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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.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

End of the Road(Runners)

Good article from The Spectrum, the local newspaper in St. George, regarding the end of the road for the RoadRunners.

Loss of a team

Summers will be just a little less exciting in St. George and the surrounding area. Bruce Hurst Field at Dixie State College won't be home to the sounds of baseballs cracking off wooden bats. We won't hear cheers.

The Roadrunners, a minor-league baseball team that had played in St. George the past three summers, announced last week that it will cease operations here. Despite a shoe-string budget and growing fan support, owners simply couldn't make the team profitable. The loss of some sponsors because of the poor economy proved to be too much for the team to weather.

The Roadrunners came on the scene in 2007 and, to be honest, had a difficult time building a fan base because of how badly the team played. But the ownership proved that it wanted to build a winning franchise by continually changing personnel throughout that first year and into the next.

Then, in 2009, the team posted a 48-34 record and qualified for the playoffs in the Golden Baseball League. Attendance grew to 1,168 people per game, but that only ranked eighth out of nine teams in terms of average fans per game. Too many empty seats this year will equate to an empty stadium next year. That's sad.

It's true that not everyone is a fan of the game of baseball. America's pastime has been said to be too slow to keep the attention of people in today's fast-paced world. But a look at the faces in the stands at Hurst Field last year shows that old and young alike came together to enjoy a game at a reasonable price. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters - and don't forget grandparents - would come together to cheer on the team and enjoy the atmosphere.

Especially in 2009, it wasn't too difficult to see Roadrunners apparel being worn by residents as we traveled to the grocery store or the mall. People wore those items with pride. Little did they know at the time that those shirts and hats would become relics.

Indeed, the loss of the Roadrunners leaves a void in St. George and the region.

Flyers owners awarded Palm Springs rights

The ownership group that operates the GBL's Orange County Flyers is apparently looking to expand. The group was awarded the rights to a franchise in Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, according to the GBL's latest press release. While the press release does not specifically mention the Orange County Flyers, it does say that the group has owned other minor league teams, including a GBL team that has employed Phil Nevin, Gary Carter, and Garry Templeton -- ladies and gentlemen, the OC Flyers managers of the last five years.

There is no specific timeline for putting a team in Palm Springs. It could be as early as this upcoming 2010 season or perhaps delayed until 2011. If they do play in 2010, it would bring the GBL back to 10 teams after the recent news of St. George folding. This could make for a six-team South Division in the GBL, as the press release says the Palm Springs club would join OC, Long Beach, Tucson, Yuma and Maui in the South Division. That leaves a North Division that currently holds Calgary, Edmonton and Victoria up in Canada to go along with Chico.

One thing to keep in mind is that this doesn't say there will be a franchise in Palm Springs. The group has merely been granted the rights to a team in the area. As I understand it, the Flyers ownership group also has the rights to the entire County of Orange as well. Just because you have the rights to put a team somewhere doesn't make it automatic. Here's to hoping they are operational for 2010 to even out the absence of the RoadRunners.

Here's the official release from the GBL:

GBL Grants Operating Rights to Palm Springs Group
Experienced Team Operators Acquire Rights to Bring Professional Baseball Back to Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley

The Golden Baseball League (GBL) announced today that they have reached an agreement with Palm Springs Professional Baseball, LLC that grants the rights to operate a professional baseball team in Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley. This would return professional baseball to the region for the first time since the minor league Palm Spring Suns played in 1997.

"We are pleased to reach an agreement with such an impressive and experienced ownership group," said GBL Commissioner Kevin Outcalt. "The team could play in either 2010 or 2011 depending on what they work out with the City of Palm Springs regarding the ballpark facility, or potentially in a ballpark elsewhere in the Coachella Valley. This is a big win for all parties as the league expands into a great market with outstanding professional baseball history, the City is able to receive an increased and true market value for their stadium lease, the fans will enjoy exciting professional baseball with well known players and managers as teams from all over western North America come to play, and the local economy is the benefit of $5M or more in annual economic impact as has been documented in other GBL markets."

Headed up by a trio of baseball industry executives who have owned minor league teams in the New York - Penn League and the Golden Baseball League, the team will host 45 regular season home games, plus playoffs, in a season that will stretch from mid-May to mid-September. Headed on the field by a Major League All-Star Manager (this group in the past have employed Gary Carter, Phil Nevin, and Garry Templeton) the team should feature the typical GBL mix of 5-6 ex major leaguers along with minor league experienced players and a few college graduates at a level of play that is rated at or above AA by experienced minor league baseball operators. Considered the premier independent pro league in western North America and one of the top in the country, the GBL regularly has 20 -30 players purchased by major league baseball and is the annual leader in Top Prospects and All-Independent Pro All-Stars as selected by Baseball America. Major League MVP and All-Stars such as Rickey Henderson, Jose Canseco, Jose Lima, Robert Fick, Scott Spiezio, Junior Spivey, and Felix Jose have all played in the league. Four GBL alumni have already made it to the major leagues.

