Re-Inventing Indy Ball? The Heartland of America Baseball League – Q & A with Director of Operations

There is another new independent league looking to hold its first season in 2015. The Heartland of America Baseball League (HoABL) has a unique concept – the league will have 10 teams representing 10 cities with every team having 25 players. Each team will play 90 games in 100 days using one main stadium in Ozark, Missouri as well as three satellite stadiums in the Springfield, Missouri area. The league hopes to hold their first games this summer.

I recently had a chance to interview the Director of Operations for the HoABL, Art Wilkinson, and ask him some questions about this unique business model.

What is your affiliation to the league?

I am the Field Manager of the Springfield Team. I also currently serve as the Director of Baseball Operations for the Heartland of America Baseball League.

Who are the owner (s)/commissioner?

The Commissioner of The HoABL is Phil Wilson. The HoABL is owned by Heartland of America Baseball League, LLC, a Nevada Limited Liability Corporation

Could you clear up the name situation between Heartland of America and Ozark baseball since both names have been used in conjunction with the league?

The original idea which resulted in the creation of this business model was brought forward by Ozarks Pro Baseball, LLC, which has since become The Heartland of America Baseball League, LLC. This transformation occurred after the concept had been introduced to a small number of people within and without the industry. It’s taken a few members of the original group, a bit longer to fully grasp the change, than it has for others. The transformation is absolutely complete. There is one entity which will operate our league. The name of the league is The Heartland of America Baseball League, and the ownership is as I indicated.

*Update* There is now a separation between the two (as of May 23, 2015). Please read the statement HERE.

What type of players are you looking for, and how will they be chosen for each city/team they represent?

It is our mission to become the one true developmental league for all of Major League Baseball. The age limit for our League is 26 OR 3 Seasons in the League. We are not looking for players who have spent 10 years in the Majors and can put 500 more fans in the stands. We are not looking to bring Michael Jordan back to baseball at age 50, to displace a young player whose best years are still ahead of him. Our ideal Player is someone who is in any one of the following categories: A great college player who had a bad senior season. A great college player who got hurt in his senior season, or had a bad season for some family, health, relationship or other reason. A not so star-studded player who came into his own after scouts had already labeled him as a guy who wasn’t worth a second look. A player who signed a Major League contract out of high school and where things didn’t work out the way anyone had planned.

We want to be a developmental league and a 2nd Chance league. We want to be there when MLB Clubs just don’t have room for a young guy, and have to let him go, but they don’t want to let him go that far. Our goal is to move as many players as fat up the ladder as we can in the shortest period of time.

All players are signed to League Contracts. We don’t sign more players than will represent some team in our League. All players show up on Day 1 of Spring Training, knowing they will be on a roster in our League. We play a week of squad games watched by all managers and coaches. On Day 7 at the end of the last squad game, we hold our draft, right there, on the field, just like when we were all kids choosing up sides. League contracts are then assigned to the team who selects them in the draft. Teams then have an additional week to practice together, before the Season starts.

The website says that all teams will use one stadium. Can you explain how this is going to work and why you chose Ozark?

The Main stadium is a 7200 seat stadium in Ozark, MO, which is undergoing various renovations in advance of the upcoming season. We will play day-night doubleheaders, Monday-Friday, every week, and day doubleheaders on weekends. We also utilize 3 satellite stadiums all in the Springfield, MO area, where single games will be played nightly

We chose Ozark, because of the availability of this particular stadium, the cost of acquisition, the incredible appetite for baseball in the Southwest MO – Northwest AR, area, and the preference of Commissioner Wilson to initiate the “Re-invention of Minor League Baseball” in his adopted home region.

What are your expectations for fan attendance and community involvement?

When independent baseball played in the same stadium in prior years, crowds of over 5000 fans per night were not out of the ordinary. Even when the AA Springfield Cardinals arrived, attendance at this stadium was more than acceptable. We anticipate that season ticket sales will eclipse 2000 and with nightly and weekend bus trips coming in from the ten cities we represent, we are hopeful of bringing thousands of fans into our stadium nightly, and daily. We are not in competition with the AA Springfield Cardinals. We are both baseball teams, and both share the goal of advancing the caliber of baseball being played in front of some of the greatest baseball fans in the world.

