Sunday, November 21, 2010

GBL morphs into North American League

Friday's announcement that the remaining teams in the Golden, Northern and United Baseball Leagues were merging came as no surprise. The GBL will indeed absorb the other two troubled independent leagues and form the North American League. The new circuit, which will be the largest professional baseball league outside of the big leagues, will likely play the 2011 season with between 16 and 20 teams.

Contrary to the previously-rumoured divisional alignment, the new league will probably play with three divisions -- one for each of the now defunct leagues. Effectively, the three independent leagues are pooling resources to try and survive. We'll see if that strategy works, but there's no guarantee that the new North American League will even make it through the upcoming season.

Given how this scenario is playing out, it's not a shock that the Victoria Seals decided to cease operations less than two weeks ago. North American League teams are expected to play 75% of their games within their division and 25% against the two other divisions. In 2010 terms, that means the Seals would have played three-quarters of their games against GBL teams: Edmonton, Calgary, Maui (which came under new ownership a few days ago), Tijuana (an expansion team that will be known as the Embajadores) and whichever other teams attempt to make a go of it (likely league-owned teams based in Arizona and California). However, the remaining Seals games would have been played against clubs from the old Northern and United Leagues, which are based entirely in Illinois and Texas. That's way too much travel for an independent-league team.

As a baseball fan, I really hope that the new league survives. But they sure are faced with an uphill climb.

Seal Blubber Bits
  • The Times-Colonist reported that Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin has been approached by a local group regarding the possible return of professional baseball. No details were provided by the tight-lipped mayor. 
  • In the same article, Brian Rios was quoted as saying that he would likely sign with the Calgary Vipers. So much for his plans to retire...
  • The inaugural league meeting for the North American League will take place at the end of this month in Northern California. I'm sure many more details on the new league will be made public following the conclusion of these meetings.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Media coverage of the Seals' demise - Hmmm...

It has been interesting reading all of the recent stories about the (late?) Victoria Seals in the media.

An alert reader pointed me to an excellent article by Alex Pomerant, the law student who was the man inside the Seamore the Seal costume. The piece paints an interesting picture of what it's like to be the mascot of a professional baseball team and explains what the team meant to the local community. Incidentally, I had the pleasure of pinch-hitting as the mascot in one professional game back in 1999 when I was working for the Asheville Tourists. It was a difficult and smelly job being Ted E. Tourist that night (it was July in North Carolina after all), but it was one of the most memorable nights of a wonderful summer. I totally understand where Alex is coming from.

Tom Hawthorn wrote yet another great article in the Globe and Mail on the Victoria Seals.  In addition to hitting on many of the high points of two fantastic years of Seals baseball, Tom also presents an alternative to the "blame the city" mentality that was so prevalent after the announcement that the Seals were ceasing operations.

Even Ballpark Digest has got into the act by publishing an article comparing the Seals to a canary in a coal mine. The piece concentrates on the second reason given by the Seals' ownership for pulling the plug: the instability of the Golden Baseball League.

Many league observers, myself included, are still trying to figure out the full story regarding the Seals' demise and the related changes coming to the GBL. One observer has even speculated that the Seals could return to an expanded GBL in 2011 with a better lease deal from the City of Victoria and that last week's announcement could have been simply a ploy to improve ownership's bargaining position.

We'll continue to follow this story as it unfolds.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Northern, United and Golden leagues to merge?

Ballpark Digest is reporting that the remaining teams in the Northern and United leagues are about to merge with the Golden Baseball League for the 2011 season. The new league is expected to fly under the banner of the Golden Baseball League.

It appears that the teams will play an abbreviated schedule in 2011 and that there will indeed be the four divisions mentioned in our previous blog post: Canada, Midwest, West Coast and Texas. It's still unclear which teams will make up the Canadian division, since none of the remaining teams in the Northern or United leagues are based in Canada. I can't imagine a two-team division with just Edmonton and Calgary...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Back from the dead?

OK, Seals fans. I am truly confused.

Two days after "ceasing operations", the Victoria Seals have exercised the 2011 contract options for Jeff Duda, Matt Edgecombe, PJ Bevis, Andrew Arreola, Henry Calderon, Mike Koons, Joe Sergent, Jino Gonzalez, Jason Kershner, Terrance McClain, Colin Moro, Wilver Perez, Tim Rodriguez, Charlie Strandlund and Brandon Villafuerte. One can only assume that these options have been exercised in order to give the Seals the right to sell each player to the highest bidder. Or is there more to it?

