Despite high optimism from the teamís owner before the beginning of its inaugural season, the Corpus Christi Beach Dawgs are in the midst of a financial downward spiral that is threatening the teamís existence at Fairgrounds Field.
With attendance averaging 300 per home game at most, the team is now in the midst of implementing cost-cutting measures, such as trimming player salaries and relocating players from hotels into new quarters.
Beach Dawgs general manager Hector Salinas said Monday that about eight players are currently staying with host families in Nueces County. However, remaining players on the teamís 25-man roster will soon be moved into the visitorís locker room at Fairgrounds Field, where the team will sleep on air mattresses and cots.
"Thereís a lot of sacrifice involved," Salinas said, adding that he is working to obtain a trailer for some of the players to stay in for the remainder of the season. "At the end of the rainbow, though, itís worth it."
Ron Baron, president of the Continental Baseball League and owner of the Beach Dawgs, said he is also considering a name change to address what he feels may be a form of backlash from Robstown residents about the teamís Corpus Christi name, which was selected over a Coastal Bend moniker.
"We didnít want people to feel like we were associated with the Aviators," Baron said, adding that it would have been more inclusive to the region. "But I would have loved to stay with the Coastal Bend name."
Salinas and Baron both expressed frustration with the less-than-impressive attendance average thus far for Beach Dawgs home games, especially since the team has already earned itself a spot in the CBL championship game after finishing the first half of its inaugural season with the best record in the league.
The Coastal Bend Aviators never made the playoffs during their time at Fairgrounds Field.
"We have already surpassed what (the Aviators) couldnít do in four or five years," Baron said.
The CBL president said residents who supported the Aviators may still be harboring a form of resentment for the way the team just seemed to quit and leave town. Less than two weeks after the end of the Aviatorsí 2007 season, the phones were disconnected and the offices emptied.
The county subsequently terminated the teamís lease and is still in the midst of preparing a lawsuit against the team and its former owner, Horn Chen, to recoup more than $20,000 in rental fees for the stadium.
The county reached an agreement with the CBL in January to form a new team, which later became the Corpus Christi Beach Dawgs.
Salinas said Monday he has had trouble getting support from sponsors because of the Aviatorsí previous mistakes.
"They did a lot of (wrong) things Ė itís hard to get past that right off the bat," the Beach Dawgs GM said.
Baron agreed, but remains optimistic about his teamís ability to move past its predecessorís shortcomings.
"We walked into a very difficult situation," the CBL president said. "Iím sure people are very bitter, but I feel we can overcome it."
Precinct 3 Commissioner Oscar Ortiz said Monday that he is disappointed with the lack of support being shown to the Robstown-based team, but understands why fans may be hesitant to invest in it after the Aviators departure, even if he doesnít agree with their reasoning.
"Some people towards the end of the Aviatorsí term were disappointed with the way they carried on their business," Ortiz said. "I think what people need to understand is the Beach Dawgs are not the Aviators.
"These people are more community involvedÖtheyíre not out here to mislead."
But Baron said the team could be more involved with the community, which he said includes Northwest Corpus Christi, as well as Robstown. A shortened timeframe to get the season underway, though, hindered that process, he added.
"We need to do a better job of connecting our players with the community, but we had such a late start," the Beach Dawgs owner said. "I take full responsibility for that."
More community-based activities, such as baseball clinics and neighborhood projects, which would take place over the course of a full calendar year, are just some of the ways Baron said he hopes to improve relations between the team and the community that would serve as its fan base.
In the short term, however, Salinas said he is hoping the prospect of watching a championship-caliber team play for the CBL title will generate enough excitement to begin filling seats that have been predominantly empty.
"Thereís going to be a championship game in Robstown when (the season) is over," the Beach Dawgs GM said.
Whatís in a name?
When the Robstown-based baseball team was announced, theories ran rampant on what the name of the team would be.
No one, it seemed, could have predicted Baron would select the Corpus Christi Beach Dawgs for a team that was playing in a stadium located in Robstown, which is at least a 20- to 30-minute drive away from the nearest beach.
Robstown resident Pat Molano certainly didnít agree with it.
"The name was a bad idea," she said.
Salinas said Monday that he could not say for sure if the name of the team is causing difficulty in building a fan base in Western Nueces County. But he shared in Molanoís opinion.
