The inaugural season of the Great West League wrapped up with a thrilling title game Sunday. In a third and deciding game of a best-of-three series, the second place Chico Heat defeated the top seed Medford Rogues 1-0. The only run of the game came after an error in the third inning, and the winning pitcher went the distance and led his team to celebration. Now, the GWL really has to get to work.
The fledgling collegiate wood-bat summer league had a tough first year. From run-ins between umpires and coaches, lack of communication between the front office and its teams, players leaving early, changing the number of playoff teams with just two weeks to go, one team only playing road games, leaguewide publicity and marketing that is virtually non-existent, statistics that are inaccurate, and a schedule that everyone has said is too long, there's definitely some image-building to work on. The list is about as long as the bus ride from Lodi to Portland.
Let's start with something that the league brass is very well aware of. They need more teams. The idea was to start with eight, but this year they went with six. One of those teams, the Sacramento Stealth, only played road games because they could not secure a home field. A renovation of an old park was a longshot for 2016 to begin with, but the league was desperate to have that Sacramento market. Not so desperate, though, depending on the side of the story, to settle for an alternative college site that would have provided at least some home dates. That needs to be fixed, but not only does the league need two more teams, they need to be close to Portland. There's talk of the Sacramento suburb of Lincoln for next year. Great, but Portland has to have travel partners. Their closest road trip is a five-hour bus ride to Medford, but its the teams that travel to Portland that are doing the most complaining. A Portland-Corvallis road trip, or something like that would make things a lot easier on everyone. The league is aware of this, but have had cities like Redding and Arcata show disinterest, so getting other existing teams to join seems to be a major hurdle.
Part of collegiate summer baseball is that the guys are just that—collegiate players. College coaches rule how many innings a guy pitches, or how many at-bats an outfielder gets. School also starts in August in many places, so having players stick around to the end is very difficult. Despite changing the rules midstream, and shortening the playoffs from four to two teams, the GWL had no choice. One Medford player, their leadoff hitter, didn't even get to stay for the championship game three. He played games one and two, went a combined 3-for-10 with an RBI, and then had to split. That should not happen. If the league is hellbent on a 60-game regular season, they meed to start much earlier. A 54-game run (10 games against teams in your division, 6 against the other division assuming two divisions and eight teams) is still a lot of games, but shortens the season by a week. Start mid-May instead of early June and you've got something you can work with.
Those are nuts and bolts, and something that is what owners and league officials do—acquire teams and make schedules. The rest is common sense, but there are two things that fall in this category that the league has utterly lacked. Credibility and respectability. In Marysville alone, they lost three different umpires this year. One, who had some time in the big leagues, reportedly told a catcher that “you college guys know everything” when that catcher complained about a strike call. He ejected the catcher when he reportedly mouthed off, and minutes later, the ump threw the manager out of the game. Then, during the ensuing brouhaha, the manager bumped the umpire. The umpire never returned but the coach was not suspended. Another umpire threw a first-base coach out of the game for repeatedly trying to get a balk called. That seemed fair enough but that umpire never returned. And in one of the final games of the season, the home plate umpire actually called the game in the seventh inning when a manager kicked dirt and wouldn't leave the field quickly enough after being tossed. Several hundred people were stunned when the game was over in the seventh inning. That umpire, by the way, worked the championship series. Talk about credibility issues.
On all of the Great West League press releases, which were few, leading up to the regular season, the GWL referred to itself as “one of the premiere summer collegiate wood bat leagues in North America.” That was pretty outlandish considering they hadn't played a game yet, and to some, the concept is more laughable now. If you went to the league's website a couple of weeks ago, you got a message saying 'site suspended' (whatever that means). Last week you got a simple error message, and now it tells you there's a new site coming soon, with a link to the season stats. Those numbers, by the way, are a decent depiction of what a hitter or pitcher did during the season, but not completely accurate. The focus was on getting the stats on live so people could stay updated in real time. No problem with that, but most people entering the data weren't all that familiar with the program, and just made sure that the runner got to second, for example, and might worry later on whether it was on a stolen base or a wild pitch. All issues that you think would have been covered last winter, but certainly should be a priority this time.
You do have to give the league this, though. Everybody got their games in. With the Stealth a travel squad, they were slated to play 45 games, while everyone else played 57. The original schedule was 60, but every team cut one series with the Stealth. The Lodi Crushers, eliminated from post-season, had to finish the year in Portland. Most of their guys didn't go, but at least there was some representation that was put together, and the games were played. The Stealth could have thrown a tantrum and not shown up on the final night after the umpire-shortened game in Marysville the night before, but returned for the finale. That goes a long way on the path to credibility.
If you live in Chico or Medford, you may not have noticed these things all that much, but at least you also have a winning club to show for it. If you live in Marysville, where the Gold Sox played almost exclusively home games in years past, and always won two-thirds to three-fourths of their games, this year has been a bitter to pill to swallow. In all three cities though, along with Portland, you're in it for the long hall. Owners of these teams are owners of the league. As long as there is a GWL, these teams will be in it. Get used to it, hope a couple more teams decide to sign up, and hope that the Lodi to Portland bus ride list of things to do, gets cut a lot shorter.
Here goes the prose: I'm not sure how this got started, or how the heck it happened more than once, but I have ended my Gold Sox season broadcasts with a poem for seven years in a row now, and eight of the last nine (yikes!). Here's this year's...It's the end of the night, and the end of the year