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Friday, November 19, 2010

It's morphin' time: North American League

It's official. Three have become one.

As expected, the Golden Baseball League has joined forces with the United and Northern leagues to form the largest independent baseball league in the country, both in terms of number of teams and geography. The announcement came down yesterday. Here's a look at the official GBL press release:

New Professional North American League Formed
Northern and United Leagues Join Forces with Golden Baseball League to Create New Circuit

(San Ramon, CA. November 18, 2010) The Golden Baseball League, Northern League, and the United League announced today that they have joined forces in the creation of a new professional independent league that will be known as the North American League. The league will have 16 - 20 teams in multiple countries and cover many of the major markets in the U.S. and Canada in 2011 with expansion already set for 2012. Except for Major League Baseball, it will be the largest professional league in terms of number of teams and geographies and amongst the top minor leagues in terms of attendance. The existing leagues will keep their names and their baseball operations structure while consolidating and enhancing a number of business activities and will adhere to a single and consistent set of league operating by-laws.

"This is an exciting opportunity for the teams of these three leagues", said Kevin Outcalt, Chief Executive of Diamond Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns and operates the Golden League and will administer the North American League. "This will provide more value to our marketing and business partners, more exposure for our players to advance their careers, and increased excitement and fun for the fans of all of our ballclubs. In addition, the business advantages of league-wide advertising and sponsor revenue, collective/volume purchasing to lower costs, and shared best practices amongst the teams in the league should drive additional profitability for the North American League member clubs."

The structure of the NAL will be set up with the three original leagues covering their respective regions where the teams will play approximately 75% of their games within their region and 25% outside their region/division. This will be followed by playoffs that will conclude with a North American Championship Series. It is anticipated that the league will play a 92 - 100 game regular season schedule that will be determined at the inaugural NAL meetings that will be held in northern California at the end of this month. All of the existing Golden League, Northern League, and United League teams will be part of the circuit, and it is expected that additional teams will be announced in the coming weeks as well. The full slate of 2011 NAL teams and the makeup of each region will be announced following the league meeting. Baseball related playing rules will also be finalized including player classification/eligibility and playing rules (National League or American League).

"This is an excellent move for the Northern League," said Northern League Commissioner Clark Griffith. "By becoming part of this new league, we will enjoy benefits that can't be found anywhere else in minor league baseball and some exciting opportunities that were never available in the Northern League in the past."

Although these three leagues totaled 35% of the professional independent minor league baseball teams in North America in 2010, they were responsible for placing half of the players on the Baseball America Indy Top Prospects list and six of the fourteen players named to the all Independent Leagues First Team by Baseball America. In addition, the three leagues have sold 35 player contracts to major league organizations so far in 2010 and are all recognized as an important source of baseball talent including players, umpires, coaches/managers, and front office/business personnel by big league clubs.

Byron Pierce, United League president, stated, "The United League is pleased to announce it is becoming part of North American League Baseball. By doing so the United League will be able to bring a national presence and the rich tradition of three leagues to each of our United League cities, while maintaining our regional rivalries and identity."

Better to see them survive as one then watch them all crumble apart. While the league doesn't apparently have any immediate plans to return a team to the humble community of Long Beach, it does provide local players additional opportunities to continue their baseball careers.

While there are still many markets that need to be finalized within the new North American League, there won't be an incredible influx of crossover between the three leagues, meaning each team is going to get a steady dose of teams within its own "division" (which are keeping the names of their original leagues). That's great in theory, especially after the last two years of GBL schedules that featured division opponents who did not play against each other in a given half of a season. However after Calgary and Edmonton play more than half of their games against each other, the act could get stale relatively quickly. Even the old Long Beach/Orange County rivalry had its limits.

It will be fun for teams to host new opponents, but one concern for players in the Northern League and United League circuits joining the new GBL will be getting their passports straightened out, a process that should be more familiar to Northern League veterans (Calgary and Edmonton were part of that league until leaving for the GBL in 2008). Nevertheless, each year, passport problems seem to snag a few players per team, preventing whole squads from making the road trip. Hopefully all GMs are on the same page in terms of having everyone able to cross borders. It was logistical nightmare in 2009 for the all-Colombian Yuma Scorpions to get proper documentation before their road trip to Canada, and while seems similar affiliation deals might not be on the horizon after the 2010 debacle that saw the GBL reclaim control of the Yuma franchise, it's still something that must be address thoroughly before the season.

