Past Experience Seems to be Paying Off in New League
June 27, 2016

This final score just in on a Monday night. Portland Pickles (yes, the Pickles) 7, Marysville Gold Sox 4. It's been a very rare thing that the Gold Sox play on a Monday night, but that's the reality of their new league. It's also been a rare thing that they lose.

With tonight's loss, the collegiate wood-bat summer baseball team is now 17-5. That's good for first place in the brand new Great West League, and a 2½-game lead over the second place Medford Rogues. The Gold Sox and Rogues seem to have one thing in common. They are the only teams in the league that existed prior to this season. Maybe, then, it's not a coincidence that the teams are one-two in the standings.

The Gold Sox, by far, have the most prior experience in the world of summer collegiate baseball. This is their 14th season. Historically, they have won about three-quarters of their games. The Medford Rogues, who were four-and-a-half behind the Gold Sox earlier this week, are in their third year. The other four teams in the GWL are all brand new, and are all way back, and for the most part are jumbled together with fairly even records. The Sacramento Stealth, relagated to a travel squad because they have no home ball park, have unsurprisingly sunk into the league cellar.

The question, though, is, is this a coincidence, or not? Even with almost a decade and a half of history, the Gold Sox are almost a new franchise. They have new owners (who actually bought the team last year), a new GM, a new coach, a new front office staff, and new players. The team, though, was 15-2 before losing three of their last five.

Chico and Portland were supposed to be the heavy hitters. The Great West League was really designed around those two franchises. Portland hasn't had minor-league style baseball (how this kind of summer ball is branded) since the Triple-A Beavers left in 2011. Chico hasn't had a team in the same time frame, when an independent league folded. One of Chico's owners is former major league executive and Chico native Pat Gillick (he also has a minority interest in the Gold Sox). The Pickles are owned by Ken Wilson, who has major league ties and was a big league broadcaster. You would think these two teams would have gotten a head start to procure the best available talent in the area. So far, about a third of the way through, it hasn't worked out that way.

The way players are selected in this kind of baseball, is really through a network of coaches. Gillick and Wilson may know some highfalutin muckety-mucks in the baseball universe, but if the Gold Sox need a player, it's head coach Mike Walker who contacts a coach he might know in Stockton or Reno or Maryland or wherever, and says “can you send me a guy?”. The coaches compile their rosters that way—grouping a lot of guys who have never played together before, and then go out on the field and see what happens. It seems the more that college coaches send out good players, the more that connection continues, and the more successful the summer team is on the field.

In the past, the Gold Sox have not only gotten good players, but good players with good character. That seems to be the case this year as well. But also factor in a good facility, a good reputation, and a good spot where players want to be, and you have a foundation for a winner. The Gold Sox, even under new management, seem to have all of those things, which is likely why they have emerged as the new league's top team so far.

Classic matchup: Everyone knows that if you write or say anything bad about the great Vin Scully, you lose all internet privileges for at least a year. That's the way it should be, but everyone misspeaks or flubs a name here and there, so this is not a shot, it was just funny. In promoting last Monday's game against the Washington Nationals, the most beloved man in broadcasting set up a great pitching matchup—Clayton Kershaw against Steven Spielberg. That would have been awesome. As it turned out, Stephen Strasburg didn't pitch either due to injury.

Photo: The Gold Sox get ready for a game in Chico June 4

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