After playing in two different leagues its two seasons of existence, Na Koa Ikaika Maui is trying to solidify what has been shaky footing.
Only five of 10 teams from the Golden Baseball League, in which Maui played in 2010, were in the North American League for the 2011 season. At least three of 10 teams from the NAL are reportedly questionable for the 2012 season.
With the league schedule set to be announced after meetings in December, NAL president Kevin Outcalt said Tuesday that Maui's position in the league is stabilizing.
Eri Yoshida, shown warming up before her Na Koa Ikaika Maui debut on Aug. 9, helped draw 934 fans to Maehara Stadium that day. The team averaged fewer than 400 fans per game last season.
THE MAUI NEWS photo
A group of three owners - Bob Young, Leroy Pettigrew and Harris Tulchin - took over control of the Maui franchise late in the 2010 season after foreclosing on original owner Michael Cummings. Young has since taken over full financial responsibility for the team, but is seeking Maui ownership help.
"Maui is a member of the league, they have paid all their bills to the league and I know they have done a good job of clearing up their financial situation that they took over from the first owner there," Outcalt said. "Certainly we would like (Maui) to be as successful as possible, but I really think that they have never had a full offseason with a real competent front office, so I think that is going to make a big difference for them next year."
Na Koa have also paid off the balance of their agreement for $15,000 in annual improvements to Maehara Stadium, county spokesman Rod Antone confirmed.
Na Koa averaged fewer than 400 fans per game last season, and did not play their last 27 games - the final four at home and a season-ending 23 on the road - after the Lake County (Ill.) Fielders did not make a scheduled trip to the Valley Isle. The last home series and 12 games on the road trip were to be against the Fielders.
Additionally, Na Koa's website has been nonfunctional for more than a month.
The NAL itself cited financial difficulty and shortened its regular season by a week in 2011, and things do not appear to be going well for some of the other teams.
The Chico Enterprise Record reported that the Chico Outlaws - owned by the NAL's parent company, Diamond Sports and Entertainment - laid off general manager and field manager Mike Marshall and assistant GM Mary Marshall, Mike's wife, in early October.
Ballparkbiz.com reported last week that the team signed a one-year lease at Chico State University's Nettleton Stadium for 2012.
"They have been hoping for a California League team to come in there, so they want to go with one-year leases as that either materializes or doesn't," Outcalt said. "We are going through the same process with them right now and we hope to get it done in November."
The Fielders are embroiled in a court battle with the city of Zion, Ill., over $340,000 in back rent the city says is owed, and the team is countering with a lawsuit that claims a promised stadium from the city has not materialized.
Calgary Vipers president John Conrad resigned in September and the Calgary Sun newspaper said that puts "the future of the team in serious jeopardy" because Conrad had been financing the team. Outcalt said the league is working with the family of owner Jeff Gidney on finding a new ownership group because Gidney is facing a life-threatening illness.
The league website lists four newcomers for the 2012 season - the Long Beach (Calif.) Armada, Omaha (Neb.) Flame, Tucson (Ariz.) Toros and Orange County (Calif.) Flyers. The Armada, Toros and Flyers had been part of the GBL.
The Toros were locked out of Hi Corbett Field in a battle with the city of Tucson until a recent court ruling in their favor. Their status for 2012 is still up in the air, according to Outcalt. Another hearing is scheduled in early December.
Outcalt said the NAL anticipates a new team in San Rafael, Calif., but acknowledged that the team in Omaha - which is trying to work out a deal for TD Ameritrade Stadium, the home of the College World Series - is unlikely to play in 2012.
"My anticipation is that we will be 10 or 12 teams for 2012," Outcalt said. "That would be two or three new teams and we have some additional teams that are probably a year off, including one in Canada and one in Southern California."
Outcalt said additional teams in Hawaii - Hilo and Honolulu have been discussed by Na Koa ownership, which has statewide rights - will not happen in 2012.
"I would say the key thing for the folks of Maui is to really support the team," Outcalt said. "I think it brings a wonderful benefit to the quality of life on the island, it is great for economic impact as well and it is just a fun activity for families to go to. I think with a full offseason of support and with the reputation that has been built up over the past year, I think Maui can be one of the bigger successes we have in the league next year."
Outcalt said that travel costs are a concern for Maui, but not for the rest of the league traveling to the Valley Isle.
"With the skyrocketing costs of bus charters in the U.S. you don't spend much more going to Maui for nine days than you would going on a bus at $2,000 a day," he said. "For one trip to Maui, that is not a big concern for teams in the league. What we are most concerned about is that Maui needs to leave the island five or six times and that is expensive for a single team. So everybody is really rooting for Maui to have a great offseason to be able to be successful financially so that the heavy burden they carry on traveling to the Mainland isn't something that impacts their ability to be viable long-term."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org