Angelenos unveiled

NORTHEAST GLENDALE — Serving as a formal groundbreaking for the California Collegiate League expansion team that will begin to call Stengel Field home in the summer of 2011, the press conference held on the venerated ballpark's infield on Wednesday afternoon was attended by officials from the league, the ballclub and the City of Glendale beaming proudly over a new partnership that promises to bring some of the best amateur baseball in the country to the Jewel City.

The team will be called the Glendale Angelenos and will begin its season on June 1. League Commissioner Pat Burns also announced his intention to hold the league's July 13 midseason all-star game at Stengel Field, as well.

"This city, and this facility in particular, has the makings of becoming one of the finest [summer collegiate] programs in the entire nation," Burns said. "Not many programs have this type of facility with this type of demographic of a community around it.

"You can expect Glendale to be very proud of what I hope will become the city's team."

Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian and Glendale Director of Community Services and Parks George Chapjian were also on hand Wednesday to officially welcome the Angelenos, represented by Team President Tony Riviera, and to express their excitement about the partnership.

"What a great field we have here and we've always known this," Najarian said. "It's like the Field of Dreams, where if you build it they will come.

"We always knew that someday we would get the call from a step up in the baseball levels and we certainly did with the California Collegiate League. [Stengel Field] is a great place to come watch a game. We are very happy to hear the crack of the bats of the Glendale Angelenos starting next summer and I look forward to the home games and also the All-Star Game that we will be hosting here."

The 1,800-seat ballpark, which first opened in 1949, underwent an extensive renovation in 2008, including laser grading of the Bermuda-grass playing field and the installation of a state-of-the-art Musco parabolic lighting system. Further cosmetic upgrades will be performed as needed leading up to the start of the season.

"We will be working more and more on this field to make sure it is top-notch," said Chapjian, who noted that most of the "heavy lifting" in terms of refurbishing the facility had already been accomplished with the 2008 project. "I think this is going to be good for Glendale and I'm really excited about it."

The CCL is a non-profit amateur collegiate league with a total of eight clubs across California and Nevada primarily funded by contributions from local businesses and individuals, as well as partial funding from Major League Baseball. Burns said the league's focus is on fan-friendly, affordable family entertainment similar to the minor league baseball experience.

Riviera said admission to Angelenos home games will be free and the club will share revenue from sponsorship and concessions with the city.

"We encourage our fans and our players to interact," Burns said. "When you go to [baseball games in] the academic system, they try and keep the players away from the fans and the fans away from the players, but in our league we try to get them to interact, sign autographs, do clinics and get the kids to come down to the field doing promotions.

"But what really distinguishes our league and really endears our players to their community is that our players are amateurs. …They're playing for the love of the game."

The CCL also uses wood bats and flat-seam baseballs.

"This is a big difference," Burns said. "For most of our players, this level is the first time using the pro game's equipment and what happens is they show up very motivated to prove that they can handle these professional tools and that motivation leads to some spirited competition that the fans love and everybody wins."

Riviera, a chairman and CEO of a local restaurant group, who is a former major league scout and longtime manager in the amateur leagues, will also manage the team on the field for its inaugural season.

"I've coached for over 25 years at the amateur level and scouted at the professional level and my heart is always brought back to the amateur level because that's where the real warriors are," Riviera said. "That's where you see the hunger and the dreams."

But Riviera's first task at hand is filling out the roster, which remains open aside from a handful of players that Riviera will bring in from the So Cal Cardinals of the Southern California Collegiate League, which he managed last season.

Players are recruited from the college ranks and assigned to CCL teams. Fifty-three Division I programs were represented in last year's league season, although lower NCAA division programs and junior colleges are also tapped by the league for talent.

"We have a great opportunity and a great nucleus of players that are returning from our time in the SCC last year," Riviera said. "Our plan is to win a championship and we'll do it with the core of people that are here today and certainly the top players from throughout the country.

"I don't see us doing an open tryout situation. I think it comes down to scouting and player evaluation and that starts taking place this weekend when we have the California Junior College All-Star Game at Mt. San Antonio [College] on Sunday and on Saturday we have the North Junior College All-Star Game in Sacramento."

Riviera said he has already been in contact with Division I coaches at programs such as UCLA and Oklahoma State, but is wary of counting too heavily on players who may be coming off extended college seasons.

"I'm not necessarily convinced that that's where you're going to get the best players," Riviera said. "Strategically you want to make sure the chemistry fits out of the chute and how you do that is getting guys in early, selecting your team early and not waiting for a month and a half for a guy to show up tired because he's been in the College World Series.

"I want to try and keep things in the core of this community and then of course go outside the community not only to bring in players, but to bring in fans for the purpose of creating economic impact."

On hand for Wednesday's press conference were several dozen Glendale Community College ballplayers, who hope to find a role with the team that the Vaqueros now share residency at Stengel Field with.

"Any time you bring that caliber of club to the same field that we play at, I think that it creates excitement and a buzz," Glendale college Coach Chris Cicuto said. "Our guys' goal is to try and make this team for next year."

The all-star game figures to create some buzz around Stengel Field, as well. The game, which will take place July 13 at Stengel, has been televised nationally for the last two seasons by FoxSportsWest to an estimated 64 million homes.

"I think we can fill every seat in this stadium and that this nationally televised event can become a showcase of how much pride we know the people of Glendale have for their community," Burns said.

Najarian said he expects the presence of the team and the all-star game to have a positive residual effect on the city's economy in bringing more traffic to local businesses and commercial centers such as the Americana on Brand.

"We would love to host the California Collegiate League All-Star Game," Najarian said. "I think it would bring a lot of energy to the City of Glendale and to our community."

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