Happy New Year to my loyal readers. May 2010 be a very good one, both on the baseball diamond and in every other way.
We are in one of those infrequent long stretches between Independent Baseball Insider columns (the next one for subscribers is January 7), but the news certainly has not stopped.
The most compelling Independent stories we are aware of deal with the American Association and the Golden League. The AA seems to be bearing down on Fort Smith, AR as a future site while the GBL still seems to have some unsettled franchise issues for the 2010 season.
American Association Commissioner Miles Wolff visited Fort Smith earlier this month, then sent a letter to the city and Chamber of Commerce plus the family that owns a potential developmental site that the league "is very interested in the city as a potential site for expansion".
While Fort Smith has less than 100,000 people, there are said to be between 250,000-350,000 within a 60-mile radius who could potentially be attracted to an 85-acre riverfront development. The Fort Smith Board of Directors, the regional Chamber and the Robbie Westphal family have signed off on spending $62,000 apiece toward a study on the feasibility of the project which could include a $20 million ballpark as part of a plan along with a hotel, retirement community and office space.
The Golden League has walked away from St. George, UT after three seasons, and there have been recent stories indicating the Long Beach (CA) Armada could be jeopardized if Long Beach State wins a new contract for Blair Field, but the intriguing news is the continued development of the team set to open this season in Maui, Hawaii, since it cannot help but be an expensive venture with the Pacific Ocean between that franchise and the rest of the league, even though Michael Cummings, the CEO of the parent XnE Corporation, says a break-even budget only requires drawing about 1,200 fans a game. The league, prior to admitting Maui, already was spread from Western Canada to the Arizona communities of Tucson and Yuma.
Maui, where operators admit they are behind the schedule they would like to be on, have taken some definitive steps by selecting a nickname that primarily translates into "the strong warriors of Maui", hiring former major league star and St. George Manager Cory Snyder as field boss and signing the team's first player. The official nickname is Na Ikaika Koa Maui, and team President Rick Berry is said to favor a logo that incorporates a Hawaiian warrior.
Snyder indicates he has his sights set on several of Hawaii's best baseball players, including the initial signee, 30-year-old Mark Okano, who played in the league last year.
We expect to be writing much more in the months ahead about the inclusion of Maui, and the possible addition of other Hawaiian teams in the years to come.