Sad saga of Lake County Fielders continues
By Jim Newton firstname.lastname@example.org September 13, 2013 11:14AM
The field built for the Lake County Fielders at the corner of Route 173 and Green Bay Road in Zion is deserted. | Jim Newton/Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 13, 2013 2:43AM
The glory days were short-lived, and the aftermath is ugly.
The field at the northeast corner of Route 173 and Green Bay Road is littered with weeds, debris and lawsuits. But baseball could still be played there, if the city of Zion wanted it to happen, according to an attorney for the Lake County Fielders.
“The team would love to play baseball in Zion. They still want to do it,” said attorney Stephen Boulton.
He said the team has reached out with an offer to play in a considerably less expensive stadium than the one it says that the city promised, but the city refuses to entertain the offer.
Litigation on the issue continues in the Lake County Courthouse.
In the meantime, local residents and fans are left to wonder what happened to that “field of dreams” and the team that continues to be partially owned by actor Kevin Costner.
A festive groundbreaking in 2009 promised a new era of local minor league baseball, and the team played its 2010 season in a temperary stadium at the site where the permanent one was to be built, thanks to a special league exception to stadium standards.
The 2011 season, however, began with an extended road trip, and when the team finally came to Zion to play another season in the temporary stadium, players, coaches and the manager quit almost immediately because they weren’t being paid.
Boulton said the Fielders’ organization is dormant but has not filed bankruptcy, and that the team could be rebuilt and ready to go in 60 to 70 days.
“The problem is there is nowhere to play,” he said.
The team contends Mayor Lane Harrison and the city reneged on promises to build a $6 million to $7 million stadium, even after the City Council approved the bonds needed to do so.
The minor league baseball team, including owner Rich Ehrenreich, has included “civil conspiracy” counts in the team’s $10.7 million lawsuit against the City of Zion, as well as Harrison, its former economic development director Delaine Rogers, and developer Richard Delisle.
The suit contends Harrison, Rogers and Delisle conspired to keep the team in the dark about the heavy debt on the new ballpark site — a more than $7 million mortgage — and that the three also conspired to defraud the team and provide potential profit to companies tied to Delisle.
The lawsuit claims they engaged in “fraudulent misrepresentation, material omissions, bribery, and intentional misuse of public services and public resources.” It also says the three entered the city into a 25-year lease agreement aimed at helping Delisle and his partners refinance that mortgage to avoid foreclosure.
Meanwhile, attorneys for Zion are arguing that Harrison and Rogers should be dismissed from the suit due to statutory immunity as city officials.
Harrison did not return a call Monday.
On Route 173 adjacent to the field, a lone CVS store operates, although not at the rate it did during the short heyday of Fielders baseball.
“When there was a game, it really increased our business,” said Darlene Peterson of Waukegan, the photo supervisor at the pharmacy. “The players came in here all the time. People were always excited about it.”
Peterson said when a three-day Christian concert was held at the field, the store was full of attendees who wanted to cool down and buy drinks and refreshments the entire three days. Now, she said, customers often comment on the abandoned site.
“Customers come in and they all say it’s a shame,” she said.