Democrat Photo by
Catskill Cougars GM Jay Baldacci, left, and President Mike
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
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
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
McGuire described Baxter Stadium, built by Resnick for a reported $2
million, as “a marvelous ballpark and one of the great assets of this
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 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
“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
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
“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.