Still, it's much better to have baseball than to not, and the new North American League will provide plenty of summer nights under the lights in 2011.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

GBL joining United, Northern leagues?

It's been a crazy off-season in the Golden Baseball League. After that announcements that the franchises in Tucson and Victoria won't be playing in 2011, it looked like the league was in trouble. That is until the GBL said it was on the verge of a major announcement (I smell merger!).

Turns out, that's exactly what they have in mind. The Golden League looks to be on the verge of teaming up with the United and Northern Leagues to form what's reportedly being called the North American League for 2011.

Here's the article from that had some details:

New for 2011: North American League
TUESDAY, 16 NOVEMBER 2010 10:00

There's a name on the table for the combined Northern League, Golden Baseball League and United League Baseball: North American League, as reps from the three independent circuits continue negotiations on a game plan for the 2011 season.
To say that baseball in many of these cities relies on the formation of this new league is an understatement: as standalone entities, it would be hard for all three of these leagues to struggle through a 2011 season. Together, of course, it will be a struggle as well, as teams are choosing a plan that features lots more travel in what's still a bad economy, but there's also the greater chance of expansion in the future. Going national, of course, has been the dream of many an indy magnate, and this plan does just that.

It also gives a home to two teams being sold: the Schaumburg Flyers and the Joliet JackHammers, both of the Northern League. Negotiations for the JackHammers sale are in the final stages (a letter of intent was submitted to city officials yesterday) and could be wrapped up this week, subject to due diligence (indeed, the announcement of the new league hinges on the status of the sale), but the potential new owners are not bound to the new entity. Indeed, the word is that this city could end up playing in the Frontier League next season (the team, like all the Northern League teams, has already submitted a FL application). In Schaumburg, the new owners -- who could be in place by the end of the month -- sound very committed to the North American League.

Here are the teams involved: From the Northern League, the Rockford RiverHawks, the Schaumburg Flyers, the Lake County Fielders and (as of now) the Joliet JackHammers. From United League Baseball: the Coastal Bend Thunder, the Edinburg Roadrunners, the San Angelo Colts and the RGV WhiteWings. From Golden League Baseball: the Orange County Flyers, the Edmonton Capitals, the Calgary Vipers, the Maui Na Koa Ikaika, the Chico Outlaws (assuming a lease is worked out) and perhaps a new team, the Tijuana Ambassadors (Embajadores), as GBL officials were down there a few weeks ago to check things out. That's 14, and there's a chance the new circuit could pick up teams in Omaha, where Northern League commissioner Clark Griffith has been working on a deal, and Yuma.

It's been reported that an announcement of the new league could come as soon as tomorrow, but that may be a little optimistic: we hear the holdup is over the status of the Joliet sale.

The plan, we're told, is for each league to play an abbreviated schedule (76 games in the case of the Northern League teams), with 24 or so games against the other two leagues.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Evans surfaces in St. George

The original Captain of the Crew, the Armada's inaugural manager Darrell Evans will be at the helm of the St. George RoadRunners in 2010. Evans, who served as skipper for the Fleet from 2005-07, will be managing his third GBL franchise. The 1984 World Series Champion with the Detroit Tigers won a championship with the Orange County Flyers in 2008 before taking the job in Victoria to manage the expansion Seals in 2009.

Here's the full run down of Evans joining St. George, via the OC Flyers team blog.

Evans has always been well-liked among Armada fans, even when he put on the Flyers orange in 2008 as a member of Gary Carter's coaching staff. He received a warm welcome in Victoria's only visit to Long Beach last August.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Is a return to Long Beach in the cards?

The Press Telegram's Bob Keisser wrote the following piece this evening for Saturday's paper. Very good to read some positive things about the Armada. Definitely sad there won't be baseball during the summer at Blair Field next season, but hopefully the possibility of a GBL return to Long Beach will materialize in the future.

