By Ted Waddell
MOUNTAINDALE September 5, 2000 For the Catskill Cougars, Election Day may be a little early this year.
Faced with the prospect of not having the Cougars take to the field at Baxter Stadium next year because the team lost an estimated $500,000 this season, Cougars president Mike McGuire said its up to the fans to determine if theres going to be minor league baseball in the area next year.
The Cougars must inform the independent Northern League of their intentions by October 13. McGuire and team owner Van Schley will sit down on October 1 to discuss the future of the team.
In order for professional baseball to remain in this market, more people need to come into the ballpark every night, McGuire said. Thats no secret.
According to McGuire, Not enough people came to the ballpark this year in order to have a professional team here long term.
Schley is a producer of documentary films and veteran minor league owner he was an original investor the Durham Bulls, made famous in the movie Bull Durham who bought the franchise from Mountaindale residents Bill and Patsy Resnick.
Comedian Bill Murray is a minor owner of the Cougars.
Numbers Dont Add Up
McGuire said that while Schley did not expect to make a profit this season, nobody thought the team would lose almost twice the anticipated shortfall.
Schleys group reportedly spent $360,000 to purchase the franchise, and invested $275,000 on improvements to Baxter Stadium. McGuire said the team had an operating budget of about $800,000 this year of rebuilding, but only generated about $300,000 from ticket sales and advertising.
Noting that the loss was made up out of the owners pocket, and was not a corporate writeoff, McGuire said, Van Schley took out his checkbook and wrote a check for $500,000 to cover bills in Sullivan County and pay 70 employees. This is Van Schley standing on a corner in Monticello, handing out five thousand $100 bills.
We need to see a commitment from this community, said McGuire. We need to see 250-300 season tickets sold, so we dropped the price from $210 to $150 (until September 15).
In 2000, the Cougars sold about 60 season tickets to die-hard baseball fans.
According to McGuire, if they can sell 250-300 seats to season ticket holders, it wont close the gap, but will show us the community wants baseball here. Its like election day
The community has to speak loud and clear, he said. The community and city fathers the politicians need to say to me, This is an important piece of the quality of life in this region.
The County Pattern?
Reflecting on the history of the area for a moment, McGuire said theres a lingering feeling of disappointment, a factor which he feels has affected efforts to make minor league baseball a reality in the Catskills.
We always seem to yearn for days gone by, yet we do nothing to restore days gone by, he said candidly.
If the community doesnt rally behind efforts to keep the Catskill Cougars going next year, McGuire is fearful that professional baseball will go the way of the big resorts and dozens of small businesses that have been forced to shutter their windows.
Theres a history here, added McGuire. People dont support things, and then wonder why.
Is McGuire disappointed with the season? Yes. Is he discouraged? No.
We needed to draw 40,000 (fans through the gates) this year, he said. We wound up drawing 20-23,000, but were not ready to pack it in. We gave the fans a first class product on the field and a first class manager.
The Cougars averaged an announced attendance in the Northern League East Division of 791 fans per game.
If were going to be at 791 people a night and generate approximately $50,000 in advertising (one-third of the teams gross revenue comes from advertising), if thats what the market will generate, then this market cannot afford to have a Northern League baseball team, McGuire said.
We delivered everything we said we were going to deliver, he added.
At this years opener at Baxter Stadium, Schley said the Cougars needed an average attendance of 1,500 to ensure a long term future of minor league baseball in the region.
Northern League Commissioner Miles Wolff later said the goal should be closer to 2,000.
On hand last Tuesday to watch the final homestand, a doubleheader against Elmira, was Rick Handelman, a man who represents the financial interests of the owner.
I think Mike and (General Manager) Corinne McGuire did a tremendous job this year, Handelman said. They put all their blood, sweat and tears into this operation.
Were going to give Mr. Schley numbers in a couple of weeks, and then hes going to decide wheres hes going to go from there, he added.
Corinne Krueger McGuire, a graduate of nearby Fallsburg Central School, took over the reins as the teams general manager early in the season, replacing Jay Baldacci.
Its kind of sad that the seasons ending, even though we had a lot of rain, she said. I got to know the fans by working the gate, and saying Goodbye, thanks for coming to the ballgame, after every game. I hope were back next year.
Since 1996, most teams in the Northern League have averaged two home rainouts and three rain-affected games per season. This year, the Catskill Cougars had ten rainouts and six rain-affected games.
This year we were wet, said Mike McGuire. I hope next year well be dry.
What the Fans Say
Melissa Wiegand of Middletown is a regular at Baxter Stadium. A couple of weeks ago, the ten-year old Cougars fan showed up to root for her favorite cats dressed up as a cougar, complete with makeup, a fancy set of whiskers and a sporty spotted tail. For the final homestand, she wore a New York Yankees jersey.
I come to a lot of games, she said. I think theyre a pretty good team, [but] I think people dont come because they dont know its (the stadium) is here. I come to a lot of games because its fun and they give away a lot of free stuff.
The other night, Melissa Wiegand was awarded the Sweetheart of the Game bouquet of flowers because she had a glove filled with autographs signed by several players.
Asked about the rumor that the Cougars may not be back next season, she replied, It might be true, but its only because people dont know about it (the team). If more people knew about it, they would stay here. They need more signs and the players need to go to the malls to sign autographs.
Tom Cavanaugh, 72, is a retired NYCPD officer from the 61st precinct in Brooklyn. He lives in Monticello during the summer, and was at the final home game double header with his seven-year-old son Chris.
We come to all the home games, he said. The kids love it here, because to me its a redneck stadium. Its a lot of fun.
I get tickets to Shea and Yankee stadiums, but I give em away, he added. There are too many prima donnas down there. The fans should get the lead out and support this team. Its the kind of ballpark we had down South when I was in the service (U.S. Army, 1947-49).
Chris Cavanaugh thinks the Cougars are cool. Later in the evening, he acted out a baseball fantasy during Fan Appreciation Night when he took to the field as a batboy.
Marty Weiner of Mountaindale is Baxter Stadium regular, and was one of the first to sign up for the season ticket special for next year.
I dont believe the rumor [that the Cougars wont be back next year], he said. A hundred and fifty bucks for a whole season? You cant beat it!