By Josh Vitale, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Wednesday likely wasn’t the day Lou Schwechheimer envisioned when he and CBI-Rays partner Jordan Kobritz signed a purchase and sale agreement to buy a minor league baseball team in Southwest Florida last August.
But on a chilly and overcast 52-degree morning on the right-center field boardwalk at Charlotte Sports Park, Schwechheimer donned a navy blue Charlotte Stone Crabs cap and was introduced as the second owner in the team’s eight-year history.
Suddenly, the cooler air didn’t seem to bother the crowd of close to 100 people as much.
“It’s an honor for me to put this hat on and be part of this organization, and be entrusted with this beautiful ballpark, and be part of this community,” Schwechheimer said to the gathered Charlotte County and North Port government officials, Tampa Bay Rays representatives, Stone Crabs Booster Club members and front office staffers.
“I look forward to working with the Rays. We’re going to do the little things right. And you have our commitment to be here for the long haul.”
Schwechheimer and Kobritz purchased the team from Ripken Baseball, which had owned the team since it moved to Port Charlotte in 2009.
They each shared the same vision for the Stone Crabs on Wednesday, a vision of turning the team’s games and Charlotte Sports Park into “a community gathering place.”
And despite making their homes in the northeast and Schwechheimer’s ownership stake in the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs and Pennsylvania’s Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the two made clear their investment to Charlotte County.
Schwechheimer said he and his family would begin looking at homes in the Port Charlotte area soon, and there’s already been discussions about offering free baseball clinics and scholarship funds for area students.
“What you’ll find is that we will be a part of this community,” said Schwechheimer, who spent 36 years with the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox rising from intern to part owner before the parent Boston Red Sox purchased the team last year. “I’ve always found that, when you’re entrusted with a leadership role, with an ownership role, you have a moral responsibility to make the community in which you live better.”
Schwechheimer’s Caribbean Baseball Initiative has designs on taking minor league baseball to Cuba, so he plans to approach the Rays about inviting the Cuban National Team to play at Charlotte Sports Park, as well as sending the Stone Crabs on a trip to play games in Havana.
Kobritz, a former minor league owner with the Triple-A Maine Guides and High-A Daytona Cubs of the Florida State League, had designs on something that might make Stone Crabs fans even more happy: More championships like the one the team won in 2015.
“When we owned the Daytona Cubs, we won two championships in the Florida State League. Then I sold the team, and they won four more,” Kobritz said. “And then last August, we signed a purchase and sale agreement on the Stone Crabs. And lo and behold, they caught fire and — you fans know what happened there. Another Florida State League championship.
“So I just want to put (the Rays) on notice here: We may give them a pass this year, and maybe next year. But if my addition and division is correct, that’s one championship every three years. No pressure.”
Schwechheimer and Kobritz also got ringing endorsements from some of their newest partners.
Charlotte County Commissioner Bill Truex said, “You can hear the love and passion in what they have to say.” Florida State League president Ken Carson said, “They’re great people, and they work very hard to make sure the fans are going to enjoy themselves,” and Rays vice president of strategy and development Melanie Lenz added, “We couldn’t be prouder to have Lou and Jordan as part of the Rays family and as the new owners of the Stone Crabs.”
And now that they’ve been formally introduced, the new owners of the Stone Crabs get to do what they’ve been building toward for almost a year:
Get to work.
“To be welcomed this way is truly admirable, and it gets your blood going. We’re ready and fired up,” Schwechheimer said. “To be able to finally have the keys and be able to come in and get this place rocking, is magic.”