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Mount Rainier Professional Baseball League – Q&A with Owner/Commissioner Mike Greene

I have previously touched on a new independent league, the Mount Rainier Professional Baseball League (MRPBL), in some of my blog posts. The league, which will operate six teams: Oregon City, Grays Harbor, Skagit Valley, Ellensburg, Glacier, and Moses Lake in three states: Washington, Oregon, and Montana, will hold its first games in May 2015.

Recently, the league’s owner and commissioner, Mike Greene, reached out to me on Facebook and gave me an open invitation to learn more about his league. Greene is very personable, and I’ve had some nice chats with him on various topics. I’ve been wanting to do a post on the MRPBL and thought who better to interview than Greene.

Below is my Q&A interview with Greene:

What made you want to start your own independent league?
I was managing in the Pecos league and coached some very talented baseball players and coached against some very good players. I knew we could put a better product on the field out in Washington with proper marketing, and organization. There are so many players that want to keep their careers going and I wanted to give them another choice to so so.

Why did you choose the cities/locations that you did?
The first criteria was to stay out of cities that had affiliated baseball teams and cities that have West Coast League teams. The second part in picking a location was the size of city. I was looking for cities that were big enough to support a professional baseball team, yet small enough to take pride in a team. Most of our cities are in the 25-40,000 range. Glacier is covering Whitefish, Kalispell and Columbia Falls. Grays Harbor covers Hoquiam and Aberdeen, and Skagit Valley covers Mount Vernon, Burlington and Sedro-Woolley. Ellensburg, and Moses Lake are cities with 20,000 people and Oregon City is Portland Suburb. I have lived in Washington my whole life outside of college coaching jobs that took me to Mississippi, Michigan and Oklahoma. So I knew what cities I wanted to look at. Another big factor is finding a stadium that is available.

What are your expectations for fan attendance and community involvement?
We have had tremendous support from the cities involved. Glacier and Grays Harbor are the most ideal setups because the stadium capacities are larger and the cities have had good support so far in season ticket sales. We are going to do our best to make this a fun family entertainment option. We want our players and coaches to feel like they are part of the community. We will make sure kids that come to the games have interactions with the players and we have a lot of fun events in between innings and in the stands. Our goal attendance wise in the first year is an average of 500 fans a game. Like anything it will take time for everyone to hear about the team in town. So our goal is to make sure that we get the word out as much as possible and have the players doing meet and greets, etc…Have our mascots handing out pocket schedules at schools and in town.

Starting a league, finding stadiums/cities and sponsors, as well as paying players and employees seems like it could come with a hefty price tag during the beginning. We’ve seen a lot of independent leagues go dark due to finances, do you have any worries about that or about how you are going to finance the league?
It is a very large undertaking financing a league of 6 teams. We have a budget to follow, a goal for sponsorship money, and we have to look at keeping costs down as much as possible. The goal is to grow this league from year to year and get stronger. Of course it is a concern, and we have some backers that are in place, but losing money is not the goal here. We will work hard to make it a success. But until we get into the season the fan base could be 300 a game to 1200 a game. Nobody can predict the exact number of fans we will have in each city. We do have enough backing to get us through the inagural season.

How exactly does the pay system work for players? Are they given host families, transportation, and meals?
Players salaries are based on attendance. It is 100-150 a week in pay. It is 150 a week per player if league wide attendance is 450 or above. Managers and General managers salaries are attendance based also. If we are averaging 525 fans league wide, then the pay will be go up for everyone. It gives incentive for our players, and staff to get out in the community and to put on a good show every night. It also keeps us in line with our budgets. They are given host families, post game meals, breakfasts and post game dinners on the road and transportation and hotels on road trips.

Do you expect the players to get a fair look from scouts with a chance to move up to affiliated ball?
Yes I do. We have signed some very good baseball players and most of our coaches are Independent baseball veterans that have connections to get players to affiliated baseball. I believe the level of baseball we are going to have will attract scouts to our games. I know a few of the affiliated scouts for Washington state and so do our managers. Our goal is to provide our players the best possible chance to move on.

I know you managed in the Pecos League previously. (A league that I have covered extensively in my blog.) Is there anything that you are doing that is similar to the Pecos?
Nothing is modeled after the Pecos League, but I learned a lot of things managing there. First the players were great guys. I met a lot of good people there. I felt the fans and communities should have been marketed a lot more than they were. When we played at Alpine you could see some things run the correct way. Trinidad also had some good people running the game day operations. You could feel a little difference in those 2 places for what it could be. I liked my time in the Pecos league and even though there are stories about it, I think the players are thankful there is that option. Everyone would like to fly to cities, take nice charters, play in  front of 4500 or more fans, but there are many players that love this game for the game itself. The Pecos league was a good experience for me.

