Thursday, June 28, 2012

Seal Blubber Bits - West Coast League edition

Regular readers of the Victoria Seals Baseball blog will remember the section of miscellaneous tidbits that we used to tack on to the end of blog posts called "Seal Blubber Bits". Once our new West Coast League team finds a name we'll have to come up with a new moniker, but until then here is a resurrected version of Seal Blubber Bits:
  • Our new West Coast League franchise will kick off the "Name the Team" contest very soon. Fans will be asked to select from a pre-defined list of options, much like the Victoria WHL hockey franchise did just over a year ago. Stay tuned for more details.
  • The West Coast League has conditionally awarded an expansion franchise to Medford, Oregon. The team could begin play as soon as 2013 provided a lease agreement can be reached for Harry & David Field and the community can raise $250,000 for ballpark improvements. Funds raised by the community will be matched by the team's owner, Consolidated Sports Holding International. Consolidated Sports Holdings also owns four junior hockey teams: the Everett Silvertips of the WHL, the Amarillo Bulls and Texas Tornado of the North American Hockey League and the North Iowa Bulls of the North American 3 Hockey League. Medford used to host an affiliated baseball team in the Northwest League (Short Season A), but the team moved to Vancouver in 2000 when the AAA Vancouver Canadians were relocated to Sacramento, California. 
  • The awarding of the Medford franchise brings the West Coast League to 11 teams and it would not be surprising if a 12th team was awarded to Chico, California in the near future. Fans of the Victoria Seals will remember that the Chico Outlaws were part of the defunct Golden Baseball League. In fact, Eri Yoshida was wearing an Outlaws uniform when she pitched in one of the most unforgettable nights in Seals history. The Chico Outlaws folded in February 2012.
  • The Victoria WCL team is also getting close to naming their GM and field boss. Rumour has it a former Victoria Seal is in the running for the manager's job.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

American League All Star Ballot

Yesterday, I cast my National League ballot as part of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance's All Star voting. Today, I give you my ballot for the junior circuit:
  • Catcher - Joe Mauer MIN - 34 R, 3 HR, 34 RBI, 3 SB, .323 BA, .859 OPS
  • 1st Base - Paul Konerko CHI - 36 R, 13 HR, 39 RBI, 0 SB, .337 BA, .971 OPS
  • 2nd Base - Robinson Cano NY - 51 R, 17 HR, 39 RBI, 1 SB, .302 BA, .941 OPS
  • Third Base - Mike Moustakas KC - 35 R, 12 HR, 37 RBI, 2 SB, .280 BA, .837 OPS
  • Shortstop - Elvis Andrus TEX - 44 R, 1 HR, 29 RBI, 13 SB, .300 BA, .782 OPS
  • Outfielder - Mike Trout LA, 43 R, 7 HR, 29 RBI, 21 SB, .338 BA, .930 OPS
  • Outfielder - Josh Hamilton TEX, 47 R, 23 HR, 66 RBI, 6 SB, .318 BA, 1.031 OPS
  • Outfielder - Adam Jones BAL, 49 R, 19 HR, 40 RBI, 9 SB, .300 BA, .907 OPS
  • Designated Hitter - Adam Dunn CHI, 42 R, 23 HR, 53 RBI, 0 SB, .212 BA, .880 OPS
  • Starting Pitcher - Justin Verlander DET, 8-4, 2.52 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 8.64 K/9, 4.04 K/BB
Compared to what I would have guessed in the preseason, my AL ballot is full of surprises, including a number of players who have enjoyed breakout years. Mike Moustakas is having a wonderful sophomore season and he earned my vote at third base. I'm always happy to see players from the much-maligned Kansas City Royals organization get their props. In the outfield, I took the youngster Mike Trout with one of my votes even though he doesn't actually appear on the AL ballot. Trout will likely cruise to AL Rookie of the Year honours this season. Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles was another one of my selections in the outfield and the 26-year-old slugger is headed for his best season (so far) in his young career.

The other unexpected player on my ballot is Adam Dunn of the Chicago White Sox. After suffering through a miserable 2011 season in which he only hit .159 with 11 home runs, Dunn has bounced back with 23 homers and a .358 on-base percentage going into today's action.

This year's All Star Game is set for Tuesday July 10th in Kansas City.

Monday, June 25, 2012

National League All Star Ballot

As a proud member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA) and President of the alliance's Other Baseball chapter, it is my pleasure to cast a ballot for the BBA's 2012 National League All-Star team.

