As the prospect of a new baseball stadium in Richmond remains up in the air, a new team will play ball next year in the Tri-Cities thanks to the efforts of two local businessmen.
A newly created franchise in the Coastal Plain League – an amateur summer league for collegiate baseball players that helped develop the likes of Justin Verlander and Ryan Zimmerman – has a deal in the works to use the recently renovated Shepherd Stadium in Colonial Heights as its home venue.
The team is owned by Chris Martin, who also owns RISE Baseball academy in Chesterfield, along with business partner Byron Wurdeman.
The two purchased the rights to a CPL franchise under the name Collegiate Baseball Experience for an undisclosed amount. The team operates as a separate entity from RISE Baseball and is a for-profit enterprise.
Martin said he’s wanted to get involved in summer league baseball for a while as an aside from RISE.
“We started to talk to (Colonial Heights) back in January or February. Then we reached out to CPL Commissioner Justin Sellers,” Martin said. “They came down and approved of the stadium, and it took off from there.”
The Coastal Plain League operated on and off from the 1930s through the 1950s before being brought back in 1997. It has 16 teams throughout Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia, including the Martinsville Mustangs and Savannah Bananas. None of the franchises are affiliated with Major League teams.
“It’s an amateur baseball league. It gives college players a place to play in the offseason,” Martin said. “They’re there to train and get better with the goal of getting drafted. The summer leagues definitely help them with that.”
Martin said there’s a number of other summer leagues throughout the country, and the CPL often gets players from ACC schools such as Virginia Tech, Clemson, N.C. State and UVA. Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander both played in the CPL.
“We want to support some of the top local talent too. The 804 has such great talent, we’ll be able to get some of our best kids coming out of this area,” Martin said.
Fans to pick the team name
Martin said the team’s name will be selected by a vote of people in the Tri-Cities area ahead of its inaugural 2020 season. The team will have about 35 players on the roster and a staff of between 10 and 15.
Martin is finalizing negotiations with Colonial Heights to use the roughly 1,000-seat, city-owned Shepherd Stadium at 901 Meridian Ave. as its home field.
Martin said the CPL plays 25 home and 25 away games each year, with the season running from late May through mid-August.
Most CPL teams’ ticket prices cost $6 to $12, and Martin said their ticket prices will be comparable.
Meanwhile, RISE is working on a new $2 million home in Chesterfield County. The project, announced two years ago, still is going through the zoning process with the county, Martin said.