Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cleaning out the notebook

Here are some things that have happened around the Frontier League in the last week:

* In addition to Fran Riordan leaving Kalamazoo as manager, Joe Rosenhagen, the Kings' general manager, wont' be back in 2010.

In a Kalamazoo Gazette story today, Kings owner Bill Wright said the search for a new manager has centered around one person. When asked if the rumor was true that former Wild Things manager Greg Jelks is the top candidate, Wright said, "I don’t know, is he?"

Rosenhagen said he's leaving because of financial reasons.

"It’s the last thing I wanted to do,” Rosenhagen told the newspaper. "I have to leave for financial reasons. It’s been a challenge, because five years ago I took a pay decrease. I haven’t had an increase since. I’ve personally done everything I could to try to help the organization out by maintaining the salary. I do have two children in college and I needed to try to go out and make some more money.”

* As Bob Gregg commented, Kevin Rouch has left the FL. Rouch has served as deputy commissioner and the league's legal counsel for several years. His first association with the FL was as the Chillicothe Paints' broadcaster. During one less-than-memorable game in Johnstown, Rouch uttered a famous line about ambidextrous pitcher Jamie Irving, who was pitching left-handed until late in the game, when he decided to start an inning throwing right-handed.

When Rouch realized what was happening, he told his radio audience, "Jamie Irving is relieving himself on the mound with his right hand." Not once, but twice.

Rouch, who has terrific sense of humor, still jokes about that call. When he visits CEP, Rouch likes to talk about the night of the first game in Wild Things history. That's when a guard for then-Gov. Mark Schweiker tried to have Rouch removed from the field prior to the pregame ceremonies. Apparently, Rouch didn't look official.

Rouch will now have more time to devote to his law practice. He also teaches sports law in Columbus.

* One managerial job has been filled and another vacated.

Steve Brook, who only two years ago was pitching for River City, has been named the Rascals' manager. Brook has been River City's pitching coach. He replaces Chad Parker, who guided the Rascals to within one win of the league championship.

Thommy Thompson has resigned as Windy City's manager to take a job in the Chicago White Sox organization. One odd thing I noticed about Thompson is that he tapes his wrists for each game. Strange.

The ThunderBolts are expected to name their new manager tonight.

* Former Wild Things outfielder Tim Alberts was acquired by Windy City in trade with Joliet of the Northern league. Windy City sent pitcher Ross Stout, who went 24-8 in two seasons with the ThunderBolts, to Joliet.

* The Oakland County Cruisers will break ground on their new $8.5 million stadium Thursday. The park is being called The Diamond at The Summit.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

206 days until opening day

The Wild Things released their 2010 schedule today. For the third year in a row, Washington will open the season at home, but if the Wild Things return to the Frontier League playoffs for the first time since 2007, then they'll likely clinch a postseason spot while away from Consol Energy Park.

Washington opens the season Friday, May 21 against the Oakland County Cruisers (formerly the Midwest Sliders) at Consol Energy Park.

Washington ends the season with a nine-game road trip, Aug. 27-Sept. 5 at Windy City, Lake Erie and Traverse City. The home finale is Aug. 26 against Lake Erie. Washington also plays nine consecutive road games in July - at Evansville, Florence and Oakland County - but that's broken up by a four-day all-star break.

The home schedule includes a July 4 game against the Florence Freedom, eight Friday nights, seven Saturday nights (one less than in 2009) and eight Sundays.

The schedule offers some brutal traveling for the Wild Things. For example: Washington plays at the Gateway Grizzlies June 1-3, then return home for a series against the River City Rascals June 4-6. That's 565 miles without a travel day. Then, after playing Gateway at home June 8-10, the Wild Things play River City in O'Fallon, Mo., the next night. That's a 605-mile overnight trip. The night after finishing the series at River City, Washington is at Lake Erie for a series. That's another 570 miles without a travel day.

Look at the schedule 2010 schedule and you'll wonder why Washington isn't playing at River City June 4-6 and at home against the Rascals June 11-13.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Schedule released?

At least two teams - Southern Illinois and Normal - have released their 2010 schedule and already I'm puzzled by the format. The first thing that comes to mind is "doesn't make sense."

The Frontier League will stick to its 96-game schedule and two-division format. You would think it would continue having teams play division opponents 12 times each and non-division foes six times each.

Uh, no.

Southern Illinois plays division rival Windy City only six times. It plays the other four teams in the West 12 times each. Instead of playing six more games against Windy City, Southern Illinois will play East Division foe Florence 12 times. Huh?

