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New pro league bringing team in Laurel

A new professional baseball league will have a team in Laurel.

That’s what Parks and Recreation Director Elvin Ulmer told the Laurel City Council at the end of Tuesday’s meeting. The National Urban Baseball League, which will also have teams in Tennessee, Texas and Louisiana, is locating its lone Mississippi team in Laurel.

“They got a good report about baseball here, so they chose Laurel,” Ulmer told the council.

The league wants to make Wooten Legion Field its home and will pay the city $30,000 up front and 3 percent of advertising, Ulmer said.

“They wanted Legion Field because it’s the only (field) we have with locker rooms underneath the bleachers,” he said. “It’s a win-win.”

The league is starting with just four teams and a 90-game schedule — 45 at home, 45 on the road — but there are plans to expand, Ulmer said.

Tryouts were originally scheduled for this weekend, Ulmer said, but founder Charles Mayden decided to schedule those for a later date along with a “big media event,” Ulmer said.

“The league is open to anyone in 12th grade or over, and players will be paid a salary,” Ulmer said. “It’s open to anyone who’s not under a professional contract, so it’s possible there will be some major-league players who aren’t currently under contract playing in the league.”

Mayden, a former Major League Baseball scout, reported on the league’s website that its inaugural season will be 2018. His vision for the league is that it “would almost mirror the Negro League baseball league,” but roster spots won’t be limited to black players, he emphasized.

“We’re seeking the best baseball players from across the United States and the world,” he said.

But it was the dwindling numbers of black players in the major leagues that led him to create the league.

“I’ve been in the game 38 years myself. I’m a former major-league scout. I coached college baseball, coached high school baseball, and baseball, No. 1, it’s just in my blood,” said Mayden, who was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. “It’s my passion. I live each day to see the game. More importantly, I see a decline of African-American baseball players being given the opportunity to play baseball. So it’s the decline of African-American baseball players in the game that really drives this motivation behind this particular league.”

Mayden’s plan from the beginning was to start up in the South, in smaller markets, getting financial backing from donors, sponsorships and his own investment. Laurel and Millington, Tenn., are the only towns listed on the website so far.

The organization will look to have 24 players on a team and more than 100 jobs will be created with coaches and staff as well as support positions by October, Mayden said at the announcement of the league.

“Right now we’re just trying to get the word out and form the teams and generate that buzz about what we’re doing.”

Mayden said he hopes to see the black community embrace the league “and make it a national example where people would come here from all over the world.”

“We want everybody in the United States and outside the United States to know that the Urban Professional Baseball League is here. It’s coming, and we’re trying to be here for a long time.”

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