This year I tried to find a balance between voting for the established stars and the newcomers who are having a stellar first half. With that in mind, here is my National League ballot:
  • Catcher - Yadier Molina STL - 31 R, 10 HR, 39 RBI, 7 SB, .318 BA, .875 OPS
  • 1st Base - Joey Votto CIN - 47 R, 14 HR, 47 RBI, 4 SB, .359 BA, , 1.137 OPS
  • 2nd Base - Brandon Phillips CIN - 39 R, 10 HR, 44 RBI, 2 SB, .283 BA, .775 OPS
  • Third Base - David Wright NY - 47 R, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 8 SB, .360 BA, 1.020 OPS
  • Shortstop - Jimmy Rollins PHI - 42 R, 7 HR, 24 RBI, 12 SB, .266 BA, .720 OPS
  • Outfielder - Michael Bourn ATL, 48 R, 6 HR, 24 RBI, 20 SB, .311 BA, .796 OPS
  • Outfielder - Martin Prado ATL, 42 R, 5 HR, 28 RBI, 8 SB, .315 BA, .838 OPS
  • Outfielder - Jason Heyward ATL, 39 R, 11 HR, 35 RBI, 10 SB, .278 BA, .861 OPS
  • Starting Pitcher - Zack Greinke MIL, 8-2, 2.81 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 9.28 K/9, 4.71 K/BB
The easiest selection on the ballot was Joey Votto at first base. Votto is simply the best hitter in baseball right now and he looks like he just might have one of the best offensive seasons of all time. It was a much tougher call at catcher with Yadier Molina and Carlos Ruiz both having great seasons. In the end, I went with Molina due to his longer history of superior play and his outstanding defense. At second base, I went with Brandon Phillips over Dan Uggla and Aaran Hill largely because of Phillips' Gold Glove defense. Shortstop was a very difficult decision as well, but I went with the veteran Jimmy Rollins over breakout sensation Jed Lowrie and the inconsistent Starlin Castro.

Perhaps most surprisingly (even to me!), I went with three Atlanta Braves in the outfield. In the post-steroid era, it's fitting that all three outfielders have above average defense skills and speed. Sorry, Ryan Braun -- you don't get my vote this year. 'Nuff said.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Victoria's WCL team needs a name

With just under a year to go before Victoria sees the return of baseball to RAP, there is bound to be a flurry of activity surrounding the new WCL team as it builds itself a head office, on-field staff, and the rest of a baseball operations team.

It shouldn’t be too long before we start to see some fan-building activities as well, as a promotions team comes on board and starts to build interest. The first order of business is likely a team naming activity, with input from Victoria baseball fans to help pick the name. As Gus mentioned in his post, not sure if that means fans will be invited to submit their ideas, or if we will only get to vote on a shortlist.

We here at the blog are never ones to wait for instructions, we like to jump the gun and make our own path and this time is no exception! Come along with us and submit your own opinions on team names. 

There have been a few suggestions made on Gus’s post. Marmots, Islanders, Tide, Thunder, and more. Those are perfectly fine suggestions, they just aren’t mine. Here’s my take on the team name: Please welcome to town, the Victoria Gulls!

Yes the Gulls! What better to represent our city that the water fowl that is everywhere. You can’t spend a day in Victoria without at least once looking upward fearing the gull’s wrath (even if it’s good luck to be targeted). Yes the mighty gull is a force to be reckoned with.

The Gulls name in baseball is fairly unique. There was once a PCL team in Salt Lake City called the Gulls, it’s been defunct since 1984. There are the Newport, RI Gulls who do play in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Still, Victoria’s Gulls would be the only Gulls team within 4000km.

So the Gulls in my world follow the colour scheme of the ChiSox. White, black, and grey – just like a Gull. Check out their uni below:

You see – the "V" in Victoria is a Gull in flight! Nice tie-in, I know. And for the team logo, incorporate a sight seen on the top of every light post and telephone pole in town. The mighty gull at rest:

So that’s my take on it. I can see the souvenir t-shirts and hats already - the ones with the fake poop on the brim and sleeve... The game-day posters with the visitor’s logos plastered with a white mess... The on-field promotions where two lucky fans toss eggs back and forth until someone gets plastered with one... Yes, the Victoria Gulls are a full on and off field experience!

Okay so it’s not like we need more suggestions after all that, but what the heck - take your best shot! Add your comments. Team names, jersey ideas, mascots, promo ideas... Let’s have them all! Who knows, maybe one will be so good, we can make choosing the name only a formality...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

City of Victoria signs three-year deal with WCL team

Ken Wilson, John McLean, Dwight Willett & Dean Fortin
The City of Victoria held a press conference late this morning to announce that it has entered into a three-year agreement with a (yet unnamed) West Coast League baseball team.

The new team will be the anchor tenant at Royal Athletic Park beginning in June of 2013, but the park will remain a multi-purpose facility. In order to allow that to happen, a new home run fence will be purchased that can be installed at the beginning of a home-stand and removed when the team goes out on the road. This will allow for non-baseball use of RAP for roughly half of the WCL season, which runs from June to August. As part of the new agreement, the city will continue to run the concession stands at RAP and there will be a similar sharing of revenue as per the previous arrangement with the Victoria Seals.

