Friday, July 28, 2006


It seems to me it has been a rather long time since we last visited; much has happened in the realm of sports we cover here at the FCN. Most know that I am far, far from a soccer fan. That being said I can proudly say I sat and watched the entire World Cup Championship match between Italy and France. What I saw only reinforced my dislike for the sport. First of all the player from France who head-butted the player from Italy should be banned from the sport for life! That type of behavior would not be tolerated in any other sport I know of. So he was ejected and his team played a man short. He deliberately tried to injure an opponent. Unacceptable. Of course my dislike for the sport didn’t end there. As most everyone knows, the score was tied at the end of regulation play. Then they played two 15 minute overtime periods. Score still tied. Then they revert to the penalty kicks to decide the World Champions. Let’s see, in baseball do they play 15 innings and then have a home run derby? NO. In football do they play and overtime period and then see who can kick the longest field goal? NO. In basketball when the contest is tied do they have a free throw shooting contest? NO, NO, NO! If soccer is ever going to take off in the United States it is going to have to change the penalty kick rule.

Since our last publication Bob Barton and I attended the Corey Spinks fight at the Savvis Center. Everyone I talked to said the crowd was nothing compared to his most recent fight downtown. If that is true the first fight must have been quite something. I am sure for true fight fans (Barton is; I ain’t) the fight itself was the most exciting part of the event. For me it was the crowd. Highly diverse, very fashion conscious, technologically advanced, as most everyone there was talking to someone on their cell phone. I don’t know, maybe they were all talking to the same person, or maybe they were talking to each other. I just know I’ve never witnessed so many people at one gathering with the need to talk to someone not there. Maybe it was just me. I on the other hand kept bothering Barton asking him question after question about the action in the ring until finally he said, “Hey Mike, can I buy you a cold beer?” Don’t think I didn’t know what he was trying to do – I reluctantly gave in to his offer.

Lastly, I am rather sure most are on the edge of their seats wondering how the Titan baseball team finished their season. If you will remember, the team is coached by yours truly and assisted by Brian Green and Joe Murray. Our season began on the same day as the Cardinals’, April 10. The team competed in Atom division of the St. Peters Athletic Association playing a 12 game schedule. The squad started out slowly, winning only 1 of the first 3 games. Ah, the pleasure of coaching smart, well disciplined children. After starting with a 1-2 record, the Titans ran off 9 straight wins, twice defeating both of the teams that beat us early in the season. The 10-2 record was good enough for first place. Clearly the team’s strength was pitching, finishing with the lowest team E.R.A. (just a tad over 4.0) of all 25 Atom division teams. We concentrated on “team effort.” We had no super stars, and from one game to another you never knew who would step up with a key hit or key defensive play. The pitching was led by Tyler Hash, Derek Griffits, Griffin Palmer and Alex Solomon, all of whom threw lots of scoreless innings – a rarity at the Atom level (often times the scores are 23-22). Solomon did something you’ll probably never see again at the Atom level, threw out a kid at home plate from deep center field. That can take the wind out of the other team’s sail. On most other Atom teams, once the ball gets into the outfield its time to run the bases – not so with the Titans. On most balls that managed to get by the infielders, our outfield core of Sean Coogan, Andrew Heying, Matthew Murray and Evan Oelklaus got the ball back to the infield quickly enough to hold the bad guys to a single. That, as much as anything contributed to the low team E.R.A.

As a coach one of the first rules you learn is “not to have favorites.” So I didn’t. That being said, the most coachable young man on the squad, at least from my perspective, was Will Fairless. Will is the kind of young man who only has to be told things once. His glove at second base was one of the most constants of our team – throwing out two in the all important final game of the season. As coachable as Will was defensively, Carson Green takes the prize at the plate. After a terrible beginning of the season, Carson worked and worked and worked on his batting to the point by the end of the season he was regularly smacking doubles and triples. The all important catching position was shared most of the season by Brody Tinkham and a kid named Joe McMurran. There were some nights when I wondered if the two of them could handle the heat with all that equipment. Both said they would do whatever it takes to help the team win – both boys must have some remarkable dads.

The entire season we stressed team, team, team. “The team is only as good as the weakest link of the chain,” we often told the boys, so we really have no MVP award. On the other hand ladies and gentlemen, and I know it is hard to tell from Atom baseball, there is a young man going into the third grade by the name of Griffin Palmer who can flat out play the game – all aspects of the game. His arm, his bat and his legs are something special. All Griffin did was reach base 27 out of 32 chances, reaching home 17 of those chances. When he hit the ball often times I was afraid he might hurt someone. When our season ended with a must win over the Eagles, Griffin was on the mound for us.

Heh, told you I had a lot to say this week.

Is Minor League Sport Really Unstable?
By Louis J. Launer

The recent purchase of the River City Rascals by a new ownership group and the recent crash and burn of the Missouri River Otters has opened some eyes among the skeptics. Although fans don't want to see any team fold, but many fans have been asking for assurances that the team that has been purchased by an ownership group last for a long time, not just one season or two of mediocre success.

