Baseball - Outlaws steal home
Pro team hopes to take up where the Heat left off
The sound of wooden bats cracking hits and the roar of excited crowds will return to Chico this summer.
The great American pastime is back, in the form of the professional Chico Outlaws, which is looking to match the success of the unfortunately short-lived Chico Heat. The Outlaws will be playing their first season in Chico’s much-loved Nettleton Stadium.
As one of eight teams in the inaugural season of the independent Golden Baseball League, the Outlaws plug the hole in summer entertainment created when the storied Heat folded its tent two years ago after six exciting seasons, from 1997 to 2002.
There was nothing like hearing the wooden crack of the bat, munching a hot dog and downing a cold beer on a hot Chico night under the lights at the Net, as the beloved stadium came to be called.
The six-season history of the Chico Heat included five trips to the Western Baseball League championships, which the team won in 1997 and in 2002. In each of those six seasons attendance at Nettleton Stadium exceeded 100,000 fans, far more than that of any of the other team in the league. Some teams did poorly, however, and as a result the league collapsed.
The Outlaws should recapture the Heat magic and make for a good companion to the highly successful Chico State Wildcat club that has dominated Division II baseball for the last 10 years.
The Golden Baseball League consists of four teams in California (the Outlaws, the Fullerton Flyers, the Long Beach Armada and the San Diego Surf Dogs), three in Arizona (the Yuma Scorpions and the yet-to-be-named teams in Mesa and Surprise) and one traveling team, which is also unnamed.
The Outlaws open at home May 27 against Fullerton and close their 53-game home season Aug. 28 against the same team. The GBL is the equivalent to minor-A ball in quality of play. Rosters include players from existing independent leagues as well as those coming straight out of college.
As anyone who has ever been to a minor-league game can assume, there’s more than just baseball to entertain the fans. On-field activities and games fill the time between innings. Along with the league mascot—a dog named “Nugget”—the Outlaws also feature “Rascal” the Raccoon, who stirs up the crowd and gives the kids something to chase.
The Golden Baseball League has agreed to a contract with Chico State University to play at Nettleton Stadium, former home of the Chico Heat and current home of the Wildcats, through 2007.
After that, the Outlaws could be headed to brand new digs, according to Rory Miller, the team’s public-relations director and play-by-play announcer.
“Plans are being made to build a new stadium by 2008 over off of Bruce Road behind the WinCo supermarket [in east Chico].” The stadium would be part of the Meriam Park “new-urbanism”-style subdivision New Urban Builders has planned for the area.
Although plans for the new stadium are far from complete—the team is seeking private investors to help pay for the venture—early indications are that the stadium would bring back the traditional old-school baseball feel.
“They are plans that would make your jaw drop to the floor,” said Miller.
The league owns all the teams—avoiding the “weakest link” syndrome that doomed the Heat’s league—and also hopes to add investors to help build a new stadium. Private funds are being provided by New Urban Builders, along with outside investors including Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak and former NFL players Mike Sherrard and Christian Okoye. If all goes well the new stadium could be completed by the end of 2008.
Teams play a 90-game schedule culminating with in a post-season pitting the two division champions and two wild-card teams vying for the league title.
Thirteen-year Major League Baseball veteran Mark Parent was named as the Outlaws’ manager and was given the job of building a team.
Parent, the former manager of the single-A Lancaster Jet Hawks of the Seattle Mariners farm system, has added hitting coach Jon Macalutas and pitching coach Lance Franks to the coaching staff. Both are former Chico Heat players.
Each team plays with a roster of 22 players including at least six rookies and four veterans, and there is a $26,000 monthly salary cap to level the playing field for all eight teams.
After pulling off a series of trades, the Outlaws brought former Chico State star Steve Newson back to Chico. In two seasons as a Wildcat outfielder, the 27-year-old Newson hit .337, banged out 22 homeruns and drove in 105 runs.
Parent calls Newson “a tremendous athlete who has a whole lot of unused potential, as do all of our players. I hope to be able to help him succeed in the future.”
Macalutas said he believes Newson will be a strong addition to the Outlaw lineup.
“Steve is going to be a great fit with the type of ball club we’re putting together here in Chico,” said Macalutas.
The team is training down in Surprise, Ariz., at the training facility used by the Chicago Cubs. All 90 games will be aired on KPAY 1290 a.m.