We have a few advantages in terms of being able to to support an active community involvement program. With one business entity owning the stadium, the league, all 10 teams, concessions, parking, merchandising, media rights, and other ancillary revenue generating sources. We are able to promote community involvement through financial support of local youth sports and other organizations in all ten cities represented. Each one of our 10 team will be adopting a charity in their city. We will also be supporting youth baseball in each city represented by hosting clinics at the main stadium, and also in the cities themselves.

This is a very unique concept for professional baseball. How and when did this idea start?

Commissioner Wilson is the architect of the basic concept. Coach Wilson has been a college baseball coach for more than 40 years. He has also owned the Sho-Me Baseball Camp, ran the Youth Baseball Program at Dodgertown for the LA Dodgers for more than a decade, and has managed in independent baseball for many years. Coach Wilson always felt that more time was being spent developing poker playing skills on 18 hour bus rides, than developing baseball skills on the baseball field. He felt that eliminating travel benefited players. Eliminating travel benefited owners. No dark days at the stadium aided in keeping ticket prices down, and that benefits fans. Giving scouts only one place to stop and see 250 legitimate pro prospects over a 2 day period, benefits MLB Clubs. There were no losers in this equation.

When coach brought the idea to me last year, I loved it. I took the concept to the Winter Meetings. When I talked to some high ranking MiLB and MLB executives, one said the “This is one of those ideas that when you hear about it, the first thing you do is shake your head because you can’t believe it wasn’t done 50 years ago…and the 2nd thing you do is kick your own ass, because it isn’t your idea.”  Shortly after that, a former World Series Manager said, “You guys aren’t just starting a new league… you’re re-inventing minor league baseball.”

Even with this one stadium design, there are always some financial concerns surrounding new independent leagues. Do you have any worries about the league from a financial standpoint?

No.

How exactly does the pay system work for players? Are they given host families, meals and other accommodations they may need?

All players earn the same amount of money.This eliminates pressure on managers to play higher priced players, regardless of talent or the player’s future upward mobility potential. Our salary is more than competitive with every independent league in the country for rookie and younger players. Host families are an option. Alternate housing is provided at a substantially reduced rates over prevailing rents in the area. Meal subsidy programs and awards are a part of the aggregate compensation package. Players who wish to earn addition monies on off times can perform non-baseball services for the League for additional compensation.

Do you expect the players to get a fair look from scouts with a chance to move up to affiliated ball? 

One of our managers is a former full-time scout for the Bureau, and was assigned to Indy Ball. He was released last season, after the Bureau made a decision to stop providing coverage to Indy Leagues. After we got this league going, we were advised that the Bureau would be re-initiating coverage for our league, based on the age of the players we would be attracting. In addition, we have made a concerted effort to present our league to as many scouts, Directors of Minor League Ops, Directors of Scouting and others who we hope would be willing to come to our park. The fact that a single scout can come to one place and see 250 legitimate prospects in only two days, has been very attractive to the Bureau and the Clubs. 18 Clubs as of this writing have indicated that they WILL see us on Opening Day, and they WILL be back throughout the 2015 Season. We will absolutely give some great kids every chance in the world to have their lives changed in the two-fifths of a second that it takes a 90 mph fastball to cross the plate.

The track record isn’t good for new independent leagues. What are you doing to ensure that the league sticks around for the long run?

We are re-inventing minor league baseball. This business model IS the wave of the future when it comes to Indy Ball. We have a six year expansion plan in place which will see seven of our leagues in place by 2020. Our business model eliminates every speed bump on the road to success, and every reason why Independent Leagues have routinely struggled. We are part of the Indy Ball Community and wish every League, every owner and every player, nothing but success. We do however, believe that the model we have developed offers players, owners, clubs, fans, leagues and Indy Ball in general, the absolute best chance to succeed.

