Adult Baseball League makes changes
Published 4:49 pm Tuesday, May 24, 2022
NILES — As the Niles Adult Baseball League continues preparation for its 2022 season, many things have changed, according to new Board President David Sokolowski.
The 2021 season did not end on a good note for the league as it was discovered that Dakota Jackson, who was single-handedly running the league, had embezzled money for the organization that plays its games at Thomas Memorial Stadium.
A new board has been put into place and the league is trying to rebrand itself, according to Sokolowski. It is also partnering with Greater Niles Little League even more than it has in the past to help improve Thomas Stadium and remove that he called the league’s “black eye.”
“Our biggest thing is leaving that in the dust,” Sokolowski said. “We have built everything back up, starting from a zero balance in the bank account. We are working with Ed “Chop” Hoskin, the president of the Little League. Without the Little League, there is no adult league. As far as fundraising, everything that we do is going back into the stadium.”
It was discovered following the 2021 season that Jackson had embezzled nearly $6,000 of the league’s money. In December, he was charged with two felonies — embezzlement of more than $1,000 but less than $20,000 and making a false report of a felony.
Jackson had claimed that nearly $6,000 was stolen from his car in September of 2020.
When sentenced, Jackson was given community service and ordered to pay $6,200 in restitution, partially due to a request by the Thomas Stadium Board that he not be given jail time.
Fortunately for both leagues, Jackson had not taken any of the nearly $5,000 he had helped raise through a GoFundMe campaign in May of 2020, which he said was to be used to help make improvements to Thomas Stadium. Through that money, several improvements were made historic stadium, which has been the site of many events like the 1984 Babe Ruth World Series, boxing and wrestling matches, concerts, and even ice skating.
The Niles Adult Baseball League has grown from a modest beginning of three teams to 14 teams last season. Sokolowski said that the league has already filled all the available team spots for this season, which begins July 9. The league also has a new fan page — facebook.com/ThomasStadiumAdultBaseball.
Joining Sokolowski on the new league board are Kyle Kerber, vice president; Jake Brentlinger, treasurer; Dave Tague, secretary; and Dustin Walker, groundskeeping and field care.
At its June monthly meeting, Sokolowski said they plan to create a joint board that handles fundraising. Plans are already in the works for some events, such as the return of wrestling [June 18], which the stadium has hosted the past two summers. They have also talked about bringing back the Home Run Derby.
The Niles Adult Baseball League will have 12 teams this season. Teams come from a variety of areas, including Elkhart and South Bend across the board in Indiana, as well as teams from southwest Michigan, including the Coloma-St. Joseph area.
Instead of only playing Sundays, the league will expand its schedule to include Saturday games once the Little League season has concluded. The league will play weeknight games if weekend contests are rained out if needed. Those games would be fit around the Little League schedule.
“We have joined the National Adult Baseball League,” Sokolowski said. “If you go on Google and search adult baseball near me, Thomas Stadium is going to show up, which is really exciting. If you do not play baseball in Elkhart, you are not playing adult baseball. It is either Elkhart, Kalamazoo or here. It is nice to be that go-between in the Michiana area. I think we are going to get better and the stadium is going to get better too.”
Sokolowski said the plan for the continued Thomas Stadium renovation is to replace the bleachers. Last year the upper section of bleachers nearest to Silverbrook Cemetery were shortened. This year, the bleachers nearest M-51 will have the same thing done to them. Then, new bleachers will be eventual built from the ground up.
Following the bleachers, Sokolowski said that Hoskins said the plan was the replace the press box within five years.
Over the past couple of years, the concession stand was upgraded, and new steps were built for the press box.
Sokolowski said that the adult league is currently registering for non-profit status and plans to apply for a liquor license, so if it hosts fundraisers, it would be able to sell beer.
“If you have a stadium like this, it is a license to do fundraising,” he said. “We need to bring people back down here. Slowly, but surely, we will get it back.”
He would also like to see travel baseball teams begin to use the facility in the near future.
The Niles Adult Baseball League allows former high school and college players to continue to play the sport instead of having to transition to slow-pitch softball if they so desire. Many of the league teams will feature players whose names are recognizable due to their high school exploits.
The Niles Knights are the defending league champions, while the Diamond Jaxx have won five championships to lead the league.
“We keep getting better,” Sokolowski said. “I talk to friends who are slow-pitch guys and they are all coming back now because this is legitimate. Our home run lead last year had six or seven. Our strikeout leader had 60 or 70. The hardest thrower in the league is probably mid- to upper-80s. And then we have our casual guys who work a nine-to-five and just want to come out and swing a bat.”
The age range in the league is from just out of high school or college all the way up to age 50.
Brandywine graduate Mike Morrison will again help with the announcing of games. This year the league will be adding another announcer who comes from the Coloma area.
“We are happy to move on from last year and are looking forward to the start of a new season,” Sokolowski said.