Eric Spitileri is no stranger to starting sports leagues. He was one of the people responsible for starting the Continental Football League several years ago.
Spitileri now has a new venture under way.
“My brother and I built an indoor football league in ’06,” Spitileri said. “I’ve always been a fan of baseball. The next thing I want to do is build a pro baseball league. I’ve been working on it for about six months now and hope to get it off the ground by next year.”
The Independent Baseball League could potentially have franchises in Tiffin, Marion, Muncie, Ind., and a town about 20-25 miles outside of Detroit.
“We might have a travel team outside of Dayton,” Spitileri said. “We’ve got many more (potential host cities). We hope to have six or eight teams, but we will play with just four if we have to in order to show people what’s possible.”
Spitileri threw in a bit of an eye-opener as he talked of potential homes for the league’s teams. He mentioned Ashtabula as a possibility.
“We’re gearing the league toward smaller cities that don’t have a lot things like this to do,” Spitileri said. “We want places where we can get about a thousand people at a high school or college field.”
Ashtabula has a lot to offer as far as the league goes.
“Ashtabula is a nice area,” Spitileri said. “The population is right for what we want to do and at Smith Field. you can get a lot of people in along the fence. It would work great.”
“I think it would be great,” Dom Iarocci, manager of Ashtabula Public Works, said. “(Spitileri and I) talked about how many could sit and watch a game at Smith Field. He wants local ownership and I think that’s fantastic. He likes the location. We’re on the lake and he really liked Smith Field.
“I mentioned it to city manager Jim Timonere and city council president J.P. Ducro and both were excited about the idea. It could possibly happen and it would be a boon to the city. If we can pull it off, that would be great.”
It doesn’t hurt that within about an hour and half of town, there are about five professional baseball franchises with the Indians, Lake County Captains, Akron Aeros, Mahoning Valley Scrappers and Erie Seawolves.
“The proximity of those other teams is a benefit to Ashtabula,” Spitileri said. “We can put a team right there in the city for them.”
“What better area for a kid to try and get noticed with Akron, Lake County, Erie and the Scrappers being in that proximity?” Iarocci said.
The type of players Spitileri believes will populate the league should make things interesting.
“The majority will be players who finished high school careers but don’t plan on playing college ball or college players who have finished careers but didn’t get a look at the next level,” he said. “My goal is to get players who are looking to get to the next level. They can come play in our league, put up numbers and get to the next level.
“I’ve been getting emails from baseball players all over the place asking about tryouts.”
The Independent Baseball League will not be a league similar to the Cape Cod League, where college players go to improve their skills each summer in the hopes of being drafted.
“I’d like this to be a straight-up professional league,” Spitileri said. “There are so many stipulations you have to follow with a college league regarding who coaches, who plays and the venues you can use.
“I don’t want it to be billed as a semi-pro league. I want it to be professional and be run as a professional league.”
Spitileri wants to build a league that can sustained for years to come.
“Long term, I want to have a stable league in communities that embrace it,” he said. “We want solid teams that provide family fun and affordable entertainment.”
There are even models out there Spitileri can follow in order to find some success.
“The Frontier League got started in the early or mid-’90s,” he said. “They played at smaller venues that held about 500 to 1,000 people. It’s grown to the point it has 5- and 6,000-seat stadiums. No other league has really used the same method. My whole goal is to take baseball back to the cities, not necessarily the ones the Frontier League played in, but similar cities that would enjoy this type of baseball.
“This is the same mindset they used 20 years ago.”
Spitileri will not own a team in the league and is looking for local ownership for the franchises.
“Anybody (can own a team),” he said. “It can be a group or a single person. Anybody who wants to own a franchise can do so. It’s in the league’s best interest that I don’t own a team. I’m just looking for people to run the day-to-day operations and build the teams from the ground up.”
Spitileri hopes to have the league up and running inside a year from now.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s quick, it is 12 months,” he said. “The football league teams were built and successful in a five- or six-month period of time. It’s going to take some time. I would like to have all of the teams set up with owners in the next two or three months.”
Anyone who would like to a team or just want information on the league, call (330) 731-1824 or visit www.indybaseballleague.com.
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.