New Dawg In Town

Golden Baseball League (GBL) is a new, independent, eight-team, class-A baseball league with a franchise in San Diego. The league reminds me of what a friend said when talking about her favorite restaurant. "I like to get there at opening time, 5:00 p.m., while the cooks and waiters still have hope."

Keeping in mind that this may be the moment we like the San Diego Surf Dawgs best (opening day is two weeks distant), I do note that I've liked everything I've seen so far. Golden Baseball League is the spawn of young master Dave Kaval, recent Stanford University student, and his school bud, Amit Patel. They decided on the league-owns-all-the-teams business model, which has been used, at one time or another, by Major League Soccer, WNBA, Women's United Soccer Association, American Basketball League, and the National Lacrosse League.

Being independent, GBL does not worry about affiliation with major league clubs or keeping their franchises away from major league cities, like the aforementioned San Diego Surf Dawgs. In fact, placing their teams in big-league cities may be a selling point. An outfit called Team Marketing Report has been publishing Fan Cost Index for 13 years. The index tracks what it costs a family of four to attend one Major League Baseball game. This is done by adding up the cost of the following items: two average-priced adult tickets, two averaged-priced child tickets, four small soft drinks, two small beers, four hot dogs, two programs, parking, and two adult-sized caps. The 2005 number for the San Diego Padres is $176.32. One ballgame, $200, if you decide to go for a second beer.

Or, catch a San Diego Surf Dawgs home game for eight bucks a head and bring your own necessities. Kaval may be onto something with this put-a-minor-league-team-in-the-same-city-as-a-major-league-team idea. Surf Dawgs home games will be played at Tony Gwynn Stadium on the campus of San Diego State. It's one of the best college-baseball parks in the country...built in the late '90s, seats 3000, has the usual amenities. And since it's minor-league ball, you can count on, for your eight bucks, the public worship of families, entertainment of some sort between every inning, constant promotions, and endless stadium announcements proclaiming fan appreciation. As opposed to attending a Padres game at Petco Park, where players, management, and stadium employees join together to treat patrons like an unpleasant fact of life.

Kaval has been smart. Less than two months before opening day, a planned franchise in Tijuana fell apart. Now, the league has seven teams and a hint of failure. So, Kaval put together an all-Japanese team -- the Japan Samurai Bears -- who will spend the 2005 season as a traveling club playing away games. Japanese love it, Americans love it, and GBL creates another market for their league. The league has since named Takenori Emoto vice commissioner. He is, according to a press release, "Perhaps the most famous baseball commentator on Japanese television. As a player, he won 113 games as an all-star pitcher from 1971 to 1981 before launching his career as an author, broadcaster, actor, and politician. He is a regular on many television sports shows and has published over 50 books...." Brilliant.

But the single thing the league has done that I like best is signing Rickey Henderson to play for the San Diego Surf Dawgs. That will get me out to a ballgame.

I'd love to see his contract. GBL pays its players $1100 a month. If you were working a 40-hour-a-week job, $1100 a month rounds out to about $6.87 an hour. The minimum wage in California is $6.75 an hour. Rickey is doing a little better than that; his pay is $3000 a month, $18.70 an hour, which won't cover his limo bill. League players get free meals when away from home and stay with "host families." (Read: GBL is too cheap to pay for hotels.) I want, desperately want, to be Rickey's host family when he's in town. Rickey, dear boy, if you're reading this, the beer is cold.

It's been reported that Rickey has a side deal with the league. He'll get a cut of this promotion and that endorsement. I don't know if that's true, and I don't know what kind of money that amounts to if it is.

Rickey's last good year was with the 1999 Mets. He finished the season with a .315 batting average, 37 stolen bases, and an on-base percentage of .423. That's a very fine year for anyone, an unbelievable year for a 40-year-old man.

Six years later and the question is, "Does Henderson have enough left in him, or is there enough luck out there to get him back up to the Bigs?" No one is asking whether he can play for the Surf Dawgs. I expect him to be the best athlete on the field.

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