Mayor Dean Fortin
The West Coast League has been trying to setup shop in Victoria since 2008 and those efforts quickly ramped back up hours after the demise of the Victoria Seals in November of 2010. Mayor Dean Fortin deserves much of the credit for bringing a WCL team to our fair city and he spoke passionately about the game of baseball at today's press conference. Hats off to the mayor for all of his efforts.

For over a year now, we have known about the existence of an anonymous Vancouver-based businessman who was trying to bring an expansion WCL team to Victoria. Today we found out that there are actually two businessmen in the team's ownership group: John McLean and his partner Dwight Willett. McLean is a Managing Partner at Ansera Capital Partners and Willett is a semi-retired executive who has worked at Bruce Power and Enbridge. Although Ansera is a private equity / venture capital firm, McLean is quick to point out that his personal ownership of the team is completely unrelated to the venture capital business. McLean also went out of his way to praise Mayor Fortin, saying that he and the entire staff at the city's Parks and Recreation department were "tremendous to work with".
John McLean

After spending some time with the new owners, I was impressed with both of these gentlemen. Not only do these guys have impeccable business credentials, but they also appear to be quite fond of the game of baseball. Twice during the press conference, McLean referred to baseball as a "magical sport" and he was clearly well-versed in Victoria's lengthy baseball tradition. He pointed out that Victoria was once home to a minor-league affiliate of the New York Yankees and that Yankees star Gil McDougald played the 1949 season at Royal Athletic Park. Two years after hitting .344 for the Victoria Athletics, McDougald won the 1951 American League Rookie of the Year Award with the Yankees.

WCL President Ken Wilson was on hand at today's press conference and he also deserves a great deal of credit for bringing baseball back to Victoria. Not only does Wilson have an incredibly impressive background as a sportscaster, but he has done a outstanding job of steadily growing the West Coast League since he took over as president in 2008. Although the league has been operating with an odd number of teams in recent years, the WCL waited until the right opportunity presented itself before expanding to ten teams. With Victoria now in the fold, the league is looking to add two more teams for 2013 -- likely Medford (Oregon) and Chico (California). If that were to happen then the league would switch from an East-West to a North-South divisional alignment. The nine current WCL teams are the Kelowna Falcons, Bellingham (WA) Bells, Bend (OR) Elks, Corvallis (OR) Knights, Cowlitz (Kelso / Longview, WA) Black Bears, Kitsap (Bremerton, WA) BlueJackets, Klamath Falls (OR) Gems, Walla Walla (WA) Sweets and the Wenatchee (WA) AppleSox.

Ken Wilson
Our new team will be running a "select a name" contest in the coming months. It's unclear if the team will propose a small number of names from which to choose (like the Victoria Royals hockey team did last year) or if fans will be free to suggest any name. My personal preference is to call the team the Victoria Marmots (or better yet the Fighting Marmots) after the endangered (yet tenacious) species found on Vancouver Island. Another option is to revert back to the Victoria Seals. Feel free to kick-start the brainstorming by leaving a comment to this blog post.

The West Coast League prides itself in providing affordable family entertainment and the new team projects average ticket prices to be under $10. By comparison, the Kelowna Falcons charge $10-$12 for adult tickets and $5-$7 for children and seniors. That's considerably cheaper than what the Victoria Seals were charging, but the new team will be operating under an entirely different cost structure. Not only are the (NCAA) players not paid, but the cities in the league are close enough to allow teams to travel entirely by bus. Unlike in the Golden Baseball League, WCL team owners aren't burdened with the cost of flying to Maui, Texas or Mexico.

The media "throng"
Looking back on what happened to the Seals and the Victoria Capitals, it's easy to be skeptical about this new venture. But given the strong ownership, viable business model and the stable nature of the West Coast League, there is good reason to believe that this new, yet-to-be-named baseball team will be here in Victoria for a long, long time. Now it's up to the city's baseball fans to come out and support it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The boys are back in town!!

Well, it's official. This evening, the Times-Colonist confirmed our suspicions in their online edition and CTV Vancouver Island also reported the news. Break out the bubbly, because elite baseball is set to return to Victoria's Royal Athletic Park in June of 2013.

Our team of intrepid bloggers will be attending the press conference tomorrow and we'll have all of the details on this blog afterward.

Let's celebrate with a little Thin Lizzy...

Special announcement at RAP tomorrow!

Is baseball coming back to Victoria in 2013? Invitations have been sent out for a "special announcement" at Royal Athletic Park tomorrow. It's very likely that the announcement will be that the City of Victoria has reached an agreement with an unnamed Vancouver businessman to bring baseball back to the City of Gardens.