Checking the expansion Normal Cornbelters' schedule, they will play all West teams 12 times except Windy City, which they will play only six times. Normal will play - you guessed it - Florence 12 times.


This makes no sense.

No other teams have released their 2010 schedule.

By the way: The Wild Things will not play Normal until a three-game series Aug. 13-15 at Consol Energy Park.


Rainy days and Mondays

There's no doubt Consol Energy Park was a much less-crowded place this year. Heck, on most nights it wasn't even crowded. It was more like spacious Consol Energy Park.

Attendance at Wild Things games was down to an all-time low average of 2,789 tickets sold per game. Only two years ago, the average was a highly respectable 3,317. Wild Things ownership noticed the drop and cleaned house in the ticket office at season's end.

There were plenty of reasons for the drop in attendance, the most notable being the rotten economy. Almost everybody in southwestern Pennsylvania and the panhandle of West Virginia has less disposable income than they did two years ago.

There were other factors that contributed to the attendance drop. The Wild Things were out of the playoff race right from the start of the season. People with less money don't want to spend it watching the local team lose. There also was some lousy weather this spring, which killed the walk-up sales at many games (almost always on mid-week dates) but there's bad weather every year.

There's also the newness/novelty factor wearing off. People who are going to see only one or two Wild Things games in their lifetime have probably already seen them and won't be back. And judging by the comments on this blog, some people were turned off by the cost or customer service.

So what needs fixed with the Wild Things' marketing? Did the day of the week have anything to do with the drop in attendance? In this post, I'll try to answer the latter question.

Here is a breakdown of the Wild Things' average attendance per game in 2009 based on the day of week (the 2007 average is in parenthesis):

Sunday - 2,935 (3,355)
Monday - 2,164 (3,031)
Tuesday - 2,503 (2,971)
Wednesday - 2,141 (3,457)
Thursday - 2,712 (2,512)
Friday - 3,405 (3,598)
Saturday - 3,033 (3,539)

Note: The 2007 numbers are missing the attendance for one game, a June 20 Wednesday night game against Southern Illinois. The attendance was not listed in the boxscore and I didn't mention it in my game story. If I recall correctly, it was far less than 3,457, which would drop the average.

As you can see, there were huge drops on Mondays and Wednesdays. There were only two home games this year on Mondays, both against Midwest. Neither game drew 2,300. The Wii Wednesday giveaways didn't work. The Wild Things were a year too late on that promotion.

There was a gain in attendance of 200 on Thirsty Thursday, but the drops on Saturday and Sunday had to be major disappointments. Fireworks Friday attendance basically held steady. The slight drop was product of a crowd of only 2,648 opposite the opening week of high school football.

So where do the Wild Things go from here? If they use this chart as a gauge, they'll keep Thirsty Thursdays and Fireworks Fridays, hope Saturdays and Sunday pick up slightly (winning more often might make the difference) and focus much of their attention on how to boost tickets sales - especially group sales - on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Groups from places like Uniontown, Cranberry and Morgantown aren't likely to attend games on weeknights because parents have to go to work in the morning. The push for tickets will have to be local on these nights. If there's a hot giveaway item this year, it better be distributed early in the week.

The Wild Things can do a much better job of marketing themselves locally. There are still many people who live a stone's throw away from the ballpark who don't know the team even exists. On my street, I know there's only one family other than mine that has attended a WTs game. There others either don't know who the WTs are or what goes on at one of their games. These are the people who the new ticketing people must attract. The diehard fans will be back, the youth leagues will be back, but the people who have never been to a game have to be exposed to the product. And they need to be enticed to show up on a weekday.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Goodbye to Fran

OK, judging by many of the comments on this blog, you probably think this post has something to do with Wild Things ownership. It doesn't.

It deals with Fran Riordan, pictured, who on Monday was named the first manager of the lake County Fielders, an expansion team in the independent Northern League. Actor Kevin Costner is part-owner of the Fielders.

Riordan is the winningest manager in Frontier League history with 435 victories. Riordan spent the last six years as manager of the Kalamazoo Kings. Prior to his stint with the Kings, Riordan was a player/manager for Richmond and DuBois County.

Riordan won three league championships (Richmond in 2001 and 2002, Kalamazoo in 2005). If you've ever been to Richmond or Kalamazoo, then you understand how difficult it is to put together championship teams in those towns and ballparks. That Riordan did it three times speaks volumes about his ability to put together a highly competitive team and his managerial skills.

