Professional baseball game at Riddle-Pace tonight

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 2, 2003

The Southeast Alabama Cloverleafs are playing this season without a home.

The Cloverleafs, a member of the Southeastern League of Professional Baseball, spent last year in Selma. Next season, the Cloverleafs will be located in one of the three new cities the independent league will have next season. But this year, the Leafs will play 72 road games.

One of those road games will be tonight at Riddle-Pace Field against the Baton Rouge Riverbats. The game will begin at 7 p.m. The Cloverleafs played the Riverbats Monday night in Ozark and will play the third game of the series Wednesday in Hattiesburg, Miss.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

"We will be batting in the top of the ninth every game this year," club manager Joe Terry said.

Last weekend, that even meant playing as the road team while back in Selma. The Cloverleafs played Montgomery in the first series of the year, but Montgomery could not play at home because of the NCAA Division II National Championships that were going on in Montgomery at the time.

Similarly, the Baton Rouge Riverbats do not have a home field since the NCAA Regionals took place this past weekend, and the LSU baseball team is working on preparations for the Super-Regional.

But the players are not worried about the added stress of never playing a home game. They consider it an honor to play on this team.

"We are the biggest bunch of hard-nosed players I've ever seen," third baseman Josey Shannon said. "We were assembled on the basis of talent, but we also had to have a certain mindset."

The normal Southeastern League team has a 24-man roster with 21 active players. The Cloverleafs have only 20 men on their staff.

"I would rather be on this team than any other," said closer B. T. Litchfield. "No one is making more money than anyone else, no one has an ego, we're all just ready to go and beat every other team."

Since it is an independent league, the Southeastern League is not affiliated with any Major League Baseball teams. Although the players have to shine even brighter to attract MLB attention, the level of play is not inferior to affiliate baseball, Terry said.

In fact, Terry said the games are "truer" baseball games than many affiliate league games.

"If you watch a single-A or rookie league game, a pitcher will be on a pitch count or he will be scheduled to pitch so many innings," Terry said. "If he blows up, he still stays out there because the main focus is to develop talent.

"In this league, the most important factor is winning a game. All these guys want to win the championship. You will see teams trying to win more so than in affiliate baseball."

Terry also defended the league against the stereotype that independent leagues are "glorified beer leagues."

"We are better than a beer league," Terry said. "Some of our players make it to the Major Leagues. We have players from all over the country, not just in this region."

Litchfield is a perfect example of Terry's claim. Litchfield played college baseball at Azusa-Pacific in Los Angeles, the school famous for producing NFL running back Christian Okoye . Now, Litchfield plays baseball for the Cloverleafs and works in the off season as a substitute teacher and part-time baseball instructor.

All the players have part-time and off-season jobs to supplement income, but for baseball players at all but the highest levels, that is not that unusual.

"Unless you are in the Major Leagues or maybe AAA, you can't live off your baseball salary," Litchfield said. "The money we make is not much different than in affiliate ball."

Another key difference between the affiliate games and Southeastern League games is admission. Admission for tonight's game is only $5 for general admission. Children under 12 get in free if they wear their baseball uniforms. City and county employees, as well as employees at Lockheed-Martin and Sikorsky can get in for $3 with an employee ID card.