The River City Rascals are set to fold after 21 years in St. Charles County, but the city of O’Fallon isn’t giving up on baseball just yet.
The Rascals are members of the Frontier League, an independent minor league not affiliated with Major League Baseball. The team announced earlier this month it plans to cease operations at the end of the season. O’Fallon is looking for a team to move into the Rascals’ ballpark next season.
“We, at this point, are pretty confident that there will be a team in place for 2020,” said city spokesperson Thomas Drabelle. “You never know for sure. But the way things are proceeding right now, there’s been a ton of interest in the stadium. We’ve been contacted by basically every independent or prospect-type organization in the Midwest.”
Striking out on a deal
The city owns CarShield Field — formerly known as T.R. Hughes Ballpark — which opened in 1999 when the Rascals moved to O’Fallon from Zanesville, Ohio. The Rascals operate the facility and can rent it out for other events when the team is not playing home games. Drabelle said the city would seek a similar lease agreement with any future tennant.
The announcement comes following a year of turbulence with the Rascals’ lease at the stadium. The city locked the team out in the offseason following the 2018 campaign over outstanding debts. The two sides settled on a one-year lease for 2019. Drabelle said the city intended for that deal to be a starting point for another long-term agreement.
Rascals general manager David Schmoll declined to provide details about the lease issue. Both the team’s management and the city were hoping to reach a deal.
“We sat down really optimistic with them this year that we would be able to come up with a long-term agreement with them,” Drabelle said. “Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”
Looking forward, Drabelle expects a new team would be from an independent minor league, like the Rascals, or a summer collegiate league. Summer collegiate leagues are made up of amateur college players looking for playing time and experience over the summer while preserving NCAA eligibility.
A new team at CarShield Field would likely not be affiliated with a Major League Baseball team. Because of St. Charles County’s proximity to St. Louis, no affiliated minor league team would be able to move into the ballpark without the Cardinals’ permission.
The Rascals will celebrate their final regular-season home game at CarShield Field Thursday night with fan appreciation night.
“Every inning we’re going to have different giveaways of promo items from this past year and even from years past,” Schmoll said. “It’s just going to be a fun night for us to be able to really say thank you to all the fans who have supported us over the course of the past 21 years.”
The game against the Washington Wild Things is set to begin at 6:35 p.m.
While Thursday marks the regular-season finale at CarShield Field, the Rascals are in a playoff race. If the team holds its lead over the Southern Illinois Miners in the league’s West Division, the Rascals could head to the postseason and prolong their time in O’Fallon into September.
Schmoll said Rascals ticket sales rose in 2018 for the first time in several years, and he thinks the outlook is good for any team that moves into the market.
“As with any minor league sports, you go through the roller coaster,” he said. “You have some great years, and you have some down years … it’s just part of the business.”
Follow Nicolas Telep on Twitter @NDTelep.
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