The article from Keisser:

KEISSER: GBL would like to see a return to Long Beach

By Bob Keisser, Sports Columnist
Posted: 02/12/2010 10:38:58 PM PST

There's the High Road, and then there's the path to Mt. Everest.

David Kaval chose the latter.

The subject was the Long Beach Armada (RIP, 2005-09), and the Golden Baseball League, and the city's decision to lease Blair Field to Long Beach State and pull the team and league's permit to use the park.

Needless to say, the team and league weren't happy about the way the situation was handled, and they and their modest legion of fans were angry when this space responded with a not-so-fond adieu.

So what did Kaval, the Stanford grad who created the league and its league-ownership model, say when we finally connected on the phone?

He said he would like to come back to Long Beach.

Seriously. He thinks Long Beach is still a good fit for an independent league team and a good fit for his league.

When the three previous minor league team ownership groups all were in the throes of death - one crumbled (Barracuda), one moved (Riptide) and one folded (Breakers) along with the league - they usually departed by pointing a finger at the city and the community, literally and figuratively.

Kaval wasn't happy with the way things ended, but he understands that in today's recessionary climate, the deal made sense for the city and Long Beach State on a lot of levels.

He even confirmed that the league once offered the city a bus as collateral, which isn't the usual compensation municipalities seek.

But he just wishes the city hadn't pushed the league aside the way they did. Or as one might say, hadn't thrown them under the bus.

That said, he'd like to come back.

"At some point, I think we will be back in Long Beach," Kaval said. "I think Blair Field is a great park and think Long Beach is a great community for baseball.

"We just feel like we had the rug pulled out from underneath us. We had two years left on a lease when they pulled the permit. We offered to write them a check right away for what we owed them, but they said not to bother."

Kaval and I agreed not to debate the quality of the baseball or concession prices. We weren't going to agree on those points. But we did agree that the basic saga comes down to business decisions.

The city is strapped and wanted to remove a $1 million-plus line item (running Blair) from the budget.

They found someone who was willing to take over operation of the field, Long Beach State, because the university wants the revenue stream that comes from concessions and rent of the park for other events. More on that later.

The Armada would have found it difficult to operate the team financially without the concession deal, which is why they pressed to have the lease honored. Kaval acknowledged that the league owed the city $50,000, half in expenses incurred and the other half in a bank line of credit (LOC) that had expired.

The city exercised the expired LOC to lease the facility. The lawyers will now get their turn at-bat to see how everything is resolved.

"We invested a lot of time and money with the Armada," Kaval said. "We prepaid our rent each year and wanted the city to honor the lease. When I offered to bring the city a check (for $25,000), they said not to bother. The message was clear that they didn't want us at any price."

The bus thing: When the bank LOC first expired, the league offered to give the city the bus as collateral. City officials preferred cash but let the Armada play on without the LOC. Until they didn't.

"I understand that this was an important deal for the city, and the city was under pressure to make a move," Kaval said. "This is a difficult financial environment right now.

"Long Beach State is in a position to do things the city couldn't with Blair. We would have liked a chance make some kind of arrangement that could have allowed us to stay, but we weren't given a chance."

The concession rights were part of the reason why Long Beach State wanted Blair, so any kind of arrangement would have been difficult.

Here's what the university can do that no minor league can:

The concession deal and right to rent the stadium provides the athletic department and university new revenue streams. The university can find ways to renovate Blair - and the 52-year-old stadium needs renovating - that others can't. A capital campaign is in the works, and 49ers A.D. Vic Cegles believes some alums will step up now that Blair is officially the school's to operate.

Once the team moves to Blair permanently, for practice as well as games, the university can consider development of the land being vacated on campus. Money (state, federal) is available for universities to build multi-use facilities for the entire student body; that's how the Pyramid was built.

There were local connections to the Armada that are regrettable with their departure. The two guys who ran the team last year were Tony Soares, who once ran the Ice Dogs, the only minor league franchise here that ever could call itself a success, and Mike Callin, who is also the Dirtbags' Director of Baseball Operations. Their efforts were under-appreciated.

Kaval also said the league is sound and not headed to bankruptcy. He said several teams are doing well and he said the travel costs for a league with franchises in Canada, Mexico and Hawaii aren't as bad as some would think.

