USPBL to expand to four teams for 2017

The United Shore Professional Baseball League, Metro Detroit’s first independent baseball league, just concluded it’s inaugural season up in Utica at Jimmy John’s Field. The Utica Unicorns, who finished 3rd place out of three teams in the league this year, won both games over last weekend to earn the title of pioneer USPBL champions.

Throughout the season, we heard rumbles from within that talks to expand the league and continually update the venue in Utica were virtually ongoing throughout the season. And shortly after the championship game this past Sunday, news officially broke that the league was already seeking to expand and add a fourth club for the 2017 season.

jimmy-johns-fieldLeague owner and founder Andy Appleby has done a stand-up job from day one getting this league up and running and bringing a flair of minor league baseball right into Detroit’s backyard. The Rochester-native and sports entrepreneur has an impressive track record with lots of management stops in the sports world, his passion for sports and the game of baseball in particular is rather infectious.

Appleby is on record saying they were beyond profitable in year one of the still-growing project. Thanks in part to United Shore Financial Services as well as Jimmy John’s and its countless franchisees, along with many other corporate partners, Appleby expects the USPBL to continue trending up.

“We feel confident we can do that based on the fact that our partners are very, very happy with the first year,” he said.

The fourth team to be added, a name that will be determined in the future will play at Jimmy John’s Field in 2017 and will reportedly play in a new stadium come the 2018 stadium. Where that stadium will be constructed also remains to be determined down the road, whether it is in the state of Michigan or somewhere in the Midwest region.

Appleby has said that during the season, various cities and existing independent leagues have contacted him expressing interest in either joining their league or perhaps joining. He says this first year was a huge step going forward.

“This was our showcase here to build other ballparks in the future,” he said. “The next one may have fewer seats and suites.”

Jimmy John’s Field was a $16 million project. Appleby says that the new stadium TBD will roughly cost 75 percent of the money spent on J.J. Field.

uspblThis past season kicked off on Memorial Day and that was mainly because the stadium was being constructed and the finishing touches were being addressed. Appleby says he is shooting for the 2017 season to began earlier May, perhaps 20 days or so sooner than this year. The season will conclude around the same time, September 10. He also added that with four teams, the week-to-week schedule might get some tweaking. Games will still be played on Thursday-Sunday cycle, but he mentions the possibility of having games earlier in the week that will be official and count towards the standings, but may not be open to the general public and primarily be for players gaining experience and proper instruction.

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Of course one of the major goals of independent baseball, not being affiliated with Major League Baseball, is getting recognized by MLB and having its 30 clubs interested in players performing deep in the bushes of independent ball. This past year, we’ve seen one Birmingham-Bloomfield Beavers pitcher sign with the St. Louis Cardinals, a Beavers infielder ink a deal with the New York Yankees, a pair of pitchers sign deals with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and an Eastside Diamond Hoppers first baseman sign a pact with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

  • Ross Vance, P (STL):
    • 40 IP (14 games, three starts), 2.48 ERA, 1.05 WHIP in Appalachian League (Rookie)
    • Age: 24
    • From: McKinney, TX
  • Aaron Bossi, 2B (NYY):
    • 22 games, .333/.391/.474 (19 for 57), 6 XBH, 4 RBI in Gulf Coast League (Rookie)
    • Age: 22
    • From: St. Louis, MO
  • Evan Piechota, P (PIT):
    • 25.2 IP (14 games), 2.45 ERA, 1.21 WHIP in three levels if minors (Rookie, A-Short Season)
    • Age: 22
    • From: Livonia, MI
  • Chris McDonald, P (PIT):
    • 25.1 IP (eight games), 3.55 ERA, 1.38 WHIP in Gulf Coast League (Rookie)
    • Age: 21
    • From: Livonia, MI
  • Dalton DiNatale, 1B (LAD):
    • Made USPBL debut on June 25, signed with LAD one month later
    • 32nd round pick of WSH in 2015, released by Nationals in early June 2016
    • Age: 23
    • From: Parkland, FL

The season has come to close but there is still plenty of reason to be excited about for next season. Stay tuned for all the latest news and information around the USPBL as they iron out some things in the off-season prior to next year. And if you were unable to make the trip to Utica and catch a game this year and have never experienced the atmosphere of minor league/independent baseball, on behalf on DSN, I highly recommend it.

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