Local college baseball players looking for some summer league experience — and possibly attention from big-league scouts — will get to finish out their season, but not as part of the Midwest Collegiate League, according to team owner Jamie Toole.
The Plainfield-based Will County CrackerJacks and Joliet’s Illinois Lincolns resigned from the league on Thursday night, prompting Commissioner Don Popravak to issue a press release saying Toole failed to meet his financial responsibility to the league.
“Each club in the league has a financial obligation to meet its debt payments to the league throughout the year,” Popravak said in the release, adding, “It is most unfortunate that Mr. Toole has made this decision.”
Popravak said Toole’s teams are roughly $20,000 in arrears to the league.
“We already dealt with a bounced check from his organization,” Popravak said. “I basically can only conclude that he was unable to meet those obligations.”
He said Toole’s decision will negatively impact college players, coaches and managers recruited for the two teams.
“My phone has been ringing off the hook since 7 a.m.,” Popravak said, noting that since the teams have resigned, the players’ contracts with the league are null and void. “Now I’m getting a lot of parents of players calling from around the country.”
But Toole, a Shorewood resident, said players will get to finish their season as both teams shop around for a new league — by facing off against each other.
“We’re playing in a championship next week,” he said, adding the teams will play each other in a Will County Championship. The six remaining games of the season will be played as scheduled.
Three of the games will be at Lewis University’s Brennan Field in Romeoville, which is the CrackerJacks’ home field.
Toole said recent changes to the league’s financial terms as well as regulations for umpires and players prompted his decision, calling the rift a “philosophical difference.”
“That didn’t make it advantageous for us … it really punishes our two teams the most,” saying the CrackerJacks and Lincolns boast some of the best players in the league.
The team also boasts a famous coach in former Chicago Cub Bobby Dernier.
“We just thought it would be in our best interest to move outside the league,” Toole said. “Teams jump from league to league all the time … From our perspective, there’s no animosity or hard feelings — we wish [the Midwest Collegiate League] the best.”
Popravak denied there have been any changes to the league’s fees or regulations.
“Nothing’s changed with our rules,” he said, adding Toole’s resignation came as a surprise.
“This is completely Jamie’s decision,” Popravak said. “He had told us he would meet those financial obligations to the league by close of business yesterday … We were completely caught off guard.”
According to Toole, other leagues have already expressed interest in the two Will County wood-bat teams.
“We’ll look and see what’s out there,” he said. “Between now and September we’ll make a decision.”
Toole is no stranger to baseball. Prior to launching the CrackerJacks, he was owner of the now-defunct Joliet JackHammers, which folded due to financial troubles in 2010. He also founded the professional baseball South Coast League, which played a single season before shutting down in 2008.
Toole said the CrackerJacks’ departure from the Midwest Collegiate League will not affect plans for players to appear Sunday at Plainfield Fest’s “Bags & Baseball” event.
For its part, the Midwest Collegiate League said it’s looking for new teams for the 2013 season and beyond.
“We are looking for experienced owners and operators who share our vision of creating a top pre-minor league baseball destination filled with potential Major League Baseball prospects and who can recreate the family fun excitement and experiences that are seen at the minor league venues,” Popravak said in a statement.
The Midwest Collegiate League now has six teams, stretching from northwest Indiana to Rockford.
“We’ve got a revised schedule,” Popravak said. “We’re going to be in great shape.”
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