ELKHART — Play ball!
A professional baseball team is coming, the Elkhart County Miracle, and the squad is set to start play in 2014 in a multi-million dollar stadium to be built at a yet-to-be-disclosed location.
Team owner Craig Wallin — who unsuccessfully tried to form a baseball team in 2010 — announced the plans Friday, June 7, saying they were rock solid. “Absolutely a sure thing. We have our finances in place,” he said, speaking at the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County offices.
Dan Evans, commissioner of the newly revived Northern League of Professional Baseball, also took part, saying the Elkhart County squad is the first league team to be formally announced. Plans are in the works for additional teams, potentially from across the Midwest, the East Coast and Canada, but Evans wouldn’t identify any other possible franchise cities.
“I know that this area is not only going to be excited about the Elkhart County Miracle, but I think baseball will also thrive, thrive here, without question,” said Evans, a scout with the Toronto Blue Jays and former Los Angeles Dodgers general manager. The Northern League, initially launched in 1902, stopped play in 2010.
Wallin’s plans to start a baseball team in Elkhart County in 2010 never came to fruition, apparently due to lack of financing. This time, though, Wallin said he has backing from “high net-worth investors,” enough to finance the $6.6 million baseball team plans.
The Elkhart County Board of Zoning Appeals in April unanimously declined a request for a permit to build a stadium on a lot around C.R. 17 and C.R. 10 east of Elkhart, part of Wallin’s new effort. An alternate site has been identified, though, and Wallin said details of the 1,625-seat facility will be formally unveiled on June 21, with construction to start in earnest in July.
Wallin didn’t disclose the new planned location for the stadium.
But the architectural drawing at Friday’s press conference is identical to the drawing for the stadium proposed in conjunction with the 2010 plans, even with a waterway bordering the eastern periphery of the stadium. That stadium was to be built adjacent to Pine Creek at Pinecreek at 17, a development taking shape in the northeast quadrant of C.R. 17 and U.S. 20.
Whatever the new location, Wallin — head of an Elkhart-based media company, CTT Communications — said he doesn’t anticipate major zoning issues, as occurred with the C.R. 17-C.R. 10 location.
A PRO TEAM, NOT AMATEUR
The team colors will be red, white and blue, with an emphasis on red.
The team name, Miracle, stems in part from the turnaround Elkhart County has experienced since the economy here, like many places, fractured starting in 2008. But it also has other connotations.
“Miracle kind of reflects our faith-based community,” said Wallin. “There are miracles that happen every day.”
In 2010, Wallin had proposed fielding a team in the Northwoods League, an amateur league that utilizes college baseball players. The Northern League, by contrast, is professional — the players will be paid anywhere from $500 a month, the league minimum, to $8,000, the max. Players could include those released from Major League teams, maybe even some recognizable names.
The financing plans are “more private than public,” said Wallin. But he broached the possibility of tapping tax increment finance funding, maybe even pursuing tax breaks.
The Northern League season would go from around late May to early September and teams would play 96-game schedules. Wallin is targeting an $8.50 average ticket price here.