Finally, is there anything else you would like the readers to know about the league? 

Our league is fan friendly, club friendly and player dedicated. Our only goal is to provide the highest level of baseball to fans, scouts, clubs and others, and to move every player up the ladder as far as possible, as fast as possible. I was asked by a local reporter on ESPN Radio in Springfield, MO, “What would help me to know that my first year as the Manager of the Springfield Team, had been a success?” I told him I would know we had succeeded, if on the last day of the regular season, one day before the playoffs would begin…every starter on my 1st Place team came into my office with their bags packed, and told me they had all been called up to affiliated Clubs. Winning, in this case, has nothing to do with Championship rings or trophies. It has everything to do with how many dreams you make come true.
THAT, is why we’re doing this.

I would like to thank Art Wilkinson for his time. You can check out the official site for the Heartland of American Baseball League HERE as well as on their Facebook page HERE.

Advertisements

26 thoughts on “Re-Inventing Indy Ball? The Heartland of America Baseball League – Q & A with Director of Operations”

  1. Kay,

    Thank you so much for helping to get out information regarding the HoABL.

    One think I think it is very important to also note is this…

    People who are looking at many baseball sites, and also the Independent Baseball Chat Group o Facebook, are failing to recognize is the fact that we aren’t JUST a baseball league.

    As an investment vehicle for the principals of this group, are NOT JUST investing IN A TEAM or a LEAGUE.

    We bought THE VENUE. This is a VENUE PLAY. As such, we are not looking exclusively to our Heartland of America League Baseball operation AS THE SOLE REVENUE PRODUCER.

    So, when people mention “a willingness to lose money”…they are NOT taking into account that we already have made a deal with MTV Concerts, with the Wounded Warrior Project to do both concerts and softball games…with the WWE to have wrestling events at THE VENUE. We have been approved by the NJCAA and await NCAA approval to conduct pre-season baseball tournaments which will bring back the 8 teams who played in their respective World Series’ from the previous season, to open the season the same way they finished the previous one…or that we have a team of Hollywood Celebrities and ex-Pros coming in to each do a week of baseball games before our season begins in 2016.

    One of the partners in this organization is the business manager for some of the music industries BIGGEST STARS. The man KNOWS how to run a business, and has been successful at running businesses for thirty years! Another partner, a Washington DC attorney, is perhaps one of the greatest legal minds of our time, and is recognized literally around the world for his critical business acumen and understanding.

    I’m not yet a member of the FB Chat Group. So, I hope you will do me the honor of reposting this comment there. I understand how people who don’t know who we are, and only have one particular frame of reference, can ask the kinds of questions that are being asked.

    On the other hand, I can also assure you…this business will be around far longer than its detractors, and WILL be the “re-invention of minor league baseball”.

    Like

  2. Another good one Kayla. Going to fellow this league sounds like a good idea . Lot of players looking for that one chance to prove themselves.

    Like

  3. I remember reading in Baseball America in 1985 about league based in New Haven, CT that had 4 teams and all games were played at the same stadium. I do not know if it ever got off the ground though.

    Like

  4. Why are there 2 separate websites for each league (Ozarks vs. Heartland) with contradicting information if this is, according to the aforementioned Q&A article, a “one entity” league? This would certainly make the common fan confused after reviewing this article (e.g. one website states it’s a 10-team league, while the other says a 6-team, and then on a separate tab states it’s a 10-team).

    There has also been indication that “Heartland” has players reporting players starting Sunday, while “Ozarks” has them reporting in mid-June. IS THIS A SINGLE LEAGUE? OR IS ONE OF THEM GETTING DUMPED???

    The information I have received from signed players has been frustratingly conflicting over the past several days.

    Like

  5. At one point (at the writing of this article), Ozarks and Heartland was the SAME thing. Somewhere down the line, someone left the Heartland and decided to make their own league, calling it the Ozarks. The information from https://indyballisland.com/2015/05/24/clearing-up-some-issues-with-the-heartland-of-america-baseball-league
    is the newest information that I have. It has been a crazy situation. I don’t have any idea what is going on with the stadium situation. All I was told was that players will be reporting starting on Sunday for the Heartland.

