Tag Archives: independent baseball

The United League Folds – What Does That Mean For Indy Ball?

United League Baseball: “Where Dreams Come True.”

Those dreams have now turned into a nightmare.

Yesterday, according to the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings Facebook, the United League Baseball (ULB) announced that they would be folding after seven seasons.  

This comes as no surprise to people within the baseball world as there has always been financial struggles and obstacles with the ULB.

The league started in 2006 with six teams.  This lasted five seasons until they became the North American League in 2011 (merging with the Golden Baseball League and the Northern League to create ten teams.) After two seasons, the North American League folded due to traveling and financial issues.

In 2013, the ULB was once again reestablished with six teams originally competing in the league; However, two teams (McAllen Thunder and the Alexandria Aces) had been forced to cease operations during the season. For the start of the 2014 season, the Edinburg Roadrunners could not put a team together in time and had to be replaced by the Brownsville Charros. This was only the beginning of their problems.

Over the last few months, the league has been in the headlines for all of the wrong reasons.

In addition to the growing complaints from players of poor conditions, treatment, and lack of pay (much like reports from players within the Pecos League), the United League also landed in the news for much bigger issues.

In July, the San Angelo Colts filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, and moved their final eight home games to other ULB stadiums in August.  That did not matter as much since the entire league’s schedule ended nine days earlier than originally planned. The season finished completely with a best of five Championship Series between the Fort Worth Cats and the Rio Grande Valley White Wings. The White Wings would ultimately go on to sweep the Cats in three games to become the last ULB champions.

The problems continued to grow during the off season. In November, the Fort Worth Cats were asked to leave their ballpark, LaGrave Field, by the City of Fort Worth.

In December, the Colts bankruptcy saga continued.  A motion was filed in Dallas to either dismiss their original Chapter 11 Bankruptcy filing or change it to Chapter 7. This also brought the news that the Colts had $714,034 in unsecured debt and that the IRS also had a secured claim against the club of $28,000.

The main reason for all of the financial problems within the ULB could be due to (the lack of) attendance.  The league as a whole averaged only 734 fans per game. The best team in terms of attendance, The Fort Worth Cats, managed an average of 1,160 fans per game, and the worst, the San Angelo Colts, only had an average of 383 fans attend each game. The White Wings and Charros also had to share the same stadium. While the White Wings official average attendance is listed at 608, there is no actual attendance data listed for the Charros..

All of these cities have large populations, but fan support for the ULB teams was practically non-existent. On paper, Fort Worth, San Angelo, and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas all look like nice markets to tap into, but it was just too difficult to bring fans to the ballparks.

What does all of this mean for independent baseball?

Well, it now means that roughly 100 players (average of 25 players for each of the 4 teams) as well as many coaches are now free agents and looking for a place to call home for the 2015 season. Some of these players may come to the realization that their dreams of playing baseball are over. But on the other hand, it forces the good players from the ULB to essentially try out for better independent teams and move up the indy ball ranks. The American Association, Atlantic League, Can-Am, and Frontier League are all still going strong.

One good thing for these players could be the creation of the Mt. Rainier Professional Baseball League (MRPBL) and the East Coast Baseball League (ECBL). Both independent leagues hope to be operating for the 2015 season.  While the MRPBL rosters are filling out nicely, there are still many open roster spots available. The ECBL is still forming teams and adding players every day. (I talked about these leagues here: New Leagues in 2015, but I hope to have updated posts about both in the upcoming weeks.)

The folding of the United League can also serve as a lesson for other independent leagues, especially for the Pecos League and the two new leagues looking to break in.  If you don’t have the fan support to back your teams, no matter how large the market you are playing in, you stand to lose a lot financially. No league can continue to operate and pay their players adequately with minimal attendance.

Players were also growing increasingly fed up with the ULB and how the league was being ran. The Pecos League may want to watch what they are doing closely if they don’t want more players to speak out and leave their league for leagues who treat their players better. (You can read Pecos League horror stories here: The Pecos League Exposed)

There will always be guys who want to continue to play baseball and keep their dreams alive, but without better conditions and more support, there won’t always be an endless supply of money to keep these lower independent leagues running. Historically, it is really difficult for independent leagues to stay in operation.

Only time will tell if the Pecos League will continue to operate through all of its issues, or if the Mt. Rainier Professional Baseball League and East Coast Baseball League will get off the ground and stick around the indy ball scene for years to come. But with the added coverage and increasing player signings from the independent league ranks, there’s never been a better time to follow indy ball.

The Pecos League – MY Opinion

The Pecos League reality series was just shown in its entirety as a marathon on Fox Sports 1.  I was asked by someone if my opinion on the league that I’ve written about a few times would change if I watched the show again. So I decided to watch the marathon and ultimately give my own opinion on the Pecos League.

