Tuesday, November 16, 2010

North American Baseball League

It looks like enough cats are getting out of bags across the country that independent baseball fans can see the handwriting on the wall of a mega-merger that would weave what's left of the Golden Baseball League, United League and Northern League into one big baseball league. While merger talk had been speculated over the last week, Ballpark Digest brought it all together in a Sunday article that detailed some of the how and why of the new league.

Low and behold, yet another cat escapes from the bag today as Ballpark Digest reports that the name being kicked around is the North American League. Either that or the North American Baseball League, according to a source close to the negotiations. While nothing is finalized and formalized just yet, it seems like things are progressing as all three leagues are not in a position to survive on their own in 2011, but combining the trio would infuse new life into all remaining markets.

While the sale of the (?ex-)Northern League Joliet JackHammers seems to be the big hang-up currently stalling any major announcement, it appears 16 teams are listed as potential cogs in the new league's big machine.

Northern League
Joliet JackHammers
Lake County Fielders
Rockford RiverHawks
Schaumburg Flyers

United League
Coastal Bend Thunder
Edinburg RoadRunners
San Angelo Colts
Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings

Golden League
Calgary Vipers
Chico Outlaws
Edmonton Capitals
Orange County Flyers
Na Koa Ikaika Maui

Three other potential teams include a Tijuana franchise, reportedly nicknamed the Ambassadors or Embajadores, as well as Omaha and Yuma.

It all sounds well and dandy, but this issue of high travel costs will still be an issue for teams in the "Canadian" or "West Coast" divisions. I can't imagine any bus trips going from Chico or Orange County to Illinois, and Texas-area teams will probably have to make their way to Houston or Dallas-Ft. Worth for the best flight options to get to Calgary or Edmonton. Obviously not every team will play each other, especially if there will only be 76 games with 24 of them being played "out of league."

It's somewhat irking to see that Tijuana is again a project that these leagues are entertaining. Last season was the first year a Tijuana franchise got off the ground and actually hosted games south of the border. It was something the GBL had tried even for its inaugural season in 2005 with another strong push in 2009 that resulted in a reshuffling of the schedule on May 9, less than two weeks before the season was set to begin.

Putting a team in Tijuana is going to cause some head-shaking. While the original idea was for teams to stay in Chula Vista just outside San Diego, last season teams did end up staying at what was reported to be a resort-quality locale. Apparently only the Chico Outlaws stayed there. For reasons that still aren't clear to me (because frankly I've heard too many versions to know what exactly is true), the Calgary Vipers ended up staying at some slum of a hotel while they were down there, and Maui's team didn't have a much better experience before their series was eventually cut short with a forfeit. The other markets in the league have potential, but Tijuana seems to bring only headaches. If the Ambassadors get off the ground this year, here's to hoping it's not the same old circus.

Tijuana is one roadblock that can be overcome. As I said, it's mainly a headache that really shouldn't be messed with, but if the allure of being a three-country league as the GBL dreamed in 2010 is out there, then so be it.

A more disconcerting bit of news is the fact that Joliet might join four other teams that were part of the 8-team Northern League in 2010 and join the Frontier League in 2011. Half of the NoL is already on board, and the Joliet City Manager and city officials are steering the team toward the Frontier League.

It makes sense why city officials would want their team to play in the Frontier League. The teams are closer and the financial risks involved with such a widely spread out league as the North American League are greater. And because the group selling the team still owes back rent, the City is going to have some say in this. It doesn't seem this would completely put the kibosh on the "Midwest Division" of the North American League, but if one of the other three teams (Schaumberg, Lake County or Rockford) decides to also jump to the Frontier League with them, the remaining two teams become their own version of Calgary/Edmonton, a pair of markets on their own island (as opposed to the Maui franchise, which is literally on its own island).

It seems there are still many remaining factors that must be sorted out and loose ends that need to be tied up tightly before these three leagues make this anticipated big announcement. The potential for this new league is clearly there, but certain things -- like getting a second team in Hawaii and renewing Chico's lease -- are still up in the air and must be locked in if this league is going to work as it is currently seemingly constructed.

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