Tag Archives: Portland

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

The Portland Mavericks – “The Battered Bastards of Baseball”

In the 1970’s, independent baseball leagues as we know them today were non-existent.  In 1973, there were no independent baseball teams in America, except for one: the newly formed Portland Mavericks.

When Portland, Oregon lost their MLB affiliated team, actor and former professional baseball player, Bing Russell, wanted to create a team of independent players that were capable of playing against the single-A affiliated teams in the Northwest League. These players were all guys who had something to prove. The majority of them had all been rejected or released from a team at some point in their playing careers. Others were just never given a shot in professional baseball. Guys came from all across the country to the open tryouts just for one more shot of living the dream.

The team was full of characters and known as one of the “nuttiest” teams in all of professional baseball, but somehow it all worked.  These “Battered Bastards of Baseball” (taken from a term used in pitcher Jim Bouton’s book “Ball Four”) were a wild and wacky bunch who, in their five year existence, had a winning record in each season while taking the division title four out of five times (1973, 1975, 1976, 1977).

In a phone interview with the Seattle Times, Bouton described the team:  “Guys on the Mavericks were there for the right reasons. We wanted to play ball. We were at the end of the line, trying to scramble, put something together and get on the field, against all odds. That’s how badly the game of baseball grips you.”

The documentary, “The Battered Bastards of Baseball”, was released last year and is currently streaming on Netflix.  It features original footage filmed during the team’s five seasons as well as interviews with former players, employees, and Bing Russell’s son, actor and former Mavericks player Kurt Russell.

It’s just a feel good documentary that gives you an inside look at a truly great group of guys in baseball. The footage shows a team that just wanted to have fun playing ball and the city that welcomes them with open arms.  They were regular guys, and the fans flocked to the stadium in record numbers to watch these personable players. If you were a fan of the Portland Mavericks, you KNEW these guys.  There were no barriers between the players and fans.

This documentary highlights exactly what independent baseball is all about.

These players didn’t have the financial backing, young talent or support of a major league organization, but it never showed.   Even without “big league” money, the players still received $500 a month (more than some independent league players today) and had accommodations in every city until, as legend has it, they were banned from staying everywhere in visiting cities due to different indiscretions.

They were often known for their barroom brawls and reckless behavior because, as one player put it, they “didn’t give a (bleep). We wanted to kick your ass. Other teams tried to intimidate us sometimes, and we’d just laugh at them. We played as hard as we could between the lines. And we played harder outside the lines afterward.”

These “misfits” took their carefree attitudes, their bright red bus with mattresses and “Portland’s Maverick Baseball Team” mistakenly written on the side (note the apostrophe placement), their black Labrador “bat dog”, P.L. Maverick, and ultimately held their own in a competitive league.

Although they started out as the only independent team in the Northwest League in 1973, there were two other teams in the new Independent Division of the league during their last season. Even when the Mavericks were dissolved after 1977, the independent trend continued with four indy teams in place during the 1978 season.

Not only did the Portland Mavericks re-create the idea of independent baseball, they also created a lot of other interesting stories along the way.

Keeping with the independent theme, owner Bing Russell kept all corporate sponsorships outside the gates; something that was never done with affiliated teams and stadiums.

They hired the first female general manager in professional baseball, as well as the first Asian American general manager.

They also invented Big League Chew bubblegum.  One night in the bullpen, relief pitcher Rob Nelson came up with the idea for bubblegum in a pouch that resembled chewing tobacco.  Jim Bouton took the idea to Wrigley, and Big League Chew was born.

The Mavericks also had one of the rarest players in baseball, the left handed catcher.  During tryouts Jim Swanson, a southpaw outfielder, noticed that the other catchers were terrible. He caught growing up, but knew there were little opportunities for left handed catchers to shine in professional baseball. He grabbed his catcher’s glove, continued the tryout as a catcher, and won the starting job.

In 1978, affiliated baseball made its way back to Portland.  After the encouraging fan support for the Mavericks, Portland decided to bring AAA baseball back to the town.  When all was said and done, Bing Russell was paid $206,000 (a record breaking sum) to hand over the territorial rights.

If you have Netflix, I highly recommend checking out this documentary. It’s a baseball story that is much deeper than it appears.  Fall in love with the Mavericks like the citizens of Portland in the 70’s.

“The Battered Bastards of Baseball” is a story about baseball misfits and rejects who did things their own way and did it well.

Bing Russell’s quote sums it up best: “I love the game dearly and wanted it to go back to the straw hat and beer days when 250 towns had minor league teams and most of them were not supported by a major league franchise.”