An iden­tity cri­sis at 98

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - STEVE MIL­TON

Dean Castelli says the Intercounty Base­ball League, just two years away from its 100th birth­day, doesn’t know who it is.

“There’s an iden­tity cri­sis,” says the field man­ager of the Hamil­ton Car­di­nals, the lo­cal IBL fran­chise which it­self turns 60 next year. “The league doesn’t know what it wants to be. If it’s a pro league … be a pro league.”

He was re­fer­ring to his crit­i­cism of the im­bal­anced IBL stand­ings and tal­ent dis­tri­bu­tion in a story by Greg Mercer in the Water­loo Re­gion Record last week.

He pointed out that there’s a huge com­pet­i­tive in­equity in the now-seven-team league. At mid­week, three teams — Bar­rie, Kitch­ener and Lon­don — had win­ning per­cent­ages over .700, with Bar­rie hav­ing won 30 of its 31 games, and three teams (Brant­ford, Burling­ton and last-place Hamil­ton at 8-24) at .438 or less. The Toronto Maple Leafs are mid­pack, hov­er­ing around .500.

The eighth team, the his­tory-rich Guelph Roy­als, dropped out of the league ear­lier in the year, cit­ing fi­nan­cial prob­lems, and are look­ing for a new owner. Castillo pre­dicted others could fol­low.

“They’re go­ing to end up with a four-team league,” if the IBL doesn’t ad­dress the is­sue, he told The Record.

Castelli says the prob­lem de­rives from the top teams pay­ing too much money to im­port play­ers from other coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly Latin coun­tries.

The IBL has a cap of four im­ports, five for lower-tier teams, and says Car­di­nals gen­eral man­ager Dean Di­cenzo, tra­di­tion­ally those play­ers have been pitch­ers from drive­able dis­tances in the U.S., par­tic­u­larly up­state New York, Penn­syl­va­nia and Ohio.

League rules cap travel ex­penses at 40 cents per kilo­me­tre per player, or a $35 fixed rate. Salaries, and fi­nan­cial in­cen­tive clauses are not per­mit­ted. But out-of-town play­ers may be paid a $50 per diem for food, and teams may also pay the cost of lodg­ing — the real cost, league rules state — for im­ports.

The Car­di­nals have only two im­ports, one who has fam­ily in Wa­ter­down and who was ob­tained from the folded Roy­als, and an­other from Buf­falo.

But the top three teams have im­ports from Cuba and/or Brazil and the Do­mini­can Repub­lic, and fly those play­ers to On­tario and back home af­ter the sea­son. Some teams can also dance around the pay is­sues by hir­ing play­ers to run base­ball camps.

“One of the teams con­tacted us about a player they couldn’t use, but we would have had to fly him home,” Castelli said.

Castelli also told The Record that it was com­mon knowl­edge that some play­ers are get­ting paid fairly well.

“Ev­ery­one knows it, but no one says it,” Castelli told The Spec­ta­tor. “I said it, and ev­ery­one got up­set. I’ve go no prob­lem with a guy mak­ing a few ex­tra bucks, but it’s got way out of hand.”

Di­cenzo backs his field man­ager about the league’s com­pet­i­tive in­equity, and lack of a clear un­der­stand­ing of what it wants to be.

“It’s def­i­nitely im­bal­anced right now,” he says. “I’ve been in­volved in the league since the 1980s and there have al­ways been ups and downs; but I don’t think it’s ever been like this when two or three teams are so bad and three or four are so good.

“It’s a lit­tle harder for us to be com­pet­i­tive. I don’t know how we’d be able to con­trol (the fi­nan­cial im­bal­ance.) We just don’t have the bud­gets that Bar­rie, Kitch­ener and Lon­don have.

“More tal­ent helps the league, for sure, but the tal­ent they’re get­ting is pretty sig­nif­i­cant.”

In­deed, of the five pitch­ers with the top ERAs in the league, four are im­ports. Burling­ton pitcher Adam Prashad from Mis­sis­sauga, ranked sec­ond, is the one ex­cep­tion. Murilo Goueva, from Brazil, who pitches for Lon­don, leads with an ERA of un­der 2.00. And Nos. three through five are all from the Do­mini­can Repub­lic.

John Kaster, the IBL com­mis­sioner told The Record that there was no dis­par­ity in league rules, that he is com­fort­able that teams are ad­her­ing to league guide­lines and that “the land­scape ex­ists for the poorer teams to be bet­ter.”

Di­cenzo says that Car­di­nals owner Gary Moli­naro bought the team five years ago “to keep some­thing here that’s been here for 60 years. But we keep run­ning into a wall.”

Moli­naro pre­ferred not to com­ment for this story, let­ting his field man­ager and gen­eral man­ager speak to the is­sue.

Castelli says, “I don’t care where the play­ers are from. This has noth­ing to do with that. It’s about the egre­gious na­ture of the money go­ing out to these play­ers.

“I just want some kind of bal­ance.”

Hamil­ton Car­di­nals right-fielder Con­nor Bowie stretches to snag a fly ball dur­ing Tues­day’s 9-4 loss to the Burling­ton Herd.

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