The Frontier League is a stable independent minor baseball league with a commissioner and staff dedicated to assure longevity in their franchises and to satisfy all of their fans in the preservation of baseball, keeping it family-friendly and price conscious. Lately, the Frontier League has been more the exception, rather than the rule of minor league sports. Leagues such as the United Hockey League have been battered and bruised by bad business practices by its leadership and its franchise holders, including one franchise holder forced to fold after being arrested on charges of racketeering.

The UHL itself has also been under investigation into improper activities and criticized for its handling of the folding of six franchises and the relocation of two. Also, two new expansion franchises are about to begin the league’s 16th season. It has left two major markets of Detroit and St. Louis and is now in Chicago, slicing at least one-third of its well established and rebuilt Rockford market. They have also entered Bloomington, Illinois to what could be quite a success in the beginning, but could see demise beyond the control of the potential fans and civic leaders in Bloomington and MacLean County. The people of Bloomington have welcomed their UHL franchise, known as the Prairie Thunder, with open arms. Some fans and business leaders in at least four cities, including here in St. Charles County and the greater St. Louis metropolitan area, do not want to even do business with the Lake Saint Louis-based UHL. It boils down to whether or not the UHL will meet its obligations and meet financial responsibilities—including the responsibilities of its franchise holders.

The UHL also has a slight public relations problem. In greater St. Louis, there was already a conflict brewing between the UHL and the United States Hockey League. The USHL had the Heartland Eagles playing at the Summit Center in Chesterfield, a much smaller rink (seating 1,500) compared to the UHL’s venue of the Family Arena (seating 10,000). An interview with a few of the USHL officials revealed that they felt that the UHL and their leadership was “snotty.” But there have also been reports of the UHL muscling their way into such markets as Green Bay and Indianapolis, where there were two established USHL teams. As a result, the USHL considers those cities to be their major markets and officials in those areas who operate arenas will not talk to the UHL.

Another adverse incident involving the UHL was in the city of Port Huron, Michigan. After the 2004-05 schedule was released in the summer of 2004, there was an apparent shouting match between the UHL Commissioner Richard Brosal and officials who operate the McMorran Arena. It seems that the Port Huron franchise at the time forgot to mention to the UHL that McMorran Arena was the traditional home of the North American Silver Stick Championship, an invitational youth hockey tournament that takes place during January. That meant that three Port Huron UHL games had to be rescheduled. In fact, McMorran Arena officials would have been able to save one game and keep it on the schedule, but move it to an early afternoon game instead of an evening game. But two other games had to be changed and that did not sit well with the UHL Commissioner. Port Huron still has a UHL team. The fans want it. But Port Huron has had a total of five different UHL franchises in the last 16 seasons.

But it’s not just the UHL that has been “shady” as a minor league. Remember the International Basketball League? The IBL had a strong franchise in St. Charles, known as the St. Louis Swarm. They won two IBL Championships. There were problems with the IBL. One was that they had different rules compared to the NBA. They played international rules and the markings on the floors of their venues reflected that. People wanted to see basketball the way it should be played, either following something similar to the NBA or the NCAA. Also when the IBL folded, the NBA was coming out with a new development league and the CBA was going to hold off for a season. That caused the St. Louis Swarm to fold and disappear. Basketball did return to the Family Arena with the American Basketball Association’s St. Louis Flight. But poor attendance and poor marketing by the franchise itself led to a quick folding. Another ABA team has been granted to St. Louis, known as the St. Louis Stunners. They plan on playing in St. Louis, but they haven’t selected a venue yet. We asked the Stunners if they will be playing at the Family Arena in St. Charles and their answer was “we aren’t considering being there. We’re not satisfied with the place.”

The ABA has 60 franchises going into the 2006-07 season. Whether or not all of them plays is yet to be seen. But because of the checkered track record of the Family Arena, the ABA won’t be playing in St. Charles County. They will be someplace else in greater St. Louis.

Years ago, there was the Minor League Football System, led by former St. Louis Cardinal player Jim Otis as this league’s commissioner. The Riverboat Gamblers played at Lindenwood University in 1989. It was St. Charles County’s first-ever minor league professional team. It lasted one season in St. Charles. What was the reason for such a short existence? According to the Gamblers ownership group, they claimed that the press refused to cover them, or even the league. They tried to market, but they fell short. Minor league football is the most difficult organization. The NFL doesn’t recognize any true minor league, not like baseball and not like the NHL. The NBA is coming around to developing a minor league system for developing players. Despite Major League Baseball’s difficulties on their level, their minor league system, going down to the independent leagues such as the Frontier League, the “minors” are alive and well in baseball. Hockey has a little way to go. Maybe just the UHL needs better leadership.

