Friday, March 14, 2003

Baseball team at home in two cites



By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Tristate's newest professional baseball team formally introduced itself Thursday to its temporary home, Hamilton, and to its permanent home, Florence, as it unveiled its patriotic nickname and logo.

In press conferences held at different times in both cities, the team announced its name as the Florence Freedom and revealed a logo that includes the American flag. Florence Mayor Diane Whalen, Hamilton Mayor Donald Ryan, Hamilton Vice Mayor James Noonan and Hamilton Councilman Richard Holzberger donned the team's blue caps.

Hamilton agreed to host the Frontier League team's home games this season at Foundation Field when it became apparent that the winter weather would prevent the new $4.5 million stadium in Florence from being completed by the team's June 3 home opener.

In return, the team's ownership group, Northern Kentucky Professional Baseball, waived its territorial rights for Hamilton. That gives Hamilton the opportunity to be awarded its own Frontier League team if the financing for a new stadium crystallizes. The Frontier League is not affiliated with Major League Baseball.

Bill Lee, Frontier League commissioner, said Hamilton enhanced its chances of being awarded its own team by rescuing Florence and allowing the team to play its 45 home games at city-owned Foundation Field this season.

"The league will look very favorably on that," Lee said. "What was a dark cloud for the league at one point has turned into a silver lining, and Hamilton is a part of that silver lining."

Lee, team general partner Gary Enzweiler, general manager Jeff Hollis, manager and former Reds standout Chris Sabo and several Freedom players participated in both press conferences.

To prepare for the season, the 350-seat Foundation Field - home of the Miami University Hamilton campus' baseball team - will need 2,000 more seats, more fencing and a tarpaulin.

The Florence team, Hamilton city officials and the prospective investors in a Hamilton franchise likely will share the $35,000 to $50,000 cost of those improvements.

The team's offices for this season will be in Hamilton's former city building at 20 High St.

The team will hold its training camp at Foundation Field beginning May 9. Fifteen players have been signed, with openings for nine more.

"Hopefully, we'll get a couple of Hamilton guys on our team," Sabo said.

The Freedom is looking for Tristate families to let players live with them during the season, a Frontier League practice that allows the modestly paid players to save money.

"The field's nice, we'll have good, hustling players and they'll be playing in warm weather," Sabo said.

Brenna Kelly contributed to this report.

E-mail skemme@enquirer.com.




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