Professional softball: Akron Racers become Cleveland Comets
By Michael Beaven
AKRON – The Akron Racers are now the Cleveland Comets, and there continues to be doubt about the future of professional softball at Akron’s Firestone Stadium.
New General Manager Stephen Dunn confirmed Thursday afternoon by telephone that the Racers will change their name to the Comets. The National Pro Fastpitch league planned to make the announcement official Thursday night.
The Beacon Journal learned Sunday that the Racers would morph into another team under majority owner Craig Stout and that Joey Arrietta would be not involved as the general manager, but would remain as a minority owner and team president.
Stout spoke with the Beacon Journal by telephone Thursday. He was asked if the team will play quite a few games in 2018 at Firestone Stadium or if it will be a traveling team, and his response was: “Hopefully, it is a team that travels around quite a bit, including games at Firestone Stadium.”
The roster remains undetermined, but Stout said there will be a “core of American players” and “international players” as well.
Dunn was also asked about the roster, and said: “We will be bringing back a pretty strong core of American players, some very well-known names as well, but as far as a specific number, I don’t think we are ready to make an official comment on that, but yes there will be international players too.”
The former Akron franchise and the National Pro Fastpitch league sent out a news release announcing the hiring of Dunn as the team’s new general manager.
Expanding team’s reach
“We are still to be determined on a few things,” Dunn said Thursday. “I think at this point we are ready to release our new team name, but as far as the home venue or what venues we will be playing out of this year, I don’t think we have fully determined that yet...What we would like to find is a centralized location to have the majority of our home games and then because of the way the schedule is going to be set up with multiple home games, we are considering possible different venues within an hour or two from our home venue around Ohio to attract as many fans as we can from different regions.”
Dunn said the club is looking at possibly playing home games in venues in Toledo, Youngstown, Columbus, Akron and Cleveland.
“We are looking to expand our reach into different markets,” Dunn said. “One of the things that we are hoping to improve on is the level of attendance that we can draw...Akron is a hotbed for softball in the high school community, so there definitely is going to be an incentive for us to be in the Akron area.”
The news release announcing Dunn’s hiring, which was distributed by the team and NPF, says he will “oversee all team operations and player personnel.”
The statement also says “longtime general manager Joey Arrietta remains the team’s president and minority owner and will focus on critical initiatives of Akron Racers Foundation and Akron Racers Charities.”
The Beacon Journal/Ohio.com had arranged earlier in the week to interview NPF Commissioner Cheri Kempf on Thursday afternoon through NPF media coordinator Julie Walton, but Walton informed the newspaper on Thursday morning that the interview was off due to “a schedule change.”
The city of Akron invested $3.5 million to renovate Firestone Stadium in 1999.
New GM’s background
The Racers are the oldest existing team in the National Pro Fastpitch league, and were set to celebrate their 17th season of play in 2018. The Racers competed in the Women’s Pro Softball League in 1999 and 2000 and in the NPF since 2004.
Dunn, 28, is a Westlake resident who is a former collegiate baseball player and graduate of Hiram College. He also played for several semiprofessional baseball organizations, has a business background in sales and marketing with multiple Northeast Ohio companies, and was most recently serving as vice president of sales and marketing with Westshore Marketing Group Inc., a business that he created with his father, James Dunn.
“I am really eager to have Stephen lead our players and front office moving forward,” Stout said in the news release. “Stephen is a passionate and highly motivated individual and our organization has the utmost confidence in his abilities. His experience and attitude made him the ideal choice to be our next General Manager.
“I would also like to thank Joey for her tireless efforts over these many years. She has been the heartbeat of this team and has made tremendous sacrifices to keep us going.”
Stout, a Shaker Heights resident, has been the Racers majority owner since April 2008. He is a graduate of Williams College and the Ohio State University College of Law, and is on the board of directors of Evergreen National Indemnity Co., a specialty insurer based in Cleveland that he helped form in 1994. He also serves on the board of trustees of the Shaker Schools Foundation, and serves as trustee in the Arminius Foundation, a charitable foundation that he established in 2004 to increase the use of technology in K-12 education in Northeast Ohio.
Scrap Yard Dawgs are out
The NPF also announced that it has terminated the Scrap Yard Dawgs, a franchise in Houston, Texas.
In a news release, the league said the franchise was terminated “due to repeated violations of the team’s franchise agreement, including the SYD’s repeated failure to make timely payments to players, vendors and the league. The SYD also repeatedly communicated efforts to start its own league despite the violation of the team’s obligations to the NPF, other team owners and players.”
The NPF 2018 season will feature five affiliate teams—the Cleveland Comets, the Chicago Bandits, the Aussie Spirit based in Kansas City, Missouri, the Beijing Shougang Eagles based in Vero Beach, Florida, and the USSSA Pride based in Viera, Florida.