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Tim Phares is the self-appointed flack for the Continental Baseball League. Never heard of it? Get in line. The league’s history goes back about four years, when the Greenbelt resident figured out that baseball won’t be back in Washington until a whole new league is formed. So he formed one.
Back in 1993, Phares came up with a master plan for a league that would compete with Major League Baseball, with charter franchises here and in similarly baseball-starved metroplexes like Tampa-St. Pete, Phoenix, Buffalo, Portland, Charlotte, and “all the other cities that have been neglected by the existing major leagues,” according to documents Phares himself authored and sent out to media outlets at the time. He’s still sending the press releases, still identifying himself as “league spokesman.”
The CBL’s raison d’être, says its mission statement, is “to give the game back to the fans.” Sick of how long the Major League Baseball season lasts? Well, in Phares’ Continental League, teams will play just a 154-games schedule, or eight dates shy of a current MLB slate. Put off by how long every single game lasts? So is Phares, which is why the break between innings of a CBL game will be cut to just one minute. (MLB breaks last upward of three minutes, the better to bring in TV revenue.) New rules lowering the pitcher’s mound, demanding that pitchers wait no more than 20 seconds between pitches, and prohibiting batters from leaving the box more than once per at bat will also trim “playing” time. Other differences from the MLB setup: CBL players caught using drugs are banned for life, no second chances; the designated hitter is designated for extinction in the CBL; and all CBL games are to be played outdoors, in front of fans (an average per-game attendance of 25,000 was projected) who pay no more than $8 to get into the stadium and owners who shell out a mere $2 million to get into the league.
The original CBL schematic as conceived by Phares also promised that the first pitch would be thrown by the spring of ’97. How nice that would have been.
But alas, for locals hoping for a little major-league excitement, it’s another year of Camden Yards or bust. Which brings up the biggest dilemma facing the Continental Leagueand it’s a pretty darn big one: The confederation exists only in Phares’ head, as it has from the beginning. Years after he sent out his first CBL press release, a name and some rules are really all he’s come up with. So don’t bother gearing up for the CBL’s inaugural opening day. This is still a league with no franchise owners, no players, and no sponsors.
Only a spokesman.
Like any good mouthpiece, Phares ignores the negative. In the press releases, the league spokesman never lets on that since its conception his brainchild has miscarried. When asked why he won’t give up the CBL fantasy, Phares insists, “Starting up a new league is a good idea!”
Yeah, well so was Betamax. But it’s not anymore.
In fairness to Phares, there was a timesay, late summer ’94when nothing sounded so sweet as “giving the game back to the fans,” and the notion of forming a new pro baseball association really seemed like a good one. That’s when greedy Major League Baseball players went on strike and wiped out the World Series for the first time in over 90 years, an act that gave the game its worst black eye since the Black Sox. Baseball’s nadir was Phares’ apex. Along with stepping up his press releasing efforts, he took out a classified advertisement in national publications hoping to snare individuals possessing similar sentiments about the state of the professional gameand much deeper pockets than his.
“OWN YOUR OWN BASEBALL TEAM!” read Phares’ pitch. “Seeking investors for new high-level independent league to operate throughout North America. We want to do business with you.” He gave out his home address and phone number in the ad, which he claims drew the interest of “several” multimillionaires from cities around the U.S. He hasn’t been in touch with any of them lately, though.
“I guess it’s time to start making calls again,” Phares said this weekend.
Not really. The major-leaguers’ strike hasthanks to the passage of time and Cal Ripken’s streakall been forgotten. Fans returned to the American and National League ballparks by the tens of millions last year, even as the snotty players’ union and the snotty owners kept up the labor strife and stayed on a path toward mutually assured destruction.
Just how forgiving baseball fans are became evident when the warring parties called a truce and signed a new collective bargaining agreement during the current offseason: Nobody noticed. Except Phares. The announcement of labor peace inspired him to go on yet another media blitz, in which the league spokesman continued to maintain that the CBL launch is still in the cards.
Phares’ most recent press alerts dance around the now-old news that Phoenix and Tampa-St. Pete, two of the cities he pegged as charter members of the CBL, have already been invited by Major League Baseball to join their exclusive club, and have accepted the offer. And that the pro baseball talent pool, even without a new league, was watered down more than Old Milwaukee Light by the major-leaguers’ last round of expansion. And that nobody but him really cares about the damn Continental Baseball League, not even the people whose names the league spokesman identifies as likely CBL owners.
“Tim Phares has been mailing me material on the baseball league, but I really would like to see him have things more advanced as far as setting up the league with other owners, or some sponsors, or a TV deal, or something, before I get involved,” says Brian Foley, a gracious Hartford, Conn., businessman who owns a health care firm, a restaurant chain, and the Connecticut Pride of the Continental Basketball Association.
By now, Phares has faced more rejection than an encyclopedia salesmanbut he perseveres. The press releases aren’t issued as frequently anymore, partially because there’s nothing new to report, partially because Phares’ day job is taking up more time than it used to. During the workweek he lobbies Congress for Khalistan, a not-yet-recognized state that Indian Sikhs would like to see established as their sovereign homeland. There is a lot of opposition to the move among the non-Sikh Indian population, and a lot of apathy and ignorance about the crusade elsewhere, including Capitol Hill. But just last week a resolution calling for Sikh self-determination, a resolution Phares helped push for, was introduced in Congress. If you ask him, he’ll tell you the liberation of Khalistan is a good idea, and that the new nation will one day be born. Same with the baseball league.
“I’m not sure which will come first, the Continental League or the independence of Khalistan,” he says. “I think both are a lot closer to happening than people think.” Then he chuckled, the first small hint that deep down maybe he doesn’t believe a bit of it.Dave McKenna