But wait, there were more surprises today... WREX in Rockford, Illinois is reporting that the Rockford RiverHawks will join the GBL in 2011. In addition, three other Northern League teams (Schaumburg, Joliet and Lake County) are expected to join the GBL and Omaha is another possibility. These moves would gut the Northern League.

Apparently, the GBL might contain 16 or 17 teams next year featuring four divisions: Canada, West, Midwest and Texas. Even if the five aforementioned teams join the GBL, where will the other 12 teams come from? Edmonton and Calgary could obviously be part of the Canadian division, but you can't really have a two-team Canadian division (the Winnipeg Goldeyes just left the Golden League for the American Association). Then again, maybe another league might merge with the GBL.

If you can shed some light on the situation, please leave a comment to this blog post. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dave Niehaus (1935-2010)

November 10, 2010 has been a terrible day for baseball fans in the Pacific Northwest. Here in Victoria, we learned of the demise of our beloved Seals. Later in the day we got a little perspective on the severity of our loss after finding out about a true tragedy. Dave Niehaus, voice of the Seattle Mariners since their inaugural season in 1977, passed away on Wednesday after suffering a heart attack.

I'll defer to the Associated Press for a recap of his Hall of Fame career and life. But I'd like to offer up the following audio tribute to Mr. Niehaus, courtesy of YouTube. The clip comes from the greatest moment in Mariners' history -- "The Double" -- from 1995. It was one of my most memorable moments as a sports fan and I was lucky to share it with Bubba in the left-field bleachers in the Kingdome.

Dave Niehaus, you will be missed.

City clubs the Seals, ends professional baseball in Victoria

Seals owner Darren Parker greeted some thirty members of the local sports media (including the Seals Baseball Blog) with the same handshakes and casual "thank you for coming" comments you would hear at a funeral. And that is exactly what transpired over the next hour.

"We are disappointed to announce that the Victoria Seals have ceased baseball operations as of today" Darren spoke, much to the surprise of none
of the attendees after rumors started flooding morning news reports, the Times Colonist, and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Staff and players were informed yesterday of the situation. General Manager Roxann Bury spent most of the night and early morning texting and talking to players about the situation, and where the Seals go from here.

It's quite clear however, that they go nowhere right now. Many of the key players from last year had already been retained on options, and all of them are disappointed to not be coming back to the city they called their home last summer. No names w
ere given, other than T-Mac, whom Darren expressed as being saddened by the announcement. Immediate tasks for Darren are to find homes for all of his boys, whom you could tell he felt badly for.

Darren himself was noticeably shak
en up at times during the announcement, as were other members of the Seals staff in attendance. Curtis Clarke, Mike Walker and Roxann Bury stood quietly during the conference, hearing many of the comments themselves for the first time.

Most of the conversation around the root cause of why this happened centered around the City of Victoria, and their inability to support and partner with a professional sports team in a city-run venue. Darren was quick to point out that at this level, you
don't run a franchise to make money, you do it because you love the game. Still, you need to at least break even. Over the two years here, the Seals experienced losses mentioned as being "well over a million dollars".

It seems the city treated the Seals like crap, never embracing the "partnership" aspect of the agreement. For instance, being a union facility only city workers could work at the venue. No volunteers were allowed to help - which is the life blood of many small market teams. Even when given advanced warnings that games were selling well, or big crowds were expected, the city was not able to step up to help, and the Seals paid the price. Where big games could have helped fill the needed revenue void, all they did was lower the fan's experience at the park.

The lease was way too high, the revenues from concession and alcohol sales were nowhere near what they should have been, and the facility was
never upgraded as expected. The Seals couldn't acquire sponsors for things such as hot dogs or beer - huge revenue draws for sports teams.

The Seals even asked about buying RAP and managing it, in much the same way as the Salmon Kings ownership group owns the SOFA, and the city's response was a f
lat NO due to more "union agreements". Something about the fact that the facility would be required to sit dormant for two years if sold...

Both Darren Parker and his father Russ, a thirty year veteran of running professional sports teams admitted that with a different venue to play in, or w
ith better city support, the team would have remained viable.