The Palm Springs team would play in the South Division of the GBL which includes the Tucson Toros, the Orange County Flyers, the Long Beach Armada, the Yuma Scorpions and the Maui ballclubs at this time.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Goodbye DH

The winter meetings wrapped up last week, and the GBL will be without the designated hitter in 2010, according to an article posted on the Edmonton Capitals website. The rule change will take the Golden League back to its roots of pitchers taking their turn in the batting order, something the league hadn't employed since the inaugural 2005 season.

The league will also expand rosters for the playoff stretch of the season from 22 to 25 men per team.

Here's the article:

GBL Winter Meetings
December 11, 2009 4:12 PM

Indianapolis, IN - The Golden Baseball League wrapped up their annual winter meetings in conjunction with Minor League Baseball's winter meetings in Indianaplis, Indiana. A few major developments came out of the proceedings including details on the Annual All-Star festivities and a couple notable changes when it comes to rules governing rosters in the GBL.

The designated hitter will be obsolete in 2010. In an effort to speed up the duration of games. the GBL will require pitchers in the league to take their turn at-bat.

Also, rosters will be allowed to expand from 22 players to 25 players after August 15th during the latter part of the regular season.

The Golden Baseball League (GBL) and the Northern League of Professional Baseball (NoL) announced that the leagues have agreed on a two year partnership where they will play their All-Star game against each other this season and next. This annual clash will pit some of the finest international all-stars from teams in Canada and the U.S. made up of players from at least seven countries.

The 2010 game will be played on Wednesday, July 14th in Tucson, Arizona as the Tucson Toros host the game at the historic 11,000 seat Hi Corbett Stadium. The 2011 game will be played in Zion, Illinois hosted by the Lake County Fielders in the state of the art ballpark currently under construction.

The GBL and NoL are two of the most successful and heavily scouted independent leagues in the country and together had over 30 of their players from 2009 acquired by major league organizations. The 20-man rosters will be comprised of players from the ten GBL teams in Edmonton, Calgary, Victoria, California, Arizona, and Hawaii versus players from the eight Northern League teams in Winnipeg, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, and North Dakota.

"This will be exciting for our players and fans and also for major league organizations focused on finding the best talent available in the independent minor leagues," said Golden Baseball League Commissioner Kevin Outcalt. "The Northern League has long been the finest independent professional baseball league and we are looking forward to hosting their top players in Tucson this summer and then sending our best to the Chicago area for the rematch the following season."

Friday, December 11, 2009

RoadRunners will not return in 2010

Just found out the news this morning. Three seasons ago, the GBL sold the rights to one of its six franchises, and the St. George RoadRunners became the second independently-owned team in the league. Three years later, it appears the Runners have closed there doors after falling on hard times.

It's never a good thing when a team goes through this, and it hurts even more after seeing a team have it's best season ever (by a LONG shot) and then not have a chance to follow it up. Remember, this team won only 7 games during it's first half of 2007, but they continued to build, and achieved the best record in the South Division in 2009.

Here's the official article from The Spectrum newspaper in St. George:

Roadrunners call it quits

ST. GEORGE - The St. George Roadrunners made tremendous strides during the 2009 season - just not enough to stay in business.

Rick Berry, general manager of the St. George Roadrunners, said the team will not be renewing its contract with Bruce Hurst Field next season in a move that marks the end of the three-year franchise in Southern Utah.

Behind a franchise best 48-34 record, the Roadrunners secured its first Southern Division championship in the Independent Golden Baseball League this past season.

"We made the decision last weekend that the St. George Roadrunners will not be back next season," said Berry, part of the Triple Play Group that owns the team. "We were very optimistic about returning (for a fourth season) toward the end of last season, even releasing ownership opportunities to the public, but there just wasn't enough support.

"We tried our best to weather the storm for three years on one of the lowest operating budgets in the Golden Baseball League, but financially we were unable to turn a net profit or break even financially."

Despite success on the field, attendance numbers were still low for home contests. According to, St. George averaged 1,168 fans per game, the second lowest total attendance (paid and complimentary tickets) in the nine-team league.

Berry said the low attendance combined with a drop in sponsorship revenue was too damaging for Roadrunners majority owner Todd Vowell to keep operating beyond this point.

"It's been a rough-go of it here lately," said Cory Snyder, Roadrunners manager who spent eight years as a player in Major League Baseball. "The economy's been bad for a while. I'm just saddened by this whole thing. I really feel for Todd (Vowell) and his family. They've done everything possible to keep this franchise going in St. George. To keep losing money year in and year out eventually takes its toll."

