Sports

Blue Jackets revival finally on deck

Left to right, Kitsap Fairgrounds project manager Dennis Oost, BlueJackets owners Paul Peterson and Rick Smith, WCCBL commisioner Jim Dietz and BlueJackets owner Charlie Littman tour the Fairground’s renovated fields during WCCBL ownership meetings in October. - Photo by Aaron Managhan
Left to right, Kitsap Fairgrounds project manager Dennis Oost, BlueJackets owners Paul Peterson and Rick Smith, WCCBL commisioner Jim Dietz and BlueJackets owner Charlie Littman tour the Fairground’s renovated fields during WCCBL ownership meetings in October.
— image credit: Photo by Aaron Managhan

It’s official. Kitsap County is finally back on the baseball map – and in a big way.

After years of trying to organize a team in the region, the Kitsap BlueJackets will make their debut on the diamond in the summer of 2005. But there is plenty of reason to be excited now.

The BlueJackets will play in the newly-formed West Coast Collegiate Baseball League (WCCBL). Made up of instructional collegiate teams, the league will primarily focus on player development. Several of the teams in the league have players currently playing in Major League Baseball, and the league is affiliated with the NCAA.

BlueJackets owner and general manager Rick Smith, who owns a fifth of the team with four other parties, said it’s about time baseball has returned to the area. Chuck Huddleston, Charlie and Wynne Littman, Bruce Bordenick and Charles Cates and Paul Peterson are the other members of the ownership group.

“This’ll take us back to what baseball means in the community,” Smith said. “The idea is to be a community team.”

A new league

The WCCBL was officially formed after ownership meetings that took place on Oct. 22 and 23. The league will consist of the BlueJackets, the Bellingham Bells, the Kelowna (B.C.) Falcons, the Wenatchee Applesox, the Aloha (Ore.) Knights, the Bend (Ore.) Elks and the Spokane Riverhawks. The Knights won the 2004 National Baseball Congress World Series, which pits instructional teams from across the country against one another in the championship tournament.

Several of the teams in the WCCBL joined after leaving the Pacific International League. The WCCBL teams will play the remaining PIL teams in exhibition games.

The WCCBL named Jim Dietz, legendary head coach at San Diego State University, as its first commisioner.

Dietz, a native of the Northwest, also guided the Fairbanks Goldpanners of the Alaska League to four NBC World Series titles and is a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He coached former Major League stars Tony Gwynn and Mark Grace, as well as 1998 Rookie of the Year Travis Lee. Tony Larsen, owner of the Bellingham Bells, is the WCCBL’s first president.

The coaches

The BlueJackets have hired their coaching staff, beginning with inaugural head coach, Matt Acker. Acker is also the head coach at Green River Community College, guiding the Gators to a 20-19 mark last season.

Assisting Acker are Scott Kelly and Scott Colby. Kelly is the head coach at Missouri Valley and of the Casper Barons American Legion team. He will be the BlueJackets’ pitching coach. Colby is the head coach at Chief Sealth High School in Seattle and will be the first base and infield coach.

“We as a group have been very impressed (with Matt),” Smith said. “He knows a lot of these kids from coaching and camps every summer. So he’s seen the best talent of traveling teams.”

The players

Most of the players in the WCCBL play for their colleges. They come to this league, and others, to continue to improve and showcase their skills for Major League scouts.

For example, two players already confirmed on the BlueJackets roster, starting pitcher Kyle Howe and catcher David Baker, were previously drafted by big league clubs. The Kansas City Royals took Howe, who attended North Kitsap High School, in the 14th round (415th overall) of the 2004 draft. Baker, from Puyallup, was selected in the 44th round (1315 overall) of the 2002 draft by the Boston Red Sox.

Although the rosters are still being finished, other local players on the team include pitchers Adam Siler, a South Kitsap grad, and Chris Owens, from Central Kitsap. There are still a few spots to fill before the roster is complete.

“The Northwest, in particular, has some goods kids playing elsewhere,” Smith said. “The bulk of these kids are from these areas. (Matt) believes he has such a group of recruits for this team. It’s very encouraging that we believe we can be competitive from the get-go.”

Smith said the addition of Dietz as league commissioner should entice some of the country’s top talent to the WCCBL, and in turn, the BlueJackets. Smith said the upcoming American Baseball Coaches Association convention is a prime example of the impact Dietz should have on the league. The convention, in Nashville, is Jan. 6-9, 2005.

“(The convention) is where summer college leagues have to be to meet the coaches for recruiting,” Smith said. “We went there to arrange for their kids to come to our league. We’re going to do that with Jim Dietz.”

Where they’ll play

The BlueJackets will play at the newly renovated Kitsap Fairgrounds baseball field. The field recently received a complete remodel that saw improvements in lighting, irrigation and drainage, and in seating capacity.

“This has been an eight-year venture,” Smith said. “Four to five years ago, it really started to come together.”

The Public Facilities District was, according to its Web site, created in 2000 “to build, improve and operate sports, entertainment and conference facilities.” Smith, also a PFD board member for District 3 (Central Kitsap) said thanks to a sales tax rebate for PFDs, the Kitsap PFD was able to retain $4.5 million for field renovations. The project cost over $6 million total, with an additional $1 million from the county and over $500,000 from various sources.

With the money, the field now has ample irrigation and drainage, and lighting that Smith said now exceeds MLB lighting standards. The seating consists of alternating bleachers that can be used for both baseball and rodeo at the Fairgrounds.

“It’s an honest baseball park,” Smith said. “You won’t see any cheap home runs. Defensively, we’ll need some rabbits in the outfield.”

The field will accommodate 1,100 fans for at least 18 home games. Exhibition games will be added prior to the season, and will most likely add two to six home games to the schedule. The season is set to kick off on June 11 with an exhibition game against Aloha.

Tickets will be $6 for the reserved section, which seats 500, and $4 for general admission. Season tickets (in the reserved section) are available for $100. Discounts of $1 will be given to kids under the age of 12, seniors ages 65 and over and to the military.

Tickets can be purchased at the Kitsap Mall information booth or by calling the BlueJackets at (360) 479-0123.

Businesses interested in sponsorship packages either at the field or in the programs should call Smith at 692-5566 or the ticket number.

Community oriented

Smith said the goal of the owners is to get the team running, until community support can keep it afloat.

“Our group is committed to fund this to the extent necessary to get through our first season,” Smith said. “Our goal is to establish a franchise that will bring high quality entertainment to Kitsap County for decades. In order to do that, we need support from the community.”

The BlueJackets also need volunteer help. Since most players on the team aren’t from Kitsap County, the BlueJackets are looking for host families to sponsor players while they are in Silverdale. For more information on becoming a host family, contact Smith at 692-5566.

Smith said is more than ready for spring to get here.

“We’re really excited,” Smith said. “Can’t hardly wait.”

And after years of trying, that wait is finally coming to an end.

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