Three years ago the Freedom Pro Baseball League opened with grand plans and high hopes. After two seasons of financial losses, mismanagement and broken promises, the league seems to be just another addition to the long list of failed attempts at putting independent baseball in Arizona.
The Freedom League was never able to generate a following. The start of its third season has been announced and delayed to the point that all signs of life are gone as we pass the Fourth-of-July weekend. The promotional schedule on the Freedom League website still lists opening day as Saturday May 31 at Goodyear Stadium. Season ticket packages are still offered on the site.
“There is a place in baseball for independent leagues,” said longtime player, manager and coach Jim Lefebvre. “Once organized baseball had many more levels of minor leagues. Now it doesn’t go nearly as deep. Organizations draft new players each year. If you aren’t one of the kids who get a big bonus, you have one year to make it and then next year the new group comes in and you’re out. There just aren’t enough places for players to keep playing and developing. Independent ball gives them that opportunity,” explained Lefebvre.
But independent ball is also a tough road. The Pecos League, which currently has teams in Bisbee and Douglas, pays players 50 bucks a week and makes no promises except for a place to play. No false hope is offered and none is taken. But not all leagues operate that way.
“If a league isn’t run right, it ends up hurting kids more that helping them,” offered Lefebvre. “I’ve seen it happen. Leagues like that need to be stopped. Not only do they hurt the players, they give a bad name to honest operators who want to make it work.”
Players paid as much as $300 each to attend two Freedom League tryout camps in March and April. The Examiner has learned that players who attended the camps were promised contracts. With the likely prospect of no season, the players are asking for their money back but league founder Joe Sperle isn’t returning calls.
Although several sites have been announced for the 2014 season, only two have confirmed talks but neither of those have a schedule from the Freedom League. A spokesman for Goodyear Ballpark, where most games took place last season, said they have no proposed schedule. The Humboldt School District, which operates Bradshaw Mountain Field in Prescott, has confirmed that it has received a facilities request from the Freedom League, but no schedule. The other announced site, Kino Stadium in Tucson, is apparently off of the table. When reached for comment a Kino Stadium spokesperson said “we have no plans to host the Freedom Pro Baseball League this season.” The league played games in Peoria in 2012-13, but that is not possible this season. Peoria Stadium has sodded over the infield for use by a soccer league.
The staff page of the Freedom League website lists only majority owner Tim Gross and President Joe Sperle. The evidence is stacking up; four teams; two ballparks; one manager; no coaches; no players; no schedule; no league; no hope.