When USPBL founder Andy Appleby decided to create an independent baseball league in 2016, he couldn’t have imagined the challenges he’s faced for the past two years.
As the United Shore Professional Baseball League grew and prospered year after year, the COVID pandemic put an end to expansion plans.
While the league managed to still operate in 2020 and 2021, that was not the environment or setting that Appleby envisioned for his league.
Now, with the biggest challenges of the pandemic behind them, the league owner to the CEO and the USPBL are reloaded to make 2022 a historic season.
Honestly, I think we’re going to have our best year yet,” Appleby said. It’s almost a rebirth of our ballpark, almost like it’s opening up again. It’s really exciting. We’ve always been a place to get away and have some family fun, but I think there’s a heightened appreciation for that this year.
The 2022 season will be a refocused look at delivering a great experience for large groups of baseball fans, as well as a renewed dedication to league players.
Already, Appleby has seen group bookings pile up for the upcoming season as many area businesses look forward to hosting functions at Jimmy Johns Field.
Companies haven’t really had their summer picnic for about three years now. Because of that, our phones really ring, Appleby said. It’s exciting to see all the interest we’ve had in the ballpark and companies wanting to introduce themselves to their employees again. We were selling a lot of our suites and a lot of our sponsorships and it’s just shaping up to be a great year.
The interest in the events will also allow the USPBL to serve more than 1,000 different charities in 2022. Appleby believes the league can even get up to 1,500 charities this summer.
From a player development perspective, Appleby hopes the easing of restrictions on players will allow the league to return to its primary focus. Previous years have prevented players from dressing together as a team or even being able to shower at the stadium.
Because the past two years have been impacted by COVID, we haven’t really been able to fulfill our mission to really add much more value to players, Appleby said. This has been a real priority for me from day one, and our whole mission has been to make every child better. While I think we’ve done it again for the past two years, it’s a lot harder to do it when you have 224-page COVID protocols to worry about. We really had to work overtime to try to avoid outbreaks. This year, we really dedicated ourselves again to making players and helping them improve.
Since the start of USPBL operations, a total of 45 players have signed with MLB organizations. With scouts able to travel more easily this year, Appleby hopes to make a big addition to that total in 2022.
The pandemic has provided its challenges, but the USPBL has also found ways to improve over the past two years. One of the greatest means was in its media production.
USPBL games have started streaming on YouTube, Facebook Live, Twitter, and Twitch. Broadcasts will continue in 2022.
The upcoming season will continue to feature four teams, the Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, Eastside Diamond Hoppers, Utica Unicorns and Westside Woolly Mammoths.
Prior to the pandemic, Appleby considered adding a second stadium to the league in hopes of continued USPBL expansion. Those plans are back in action in 2022, as he hopes to get another ballpark by the start of the 2024 season.
We’ve had different rough talks with various municipalities across the country, and most of them have come to a screeching halt for 18 months, Appleby
mentioned. When you go to take them over, there’s a new mayor or city council you’ve never worked with before. It’s a big challenge to work on these things and then hope that the people you’ve dealt with and had so many good discussions with are still there.
The 2022 USPBL season kicks off Friday, May 20 at 7:05 p.m. when Eastside takes on Utica. Birmingham Bloomfield will face Westside on Saturday May 21 at 7:05 p.m.
Visit the USPBL website for more league information and a full season schedule, including promotional events that take place each night.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of USPBL preview articles leading up to Opening Day Friday at Jimmy Johns Field in downtown Utica.
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