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Fielders trade nine players, release 14 others

ZiIL 7/6/11 The YumScorpions came Zitake Lake County Fielders afternogame thdrew number day campers stands. Pete LaCock left joins with

Zion IL 7/6/11 The Yuma Scorpions came to Zion to take on the Lake County Fielders in a afternoon game that drew a number of day campers to the stands. Pete LaCock, left joins in with Fielders manager TJ Johnson, center and Scorpion player/manager Jose Cansaco reflect on their long careers. | Rob Dicker~Sun-Times Media| Rob Dicker~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 16, 2011 12:18AM

“Field of Dreams” actor Kevin Costner is part-owner of the Lake County Fielders in the new North American Baseball League.

What happened in Lake County over the last 72 hours has been a nightmare.

Fielders manager Tim Johnson resigned before the game Saturday against the Yuma Scorpions, and in a show of support, 11 players wouldn’t play. The Fielders were upset about not being paid. The players remained on the bench.

Fielders hitting coach Pete LaCock, a former Cub who has seen many strange things, took over as interim manager. He put all listed pitchers in positional spots for the game. Non-pitchers pitched.

To even out the playing field, Scorpions player-manager Jose Canseco did the same. He also named himself starting pitcher.

Canseco pitched six innings and got the win as the Scorpions prevailed 8-3. LaCock resigned after the game.

It had to go down as one of the strangest games in modern minor-league history.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Scorpions general manager Jose Melendez said Monday from Yuma, Ariz. “And I’ve seen a lot of things I haven’t seen before with Jose and Ozzie [Canseco’s twin brother and player-coach] aboard.”

Melendez recruited Jose Canseco last season to play for his Laredo Broncos in the now-defunct United League. Canseco, 47, wanted to pitch to perfect his knuckleball.

He got his wish Saturday.

Then, Monday afternoon, the Fielders traded nine players and released 14 others they couldn’t trade. The only survivor from Saturday’s game was 27-year-old catcher Alan Rick. The former Cubs prospect only arrived in Lake County on Thursday.

“We want to start fresh,” Fielders general manager Mike Kardamis said. “It’s a privilege to play professional baseball. If these guys don’t want to play here, we will find guys who want to play here. We could have put them on the suspended list, but we don’t want to ruin their careers. The players weren’t happy, and it wasn’t going to be good to make them stay. They can cash their checks tomorrow once the Bank of Waukegan opens.

“I’ve been in this business 15 years and never gone through anything like this.”

“Things were brewing when we got to town,” Melendez said. “We heard how their players were fed up. We have no issues. We followed their lead because Jose had tremendous respect for Tim Johnson. Jose also didn’t want someone to get hurt, so he did the same thing with his pitchers.”

Johnson was Canseco’s manager in 1998 with the Toronto Blue Jays. After Wednesday’s game, they did interviews together.

On Wednesday, Canseco called Fielders pitcher Vince Bongiovanni the best in the league. On Saturday, the Barrington High School product went 1-for-2 as the Fielders’ starting shortstop. On Monday, he was traded to the Lincoln Saltdogs of the American Association.

Regular shortstop Rex Rundgren pitched in relief Saturday. He was released Monday. He’s the son of rock ’n’ roller Todd Rundgren. Appropriately, “Something/Anything?” is his best-selling album.

Former Cubs outfielder Joey Gathright entered Saturday’s game as a mop-up catcher for the Scorpions.

“It was bizarre,” said NABL CEO/commissioner Kevin Outcalt. “Jose Canseco’s reaction was interesting. Instead of playing his regulars and trying to pound them 30-0, he said, ‘We need to have a fair ballgame,’ so he moved his lineup around. I’ve never heard of an opposing manager doing something like that.

“Certainly, there are financial issues Lake County is working out. The team started on the road with 32 games. They didn’t have any revenue until July 3. They’ve had great crowds, and they’re trying to catch up. But I do not know all the details. All I saw from Tim Johnson’s resignation was that he was leaving for ‘issues that were not resolved.’ ’’

As of Monday, the Fielders were leading the 10-team league in average attendance at 2,546. With some order restored, Yuma also won Sunday’s game 10-4. Fielders pitching coach Chris Thompson managed the game. He was released Monday. A new manager will be named before the Fielders open a seven-game homestand tonight against the Chico Outlaws.

The NABL fined LaCock $2,500 on Monday for making “a farce of a game,” which is in the league bylaws, according to Outcalt. The league is investigating the fine.

“Pete had a case,” Melendez said. “The league has to get to the bottom of it. If players don’t get paid, they can file paperwork to obtain free agency.”

The Scorpions get paid twice a month. They’re owned by Diamond Sports & Entertainment.

“All our bills and airfares have been paid,” Melendez said. “But you are going to encounter issues with other teams owned that get behind. If they miss a pay period, the owner has two weeks to rectify it. It happens every year. But it’s never been this drastic where a manager resigns and the players walk out with him.”

The Fielders are owned by Grand Slam Sports & Entertainment of Zion. Does Costner know about a story that is beyond “Bull Durham”?

“I don’t know,” Kardamis said. “I’ve never met him.”

There has been talk of Costner and his country band, Modern West, appearing this summer at Fielders Park.

The Fielders’ president is Rich Ehrenreich, the original owner of the Schaumburg Flyers. The Flyers were slated to be in the NABL before they folded in March. The Village of Schaumburg sued the team for more than $900,000 in overdue rent and other payments.

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