by Mike Russo
There is a new entertainment option this summer for residents of the West Valley.
The Freedom League, an independent baseball minor league, has relocated one of its four franchises to Goodyear.
The team, the Goodyear Centennials, is managed by Joe Sperle, who is also the league founder and president. One of Sperle’s coaches is former major leaguer Ben Johnson, who also has served as an assistant coach at Millennium High School.
“We offer family friendly entertainment at affordable prices,” Sperle said.
Tickets for games at Goodyear Ballpark, the spring training home of the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds, are $7 for adults and $5 for senior citizens and children.
“We have a lot of great baseball facilities in the Valley, and we are fortunate to get to play in Goodyear Ballpark,” Sperle said.
The league plays a 70-game schedule, ending with a four-team playoff in September. All games are played at 7 p.m., usually on Thursday Friday and Saturday.
In addition to the Centennials, the league’s other three teams are the Peoria Explorers, the Montezuma Federals, based in Prescott, and the Phoenix Prospectors, which will play all road games in 2013. The Prospectors are the defending league champions.
“I saw a real need for players who did well in high school but did not get a chance in the minors,” Sperle said of the league’s birth. “A lot of the guys are in their mid-20s and have played minor league baseball and were relapsed. We also have guys who have played high school and college baseball and are looking for a chance in organized ball.
“It’s good baseball. It’s probably equivalent to high Class A, or maybe a little higher. We had four or five guys get signed out of our league last year by major league organizations. That’s the goal of most of these guys, to get signed by a major league team.”
There are several familiar names to baseball fans making up the players, managers and coaches in the league.
Outfielder Joey Gathright recently signed with Peoria.
Gathright has spent parts of seven seasons in the major leagues with Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Boston and the Chicago Cubs. He owns a career .263 major league batting average. His game is predicated on speed as he has swiped 81 bases in the big leagues.
Outfielder Chris Duffy, a graduate of Glendale Mountain Ridge High School, was originally scheduled to play for the Phoenix Prospectors but a lingering injury has forced him to the coaching box.
Duffy has spent portions of four seasons in the major leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers and has a .262 career batting average.
Former major league player Larry See is the manager of the Prospectors.
Brett Jenkins, who played minor league baseball for eight seasons, is the manger of the Peoria team. One of his coaches is his brother, Geoff, a former major league All-Star, who hit three homers in a game against the Montreal Expos on April 28, 2001.
Dennis Tiefenthaler, a coach with the Montezuma Federals, pitched for three seasons in the minor leagues, reaching as high as Class AA.
The Centennials are on the road until returning home July 10-14, when they will host the Phoenix Prospectors.
Tickets can be ordered by calling the league office at 480-946-0211 or online at www.freedomprofessionalbaseball-
Mike Russo can be reached by email at email@example.com.