By John Montgomery
The Independent Baseball League was already small. It got even smaller this week.
The Marion Shovel City Crawlers disbanded Wednesday, turning the IBL from a four-team into a three-team organization in its inaugural season.
"The season will go on. We will complete it, and then build on that for the next year," said Eric Spitaleri, IBL commissioner.
The Tiffin Saints, Ohio Travelers and Adrian (Mich.) Pioneers now represent the fledgling league.
Officially, the Crawlers disbanded after seven players left to join teams in other leagues. Spitaleri said the move left the Crawlers with too few players to continue, especially with a four-game series against the Saints in Tiffin scheduled to start today.
While the loss of players certainly played into the team disbanding, Ohio Travelers manager Jay Zeiter said he was told economics also figured into it.
"Last week the Marion coach said that they might have to fold because of lack of funding. And then on Sunday or Monday, when they finished their series with the Pioneers, he called me and said they were going to come and play in Tiffin," Zeiter said.
"On Wednesday, he was at practice and some of the players got calls to go to other leagues and tryouts," Zeiter said. "He lost seven players and other guys said weren't going to play because they hadn't been paid, so they disbanded."
While admitting money has been tight, Spitaleri said claims of teams having trouble making payroll have been exaggerated.
"I don't want to say necessarily trouble. Are they up to date? They're not up to date," Spitaleri said, referring to paychecks. "The lack of attendance has really put a crimp in it, but players have been paid."
Tiffin Saints manager Ryan Parent said the sudden loss of a team has caused some apprehension concerning attendance.
"Since it's kind of a last-minute thing, having people at the game [is a concern]," Parent said. "We need the support to finish out the season."
The Saints sit atop the IBL standings at 12-8, with the Travelers second at 10-10 and the Pioneers third at 8-12. The Crawlers were 10-10 when they disbanded.
Due to the loss of a team, Spitaleri said the league will modify its remaining schedule and how it will determine its end-of-season champion.
The teams will now play doubleheaders on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. For example, this weekend's games have the Saints hosting the Travelers on Saturday, and Adrian hosting the Travelers on Sunday and the Saints on Monday.
Meanwhile, the top two teams were originally scheduled to meet in a best-of-three format to determined the IBL champion. Now, the second- and third-seeded teams will face off in a play-in game, with the winner taking on the top-seeded team in a best-of-three series.
Despite the loss of a team and need to shuffle things around, Spitaleri said the teams and players who remain are eager to finish out the season.
"They wanted to continue playing," Spitaleri said. "The players enjoy it and want to finish it out."