WCCBL showcases Expansion Team in Bremerton, Washington

Bremerton, Washington, December 18, 2004 – The expansion Kitsap BlueJackets are doing all the right things as they prepare for their first season in summer college baseball.

At least, that’s the opinion of 66-year-old Jim Dietz, commissioner of the new seven-team West Coast Collegiate Baseball League.

Of course, Dietz could teach a class on the art of selling amateur baseball. The American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer o he coached San Diego State for 31 years o is one of the sport’s best ambassadors.

“What we’re trying to do is go into small towns and try to give them a quality product,” said Dietz, interviewed during the WCCBL’s first organizational meetings in Bremerton in October. “The owners have to have a certain amount of capital to make sure they’re in it for the long haul.”

The WCCBL has the potential, said Dietz, to become the premier wood-bat summer league in the country.

And he ought to know.

Dietz was one of the most successful summer league coaches in history, guiding the Fairbanks Goldpanners of the Alaska League to a 348-151 record during his seven seasons in the 1970s. His Goldpanners, who barnstormed into Bremerton one night to play a doubleheader against the semi-pro Kitsap Outsiders in 1973, won four National Baseball Congress (NBC) titles during that era. Dave Winfield and Mark McGwire were among the players he coached.

Dietz later took the Boulder (Colo.) Baseline Collegians to a 64-12 season, finishing third at the NBC tournament with a team that featured 22 future major leaguers, including Mark Langston, Joe Carter, Mickey Tettleton, Bobby Meacham and Spike Owen. He also returned to Alaska to manage the Anchorage Glacier Pilots and had another tour with the Goldpanners in the early 1990s.

Like the Alaska League and the well-known Cape Cod League, which is based in New England, the WCCBL is streamlined for collegians only.

“With the great summer weather in the Pacific Northwest and all the good players and quality of coaches up here, this league can rival any league in the country,” said Dietz.

In addition to the BlueJackets, who will play their home games at the refurbished baseball field at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds facility, the league includes the 2004 NBC World Series champion Aloha Knights from Gresham (Ore.), the Bend (Ore.) Elks, Wenatchee (Wa) AppleSox, Bellingham (Wa) Bells, Spokane (Wa) RiverHawks and Kelowna (B.C.) Falcons.

The other six teams defected from the established Pacific International League, a summer circuit that allows former professionals and seniors in college to play. By abiding by NCAA certified rules and regulations, only college freshman, sophomores and juniors are eligible to play.

“This is the way to go,” said Dietz. “Nothing against the (PIL), but it’s a combination of a collegiate league and a beer league. I didn’t want to get involved in anything like that. I was more than happy to get involved and help this league get off the ground as long as they were abiding by NCAA certified summer league bylaws.”

Bend, Wenatchee and Bellingham each drew more than 1,000 fans to their games on a consistent basis last season in the PIL.

“You go to Wenatchee on a nice summer night and you can be thoroughly entertained at the ballpark,” Dietz said. “You get an opportunity to see a good ballgame and it’s relatively inexpensive. If you take your family to watch the Mariners, you’re probably into it for $125 a night. You can go to one of these towns, watch a good product, see college kids hustling in and out, grab a few hot dogs and a couple popcorns and hardly dent a $20 bill. That’s the way baseball should be.”

Dietz retired from San Diego State after the 2002 season. He was replaced by Tony Gwynn, one of his former players, and moved to Florence, Ore., a small town on the coast, 50 miles west of where he grew up in Eugene.

He declined an offer to return to Alaska to coach a summer team, but couldn’t say no to a community group that wanted him to revive the high school baseball program in Florence. So now, in addition to serving as commissioner of the WCCBL, Dietz is coaching high school and legion baseball in Florence. He just led a drive that raised $110,000 to put lights on their baseball field.

“It always boils down to just a few,” said Dietz, nodding his head toward the room where owners of the fledging teams in the WCCBL were exchanging ideas and making decisions at the league’s first board meeting. “Those few will have a big effect on what’s going to happen this summer.”

“It’s amazing what baseball can do for a community,” he said, “especially a small community. Bremerton’s not a small community anymore, but still, you’re kind of off the beaten path here. To get here, you’ve got to go over a couple bridges or take a ferry. But you’ve got a large military base here and a good ownership group. If they do things right, it’s going to be fun to go watch these guys play in the summer.”

At least three local products – pitcher Kyle Howe from North Kitsap and Columbia Basin CC, pitcher Chris Owens from Central Kitsap and the University of Puget Sound and pitcher/first baseman Adam Siler from South Kitsap and St. Martin’s College – will play for the BlueJackets this summer.

The roster includes players from Kansas State (catcher David Baker), Brigham Young (shortstop Sean McNauton), Portland (pitcher Brian Yokum), Iowa (first baseman Brian Burmester), Western Kentucky (pitcher Adam Balcom), New Mexico State (pitcher Brian Robinson), and Missouri Valley College, where BlueJackets’ manager Matt Acker, the head coach at Green River, has a pipeline because of his connection to Missouri Valley coach Scott Kelly. Four players off of the NAIA Missouri Valley program are slated to play for the BlueJackets.

“Things are starting to come together,” said BlueJackets president and general manager Rick Smith. “We’re selling tickets, and people in the community have been great. We’re getting a lot of support.”

Kitsap BlueJackets

Quick Facts

    • Kitsap is the only expansion entry in the West Coast Collegiate Baseball League.
      Kitsap County is one of the fastest growing counties in the Northwest. The team’s fan base should come largely from the Bremerton/Silverdale metro area.
    • Bremerton is a Navy town, a family town, that’s nestled between the majestic Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges. The Puget Sound Naval Station was established in 1891.
      The Jackets will play its home games at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds.
    • The Bluejackets’ home park rivals Network Associates Coliseum in Oakland for foul territory. Pitchers will love this new and immaculately groomed field.
    • BlueJackets’ games both home and away will be carried by KITZ-1400 AM with Dan Gilmore calling the action.
    • Fans can purchase tickets by calling (360) 479-0123. The Jackets are selling season box seats for $100 and general admission season tickets for $70.
    • Appropriately, Kitsap’s nickname has Navy roots. The Naval Bluejacket manual inspired the team’s partners to name the club the BlueJackets.
    • Kitsap will be managed by Matt Acker (head coach at Green River CC) and Acker will be assisted by Scott Colby (Chief Sealth HS coach, former Pierce CC and Interlake HS head coach).

The WCCBL is dedicated to player development, player exposure and to providing affordable summer entertainment to its member communities.