aspiring baseball players to find a home outside of Major League Baseball organizations, it gives fans more opportunity to fall in love with the game at a more affordable price.
Notable players that have spent time in the Frontier League include: Tanner Roark, José Martínez, Trevor Richards, Aaron Wilkerson, Nick Anderson, Robert Stock and DJ Johnson. All played for Major League organizations during the 2019 season.
When asked about the merger, Evansville Otters’ Assistant General Manager Elspeth Urbina-Roos stated in an interview with Dugout Dish, “We see a great opportunity for growth with this merger. By expanding the number of teams and the geographical range of the league it should become more recognizable to players and coaches.”
“It is also possible that the league could take advantage of proposed downsizing of MILB and continue to expand.” Urbina-Roos continued.
Urbina-Roos has been a part of the Evansville organization for nine seasons and is the only female in upper management and one of two full time female employees overall. She finds the story of how she found herself in the baseball industry a little bit amusing. “I got into baseball in a sort of funny way. I was taking a ‘Sports and Entertainment Marketing,’ class as a senior in high school and was only interested in the entertainment aspect.”
She continued, “That spring, the Otters were hiring a few high school interns for their promotional team. I applied on a whim and was selected. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was where I belonged. I get to create an entertaining and memorable experience for our fans all season long. I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to work in a place that doesn’t feel like work.”
The Otters are the oldest team in the Frontier League and have the most historic and iconic field. Bosse Field was opened in 1915 in Evansville, Indiana and is the third-oldest ballpark still in regular use for professional baseball. Only Fenway Park (1912) and Wrigley Field (1914) are older. The field was notably used for the 1992 film, “A League of Their Own.”
Dugout Dish has had the great opportunity to spend a few nights at Bosse Field throughout the years. If you’re a fan of historic ballparks and enjoy the sights and sounds of old school baseball, Bosse Field is a great place to visit.
In addition to working on A League of Their Own night, which will spend the day focusing and including women in baseball in July, they have fan favorite events like Princess Night, Star Wars Night and fireworks shows. “We strive to be the place to go in Evansville during the summer.”
She added, “I would love to see us bring another championship to Evansville.” Not only have the Otters made multiple appearances in the post-season, in 2019 a total of six players were signed to MLB organizations. “Six were signed, which was a record for our organization.” This includes: Brandyn Sittinger, Randy Wynne, Danny Hrbek, Taylor Lane, Alex Phillips and Jacques Pucheu.
When asked if she believes the league is a beneficial place for baseball players who were released from Major League organizations, Urbina-Roos stated, “There have been a lot of successful stories of players being cut from MiLB teams, spending a season or two in the Frontier League and then moving back into the Minors. While this is common, the main focus of the league is on younger players who may not have had the opportunity to play in the MiLB to showcase themselves.”
As a woman in the baseball industry, Dugout asked Urbina-Roos for any suggestions for other ladies wanting to be a part of the industry. “I’m fortunate that our team owner and the President of our organization are both very supportive of me and make me feel empowered, but I know that’s not always the case in other offices.”
She continued, “It took me a long time to feel confident in voicing my opinions and ideas, but I’m so glad I finally got there. I would also say don’t let anyone intimidate you or make you feel like you aren’t supposed to be there. It can be tough working in a male-dominated industry, but if you’re passionate, driven and have a bit of thick skin, the sky is the limit.”
Southern Illinois Miners
Dugout Dish was also given the opportunity to speak with Cathy Perry, the General Manager of the Southern Illinois Miners. Perry, who has been a part of the Miners’ organization since 2009. She became the Assistant General Manager in 2016 and continued to further her career within the organization by becoming the General Manager of the Miners, who are located in Marion, IL. She is one of two females in the organization — this includes Miners’ owner Jayne Simmons who brought baseball to the area in 2007.
“I feel the merger gives our fans an opportunity to see new teams that they haven’t had a chance to see before.” Perry said while on the phone with Dugout Dish. “With some of the rule changes that the league accepted, it will be bringing in a lot of different types of baseball players.”
