Brandon Beegle was a senior at Springfield High School when the Champion City Kings collegiate summer baseball team debuted in 2014.
He sat in the stands at Carleton Davidson Stadium hoping to one day pitch for his hometown’s new club, attending multiple games that summer.
“I thought it was a great thing coming to the community,” he said. “It gave us something to look forward to.”
Since that time, the Kings have had more than 65,000 spectators enter the gates at the stadium during their five seasons in Springfield. Local tourism officials have estimated the team has poured millions into the local Clark County economy.
The team means everything to its fan base people who come, Rick White said, especially a group of about 300 to 400 die-hards.
“If this team was gone, I think they’d have to figure out what to do now,” White said. “This fills the void for a lot of people who don’t have things to do around here.”
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At the same time, many Clark County residents have yet to hear about the Kings after five years, White said. He constantly gets stopped by people asking about his Champion City Kings gear, he said.
“People ask, ‘We’ve got a baseball team?’,” White said.
This summer, Beegle, now a senior pitcher at Wittenberg University, found himself wearing the Kings No. 19 jersey — like the rest of his teammates, he’s hoping a scout may see him.
“It’s been a great time,” he said. “It’s been a good experience to get out against this type of competition. You’re playing against a lot of D-I guys. You miss one spot and you pay for it. It’s going to help me get my accuracy down.”
Birth of a team
In 2014, the Champion City Kings became the wooden bat Prospect League’s newest collegiate summer baseball franchise, reaching an agreement with the National Trail Parks and Recreation District to play 30 home dates at the stadium.
The team has made several improvements to the stadium since that time, including a $200,000 video scoreboard paid for through sponsorships.
In 2016, the team was sold to a local ownership group that included White. After five years, the team is still trying to find the perfect algorithm, he said. The team has averaged about 500 spectators per night over the last five years, while other older franchises like the Chllicothe (Ohio) Paints average 1,800 fans per game.
“We’ve tried different ticket prices, different promotions,” White said. “We still haven’t quite found the perfect niche we’re looking for yet. Next year, we’re going to try a whole bunch of new stuff to see if we can get more people here.
It was hard to gauge attendance this season, White said, due to an abnormal number of rainouts.
“Weather is our No. 1 enemy,” White said.
The Kings had nine rainouts before July 4, including Opening Day, one of its biggest draws of the year. The team hosted just 22 dates this season, eight less than it had scheduled.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to get all of our sponsors back next year and do some more things with it,” White said. “We’re just going to go year-by-year. The league is constantly changing.”
One of the major keys for the future is spending more money on advertising, White said. Social media is a big tool, but only reaches a certain demographic, he said.
The team recently reduced its ticket prices to $5 for the final home games of the season, but not everyone knew the tickets had been reduced, White said.
“Once we get all of that figured out, I think this is going to be a really good thing to where it can stick around,” he said.
Every walk of life
For the past four years, Springfield residents Steve and Terri Lininger have volunteered as the Kings’ ticket takers at the entrance of Carleton Davidson Stadium. The Liningers’ developmentally disabled son, Curtis, is also the assistant to the on-field announcer and has served as clubhouse manager in the past. The family has missed just one weekend series during that time – when the family went to watch former Kenton Ridge High School and Washington Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton play in Chicago.
The family hosts the players a couple times a year, Terri said. The whole team piled in Curtis’ room on Aug. 3 to play his favorite baseball video game, MLB The Show, she said.
“(The Kings organization) makes me speechless,” Terri said. “There are so many beneficial things for every walk of life here. It doesn’t matter if you’re a season ticket holder, if you’re someone just looking for one night out – it’s family fun.”
It’s the relationships that keep their family coming back, they said.
“Every night is a new memory,” Steve said. “You see old faces every night and you meet and get to know new players every year.”
A chance at the bigs
The Kings have been in the playoff race during its five-year tenure in Springfield but has yet to make the playoffs. In 2017, Champion City was in the playoff hunt until the final day of the season but couldn’t qualify for the postseason.
With five years under his belt, White knows enough college coaches to bring a good team to Springfield. They’ve had talented players from across the country come to Springfield, including colleges such as San Diego State, Nebraska and Florida Southwestern. This season, the Kings signed a player from Canada.
“I feel like I can put together a really good team,” White said. “To get the right amount of pitching, hitting and defense is tough because you don’t know what these guys are going to be like until they get here.”
It would be nice to make the playoffs and win a ring, White said. But after five years, the goal remains the same – helping college players get to the pros. The team has had more than 25 players become professionals – including MLB and Independent ball – in the last five years, White said.
“This team, there are five or six guys who will go next year or the year after when they’re eligible,” he said. “As long as we keep doing our job as coaches and as an organization to make them better to give them that chance to go, to me, that’s what it’s all about.”
When White was coming up in the 1980s, there were just a few collegiate leagues to help scouts find players, including the famous Cape Cod League, he said. They were typically available for players at Division I schools, he said.
“I just played around here for teams locally and was lucky enough to be seen by somebody,” White said. “Now these leagues are popping up everywhere all over the country. … It’s unbelievable all the stuff that’s going on for these kids right now.”
The goal, White said, is to help every player be seen by scouts for a chance to play in the big leagues.
“It’s nice to know they’re coming and looking at guys and talking to us about them,” he said.