Bob Young kept swinging and missing every time he tried to connect with local fans, community sponsors and other facets essential to running his pro independent baseball operations.
The Hawaii Stars/Na Koa Ikaika Maui owner confirmed Monday the suspension of both teams for the 2014 Pacific Association season, citing that the Northern California teams would not travel to Hawaii because of airfare and lodging costs, and promised financing didn’t materialize.
Young, a lawyer who said he’s sunk $3 million of his family’s money, subsidized travel and other costs for visiting teams last year. However, he’s described himself as an eternal optimist and is hopeful to start his own league in 2015.
“While I’m keenly aware that the great baseball fans who have supported us these past four years will not have their own home teams to root for this season, we are well on our way to begin our own Hawaii Professional Baseball League for 2015, when I hope to see all our fans and supporters back in the stands,” he said in a press release.
Young’s Hawaii Baseball, LLC (limited liability company), took over operations of Maui at the end of the 2010 season. Na Koa has played in three different leagues in four years, and ended each season early for financial reasons.
The Hawaii Stars made their debut in 2012 in the North American Baseball League, which folded. Last year, the Pacific Association canceled the season-ending series between Hawaii and Maui to accommodate the league playoffs.
Despite the setback, Young also announced discussions with the state to expand his company’s operations in a public/private partnership for world baseball centers on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island with state of the art modern stadiums, multiple baseball, softball and soccer fields, along with a baseball academy and training center.
It probably should be noted that the press release said “discussions with the state” not agreement or signed contract. There was nothing specific about who — state taxpayers or Young’s LLC — would foot the bill, in light that the University of Hawaii hopes to build its own football stadium (another huge state expense).
“We have our ducks in a row all lined up and I am convinced that Hawaii can be the hub of professional baseball in the Pan-Pacific,” Young said. “We have laid out plans to build new facilities for the people of Hawaii to not only enjoy professional baseball with our expanding competition with teams from Japan and across Asia, but also for their own use and enjoyment. All of which will attract baseball fans and tourists from around the world.
“Our relationships with our Japanese baseball brethren and our experience of almost five years of baseball operations in Hawaii has attracted ample interest of capital and the baseball industry to make this a reality.”
Last year, the season ran from May until August and included five teams: Hawaii, Maui, San Rafael Pacifics, Vallejo Admirals and East Bay Lumberjacks. Also, the Ishikawa Stars and Shinano Grandserows, semi-pro teams in the Baseball Challenge League of Japan, also played in league games.
Young has always had an ambitious vision. In 2012, he talked about forming an enterprise called the World Independent Baseball League, which would involve independent teams from around the globe to eventually play for a world title.
“We have laid the foundation for the future,” Young said. “Our Japanese counterparts in the Japan Baseball Challenge League are planning to field teams in our new and expanded inter-island Hawaii Professional Baseball League and we will continue to inter-league play the Japanese independent leagues in the 2015 season.”
Young said two key elements are modernized facilities and a permanent location on Oahu. In the past, he’s indicated the high rental price at Les Murakami Stadium as a sticking point. There is limited parking at Hans L’ Orange field in Waipahu, where Hawaii Winter League games were played.
Despite stacking Hawaii’s rosters with local players, like Onan Masaoka, Ronnie Loeffler, John Holley, Cortney Arruda, Michael Kenui and Reece Alnas, the Stars had difficulty drawing home fans and corporate sponsors.
It didn’t help that the Hawaii Stars didn’t have much of a marketing campaign. The Stars used UH-Hilo as a comp model and targeted at least 500 fans. They usually drew about the same number as the Vulcans, less than 150 fans.
The Stars’ three-year radio deal with KPUA AM 670 fell apart after one year. There was no radio last year, but games were streamed live on pointstreak.com. Young leased Wong Stadium for five years.