Great West League Set For Second Season
May 29, 2017

If there were mulligans in baseball, the Great West League would use theirs early. The collegiate wood bat summer baseball league now has the model that it wanted last year, as it sets to open its second season tomorrow (Tuesday). Six teams, each with a home field, a 60-game season, a four-team playoff format, and a best-of-three championship series in August. There were some serious misconceptions and mistakes in year one, something that is now in the rear view mirror, and they hope out of the public's general consciousness.

They started a week too late last year, players had to get home before mid-August, so with two weeks to go in the regular season, the playoff field was cut in half. They had a team in Sacramento that was selling season tickets, but didn't have a field to play on. One team that had a home field drew less than a hundred fans a game. Managers would have run-ins with umpires and not get suspended, and umpires often wouldn't have control of the games they were supposedly in charge of. Call it a learning curve, or on the job training, or growing pains. Or just forget about it completely and start over.

The league started with two established clubs—the Marysville Gold Sox and Medford Rogues. They are back for year two. The league was essentially created for two other clubs—the Chico Heat and the Portland Pickles. The Heat won the title, and after one season and a renovated ball park, the Pickles have changed ownership. The one-hundred-a-game-drawing Lodi Crushers have “suspended operations” for this season, and the homeless Sacramento Stealth have activated their collective cloaking device, and are invisible for this year. Two new clubs have been created—the Lincoln Potters and the Yuba City Bears.

Both of those clubs will represent cities that they don't play in, but there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. The Potters will play at William Jessup University in nearby Rocklin, and the Bears, with the league desperately needing a sixth team, will share the stadium with the Gold Sox (picture Shea Stadium for two years in the 1970s if you are old enough).

Interestingly, the Potters will likely remind you of the Crushers. Don't expect large crowds, but ownership is enthusiastic, and confident that summer baseball will work there, even though there's a lot of work to do to get people to even realize what collegiate summer baseball is like, or that Lincoln even has a team. The Bears will likely be similar to last season's Stealth. A lot of local junior college players, outmatched by the experience of the players on the other teams, and likely out of the playoff picture before the season starts, but at least they have a home field.

Tuesday's schedule has the Marysville Gold Sox home against the Lincoln Potters, the Yuba City Bears at the Medford Rogues, and the Portland Pickles at the defending champion Chico Heat. Here's a look at the six teams and their projected order of finish...

Chico Heat: Chico State has a very good and popular college baseball program, and the Heat have already shown they can piggyback on that success. With a large number of Division One college players and some D-2 players, including from Chico State and some of their opponents, the Heat are poised to repeat. They led the league in attendance last year, and will likely do so again. Fans there also remember and enjoyed the Heat when they were a professional independent club in the late 1990s and early 2000s, so resurrecting the name has turned into marketing genius.

Medford Rogues: The Rogues actually had the best record in the league last year, but lost the third and deciding game of the championship series 1-0 to Chico, in part because one of their best players had to go home. He played in games one and two, but for whatever reason, couldn't stick around for the big one. The schedule ends a week earlier this year, so that shouldn't be a problem. Like the Heat, the Rogues have a fair number of D-1 guys, with many of them from the state of Oregon. Ownership of our top three in the GWL is incestuous, so the Rogues won't leave the league even though there are no real rivalries. Chico could be a rival for them based on last year's post-season.

Portland Pickles: A strange name, a renovated ball park, and no professional baseball in Portland brought out the curious last year, and new ownership including Seattle Seahawks punter Jon Ryan, might give them reason to stay. Ryan is into previous ownership's mission to “keep things weird”, so look for strange promotions and gimmicks. On the field, they have a lot of local talent, and a few returnees from last year. Getting from here to there, though, will be an issue. They are the Seattle Mariners of the GWL, with their closest opponent, the Medford Rogues, a five-hour bus ride away. They are also subject to the most rainouts at home, and begin the season with a weeklong road trip at Chico and Lincoln before their home opener against Marysville June 6.

Marysville Gold Sox: The Gold Sox got off to a blistering 15-2 start last year, but crashed to Earth last year, winning their last game of the year to finish above .500 (29-28). New manager Dallas Correa doesn't have a lot of division one talent on his squad (although original Gold Sox manager Brad Peek will tell you there are plenty of good college players outside of D-1). They play all twelve of their games against the Yuba City Bears before the end of June, which should help give them a head start. Pitching is key, and the Gold Sox have a new pitching coach in Nick Hudson, a former Gold Sox player who pitched a no-hitter for them. He'll get to work with some returning arms from last year. Ownership/management trying to run two clubs and fill 60 home dates between the two might cost the Sox a few wins.

Lincoln Potters: Before CalTrans built a Highway 70 bypass around the town of Lincoln, the road would take you by an old farm-factory like contraption with a big sign that says “Gladden McBean”. Turns out they made pottery there, and that's where the team name comes from. The roster has a lot of junior college players, and guys from northern California schools, including Aiden Kearney, who pitched for the Gold Sox last summer. The Potters open in Marysville Tuesday and Wednesday, and then host the Gold Sox on Thursday.

Yuba City Bears: River Valley High School coach Jeramy Gillen will skipper a club mostly made up of junior college players. He will get help, though, from former Gold Sox and Heat pitcher Stuart Bradley, who will be the pitching coach this season. They have a catcher listed from Utah Valley University, who would be their only D-1 player. If it's true that junior college players are just as good as players from more recognizable four-year schools, we'll find out.

Keep me hangin' on: Gold Sox alum Brock Stassi is still in the big leagues with the Phillies, but hasn't gotten a lot of playing time lately. He's batting .203 (12-for-59) with 2 HRs and 6 RBIs. He hasn't started a game since May 21 at Pittsburgh (0-for-2), but did get a single in his only at-bat today at Miami.

It's no longer early: They say Memorial Day is the first real measuring stick of the Major League Baseball Season. With about a third of the schedule played, the playoff teams look like this. In the American League (in order of seeding), the Houston Astros, New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins, and Boston Red Sox would be in, with the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians tying for the second wild card spot. In the National League, you've got the Colorado Rockies, Washington Nationals, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Arizona Diamondbacks in. You may notice the absence of the Chicago Cubs, but it seems doubtful the Brewers will win the NL Central. It's also hard to see the Twins sticking around much longer, but that's why they play the games, right?

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