WAILUKU - Na Koa Ikaika Maui have said they will be joined in the North American Baseball League's Northern Division by a team in Hilo for the season that is set to begin in just over a month.
Both teams - Hilo is tentatively named the Hawaii Stars - are owned by Bob Young, the only person left from a trio of owners of the Maui franchise last season.
"Our long-term plan has always been to add more teams in the state of Hawaii and these recent changes just moved up our timetable," David Andrus, Na Koa's chief operating officer, said in a team release Tuesday. "We are very excited to add the new Hawaii team to our ohana."
Na Koa GM Dan Partney
Michael Cummings, Na Koa's original owner when the team was formed in 2010, has been forced out of the league, part of changes that leave Maui as the only team remaining from the Golden Baseball League group of 10 from two years ago.
Cummings recently took ownership of franchises in Yuma, Ariz., and Orange County, Calif. - half of the division from a schedule released in late March - but the North is now made up of the Hawaii teams and California clubs in San Rafael and Sonoma.
The South Division is made up of six teams in Texas - the divisions will not have games against each other until a championship series in late August, after a regular season scheduled to be 72 games.
Na Koa general manager Dan Partney said Tuesday that Young and Michael Shapiro, owner of the California teams, are running the league after commissioner Kevin Outcalt was forced out two months ago, and that the search for a new commissioner is under way.
"Those teams (owned by Cummings) were being run in a way that (wasn't) very good for business," Shapiro said in the release. "Our plan all along was to have multiple teams in the Bay area. This is just an acceleration of that process."
The new Northern Division appears to make travel easier.
"We are ecstatic," Partney said. "For Hawaii to be viable in the league and for the teams in the Mainland to really, really want to come here, we always knew that we had to expand and give them more for their trip. That has been our business model from the beginning."
Partney said that plan means a team on Oahu in the future.
Partney said negotiations are ongoing for use of Wong Stadium in Hilo, and front-office and field staffs are still to be hired.
Na Koa's schedule released March 27 had them opening on June 5 at Maehara Stadium.
"We have to put together a new schedule," Partney said. "It is based upon dates that we are working on for Hilo. I am flying over there on Monday to finalize all the logistics. We have had a great reception from the Big Island and Mayor Billy Kenoi. So, yeah, it is going to be a reality."
Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said Tuesday that Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa has not spoken to Kenoi about the prospect.
"Right now we are in negotiations with (Hawaii County), they are juggling around some of the Little League schedules, they play at Wong Stadium over there," Partney said. "I am meeting them Monday to discuss that further and to lock up the dates in stone."
Partney said one candidate to run the Hilo franchise is Clyde Nekoba, the former GM of the Hilo Stars of the Hawaii Winter Baseball League.
The University of Hawaii-Hilo baseball team has a season-high attendance of 168 at Wong Stadium on April 6.
"The Big Island is a very, very strong community for baseball," Partney said. "You have the Wong family and everybody in place over there. They are dying for entertainment and professional baseball, they had a team there back in the day and we feel that it is going to be a strong community for baseball over there."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org