OC Flyers vs. LB Armada. For me, this is more than another three-game series in an 88-game season.
The league wants this match up to develop into a bitter rivalry. I think both teams want that as well. Let's face it; it's good on both sides if that's the case. Intensified competition can only help attendance at these games, which is something both teams need help with. If the communities of Long Beach and Fullert- *cough* Orange County can rally behind their respective teams when they square off, everyone wins.
I'm in a peculiar position of having worked for both organizations, and I think it's a little different than the players that play for the teams. I realize that not only are ex-Armada players Jeremy Zick, Dane Dela Rosa and Jeff LaRue wearing OC orange this year, but so are former Armada manager Darrel Evans and coach Dan Dipace. Perhaps I'm wrong, but the players just want the opportunity to play and have the chance to move up. The uniform they wear is secondary to that opportunity.
In getting to know fans from both organizations, there seems to be a mutual respect that is never spoken of. Flyers fans don't have any real problems with Armada fans (for the most part) and vice versa (for the most part). There are always a few exceptions, but I'd say the rowdiest person who came to Blair Field to root for the Flyers in 2007 was myself, and now I'm on-field for LB. I still have a great relationship with many people within and around the Flyers organization despite having "crossed county lines" for the 2008 season to work with the Armada.
Going around the stadium last night, I heard some very kind words from both Flyers fans who enjoyed having myself and "CoalTrain" running around at Goodwin Field last season and from Armada fans who appreciate the work that "Arby I" and I are putting in at Blair this season (can't reveal who is the mascot, but incas you have been wondering, yes 2007 CoalTrain is 2008 Arby I, and yes, I'm damn happy about that).
Sure there were playful taunts of "traitor" thrown at Arby and myself, but the fans were still for the most part glad to see us doing what we enjoy doing. The same I'm sure was true for some of the guys on the field. Jeff LaRue. Darrell Evans. Those were big names for the fleet last season. Just because they are on another team doesn't dismiss that.
Because this is independent league baseball, and because fans and players and people within the organizations become closer than at higher levels of pro ball, I think it's difficult for this rivalry to grow. Now, it doesn't hurt that last night we put the OC logo and their owner's face on toilet paper and gave it out to all our fans. Yet it's exactly because of these tight relationship that this rivalry might find itself somewhat stunted.
I'm not saying that these relationships should be dismissed. In fact, I think they are the very basis of what make independent league baseball so special. But when fans from both sides are able to develop and maintain a mutual respect to those "across county lines" then this LB/OC rivalry will remain full of unfulfilled potential.
Last season, these teams played some intense games. There are some in these organizations that don't like people on the other side. But as someone who has been on both sides of the county line, I can tell you that it's not anything personal (again, for the most part). It's really more about wanting this rivalry to take off.
If that can happen, more fans come out, both teams make more money, and everyone gets what they want: sustainable professional baseball in both communities. So if we have to continue to exaggerate our animosity, so be it. Let's build this rivalry. Let's make this LB vs. OC "feud" into something that both communities can get behind.
Make that the first step, and let's keep this mutual admiration behind closed doors.