Tag Archives: MRPBL

Nick Renault – World Traveler Returns Home

35-year-old Nick Renault has held onto the dream of baseball longer than most.  Playing professionally since 2001, he has had various opportunities with affiliated teams and tournament teams as well as playing in nearly every independent league imaginable from 2005 to 2011. Over seven seasons, Renault has spent time in the Frontier, Northern, Atlantic, Continental, American Association, CanAm, and North American leagues. He has experienced many highs and lows throughout his professional career, but there is one lesson that has always stuck with him:

Baseball is a game of failure. It is also a political game. The biggest mistakes, resulting in the biggest downs of my career, all came from me not knowing how to navigate the political scene. My biggest tool in dealing with it was my competitiveness. Simply trying to prove everyone wrong has driven me since day one.  You can essentially sum up my entire career with the concept of proving everyone wrong.

In 2011, finally fed up with the politics surrounding the sport, Renault made the difficult decision to retire.

I had been blackballed; fought my way back; been released, not for performance, but because the team was losing, and I made too much money; been technically released because Kevin Costner’s team didn’t want to pay their bills; flew from Hawaii to Boston to sign a contract that was agreed to over the phone, and when I landed, I drove the 1.5 hour drive to the office only to be told that they had changed their minds; been horribly lied to in Spring Training only to drive from NY to DC to find out that I had been lied to, drove back, only to be lied to again. I had simply had too much. The game of baseball simply didn’t provide any enjoyment for me anymore.

But after announcing his retirement via Facebook, a player who remembered Renault from college reached out to him. He was currently playing baseball in Germany and asked what it would take for Renault to rethink retirement and play overseas.

At the time, I wanted nothing to do with baseball. I had lost my passion. I was brokenhearted. The game felt more like a horrible job than a dream. I eventually decided to go to Germany to try to reignite my passion for the game.

He has spent the last three seasons in Germany. While he enjoyed his time overseas, he still experienced his fair share of baseball politics there as well.

My time in Germany sure was a mixed experience! On one end of the spectrum, I was released in the dugout before a game because, for two and a half months, I had demanded the team keep their end of a contract, which they refused to do. I finally told them I wouldn’t play until the conditions were met. They thought I was joking or something, and put me in the lineup the very next day. It was bad. On my way to the clubhouse, the other team tried to sign me! (breaks out laughing) So I didn’t play the last 45 days of the season, and still won the Pitcher of the Year Award. That cracks me up. I wonder how many times that has ever happened?

Then, on the other end of the spectrum, I got to play for a team who had the craziest, most passionate, most loyal fans I have ever seen. It was an absolute blast! I have never been part of an organization where the team, the coaching staff, the front office, the fans and everyone involved were really like one big family.

Maybe the coolest part of playing in Germany was working with the kids and getting to see baseball grow so rapidly over there. All in all, I was once again able to have fun playing the game I love. I eventually got healed. And even though they have many of the same politics over there that we do here, I was once again able to deal with it.

His long baseball journey has allowed him to experience everything the sport has to offer (good and bad) all around the United States and the world; However, there’s always been one thing that has eluded him for his entire career – being able to play in his hometown with his parents and children cheering him on from the stands. He has never played within a 1,000 miles of home…

Until now. For the first time in his professional career, he will be playing in his home state. Renault has signed a contract with the Oregon City Mud Turtles of the new Mount Rainier Professional Baseball League (MRPBL).

It really is a special opportunity. I think for every ballplayer, they dream of their parents and their kids getting to watch them play. It has been something that has torn at my heart forever. As a matter of fact, one of my ‘signatures’ if you will, is the fact that I write something in the mound and pray before each time I pitch. People have asked me more times than I can even begin to tell you what I write, and what I pray about. I write my children’s initials. And I prayed that God helps me use my gifts to see them again. So for the first time in my career, my parents will get to see me play. And God willing, for the first time in my career, my children will as well. Although that will take nothing short of a miracle.

Even at 35, Renault doesn’t foresee any issues with being physically prepared to take on another season. His body has never been a problem.  Throughout his career, he has only spent a total of three weeks on the disabled list, and the last stint was in 2008. In addition, the MRPBL season starts later than what he is normally used to, so he will have extra weeks to prepare for the beating baseball can take on the body.

No, the problem with Renault won’t occur physically, but the season may take its toll on him both mentally and emotionally for a variety of reasons.

I’m known as an emotional player. I play with my heart on my sleeve. I’m pretty sure you can’t find a soul in the world that can say they have seen me take the field and not give 125% of my heart and soul to the game! 

But with all the emotions of playing in my hometown, chasing huge career marks, playing against one of the managers that saved my career and it probably being my last season, it will be interesting to see how much that energizes me, or if it’s too much. Throughout my career I have been better when the stakes are higher. I plan on this being an extremely good year.

And the stakes have never been higher for Renault to go out on top in his hometown.  He is chasing two huge career milestones:  1,000 innings pitched and 1,000 strikeouts. Those numbers are big for any pitcher, but for a player who has pitched as both a starter and a reliever in so many different leagues, they are remarkable milestones to reach.

Personal records aside, he wants to be a part of the team that brings baseball and a championship back to the Portland area.

I want one last ring. I have a ring at almost every level, the only one escaping me was losing in Germany, in the final game of the Championship Series, with a lead in the 8th inning. That hurts. As a player I think we tend to dwell on our playoff experiences. Which is ironic, since playoff statistics don’t count. And in this game, you are eternally judged by your statistics. I don’t want my last playoff memory to be losing in that final game. Nor do I want it to be what happened last year, which was a positive memory dampened by a sour ending.*

* Renault was hired by a team in Germany who had never made the playoffs in their entire team’s history. They hired him specifically to get them into the playoffs. A lot of people doubted the move. However, not only did they make the playoffs, they pulled off a shocking upset in the first round and advanced to the semi-finals. Even though the team got beat badly in the semis, everyone in the organization considered it a great year.

I want to dog pile one more time with an entire team of guys like me. Guys that were told they couldn’t make it for whatever reason. Guys that were overlooked. Guys that weren’t ‘projectable’ or that don’t have the prototype bodies. I want to show the world that winning brings fans to the games, not big names. I want to go out on my terms, in my style. And I couldn’t think of a better way to do it than winning against all odds, when everyone says you can’t.

Renault has always dreamed of bringing baseball back to Portland.  He’s even thought about stadium designs and concepts that would make the team unique and classic at the same time.

I have always thought Portland is a perfect baseball city, particularly for the minor leagues! A major part of the minors is the quirkiness, the intimacy of the experience. Something you don’t get at a major league stadium. What else is Portland if it’s not quirky and intimate?!  

The home of micro brews, the champion of small business, a land of small coffee shops and personal grocery stores, a huge supporter of local independent bands. Portland’s personality traits fit perfect to everything a minor league game should offer. I plan on being a part of bringing that experience back to Portland. Honestly, I think the marriage between minor league baseball and Portland is made in heaven, or at least on Mt. Hood!

This season is all about one more chance with baseball – for Renault and for Portland. Renault has had a long and interesting road thanks to baseball, but the time has come for him to finally come home.

Featured Image by: Walter Keller, ctfp.de, Copyright 2014

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