AVON, OH—Avon residents have been fortunate enough to have two home teams to root for since Sprenger Stadium was built in 2009. The ballpark, home to the Lake Erie Crushers of the Frontier League, also has served as the home field of Avon High School’s varsity baseball team for eight seasons.
But that’s expected to change this spring as additional teams are added to Sprenger Stadium’s roster, with the least field time going to one of the old home teams.
Late last year, Avon Schools Superintendent Michael Laub was notified that Avon High School’s use of the Sprenger Stadium would be “strictly limited” due to a new contract with St. Edward High School of Lakewood. For Laub, the news came out of left field.
“The Crushers recently started renting the stadium to colleges, but we’ve always been the only high school,” Laub said. “That’s tricky because a lot of St. Edward’s games conflict with ours. This came as a disappointment and a surprise.”
But for Avon Athletic Director Erich Frombach, who is a little closer to the field, the announcement came with warning signs.
“When the stadium was first built, we would play anywhere from 13 to 16 times in the stadium,” Frombach said. “Last year, we started to feel ‘squeezed out’ when LCCC and Notre Dame College began renting out time at the stadium. This year with St. Ed’s, we’ll probably only get three to five games.”
Avon High School’s varsity baseball team has been able to play at Sprenger Stadium for free, so long as the ballpark was not in use. That’s due to an agreement that was drafted in 2008, when the $10 million construction of Sprenger Stadium (which was previously named All-Pro Freight Stadium) was being negotiated.
Laub, who has lived in Avon for 14 years, recalled that when construction of the stadium was being discussed 10 years ago, residents wanted to know how the ballpark would benefit the community.
“They wanted to see community events at the stadium, and one thing that came up was using it as Avon High School’s home field,” Laub said. When an agreement was attached to the lease allowing Avon’s varsity team to play in the stadium for free, it wasn’t the only reason people approved the project, “but it was definitely high on the list.”
The agreement specifies that Avon High School has rights to the stadium only when it’s not already being rented out, but Laub and Frombach said Avon always had priority over renters.
“In the past, we were given the opportunity to put our dates on the calendar before the stadium was available to rent,” Laub said. “Of course, if winter weather forced us to cancel a game, we couldn’t bump out a renter to reschedule. But now renters are bumping us.”
St. Edward Athletics Director Kevin Hickman said the Catholic school was looking for a stadium to rent because the campus does not have a baseball field.
“We do have a turf field on campus that all of the athletic teams can share if they need to, but that’s all of the grass we’ve got,” Hickman said. “Most of our sports use off-campus facilities.”
Hickman said he was not aware St. Edward’s use of Sprenger Stadium would displace Avon High School.
“This is the first I’m hearing that anyone isn’t able to use the stadium because we’re there,” he said. “I’ve never had a conversation with the folks at Avon.”
Laub and Frombach confirmed that they had not communicated with school officials at St. Edward. Instead, they attempted to negotiate with Tom Kramig, president and CEO of the Lake Erie Crushers.
“We tried to work things out with Tom Kramig to get kids on that field as much as possible,” Laub said. “We talked, talked and talked but ended up in the same place: They weren’t interested in negotiating.”
Frombach contacted Kramig after hearing that St. Edward would be renting time at Sprenger Stadium — but at that point, it was too late.
“We met with the Crushers folks to see if we couldn’t work out having more days, but they had already promised a schedule to St. Edward’s,” Frombach said. “Basically, we ended up with scraps, whatever the other teams didn’t want. We weren’t even offered the chance to pay if we had wanted to.”
Kramig, who acquired the Crushers in October 2015, could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
“Not sure what else to do,” Laub said.
He said the Avon Eagles will return to the high school’s baseball field in the spring. Although Avon’s junior varsity baseball team plays on that field, Laub said that scheduling would not be an issue because varsity and junior varsity programs play on different schedules.
For some, it won’t be the same.
“We love our stadium, don’t get me wrong,” Frombach said. “But it’s disappointing and not just for the Avon Eagles. It’s sad for everyone in our conference who looks forward to playing in a professional stadium.”
Laub said he thinks city residents will feel disappointment — and maybe some regret — at the change.
“We’re going to have a very large contingent of parents and community members who feel they should not have invested in this project a decade ago,” Laub said.
Frombach expected people to be confused by a situation he repeatedly characterized as “insanity,” “confusion” and “craziness.” After eight years of being second only to the Lake Erie Crushers, the Avon Eagles have assumed a lower spot in Sprenger Stadium’s batting order.
“There are four schools playing at that stadium, three of which are not from Avon,” Frombach said. “How is it that the hometown school — and the team playing the longest at the ballpark after the Crushers — gets the least amount of time on the field?”