Top Stories of 2016 — No. 9: Steamers find new owner, lose best friends

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In April, the Edenton Steamers baseball organization announced a new owner in Frank Burke (middle). Tyler Russell (left) remains as the club's general manager and Chris Lehman (right) stayed on as the 2016 play-by-play radio broadcaster.


Owen Hassell
Sports Editor

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A year that started with high hopes for the Edenton Steamers closed out in mourning.

Of course, the Coastal Plain League franchise remains on solid ground after it was purchased by Frank Burke, a former longtime minor league owner who insists on keeping the club in Edenton.

In November, however, the team and community were saddened by the passing of former team president Katy Ebersole. A memorial was held at Hicks Field.

President from 1999-2011, Ebersole did everything from providing host families for players and overseeing general operations to occasionally donning the mascot gear for Sam the Grand Slam Clam.

Later that month, another former Board member and beloved community leader, Jack Evans, also passed.

“The easiest way to say it is Katy was the Edenton Steamers,” said general manager Tyler Russell in November.

Ebersole helped lead a town-style ownership of the organization, the only one of its kind in the CPL. She had led a successful campaign to keep the team alive when funds were dwindling a few years prior to stepping down as president.

Russell admitted the team was staring at a similar scenario before Burke’s purchase, which was made official in April.

“He (Burke) brought his checkbook the first day he showed up here,” Russell said. “He showed how serious he was, and he did his homework, and we did ours.”

For 20 seasons Burke, 55, was in charge of the Chattanooga Lookouts, a Double A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. After a year of retirement, he decided to get back into sports ownership while also finding a new place to call home.

A verbal agreement was reached between the now-former Steamers Board of Directors and Burke in December, but paperwork to finalize the sale turned into the North Carolina Attorney General’s office in January was not approved until April.

Former Board president Billy Bass said upon the change in ownership the group will disperse and reform another non-profit organization in the Chowan Area Sports Association.

Much like it did alongside leading the Steamers, CASA’s primary mission will be to host fundraisers to help the growth of youth sports in the county.

CASA will operate under the umbrella of the Edenton-Chowan Community Foundation, which originally served as the ownership body when the franchise was awarded to the town in 1997.

“This is not how I’m planning to pay for myself,” said Burke, who was a two-time executive of the year in the Southern League, in April. “I believe we’ll get it to where it’s essentially cash neutral, but it’s not like I was with minor league baseball where I was there to make my living and grow the value of the franchise.

“This is for the love of the game and it needs to be break even or better, and I believe we’ll get it there, but it’s not the end of the world if we don’t.”

One part of the agreement backs up his talk of staying in Edenton.

If Burke decides to sell, then the Foundation gets the first right to buy at the same price it was sold to Burke. Both sides declined to disclose the financial terms.

As far as the on-field product, the team could not build on its Petitt Cup championship squad from a season earlier.

By the end of June, the team lost eight of 10 games and faced a significant climb to just reach the CPL playoffs and defend its crown.

A six-game win streak in July offered some optimism but was followed by another string of defeats and kept Edenton, despite a 28-26 overall record, out of the postseason for the first time since 2003.