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How Na Koa's being viewed out there
August 19, 2011 - Robert Collias
The questions of whether Na Koa Ikaika Maui will be back next year or whether there will be a viable league that is willing to take on a team in the middle of the Pacific Ocean will not be answered for some time, but the abrupt end to Na Koa's season earlier this week is being billed as the death of the franchise in many places:
—From the Chico Enterprise-Record: The league cited "the ongoing impact of the distressed economy on the member teams." Hit hardest was Na Koa Ikaika Maui, the team managed by former Outlaws skipper Garry Templeton, which suffered such financial strife due to traveling costs that it folded operations completely for the rest of the year and presumably the foreseeable future, much the same way St. George did last year in the Golden League.
—From Ballparkdigest.com: Despite all the well-documented problems with the Lake County Fielders, the first team in the independent North American League to go under is Na Koa Ikaika Maui. And later this in the same online entry, Maui, in particular, posed a unique travel problem for other teams in the league. The team didn't draw last year and didn't draw this year; even before the league announced the demise of the team all players and coaches had been released. Pro baseball in Hawaii is always a crapshoot: the Pacific Coast League concluded that supporting a team in Honolulu simply wasn't financially feasible, and that was a much larger market than the NAL targeted. The original NAL plan was to place multiple teams in the state -- thus spreading out the travel costs -- but in the end only one team was launched in a rather small market, as there are 154,834 people on the entire island of Maui. Wailuku, where the team is based, has a population of 12,296. And then this, After their misadventures in Maui and problems in Fullerton the year before, we're not sure the Na Koa Ikaika ownership will be too eager for more in Fullerton, especially when there's no prospect for a new downtown Fullerton ballpark any time soon. (Maui ownership says they'll be back next year via a Facebook posting.)
—From the Chicago Daily Herald: The Maui team the Fielders ditched this month has since scrapped the rest of its season. . . . Its players have been released.
—From the Chico ER, in an editorial, on Thursday: The brutal travel schedule and accompanying astronomical travel costs are what did in the Maui team. Read the entire editorial in this link.
—And, finally (although there's lots more out there), this from The Maui News publisher Joe Bradley, who attended several games this season.
I don't know if this team will be back — and the way things are going for the NABL, it seems like a new league will be necessary for it to happen in 2012 — but I do know the quality of baseball was fun to watch (and, for me, to cover).
Financially, however, does it make sense in the long run for any owner(s) to have a team on Maui that has to travel to the Mainland for its away games? It certainly doesn't add up to me, at least with the crowd sizes we have seen now for two home seasons. I think Na Koa Ikaika got a big break (money-wise) by not having to go to Illinois, Chico, and Texas when the NABL excused them from this last trip — that may have freed up some money for the team to start paying outstanding bills. I also think the team, after major financial problems in 2010 under a different owner, got a major break in the switch of mayoral administrations in Maui County between the first season and the second.
I also know of a long list of bills still owed to local folks and businesses, even after the team has taken care of two radio-related lawsuits.
Last season, which ended with this current group of owners already having taken over the franchise, I didn't get a call to report on the new ownership group until late November. Then, nothing until December when they announced that Garry Templeton had been hired as manager — the best thing this team had going for it in all of 2011. Then, silence until April when they announced that they would indeed field a team this summer.
I do know these things if independent league baseball is to work on Maui: Bills must be paid on time, local folks need to be involved in a much larger way (and paid on time), promotion for 2012 must start now, promises made over the public address system must be kept, and more than one local player needs to be on the roster.
That's a starter list, but, IMHO, those things are non-negotiable. Stay tuned, I will cover this story to its conclusion, one way or the other.
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