The city has been negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding with the mystery owner of an expansion West Coast League (WCL) franchise since February. The WCL features elite NCAA players playing a 54-game schedule from June to mid-August. League alumni include Jeff Francis of the Colorado Rockies, Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox, Nyjer Morgan of the Milwaukee Brewers and Tommy Hanson of the Atlanta Braves. In the 2012 Major League First Year Player Draft conducted last week, 53 players from the West Coast League were drafted by Major League clubs.

Stay tuned to this blog for more details as they become available!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Former Seals players in independent baseball

Yesterday, we gave you an update on two former Victoria Seals who are still pitching in affiliated baseball (Austin Bibens-Dirkx and Dane De La Rosa). Today we check up on some ex-Seals who are playing in independent baseball leagues this season.

Since he sported a nasty 7.44 ERA in 2008, Anthony Pluta has improved on his indy numbers each year. This year, Pluta is pitching out of the pen for the Newark Bears of the Can Am League and he currently has a nifty 1.00 ERA.

After being released by the Leones de Yucatan of the Mexican League, Jeff Duda signed with the Can Am League's Quebec Capitales. Although he was originally rumoured to be the Quebec closer this season, Duda has pitched in middle relief and has made a couple of spot starts recently.

After a solid 2011 season with the now defunct Calgary Vipers, Chris Bodishbaugh signed with the Sioux City Explorers of the American Association. Bodi was named the team's closer and so far he's posted two saves in eight appearances for the Central Division cellar dwellers.

Former Seals ace Isaac Hess was traded by the Winnipeg Goldeyes to the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League in April. Unfortunately, Hess has fallen on hard times with the Bluefish and has given up at least four earned runs in his last six starts.

Here is a statistical summary of these four former Seals:

Anthony Pluta
Newark Bears
Can Am
Jeff Duda
Qu├ębec Capitales
Can Am
14 2/3
Chris Bodishbaugh
Sioux City Explorers
American Association
Isaac Hess
Bridgeport Bluefish
39 2/3

Ex-Seal Brett Flowers had a successful 2011 campaign with Bodishbaugh's current team, the Sioux City Explorers, hitting .329 with 4 homers and 38 RBI. He is now playing baseball in Japan for the Ehime Mandarin Pirates of the Shikoku Island League. Click below for an interesting "highlight" video of one of the Mandarin Pirate's recent games. Brett appears at both the 1:57 and 2:22 mark of the video. Flowers is wearing jersey number 88 with the name "BRETT" on the back.

Apparently, Wilver Perez is also playing in Japan this season, but I was unable to confirm this. If you are aware of any other former Seals playing professional baseball this season, please don't hesitate to leave a comment to this blog post.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Two former Victoria Seals still pitching in AAA

Ex-Victoria Seals pitcher Austin Bibens-Dirkx is continuing his journey towards the big leagues this summer.  Now 27 years old, the big right-hander is pitching for the Syracuse Chiefs, the AAA affiliate of the Washington Nationals in the International League. Die-hard Seals fans will remember the dominant half-season that Bibens-Dirkx put together in 2009 for the Victoria squad before he was signed by the Chicago Cubs.

After stagnating as a starter in the Cubs' organization, the Nationals moved Bibens-Dirkx back into the bullpen this year. So far, Bibens-Dirkx has had mixed results. In 16 appearances, he has a 0-1 record and a 4.76 ERA. However, in his 22 2/3 innings pitched, he has only walked five batters and has registered an impressive 27 strikeouts. If Bibens-Dirkx can lower that ERA, he'll have a decent chance of getting called up by the Nationals later this season.

Another former Victoria Seal is trying to claw his way back to the majors in the International League. You may remember that Dane De La Rosa became the first former Victoria Seal to make it to the bigs when he was called up by the Tampa Bay Rays in July of 2011. Unfortunately, his initial "cup of coffee" only lasted three days, but he was promoted to the Rays again on September 11th and then spent the rest of 2011 on the big-league roster. This spring, the Rays returned De La Rosa to their AAA affiliate in Durham -- only to recall him on April 14th. Unfortunately, a disastrous outing against the Boston Red Sox that day (five earned runs in one inning of work) resulted in an immediate demotion back to AAA.

In 22 games with the Durham Bulls this season,  De La Rosa has an 0-2 record with 6 saves and a 3.77 ERA. But those numbers mask his dominance -- De La Rosa has racked up a whopping 41 strikeouts in only 28 2/3 innings on the hill and opponents are only batting .170 against him. Unfortunately, his control has been a big issue: He's averaging 5.7 walks per nine innings, a figure that must come down if he is to earn a fourth promotion to "The Show". If he can cut down on his walk rate, don't be surprised if both of these ex-Seals get the call before the year is out.