Yuma fans preparing for summer without baseball
The large bus sits at the Somerton airfield, plastered in “for sale” signs, collecting more and more dust by the minute.
It's a lonely sight. But with its sale, the funds will be able to pay off various debts, allowing the new ownership group of the Yuma Panthers to move forward. So there's a glimmer of optimism underneath the sad image.
There's no better metaphor for the Yuma Panthers.
Godfather Media bought the Yuma Scorpions earlier this year and renamed the team the Panthers to try to scrub the image associated with the old club — unpaid bills and players, last-minute roster overhauls due to foreign affiliations, and losing. After all, the team never once made the playoffs. Godfather CEO Michael Cummings announced in late April that the team would take the summer off to make sure everything was in place for whenever the season picked up — whether it's a fall league in October or the traditional summer league next year.
Again, there's the sad image of an empty Desert Sun Stadium. But beyond that loneliness, there's a glimmer of hope for the future.
The hope was spread at a booster club meeting last week at the team's office behind Desert Sun Stadium. Club president Jim McDermott relayed to the other 10 members sitting in the room — the same room where one year ago Jose Canseco was introduced as player-manager of the team — Cummings and team president Will Joyce's plan for the future.
McDermott said the duo was working out an eight-to-10 team league that would start play in October based in the western part of the United States, although specific cities were not available. He said they were lining up national sponsors to help defray some of the costs. And he said they were hoping to know by this week what would happen.
It's the same type of thing everyone in that room had been hearing for years. But to some, this was different.
Wayne and Lola Briggs have been married 56 years and have lived in Yuma since 1989. They went to Padre spring training games. Then they went to Bullfrog games. Then to the Scorpions. This summer they figured they'd be going to Panthers games.
They were wrong.
“What has slowed it down now is that the people at least appear to be trying to plan better and move forward more organized,” Wayne Briggs said. “I think right now so much of the information is sketchy, and we've heard so many promises and stories in the past. But we're anxious cause the word drifting into us. So far, even though there's some skepticism, we're really looking forward to something better.”
Lola Briggs said the summer would be boring, but she and her husband will find things to pass the time.
“We're despondent things haven't worked out the way they were talking or planning,” Wayne Briggs said. “But we're looking forward to what they're talking about this fall. We're hoping we'll wind up with a good team here and a good league here.”
McDermott said, when hearing about the plan for the fall league, he has a strong sense of deja vu.
“I've heard the same speech for seven years,” McDermott said.
Leaving the past in the past
When the Golden Baseball League started, all teams were owned by the league, which was run by Diamond Sports and Entertainment. While that group eventually started selling off other properties, it's maintained ownership of the Scorpions. Beginning in 2009, the league brought in different groups to run the day-to-day operations of the franchise to help reduce costs. That resulted in an affiliation deal with a Colombian professional league in 2009 which produced a league-worst overall record. In 2010, Golden Gloves Professional Baseball and president Ricky Smith took over operations. While the team nearly won the first-half title, the group sold off the best players, some of whom weren't paid by the team. Smith left in the middle of the season allegedly owing businesses around Yuma money, and McDermott had to step in. He supplied some capital for the last half of the year, then Diamond Sports took a hands-on approach in 2011 and brought in Canseco.
DSE announced after the 2012 Arizona Winter League they were discontinuing running the North American Baseball League. According to McDermott, DSE still owed money to people such as concession stands workers, as well as bonuses to managers from the Winter League.
But McDermott said he's very optimistic with the Godfather group. What does he see as the difference?
“They're here,” McDermott said. “They had people here, people in the office, they were all set to go, then winter league screwed them up. I think it might have been a real good season. I've been here since the Bullfrogs, there's been ups and downs, and I did own the team for a season, got everybody paid. I'm trying to get everyone paid now too with the busses. If you know anyone who wants a bus, I've got two of them.”
Linda and Ernest Petersen have only been following Yuma baseball for about two seasons. They were looking to a fresh start that is now going to be delayed.
“It's a little heartbreaking, but it's understandable if you've been following what's happening,” Ernest Petersen said. “(Golden Gloves) left a bad taste in everyone's mouth, and the Cansecos just made it worse. They were a bunch of prima donnas.”
But like the other 11 booster club members in that room, they were optimistic. Vice president of the booster club, Connie Quinn, like McDermott, is convinced that this is a minor setback more than the continuation of a pattern.
“I think that when they first met with us, they really had a broader picture,” Quinn said. “They had more ideals. They came across more sincere. ... I think they wanted to give Yuma baseball, but they wanted to do it right. So therefore they chose not to have it this summer, regroup, then bring in baseball like it should be.”