By Josh Vitale, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Major League baseball has approved the sale of the Charlotte Stone Crabs from Ripken Baseball to the Caribbean Baseball Initiative, making the new Lou Schwechheimer-led group the new owners of the Tampa Bay Rays’ High-A affiliate.
CBI will assume the same agreements held between Ripken Baseball, Charlotte County and the Rays, which include the team’s 2016 lease to play at Charlotte Sports Park — renewed annually — and the second year of a two-year player development contract with the Rays — the fourth such deal the two sides have operated under since 2009.
Asked if there were any plans to move the Stone Crabs out of Charlotte County, Schwechheimer said, ‘None whatsoever. That’s an emphatic ‘We’re staying put.’”
“It’s been a year in the making,” said Schwechheimer who will be introduced as the team’s new owner at a press conference next week.
“The county, the community and the Rays have been fabulous, and we look forward to a long, long relationship and a longstanding partnership that really brings us to the top of the Florida State League.”
The defending FSL champion Stone Crabs had been owned by Ripken Baseball since the team moved from Vero Beach to Port Charlotte following the 2008 season. The Cal Ripken Jr.-led organization announced Nov. 2 that it was “in discussions to sell our interest in the Port Charlotte Stone Crabs.”
Minor League Baseball and the Florida State League approved the sale to CBI in early December, and the Charlotte County Board of County Commissioners voted on Dec. 8 to consent to the assignment of the team’s stadium lease from Ripken to CBI.
The sale received final approval from Major League Baseball on Dec. 30.
“I’ve been impressed by their professionalism and their long-term commitment to Charlotte County,” Charlotte County Commissioner Ray Sandrock said of the new owners in a statement. “We’re fortunate to have an ownership group deeply respected in the baseball industry and so enthusiastic about the team’s future here.”
Schwechheimer, who spent 37 years with the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox in every role from intern to part owner, stepped down in September after the team was sold to the Boston Red Sox’ ownership group last February.
He has since purchased controlling interest in the Miami Marlins’ Triple-A affiliate New Orleans Zephyrs, and he also holds a minority interest in the New York Yankees Triple-A affiliate Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
Schwechheimer’s partner at CBI, Jordan Kobritz, has also previously owned and operated two minor league teams: The Triple-A Maine Guides (which folded in 1988) and the FSL Daytona Cubs, who became the Daytona Tortugas last season.
“With our experiences in Pawtucket, building something really from the ashes, the ground up to what’s become, I think in any respect, one of the model franchises in Minor League Baseball — we’re thrilled about trying to do the same thing in Port Charlotte,” Schwechheimer said.
“From what we can see, there’s enormous potential. We just look forward to really digging in.”