New League Stumbles Toward Starting Gate
May 16, 2016

On every press release put out by the new Great West League, with the Marysville Gold Sox being one of its inaugural franchises, at the bottom of the page, the league describes itself as “one of the premier summer collegiate wood bat leagues in North America.” That's pretty presumptuous considering an out hasn't been recorded yet, but while things aren't all according to Hoyle, they are preparing for the first pitch in just two and a half weeks.

In a short phone conversation this afternoon, league president Ken Wilson tried to sound upbeat. “We'll be ready”, he said. “We're excited.”

Wilson wasn't prepared for long explanations of what has gone on, and what the plans are and were, and kept his answers very short, but you know this isn't the way he envisioned his new venture to get underway. After the part about how great the league is (or will be), the rest of that mission statement on the press releases reads, “...providing a professional, minor league baseball atmosphere for top college players seeking professional baseball careers, while providing affordable family entertainment and enriching the quality of life in its member communities.” That can still happen, and likely will in most of its markets.

The number of markets, though, is fewer than Wilson desires. Although a pitch is yet to be thrown, the league was formed two years ago with the founding of the Chico franchise. Wilson owns the club in Portland. Lodi was on board, and with cross-ownership with Chico and Marysville, the Gold Sox were next. Wilson and Company's plan was eight teams. There would be two divisions, an unbalanced shedule, and 60 games. The Medford Rogues, the only pre-existing team other than the Gold Sox, signed on, but there were several other communities that balked at the idea.

Redding, according to an official there last year, wouldn't pay a reported 40-thousand dollar entry fee, and other established teams like the Humboldt Crabs or the Healdsburg Prune Packers either declined invitations, or just couldn't make it work. The GWL secured a franchise in Sacramento for its sixth team, and would go with that number for its first season. Still 60 games, no divisions, every team would play the others 12 times, top four make the playoffs, and you have a league.

The sixth team would be named the Sacramento Stealth, and as was put in the notes section of this column two weeks ago, may be the most appropriately-named team in the history of sports. Their website has very little information. You could fill out a form for season tickets but there was no phone number. They did list an office address, but when visited on May 2, the young woman at the front desk had never heard of the Stealth. She did get a guy in the back who knew what I was talking about, and he gave me a phone number. A call to that number, admittedly late this afternoon, was not returned.

The Stealth would play at renovated Renfree Field, but the above photo (and the two below) taken the same day of that office visit, show that that wasn't going to happen. There are plenty of other sites they could use on a temporary basis, but Wilson said today that “ownership decided that wasn't going to work for them.”

So? What then? On to Plan C.

“They will be a summer travel squad”, Wilson said. The Stealth will play all 30 of it's scheduled road games, and one scheduled home series against each team will be moved to the away city. With two scheduled visits to each park, the other series would be canceled. This gives the Stealth a 45-game season, the other teams three extra home games, and a couple of extra days off. Chico, Lodi, Marysville, Medford, and Portland will play 57 games, and Sacramento will play 45. The Stealth will still be playoff eligible.

“It's no secret”, Wilson said about the Stealth not having a home field. However, while that may be true, no one's telling anyone about it either. The league website has not been updated since March 24. “We haven't had a lot of time”, said Wilson, “and there really hasn't been a lot of news anyway.” The league's front office is likely a one to two person endeavor, but no news? A new league should be generating press releases every hour. Anyone who knows someone who took a marketing class knows that.

They are active on Twitter, though, but mostly posting comical baseball-related cartoons or links to YouTube videos. And, on May 9, just one week ago today, and one week after these photos were taken, the Great West League tweeted “Sacramento #baseball fans, get tickets, team gear and more for the @SacStealth here”, over a photo of the team logo! Not exactly an announcement of a summer travel squad.

So, in Sacramento, they have a problem. No question about it. In the other cities, it remains to be seen. Wilson's Portland Pickles are now in the largest city in the league, but in a small ball park. Lodi's Tony Zupo Field was once home to a minor league team, even once affiliated with the Dodgers. High school playoff games are played there now, but various teams have tried summer collegiate ball without a lot of success. The rest of the league still has questions, but much more promise.

The Chico Heat will likely lead the league in attendance. Their independent professional teams did well, and they have a nice stadium on the campus of lovely Chico State. They also revived the name from the Western League team that played there in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Medford Rogues are offering two-dollar tickets on selected nights, will have several fireworks nights, and also have a couple of previous seasons under their belts in a different league.

That leaves the Gold Sox. The team is beginning its 14th season of collegiate summer baseball. The franchise even was a pro team in 2002, and competed against the original incarnation of the Chico Heat. They've played 625 collegiate games, won 75 percent of them, and have averaged well over a thousand people in the stands every night. But that was then. There are new owners, a new manager, a new schedule, and of course, a new league. It's kind of like letting your son drive your classic Corvette on prom night. The car is great, it's beautiful, and in impeccable condition, but you can't help but worry, and hope that it's all in one piece when he gets home. Inevitably, though, he's fine, and the car comes back unscathed. You go to drive it later and the radio is blaring, the stations have been changed, and the seat adjustments are all messed up, but you deal with it. Such is life. Such is baseball.

Batter up!

First of 56: On May 15, 1941, which was 75 years ago yesterday, the New York Yankees beat the Chicago White Sox 6-5. Yankee center fielder Joe DiMaggio went 2-for-4, starting a streak of 56 straight games with at least one hit. Ironically, 75 years to the day later, the Yankees hosted the White Sox again. The Sox skipper is Robin Ventura, who holds the collegiate record—hitting safely in 58 straight games while at Oklahoma State in 1987.

Quick cup of coffee: Yuba City's Max Stassi was back in the big leagues, but only for three days. The Houston Astros catcher was on the DL with a hand injury, sent to Triple-A Fresno on a rehab assignment, then formally optioned to Fresno to stay with the Grizzlies. Last weekend, though, he was called up when Jason Castro went on paternity leave. Stassi, now 25, got into two games, one as a late-inning defensive replacement and did not bat. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts the next day, didn't play the following day, and then was sent back when Castro was activated.

Three more fun-filled days: While experiences like Stassi's are more typical, trust me, it doesn't usually work like this for broadcasters. With Angels radio play-by-play man Terry Smith away to attend a godson's wedding, the Angels called up a fill-in from Triple-A Salt Lake City. Steve Klauke has been the voice of that franchise since it was re-established in the Pacific Coast League in 1994. While doing the three-game series against Seattle, Klauke got to call a game-winning home run by Albert Pujols. Steve is back behind the Bees' microphone tonight. (On a personal note, I got to know Klauke a little bit in four years while working in Salt Lake City. He knows everything about that franchise, a lot of things about baseball in general, and is a great person to be around.)

Would you, could you, on TV?: While the camera was showing pictures of little children enjoying themselves at Dodger Stadium, Vin Scully twice this season has offered this Dr. Seuss caption: “It's a troublesome world. All the people who're in it are troubled with troubles almost every minute. You ought to be thankful, a whole heaping lot, for the places and people you're lucky you're not.”

Top photo: Sacramento's Renfree Field, taken May 2. The goal when the Stealth franchise was announced in September was for the field to be ready for play by June. Wait 'til next year!

I didn't want to wake them up and tell them the home season was canceled.

Not exactly your Field of Dreams. It looks like there was a fire where the press box should be.

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