No tougher than taking the high road. The harsh assessment here was a case of guilt by association, and they deserve that mea culpa. They also deserve notice for being the first team to keep the door ajar rather than slam it on the way out.

Long Beach Armada 2005-2009 ... for now.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What's going on in Long Beach...

From the Gazette newspapers...

Armada Owners Prepare To Sue City Over Blair Field Permit

By Harry Saltzgaver
Executive Editor
Published: Tuesday, January 5, 2010 5:02 PM PST
The Golden Baseball League, owners of the Long Beach Armada, is one step away from suing the city for terminating its permit to play baseball at Blair Field this summer.

While the legal path has just begun, it seems clear there will be no Armada baseball sailing in Long Beach this year. California State University, Long Beach, already controls maintenance of the field and expected to sign a long-term lease with the city in the next month or two, and that lease includes the right to negotiate any new permits for field use.

Tuesday night, the City Council was notified of a claim from the league’s attorney saying that the permit had been wrongfully terminated. While the claim mentions a separate claim for damages, only the claim itself was forwarded by the city attorney’s office. The deputy city attorney handling the case is on vacation this week.

The Long Beach Armada has played at Blair Field since 2005 as part of the independent Golden Baseball League. It is the third semi-pro team in recent years to locate in Long Beach, and the longest lasting so far. Rather than being owned individually, teams in the Golden Baseball League all are owned by the league, providing a deeper resource pool.

The claim, filed by attorney Alexander M. Polyachenko, notes that there have been several alterations in the contract between the city and the baseball team over the last four years in an attempt to keep the team playing in Long Beach. Last year, the Armada took over concessions at Blair Field, providing service for the Long Beach State baseball games as well as their own.

According to J.C. Squires, manager of the Parks, Recreation and Marine Department’s Business Operations Bureau, the Armada had been falling behind in payments for the last year. When a $25,000 letter of credit expired, the league was told to renew it immediately, especially in light of $26,000 in unpaid bills.

“The letter of credit was supposed to be renewed in June, but it wasn’t,” Squires said. “There was a separate letter of credit to pay the Armada’s share of the new scoreboard, and the Partners of Parks (which had financed the scoreboard purchase with promises of partial repayment from the Armada and Long Beach State) had to make a call on that letter. That wasn’t involved in the decision to revoke the permit, but it did show the trend of decline the Armada was in regarding payments.”

The permit was revoked on Nov. 3. Squires said that decision came only after a direct conversation between Phil Hester, director of the Parks, Recreation and Marine Department, and Dave Kaval, CEO of the Golden Baseball League. Even so, the claim says the city did not give the league an opportunity to reinstate the letter of credit, and contends that pulling the Armada permit was a condition of the Blair Field lease between the city and the university.

“It is no secret that the city wishes to cede responsibility for maintaining Blair Field to its most important tenant, the Long Beach State ‘Dirtbags,’ a national powerhouse baseball program,” the claim says. “It is also no secret that Long Beach State does not wish to have the Armada share the facilities or control the concessions during its games. Our sources advise us that the negotiations between the city and Long Beach State are much more advanced than we have been told and that in fact a prerequisite of any deal between the city and Long Beach State was that the Armada’s permit be terminated.”

Squires denied that the Armada permit termination had anything to do with the negotiations to lease the facility to the university. Talks began between the two early last year, before the fiscal 2010 budget was prepared. The lease is figured into the 2010 expense savings in the Parks, Recreation and Marine Department budget, and maintenance was turned over to the university on Jan. 4, although the lease is still being negotiated. That lease would go to the City Council for final approval.

“The two situations are mutually exclusive,” Squires said. “The timing is coincidental… One of the conditions for leasing always has been that existing permits have to be honored. But renewals and any new permits would be up to CSULB.”

Ongoing permits include use of Blair by high school teams and some youth summer programs. Length of those permits was not available.