A lot of people on independent league message boards have concerns with a league having just one owner. Do you see this as a problem now or even further down the road?
I have had talks with a couple of people about selling franchises. What is hard is placing a value on a start up team, in a new league. I would like to sell a couple franchises to take some of the workload and financial stress off of owning all 6 teams. I do not plan on owning all 6 teams in 2016. And I’m open to selling a couple franchises if the right owners came along. I have put a lot of work into starting this league and I’m committed to running 6 franchises in 2015 if nobody purchases a team. But until now it was hard to place a value on some of the franchises. I believe a group from Whitefish will purchase them when it is successful and with Olympic stadium in Grays Harbor I feel a group could be put together in that city to purchase the Gulls. My goal would be to own 4 of the 6 in 2015 and get it to 2 of the 6 in 2016. But my main goal is to make sure this first season is successful and if that means running all 6, then that is what I will do.

The track record for new independent leagues isn’t very good, and we just saw the United League fold after seven years. What are you doing to ensure that your league sticks around for the long run?
Like I have mentioned in this article, the main thing is to stay within a budget and not overspend. We will keep travel expenses down, hotels, etc….We aren’t going to go out and spend an incredible amount of money on things in the first year so that there is a 2nd year. I can tell you a lot of reasons for franchises folding. We have kept the traveling distance to a minimum except for the Whitefish team. And they will not travel to Oregon and then back. They will be on 12 game road trips and 12 game home stands. We are securing a good deal on a bus for Glacier and the schedule was made to keep their travel costs down. Everything is done with the budget in mind and spending what we have wisely. The sponsorships and season ticket sales are coming in nicely and we will make the conditions the best we can for fans, players and staff.

Is there anything else that you would like the readers to know about you and the MRPBL?
I’d like to say a few things. I love this game. I want the best for the cities, fans, players, coaches and everyone involved. I understand the enormous undertaking that this is. We have one motto…..the players are the show, and the fans make it go. We will do our best to make the games exciting, fun and affordable. The amount of negativity is unreal among some people. 98% of people are excited about baseball. The players coming in are excited about the opportunity. Our cities are excited. Will it be perfect? no of course not. 98% of people wish us luck, the players luck, etc…the people who seem to root for Indy ball to fail, or can only see things half empty are sad. I don’t understand it at all, but if they loved the game they would root for it to succeed. This should be looked at as a great opportunity for players and cities. We will try to get it right, listen to people and improve. I appreciate you asking me questions and not just writing an article on assumptions and negativity. That is easy to do. I’m available to anyone and open to hear great ideas that can help us.

I would like to thank Mike Greene for his time as well as his honest answers. I truly hope that the Mt Rainier League is successful for years to come. It will be a great addition to independent baseball.

Check out the official Mt Rainier Professional Baseball League website HERE

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Will There Be New Independent Leagues playing in 2015?

There has been some talk around independent baseball of new leagues looking to start up for the 2015 season.  The two that seemed to have garnered the most attention so far are The Mount Rainier Professional Baseball League (MRPBL) and The East Coast Baseball League (ECBL).  Recently, I have had players ask me about both, so I decided to do a little research and dig deeper into the proposed leagues myself.

First, let’s take a look at The Mount Rainier Professional Baseball League.  The MRPBL is looking to play in the Pacific Northwest region with six franchises in Washington and Oregon.  These franchises are listed as:  the Ellensburg Bulls, Vancouver Mud Turtles, Grays Harbor Gulls, Oregon City Sasquatch, Moses Lake Rattlesnakes, and the Skagit Valley Steelheads.  The only team that has a home stadium currently on the website is the Steelheads, with the Skagit Field of Dreams listed as their home field.

The structure of the league seems as if they are taking an improved Pecos League approach.  The teams will play 70 games, and the players’ salaries are $100-$150 a week.  They are also given a host family, breakfast and dinner on the road and post-game meals at home.

Mike Greene, a coach for over 25 years (most recently in the Pecos league) and an author of a book entitled Touching All the Bases”, is the owner and commissioner of the league. Reading his bio on the website, it looks as if he truly loves the game and is trying hard to make the MRPBL a reality.  However, looking at the website is a bit of an eyesore.  While it is easy to navigate, it seems very amateur.  There is a misspelling in the very first sentence and incorrect placement of objects and texts throughout. Seeing “Click here to edit text” doesn’t make the site appear very professional.

