Amateur baseball league franchise on deck for Colonial Heights

The new team is set to play at Shepherd Stadium in Colonial Heights. (Photos by Mike Platania)

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 68-year-old stadium recently received a multi-million dollar renovation.

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.”

There are 16 teams in the Coastal Plain League.

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.

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Brad Marrs
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Brad Marrs

Are the owners of this franchise the same people who bought the Petersburg Generals from the City of Petersburg 2 years ago? Or is this a wholly new venture?

Matt Faris
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Matt Faris

Brad, it looks like a different entity bought the rights from the city in 2017 for $100,000 (https://www.richmond.com/news/local/central-virginia/tri-cities/petersburg/article_1a3439ac-bcea-55b3-b90f-fb2a98d435fa.html).

I’m not sure whether they are in any way related to the new buyers.

Brad Marrs
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Brad Marrs

It’d sure be neat to have the Generals re-established and have a rivalry — not to mention having the option for players of staying in their own homes over their summers. But it’s a struggle to keep these teams afloat financially. Frankly, I’m surprised someone would pay 100k just to have the rights to a team, since I suspect they often lose money annually. I’m thinking that having a team in the Tri-Cities market now might mean we’ve seen the last of the Generals. (But that’s just guessing.)

Nora Limes
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Nora Limes

I can guarantee you the Toombs family isn’t getting back into baseball after they and the City of Petersburg ran the Generals into the ground.