Mark Knudson’s Three Strikes Blog: NoCo baseball gets a big boost; Coors no longer Dahl’s house, so who goes next? And Karl Dorrell for Coach of the Whole Year


Strike One: A half dozen or so years ago, a mutual friend arranged for me to have lunch with a gentleman named Mike Billadeau. Mike had a vision, and he was offering me a chance to be part of it. While that wasn’t going to work for me at the time, I was able to steer him to a couple of acquaintances who were involved in baseball at the highest levels, and one of them famously did get on board.

Mike wanted to build an enormous baseball facility in the Windsor region, not far from the Budweiser Event Center. The place would have enough fields to host national baseball tournaments and be a hub for the sport regionally. It sounded like a fantastic idea, and I wished him well. Mike’s vision did reach the “promotional announcement/press conference” stage, but for whatever reasons (and I never did check back to find out why) the project eventually stalled. Most of us thought it was caput.

Then it wasn’t. A guy named Jeff Katofsky had a similar vision, and when the opportunity was right, he stepped in and made it happen. The location changed, and the original idea was expanded. NoCo is now not only getting a tremendous facility for young baseball players, but professionals, too. Now that the plans are in concrete, the concrete is about to get poured.

Welcome the Northern Colorado Owlz to their new home, even if it isn’t quite ready for them to move into just yet. (The season is scheduled to start in late May. That’s five months to build a baseball stadium. Fingers crossed.)

The year 2020 has been a disaster across the board. However, it has presented a “perfect storm” of sorts, with the opportunity for the Future Legends Complex in Windsor to be built at the same time Major League Baseball is downsizing their involvement in Minor League baseball. The Pioneer League, which formed in 1939 and has been a Class A/Rookie league for MLB since 1964, is now shifting to “Independent” professional league status, allowing the franchises – and that includes the Grand Junction Rockies and the Colorado Springs Vibes – to operate and grow in the same fashion as the Colorado Eagles did so successfully for so many years.

The NoCo region already has two major college football and basketball programs, the thriving pro hockey team, and now will have a professional baseball team to go along with a college baseball program at UNC. It’s a great fit.

Now can the Katofsky’s – Jeff and his son Casey, who will be running things – get creative with their facility and perhaps become the host site for a college baseball event in future springs? There’s the idea of events such as a four-team tournament featuring UNC, Air Force and say, Nebraska and Utah? Baseball, which has been thriving at the youth level but has been under represented at the college and pro levels for so long, can get the same kind of boost the Eagles gave to hockey in the region.

This could be big. Really big.

Strike Two: Who’s next?

That’s the question fans of the Colorado Rockies have after the club’s shocking release of former All-Star David Dahl.

Dahl was not tendered a new contract for the upcoming season, saving the team his $3 mil salary for the season, which wouldn’t have been considered all that much under normal circumstances. But under pandemic circumstances – and still with doubts about the coming year – $3 mil saved is $3 mil earned. With Dahl’s injury history overshadowing his success, the club is gambling that Raimel Tapia – arguably the team’s best player last season – will fill the void less expensively.

A lot of fans mistakenly believe the Rockies ownership is rolling in money. Everything is relative to be sure, but by pro sports ownership standards, the Monforts are only modestly wealthy. The loss of approximately $100 million the past season hits them harder than most. In a typical year, last year’s profits would dictate the upcoming season’s expenditures. That’s how they’ve always operated. Good, productive seasons will see the ownership re-invest more into the following season’s roster.

Several MLB franchises, including the Rockies, have made it known that last year’s losses equal this year’s cutbacks. That’s just the economics of it all.

This is not an off season where the Rockies will be signing any big name free agents. (In many ways, that’s a very good thing, given the teams recent history of such signings.) Instead, they will be going into next season with more or less the same crew they had last year, with some notable subtractions.

Dahl is now at the top of that list. But will be stay at the top? Will he be the biggest name departure from Colorado?

Already also gone are starters Daniel Murphy, Kevin Pillar and Tony Wolters, plus pitchers Chi Chi Gonzalez and Jeff Hoffman (who was traded.) These roster moves do offer some financial relief, but not that much. Not enough, I’m guessing.

The roster reduction/cost cutting is likely not over. Who could be next to depart 20th and Blake?

Rumors always begin with the idea of a Nolan Arenado trade. While it’s unlikely the future Hall of Famer is a Rockie in 2022, his $35 mil salary makes him hard to trade now during the current financial recession – unless Colorado is agreeable to eat some of his salary for next year. That sort of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? It’s also unlikely his agent and the MLBPA will allow him to opt out of a contract that has $164 mil yet to be paid to him starting in 2022. It’s going to take some creativity to move him during the upcoming season.

Trevor Story is entering the final year of his contract. So is Charlie Blackmon. Jon Gray will be a free agent after the coming season is over. Any or all of them could be traded at any time. It would not be because the Rockies want to, it’s because they feel they have to at this point.

While MLB teams could conceivably take out loans to cover last year’s losses, borrowing against future profits, they may be hesitant to do so until they know what next season will bring. At the moment, there’s no guarantee of a full season or full revenue potential, including fans in the stands. Not the best circumstances in which to take out a loan that you’ll have to start paying back in the not-so-distant future.

It’s never been a sound strategy to try to cut your way to prosperity. Improvements and expansion normally take a greater investment, not the other way around. But this is not about improvement right now. It’s about survival.

Strike Three: No one in college football got dealt a tougher hand by the Coronavirus than Karl Dorrell. No one.

Well before Mark Dantonio decided to retire from Michigan State, and before the Spartans raided the University of Colorado for his replacement, Dorrell was settling into his new home in Boulder county and preparing to return to Miami for the next NFL season.

Then he got the phone call, and the opportunity to return to CU as the head coach, well after the coaching carousel had stopped spinning for the year and after national signing day had come and gone. That already made this hire unique and his time to prepare for the 2020 season shorter than everyone else.

Then COVID hit, and we all got shut down. But Dorrell really got shut down.

Not only did his spring football get cancelled, but he couldn’t even meet his players in person. Many did not know who he was. He was in Facetime and Zoom limbo.

If the virus had suddenly vanished in say, early July and the go-ahead for a normal season was given, Dorrell and the Buffs would have been in a world of hurt. But it didn’t. Restrictions were eased, and Dorrell got the chance to meet his team and they got to practice, even before the Pac 12 announced the upcoming season was being cancelled. So that was helpful.

Then when the season was back on, the city of Boulder had a lockdown that prevented CU from starting practice the same time the rest of the conference team did. Another step back.

When CU finally did get to practice, and they finally did get to take the field for a game, they played surprisingly well. Well enough thus far to be 4-0 and in position to perhaps play in the Pac 12 title game. Amazing.

It’s been a year of amazing in many ways. Coastal Carolina and BYU played a game this past Saturday that was more meaningful than Alabama v LSU. Cincinnati, Indiana and Iowa State are all top ten teams. Michigan and Penn State are near the bottom of the Big Ten standings. This  season is, in many ways a farce. And it keeps getting ‘farcier’ each week, with cancellations, postponements and last minute match-ups.

But through it all, Dorrell has kept his team moving steadily forward, weathering the ups and downs that seem to happen every week. Most of it is due to things he has no control over, and that’s a terrible feeling for a head coach. But he’s never waivered.

With everything that’s happened nationally, Dorrell won’t get a lot of attention for what he’s been able to accomplish with his first CU team. While he probably won’t he should get strong consideration for Coach of the Year. And not just for the season, the whole year.

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