HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Hannibal's association with the Prospect League, a summer collegiate baseball league, came to an end on Friday with the announcement by league officials that two teams were suspending operations for the 2017 season.
The demise of the Hannibal Cavemen, one of the original members of the Prospect League, and the DuPage Drones means that the league will enter its ninth season with just 10 teams. The league, which started with 11 teams in 2009, has had as many as 15 teams but never fewer than 11 in any season.
The press release said both the Hannibal and DuPage franchises are “expected to resume operations and begin playing again starting with the 2018 season at locations to be determined.”
“We have heard from numerous people, from host families to sponsors, and they don’t want Hannibal to disappear,” Prospect League Commissioner Dennis Bastien said. “The current owners have made the decision to be suspended for a year to work out whatever they need to work out, with the hope that they will be able to come back in 2018.”
Rick DeStefane, president and the CEO of Hannibal Cavemen Baseball LLC, is a co-owner of the Cavemen with Bob Hemond, who also is a minority owner of the Sacramento River Cats, a Class AAA affiliate of the Oakland Athletics. DeStefane said Hemond, the general manager of the Cavemen, was charged with ironing out the details of a possible sale of the franchise to Bo Champlin of Hanford, Calif.
“I’m not sure why the details didn’t get worked out,” DeStefane said Tuesday. “For some reason, they didn’t. It’s an enigma. I can’t figure it out. Your guess is as good as mine.”
Hemond has not returned calls from the media for the past week.
Champlin had been in negotiations with the Cavemen since September. He said he last spoke with Hemond on Dec. 13, and he said he last spoke with DeStefane “on a Saturday in early November.” He sent a letter to the league on “December 19th or 20th” to inform officials he was no longer interested.
When asked on Friday if he would be interested in owning the Cavemen in 2018, Champlin said, “I don’t know who the owner is. If the owner, who ever that may be, would like to give me a call and discuss it, I’ll take his call.”
Bastien hopes that the Cavemen will remain in Hannibal, and he also hopes the Drones find a new location. The DuPage franchise, which was based in Lisle and played its home games at Benedictine University, also had a team called the Dragons for the 2009 and 2010 seasons. The Drones had the lowest attendance in the league last season.
“The league wants to grow and not contract,” Bastien said. “I believe it is the prevalent opinion among league directors that Hannibal can be a viable franchise, and we’d like to see Hannibal return as a member of good standing in the league. We’re giving them that opportunity and that option, and hopefully it will be long term.”
Asked about the ownership issues with the Cavemen, Bastien said, “I’m really unsure. I’ve only been on the job for 3 1/2 weeks. It’s (the owners’) option to settle that however they want to, and obviously if that decision is made to find a different owner, that person has to be approved by the league. It’s their option to create a way to make it work.”
The league started in 2009 as a merger of the Central Illinois Collegiate League and a group of five teams that were looking to start their own league. The Hannibal franchise was created in January 2008 and was set to be part of an expansion for the CICL to go from four teams to six before the Prospect League was created.
Of the 11 teams that were part of the Prospect League’s first season, only five are in existence today — the Quincy Gems, the Chillicothe Paints, the Butler Blue Sox, the Danville Dans and the Springfield Sliders.
The Cavemen and the Drones are the ninth and 10th franchises to fold in the league’s eight-year history.
With the change in number of teams, the East and West Divisions have realigned for next season. Butler (Pa.), Champion City (Springfield, Ohio), Chillicothe (Ohio), Kokomo (Ind.) and West Virginia (Beckley) will play in the East Division. Danville (Ill.), Lafayette (Ind.), Terre Haute (Ind.), Quincy (Ill.), and Springfield (Ill.) will play in the West Division.
As part of its press release, the league also announced that teams will be releasing their schedules in the coming days, with the overall league schedule to be released on Monday on the league website.