"I donít blame anyone for being overly sensitive to the name," the Beach Dawgs GM said. "I think it was a mistake."
Baron said one option he is proposing would be to hold a contest that would allow the public to choose the name of the team, but Molano said that would only make things worse.
"I think itís kind of late now," she said.
Ortiz said Monday that he was not anymore surprised to learn of the teamís name in January than when the Aviatorsí front office announced that teamís new name five years ago. Instead, he said he felt it was meant to appeal to a wider audience, while still benefiting the area in which the team is based.
"I was not offended by what they did as a form of marketing Ė it ultimately goes to benefit Robstown," Ortiz said, adding people thought "ĎI donít care who they make the check out to, as long as I get the benefit and the money,í you know?"
So far, though, the county has not seen any money aside from the fees being paid by the Beach Dawgs to use Fairgrounds Field, about $450 per home game or other sporting event, according to the agreement approved in January. Ortiz said the team has remained current with its payments thus far this season.
Revenue sharing was also included, with Nueces County set to receive 50 percent of luxury suite gross sales and $1 for every ticket sold after 700 paid tickets were purchased. With attendance barely averaging 300 a game, the county has yet to receive any shared revenue from ticket sales.
"The Robstown socio-economic conditions donít lend themselves to people buying season tickets," County Judge Loyd Neal said Monday, adding that he was not aware of the teamís plans to house players at the stadium.
"If, in fact, the attendance is lower than (700), Iím sure they are having some economic challenges."
The county judge said he was more surprised that the Northwest Corpus Christi area has not turned out in greater numbers to enjoy a baseball team, the second in the county with a Corpus Christi moniker, which is essentially right next door.
"Iím a little surprised that (the Beach Dawgs) have not had more support from the Tuloso-Calallen area, since that is their target market," Neal said.
Residents of Corpus Christi, the county judge added, may already have a loyalty to the Corpus Christi Hooks, the AA-affiliate of the Houston Astros.
But Baron said he does not feel there should be a comparison between the two teams.
"We are not competing with the Hooks, Iíve always said that," the CBL president said. "We cost less than bowling and weíre less than a movie Ė I think we offer a more affordable alternative."
The economic structure of the independent league also stands apart from other leagues, as well, with the CBL maintaining a total operating budget of about $250,000, compared to $750,000 to $1 million for other independent leagues.
Each team has a $25,000 cap for player salaries, meaning each player makes about $1,000 a season and ticket prices are about $6 to $8 each.
But due to struggling attendance, salaries have been cut for some players and the team is being relocated to the visitorís locker room at Fairgrounds Field, rather than rooms at the Red Roof Inn where players had been staying. The news was given to the players over the weekend.
A Beach Dawgs player who asked not to be identified said Saturday that he felt the players were not being treated fairly by Baron and Salinas.
"Itís terrible, whatís happening here," the player said, adding that he felt management was taking the disappointing attendance and lack of revenue out on the players. "Itís not our fault these guys are losing money."
After learning of the new living arrangements, as well as the salary cuts, the player said Monday that he was making plans to leave the team.
"I canít help this," the player said. "Itís very uncomfortable for me and very depressing to be on a baseball team where the owner doesnít treat the players with respect, like theyíre nothing."
Salinas said sentiments like those felt by the unidentified player were expected when the announcement was made. But Salinas said the situation players are in is actually not that unusual.
"I know weíre going to lose some guys, but I also know weíve got other guys who will say, ĎHey, I want to play ball,í" the Beach Dawgs GM said. "I know itís very hard for all of the guys, but ballplayers do that Ė they all love the game so much."
In all, the Beach Dawgs still have 19 of their original 25-man roster with which they began the inaugural season. Despite the setbacks being experienced by the team, Ortiz said he is still optimistic about its future at Fairgrounds Field.
"Theyíre playing good baseball out there," the Precinct 3 Commissioner said. "I wish more people would take advantage of it Ė itís really a bargain."
Baron said his team will continue to just push forward with a season that has been full of growing pains and is only halfway over, hoping attendance will increase as the teamís success continues to grow.
"I would hope people give us a fair shake," the Beach Dawgs owner said. "Weíre trying to use baseball to better the lives of people in the community.
"All we ask is that (they) give us a chance Ė we wonít bite back."