Pioneer League prez says league in good shape

Schedules, promotions, postseason awards ... and a little golf.

That was the schedule for the Pioneer League executives last weekend in Grand Junction as the Rookie League general managers and league officials met for their annual meetings. After Saturday’s session at The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa, the club general managers hit the links before heading home.

Teams shared their best ideas — and those that didn’t work so well — to increase their fan base and boost the entertainment level at games.

As always, figuring out how to schedule eight teams split into two divisions across more than 850 miles from north (Great Falls, Mont.) to south (Grand Junction) took up the majority of the weekend.

For now, Pioneer League President Jim McCurdy said, the league will keep its unbalanced schedule.

Each team makes a seven-game interdivision road trip once each half. This past season, Grand Junction played Billings and Great Falls in the first half, Missoula and Helena in the second half.

“We have some prospects ... opportunities, on the floor to look at that and maybe expand our reach. We’ll figure that out after the winter meetings, but we’ll stay with the split-season format with the North and South divisions (this year),” McCurdy said.

“We are a bus league and so many days with only a few days off. The short-season, and probably the full-season leagues, once it gets rolling it’s over before you know it. We do have those constraints. We’ll take a fresh look, and we did this year, we talked about the schedule, if we want to change it up a bit.

“One of the suggestions was one long trip to the South and one long to the North, play the same number of games. It would bring in a longer homestand and schedule a longer homestand on the other end as well. We’ve opted for the shorter.”

The longer-trip scenario, if the league stays with playing seven games against teams in the other division, would have Grand Junction playing all four North Division teams on the same trip, a 14-game trip, with a 14-game homestand against those teams.

“That (length of road trip) would be tough on major league clubs, let alone minor league clubs,” McCurdy said.

Overall, McCurdy said, the Pioneer League is in good shape entering its 76th season. No affiliation changes are planned by the major league clubs, a far cry from past years.

“We have major league clubs knocking on the door and asking if there’s any room for them,” he said. “That’s a good sign, a good problem to have.”

GJ a good fit

The Grand Junction Rockies’ move from Casper two years ago was the latest big move, and McCurdy said it’s been a good one.

“It’s been a tremendous franchise at the start, and it’s only going to grow and become one of the anchor members of our league, at least in the Southern Division,” he said. “For years we looked forward to coming to Grand Junction.”

Minor League Baseball has started a new award, the John Henry Moss Community Award, with each minor league nominating a member city that is best involved with its community, and the Pioneer League nominated Grand Junction for the award this year.

Idaho Falls General Manager Kevin Greene, whose club won the Pioneer League championship, was selected the league’s executive of the year.

Idaho Falls went from last place the two previous years to winning the title, and in the process it boosted its attendance to more than 95,000, the second-highest in club history.

Rockies wrap

Grand Junction General Manager Tim Ray said his staff is wrapping up things from its second year and will soon start working on plans for 2014.

“We have a couple of items we’re throwing around, but we’re mainly putting things to bed right now, and we’ll go from there,” he said. “We had a very good year. We were down in attendance, in walk-ups. We were down 14,000, from 101 (thousand) to 87, but we were fourth in the league in attendance.”

On the field, the Rockies, despite their early second-half struggles, had a successful year.

“The second year in a row we had a batting champion (David Dahl, Raimel Tapia), second year in a row we made the playoffs,” Ray said. “I don’t take those for granted. In Casper, we made the playoffs one time in 11 years. I tell our staff, if you ever make the playoffs, embrace it, enjoy it, because you never know when it will come back.”

Popick released

Outfielder Jeff Popick, who was an honorable mention Pioneer League All-Star in 2012, was released last week by the Colorado Rockies. Popick, an All-American at Colorado Mesa University, played in only three games this past season.

He tore his right hamstring in his first game at Class A Tri-City (Wash.) and was reassigned to Grand Junction. He spent all of June and July rehabbing the hamstring.

He played in two games in Grand Junction in early August before reinjuring the hamstring Aug. 9 when he doubled in what was scheduled to be his last at-bat of the game on the chilly, rainy night.

Popick was then sent to Scottsdale, Ariz., to rehab the hamstring at the Rockies’ facility before being released.

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