Sunday, January 30, 2011

North American League staggers toward 2011 season

It's been four weeks since our last update on the status of the North American League and a lot has happened in that time. On the plus side, the league has finally released its schedule for 2011, allowing teams to begin selling season tickets in earnest. Ballpark Digest, on the other hand, has referred to the NAL schedule as "one of the worst schedules we've ever seen in professional baseball." Ouch.

A quick check of the schedule shows the Edmonton Capitals and the Calgary Vipers playing each other a grand total of 25 times in the 96-game regular season. Both teams also fly to Maui to play an eight-game series against the Na Koa Ikaika. Incidentally, it appears the league has greatly reduced the number of inter-division games (presumably, to cut down on the already hefty travel costs incurred by NAL teams). Neither the Capitals nor the Vipers will play a single game against an Eastern Division team.

The makeup of the league has also changed in the last month and more changes are likely to follow. The league has (wisely) dropped the Tijuana Embajadores in favour of the Henderson Roadrunners. The Henderson (Nevada) squad will be owned by the league will be basically a resurrected version of the ill-fated St. George Roadrunners. In fact, the same logo (and uniforms?) will be used by Henderson.

In other bad news, one of the Eastern Division teams is close to imploding. The Schaumburg Flyers recently had their business license revoked by the state of Illinois due to unpaid taxes. The team also owes over $920,000 in back rent to the Village of Schaumburg, who may evict the team from Alexian Field on February 24th. Although they aren't listed on the league's website, the Omaha (Nebraska) Flame will likely replace the Flyers in the Eastern Division.

The NAL divisional alignment is now as follows (location and former league in brackets):

Eastern Division
Edinburg Roadrunners (Texas; United League Baseball)
Lake County Fielders (Illinois; Northern League)
Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings (Texas; United League Baseball)
Rockford RiverHawks (Illinois; Northern League)
San Angelo Colts (Texas; United League Baseball)
Schaumburg Flyers (Illinois; Northern League) or Omaha Flame (Nebraska; expansion franchise)

Western Division
Calgary Vipers (Alberta; Golden Baseball League)
Chico Outlaws (California; Golden Baseball League**)
Edmonton Capitals (Alberta; Golden Baseball League)
Henderson Roadrunners (Nevada; Golden Baseball League**)
Maui Na Koa Ikaika (Hawaii; Golden Baseball League)
Yuma Scorpions (Arizona; Golden Baseball League**)
** = league owned

If the Flyers can't make a go of it in the NAL in 2011 then another chain of events could be set off. Their withdrawal from the league would leave only two teams in the Midwest (the Rockford RiverHawks and the Lake County Fielders) which would place additional travel burden on the Eastern Division teams. It's a 7-hour drive from Rockford to Omaha and an 8 1/2 hour drive from Zion (Illinois), home of the Lake County squad.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. It's entirely possible that the entire Eastern Division collapses and the new North American League operates in 2011 with only the remaining six Golden Baseball League teams (three of which are league owned). But your guess is as good as mine...

Seal Blubber Bits
  • In a bit of a surprise move, the Chicago Cubs failed to make ex-Seal Austin Bibens-Dirkx a non-roster invitee to their major-league camp. Instead, he'll join the Cubs' minor-league camp and likely start the year back in AAA with the Iowa Cubs.
  • Former Victoria Seals hurlers Chris Bodishbaugh and Anthony Pluta will start the 2011 season somewhere in the Chicago White Sox and LA Angels minor-league system, respectively. We'll continue to follow our ex-Seals on this blog as they attempt to climb the ladder to the big leagues.
  • It's a sad milestone, but the Victoria Seals website has gone bye-bye (but rest assured, we're going nowhere -- no pun intended). Here's what you see when you go to :