Darren remains the Seals owner, and will remain living here in Victoria with his family. He commented that he has fielded offers from "other Mayors" about options, and would also welcome offers from other ownership groups both local and outside of Victoria. In the back of the room, while all the negative talk about Victoria swirled through the air, Langford Mayor Stu Young stood quietly listening, and checking his em
ail. Langford at this point though, is not a short-term solution, as there is no venue capable of holding the Seals. The future? Who knows.

Darren made special note thanking the fans of Victoria, the corporate support they received, and the dedication of his staff. He pointed to the shared sense of community he had hoped the Seals would bring, and the positive impact the team had on families in the area. Speaking from my own experience, bringing the kids out to the ball park many times over the summer provided moments they will cherish for years. The charity work the Seals did, both on the field with 50/50 sharing, and off the field, were a key part of what the Seals stood for in the community, and will be missed.

Seals' staff members Roxann Bury, Mike Walker, and Curtis Clarke

Was it all about the city though? The GBL will have big problems next year as well, and would have regardless of what happened to Victoria. They are currently in danger of having six or fewer teams in the league - at least two of them league owned, which is not a sustainable model. How much of a factor did the potential demise of the GBL play into the decision is unknown, but it had to have some impact on the decision. There was some talk about other leagues such as the Northern league, but other leagues are having similar issues due to the economy in many cities. Darren was quick to point out that at this level, with these expected revenues, the league has to remain a "bus league" to achieve true success. Having to fly to far-away locations is a killer.

Oh and the scoreboard is for sale as well, if you want to impress your neighborhood, or just keep track of major league games at home...

So that's it blog fans. Over the next while we will spend some time analyzing and recapping, complaining and bitching, and generally feeling sad about the loss of our boys in blue. After that? Who knows. We invite you to share a few last comments, share some stories of the old boy if you like, and take this one out with a bang. Damn guys, we hardly knew ya. Rest in Peace.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bad news for Seals fans?

Check out the press release from the Seals this afternoon:

Press conference called for Wednesday at 1:00 p.m.
For Immediate Release
Tuesday November 9, 2010
Victoria, BC – The Victoria Seals announce that they will be holding a press conference to make a major announcement regarding the future of the franchise tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 p.m. (PT)... 

We have known for some time that most of the teams in the GBL are in dire straights. My hope was that somehow we'd see the three solid Canadian clubs in the GBL survive, perhaps by merging with another independent league. It looks like that might not happen. Stay tuned for more details as they become available.

It appears that the Seals are folding. The T-C seems to have been granted an inside scoop on the story.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Take me out to the ball game

While I was travelling last week, I helped pass the time by re-watching a couple of innings of the original Baseball documentary by Ken Burns on the Air Canada entertainment system. One of the innings features the wonderful version of Take Me Out to the Ball Game by Carly Simon and I immediately made a mental note to put up a blog post about it.

Most of us know the song from the seventh-inning stretch at baseball games, but what not everyone realizes is that the version normally sung at the ballpark is only the chorus and that the full lyrics contain a little-known and somewhat unconventional story. The complete lyrics to the song, which was composed in 1908 by Jack Norworth, are shown below:

Katie Casey was baseball mad,
Had the fever and had it bad.
Just to root for the home town crew,
Ev'ry sou
Katie blew.
On a Saturday her young beau
Called to see if she'd like to go
To see a show, but Miss Kate said "No,
I'll tell you what you can do:"


Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don't care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win, it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game.

Katie Casey saw all the games,

Knew the players by their first names.
Told the umpire he was wrong,
All along,
Good and strong.
When the score was just two to two,
Katie Casey knew what to do,
Just to cheer up the boys she knew,
She made the gang sing this song:

[repeat Chorus]

Note (Courtesy of Wikipedia): The term "sou", now obscure, was at the time common slang for a low-denomination coin. Carly Simon's version, produced for Ken Burns' 1994 documentary Baseball, reads "Ev'ry cent / Katie spent".

What I find interesting is that it's the female character in the song that wants to go to the ballgame, even though her boyfriend suggested that they take in a show. It obviously wasn't out of the ordinary to be a female super-fan back in 1908, otherwise Jack Norworth wouldn't have created a song based on such a keen female "rooter". In any event, the full Carly Simon version sure would sound good at Royal Athletic Park, don't ya think?