Indians bring baseball home
Remember this name: Lake County Captains.
If you're a Cleveland Indians fan, you probably know of the team's two minor league affiliates in this region -- the Mahoning Valley Scrappers and Akron Aeros.
But here come the Lake County Captains, an organization docked in Eastlake, which is preparing for its first year as a Class-A full-season affiliate of the Indians.
"Certainly for the Indians, from a player development standpoint, this couldn't work out better," said Mike Edwards, 29, Lake County general manager. "Just because of the ability to move players around and easily see them play."
Niles has been only a telephone call away for Edwards, who has contacted Scrappers general manager Andy Milovich for ideas in starting a minor league organization.
"Starting from scratch is a challenge," said Edwards, a native of Smithfield, N.C., who has 11 years of minor league baseball experience. "It's a challenge to put on a minor league baseball season even when you have an existing operation."
Lake County is the former Columbus RedStixx, the Indians' Class A affiliate in Columbus, Ga. The RedStixx were bought in 2000 by the Cleveland-based Murphy Family, manufacturer of Murphy's Oil Soap.
Initially, the Murphys had no intention of relocating the franchise from Columbus, Edwards said.
Meanwhile, Eastlake was moving forward with its own plans to bring a minor league baseball team to town. When plans with another ownership group to bring the Quad City River Bandits to Eastlake fell through, the Murphys got involved.
"Eastlake had embarked on an economic development program," Edwards said. "They were looking for something to cement itself in the center of town."
Once Eastlake was granted permission by the Indians and minor league baseball to move into the territory of other organizations, the Captains were formed and construction on a stadium began.
A name-the-team contest, held by the (Willoughby) News-Herald, drew 6,000 entries, most of which were associated with Lake Erie.
When the list was narrowed, Captains became the popular choice. Nick Bernakis, a 10-year-old from Willoughby, won a random drawing of that entry and was credited with naming the team.
The Captains, who play in the South Atlantic League Northern Division, open the season on the road April 3. Their home opener is set for April 10 against the Charleston Alley Cats.
Eastlake Ballpark (negotiations are underway to sell the naming rights) seats 7,200 fans. Its best features, Edwards said, include lawn seating in the outfield and a giant scoreboard.
"It's similar to Akron, where you can walk around the concession area and still see the field," Edwards said.
Former major league shortstop Luis Rivera will manage the Captains, and he'll be assisted by former Indians outfielder Wayne Kirby and pitching coach Tony Arnold.
Edwards also has visited Cafaro Field, home of the Class-A short-season Scrappers.
"People are right when they say it could easily be a Double-A facility," he said. "They've set a new standard in the New York-Penn League."
Did he steal any ideas during his time in the Valley?
"Their Traficant Night was pretty good," Edwards said.
"We all share ideas. We know the phone line works each way," he added. "You never see it as a competition; it's more of a fraternity."
One in which the Indians have made close-knit.
XBrian Richesson is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at email@example.com.