CBD Column: West Coast League challenging the Cape?

Photo by Aaron Yost The West Coast League is growing quickly - both in membership and profile - as players discover the advantages of playing in a summer collegiate league that has teams in two states and a Canadian province.

Photo by Aaron Yost
The West Coast League is growing quickly – both in membership and profile – as players discover the advantages of playing in a summer collegiate league that has teams in two states and a Canadian province.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Playing on the Cape is still the goal for most collegiate players during their summer break.

Pro scouts flock to the league to look at prospects, but there’s a sense on the Left Coast that a summer in the West Coast League can prove a player’s ability to perform at the next level as well.

“For someone who wants to see if they can handle the day-in, day-out grind of Single-A play – the long bus rides – this is the league to do it in,” WCL commissioner Dennis Koho said. “We mirror the Northwest League wonderfully. We have the same sort of bus rides, stay in the same sort of motels, we’re in cities that the Northwest League used to be in in many cases. If there’s any question in your mind if a player can handle the stresses, this is the league to put them in and find out.”

The Cape Cod League played 44 games this summer and allowed ties. In the West Coast League, which began play in 2005, there were no ties and teams played 54 games before the playoffs.

“Our schedule mix is good,” said Corvallis Knights manager Brooke Knight. “We don’t have so much that guys arms wear down, but we also play more than (the Cape) does. We have some great venues and places. The Cape doesn’t play as much as we do – that 48 to 54 games, it gives you enough games to get everyone on the roster playing time to improve. You play a real schedule.”

Knight’s team won the WCL for the third time since 2008. Corvallis – which has sponsorship from Nike co-founder Phil Knight’s wife Penny – is an annual contender with players asking to return to the roster. The Knights play in Goss Stadium, home of the Oregon State Beavers, while other teams around the league play in similarly revered stadiums around the Northwest.

The WCL added two teams in 2013 – Victoria, British Columbia, and Medford, Ore. – and will bring in another in 2014.

Expansion has been good – very good – for the WCL.

Victoria hosted the all-star game and drew a league record 4,210 for the event. The new-born franchise finished second in the WCL behind Bend for season attendance, drawing more than 1,400 per game. Medford won a tie-breaker with Bend to finish second in the South Division and reach the playoffs in the Rogues’ first season.

“This is not a league, of course, where you have players that have been together for five years. It’s just not that sort of league,” Koho said. “You have what happened in Medford – most of the front office and management came over from another franchise and they were able to start up right away. Then they had to attract good players and they were able to do that. They put on a good show down there and it shows.”

Every season has been about putting on a good show, throughout the WCL. Longevity in the front office and coaching staffs at a handful of “foundation” franchises has helped the league’s profile grow.

Wenatchee (5) and Corvallis (3) have won more WCL titles than the rest of the league combined.

“They have coaches that have returned and keep returning,” Koho said. “They’ve had some good coaching in Bend, too.”

Ed Knaggs has been the coach at Wenatchee dating back to its membership in the old Pacific International League. Brooke Knight has been managing the Knights since 2008. Bend has former Major League left-hander Alan Embree on its staff as the pitching coach.

Seven of the 11 teams in 2013 had .500 or better records and Corvallis was ranked No. 3 in the country by Perfect Game after winning the WCL title in a two-game sweep of Wenatchee. The teams ranked ahead of Corvallis? Brazos Valley of the Texas Collegiate League and Cape champion Cotuit.

“The Cape obviously has been around for many years, it’s still perceived as the premier league to send players to as far as talent and from a professional standpoint, pro organizations tend to focus on the cape during the summer, based on talent,” Knight said. “But I think it’s a little bit of a different business model.

“You can pull up your chair there as a fan, which is kind of neat, but the expectations are a little different there as opposed to the West Coast League. The guys are expected to run some clinics there (during the day), which from a communal standpoint is outstanding. We also do a little bit of that, but we also want our guys to be able to relax, focus on strength and conditioning, focus on baseball and get a little work in to develop their craft instead of have a lot of daytime commitments.”

Koho wants to see the WCL continue to grow its profile – drawing the best players possible – while also shortening its schedule. Some players had returned to school by the time the playoffs arrived, and Koho believes compacting the schedule by a week would allow teams to finish their seasons with their top roster in action.

Knight believes the best of the WCL can certainly compete with any other summer collegiate team in the nation, so why not the entire league?

“I’m going to be a little bit biased here, but our 2008 team could compete with any team in summer collegiate,” Knight said. “I think our ’09 team, even though we didn’t get it done at the very end, could. If you look at those pitching staffs, nearly every starting arm is or has played professional baseball. Our ERA in ’09 was 2.22. That team could match up. I’d take nearly any club we’ve had and jam them into any collegiate division in the country.”

