Talking elimination, 2 teams, finances, changes
It's hard to say that you're in a playoff race when you've spent almost the entire summer in sixth or seventh place in a seven-team division, but Washington was still alive because of simple mathematics.
The only thing remaining for the Wild Things this week in a road series at Schaumburg and a home set with Windy City is the chance to avoid finishing in last place, both in the East Division and the overall standings. Washington enters Tuesday 1 1/2 games ahead of last-place Lake Erie in the East and two games in front of Schaumburg, which currently has the league's worst record at 37-53.
This is the seventh time in eight years that Washington has missed the playoffs. There has been only one postseason game played at Consol Energy Park since 2007. One! That's all.
For those who remember what this franchise once was, and to compare that to what we see now, the difference is stunning.
It's painfully sad.
You might recall the post on this blog from July 21 of this year in which I ranked the 13 Frontier League franchises (the Greys, the traveling team, was not included) according to their current state and attractiveness to potential players. Washington was slotted No. 10. The three franchises I ranked behind Washington were Normal, Florence and Rockford. With Normal winning the West title and making the playoffs for the first time, the CornBelters have to be re-ranked ahead of Washington. If Florence makes the playoffs as a wild card, it will be the Freedom's second postseason berth in four years. Florence also would be re-ranked ahead of Washington.
That leaves only Rockford ranked behind Washington. And Rockford's situation is so dire that, according to sources, the Frontier League recently took over the daily operations of the Aviators and will run the team for the remainder of the season. It's almost a lock that Rockford will fold after this season.
The Wild Things failed to capitalize -- both on the field and at the gate -- on last year's playoff run. Washington currently has 18 fewer wins than a year ago, second only to Schaumburg's 21 for biggest drop in wins, but the Boomers won the league championship last year. Washington's attendance is seemingly stuck between 1,800 and 1,900 for the second year in a row.
This is a franchise that is stagnant at best, a sinking ship at worst.
That means the upcoming offseason will be the most important one in Wild Things history. There are many topics that must be addressed. A good game plan for the future is desperately needed.
The first question to be asked in the offseason should be this: Is it really in ownership's best interest to run two teams, the Wild Things and the Pennsylvania Rebellion of the National Pro Fastpitch league? If you think things are bad with the Wild Things and the Frontier League, then you need to check out the Rebellion and the NPF. The Rebellion make the Wild Things look like the New York Yankees. The Rebellion missed the playoffs in a five-team league. Four teams went to the postseason. One of those playoff teams was a first-year team that wasn't wasn't even allowed to acquire players through an expansion draft but still finished ahead of the Rebellion.
How any NPF team can remain in the financial black is beyond me. Judging by their poor attendance and the cost of having to fly to Florida and Texas to play games, the Rebellion have to be losing money.
A lot of money.
That might be why the Wild Things had to leave at 2 a.m. last Tuesday, instead of on Monday (a travel day in the league schedule), to play at Traverse City. That's about a 10-hour bus trip, then straight to the field. All to save the cost of one night's lodging. The Wild Things players were glad to see the game rained out last Tuesday in Traverse City. Washington, however, left at 5 a.m. this morning and will be playing at Schaumburg a few hours after arriving in Chicagoland. Again, apparently all to save a few dollars.
I have a feeling the Rebellion's financial losses are now impacting the Wild Things. If that's the case, it's a very bad sign. One of financial trouble ahead. And the solution is not to raise ticket or parking or concession prices.
Operating two teams, with one front office staff, and neither team able to sell out a small ballpark, makes no financial sense. The time to pull the plug on the softball team, if it is indeed a financial drain on the Wild Things, should be before 2016, which happens to be the final year for Consol Energy's naming rights deal at the ballpark. A 10-year-contract was announced by Consol and the Wild Things in April of 2007. That means the deal runs through the summer of 2016. If another company doesn't step forward and put its name on the ballpark, it will be a big financial hit for the Wild Things.
There also has to be changes in the Wild Things' baseball operations. When you miss the playoffs seven times in eight years, there is something very wrong. The way you find players, the people you get recommendations from, where you're looking for players, it all has to be re-evaluated and changed. Somebody needs to think outside the box.
As one reader of this blog wrote last month, "Major changes need to be made at season's end because the way the Wild Things are doing things are not working. If you do the same things year after year and expect different results (that) is insanity."
Somebody in the front office or ownership needs to answer this: Why has a franchise that could pack the house almost every night fallen so far so fast that now it can't fill half the ballpark unless pyrotechnics are involved? If the answer is because the novelty of pro baseball in Washington has worn off, then that's too late to change. If it's the economy, then the Wild Things can't change that. But if it's because the front-office staff can only spend half its time selling tickets to Wild Things games because the other half is spent hawking Rebellion tickets, or if it's because the games have become boring, or the parking fee and ticket prices are too high, or the giveaway items have become worthless, or the team can't win, or the between-innings promotions are stupid or nobody in Pittsburgh/Westmoreland County/Fayette County hears/reads/knows about the Wild Things, or the customers are not treated with respect etc., then those things can and must be corrected. In other words, eliminated.