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Matt Acker to return for seventh season with Kitsap BlueJackets
When the Kitsap BlueJackets take the field in 2011, there will be at least one familiar face in the dugout.
For at least one more year.
Matt Acker will return for his seventh season as manager of the summer collegiate baseball team, despite the fact the BlueJackets lost seven of their final 10 games in 2010 and missed the playoffs for the third time in as many seasons.
The club took fourth place in the West Coast League West Division with a 24-23 record, finishing two-and-half-games behind the Bend Elks for the second and final playoff spot.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” said general manager Rick Smith. “But it’s a long season and things happen. They played hard.”
Smith said Tuesday that Acker will coach in 2011 on a one-year contract. Acker, 35, has signed multi-year deals with Kitsap before, but he said, “Right now it’s most comfortable for all parties to go year-by-year.”
That means Acker will return to coach a team that was more competitive this season than it was in 2009, when it finished in last place with a 20-28 record. Kitsap wasn’t eliminated from the playoff race until the final week of the season.
At no point during the campaign did the BlueJackets lose more than four consecutive games, though the team never won more than four games in a row, either.
“I thought the guys played phenomenal, it was a team that was very consistent,” said Acker, who has been manager since 2005. “They fought hard, they wanted to win, they were right there. We had an opportunity to make the playoffs at the end of the season.”
Part of the reason the BlueJackets maintained pace with the league’s top teams was because they played a balanced schedule.
The West Coast League is divided into East and West divisions, but in 2009 the 48-game schedule was weighted toward inner-divison games. That meant the BlueJackets played more games against teams from the West Division, including 12 against last year’s league runner-up, the Knights of Corvallis, Ore. The league changed that format this season, giving teams an equal number of cross-division games as inner-divison contests.
Four of the five teams in the West Division finished above .500, but only the Wenatchee AppleSox (29-19) had a winning record in the East. The balanced schedule made clear which division was stronger, at least this season, because every team played the same number of games against each opponent.
“We would have made the playoffs if we were in the East,” Smith said.
If there’s a silver lining to this third straight playoff absence, it’s that Acker will get a jump start on recruiting players for the 2011 season. He said recruiting is a year-round job, with December being the only “slow month.”
“It’s a mad rush right now,” Acker said. “You make your connections and are constantly updating and changing things. It’s never-ending.”
Acker and Smith said the recruiting effort between now and opening day will be more expansive than in previous years, meaning the BlueJackets will broaden their search for players.
The club hopes to pull more talent from schools in the Southeast and Southwest, and Acker expects a lot of turnover on the roster. Kitsap will lose seniors to graduation and perhaps some players to the Major League Draft.
“We won’t have as many returning players,” Acker said. “It’s going to be a different team next year.”
Filling the seats
Although numbers were up from 2009, the Kitsap BlueJackets finished near the bottom of the West Coast League in attendance.
Here’s a breakdown of how each of the league’s nine teams faired fan-wise in 2010:
West Coast League 2010 attendance figures
Team Total Average
Walla Walla Sweets 34,825 1,451
Bend Elks 31,863 1,327
Wenatchee AppleSox 31,245 1,301
Corvallis Knights 24,034 1,001
Cowlitz Black Bears 22,301 929
Moses Lake Pirates 16,077 669
Kelowna Falcons 16,027 667
Kitsap BlueJackets 14,178 616
Bellingham Bells 11,488 499
*League 202,038 940
The Kitsap BlueJackets improved upon their 20-28, last-place finish of 2009, but they still missed the playoffs.
*Corvallis Knights 31-17
*Bend Elks 27-21
Bellingham Bells 25-22
Cowlitz Bears 18-30
*Advanced to playoffs