Hannibal team placed on hold

Tuesday, June 15, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:50 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

HANNIBAL — Plans for professional baseball’s return to Hannibal have struck out, at least this year.

Bill Larsen, who had tried to create a four-team Single-A league, told the city that professional baseball will not return to Hannibal this summer. The city most recently had a professional team in the 1950s.

Larsen’s unspecified health problems reportedly contributed to the league’s failed bid to play ball this year, though Larsen said he would try to give Hannibal a minor-league team in 2005.

“We were really, really happy to think that we had maybe gotten (pro) baseball back into Hannibal, and that the people were going to be able to go to some ballgames and take their kids,” Mayor Roy Hark said. “I think we’re all probably disappointed.”

Larsen said in May the Hannibal Pilots would be one of four teams in his fledgling Great Lakes Professional Baseball League, which would have no affiliation with major-league teams.

The league would have featured teams in Farmington, Sikeston and a squad that would split its games between Fulton and Dyersburg, Tenn., and would have played a 72-game season, beginning Friday.

The Pilots would have played at Clemens Field near downtown Hannibal, home to minor-league teams through parts of the early- to mid-20th century.

“This is where baseball was born, really, in small towns like this, and this is where it should be,” Larsen has said.

To some, hearing the news that professional baseball would not return, although disappointing, proved to be a relief.

“It’s a relief to finally bring this to a conclusion, even though it was not the conclusion we had originally hoped for,” Chris Atkinson, the Hannibal Parks Department’s interim chief said. “It’s good to have something concrete, so we know that it’s definitely not going to happen this year, instead of being in limbo, which we’ve been in for the last two or three weeks.”

City Manager Andy Morris said Hannibal had invested little, no more than $1,000, in the venture.

Although Larsen says the league might come to Hannibal next year, Morris said, “I would venture to say that you’ll probably see a bit more of a wait-and-see attitude” by locals.

“I think that people may not receive it as enthusiastically as they did this time,” Hark said. “People are kind of funny when you tell them something and then don’t follow through with it. I will remain very cautiously optimistic that possibly next year we can get something going.”

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