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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

'We're going to have baseball for a long time': Cavemen owners announce Clemens Field upgrades

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Historic Clemens Field should feature more of a new-age look this summer when the Hannibal Cavemen take the field for the 2012 Prospect League season.

Cavemen owners Rick DeStefane and Bob Hemond and general manager John Civitate announced at a Wednesday press conference plans for new additions to the ballpark, which serves as home to Hannibal's baseball organization in a 12-team wood-bat summer collegiate league.

Included in the plans are:

º A new Daktronics electronic scoreboard and message center that will replace the existing manual scoreboard beyond the wall in right-center field.

º A radar gun/pitch speed board that will be positioned on the visitor's dugout and visible to fans.

º A canopy to cover the press area next to the Clemens Club, which is close to being completed.

º Installation of a mesh shade canopy on the northwest side of the grandstand and oscillating fans in the grandstand.

º Planting of trees near the Clemens Club.

Many of the planned upgrades are designed to provide a more comfortable viewing environment for fans.

"The message (with the planned upgrades) is that we're here to stay and that we're going to have baseball, and we want to have the best place to play baseball," DeStefane said.

DeStefane sees the upgrades as the continuation of a process of rebuilding the organization's reputation following an ownership transition last summer.

DeStefane, a nursing home executive, is president and the CEO of Hannibal Cavemen Baseball LLC, which took over ownership of the Cavemen last June. DeStefane is a 50/50 owner with Hemond, who is also a minority owner of the Sacramento River Cats, a Class AAA affiliate of the Oakland Athletics.

Hemond and Larry Owens were majority owners of the prior ownership group and ended up at odds. The Hannibal City Council authorized F&M Bank to sell off team assets in mid-May, and less than a month later, the Prospect League approved the sale of the team to DeStefane and Hemond. Owens is not part of the current ownership group.

DeStefane said the organization is financially stable under the current ownership group.

"I hope and encourage (the public) to trust us and look at this new regime as a new regime, that we're going forward," DeStefane said. "We have strong financial capability, so even if we have a bad year, we're not going to be hurting. We're committed to it."

Hemond said an electronic scoreboard was important to improve fan experience and to allow Clemens Field to continue to host American Legion and Hannibal-LaGrange University baseball games when a manual scoreboard operator can't always be present.

"What we really wanted to do was bring out another level of excitement and enjoyment for the fans to be able to follow the Cavemen games," Hemond said, adding that the organization plans to try to find a way to continue to incorporate the manual scoreboard somewhere in the ballpark that was built in 1938.

Hemond said it's still to be determined how much all the upgrades will cost, and he would not offer a cost estimate. DeStefane said some of the of the cost will be picked up by multiple sponsors, and some will be covered by the owners.

Hemond said the upgrades will not affect season ticket or single-game ticket prices.

"Right now we're in very good financial condition, ... and we're going to have baseball for a long time," DeStefane said.

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