But for the league to really become the Cape of the West – even with travel spanning two states and a Canadian province – the WCL needs to do one thing: stick around.

“There are two or three things we need to do,” Koho said. “No. 1 is longevity. We need to continue to be here and put on a good show for the fans and provide good playing opportunities for the players.

“One of the things that we need to address is facilities in some areas. There’s nothing that’s unusable, but there’s some that are better than others. When we can provide better facilities, players like and love to play there.”

  • fred4945

    You’re kidding, right?

    The West Coast League is certainly one of the up-and-coming summer collegiate leagues. They invest heavily (the last I heard from a WCL executive, the admission fee, alone, was $300,000). They’re well managed.

    But to claim they can challenge the Cod League? That’s pure ignorance. To make such a claim, a writer must completely lack knowledge of that league and its place in the world.

    Look, pure and simple: Every summer, THE 50 BEST college freshmen, sophomores, and juniors IN THE WHOLE COUNTRY split about equally between The Cod League and Team USA (which generally doesn’t take juniors).

    I would imagine every MLB team’s roster has 4-6 Cod League alumni; and virtually all of them have fond memories of the special experience that league represents.

    No other college league can begin to make those claims — CERTAINLY not the West Coast League.

    Just compare the rosters. Corvallis won the West Coast League with a roster containing a smattering of top college conference players, and 10 guys from 3rd-tier D-Is, D-IIs. junior colleges and D-IIIs. Go online and check the roster of Falmouth, the Cod League champion. You’ll find it overflowing with players from the country’s top-30 programs, and a smattering of local small college guys (small college coaches from the Northeast have always worked for the Cod teams, which are nearby). If you go down the standings, you’ll find the number of players from negligible programs explodes in the WCL (Bellingham, a .500 team for example, had 20) — but not so in the Cod League. They have depth the WCL can’t dream of.

    It’s easy to make radical, emotional statements like Brooke Knight’s claim that Corvallis had the best summer college team in the country. (The obvious question is where has Knight coached? Does he have college or college summer experience outside the league? It doesn’t appear so). However, it really isn’t good journalism to build a story around it — let along let it into a headline — without some ACTUAL FACTS which would demonstrate the WCL might becoming an equal to the Cape Cod League. None were offered in Yost’s article because there are none….and long bus rides certainly don’t qualify.

    The WCL may, possibly, be sneaking up on the Northwoods League as #2 in the country. Certainly, it’s now comparable to the Valley or the Cal Ripken — and has well surpassed formerly prominent leagues like the Alaska and Jayhawk. But the void between the Cod League and the next-best summer college league is measured in star systems.

    • http://collegebaseballdaily.com/ Brian Foley

      Might want to get your facts straight before trashing an article. Cotuit won the Cape title this year not Falmouth.
      The Cape’s throne is getting challenged and the Northwoods fees for a team is over a million dollars.
      Brian Foley
      Editor of College Baseball Daily

    • jimmy

      Oh boy! I don’t know where
      to start with you Fred. OK for statistical data look at attendance figures .A
      simple x- y graph. Plot the growth of attendance in the WCL vs. the Cape. “resipsa loquitur” .now, look at the double digit growth in fans of the West
      coast league Vs. the small +/- 2% growth(if that ) over the last two years for
      the Cape. The WCL is growing quickly at double digit rates- you cant dispute that Fredrick !! . if these statistical trends persist , the WCL will out grow the
      Cape in a few years (fan base ) .

      Yes I played baseball and hockey at a very high level , and yes my son
      plays baseball at a very high level as well (D1), complete with a gold conference champion gold ring ! and CWS experience – not that this all matters really !
      .Yes My Father played baseball college as well ,and played basketball in
      addition to this (duel scholarship) as well, for his university . Baseball is in
      our family for multiple generations ! Our family loves baseball like you, and
      Brian, and Aaron ….we just see things from different perspectives at times! …And that’s ok in my books. the Cape is #1 for now , but maybe not for long , if you look at fan based growth curves !

      • fred4945

        Why not just claim you played MLB?

        But, to the facts: Why do you think the Northwoods and West Coast are gaining attendance, but the Cod isn’t?

        Have you ever considered that the Cod League couldn’t care less?

        Let me say it really slowly for you and MAYBE you’ll get it: The West Coast and the Northwoods are DEPENDENT ON ATTENDANCE for their revenue. The Cod League is not and never has been. Now, try to stay with me: this means the Northwoods and West Coast teams must put fans in the seats to survive, while the Cod League has no such need. So, attendance is irrelevant to which league fields the better talent.

