Originally created 07/06/06

Pro team in works for Aiken



Professional baseball appears to be on its way to Aiken.

The South Coast League, an independent pro baseball league that will begin a schedule next May, has chosen Aiken as one of its host cities, chief operating officer Chris Allen said Wednesday.

The team would play at USC Aiken's Roberto Hernandez Stadium.

"I believe it's something that's going to happen," Allen said. "You never want to push the envelope, though. There's an agreement in place in handshake form, but we've got to get a contract in place.

"I don't see any snags right now, but you never know what may come out of left field."

USC Aiken sports information director Brad Fields sent out an e-mail to media announcing that a press conference has been scheduled for July 13 "concerning Roberto Hernandez Stadium, USC Aiken, the City of Aiken and professional baseball."

USC Aiken athletic director Randy Warrick referred all questions to Fields, who is out of town.

Though not official yet, Allen said the South Coast League, which is not affiliated with Major League Baseball, is "very interested in the market and the facility."

"Hopefully, something will happen in the next few weeks," Allen said.

Allen said the Aiken area meets the three prerequisites the league looks for.

"The first thing is demographics, whether there is enough population there to make it happen, and with Aiken, I think you have that," Allen said. "No. 2 is the facility, which is ready to go and is not going to need a lot of work.

"No. 3 is the willingness of the municipality and in this case, the college. And so far, (everyone) has been fantastic to work with."

The South Coast League is based out of Bluffton, S.C. It will field six clubs slated to play a 100-game schedule beginning in May 2007, according to its Web site. The league already has set up teams in Macon and Charlotte County, Fla.

Allen said he thinks an Aiken team can be successful despite a close proximity to the low Class A Augusta GreenJackets.

"We know what Augusta has, and we're very familiar with them," Allen said. "But we also feel like Aiken deserves its own team. We're hoping not to step on anyone's toes."

The name of the team would be chosen by the community, Allen said, through some sort of contest.

Unlike minor league teams that are affiliated, independent leagues are responsible for scouting, signing and paying their own players.

Following a similar model to other independent professional leagues, the South Coast League office will own and operate all franchises during the infant stages of the league, eventually finding local ownership in each market, according to the league's Web site.

Reach Steve Sanders at (706) 823-3216 or steven.l.sanders@augustachronicle.com.