Thursday, December 30, 2010

12-team NABL in 2011. Who's missing?

It has certainly been a busy offseason for folks in the Golden Baseball League. The six-year-old independent league's remnants have joined forces with teams from the United League and what's left of the Northern League to form a 12-team indy league that stretches from Alberta to Texas and from Hawaii to Illinois. And, yep, there is even are you freaking kidding me? a team in Tijuana. Skepticism about the latest Tijuana "adventure" aside, it's good to see the new North American League taking shape as the new year looms.

[skip to bottom for official press release]

There is still plenty to do before the first pitch is thrown, but the league's website is already up and running, albeit with limited content to this point. The most telling bit of information is the "Teams" section that lists 12 clubs for the 2011 season. Just as telling are clubs that are omitted.

Eastern Division

Western Division

The Eastern Division comprises three teams from the Northern League (Lake County, Rockford and Schaumburg) and three from the United League (Edinburg, Rio Grande Valley and San Angelo). The Joilet JackHammers from the Northern League were originally speculated to be joining the party but based on the website won't be part of the new North American League. As far as old United League teams, the Laredo Broncos, Alexandria Aces and Amarillo Dillas are MIA instead of NABL.

In the Western Division, everyone still playing baseball from the Golden Baseball League will be a part of this half of the new league. The two remaining teams in Canada - Calgary and Edmonton - are back, along with GBL originals Yuma and Chico. Maui appears set to return for a second season and a new Tijuana franchise is listed as well. Missing participants of the 2010 GBL include the Tucson Toros, which have gone dark while the Padres Triple-A affiliate is in town after moving from Portland, the Victoria Seals, which ceased operations during the fall, and the St. George RoadRunners, which essentially folded midseason last year.

The other team missing from the list of NABL Western Division clubs is the Orange County Flyers. The Flyers had been a part of the GBL since the inaugural 2005 campaign. While ownership is working to get a new stadium deal done, and they say they are making progress on that front, it seems the club is going dark for 2011 but would have the option to return in following seasons. While the Flyers situation has been in flux since the end of the 2010 campaign, this is the first true indication of any kind that they won't be fielding a team next season.

No official word yet from the Flyers, but you'd have to think something from them is coming at some point soon. The team's 2010 manager Paul Abbott is heading to the Lowell Spinners, a short-season A Red Sox affiliate as pitching coach for next season, so finding a new manager would be on the franchise's to-do list as well. If this is the end of the Flyers, it was a hell of a ride. The franchise definitely brought a lot to the community, but a pain-in-the-ass lease at Cal State Fullerton and declining revenues in tough economic times aren't exactly easy obstacles to overcome.

Official press release from NABL

New League Announced!
Northern and United Leagues Join Forces with Golden Baseball League to Create New Circuit

Date: Dec 22, 2010

The Golden Baseball League, Northern League, and the United League announced today that they have joined forces in the creation of a new professional independent league that will be known as the North American League. The league will have 16 - 20 teams in multiple countries and cover many of the major markets in the U.S. and Canada in 2011 with expansion already set for 2012. Except for Major League Baseball, it will be the largest professional league in terms of number of teams and geographies and amongst the top minor leagues in terms of attendance. The existing leagues will keep their names and their baseball operations structure while consolidating and enhancing a number of business activities and will adhere to a single and consistent set of league operating by-laws.

"This is an exciting opportunity for the teams of these three leagues", said Kevin Outcalt, Chief Executive of Diamond Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns and operates the Golden League and will administer the North American League. "This will provide more value to our marketing and business partners, more exposure for our players to advance their careers, and increased excitement and fun for the fans of all of our ballclubs. In addition, the business advantages of league-wide advertising and sponsor revenue, collective/volume purchasing to lower costs, and shared best practices amongst the teams in the league should drive additional profitability for the North American League member clubs."

The structure of the NAL will be set up with the three original leagues covering their respective regions where the teams will play approximately 75% of their games within their region and 25% outside their region/division. This will be followed by playoffs that will conclude with a North American Championship Series. It is anticipated that the league will play a 92 - 100 game regular season schedule that will be determined at the inaugural NAL meetings that will be held in northern California at the end of this month. All of the existing Golden League, Northern League, and United League teams will be part of the circuit, and it is expected that additional teams will be announced in the coming weeks as well. The full slate of 2011 NAL teams and the makeup of each region will be announced following the league meeting. Baseball related playing rules will also be finalized including player classification/eligibility and playing rules (National League or American League).

"This is an excellent move for the Northern League," said Northern League Commissioner Clark Griffith. "By becoming part of this new league, we will enjoy benefits that can't be found anywhere else in minor league baseball and some exciting opportunities that were never available in the Northern League in the past."

Although these three leagues totaled 35% of the professional independent minor league baseball teams in North America in 2010, they were responsible for placing half of the players on the Baseball America Indy Top Prospects list and six of the fourteen players named to the all Independent Leagues First Team by Baseball America. In addition, the three leagues have sold 35 player contracts to major league organizations so far in 2010 and are all recognized as an important source of baseball talent including players, umpires, coaches/managers, and front office/business personnel by big league clubs.

Byron Pierce, United League president, stated, "The United League is pleased to announce it is becoming part of North American League Baseball. By doing so the United League will be able to bring a national presence and the rich tradition of three leagues to each of our United League cities, while maintaining our regional rivalries and identity."

About the North American League
The North American League (NAL) is the largest, in number of teams and geography, professional independent baseball league worldwide. With operations in Western Canada, Mexico, and much of the United States the league brings affordable family entertainment to over 2M fans a season. Formed in the fall of 2010, through a combination of three leagues with over 30 seasons of playing experience between them, the NAL is able to offer opportunities to players and marketing partners that cannot be found in any other league. League play level is considered AA to AAA, the alumni of the three founding leagues (Golden, Northern, United) have seen over 40 of their group reach the major leagues over the years and another 35 players had their contracts purchased by MLB organizations in 2010. A division structure with teams playing a 92 -100 game schedule is planned for 2011.

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