A summer collegiate baseball league is showing interest in bringing a team to Macon-Bibb County as a vote looms on a feasibility study for professional baseball.
Earlier this week, Justin Sellers, commissioner of the Coastal Plain League, sent county officials an email that indicated he would like to have a “preliminary discussion” about a franchise moving to Macon to play at Luther Williams Field.
On Tuesday, the county commission is set to vote on a $50,000 feasibility study for bringing back minor league baseball to Macon. The study would involve analyzing various sites for a stadium.
The Coastal Plain League will have a team in Savannah starting in 2016, and Macon would be a natural fit, Sellers said in the email. Next year, the league will have 16 franchises with teams in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
Since beginning in 1997, the league has had 1,300 players drafted, including 81 current major leaguers, Sellers said.
“The operation of our franchises is very similar to what you would get at a professional game as we do everything from sponsorships and nightly, themed promotions, concessions, souvenirs, on-field promotions, etc., in addition to showcasing a highly competitive baseball game,” he said. “The atmosphere at our games is top-notch and quickly becomes the gathering place for the communities we are in.”
Macon-Bibb County spokesman Chris Floore said Thursday there has not been an invitation extended to meet with Sellers. That would be up to commissioners, but Mayor Robert Reichert remains optimistic that the feasibility study will be approved next week.
Receiving the unsolicited email from Sellers proves there is a market for baseball in Macon, Floore said.
“That shows we need to get someone in here that understands the ins and outs of making a successful franchise here,” he said.
Commissioner Al Tillman said some commissioners may be more interested in a professional league team, but he’s curious about what Coastal Plain might offer.
He’s in favor on delaying a vote on the feasibility study in order to get more details about the collegiate league. It’s possible the $50,000 proposed for the feasibility study could be used for upgrades to bathrooms and dressing rooms at Luther Williams Field.
“I’d like to have (Sellers) come here and look at Luther Williams ball field and see what they’re willing to do,” Tillman said.
The $50,000 for the baseball feasibility study would come from bond funds from a tax allocation district around the former Bibb Mill site on Coliseum Drive. The old cotton mill is the location of a tentative development that Reichert unveiled plans for in 2014. Those plans call for surrounding a new baseball stadium with restaurants, small hotels and a parking deck.
After failing to upgrade Luther Williams, Macon lost its Atlanta Braves’ affiliate in 2002 to Rome, which built a brand-new stadium. Since then, Macon has been home to several other baseball teams. Two independent minor league teams -- the Macon Peaches and Macon Music -- each lasted one season while another summer collegiate league team, the Macon Pinetoppers, also had a brief stay.
Commissioner Scotty Shepherd said a summer collegiate league team wouldn’t draw as many fans as a minor league team, but “if they wanted to come in and play for free at Luther Williams, there would be people to come out.”
Commissioner Ed DeFore said he favors funding the feasibility study. However, he said, a decision must be made between a professional or collegiate league.
“We can’t do two things,” DeFore said. “We’ll have to figure out one and go with that.”