Lawrence on list for startup baseball league

Lawrence is among 42 cities being considered for a professional independent baseball league team that will start play in May of 2007, according to the league’s director of operations.

The Continental Baseball League officially was launched Monday, and with the news comes word that dozens of cities are being considered for a team. Of them, three are in Kansas (Lawrence, Topeka and Manhattan), and three more are in Missouri (Independence, Joplin and Branson).

Bob Ibach, the CBL’s director of operations, said CBL officials would be in discussions with mayors and chamber of commerce and business representatives in the targeted cities before narrowing down its list. He said the CBL’s inaugural season would have anywhere from six to 15 franchises.

“We’re certainly looking very strongly at Lawrence for one of our teams,” Ibach said.

That was news to Bob Sanner, director of conventions and sports for the Lawrence Convention & Visitors Bureau. He said Monday he didn’t know of the CBL or its interests in Lawrence, but he seemed intrigued by the idea.

“If it’s inexpensive or reasonably priced and they can create an entertaining product, it probably would succeed,” Sanner said.

Ibach said the 42 targets were selected based on a number of elements. Lawrence was cited for being a good community with strong little league, American Legion and high school programs, along with growing support for Kansas University’s baseball team.

In addition, Lawrence met the guideline of having between 80,000 and 190,000 residents, with no current professional team and at least 25 miles from a major- or minor-league franchise.

The Kansas City Royals play about 45 miles away from Lawrence, while the Kansas City T-Bones, a team in a more established independent league, enjoy moderate success about 30 miles down the road.

The big question now: Where could this potential team play? Perhaps the only venue suited for low-level professional baseball in Lawrence is KU’s Hoglund Ballpark. The T-Bones had their new stadium, CommunityAmerica Ballpark, built in 2003 to accommodate their games. It’s used for high school and college baseball, as well.

It may be too early to answer the facility question. The CBL’s existence was unknown until this past weekend, when founders Ron Baron, a 20-year veteran of sports law and counseling, former major-league outfielder Jay Johnstone and Ibach, a former Chicago Cubs executive, released their plan.

Their mission is to bring affordable baseball entertainment to mid-sized communities, and they cite plans for low ticket and concession prices as proof. All of the targeted cities are in eight states: Texas, Colorado, Louisiana, Missouri, Kansas, New Mexico, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The CBL’s price tag for purchasing a team stands at $100,000, and a salary cap will be placed at $120,000 per team. Players would make between $4,000 and $10,000 a season.

“This price structure will make it possible for a few individuals in each city to pool their money and own the pro baseball team in their community,” Baron said in a statement. “It will be a dream come true for some.”

Whether it’s a legitimate possibility in Lawrence or not, it did raise Sanner’s eyebrows.

“Again, this is all news to me,” Sanner said, “but I’m looking forward to sitting down and talking to them and seeing what they have in mind.”