Aiken could field a squad again

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Interest in bringing professional baseball back to Aiken has once again picked up, but that doesn't mean the city is any closer to fielding a team.

Braves veteran hurler John Smoltz gave the Class A Rome fans a thrill on Thursday, starting against the Asheville Tourists in a rehab appearance. He pitched two innings, allowing just one hit.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Braves veteran hurler John Smoltz gave the Class A Rome fans a thrill on Thursday, starting against the Asheville Tourists in a rehab appearance. He pitched two innings, allowing just one hit.

A little more than a year after the Aiken Foxhounds of the South Coast League played their first and only season of independent baseball, another league, the Atlantic Coast League of Professional Baseball, has expressed interest in the Aiken market.

However, Michael Harden , president and CEO of the new league, has encountered some complications.

"We were trying for a 2009 start, but now it may be 2010," Harden said Friday.

Harden, a 27-year-old resident of Greensboro, N.C., said he intends to create the new league with possible teams in Aiken, Macon, Columbus and Albany in Georgia and other cities in the Southeast. His initial plans have already been hindered, however, in Aiken and Macon because of both cities' past problems with the SCL.

"There are some people who are still mad about what the South Coast League did," Harden said. "I got contacted by one lady in Aiken. She was still bitter about buying season tickets and losing them, and now she probably won't even be reimbursed. That's understandable. They're going to be mad. That's money they lost."

Harden said the city of Macon turned him away when he inquired about the use of Luther Williams Field.

Larry Fortson , Macon's interim director of parks and recreation, echoed the sentiments of many in both cities in a recent interview with the Macon Telegraph .

"I don't think he's ready. I don't think he's got anything together," Fortson said of Harden. "I told him, 'We're concerned, and we're not going to get burned again.' "

Harden said he contacted USC Aiken baseball coach Kenny Thomas about using Roberto Hernandez Stadium, just as the Foxhounds did last summer. But he said nothing has been formally agreed upon.

"I e-mailed coach Thomas, but I didn't get a response," Harden said.

"I've been denied so many times by colleges I almost gave up on playing on college campuses. Clemson and Florida State turned me down."

READ ALL ABOUT IT: A newly released baseball book has a local angle to it. Longtime Augusta resident Billy Johnson, a third baseman for the New York Yankees in the 1940s and '50s, "is prominently mentioned in a newly published book, Dawn of a Dynasty: The Incredible and Improbable Story of the 1947 New York Yankees ," according to a statement released by the book's author, Frank Strauss .

Johnson, who was named an All Star in 1947, died in 2006 at the age of 87 after living in Augusta for more than 60 years. He played in Augusta as a minor leaguer before reaching the big leagues in 1943 and winning four World Series titles with the Yankees.

UNHITTABLE: Former Westside High School hurler Jason Childers continued his hot streak on the mound last week for the Triple-A Charlotte Knights. Childers (3-1) leads the team with a 1.14 ERA. In 23.2 innings pitched, he's surrendered only three earned runs and struck out 20 batters.

SMOLTZ REHAB: Fans of the Rome Braves, the Class A affiliate of Atlanta, got a treat recently when longtime Braves pitcher John Smoltz made a pair of rehab appearances. The 41-year-old started for Rome on Thursday and threw two innings of scoreless, one-hit baseball against the Asheville Tourists.

Smoltz, trying to work his way back onto the Braves' roster after going on the disabled list on April 28 with a sore shoulder, was scheduled to throw again for Rome on Saturday night.

Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or billy.byler@augustachronicle.com.


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