City Attorney Robert Shannon said that the claim will be denied, freeing the Golden Baseball League to file whatever lawsuit it wanted to file. Calls to Kaval at Golden Baseball League headquarters and Tony Soares, Armada general manager, were not returned in time for this story.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Na Ikaika Koa Maui

The new GBL team in Maui has its name, and it's a mouthful. The Na Ikaika Koa Maui, roughly translated as the Warriors of Maui, will be managed by former RoadRunners manager Cory Snyder with former RoadRunners GM Rick Berry leading the front office. In fact, they have signed their first player as well. Three-year GBL veteran Mark Okano, known around the league as the Flyin' Hawaiian, was the first signee of Na Ikaika Koa Maui. Okano spent the 2007 and 2008 seasons with the OC Flyers. He began the 2009 campaign with the Calgary Vipers before making his way to the Edmonton Capitals late in the season.

Here's a little more about where the Islanders are heading, courtesy of the Maui News and GBL:

Valley Isle’s Golden Baseball League team to be called Na Ikaika Koa Maui

WAILUKU --- The name has been revealed, the logo is under construction, the team colors have a Rasta feel, the first player has signed, the manager has spoken, the front-office folks have shaken hands with the politicians.

Now, about five months remain before Na Ikaika Koa Maui will throw the first pitch of their existence in the independent Golden Baseball League.

At a news conference Tuesday morning in the Mayor's Conference Room, the team name was unveiled --- it essentially translates to ''the strong warriors of Maui'' --- Mark Okano, a 30-year-old veteran of the league, signed and officially became the first player on the roster and manager Cory Snyder, a nine-year major leaguer and former Olympian, talked about the future.

Among the names Snyder tossed around as possibilities to join Okano, an Aiea High School graduate, were Shane Komine, the former Nebraska standout who once made up the majors' first all-Hawaii-born battery with Oakland Athletics catcher and Baldwin graduate Kurt Suzuki; Keoni DeRenne, a former University of Arizona infielder from Iolani; Onan Masaoka, a former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher signed by Maui scout Iron Maehara in the third round of the 1995 draft out of Waiakea who last played in the majors in 2001; and infielder Milton Loo, a Molokai graduate and former ninth-round draftee of the Cincinnati Reds.

''I am talking to those guys,'' Snyder said. ''I hope to get all of them --- you want to see where they're at. I know Keoni is trying to get on with some other teams, Shane is trying to get on with some other teams. If that doesn't work out, I told them, 'Have your agent call me and we will work something out.' ''

Loo was a junior college All-American shortstop for a national runner-up team at Yavapai (Ariz.) Community College.

''Milton Loo is definitely on the list,'' Snyder said. ''We will see how it goes the next month or so, what the possibilities are to get those guys. Otherwise, we will open it up to all the local guys in spring training and see what happens. ... I will get as many local guys as I can. I know the talent we need to compete in the league. I know kind of where we are at and I will watch them in spring training. I will be able to say, 'That guy will work and that guy may not.' It is finding guys who are ready for this level.''

Waipahu graduate Jerome Williams --- a former major leaguer with the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals --- has pitched in the GBL before. Snyder said he has not talked to Williams or his agent, but would inquire about his status.

Snyder said the league will offer eye-opening talent to Maui baseball fans.

''It is probably between a Double-A and a Triple-A level,'' he said. ''In Triple-A you have got the guys who have been up and down, so they have some big league time, they have some Triple-A time. You are going to have your

A-ball guys, you are going to have your rookies. It is going to be a Double-A to Triple-A league. Every team is going to have two to three former big leaguers on the roster. The competition is very good and people will be surprised to see what kind of talent we have.''

The team colors will be black, green, yellow and red and the logo is being worked on by team president Rick Berry. Michael Cummings, the CEO of XnE Corp., which owns the team, said he envisions the word ''Ikaika'' large across the breast of the uniforms with a smaller ''Koa'' below that.

Berry said he wants a logo that incorporates a Hawaiian warrior. Berry designed the logo for the St. George (Utah) Roadrunners franchise --- a bird running with a bat in its beak chasing a baseball.

XnE has owned the Utah team for three seasons, but is in the process of selling to concentrate on Maui and Hawaii. XnE owns the GBL rights to the state, and has said its goal is to have four teams in Hawaii in the future.

Snyder managed the Roadrunners the last three seasons.

