The little league that couldn’t

A few months ago, I caught wind of the brand-new Mount Rainier Professional Baseball League. Despite the success of independent pro baseball around the U.S., the Pacific Northwest — where I live, you know — hasn’t enjoyed the independent-league fruits. There’s at least one summer wood-bat league for college players, but not professional baseball.

Until this spring, with the introduction of the MRPBL.

And it got personal for me. One of the league’s six teams is the Grays Harbor Gulls. Also a few months ago, we published an oral history of the 1978 Grays Harbor Loggers, who (for a few glorious moments) featured Bill Murray. 

Not long after that piece appeared, someone associated with the Gulls contacted me for help in contacting members of that ’78 Loggers team, because the Gulls were planning a ’78 Loggers Night. So I did what I could, and August 1 was set.

On my calendar, anyway. I did not make real plans, because … well, I wasn’t at all sure that the Mount Rainier Professional Baseball League would would start at all; or if it did, that it would last until August.

Well, it did start. The league’s six teams — the Gulls, the Oregon City Mud Turtles, Skagit Valley Lumberjacks, Ellensburg Bulls, Moses Lake Rattlesnakes, and Glacier Outlaws — began play on or about the 18th of May. Every team’s now played seven, eight, or nine games. But it doesn’t look like anybody’s playing any more. Here’s a big chunk of Saturday’s press release by the owner of the entire league, which I recommended reading in its entirety if you’re into train wrecks, air disasters, and Irwin Allen movies:

Urgent MRBPL Update

May 30th, 2015

Our league is asking for help.  If the structure doesn’t change in the next 24 hours, the league will be done.  I do NOT want this to happen. 

When I set out to start a new professional league a year ago, I wasn’t fully aware of everything and everyone that was needed to be successful.  I had big dreams and great intentions, still do.  But the last couple of weeks, frankly the last couple of months, have proven that I’m currently in over my head.  I should have asked for help rather than praying things would get better once games started getting played.  I, along with many other coaching and league staffs, have poured time, passion, money, and our own reputations into the MRBPL.  We asked communities to support us.  We ensured them this would work, but poor execution and poor lack of financial backing on my part, has let these communities down.  Players simply want to play baseball.

I will take the blame for this whole thing.  I ran it.  I didn’t get stuff in time, didn’t delegate enough, and was relying too much on passion and drive, rather than the reality that it takes money to make money.  Most of the problems have been financial. 

I’ve made some attempts to try and salvage the league.  I’m willing to give away franchise rights for $0 if someone is willing to invest in a team to keep it going.  We recently had a private owner take over Ellensburg.  Glacier has expressed serious interest in acquiring their franchise contingent on the league longevity.  If we can find inventors/owners for Moses Lake and Grays Harbor, I believe I can make Skagit Valley work.  It would allow people to solely focus on their respective team without being reliant on myself as the league owner.

We can no longer ask players to put up with the conditions we have provided them.  Some have had to stay in hotels as we haven’t been able to get host families.  Teams have had to pay for team travel hotels as we haven’t been able to provide the funds.  Teams have been wearing other team’s uniforms or t-shirts as uniforms hadn’t come in on time.  Approximately 150 players fill 6 teams.  Players WANT to stay if the league can sustain and work through the issues.  Players WANT to come tryout for teams that are already in motion.  These teams have full rosters, full coaching staffs, ballparks who have adjusted schedules to make this all happen.  The infrastructure is all in place, we just need the financial support.

My budget required an average of 300 fans per game to sustain funding.  We had over 300 for the Oregon City opener, 520 at the Grays Harbor opener, and close to 300 at the Glacier opener.  The fans want to see the baseball, but we have to provide them the experience.  Uniforms and hats are now in for each team.  If the league can continue, sponsorship, housing, and promotions will be the primary focus.  Some teams have done this better than others and have offered to share their knowledge and materials to other teams so staff is not reinventing the wheel each time.  In other words, the budget isn’t holding up, and I need help.

For those that have been able to watch a live game, you can see why I started this league.  There is such great talent and players with huge dreams.  That was the vision from the beginning.    TREAT THE PLAYERS, STAFF, COMMUNITY, AND FANS RIGHT…AND WE WILL SUCCEED.  I failed you all somehow.  The dream was that these guys could keep playing baseball.  Communities would support them with host families, fans, and city governments.  I still believe that the communities I chose are good for this but it is our responsibility as organizations to go out and make this happen.  We want these players active in our communities, active in our local media, and good stewards at the ballpark.

I am to a point I do not know what to do any longer.  I have hotels wanting money and can’t pay for them.  I have players needing host families.  I have players that are expecting payroll.  One thing is for sure, I have players that WANT TO PLAY BASEBALL.  

So there are frankly only two options 1) we play all games tonight throughout the league and then call it a season tomorrow or 2) we gain ownership interest and a commitment from all involved to help nurse this league back to health.

I hope and pray for option 2.  

Franchise ownership would require the following:  

  • All travel expenses for your team on the road which includes hotel, gas, transportation, and food
    • $2000 for hotels, $1200 for transportation
  • Promotional and marketing efforts to attract fans
  • Stadium lease payments
  • Game balls, bats, helmets (uniforms and hats are already provided)
  • Commitment to weekly league conference calls by one member of the staff
  • Pointstreak administration for live stats
  • All staff and player wages

I believe the above commitment would take approximately $70,000 to get things off and running allowing enough capital to be sustainable throughout the season.  If we have interest, my suggestion would be for the league to take 1 week off from play to get everything in order from leases, equipment, travel schedules, funding, Pointstreak stats, etc.

Let me know please if you can help within the next 24 hours.  I apologize for letting everyone down.  My heart was there, but 6 teams was too overwhelming both financially and time wise.

Thank you,

Mike Greene – League Owner/Commissioner

So what basically seems to have happened is that a guy utterly unequipped to finance a sprawling baseball league with hundreds of employees convinced hundreds of people he could finance a sprawling baseball league with hundreds of employees. I don’t know … maybe he thought something magical would happen. Some people have watched Field of Dreams too many times.

I’m personally disappointed, because I was looking forward to seeing an actual baseball game "on the Harbor" in old Olympic Stadium, and because I was looking forward to meeting a few more of those ’78 Loggers. And I also feel bad for all those guys who came out here to play ball, and hardly got to play at all.