Before the merger, the Frontier League limited teams to players who have not yet turned 27 (with one exemption per team). With the merger now, the age limit will be bumped up slightly in 2020 to help accommodate Can-Am League team rosters, which did not have such an age limit in the past.
“I think the league gives players another chance to follow their dreams, find a home for a little bit and grow from there. It can be a place for guys to make the decision of is this it or should I stick around and see if I still have the chance to possibly play in an MLB organization.”
“There is no denying that players get noticed in the league. We have over 40 plus players signed since we began in 2007. It’s a big deal and we try to express to our fans, you never know. You never know, one of these guys might end up being in the big leagues and that signed baseball might end up being a little more special than originally realized.” This includes Jordan Brink, Benjamin Dum, Nick Duron and Bryant Flete during the 2019 season.
“I started out as the Director of Finance in 2008, I decided that this came up and this was much closer to home. At the time, it seemed like less stress and I laugh about that now. This is home to me, and I have been able to work my way up. Baseball and sports were never in my radar but now, I don’t really know what I would be doing without it in my life now.”
When asked how she would like to see the Miners grow, “I would love to see us back to having that feeling of fans wanting to come back and be with other fans at the ballpark. That’s where we are really trying to focus on this season – getting fans excited about coming to games and wanting to be at the ballpark, experiencing it in real time rather than on a stream.”
When asked for advice on women wanting to become a part of the baseball industry, Perry stated, “I think years ago, probably when I was first starting that it wasn’t as common but for women that are wanting to get into the industry, there are so many more doors now. I think if you as a woman, don’t look at it as a barrier – don’t let it be your crutch. It isn’t as big of a barrier as it once was and there will be some out there that try to push you away, but you have to have the mindset that you can do it just as well as anyone else.”
Close to Dugout Dish’s home base, Rent One Park is a second home to the site’s owner. With mini golf, cornhole and the Home Plate Bar — baseball fans are sure to enjoy their time while watching the boys of Marion play their hearts out.
Washington Wild Things
President and General Manager of the Washington Wild Things Tony Buccilli also feels positive about the merger. “With the current situation ongoing with MLB and MiLB teams, the end result could change the market for the Frontier League.”
“With the merger, it gives us an opportunity to show more teams and fans who we are. The Wild Things aren’t a cookie cutter team. We want to push the limited of what everyone knows about baseball and entertain fans.” Buccilli said while on the phone with Dugout Dish.
The Wild Things are a visually driven market team overseen by Buccilli himself. “Imagery is important to the organization, reaching fans and new fans alike in a direct way by social media and even with a new marquee on the highway.”
He continued, “The goal is to enhance the fan experience by making the ballpark feel more like a home. Especially with season ticket holders, most feel like the park is their second home. Older generations grew up at the ballpark for less than nothing, so this gives the younger generation a chance to do the same.”
Like most Frontier League teams, Buccilli said, “Our goal is to grow the game the right way. Growing it from the bottom and giving younger children exposure to the game of baseball for less money than Major League organizations.”
Buccilli is going into his eighth year working in professional baseball, seven of those spent with the Washington Wild Things. In 2014, he worked with the Texas Rangers Baseball Operations during the season. He grew up around baseball, his father owned an indoor batting cage facility in Pittsburgh. He played, he trained and watched baseball his entire childhood and into adulthood.
Early in the 2019 season, Wild Things catcher Lucas Herbert was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Notable alumni from the Washington team includes Vidal Nuño and Pat McAfee.
Located in Pittsburgh, the Wild Things have a significant role with military families and veterans. “We’re an outlet for them – letting them know they are loved is one of our main priorities. Having children come to games and enjoying themselves is always a treat for our office and the team.”
Dugout Dish hopes to make it to Wild Things Park one day located in Washington, PA. Dugout suggests that if you’re a fan of baseball and nearby, the Wild Things are the team to support.
A few extra tid bits,
Opening Day for the Frontier League falls on the weekend of May 14-17, 2020. Schedules are available for viewing on the Frontier League website.
Special thanks to the Evansville Otters, Southern Illinois Miners and Washington Wild Things for taking time out of their busy schedule to speak with Dugout Dish over the off-season.
Photo Credit: Chelsea Ladd/Dugout Dish