''Of course, there is a little sadness with that,'' Snyder said. ''That is where I came back to start pro ball (managing) was St. George, so we have friends, we have a lot of people who are still there, but it is a new experience. I have been there for three years, we have done it, we have made the playoffs. We have kind of set the groundwork there, but me and Rick kind of felt, 'You know what? We want to go to Maui (and) we want to win the first year.' ... I think it is a good move for me and the league and career-wise, too.''

Berry said he has been working on this project for three years and is fully aware of the challenges that await.

''We just feel this is the right time,'' he said. ''I love Maui and I love the opportunity. ... In talking to a lot of people, it was just the excitement. You have to have a passion for it. There's facilities and all that that comes into play, but in talking to the community, just going into a store and saying, 'Hey, what do you think of this?' The excitement from the people and the passion is there. They say, 'You know what? Maui is a baseball town.' ''

The travel challenges certainly cannot be ignored. Berry said that home teams are responsible for supplying housing for visiting teams, and that he is looking for local hotel sponsors and an airline sponsor.

''We need both,'' he said. ''I need hotel partners. In St. George, we had about five or six different hotel partners. We traded rooms for advertising, promotions and tickets. ... Those hotel partners will not just be trading out rooms, but also getting revenue from the booster clubs and traveling (fans) from the visiting teams.''

The league season runs from May to August. A schedule is to be released next month.

''We are a little behind where we want to be right now, but we know what we need to get done and that really helps,'' Berry said. ''There is no question that the last three years in St. George is a definite plus for me to know what we need to get done and accomplished here.''

Berry said ticket prices will range from $5 to $14.

Cummings said a break-even attendance figure is about 1,200 per game.

Okano was a four-year player at New Mexico, and wore a 2008 GBL championship ring from the Orange County (Calif.) Flyers on Tuesday.

''I'm excited,'' he said. ''I mean, I'm a 30-year-old trying to get picked up. Like (Snyder) said, if you have a uniform on, you never know. This is my living dream, playing at home in front of the home crowd. It is very cool to be the first signee. Great name and this is Hawaii, you know, representing my home state. ... We want to bring one of these (championship rings) here.''

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bouchie to Tigers

The Armada's 2009 team MVP won't be back with the Fleet in 2010. That's because catcher Andy Bouchie just had his contract acquired by the Detroit Tigers organization, who will have him report to Lakeland, Florida, in February. It was great having him in Long Beach this season. He earned All-Star honors with not only solid numbers at the plate but also an ability to throw out any runner foolish enough to try to steal on his watch.

Congratulations, Andy!

Here's the official press release from the GBL:

Long Beach Armada All-Star Catcher Purchased by Detroit Tigers
Andy Bouchie is on His Way To Lakeland For Spring Training

(San Ramon, CA. December 19, 2009) The Golden Baseball League (GBL) announced today the Long Beach Armada catcher Andy Bouchie has had his contract purchased by the Detroit Tigers. The GBL All-Star catcher was in his first season for the Armada and will now report to Tigers spring training in Lakeland, Florida in February.

Bouchie, 24, was signed by the Milwaukee Brewers as a 7th round selection after an outstanding junior year at Oral Roberts University where he led the club in batting, and was named 1st Team All Conference as the Golden Eagles advanced to the College World Series and ended up ranked #17 in the nation. The hard hitting catcher spent three years in the Brewers organization before being released last year as the higher minor league levels in Milwaukee's farm system were stacked with catchers. He was signed by manager Garry Templeton of the Long Beach Armada and quickly became the dominant catcher in the Golden Baseball League in 2009. Selected a GBL All-Star he hit .290 for the Fleet with 7 home runs and 42 RBI in 59 games. Defensively he was considered the finest catcher in the league as he handled an Armada staff full of experienced pitchers, including ex-major league stars Jose Lima and Hideki Irabu.

"I'm not surprised that Andy was acquired by a major league team," said Armada skipper Garry Templeton. "I was expecting it to happen much sooner as he's one of the best young catchers I've ever had, including my years managing in AAA for the Angels. He should do very well with Detroit."

Bouchie is the 18th player from Golden Baseball League teams to have his contract purchased this year and the 104th in the five year existence of the league.