I was checking the Associated Press wires last week when I saw the standings for the Frontier League. I scanned the item and realized that the Chillicothe Paints...the last of the original Frontier League franchises....was nowhere to be found.
I found out that the Paints moved to the new Prospect League. It's ironic that the Paints picked up and left the same Frontier League that picked up and left the region where it was founded.
The Frontier League was the idea of Bud Bickel. He envisioned an independent rookie league made up of players who were overlooked in Major League Baseball's annual free agent draft.
The Frontier League debuted in the summer of 1993 with franchises in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky, The original franchises included the Ohio Valley Redcoats, Parkersburg's first pro baseball franchise since the 1930's.
Players in the Frontier League were paid virtually nothing. So there was an "Adopt a Redcoat" program, where families would let players live with them during the season. The families fed the players and treated them as one of their own. Legend has it that one lucky Redcoat had luxurious accommodations with pool and golf privileges at the Parkersburg Country Club, and didn't want to leave at the end of the season!
The team had some talent with outfielder Corey Morris earning Most Valuable Player honors, Former Marietta College star Darrell Fatzinger would become the team's all time home run leader. And Pitcher Brendan Donnelly went on to star for the Anaheim Angels and made it to the World Series.
The Redcoats provided some summertime excitement during the usual dead time of the local sports year. The first 2 seasons they played for the Frontier League championship, but lost in the championship series each time.
Some of my favorite memories include shooting highlights when the Redcoats turned a triple play. And another time, I was in the newsroom when Mike Kallmeyer came back from Bennett Stump field and informed me that he had been thrown out of the game by the home plate umpire. He was shooting highlights inside the fence when a bench clearing brawl broke out. He was getting great video of the free for all when he was told by the ump that he was no longer welcome stay.
Then there was the summer that future Major Leaguer Nick Swisher was the Redcoat mascot. The 15 year old Nick entertained crowds with his antics in a ridiculous mascot uniform that made him look like a headless British solder from the revolutionary war era.
But the Redcoats became the victim of the Frontier League's success. The original franchises were getting offers they couldn't refuse, and the new owners were moving them to bigger markets in Ohio , Pennsylvania, Indiana and Illinois.
Finally after the 1998 season, the Redcoats franchise was the smallest in the league, and so was Bennett Stump Field. The team was sold to an Indiana interest, and the Redcoats left for the Hoosier State to become the Dubois County Dragons.
You never know how much you miss something until its gone. But the Oho Valley Redcoats, the Zanesville Greys, and West Virginia Coal Sox, are now just a memory to baseball fans in our region. While the Frontier League is still going strong in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Northern Ohio and Pennsylvania
Feel free to post your favorite Redcoats, or Frontier League memory as a comment to this blog.