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Published October 06 2010

Independent baseball: RedHawks reunion? F-M looking into move to American Association

The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks could be reuniting with a few old friends next season. And the Northern League’s days might be numbered.

RedHawks owner Bruce Thom said Tuesday that at least four teams from the Northern League are mulling a move to the American Association, which would bring together several former NL rivals in a 14-team league beginning next season.

“It would be a tremendous plus for our fans, who are the most knowledgeable in the Northern League” Thom said.

The Northern League could also forge ahead with its current eight teams. The league is comprised of Fargo-Moorhead, Winnipeg, Gary (Ind.), Joliet (Ill.), Schaumburg (Ill.), Rockford (Ill.), Kansas City (Kan.) and Lake County (Ill.).

However, a more ideal travel situation and an uncertain future for some NL clubs could force a second group of NL teams to exit for the American Association.

Brad Thom, CEO of the RedHawks, said it’s possible the Northern League and American Association could form a scheduling alliance to allow teams in close proximity to play each other.

But the most likely options could mean the end of the Northern League, which re-emerged from a 22-year hiatus in 1993.

Brad Thom said Fargo-Moorhead, Winnipeg, Kansas City and Gary SouthShore are seriously contemplating leaving the NL for a spot in the American Association. The AA is currently comprised of 10 teams from Sioux Falls (S.D.), Lincoln (Neb.), Sioux City (Iowa), Wichita (Kan.), St. Paul, Pensacola (Fla.), Shreveport (La.), Fort Worth (Texas), Grand Prairie (Texas) and El Paso (Texas).

Under that scenario, the AA would reform its divisions.

The North Division would include F-M, Gary, Winnipeg, Kansas City, Lincoln, Sioux Falls, Sioux City and St. Paul.

The South Division would be Wichita, Pensacola, Shreveport, Fort Worth, Grand Prairie and El Paso.

St. Paul, Sioux City and Lincoln exited the NL for the American Association following the 2005 season. The AA was re-formed as an independent baseball league in 2005. It was an affiliated league until it was dropped by Major League Baseball in 1997.

“Fargo’s position is to maintain quality baseball and to maintain the good things we’ve got going on now,” said Bruce Thom, whose team last month earned its second consecutive Northern League title. “It’s the idea of giving fans a chance to see a St. Paul, Lincoln and Sioux City. That’s why we are exploring this.”

The final option would have all NL teams shift to the American Association, which would create three AA divisions.

The North would be Gary SouthShore, Joliet, Lake County, Schaumburg and Rockford.

The Central would be F-M, Winnipeg, Kansas City, St. Paul, Sioux Falls, Sioux City, Lincoln and Wichita.

The South would be Pensacola, Shreveport, Fort Worth, Grand Prairie and El Paso.

Bruce Thom said all Northern League teams will have the option to work with the American Association.

However, he said no move is set in stone.

Thom said representatives from the league’s eight teams will discuss the future of the NL, league finances and scheduling during the Northern League fall meeting Monday in Chicago.

The American Association will hold its annual fall meeting next Tuesday in Texas. Thom said he and Brad Thom will attend both meetings.

The expected sale of the Northern League’s Schaumburg Flyers recently fell through as the team undergoes financial turmoil. The Flyers reportedly owe $922,264.33 in unpaid rent, utilities and overdue interest for its use of Alexian Field.

Joliet is up for sale as it reportedly owes $150,000 to vendors and $220,000 to the city for use of Silver Cross Field.

Construction of the permanent stadium of the expansion Lake County Fielders in Zion, Ill., – co-owned by actor Kevin Costner – has also endured several delays.

American Association Commissioner Miles Wolff and AA president Dan Moushon did not return calls seeking comment.

“Whatever we do, I think we want to enhance our fan’s baseball experience,” Brad Thom said. “We don’t ever want to go down a step. We’re looking out for the best interest of our baseball fans.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562.

Hotzler’s blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com