If you have been following the Twitter and Facebook posts this week, you would have seen a host of messages welcoming the new Gresham Oregon franchise into the West Coast League. Lots of excitement with a new franchise, a new fan base (Gresham is about a half-hour drive directly east of Portland), and a further expansion of the league. On the surface one might think this seems like a growth step adding a new team to the league, but looking closer, there’s more going on than that…
The Gresham team (yet without a name) is a team being re-positioned from Klamath Falls – the Gems. In an interesting twist, a team called the “Klamath Falls Gems” will continue to live and play in that city, but as part of a different program. Last year’s Gems ownership remains unchanged, and they move the WCL interest from Klamath Falls to Gresham to form the new team.
Last season, the Gems averaged just 562 fans per game in a city of roughly 25,000. The Gresham franchise is hoping for a significant boost in attendance, given the city’s 110,000 population. The team will play its home games on the field at Mt. Hood Community College, which features an outfield hedge giving it a slight Wrigley Field feel to it. Seating is limited at the field – it will be interesting to see if anything is done to increase capacity before the season starts.
This marks somewhat of a return of WCL baseball in Gresham. When the league debuted in 2005, the college were home to the Aloha Knights, who stayed for two seasons before moving south to Corvallis. Interestingly during those two years, the team was considered to be from Portland…
The new Gresham team is currently holding a “Name That Team / Mascot” contest, and if you’re asking me, there’s only one true choice – the Gresham Generals. The city itself is named after General Gresham, who after leaving military life became… wait for it… the Postmaster General. Could anything be so fitting and so awesome? Gresham will take over Klamath’s spot in the league playing in the South Division, and will assume their schedule of games.
This move is nothing but positive for the WCL – an experienced and happy ownership group moves a franchise struggling to fill seats in one city, into another city four-times the size. The consistent management and staff should help to maintain a very similar experience for both the league and players alike.
But wait – there’s more league news. In a less-publicized change that happened last month, the league lost three-year member the Medford Rogues. The Rogues have left the WCL in order to move their franchise into the new Great West League. The GWL features teams from Northern California and Western Oregon and will debut this year with six teams in cities like Sacramento, Chico, Lodi, Marysville, and interestingly enough – Portland. The Portland Pickles (I kid you not) will play their home games less than 15 miles from the new Gresham team.
The GWL offers a similar college-level experience consisting of a 60 game season, All-star game and playoffs. The league will draw form the same pool of players as the WCL, adding pressure to the recruiting process for all WCL teams. The main difference in leagues is a less-expensive business model, with shorter travel runs and closer cities (which was the draw to pull Medford away from the WCL). The GWL league is also under the direction of president Ken Wilson, who you know as the WCL league president who helped bring baseball to Victoria back in 2012.
The removal of Medford, combined with the relocation of the Klamath team eliminates the two southern-most teams from the WCL, and should help somewhat with travel and schedules, with Bend and Corvallis now being the only teams playing south of Portland. As the map to the right shows, the new GWL will likely try hard to pull them as well, being an obvious fit for that league as well.
The overall result is a loss of one team, and an odd number of teams in the South division. This would point to an obvious possibility of further expansion to bring the league back to 12 teams and even the divisions, something that is unlikely to occur for the 2016 season. Instead, look for a move to two divisions, with one having an extra team. Another Canadian team in 2017 anyone?
Should we be worried here in Victoria? Not in the least. Overall the changes make a stronger league with a more compact set of cities. Despite the schedule oddity, fans shouldn’t be impacted in the least. Well, except that we no longer have Tater, the Gems awesome mascot to play with. You’ll be missed old spud…