In the world of professional baseball, talent can come from anywhere. Scouts search the world far and wide to fill their respective rosters with players who one day might be able to make an impact in the big leagues. 25 different players have moved on to play major league baseball after representing either the Beavers, Unicorns, Diamond Hoppers or Woolly Mammoths. These players came from none other than the United Shore Professional Baseball League.

For its third consecutive year, the USPBL, perched in downtown Utica, Michigan, at Jimmy John’s Field, has quickly become the summer destination for all ages. It has also become a kick-starter for players in the independent baseball league to be seen by scouts from the MLB.

The league, established by General Sports and Entertainment owner and CEO Andy Appleby, was created as an “innovative developmental finishing school for players seeking to make it to the Majors.” These college and non-amateur players have come from all over the nation for their shot to make it to the MLB. For eight years, General Sports and Entertainment owned an affiliated team of the San Diego Padres and this led Appleby to create a developmental league for players that could possibly still have a future in professional baseball.

Appleby set his sights on acquiring only one or two players when the league was first founded.

“[Jimmy John’s Field] is the finest ballpark of its kind,” Appleby said. “Recruiting efforts to bring in these top post-grad athletes right out of college becomes more difficult every year. We want to continue to get better at scouting from our side.”

The mission of the league is to identify players that were missed in the MLB draft. By coming to the USPBL, the players’ careers are therefore extended and their dreams to play professional baseball do not have to come to an end.

The league consists of four teams: the Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, the Eastside Diamond Hoppers, the Utica Unicorns, and the Westside Woolly Mammoths. The coaching staff provides top quality strength and conditioning training, plus revolutionary video analysis, to perfect the players’ games throughout the course of the season.

“We put all the time, resources, and money, into the players in the hopes they move on to the major leagues,” Appleby said. “We love the players. It is our goal to have as many seen as possible.”

The Bloomfield Birmingham Beavers secured their second consecutive championship when they defeated the Eastside Diamond Hoppers 9-3 on September 9th. Beavers manager Chris Newell feels as if he is part of something special with his coaching role inside the USPBL.

“Our track record is second to none,” Newell said. “What we stand for is really easy to want to be part of.”

Newell has been involved in professional baseball since 1997. The USPBL awards its’ coaches with complete control over their roster. This provides management with the best advantage when constructing their lineup, as they are able to place players in the positions best suited for them. This situation has also caused the player’s dedication to the role to rise with the careful and nurturing training.

“A major focus of ours is showcasing the talent within our league, but we also want to bring out the most potential in our guys, and get ample time to develop their skills,” Newell said. “There is a group of scouts at almost every game.” 

Appleby credits Justin Orenduff, director of baseball operations and the analytics department, for providing top quality entertainment value at the ballpark. Live music, exciting promotional events, and a dance crew to fire up the crowd has led Jimmy John’s Field to be selected this year as the second best independent stadium in America to watch an event at. The exceptional entertainment efforts add another element to the atmosphere, making it so scouts’ attendance at the games are almost a sure thing.

“I remember one game we had about five or six scouts in attendance and our pitcher was throwing between 93-97 and the scouts were astonished,” Appleby recalled. “That is the what we want to create, and what we want to showcase. We love when scouts come, we treat them like gold when they are here, and that’s how it will always be.”

After only three seasons, 25 USPBL players have directly transitioned onto MLB farm teams such as the Minnesota Twins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Colorado Rockies. Andy Appleby’s vision of the perfect summer destination for semi-pro baseball has proven successful thus far, and the USPBL is really just getting started. 

  • Kaitlin Sloan – kaitlinfsloan@gmail.com

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