Catching Up, Part 1

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted on here–my first Cal League Top 20 list and the birth of my third child has kept me pretty busy–so I thought it would be a good time to empty out the old notebook and inbox with news from around the minors.

• We should find out Wednesday or Thursday if the minor league presidential campaign is going to be a one horse race. The four candidates (Pat O’Conner, Dave Chase, Jeremy Kapstein and Philip Evans) were to schedule to give presentations on Tuesday before the board of directors prior to the promotional seminar in Birmingham. If one candidate garners 75 percent of the votes, he’ll be presented as the lone candidate to the general body at December’s Winter Meetings in Nashville.

Logic seems to dictate that O’Conner (the longtime assistant to retiring Milb president Mike Moore) and Chase (former Baseball America publisher and current Memphis Redbirds president) will each garner enough support to split the vote and keep the election open to all four candidates. And don’t write off either Kapstein or Evans, each of whom has an interesting background.

Kapstein was one of the first big-time player agents in the 1970s before switching to the management side and became CEO of the San Diego Padres in 1989. He was considered among the finalists for the Red Sox GM position in 1995.

Evans comes in the race with experience running a professional minor league after serving as the first president of the National Basketball Association Developmental League from 2001 to 2007. He recently formed his own sports and entertainment consulting group based in Greenville, S.C.

• Got a news release today announcing that the independent Frontier League is in negotiations with the University of Illinois to bring a team to Champaign. The team would begin play in 2009 at the university’s Illinois Field.

"Bringing this kind of team to Illinois Field would be extremely positive for our program, the university and the community," Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said in a release. "This is a baseball town and having a professional team will be a great boost."

The success of the Southern Illinois Miners’ inaugural season in the Frontier League certainly must have influenced the decision to bring a team to Champaign. The Miners were the first Frontier League team to expand into Illinois and quickly broke the league record’s single-season attendance record by drawing 259,392 people to brand new Rent One Park.

• I wrote about attendance marks in the issue just gone to press–Minor League Baseball set a new high for the fourth straight year by drawing 42,812,812–with several teams breaking their own marks and Sacramento leading the way for the eighth straight season. However in a sleep-deprived mistake I credited Sacramento with arguably the most creative promotion of the year–the Bob L. Head giveaway put on by Triple-A Portland. My most sincere apologies to the Beavers (a correction is forthcoming in our next issue).

Incidentally, Portland recently announced that it is sticking with the name Beavers despite a public rename the team campaign. The team gave fans several names to choose from–including Green Sox, Sockeyes, Thorns and Wet Sox–but received feedback from fans that they would prefer to stick with the name closest to their hearts.

“We said from the beginning this was a decision that couldn’t be made without the input of the community and our fans,” said new Portland owner Merritt Paulson. “There’s no question that there is a great deal of history with the Beavers’ name, and we are embracing that history. We were not going to change the name just for the sake of change. It’s clear that there are strong feelings about the Beavers’ name, and that’s a great thing. However, we still need to explore changes we can make to enhance the team’s identity.”

One of the stories I enjoyed the most was the turnaround in Myrtle Beach. The team, in its first full season under the Chuck Greenberg and Todd Parnell ownership group and under the guidance of veteran GM North Johnson, underwent a $2 million stadium renovation in order to tap into one of the biggest tourist markets on the East Coast. One of the highlights of the project was a sandy beach area along the left field line, complete with lounge chairs, that looks it was designed by Jimmy Buffett. (All that’s missing is a margarita menu).

“With 350,000 visitors every week (to Myrtle Beach), we need to get a good portion of that to the ballpark,” said general manager North Johnson, whose club hosts the 2008 Carolina League all-star game. “What we’ll do now is improve the services in areas that we built or improved. The beach area, we’re going to spend this offseason making sure it’s booked every night.”

The team also added a new video board and as part of a stadium redesign moved the visitor’s bullpen from beyond the left field to beside a dugout and set up 500-seat bleachers in its place. The Pelicans built a new ticket office with twice as many points of sale, alleviating the often 30-minute line fans endured to buy tickets. The Pelicans drew 215,059—the third-highest total in franchise history—and saw average attendance climb eight percent from last season to 3,117.

That’s it for now, but I’ll be back soon with more news. Also, be sure to look for Will Lingo’s updates from the promotional seminar in Birmingham with news on the presidential search.