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January 28, 2010

Levine: 'You can't trust anyone anymore'


By Rob Centorani

Staff Writer

Sellers' remorse?

You can't blame Sam Nader and Sid Levine for having a lot of that now.

When they sold the Oneonta Tigers to a group of investors led by New York City attorney E. Miles Prentice III in December of 2008, the contract stipulated that the team would remain in Oneonta through at least the 2010 season.

Never mind.

Nader and Levine said they received calls from Prentice on Wednesday, notifying them that the minor-league franchise they started in 1966 and ran through 2008 was leaving to play at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, Conn., this summer.

"I have great memories and they can't take those away from me," said Nader, who along with Levine and eight other investors pooled $10,000 together to form the Oneonta Athletic Corp. in 1966 to bring minor league baseball to Damaschke Field.

Asked if he knew then what he knows now about Prentice and his ownership group, if he'd have had second thoughts about selling the team, Nader said, "Absolutely."

Nader and Levine seemed to indicate Wednesday that this move might not be a done deal.

Nader said there's a "Commitment to the Community" clause in the contract. Nader added that Prentice said he was aware of it Wednesday.

"It's in the hands of the attorneys," Nader said. "The clause is there. I don't know how strong it is."

Levine said he thought there might be a penalty for breaking the clause.

But, Levine added, "They bought the team and we can't tell them what to do with it. We thought we had an agreement that they would stay, but you can't trust anyone anymore."

Nader, along with Oneonta High graduate and former Oneonta Tigers pitcher Jon Connolly, said the franchise's inability to draw many fans to Damaschke Field played a huge role in Wednesday's developments.

In 2009, the O-Tigers drew 23,521 fans, an average of 692 for a ballpark that seats around 4,000. They were last in the 14-team New York-Penn League in attendance.

"I can understand the move," Nader said. "The support hasn't been that great and it hasn't been that great for a long time. (The new owners') goals and objectives are far different than me and Sid. For me and my family, it's a sad day. I think professional baseball is done in the city of Oneonta ... and that's it."

Connolly, now living in suburban Tampa, Fla., said as a kid growing up in Oneonta, the only time he'd attend a game was on a free night.

"Honestly, it's not that big of a shock," said Connolly, who pitched for the O-Tigers in 2001 and 2002. "Basically, the only way they got fans was when they had free nights. It just didn't seem like there was community support for the team as far as fans actually attending games."

Connolly, now working for UPS and attending school online at the University of Phoenix in search of an elementary education degree, said players in the Tigers' organization did not look forward to coming to Oneonta.

"It's something everybody knew," said Connolly, who rose as high as the Triple-A level during his eight-year professional career. "I can't tell you how many times people in the organization would ask, 'Where are you from?' I'd say, 'Oneonta' and they'd say, 'Oh, I'm sorry.' I didn't look at it like that, because it's my home, but from a player's standpoint, they want to play in front of people."

Toward the end of his career in 2007-08, Connolly played for Independent League teams _ those not affiliated with major-league teams _ in Nashua, N.H., Newark, N.J., and Southern Maryland.

"That's more of the atmosphere that Oneonta provides," said Connolly, a left-hander who went 5-3 with a 4.01 ERA for the O-Tigers in 2002. "It's more of an Independent atmosphere."

Asked about what he'll do this summer, Nader said: "It's going to be difficult. I attended a great many games this past summer. I'll just have to do different things. It's going to be lonely."

A phone message left at Prentice's home Wednesday night was not returned.

Rob Centorani can be reached at rcentorani@thedailystar.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.