PGCBL Pilots land in Newark

NOTE: In early November, 2010, Perfect Game USA announced it would become more involved with summer collegiate baseball by partnering in the formation of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.

The PGCBL will open its inaugural season with eight clubs located in upstate New York that were former members of the New York Collegiate League. The PGCBL will have teams in Albany, Amsterdam, Cooperstown, Elmira, Glen Falls, Mohawk Valley, Newark and Watertown, and Perfect Game will also use venues in those communities to stage regional showcase events and tournaments.

The league will be open to players already at a four-year college or a junior college as well as recent high school graduates. Its schedule will run from early June through early August.

A series of articles featuring the eight communities that will host PGCBL organizations will be posted at in the coming weeks.

The fourth article in the series features the Newark Pilots:

When the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League was formed late last year, organizers used as its foundation seven existing franchises that had been members of the New York Collegiate Baseball League in 2010.

But the PGCBL needed an eighth member for its initial season on 2011, an eighth community with a suitable ballpark as well as a enduring love and appreciation for the game of baseball.

League organizers seemed to have found the perfect fit when they identified the village of Newark, N.Y., as a potential host community. Newark hadn’t had a baseball club since 2005, but North Carolina businessman Bob Ohmann and his wife, Leslie, bought the franchise, and then harkened back to years past when they called the club the Newark Pilots.

“I’m very excited to bring baseball to Newark,” Bob Ohmann told the Wayne (County) Post when the club was officially welcomed to the village back in December. “Newark has been very positive. You can feel the vibrancy.”

Newark was home to professional baseball from 1968 through 1996 when the Newark Co-Pilots and then the Newark Orioles were members of the New York-Penn League from 1968-1987, and the Newark Barge Bandits played in the independent North Atlantic League from 1995-96.

After the Barge Bandits left town, the village had its first flirtations with collegiate summer league baseball when the Newark Raptors played at Colburn Park from 1998-2005 as a member of the NYCBL. A five-year absence followed until the PGCBL came calling.

Pat Brown, an associate of the Ohmanns, was brought on as the Pilot’s general manager.

“I’ve been associated with various teams around the country in a lot of start-up situations, and I’ve been real impressed with how excited the people are here about having a team,” Brown told Perfect Game in a recent telephone conversation, speaking on yet another frosty February morning from the community that sits along the banks of the Erie Canal in upstate New York.

Brown has had a long association with collegiate league and minor league baseball, and believes new Pilots fans will come to appreciate the quality of the baseball being played in the PGCBL. Brown said fans who might think the level of play will be a step down from the professional minor league teams of years past shouldn’t be deterred.

“If they do voice any concern about that, I just tell them that I had a team similar to this down in North Carolina in the Coastal Plain League, and I ended up having four or five guys off that team make it to the big leagues,” Brown said. “There are a lot of teams in the New York-Penn League that can’t say that, so these are top prospects that are going to be playing pro ball someday.

“If people think they’re not watching future Major Leaguers, that’s really not the case,” he continued. “Being associated with Perfect Game, they’re going to help us find top prospects so it’s a good situation.”

Newark is a village of almost 10,000 residents located in Wayne County about 30 miles southeast of Rochester. The NYS Erie Canal passes through town along its route that runs from Albany to Buffalo, and is probably the village’s top attraction.

Colburn Park has seating for about 2,000 fans and won’t be the flashiest stadium in the PGCBL. But it has been called a “jewel” by some members of the community and Brown feels it has a certain appeal.

“It’s an older park, and I like older stadiums – they have character and they have some history to them,” Brown said. “When I go out and talk to people, they talk about the Co-Pilots when they were here, and everybody remembers when (Hall of Famer) Robin Yount played here.”

The Ohmanns have already invested in the modest stadium. They’ve brought in a 60-foot scoreboard that once sat in the ballpark at North Carolina State University, they’ve put up a new backstop and remodeled the park’s entryway.

“People, when they come out, are not only going to enjoy themselves but they’ll be comfortable, too,” said Brown, noting the top ticket sells for $5.

“People here have been really hungry, not only for a baseball team, but a baseball team of this type where we’re going to be running the team like a minor league team,” he continued. “They’re excited that we’re going to be doing promotions, music, we’ll have a mascot. The people that come out to Colburn Park this summer are really going to see a good show and that makes them want to come back.

“Sometimes people aren’t even baseball fans, but they come out to see other people and enjoy themselves, and it’s a good thing for the community.”

Even the suits in City Hall can’t wait for the snow to melt away and the PGCBL players to take the field.

“We’re really pleased that we’ll have an opportunity to have a collegiate baseball team back in Newark,” Newark mayor Peter Blandino said in the Post report. “We’re looking forward to bringing baseball back.”

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