Stars open six-game home series with Na Koa Ikaika Maui, 5:30 p.m. today at Wong Stadium. In honor of starting pitcher Ronnie Loeffler, fans wearing Waiakea High apparel will gain half off admission.
Maui at Hawaii, 5:30 p.m.
Maui at Hawaii, 1:30 p.m.
By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The Hawaii Stars’ official attendance for its home-opener last Tuesday night was 317 fans at Wong Stadium, and that was with hometown local product Onan Masaoka on the mound. The Stars averaged 205 patrons for the three-game series against the Shinano Grandserows.
They did worse against the Ishikawa Million Stars. They averaged 133 fans and perhaps more troubling drew only 160 fans on Sunday, when Game 7 of the NBA Eastern finals wasn’t on television. It was aired Monday, Hawaii’s day off.
Last year, the Stars made their debut, but struck out with the local community, as far as drawing interest, averaging about 250 fans. It was more than the UH-Hilo Vulcans but not the figure Hawaii officials hoped for.
The Stars made a wish for an average of 500 fans, targeting Little Leaguers, other youth baseball players, and senior citizens as their fan base. Not all wishes come true. But it doesn’t mean independent pro ball can’t be a hit, in the right situation.
The Sugar Land Skeeters, a Texas-based team from the Atlantic League, averaged 6,650 fans last year, according to the website ballparkdigest.com. More than 30 teams averaged at least 2,000 fans, a healthy gate and the best way to turn a nickel or remain solvent, outside of corporate sponsorship.
The Stars are members of the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Club, basically last year’s North American Baseball League that doesn’t include the four Texas teams. The other Pacific Association teams are the San Rafael Pacifics, Vallejo Admirals and Na Koa Ikaika Maui.
Maui drew a crowd of about 800 against the Ishikawa Million Stars in last week’s season opener at Iron Maehara, according to the Maui News. There was no official attendance numbers last year for Hawaii or Maui on ballparkdigest.com.
Maui News sports writer Rob Collias estimated that Na Koa Ikaika averaged between 500 to 600 fans last year in the team’s third season. That figure is important because Bob Young owns both the Stars and Na Koa Ikaika.
A team bleeds red ink when fans don’t pay money to attend games. Hawaii assistant general manager Karen Chaves said the break-even point is 180 fans at Wong Stadium. Both teams will take road trips to Japan and Arizona. They will also visit each other, stretching their budgets and Young’s wallet.
He was at Wong Stadium for last week’s season opener against the Grandserows, a semi-pro team in Japan’s Baseball Challenge League. Asked for his reaction to Hawaii’s crowd of 317 fans, Young offered a positive response.
“It’s lovely. I’m pleasantly surprised,” he said. “Don’t forget, we have two teams. I expect Maui to be stronger until Hilo gets its footing.”
Young is a lawyer but trade, but a home run hitter when it comes to going after a goal. His big dream is to build a professional baseball league in Hawaii, featuring teams from Japan, Taiwan and North Korea.
That explains the expensive road trips to Japan.
“It’s about building something and establishing a foundation, and you have to spend money for that,” he said. “Next year, we’re looking to get teams from Taiwan and North Korea. It’s all about demographics.
“I’m willing to make the investment because I believe in the future. I want to have six teams in the islands and have interleague play with the Asian teams and eventually have a world championship.”
It doesn’t hurt or cost a dime to dream big. And Young is taking that leisure. His dream-big wish list includes new stadiums that would serve as a year-round facility for the local community, and a spring training home for Asian teams.
Love of game
Independent baseball is an opportunity to play pro ball, not really a chance to become a millionaire.
Young said each team’s salary cap is $70,000 spread out to 23 players. That’s an average of $3,043 per player for 78 games.
To break that down to cost efficiency, each player is paid $39 per game. If an average game is three hours, that works out to $13 per hour.
In contrast, the minimum salary for the 2013 Major League Baseball season is $490,000. Over a 162-game schedule, that works out to $1,000 per hour.
Too bad Young doesn’t have a best friend who’s a sports TV executive. That’s where the money is. Last fall, Major League Baseball signed TV contracts with ESPN, Fox and TBS worth $12.4 billion over eight years.
The Hawaii Stars don’t have a radio deal this season. They don’t have any corporate signs hanging in the stadium. They don’t have a huge fan base.
But at least they have an owner who swings for the fences, and shows how much he loves the game with his open wallet.
“We’re getting to our bigger goal,” Young said. “We’re growing and building our foundation.”