You can read all my posts about the league here:

The Shit Show – Reality TV 

Where Are They Now

Rookie Experience 

Pecos League Exposed 

But here are my TRUE thoughts and opinions on the league and the guys who play in the “Wild West of Baseball” after watching the series again.  I had a bit of a different perspective going into it this time.  I know a lot of the players on the show and from the teams who played the Triggers that season (2013). I’ve talked to A LOT of players and staff especially while composing my “Pecos League Exposed” post over the last couple of months, so I probably have a more in-depth understanding than the average viewer of the reality show.

First and foremost, the guys who play in the Pecos League LOVE baseball. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that every guy is there for the love of the game. It is one thing that I cannot stress enough. They have such heart and dedication to baseball. The brotherhood that comes from playing in the Pecos League is so strong and unique. They go through so much together just to keep playing the game that they love.

These guys deserve to be recognized. They make the most out of pretty terrible conditions. Having fun and doing what you love is what it is all about for them.  The players give up so much just for that slim chance that they will be able to advance their career, delay the real world, and keep playing a child’s game for a little bit longer.

Towns that embrace their teams also deserve credit.  It takes a special family or person to open their homes to players as a host family.  Providing a safe place to live (rent free), home cooked meals, and support can go a long way.  Having fans in the stands supporting the team is also huge.  Not every town in the Pecos League is behind the guys. That is obviously hard from a financial standpoint as well.

To the players, (most) managers and staff, and fans, I have the utmost respect for all of you.

With that being said, if the Pecos League is going to call themselves a “professional” baseball league, then they need to start acting like it. They owe that to their players, managers, and staff.

If you promise the players $50 a week, every player should be receiving a paycheck weekly.  There are way too many stories of players who never got paid or went weeks without a paycheck just to find that they’re short half the money. That is unacceptable in my opinion.  No, it’s not about the money for the players, but you also can’t just fail to pay players what they deserve.

Having “taxi players” that can pay the league just for a spot on a team’s roster isn’t professional baseball either. Professional baseball should be only for guys who earned a shot, not for a player who has paid their way onto a team. For the most part, those players get minimal playing time anyway. The only reason that there are taxi players is basically to provide another source of money to help fund the league.  I understand that the league is strapped for cash, but taking advantage of guys trying to live out their dream isn’t very “professional.”

Travel is another huge concern.  While there are teams that have buses or vans to transport the players, there are other teams that are forced to drive their own personal vehicles to away games.  They even have to pay for their own gas to get there.  Every team should be able to provide transportation for their entire team. Professional baseball players have to cram five guys into a car and drive sometimes 10 hours to away games.  That is just ridiculous.

The food situation is a bit poor as well. Not being able to provide any food before/after games to players makes the league look bad in my eyes.  Why not try to get local restaurants to sponsor nights and provide meals for the players? Maybe they do try, but every player I’ve interviewed or spoken with have said that they rarely are given meals and are forced to buy their own food with the little money that they (may) receive.

Not every player is given a host family.  That means that not every player has the chance to get a nice home cooked meal for free.  It also means that not every player has a place to stay rent free either.  Many players have to take up residence in a hotel and pay for the entire stay themselves. One team did pay to rent out a house for their players. Bt one house for around 30 guys, that’s crazy.

The fields and facilities are poor; most looking worse than high school or even some little league fields.  If there isn’t the support of the city, or a field that is adequate enough for a professional baseball team, why continue to play there?  If the league cannot find better facilities for these teams, is it really worth it to play at all?

When the league does get money, where does it go? It doesn’t appear to be going back into the league the right way. There are so many rumors swirling around among players about where the money actually goes and how the league is ran.  When all your players have doubts, you are doing something wrong.

And finally, the umpires and statisticians can be terrible and often know little about baseball.  That is just plain unprofessional. The Pecos League talks about their goal of getting players promoted, but stats are what players rely on to get out of the league.

Higher leagues often look down on Pecos League players because their stats are often skewed or incorrect. That isn’t helping a player advance at all. It is actually hurting them in the long run.  The majority of the players that I have spoken to that have advanced from the Pecos League to a higher level of baseball say the same thing – they have to work that much harder because of their Pecos League label.  It’s harder for teams to take them seriously after playing there. I have spoken to managers in higher leagues, and they all confirmed these statements.

All in all, I think the Pecos League is a great concept.  There are many talented guys that deserve a chance to play baseball and get a shot at advancing their career.  It gives these guys something special.  But it can be done so much better.  If the league wants to continue to be a professional baseball organization, they really need to start acting as such.  If there just isn’t enough funds to keep the league running at a professional level, then maybe it is time to fold and stop taking advantage of players’ dreams.

*Note* Any players that still want to tell their story and their experience in the Pecos League, you are more than welcome to email me: kaymthompson52@gmail.com or find me on Twitter or Facebook (links are in my “About Me” page.