In addition to being a fine manager, Riordan is one the best persons I've met during eight years of covering of the Frontier League. He's a class guy and will be missed by the league.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Cleaning out the notebook

A few random notes and thoughts about the Wild Things and Frontier League teams, both current and past:

The synthetic turf issue for Consol Energy Park should be settled as early as this week, and that has nothing to do with Pennsylvania finally having a budget. Though nothing has been decided, the Wild Things are considering several options, one of which is starting the turf project before the end of October and finishing it early in the spring when the weather breaks. In this scenario, all the work under the rubber chips can be done in the fall, with the playing surface installed in the spring. The only problem would be it jeopardizes the early part of California University's schedule.

* The expansion Normal CornBelters have hired former major league infielder Hal Lanier as their first manager. Lanier played 10 seasons (1964-73) with the San Francisco Giants and New York Yankees and played against the Pirates in the 1971 NLCS.

The hiring of Lanier, 67, can be considered a coup for the CornBelters. Lanier manged the Houston Astros (186-88) and was the National League Manager of the Year in 1986.

In recent years, Lanier has managed in the independent leagues, first with Winnipeg and Joliet in the Northern League and Sussex in the Can-Am League. He put together highly competitive teams in Winnipeg and guided Sussex to the league championship in 2008.

When Lanier took over at Joliet in 2005, he replaced former Wild Things manager Jeff Isom.

* You have to wonder about the state of the Kalamazoo Kings. Kalamazoo has been at the bottom of the Frontier League's attendance chart for several years. If you throw out Midwest because it was playing in a temporary home, Kalamazoo was last in attendance this year, averaging 1,469 fans per game. This despite the Kings winning the East Division title.

The Kings reportedly lost more than $100,000 in 2006 and were on pace to match that total in 2007. That's when owner Bill Wright said he was committed to keeping the Kings in Kalamazoo through the 2008 season.

It's 2009 and things haven't gotten any better in Kalamazoo. Earlier this year, Wright told the Kalamazoo Gazette that it takes $500,000 a year to run the team and break even, something that hasn't happened since 2001.

You wonder how long Wright, an owner of several car dealerships, will keep the Kings in Kalamazoo.

"I can make it work forever, but I'm not going to forever with that attendance," he said. "You can only pour so much heart into something, and when you only have two-or three-hundred fans in the seats on a Monday and 1,000 on a Friday, it's very disheartening."

* The Rockford RiverHawks left the Frontier League after the 2009 season and joined the Northern League, which has no age restrictions and a significantly larger salary cap. You have to wonder if that was such a smart idea after the RiverHawks recently made a pitch for relief on their taxes.

Lawyers for the team wrote letters to the Rockford School District, Winnebago County and the Rockford Park District, among others, seeking tax breaks.

"Without the abatement, Park Stadium LLC stands to potentially lose (Road Ranger Stadium) to foreclosure and the community stands to lose a resource,” attorney Aaron Szeto wrote in a letter to School District officials seeking an abatement of the more than $25,000 the stadium pays to the district in property taxes.

According to Rockford Register-Star and Winnebago County records, the stadium has a fair market value of $1.4 million and in 2008 owed $38,245.32 in property taxes. The School District’s $25,622 was by far the highest share of that bill.

Kurt Carlson, majority owner of the RiverHawks and Road Rangers Stadium, said a Chicago bank that gave him and his partners money to build and operate the ballpark most likely won’t renew their loan.

“We were told it’s not likely, so we’re looking at all funding options,” he said. Carlson stated he and his partners will subsidize the team and the stadium for about $250,000 this year.

“On average it’s about $500,000 a year, and it was as high as $800,000 when we first started out because we did a lot of advertising and promotions,” he said.

Road Ranger Stadium is the only minor-league stadium among seven in Illinois that is privately owned and was built without public dollars. Rent One Park in Marion, which opened in 2007, received $3 million in state tax dollars.

* Former Wild Things first baseman Ernie Banks was named a second team all-star on Baseball America's all-independent team. Banks was one of four Frontier Leaguers to make the two-team squad. Rockford outfielder Jason James and Southern Illinois designated hitter/outfielder Joey Metropoulos were named to the first team. Banks and Lake Erie pitcher Paul Fagan were on the second team.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Parker not unemployed for long

Chad Parker, who managed the River City Rascals to the 2009 West Division title and to within one win of the Frontier League championship, wasn't unemployed for very long. Parker resigned after the Frontier League playoffs, saying he wanted to return to his home state of Georgia and pursue job opportunities there.

Well, Parker found a job - in Illinois.

Parker has been named the manager of the Joliet Jackhammers of the independent Northern League. That's the same job that Jeff Isom left the Wild Things for after the 2003 season.

Parker will be working under Joliet's new assistant to the general manager/baseball operations (and here's a name out of the past) former Pirates outfielder John Cangelosi.