Pro Ball, Naturals baseball fight eviction

Esix Snead introduces a young Naturals player to the Newberry City Commission at a May 13 meeting. Cred Glory
Esix Snead introduces a young Naturals player to the Newberry City Commission at a May 13 meeting. Cred Glory
Photo by Glory Reitz

The last two Newberry City Commission meetings have been packed with young baseball players, imploring the commission to end a lawsuit to push the Naturals baseball teams out of the city-owned facility it currently occupies. 

The master operating agreement for use of the building, between the city and Elite Pro Ball Academy, was terminated in November of last year, but Pro Ball continues to occupy the facility. 

Pro Ball Academy owner Cedrick Bowers said the organization is caught up on its taxes and insurance, which were the basis for the city’s eviction. City Manager Mike New said Pro Ball only paid the taxes after the city had terminated the contract—18 months after its initial notice of default. 

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“The contract requires 30 days of notice of default for cure, and then the contract is terminated. We gave them 18 months to cure,” New said in a phone interview. “They failed to do so and we terminated the contract. Now the contract is terminated, they are illegally on the city’s premises, and we are trying to evict them through legal channels.” 

The contract was created in May 2011 between the city of Newberry and Elite Pro Ball Academy, then owned by Bowers and Mike Spina Jr., both professional baseball players. 

The agreement was set to last 20 years, renewable for another 20. It required Pro Ball to pay property taxes, insurance and electricity, but no rent. 

In 2017, Bowers and Spina’s partnership fell apart and, after going to court, Bowers came away with rights to the building, according to co-owner Esix Snead. Snead said Pro Ball was already two years behind on taxes when that court battle went down, and Bowers deviated the business as Pro Ball Academy instead of Elite Pro Ball Academy. 

“[The city] still held [Bowers] accountable for the two years that was back taxes, that wasn’t his,” Snead said in a phone interview. “And the whole time that the other guy was there, they said nothing about the back taxes.” 

For several years, there was no action on the taxes. Then, on May 3, 2022, the city sent notice to Bowers that Elite Pro Ball Academy had $16,238.63 in outstanding tax bills dating back to 2019.  

The letter noted that Pro Ball’s contract provides 30 days for the defaulting party (Pro Ball) to initiate corrective action. If Pro Ball were to work toward a cure “diligently, continually, and in good faith,” the contract provides that it could be granted “such time as is reasonably necessary” to cure the default. 

Pro Ball made one payment on May 10, 2022, but the outstanding balance from 2020, 2021 and 2022 still totaled $15,752.58. 

Naturals players lined up to ask the commission not to evict their teams at a May 13 meeting.
Photo by Glory Reitz Naturals players lined up to ask the commission not to evict their teams at a May 13 meeting.

The city followed up at the end of October 2022, but no additional payments were made before May of 2023, and City Manager Mike New said Pro Ball ignored the city’s correspondence. 

A May 22, 2023 letter from the city again gave Pro Ball a 30-day notice to provide a plan to cure the default. 

Another May 22, 2023 letter from the city says the city asked Pro Ball to provide a certificate of insurance in February 2023, but that Pro Ball had yet to provide a document or notification of coverage. As a lack of insurance is also grounds for terminating the contract, this letter also provided a 30-day notice, asking Pro Ball to come up with a cure to the default. 

Snead said he was told he did not need to rush, just to “get it done.” New said he does not recall that statement being made, but said if Pro Ball had provided a time frame to cure the default, the city would have worked with it. 

“I assure you that they’ve grossly exceeded every timeframe that they proposed,” New said in a phone interview. “And they ignored us. When we said, hey, how’s it coming? It was silence. We have only been met with silence on this.” 

On Oct. 17, 2023, the city sent Bowers another letter, stating that it still had not received evidence of insurance and that Pro Ball still owed $5,466.42 in taxes from 2021, and $4,515.39 from 2022. 

The October letter served as notice of termination of the agreement, and the city asked Pro Ball to vacate the premises by Nov. 10, 2023. 

The city followed up on Nov. 8, 2023, with a reaffirmation of the agreement’s termination, requiring Pro Ball to vacate by Nov. 20. 

The agreement provides that the parties must pursue mediation before any litigation, but the city commission approved legal action in a Feb. 12 meeting ahead of the mediation, in case legal action would be needed. The recommendation at that meeting included staff’s belief that “all tools available to resolve the matter have been exhausted.” 

The city offered Bowers $15,000 to leave the building, according to Snead. Snead said Bowers turned that offer down, as he and Spina had put in over $250,000 to build the facility. 

On April 22, the city filed suit against Pro Ball, roping in an issue with the name—the agreement was originally made with Elite Pro Ball Academy, and Pro Ball Academy is a new entity that never technically existed on the agreement. But New said the heart of the matter was that the contract was already terminated, so Pro Ball needs to vacate the property. 

Bowers said he finds it suspicious that the city did not act on the back taxes when Spina was still involved, and said he notified the city about the name change early on. 

Naturals players wait outside the Newberry City Commission chambers to speak at a May 13 meeting.
Photo by Glory Reitz Naturals players wait outside the Newberry City Commission chambers to speak at a May 13 meeting.

“I don’t know where it’s going to go from here, but I know that they’re just trying to find anything that they can basically find to cut the contract out,” Bowers said in a phone interview. “They’re at a point that they’re trying to be very, very technical, and we’re gonna be very, very technical.” 

Bowers said he believes the eviction to be based on his race as a Black man, and on an interest in the continued development around the facility. 

Bowers and other Pro Ball coaches said that when the facility opened in 2011, it was surrounded by nothing but agriculture. As more houses go in near the Newberry sports complex, Bowers said he suspects the city wants to have a different organization in the facility. 

New said future plans for the building are not determined and will be until the issue is settled. 

“The future of the facility is up in the air,” New said. “And the city is not willing to negotiate the future of the facility while we have someone essentially squatting on city property.” 

Pro Ball Academy is home to 12 regular-season teams under the Naturals moniker, comprised of over 200 children. Many of these players have come with parents and coaches to the Newberry City Commission’s last two meetings to protest the eviction. 

Additionally, a petition to “Save Proball from the City” has gathered over 1,300 signatures. 

“I have played all over the world, playing baseball,” Bowers said. “I have a lot of people that know me… I was taking care of my responsibility. It’s just a technicality, that they’re trying to do any and everything. And they don’t care if we’re on the street.” 

New said he does not know what else the city could be expected to do in the situation, and that thousands of children use the city’s recreation complex each year. 

“The suggestion that the city is displacing kids from its recreation center is far from the truth,” New said. “That 110-acre facility exists for the residents of Newberry to recreate in. And it will continue to do so, long after this lawsuit has been resolved.” 

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