As the Visalia Rawhide looks forward to the possibility of postseason playoffs again this year, two other California League teams, the Bakersfield Blaze and the High Desert Mavericks of Adelanto in San Bernardino County, face the last few games of their existence.
The Blaze held its last regularly scheduled home game on Sunday in a stadium that has seen 75 years of baseball. The Rawhide and the Blaze continue to vie for first in the Northern Division; the Mavericks are contending with the Lancaster Jethawks in the Southern Division. The Mavericks host their last regularly scheduled home game on Thursday, September 1.
The decision for team and ballpark closures was not made by the teams, but rather by Minor League Baseball due to Minor League Single-A realignment, according to a press release from Minor League ball. Both teams are dealing aging facilities with some of the lower attendance ratings in the League.
In 2017, this leaves the California League with only eight teams – four in each division.
There will still be a North and South Division, and the Rawhide will remain in the North. The Visalia team will still play the same amount of total games, and will only play the other teams in the league, said Rawhide General Manager Jennifer Pendergraft.
“We will just play those other teams more often.
“The largest effect for the business operations will be a large increase in travel expenses. We are losing our only commute trip, Bakersfield, so now we will have to pay for hotel rooms no matter where we travel,” she said.
Pendegraft cited that both the Blaze and the Mavericks are being bought out by Major League teams, with moving outside of California the result of the now inadequate facilities.
Neither Bakersfield, nor Kern County, have spent any funds toward the ballpark in decades, she said.
The Visalia Rawhide doesn’t have that problem.
“For us in Visalia, our situation is much different now,” Pendegraft said. “Ten years ago, we were sitting in a similar position as Bakersfield and High Desert, with a dilapidated ballpark, poor attendance, and ‘the last girl at the dance’ in terms of MLB teams wanting Visalia to be their affiliate.
“In the last 10 years, both the city [of Visalia] and the ball club, have continually invested into the facility, for both fan and player amenities, to create momentum in a positive direction. The Diamondbacks have been committed to us the last 10 years, and we’re looking forward to extending that relationship even longer, very soon.
“The city has continued to uphold their end of the deal by investing into their facility to help get it closer and closer to the industry average at our level. And the ball club has also made large investments into the facility, the community and surrounding neighborhood to show their commitment to making sure Visalia continues to host a professional team for many more years to come.
“That’s the key – a great working relationship between those three parties – the city, ball club and MLB affiliate.”
While it is not too likely that the loss of the Bakersfield team will affect Visalia’s attendance much, some “die-hard” fans may make the drive for some home game outings, Pendegraft added.
“I also think there is an opportunity for increased attendance due to our opponents. For example, we will have 50 of our 70 home games [next year] played against the top prospects from California-based MLB teams – particularly more games against the Giants and Dodgers [Single-A teams], which have always been popular games to attend for local fans of those teams,” she said.
Pendegraft sees a continued long future for the Rawhide in Visalia.
“All-in-all, I’m optimistic about the change. I’m sad to see those teams go, but I like to focus on the positives,” she said.
“I’m very aware that we will be seen as the ‘bottom of the totem pole’ in the league as far as attendance and revenues, but we are up for the challenge. Our facility might be small, but it’s well-kept and efficiently operated – both fans and players enjoy being here because we have created a great environment.
“Our working relationships with the City of Visalia and the Diamondbacks are, in my opinion, the best in the league. As long as our relationships stay strong, and everyone upholds their end of the bargain, professional baseball will be in Visalia for many years to come.”
The Rawhide winds up its 2016 regular season in San Jose on Monday, September 5. Postseason California League play begins Saturday, September 10. The 2017 season will open on April 6.