        What does attendance have to do with the quality of players in a league? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

        If a player has a choice between playing against teams full of future major leaguers before 500 fans, or playing against teams full of future accountants and merchants before 5,000 fans, which will he choose? Obviously, the highly-talented player wants to compete with and against the best possible players.

        The best want to play the best. And the West Coast and Northwoods have no hope of besting the Cod League in that regard. Take a little time to study the rosters of the top 4 Northwoods teams vs. the top 4 Cod League teams. Look at their schools’ rosters. You’ll find that the Cod had far more top hitters and top pitchers (by IP) from national powers, while the other 2 leagues had far more #7 or #8 pitchers from top teams sprinkled among players from jucos and NAIAs.

        Being part of 9 straight generations of players at the highest level of the game, one would think you’d understand that.

        NOBODY who’s invited to play in the Cod League will turn it down for the Northwoods or the West Coast.

        • http://collegebaseballdaily.com/ Brian Foley

          Maybe you can’t read what we are writing. If the West Coast League and northwoods continue at this rate, they will pass the Cape in ten years. I actually attend Cape games and it is a crapshoot and a bunch of college kids and volunteers that have no clue how to run an organization. The fields are atrocious and I played on better baseball fields in New England growing up in little league. The quality of the facilities are terrible
          Brian Foley
          Editor of College Baseball Daily

        • jimmy

          Fred – Your tone and sarcasm here is over the top… and you probably don’t even realize it, which is the sad part. You seem angry, rather than trying to engage in debate over a
          fun sport of baseball …with all sorts of personal attacks. Brian is right though, I would not run a horse in some of those Cape fields, its run by mostly college Kids….. Many have passed on Cape invites ! Bye Fred hope you look
          into your health issues. Take care- Jimmy

  • jimmy

    Fred – Aaron is not Kidding…Times are changing Pal !

    Aaron Yost has it more or less right here . Ive watched some West Coast League games and have been very impressed at the talent they haveand the fiscal support the teams seem to have.One word – impressive!. Very well run league and every year it is getting stronger and stronger. Yes, the Cape has a edge right now on many fronts, but they better be looking over their shoulders , as the WCL is a major force and are attracting alot of major scouts as well.Talking with the Students on the teams in the WCL – they seem to be a happy lot, this is a good bellweather. One of the games i was at had about 11 scouts that i could count sitting near me . Why? ….Becuase every baseball player for one reason or another,from college or other areas dont fit into the “Cape box”, this statement is a reality !!!!. The Cape has a long rich history,but this is changing, whether Baseball people want to look at this fact or not…things change over time, and with this change has brought the WCL into the lime light. Northwoods/Alaska is another league(‘s) that Scouts dont want to over look. Scouts want to see whats out there , the Cape is one stop on the east coast-yes!, but so is the West Coast Leugue !!! . the WCL is a force ! I cant wait to see what this League looks like in five years or less . It seems like the owners have deep pockets too!. This helps !

    • http://collegebaseballdaily.com/ Brian Foley

      Should be noted that the Cape All-Star Game outdrew the West Coast League by a whooping 7 people!
      Brian Foley
      Editor of College Baseball Daily

      • jimmy

        for sure ! … they get great crowds in the West Coast League … and its not just the inexpensive cold Beer at some games/parks !

  • fred4945

    My error on Falmouth. I had looked at rosters, comparing the top teams in each league (Corvallis v. Cotuit) and the mid-level teams (Bellingham v. Falmouth), then I misread my notes and stated Falmouth for Cotuit. Sorry about that.

    This hardly addresses the issues.

    The author and supporting blog posts simply can’t refute the basic contention of my post: The top 50 college players split between Team USA and the Cod League every year. For decades. It’s at true now as it was in 2003 or 1993.

    Why is that so? Because that’s where the talent is. And the best players want to play against the best. No other league can approach the talent in the Cod League. Until that changes, no one is threatening the Cod League.

    Jimmy claims every college player doesn’t fit in the “Cape box”, whatever that is. Let me tell you who doesn’t fit in the Cape box, Jimmy: The players who don’t get picked by the Cod League — which is the vast majority of collegiate summer players.

    There is no question that the the West Coast League has greatly improved, and that games are very competitive — and that players who compete in that league very much enjoyed the experience. In terms of the competitive level, it’s on par with the Northwoods, which is a step above all the other leagues save one.

    But that’s a FAR cry from being equal to the Cape Cod League.

    Much of your arguments, Aaron, Jimmy, and Brian, are beside the point…..

    Yes, scouts attend West Coast games. Why shouldn’t they? It’s the best non-pro summer ball on the West Coast. Does that have anything to do with whether it equals the Cod League? Absolutely nothing.

    Yes, we’ve all established that it’s expensive to buy a West Coast League or Northwoods League franchise, and that most of those franchises make money. Does that have anything to do with whether they’re competitively equal to the Cod League? Not a thing.

