The Volcanoes will be playing in a four-team independent league starting this spring (KEIZERTIMES/Andrew Jackson).
After spending 23 years as an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, a new chapter in Salem-Keizer Volcanoes baseball is scheduled to arrive this spring.
On Tuesday, Jan. 26, the organization announced that they were creating a new, four-team independent league called the The Mavericks Independent Baseball League. The league will be facilitated by the Volcanoes and all games will be played at Volcanoes Stadium.
“We’re excited about the new year and we’re very hopeful about the setup we have here. We are happy to know that we’re going to be able to provide high-quality baseball this year and beyond,” Volcanoes CEO Mickey Walker said. “We control our own destiny now, and that’s something that is a really big deal for us. We’re going to be self-sustainable, we don’t need outside organizations to play a part. We can do this ourselves.”
The Mavericks League will feature the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, Portland Mavericks, Salem Senators and Campesinos de Salem-Keizer, and all four teams will play under the Volcanoes umbrella. The league will feature top-level undrafted and released players, as well as high-level collegiate players and former Volcanoes players.
The Mavericks and Senators have both played a significant role in professional baseball in the state of Oregon. The Mavericks were the first independent team to play in the Northwest League in the 1970s — the Volcanoes recently bought the rights to the Mavericks — while the Senators, before eventually becoming the Salem Dodgers, began playing minor league baseball in 1940.
The idea for a four-team league came in November of 2019 when Major League Baseball (MLB) announced a proposal plan that would overhaul their minor league system.
“We didn’t really believe that we would be eliminated from Minor League Baseball, but we knew that we had to come up with contingency plans,” Walker said.
After consulting with former Oregon State coach, and three-time College World Series champion, Pat Casey, the Volcanoes elected to model their league after the United Shores Professional Baseball League, which began five years ago in Detroit, Mich. The United Shores League plays all of their games out of one stadium and draws, on average, more than 3,000 fans per contest. According to Walker, many of the players in the league wind up signing professional contracts once the season is over.
“It seemed like a setup that could work for us, especially with COVID-19 complications. If we keep everything centralized here at Volcanoes Stadium, we eliminate travel and we can make accommodations for players better,” Walker said. “Ultimately we decided that this was the best path. Once we started to get the pieces in place, we realized that this could be really special.”
Despite cutting more than 40 minor league teams from their system, MLB contacted the Volcanoes in December to discuss the possibility of a partnership. However, the Volcanoes weren’t remotely interested in their suggestions.
“Their offers for help were empty. There was no real offer,” Walker said.
During a typical season, the Volcanoes would host 38 home games. But in the new league, Volcanoes Stadium will be hosting a total of 96 games, with the regular season starting on May 13 and concluding on Aug. 29 — each team will play 48 games. Walker also plans for the league to hold a championship series at the end of the season.
Weekday games will be played every Thursday and Friday at 6:35 p.m. On weekends, there will be two games each day — one at 1:05 p.m. and one at 6:35 p.m.
Each team will have anywhere between 22-25 players and the league will hold an open tryout in April, which will be followed by a coaches draft — Walker said that the league already has its managers for all four teams selected, but he wasn’t willing to share who they were. Players who can’t attend the tryout can send their credentials and video to the league office to be considered for one of the teams.
Walker says that about 50 players have reached out with an interest in playing in the league and that he expects hundreds of players to attend the tryout.
For players outside of the area, the league plans to provide host families. The league is also currently working with an agency to set players up with part-time jobs.
The Mavericks League won’t be paying players for the 2021 season, but Walker says that could change in the future.
“There will probably be high-level college players in the league and we obviously can’t pay them. But we also just don’t have the budget right now,” Walker said.
Because the Volcanoes current website is currently a part of Minor League Baseball, Walker says that they will begin phasing out the site and instead putting info exclusively on the new league website (mavericksindependentleague.com).
“There is going to have to be a relearning process for some people. The stadium will likely be renamed in the not-so distant future,” Walker said.
Box scores, schedules and game summaries will be available on the new website. Walker also says that games will be streamed online for people to watch on their computers and tablets — the league is planning on games being at roughly 25% capacity, which is about 1200 people, due to COVID-19 guidelines.
“There’s a good chance that some people will only be able to watch the game through streaming, but it’s still going to be cool,” Walker said.
As far as in-game entertainment is concerned, Walker wasn’t willing to go into any details, but he did say that it’s going to look a lot different than it has in years past.
“We’re planning a lot of special stuff this upcoming season,” Walker said. I think it’s really going to blow people off their seats.”
However, what Walker said he was most excited for the future is the amount of community involvement the league plans to do with their players. With no travel and just three games per week, Walker wants players to take opportunities to visit local schools, hospitals and senior care facilities.
“We are going to have our players entrenched in the community in a way we have never been able to do before, and I think it’s going to allow for a much more personal connection with the fans,” Walker said. “They will be more than just players on a field.”
While the Volcanoes are disappointed in how their relationship with the Giants ended, Walker is feeling optimistic about the organization’s new experiment.
“The general feeling within the organization is a lot of joy. We’re really excited for a new chapter. It’s unfortunate the way things played out between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball, especially with how (MLB) used draconian powers to shove this down everyone’s throat. But one way or another, we’re going to make lemonade out of lemons and we’re going to keep chugging along,” Walker said.
Season tickets and ticket packages are currently on sale. Email mavericksle[email protected] or call 503-390-2225 to purchase seats.