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Democrat Photo by Ted Waddell
Catskill Cougars GM Jay Baldacci, left, and President Mike McGuire

Cougars Set for 2000

By Ted Waddell
MOUNTAINDALE — April 14, 2000 -- After a year of being in the dark, the lights are set to be switched on again at Baxter Stadium in Mountaindale as the Catskill Cougars of the independent Northern League take on the Waterbury Spirit on Tuesday, May 30.
For the Millennium Season, the Cougars management decided to go back to the “ABCs” when they put together the roster, not in the traditional classroom sense, but in recruiting a six-pack of players from the Australian National Baseball Team.
Forget the chalkboard and think of the “ABCs” as “Australians Bat for Cougars.”
If you think that’s a joke, it ain’t. When most folks hear about a minor league ball team from “down under,” they most likely envision a bunch of guys playing around with some kangaroos or competing in a wallabee league. Guess again.
As they prepare to host the Olympics in Sydney this summer, the Australian National Team defeated the Americans, Canadians and Cubans earlier this year in Olympics trials.
The remaining 11 members of the Cougars include players from all over. Putting these guys on a map is like taking a mini-course in geography as they hail from Jacksonville, Fl., Birmingham, Al., St. Paul, Mn., Boston, Salt Lake City, Miami New Rochelle, Long Island and Venezuela.
Back in Action
A year of inactivity culminated on January 19 when it was publically announced that former owner Billy Resnick sold the franchise to a group of investors including Evander “Van” Schley, comedian/actor Bill Murray, Mike Veeck and a few “silent” partners.
The Cougars return to competition on May 26 when they travel to the state capital to take on defending Northern League champs, the Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs.
The new ownership group, regarded by many as one of the best in minor league baseball, is hoping to make 2000 the “Year of the Cat.”
Schley, a documentary filmmaker from California, has also worked in professional baseball as a scout.
Actor/comedian Bill Murray’s film credits include “Ghostbusters,” Caddyshack,” “Rushmore,” and “Groundhog Day.”
The group has an ownership interest in six other minor league baseball franchises including the Hudson Valley Renegades and the highly successful St. Paul (Minnesota) Saints.
The team picked Northern League East Executive Director Mike McGuire as president of the Cougars. In addition, they tabbed Jay Baldacci as general manager, Dan Shwam as field manager, and Mike Juhl of Kingston to monitor the mound as pitching coach.
New Role for McGuire
McGuire earned a BA in physical education from Manhattan College in 1981, followed two years later by a master’s in sports administration from the University of Northern Iowa. In 1986, at the age of 27, McGuire was named director of physical education and athletics at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, and over the next four years turned a fledgling program with three sports into a first class nine-sport NCAA Division III program.
McGuire made his local debut in 1990 when he was selected as AD at Sullivan County Community College (SCCC) in Loch Sheldrake. During his seven years at the helm of the Generals athletic department, he established several programs for area youth and lay the groundwork as the Generals won three junior college national titles.
In 1996, he was named executive director on the Northeast League. Following the1998 season, the Northeast League merged with the Northern League. The Cougars compete in the Northern League’s South Division.
“Baseball has been my first love for as long as I can remember,” said McGuire. “In a story not unlike Americana, my dad started playing baseball in the backyard with me when I was three years old.”
According to McGuire, his father was a diehard Dodgers fan, and when he asked his dad to take him to see Mickey Mantle one afternoon, he replied “Don’t ever mention that name in this home again!”
“I still cheer for the Mets and root against the Yankees,” he added. “Baseball is woven into the fabric of everything we do in America today.”
McGuire described Baxter Stadium, built by Resnick for a reported $2 million, as “a marvelous ballpark and one of the great assets of this county.”
The new Cougars management is leasing the stadium from Resnick. According to McGuire, they signed a two-year lease, with an option for another two-year term.
“We believe in the beauty of super-independent baseball,” said McGuire. “The teams are here and they’re built to win. While affiliated baseball is designed to develop players as an apprenticeship program, we’ve got seasoned, professional baseball players.
“As a successful baseball organization, we’ve built the team starting from the pitcher’s mound and going out from there,” he added. “We’ve signed guys like Joey Treadwell, who pitched for the Mets in triple-A ball last year and Hut Smith, who’s played double-A.”
The Cougars also signed Australian John Challinoi as their closer on the mound.
The club named Shwam as field manager for the 2000 season. He served as a field general in the Northern and Northeast leagues for the past seven years. “Shwamy,” during his three years as field manager for the Elmira Pioneers, led the team to the 1997 Northeast League Championship.
“I believe that Dan is the perfect man for the job,” said Cougars general manager Jay Baldacci. “As we re-establish the Cougars and professional baseball in the Catskills, his experience and dedication will be an invaluable asset to the organization.”
From Penguins to Cougars
Pittsburgh native Baldacci was brought on board as the team’s general manager. A 1994 graduate of the University of South Carolina, he received a BS in sport administration with a concentration in sports finance. After graduation, Baldacci worked for the Pittsburgh Penguins until 1995.
Following a year away from baseball, the Sioux City Explorers tabbed him as their director of group sales.
In 1997, after a brief stint with the Bakersfield Condors, Baldacci accepted the position of assistant GM with the Waterbury Spirit. In two seasons with the Spirit, he reorganized the team’s ticket office operation, resulting in a 33 percent increase in attendance.
As the Cougars GM, Baldacci will direct the day to day operations of the team, which includes administration of all sales and ticketing functions as well as overall planning and stadium operations.
“My father played a lot of softball, and I grew up on ballfields in our hometown,” he recalled. “I think I knew how to keep score before I learned how to read.”
In comparing baseball in the majors to the minor leagues, Baldacci called it corporate America versus grassroots, community-oriented sports.
“There’s a real family aspect and good times in the community with everybody cheering for their home team,” he said. “At Baxter Stadium, we’re going to have a lot of fun this season with all the promotions in a family-oriented atmosphere. That’s more of the ideal you’re looking for in sports.
It’s our first year out, and we have a lot of challenges ahead of us,” added Baldacci. “I think we’re going to meet these head on, and the fans are going to have a much, much improved product, from the stadium to the experience in the ballpark and some good play out on the field.”
“It’s a whole new ballgame,” added McGuire.



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