    Jimmy wants to toss the Alaska League into the mix?!? And, at the same time, lecture on the times changing?!? The Alaska League was the next thing to the Cod League….twenty years ago. But it has slid progressively since then. Again, look at the rosters. The Alaska has admitted more and more junior college players every year. And even some high school players in recent years (I haven’t looked at 2013, but I’m sure the trend continues). It is a shadow of the league which once featured Tom Seaver and Barry Bonds and scores more future major league stars.

    Look. Until you guys can show me a list — a long list — of top talent who turn down the Cape Cod League for one of these other leagues, you don’t have much of an argument.

    Let’s not toss around irrelevant information. Let’s not claim it’s so because the guy who sat next to me at the game told me it’s so. Bear in mind that the Cape Cod League isn’t interested in being a minor league — or even in making money except for local youth sports and charities. If you have some FACTS which show me top players are turning down the Cape Cod League, lets hear ‘em. (But name specific players and the specific Cod League teams they turned down for specific teams in the other leagues.)

    Personal opinions and irrelevant claims do not a persuasive argument make.

    • jimmy

      Fred ….you miss the entire point , i dont know how but you did!! . “times change” and it is changing in the summer ball area. your entitled to your opinion , so is Aaron Yost an me !! . watch the attendance figures and the future . dont dwell too much on the past . your only as good as you last at bats in baseball !! the Cape is still a great league ….so is the West Coast league now !!! .

  • fred4945

    Again, Jimmy, Brian, where are your facts? If your only argument is silly generalities (‘times are changing”, “don’t dwell too much on the past”, “the Cape’s throne is getting challenged”) without facts to back up those generalities, the value of your argument speaks for itself. An opinion doesn’t merit respect “just because I said so.”

    Why do you think “the Cape’s throne is getting challenged”, Brian? Because the other two leagues (West Coast & Northwoods) are drawing more fans? Really? Those two leagues are for-profit. Each team in those leagues spend time and money promoting attendance because that’s how they make money. Does the Cod League? No. Does the Cod League still out-draw them? You tell me.

    Do you actually think attendance has ANYTHING to do with the relative quality of the Cod League against the others? If that’s your argument, tell us.

    If it is, do you really believe that, if an independent-league team manages to out-draw a AA team, the independent is a better team? By that logic, UCLA wasn’t a very good baseball team in 2013. The Bruins weren’t near the top 50 teams in attendance; does that make them an inferior team? The PAC 12 probably wasn’t among the top 5-8 conferences in attendance; does that mean it wasn’t one of the better leagues?

    The bottom line is that a league must be judged on THE QUALITY OF ITS PLAYERS. If you have facts — actual facts — to show the quality of talent and quality of play in the Cod League isn’t vastly superior to the other leagues, bring it on!

    Yes, Jimmy, you have a right to your opinion. But, if you don’t have relevant facts to back it up, don’t expect to have that opinion respected.

    • http://collegebaseballdaily.com/ Brian Foley

      I am in Europe for the next month but Dick Radatz Jr is pretty clear he is in this to take down the Cape! http://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2013/07/08/dick-radatz-runs-successful-summer-baseball-league-for-college-players/s1NLujXd2001UpsuRrV5nJ/story.html
      Brian Foley
      Editor of College Baseball Daily

    • jimmy

      Fred – fact … “the Cape better start promoting itsself, or this too shall pass .” Many icons in the past are no longer – look at your history books …. they have to change and adapt . The West Coast League and North Woods are a force. we all know “statistics dont lie…they are just used by liers” . I dont want get into forward regression stats and the like…all im saying is these other two leagues are a force – with ‘quality players too’. the Cape has major competition now !!! full stop !!

      • http://collegebaseballdaily.com/ Brian Foley

        If the Northwoods and West coast League contine their rise from the past 10 years, they will pass the Cape within 10 years.
        This is the same thing with Legion baseball…used to be important to college players and now is just absolute trash
        Brian Foley
        Editor of College Baseball Daily

        • jimmy

          EXACTLY Brian. Aaron Yost has it right.You are right too! the Cape has to change as does the times . The West Coast League and the N-Woods league are power houses now … give them 10 years and look out! I have sat in the stand in both leagues …it compares closley to the Cape now… with the Cape having an edge in Talent…but not by a huge margin.Not large of a talent gap now at all.

          • http://collegebaseballdaily.com/ Brian Foley

            My point exactly…I don’t go to many Cape regular season games based on my location. I went to the Futures, NECBL, and Cape ASG in a week…best pro pitcher I saw in those games was in the NECBL and I saw Appel in that game a few years ago also…just the facts
            Brian Foley
            Editor of College Baseball Daily