Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Yippee ki-yay

John McLean - Owner
Season one is in the books. I'd say it was a pretty good year, a nice foundation for moving forward. The on-field product was pretty entertaining, the crowds were solid (meeting ownership goals set prior to the season), the beer was cold and we had the added excitement of hosting the All Star Game this year. It did seem to speed by though, didn't it? One day I was at opening day and before I knew it, it was over as fast as a Miley Cyrus sanity test.

So now it's time for reflection, as well as looking ahead to what could be in store for us next year. I recently had the opportunity to speak with HarbourCats owner John McLean about exactly that. Once I figured out that I was not talking with John McClane, and he wasn't going to yell and swear at me, we had quite a good chat.

When asked about the overall "fan experience", John considered this to be a success which I tend to agree with him on. From my perspective, the fans not only got to see some of the future MLB lads strut through RAP, but they got a sampling of the complete minor league experience with fireworks displays, a kid-friendly mascot, dizzy bat spin (aka "lawsuit waiting to happen") and many other ballpark perks. The fans were very positive for the most part, and really seemed to enjoy just getting out to the yard. McLean also indicated that this sentiment was backed up by a postseason survey of fans, billet parents, families, etc. who - aside from the obvious gripes of different food, better start times, etc. (which I myself have been guilty of!) - provided very positive feedback.

As for the "on the field" product, McLean lamented that everyone loves a winner, but kept it in
John McClane - Bad-ass
perspective with this being the organization's first year. I think the strong start set expectations a little too lofty and then when, after the All Star game, the team ran out of gas, fans got generally disappointed. The Boss is quick to point out though, that the 'Cats - being a bit late to the party in their inaugural season - were an unknown quantity so probably missed out on some big ticket recruits. Now that word has spread on what an amazing summer we have here in Vic-town (no rain outs yet again!), and what a great city we have in general, McLean is expecting that next year's recruiting class will be even better.

As well, the 'Cats ownership and management teams now have a season of experience under their belts and know that the team will lose a certain number of players to attrition, even before they ever show up. This could be due to injury, players shut down by their coaches, last minute changes of heart (these are 18 year old kids, after all!) and many other unforeseen circumstances.

To combat this phenomenon, the 'Cats plan to sign 40 players vs. the 35-ish that were signed this year. As for returning players, McLean indicated that in this league they are few and far between due to many factors, one of which is that they - or their coaches - want them to experience the different leagues out there. For these college players, they're looking for any new experience that better prepares them for their quest for the "show". Net, don't count on seeing many of the same players year to year.

The owner was tight-lipped when it came to front office hiring and the coaching staff. We know that there is a vacancy in the General Manager role, now that Holly Jones has moved on. I'm hoping for Theo Epstein, but all I know is that they are still on track to make an announcement sometime in November as originally communicated. Now to the coaching staff, McLean would only say that an announcement would be made soon - so keep your ears open for that one. As a Reds fan, as long as the manager is not Dusty Baker, I'm good.

The roster, on the other hand, is very much taking shape with approximately 30 of the 40 players already signed. I'm sure they will be gradually introduced to us in the coming months which is an excellent way of building up interest and excitement for the new season. The 'Cats will be keeping some of their relationships with the strong programs and look to add even more, in order to generate a quality recruiting class for the 2014 campaign.

Another interesting topic we hit on was the business model and general "off the field" goings on. As expected, not having to pay the players makes this a lot more viable than a pro or semi-pro team. It can only get better as the start up expenses that were incurred last year will not be repeated. Apparently the relationship with the city and the concessions, etc. went very well. From what I could gather, this was due in large part to the good communication and expectation setting that both sides fostered before, during and after the season. The short season of the WCL is well suited to our (short burst of) excellent summer weather, and the fact that it is a true bus league, making it all that more economically viable vs. flying to, say, Hawaii or Mexico.

Looking ahead, I got a glimpse into the boy that lives in the body of the founding partner of Ansera Capital. This owner gets excited when talking about the future and this passion bodes well for the stability and longevity of the team in Victoria. It does not seem like just another business venture, but something much more personal. Like all of us, McLean sets his sights on making the playoffs this year. This should be helped by the new division alignment which has Victoria in the West with Kitsap, Cowlitz and Bellingham, away from the perennial powerhouses of Corvalis, Wenatchee and Walla Walla. With the division winner and one wild card making up the playoff field, I like our chances.

The fan experience will also be pumped up, with popular items like fireworks still being there but with some new twists to keep it fresh. Music to my ears! No major renovation plans are in store for the stadium, but there are some minor improvements being discussed with the city which should lead to an even better RAP experience.

In any case, while we tuck away our memories of 2013, we can now look forward to the series of upcoming announcements, press conferences, etc. that lead us into 2014. Game on!

1 comment:

  1. Nice post, Darth. Roughly 219 days until Opening Day!! I can smell the grass and grilled onions already...