Ballpark Talk: The Revolving Door of the Summer Leagues

by | Oct 12, 2018 | Collegiate Summer Baseball, Indy Baseball, Marc Viquez |

The past few weeks have been very interesting in the world of summer collegiate baseball. There have been copious amounts of franchises coming and going, that everytime an article is devised, it has to be suddenly changed to coordinate with that day’s news.

Guaranteed, there will more rumblings and other occurrences taking place within the next few weeks that will see many changes in your favorite summer collegiate league; here is a recap so far this offseason.

Traverse City, Michigan

In late September the West Michigan Whitecaps announced that they had purchased both the Traverse City Beach Bums and its ballpark Wuerfel Field and will move it to the Northwoods League in 2019. The new owners also indicated that they will rebrand both the team and stadium, the nickname will be selected from an online fan vote will conclude on October 15.

The independent baseball team had spent the last past 13 seasons in the Frontier League, but owners John and Leslye Wuerfel felt it was the right time to sell the franchise.  The Beach Bums was the city’s first professional team in almost a century and for the first three seasons, the club brought in 600,000 fans to the stadium.

“Fans should expect a new, more interactive experience, complete with innovative promotions, new food options, and facility upgrades to enhance the ballpark fun,” Traverse City Baseball said in a statement. If any team knows how to create an ambiance at a baseball game, it is the Whitecaps

The last time the club drew over 200,000 fans a game was in 2010 and it has been on a downward trajectory the past decade with an all-time low of 88, 176 fans this past year. Will the Northwoods League be just what the city needs to bring the fans back to the ballpark?.

The unnamed Traverse City franchise will compete with in-state rivals in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo that are both about 200 miles to the south, along with another newcomer in Kokomo, Indiana, who also left another league, Prospect League, to join the NWL for next season.

League president Gary Hoover added: “We could not be more excited to have Traverse City join the Northwoods League. This ballpark and this market have the potential to set the standard for top-tier collegiate summer baseball.”

Normal, Illinois

The Corn Crib Mascot

The Corn Crib Mascot, Photo Courtesy of Steve Thomas.

It was no surprise that the Normal CornBelters would be the next to flee the Frontier League when they announce that it would resume play in a summer collegiate league next season, but we just do not know which one.

It has been speculated that Normal could join either the Northwoods, Prospect, or Great Lakes League. Both the NWL and PL would be nice fits for the ballclub, with the later having nearby rivals instate in Quincy, Springfield, and Danville, along with Terre Haute, Indiana, and Hannibal, Missouri, just outside the state boundaries

However, the NWL is growing at a massive rate and currently stands at 23 teams. It is also viewed as a sexier league and houses some of the highest attendance teams in the country. Along with Traverse City and Kokomo, the league will also welcome St. Croix, Wisconsin, next season; will Normal make it an even 24 for 2019?

The Great Lake League is the outlier; the majority of the teams operate in Ohio and Michigan, the closest rivals to Normal would be in Richmond, Indiana, some 221 miles east of town, and a majority of the league stadiums are much smaller than the two other collegiate leagues.

The good news is that the CornBelters will continue operating as a baseball club and perhaps bring in new enthusiasm to its home ballpark The Corn Crib. We will be waiting for the news on the new league.

Lincoln, California

The Lincoln Potters are also leaving one league in order to join another. The Northern California club played the last two seasons in the summer collegiate Great West League and will now call the California Collegiate League home in 2019.  The move affords the team to play closer to rivals and provide flexibility in its scheduling.

The club will be joined by another GWL defector the San Francisco Seal who will play a 24-game schedule mostly on Thursday to Sunday during the season. The two clubs will be in the northern division. Lincoln’s home ballpark is McBean Stadium located on the campus of William Jessup University. The facility received a $1.1 million facelift almost three-years-ago.

Great West League

Kiger Stadium at Dusk

Kiger Stadium at Dusk, Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

The defection of the two clubs and the announcement that the Chico Heat were suspending operations lead to the decision of the Great West League to suspend operations.

“Three of the teams within the league did not fulfill either all or a portion of their financial obligations to the league,” said George Laver, assistant general manager for the Chico Heat to the local CBS affiliate.

That left three franchises in limbo for next season: Yuba-Sutter Gold Sox, Medford Rogues, and Klamath Falls Gems. CHS International operates both the Sox and Rogues and released similar statements on social media on October 4.

The two ball clubs “will pursue competitive playing options for the 2019 season in either a similar collegiate baseball league or potentially as an independent summer collegiate team.” They also announced that they will make no further announcements.

The Gems have not made an announcement for the upcoming season. To the discerning mind, both Medford and Klamath Falls would be nice fits in the West Coast League– both franchises had been members in years past–but that is just a thought from this writer.

We wish all three franchises well in their future endeavors for 2019 and beyond.

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