The Nashville Outlaws will have a 2011 season. The one after that, however, is not set in stone.
The summer collegiate baseball team — which features many local players — is seeking new ownership.
The Prospect League and its commissioner, David Chase, are currently operating the Outlaws, whose season begins on June 2. The league stepped in when the team’s previous owners left in the spring after just one season.
In addition to Chase, the team has three interns and is in the process of hiring a general manager. The Outlaws have a full roster and a head coach, though, as Brian Ryman, Lipscomb University’s director of baseball operations, will manage the team for the second consecutive year.
Now they just need an owner because the team’s future beyond 2011 becomes a little cloudy.
“I don’t see any way the league would operate it for more than 2011,” Chase, who has been commuting from Memphis to run the Outlaws, said. “It could happen but I don’t really see that happening. Our preference is to find [an owner] during the season who may not have to take over until after the season. We have had some preliminary conversations with a couple folks in town — nothing concrete at this point but mildly encouraged.”
The Outlaws’ founders and previous owners — Brandon Vonderharr, Jason Bennett and Chris Snyder, along with former director of sales Dustin Skilbred — work for Alliance Sports Marketing, which was founded in 2002. According to the company’s website, Alliance Sports Marketing is “an agency specializing in sports teams and venues. With over 30 years of experience working in professional sports, our team provides the expertise to help you with your sport marketing needs.”
Chase would not comment on the Outlaws’ financial stability but said the league’s schedule had already been set when the league was notified in March that the Outlaws’ ownership planned to leave. At that point, the three-year old Prospect League, which features 14 teams in seven different states, was forced to make a decision about the immediate future of the Outlaws.
“We had to make a decision of do we reissue a schedule of odd-numbered teams or do we have the league operate the franchise in Nashville?” Chase said. “We believe in the market here. We think that there is room here for the Outlaws to be profitable. We will work toward that goal with a new owner.”
The Outlaws already have a different homefield. They will play at Lipscomb’s Duggan Field.
In 2010, home games were at Vanderbilt’s Hawkins Field but the previous ownership had already considered a new venue, which Ryman called a “cost-saving measure.”
The first home game is at 7 p.m., June 8 against the Dubois County (Ind.) Bombers. Single-game tickets are just $5.
“It is a smaller venue. It fits our attendance model a little bit better and it made economic sense for us to look for an alternative,” Chase said.
The team’s 26-man roster is once again heavy with local talent. Among the area products are Josh Lee (Vanderbilt/Independence High), PJ Francescon (Trevecca Nazarene/Ravenwood High), Craig Stem (Trevecca/Donelson Christian Academy), Justin Guidry (Middle Tennessee State/Father Ryan) and Taylor Haydel (Western Kentucky/Mt. Juliet).
The Outlaws have three returners from a team that went 33-30 last year and reached the first round of the Prospect League playoffs. Even with the organization in a state of flux, Ryman says the Outlaws will be competitive again.
“I just approach it as I have been doing summer baseball for a long time, and for the longest time I did it by myself,” Ryman, who has been at Lipscomb since 2006, said. “Even with the players, I never wavered as if we were not going to play or anything like that. I have always found ways to make it happen. We may not have the Yankees’ budget, but as long as we play and practice like the Yankees on the field that is all that matters. I just try to tell myself that everything happens for a reason and we are going to be in good hands. So far, Dave’s commitment and the league’s commitment to this team has been great.”
Chase said the fact that the Outlaws are on the “Southern fringe” is enticing because of the possibility to expand the league. While there are four teams in Illinois, three in Indiana and two in Ohio, there are no teams in Kentucky and Chase is intrigued by the idea of “some expansion cities that would help bridge that gap and connect Nashville better with the rest of the league.”
Still, the Prospect League commissioner said he wants to do what is best for his league.
“I think Nashville is a market that would be good for us,” Chase said. “We’re not going to force it. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. But I think we are excited about being in Nashville. We think Nashville is a destination city and I think it helps for the overall integrity of the league to have a market like Nashville in our league. We’re going to work pretty hard to see if we can continue.”