The end result contradicts Vowell's assertion of St. George being a major part of the GBL in 2010 following the Roadrunners' first round loss to Tucson in September.

Vowell welcomed XnE's (Xcellence in Entertainment) purchase of the Triple Play Group in August. Vowell, along with Berry, were to also oversee XnE's four-team GBL expansion in the Hawaiian Islands. In a letter to shareholders in early November, XnE projected combined annual sales revenues exceeding $25 million.

However, Berry said Wednesday the deal had been reversed and Vowell is not in business with XnE in any capacity. Berry will remain as a consultant to XnE's Hawaiian project.

Vowell, a Dixie High alumnus, did not return several phone calls requesting comment.

Although this outcome didn't come as a surprise to Snyder, it was to the players, including three-year Roadrunners veteran Ryan Stevenson.

"I heard it might be a possibility, but I'm pretty sad that it actually happened," said the center fielder who hit .311 with 34 RBIs in 82 games last season. "It was a good experience. I really enjoyed the organization, the fans and the host families."

Stevenson didn't find out St. George's fate until Tuesday when he made a phone call to Berry to catch up and see how things were going. The 26-year old was under contract for 2010 and has rigorously been working out for the upcoming season.

Utility player Juan Serrano hit .290 with 31 hits in 34 games last season. Like many others in the organization, he enjoyed his time in St. George. He credits ownership for building a winning team in just three years and for being personable with both players and coaches.

Serrano said it takes time for any organization to build a fan base.

"You got to give it time," Serrano said. "I think it takes four to five years to get the fan base behind the franchise. And in St. George I feel like ownership cut it a little bit too short."

In tough economic times, Berry acknowledges there will be approximately 25 jobs lost, most of those coming within stadium positions like concession and memorabilia stands - many filled by high school and college students.

For Snyder, though, the three-year St. George manager has options open. He's spent time working with Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians spring training program. The veteran manager wants to be coaching in 2010.

"One thing I like about the GBL is I get to be both the manager and hitting coach," Snyder said. "There have been some inquiries from GBL teams during the winter meetings, but nothing is official yet."

Serrano credits Snyder for turning the Roadrunners (.306 batting average, 543 runs in 82 games, and 69 home runs) into GBL's second ranked offense and improving players' hitting throughout the season.

St. George didn't go without making news during its brief three-year stint.

Earlier this year, Darin L. Kracl, who was part of the original ownership group and doubled as the pitching coach in 2007, was convicted of running an investment scam. The 41-year-old used investors' money to buy cars, jewelry, travel and pay his tithing. He spent $327,000 to purchase his share of the Roadrunners, which he relinquished in 2008.

Kracl served a 90-day sentence for securities fraud and the Utah Attorney General's Office sold valuable memorabilia from Kracl's collection to repay $4.6 million.

This marks the second Southern Utah Independent baseball franchise to fold this decade. The Zion/St. George Pioneerzz (1999-2001) went out of business due to the entire Western Baseball League closing up shop.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Winter Meetings

It's that time of year again. The GBL's big-wigs are in Indianapolis this week for baseball's Winter Meetings. It seems the Golden League will have a record 10 teams in action in 2010, with a pair of 5-team divisions.

Maui joins the ranks of Calgary, Chico, Edmonton, Long Beach, Orange County, St. George, Tucson, Yuma and Victoria. Representatives from each team are on hand to discuss everything from potential rule changes in a 2010 GBL to the schedule itself (which might be out by the end of the year).

One of the more popular questions asked of the Armada is about the rumored return of Jose Lima. Last season the former NL All-Star led by example from the mound as the team's opening day starter and was named a GBL All-Star for Long Beach. While his trade to Edmonton caught many off guard, the Armada -- not Edmonton -- did retain Lima's rights. So where does that leave it? Well, it seems the ball is in Lima's court. If he wants to be back, there doesn't appear to be a reason why he wouldn't be.

The organization has exercised club options for 2010 on pretty much the entire 2009 roster. As listed on the GBL website:

November 5:
Long Beach Armada:
Exercised the 2010 contract options for the following players:
Chase Baran, Zach Beal, Andie Bouchie, Omar Bramasco, Matt Edgecombe, Ben Fox, Dustin Gober, Kris Honel, Brandon Howard, Daryl Jones, Rusty Jones, Jonny Kaplan, Scott Lonergan, Kiochi Misawa, David Ramirez, Dan Luyben, Justin Segal, Asif Shah, JJ Sherrill, and Scott Watson. Released the following players: OF Josh Womack, RHP Sean Buller, and OF Steve Moss.

For everyone wondering why Buller didn't officially have an option exercised, he has a different contract as a coach, but the Angry Lego Face has deep roots in Long Beach, and it's hard to see him playing or coaching anywhere else. And with his new local coaching gig, that's not likely to change.