It’s really doubtful to think that the press would ever “refuse” to cover minor league sports. Long-time sports writers such as the St. Louis American’s Earl Austin, has covered Frontier League games. He also covered the IBL and currently covers high school and occasionally St. Louis University basketball. Radio stations KSLQ-FM in Washington, Missouri and KFAV-FM out of Warrenton have broadcast a number of minor league baseball, basketball and hockey games. KFNS-FN 100.7 out of Troy, Missouri currently covers the River City Rascals. St. Charles itself doesn’t have a commercial radio station. But that’s not at the burden of the St. Charles-based minor league sports teams. The reporters and the media are there. It’s not really the Post-Dispatch or any of the major-market television and radio stations. But small market media is just like the minor league sports teams—small. No one would expect any of the St. Louis-based media to go out to St. Charles to broadcast a game

But why do the leagues have to be so “fly-by-night?” Gary Baute, who writes for the O’Fallon Community News, said “that’s how minor league sports goes. It’s a crazy business.” Gary was involved with the River City Rascals organization as well as the St. Louis Swarm. The recent purchase of the River City Rascals by an experienced baseball group definitely ensures the city of O'Fallon, St. Charles County and baseball fans everywhere that there will be minor league baseball in St. Charles County for at least the next five to ten years. Dedication and a fan following definitely keeps a minor league franchise going.

Recently, the Frontier League has strengthened their policies on franchises and the conduct of their owners. No professional minor league wants to reduce their amount of franchises, which would also reduce the number of potential markets.

But is the rest of St. Charles County cursed from having sports of other minor leagues? Will the Lake Saint Louis-based United Hockey League show some real leadership and help their franchises on the brink of disaster, instead of folding teams and moving them to other locations, only to disappoint dedicated fans of the sport a few seasons from now? The UHL definitely has their cornerstone teams in cities such as Moline, Rockford, Kalamazoo and Fort Wayne. But just recently, the Kalamazoo Wings and their long-time majority owner, just sold his shares of ownership stock to another concern. Rumors in Kalamazoo point to both the possibility of Kalamazoo trying to get a better arena in their downtown area to replace aging and out-of-date Wings Stadium. Or the owner might be tired of seeing a number of teams fold in the league each year. The irony is that Kalamazoo are the defending UHL champions. Would an owner really want to abandon his long-time hockey team after they won a championship? Well, in Major League Baseball, that was proven when the Florida Marlins won two World Series. The owners the following season sold the team—twice! A lot of evidence there points to pure and simple greed. Greed and personal pride seem to run rampant in several minor leagues and in a number of minor league franchises. Sports franchises need to make money. But if people can't afford going to the games, they won't attend.

No one wants to pay $40 for prime seats to a minor league hockey game. But that's what was charged at a minor league hockey game in Kansas City a few years ago. On the other hand, Springfield, Illinois had open seating and a general admission price of $5.00 for the Frontier League's Springfield Capitals. Lamphier Park which is an historic minor league baseball park had seen better days, prior to the Capitals’ existence in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The place was falling apart and the owners refused to do any marketing or even welcome any media. Their games weren't even broadcast on the radio. Even the local Springfield residents said that Lamphier Park was in a "rough" part of town. If one owns a minor league franchise, there needs to be some compassion, even if the stadium is falling apart.

Just recently, the Frontier League All-Star Game was held in Evansville, Indiana, in historic Bosse Field. The stadium was built in 1915 and is the oldest minor league ballpark still in use. It's the third oldest ballpark in baseball (Wrigley Field in Chicago and Boston's Fenway Park are older). It was featured in the movie "A League of Their Own," and the Evansville Otters who have been there for ten years are committed to staying there for a long time.

It is also true that Family Arena and their management difficulties over the last eight years have not helped matters. The entire Family Arena disaster can be blamed on several fronts. The folding of the IBL (which took out the Swarm), the conflicts between the UHL and St. Charles County certainly is on top of the list. But the St. Louis Steamers Indoor Soccer team and the River City Rage indoor football team has taken advantage of good deals in downtown St. Louis at the Savvis Center—and may be there longer than anyone anticipates.

There is only one minor league sport surviving. It’s not in the city of St. Charles. The Frontier League has shown some real class to baseball. It's always a pleasure to go to a Rascals game in O'Fallon.

STORMS IMPACT BASEBALL: The River City Rascals did lose a few dates due to the recent storms and the rain but their games were easily made up with doubleheaders and one date rescheduled for August, but across the river in Sauget, Illinois, the Gateway Grizzlies could not play four games because of the power outage from both the July 19 and 21 storms. Sunday, just to salvage one series, there was a game held at GCS Ballpark (the same size and similar configuration to T.R. Hughes) between the Gateway Grizzlies and the Windy City Thunderbolts. There was no scoreboard, public-address announcer and working bathrooms. There was only a limited supply of concessions available and a small amount of running water.

Gateway played the games with the anticipation that somewhere the games would be made up. They lost a complete three-game series against the Chillicothe Paints and could only play one out of three games against Windy City. Not knowing when power would be restored at GCS Ballpark added to Grizzlies General Manager Tony Funderburg's frustration level. This past Monday’s game against Windy City, which was scheduled for 7:05 p.m., got bumped up several hours due to the lack of power. Funderburg said that the games had to be played.

"The bottom line is we have to get these games played," he said. " We have guys that have been sitting at home for three days wanting to play baseball.

The Grizzlies are taking a huge financial hit because of Wednesday's severe storms that knocked out power at the stadium.

Over 4,000 tickets were sold for all three nights, and Saturday's crowd was expected to reach 6,000.