In addition, Greene and the MRPBL have some controversy and questions surrounding them already.  Brandon Sparks, a writer with olysports.com, wrote his concerns with the financial status of the league.  He states that there seems to be an agreement between the Gray Harbor Gulls and the City of Hoquiam where the league will rent a field for $300 a game for each home game (35 in total).  That comes to over $10,000, and that is money just for ONE team on game days alone.  With six franchises trying to run, plus paying salaries to players and staff… that is A LOT of money for one man and a start up organization.

Another blog, ballparkbiz.com, has also questioned the legitimacy of the league. Besides the financial questions, they state that the logos are “horrendously amateur” and are even just copied from various amateur leagues around the country. They also point out that the MRPBL has announced on their Facebook page “supposed” stadiums for their teams, yet it appears that no leases and agreements have been officially released (except for perhaps the Skagit Field of Dreams since it is the only one listed on the website.)  The Mud Turtles Facebook page was also using a photo of a drawn stadium plan which was proposed and rejected in 2011.

However, Greene did have a rebuttal to these comments.  He wrote a Facebook post on the league’s page expressing his displeasure, and Sparks from olysports.com gave him a chance to tell his side of the story.  He claims that he has a very large backer that completely believes in him and what he is doing.  There is minimal start up costs since the cost doesn’t really rise until the season starts and players must be paid.  Greene stated that he believes the break even point would be averaging only over 200 fans in three stadiums each night. (I’m not sure how that would be anywhere close to the break-even point no matter how small the league is supposed to be.) He also says that he plans on having four staffs for six teams, and he will be running between all of the teams to ensure everything is running smoothly.  When asked about the team names,  graphics and logos, Greene admitted that he “jumped the gun” when he named teams and cities that weren’t completely finalized and when he then posted their logos. He does go on to say that he is in talks with a logo company to create permanent logos.  He closes out the interview by saying that he knows it may not go smoothly, but he will be working hard to make it work.

Next, let’s take a look at the East Coast Baseball League (ECBL). This league appears to be in the northeast and not really along the east coast like the name may suggest.  It also has teams in Canada as well as the United States.  There are currently only three franchises officially listed: Waterloo, Ontario; Welland, Ontario (Niagara Wild), and Newburgh, New York (Newburgh Newts).  According to their website, the ECBL is looking to have two divisions of four teams, so they still have some ways to go in obtaining franchises.  There is even a form to fill out on the website if you would like to have a franchise.

The ECBL model is taken from the Frontier League.  They have taken the age requirements and roster eligibility rules from the Frontier League and tweaked them a bit.  The maximum age is 29, and there must be at least 11 rookies and no more than 13 players with unlimited professional experience.  Each team is permitted to have one player listed as a “Veteran” who can be up to age 30. In addition, every Canadian team must have a minimum of six Canadian players on the roster at all times. Players’ salaries range from $500-$850 a month and are provided host families and meal money on the road.

Shawn Whiteley is the league commissioner, and Colin Cummins is the league director.  Cummins who had previously ran his own sports management agency, Red Eye Sports, was once deceived by a man who claimed to be a professional baseball player for the Toronto Blue Jays.  He admitted that it was an eye opening experience and learned that he needed to look further into details about who he was representing.

The ECBL hasn’t posted any updates on their official pages for over a month when they posted tryout schedules and announced Waterloo as the third franchise.  Tryouts appear to be scheduled to take place around the country, but one tryout has already been postponed to a later date and another had to have the location changed at the last minute. Not much else (good or bad) has been posted about the league online.  There is little buzz about this league even among independent blogs.

In the past, it has been very hard to keep an independent league running.  In the last 10 years, there have been only eight new franchises to actually hold any games. Of those eight, four leagues have already stopped playing with a fifth (Independent Baseball League in Ohio) on the verge of not returning.  Only the United Baseball League, Pecos League, and the Pacific Association will still be playing in 2015.  It is very hard for independent franchises to make a profit and stay afloat for a long time.  It takes more than just knowing the sport and claiming to be business savvy in this industry.

If history is any indication, it will be hard for both the Mount Rainier Professional Baseball League and the East Coast Baseball League to stay in business for many seasons.  The risk of folding is very high.  There’s even a chance that neither of these leagues will get off the ground and hold a game at all.  It is an uphill battle to start, develop, and maintain an independent baseball league in this day and age.  It appears both leagues are off to a pretty poor start, and I would be surprised if even one of these leagues are here in the years to come.