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League will remain at 6 teams in '09

There will be no new-look Northern League in 2009. Despite high hopes for expansion and interleague play with a rival professional independent baseball league, the Northern League will continue next season with six teams, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks ...

Bruce Thom

There will be no new-look Northern League in 2009.

Despite high hopes for expansion and interleague play with a rival professional independent baseball league, the Northern League will continue next season with six teams, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks owner Bruce Thom said Thursday.

"As a league, we understand the importance of expansion," Thom said. "We're working 24/7 to make it happen. ... We're very, very confident that we will have eight teams one way or another by 2010."

Northern League commissioner Clark Griffith said in July that a new franchise in Burnsville, Minn., was on course to join the league for the start of the upcoming season.

However, plans for a team and $25 million stadium in Burnsville appear to have stalled. Thom said financing for the project fell through due to the slumping economy.

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"The money they were looking to come from hedge funds didn't materialize," Thom said. "They are still working very diligently to get financing in place for 2010."

Thom said the Northern League could be close to adding a third franchise based in Illinois for the 2010 season. Gary and Schaumburg are current league members.

Thom would not say in which city the new team would be located.

The league would add Burnsville, create a new franchise or buy an existing team to increase Northern League membership to eight teams in 2010, Thom said.

"2010 is when (expansion) has to happen," Thom said. "I think the league suffers if it doesn't happen."

The Pioneer Press reported that Griffith recently made a third visit to Topeka, Kan., in search of an expansion franchise for the city.

The American Association in July rejected a proposal for regular-season interleague play with the Northern League.

Last season, the leagues did agree to a Northern League/American Association Challenge pitting teams from both leagues against each other in exhibition play.

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The Northern League's Kansas City T-Bones and RedHawks played the American Association's Lincoln Saltdogs and Wichita Wingnuts.

RedHawks general manager Josh Buchholz said the team is in talks to host the former Northern League rival St. Paul Saints in an exhibition game in early-May at Newman Outdoor Field. The date and time of the game has not been finalized, Buchholz said.

Buchholz said the RedHawks will play exhibition games against St. Paul Sioux City and Sioux Falls of the American Association as part of this year's Northern League/American Association Challenge.

The RedHawks are hoping to schedule road exhibition games against Lincoln.

St. Paul, Sioux Falls, Sioux City and Lincoln were members of the Northern League until leaving for the American Association after the 2005 season.

"It's an important step toward the thawing process," Thom said. "It's not interleague play during the regular season, yet. But it's going to give our fans a look at some old rivals, so that's good."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562.

Hotzler's blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com

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