    Like

  6. you may be reporting the exact opposite of how the leagues came about. Phil Wilson Ozarks Pro Baseball started the idea well over
    a year ago. Then Heartland decided they wanted in. But when Heartland started trying to take over and take it another direction,
    Ozark Pro Baseball decided to just continue doing it on their own.
    It is that simple.

    I know it is hard to report both sides of a story accurately when you only report the side you support.

    Like

    1. I’m posting what I have been told by people with the Heartland staff. This is what I was told from the beginning. It always appeared as if it was one organization… then I was told a couple weeks ago that it isn’t anymore. No one from the Ozarks has reached out to me to tell their side. I don’t “support” one side or the other. I have information only from the “side” who has been in contact with me for months.

      Like

    1. They asked me to post the email to clear up the confusion and because I did the Q&A with them previously. I did. The Ozarks has the same opportunity if they reached out to me. This was never the intention of this blog, but because it reaches a lot of people, I posted their information.

      Like

  7. from your previous posts it appears you have a contact phone number and a person to get information from Heartland of America..

    So please ask your contact why Heartland of America continues to
    post on their website and facebook that Phil Wilson is their Commissioner and President? Why continue to deceive and confuse everyone? Why not just remove it? And post who really is running
    Heartland of America.

    Also please post your contact person and phone number so that we can contact them as well.

    Like

    1. I’m not posting confidential contact information when you’re hiding behind a first name “Bob.” I’m sure you already know who to contact within the Heartland league. Their website has not been their top priority. I agree that it needs to be changed however I don’t think they’ve posted NEW information saying he is the commissioner since this happened. They’re busy trying to make the league work, not just the website look good. I think we learned from the other two leagues that are done… websites don’t mean you can run a league. You can stop posting on my page now. This is getting ridiculous. Unless you’re willing to post under a real name and put out YOUR contact info… I’m done.

      Like

    1. Thanks to Bob for finding this article dated June 2, 2015 and posting it here for all to see. Wish Bob would have posted this on OPB And Heartland Facebook page. As a parent of a baseball player who signed with OPB, only coming to find out that his contact with OPB is not binding because of all this mess. Players are getting the ran around and lies have been told on both sides. Players do not know who to believe. Art expects players to travel clear across country to only find out they have to go back home? While Tony from OPB can’t disclose too much because they are in a legal dispute. What a mess!!! And in the end it is the Players who are the ones left out in the cold and hurt by both parties. SAD for the baseball industry.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well said. I have a couple family members who have been planning to play there for months now. They have put their current jobs and relationships in jeopardy (one already quit his job) so they could pursue just the opportunity to play in this league. That’s how much this means to them.

        For such a substantial endeavor, coupled with the poor record of independent pro ball leagues, you’d think the executives and commissioner would have been squared away with their issues a year or two ago at the very LEAST. This feud, and resulting schism, has only served to damage the players, employees, families, etc. Their only redeeming grace will be if those ball park gates open and those players finally get to play some quality ball against one another.

        My friends now have no choice but to make the long drive to Springfield this Sunday, report in to Heartland (chose that league because they have apparently provided slightly “more” information/updates; basically, lesser of two evils in their eyes), and cross their fingers that the league even exists and a baseball field is available/game-ready; not even considering their own living arrangements, the small, monthly stipends they may not even receive, a summer schedule that is now further delayed, MLB scouts that may or may not make an appearance, and other logistical nightmares.

        Shout out to all you youngins just waiting on pins and needles for a chance to play some baseball while the higher-ups get their act together. I’m sure you’re stressed wherever you are, because I know for damn sure my guys are pulling their hair out. Good luck to y’all, ladies.

        Side note: keep up the decent work bob (if that’s your real name; if not, my bad) and IndyBallIsland/Kayla. Information is power.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s