NY-Penn League's Tigers to play in Norwich

Norwich - The tightly kept secret of which of the 14-team New York-Penn League teams will move to Norwich spilled Wednesday, one day before today's planned news conference to announce the Oneonta Tigers will come to Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium in June.

The league had commanded a strict gag order on any comments that would reveal the team's identity, but Oneonta Mayor Richard P. Miller Jr. felt no compulsion to comply Wednesday after learning from team general manager Andy Weber that the Tigers would break their lease one year early.

The team promised to pay Oneonta its $6,000 lease payment this year and to refund all those who purchased season tickets - including the mayor.

"The fact that they are leaving a year earlier than planned is unfortunate but understandable given the unanticipated opportunity presented to them by the New York-Penn League in Connecticut," Miller said in a statement. "While I consider their leaving to have been inevitable, their abrupt departure was facilitated and encouraged by the league which the Oneonta community has supported for 44 years."

Norwich officials and representatives from the Tigers and the short-season Class A New York-Penn League will be at Norwich City Hall today for a 1 p.m. news conference to announce the move, along with plans to sell tickets and gear up for the 2010 season.

If the league keeps the schedule already released, the Tigers' opening day would be Saturday, June 26 against the Vermont Lake Monsters - also one of the teams rumored to be coming to Norwich. There will be 38 home games scheduled for Dodd Stadium.

City officials reached a lease agreement for Dodd Stadium through league president Ben Hayes, a move that retained the secrecy of the team's identity. The 10-year lease calls for the team to pay $100,000 to Norwich this year, with payments rising to $120,000 at the end of the 10-year period.

The team will have three five-year options to extend the lease through the 2034 baseball season. Lease payments could end as high as $165,000 in 2034 if all renewal options are exercised. The team also has an early departure option after the 2014 season.

While Norwich plans to celebrate landing a team just months after losing the Class AA Connecticut Defenders of the Eastern League, Miller had harsh words for the New York-Penn League for the way it treated Oneonta.

Oneonta had been part of the New York-Penn League since 1966, the year a local ownership bought the team. The aging owners, Sam Nader and Sid Levine, sold the team at the end of 2008 to a group headed by New York City attorney E. Miles Prentice. But the team finished last in attendance in 2009 with 23,521 fans in 34 games, an average of only 691 fans per game.

"The NY-Penn League's lack of loyalty and consideration of this community, not to mention the long-term former owners, is shocking and reprehensible," Miller said in the statement. "This action which leaves the community without an assurance of organized baseball less than five months before the beginning of the season is prejudicial to our city and was initiated by the league, not the Tigers, in October."

He added that the move to be announced today still needs to be approved by Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball and could be premature.

Hayes, however, said last week that he is "very confident" at receiving those approvals.

c.bessette@theday.com

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