GLENDALE — By midsummer, baseball games are usually already little more than a memory at Stengel Field.
But when the summer of 2011 really starts heating up, local baseball will be just getting into full swing.
The California Collegiate League, one of the premiere amateur collegiate summer baseball leagues in the country, announced on Friday that it will be expanding into Glendale, where its newest franchise will take up residence at Stengel Field.
"Bringing a collegiate league to the city of Glendale is definitely going to be one of the best things to happen to this area," said Glendale Community College baseball Coach Chris Cicuto, whose team is one of the primary residents of Stengel Field along with the Crescenta Valley High baseball team. "Years ago, the city of Glendale was really a top competitor when it came to baseball back in the 80s and 70s and we've kind of lost that love for the game a little bit. Bringing that back is going to not only bring exposure to the game for people in the city but it will also bring exposure to the college and surrounding colleges around the area. I couldn't be more ecstatic about the situation."
A press conference is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sept. 29 at Stengel Field featuring local officials, including Mayor Ara Najarian and Director of Community Services & Parks George Chapjian, as well as Team President Tony Riviera.
"It's kind of hard to describe the excitement because it's something that we've worked really hard on and we couldn't have done it without the support of the city officials," said Riviera, chairman and CEO of a local restaurant group, who will reveal details such as the team's name and colors at the press conference. "It's huge, baseball coming to Glendale."
The CCL is a non-profit organization featuring amateur baseball organizations from the greater Southern California and Las Vegas areas and will include a total of eight teams with the addition of the Glendale club. The wood-bat league, which features some of the top NCAA Division I talent from across the country, plays a 42-game championship season that begins June 1 and runs through Aug 7.
"The whole feel of summer baseball is just a really, really neat experience in all aspects," Cicuto said. "Not only for the kids, but for the coaches, the administrative people that are all involved and, obviously, the fans should have a great experience with that."
Along with the Cape Cod League and the Alaska Baseball League, the CCL is largely recognized as one of the top three leagues of its kind and last season 48% of its athletes were Division I players, representing 19 conferences and 53 schools.
Aiming to provide its athletes with professional-level development as prospects, and communities with a family-friendly minor-league style viewing experience, the CCL will be a good fit in Glendale and the overall baseball hotbed of the greater Los Angeles, league Commissioner Pat Burns said.
"My job as commissioner of the league is to look at all opportunities when they become available and the opportunity that presented itself in Glendale with an owner operator like Tony Riviera and a facility like Casey Stengel Field in a community like Glendale was really attractive to all of us," Burns said. "We think that Glendale, in a year or two, is going to be the best franchise in this league just because of the ability and the demographics all the way around, the facility and the tradition of community support in Glendale. The stadium is absolutely perfect for what we're trying to do and what I think the city of Glendale would like to see happen as far as providing low-cost family entertainment for their community."
A former Major League Baseball scout, Riviera most recently coached the So Cal Cardinals of the Southern California Collegiate League. As far as building a coaching staff, Riviera said he has been working with former major leaguers such as Brady Anderson, a Glendale resident, and Mark Langston, and may include some coaches from Glendale college.
Riviera expects to have several recently drafted players from the So Cal Cardinals on the new team, and plans to search extensively for talent to fill out the roster.
"I see [the players] coming from all over the United States," said Riviera, who said he has already begun to establish a connection with programs such as UCLA, Oregon State and Oklahoma State and plans to do the same with other regional programs such as UC Irvine. "I think that the CCL has really become, very quickly, the league of choice [for top collegiate players].
"First and foremost I'll be looking at summer players that are coming back home, but we want to field the best team possible, so that's the most important thing. ...The best Division I college players in the country is really what's important to us."
Riviera said he won't overlook junior college talent while building the team, either.
"There are some great junior college players that may not necessarily have the grades to go to a Division I school or the financial wherewithal, but they can play Division I baseball at any college in the country," Riviera said. "We've got a good, solid basis. You build a strong nucleus and one thing about the CCL is there's a lot of big guys. You've really got to go for horses and that's kind of what we're looking at.
"I believe I can lead this team and get it to a championship."