Scrappers safe financially despite Palisades debt
The company has fallen behind on payments at its South Bend, Ind., affiliate.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
NILES -- Safe!
According to a Palisades Baseball official, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers have avoided the financial strain affecting one of their sister clubs.
Erik Haag, executive vice president of Palisades, said Monday the ownership group is pleased with the operation at Mahoning Valley, Class A short-season affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.
Unfortunately for Palisades, it cannot say the same for the South Bend Silver Hawks, a Class A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, in South Bend, Ind.
Lagging on lease
A South Bend Tribune article published last weekend details how Palisades has fallen behind $286,000 in payments to the city for use of Coveleski Regional Stadium. The debts go back 17 months.
When asked if Mahoning Valley is dealing with the same financial burden, Haag said, "Not at all. This [South Bend] is the only situation. We had a couple of bad years, but the city has assisted us with the debts, and we're hoping to have the debts paid off by the end of the year."
Neil Buccino, Niles city auditor, said Monday he is not aware of any delinquencies between Palisades and the city of Niles.
Palisades also owns the Erie SeaWolves, a Double-A franchise of the Detroit Tigers, in Erie, Pa. Alan Levin is the group's managing general partner.
"Everybody is paying their bills, and we're operating as normal," said Scrappers general manager Andy Milovich, a native of South Bend who helps with Silver Hawks operations.
"By the end of the year we'll be paid up to the current calendar year."
The article cites lagging attendance as the main reason for South Bend's debt.
Haag said South Bend fell behind last year because of the weather. Rain forced 10 cancellations in 2001, with poor weather conditions affecting 15 to 20 other home dates, he said.
"Unfortunately you can't do anything about that," Haag said. "But it makes a big dent in terms of our money-making ability."
Palisades' franchises in South Bend and Erie begin play in April. A short-season club, Mahoning Valley starts its season in late June.
"That's the nice thing about Mahoning Valley," Haag said. "We're sitting in Erie and South Bend in April dealing with the weather, and Andy [Milovich] and his staff are still getting ready for their season to start."
The Scrappers drew more than 200,000 fans in each of their first two seasons in the Mahoning Valley, beginning in 1999. That total dipped to 181,000 last season, but the decline hasn't been big enough to worry officials.
"This has been a successful franchise since we've been here," Milovich said. "You always wish you could draw more people and sell more hot dogs, but we're certainly not disappointed."
Meeting of the minds
Palisades has met several times with the city of South Bend in an effort to rectify the situation and avoid having the team sold and moved out of town.
Haag said the Silver Hawks have revamped their operation with the help of a new chief financial officer. The situation, he said, is well in hand.
"With the financial times going on right now, everybody is fighting for everybody's dollar," Haag said. "You have to be able to provide families with a great night of entertainment."