Baseball: Lockdown over baseball hits students in Singapore

Equipment belonging to The Hit Factory (THF) has been locked away at Kallang Diamond because of a dispute over unpaid rent. The company ceased to operate last month.
Equipment belonging to The Hit Factory (THF) has been locked away at Kallang Diamond because of a dispute over unpaid rent. The company ceased to operate last month.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

He was given three days to vacate the office, leaving him in the lurch while he is still owed about 100 million rupiah (S$10,700) by baseball facility The Hit Factory (THF), which began operations in Jakarta in May last year and hastily shut its doors on Nov 15.

But Japanese baseball coach Natsuki Maeda, 35, is now coaching for free because he feels obliged to help the kids who signed up for THF's programmes.

He said: "It's not right for me to leave these kids right now. I would feel like a loser to leave them while they are getting better. And they have already paid and I don't think they will be getting a refund. So I'm doing this like a volunteer now."

Another one of its five-member staff team in Indonesia, who declined to be named, said he was forced to find his own accommodation and a new job.

He claimed that the bombshell was dropped via text and e-mail. He said: "I expect them (the academy's owners) to return to Asia to face these issues."

THF's American owners Mike Froemke and Brad Finefrock, who were based in Singapore, left for the United States in May and they have been based in California ever since.

The staff said they had not been reimbursed for their expenses since the start of the year and that they did not receive their salary for November.

The news of the closure of THF's Jakarta office compounded the sudden closure of the Singapore branch last month.

The shutdown has affected not just 71 participants here who have each paid about $4,600 to sign up for a nine-month programme, but THF staff too.

About 60 students had since been transferred to train with the Singapore American School.

A former THF staff member in Singapore said a tell-tale sign that the company was in trouble was late salary payments, with some staff yet to receive payment.

THF, which first began operations at Woodlands in August 2013 but later moved to the Kallang Diamond, appeared to blame the Singapore Baseball and Softball Association (SBSA) for their closure in a report published in the Today newspaper.

In the report, Froemke said that THF was forced to declare bankruptcy after chalking up $20,000 in debts. Training fees, of which $200,000 has reportedly yet to be refunded by THF to participants, accounted for 50 to 60 per cent of the academy's revenue.

He added: "Without the ability to sell programmes, this forced the owners to declare this business insolvent and close indefinitely."

But in response, the national governing body for the sport denied they were at fault.

SBSA president Jack Tay said: "This has nothing to do with us. It was a breach of contract. They couldn't fulfil their side of the agreement. So we had no choice but to not allow them to continue to operate at the venue."

He added that THF had already been given extra time as they were "very late" in rent payments from April to August.

Because THF failed to pay rent from September onwards, the SBSA sent them a notice on Nov 4 requesting a payment of $32,000 for unpaid rent. But the SBSA received just $5,000 in lieu of full payment.

Tay said that following the closure of THF, the SBSA conducted a townhall with affected parents on Nov 22, when about 10 of them turned up, and advised them to take the matter to the Consumers Association of Singapore.

Last month, the SBSA allowed the affected children to train at the Kallang Diamond for free in preparation of the Turkey Tournament organised by the Singapore American School from Nov 24-27.

However, the venue was closed after the competition as the association locked away THF's equipment, including bats, balls and pitching machines, due to the rental dispute.

Tay said: "We've made a police report because they have failed to make payment.

"We have spoken to them (THF owners) and they wanted to take back their things, they even threatened to send the police to cut the locks."

Although THF closed in controversial circumstances, its programmes were praised by some parents. One parent, whose son was part of the Under-18 club team, said: "The staff were great coaches. Joining THF was always a great thing for my son and it helped him immensely."

The police said they are not investigating the case even though a report has been filed by the SBSA, and both parties have to settle the rental dispute on their own.

Neither Froemke and Finefrock replied to e-mailed queries by press time.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2016, with the headline 'Lockdown over baseball hits students in Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe