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MIKE DOWNEY

The Way the Game Should Be

October 07, 1994|MIKE DOWNEY

We would like to encourage those adversely affected by the cancellation of the Major League Baseball season--from concessionaires to administrative staff--to send their resumes in, and we will try in any way we can to put them to work.

When I saw this written offer from the general manager of the minor league Long Beach Barracuda, it made my heart glow. Somewhere out there, men were still playing baseball. Somewhere out there, somebody was worrying over the welfare of all those laid-off or fired baseball employees not rich enough to go golfing all day. And guess what? Somewhere out there, somebody was actually doing something about it.

So, I gave the general manager a call to pay my respects to her.

Yes, her.

How it came to pass that Paula Pyers became the top front-office exec of a double-A ballclub is a pretty interesting story in itself.

Pyers, 28, is a former basketball player and teammate of Cheryl Miller from USC. Later she went to law school and worked with football and hockey clientele for a while, doing intern legal work with the Raiders and working with IMG super-agent Michael Barnett.

Now she's the chief Barracuda--do your own lawyer jokes here--for one of the eight new franchises in the wholly independent Western League, which will begin play next May, up the coastline from Long Beach all the way to British Columbia.

"Baseball the Way It Was Meant to Be," is the Barracuda's ad campaign. (Right, and thank you.)

Ticket prices $7, $5 and $3, for example. In some baseball leagues, three bucks won't buy you an autograph.

Player tryouts will begin in January, throughout the circuit. Ticket requests--and job applications--should go to 643 Sports, Inc., at 249 East Ocean Blvd., Suite 1020, Long Beach 90802, with, naturally, only so many available. Even so, this is not all that Pyers and associates are offering.

"What we're offering," she said, "is low prices, family entertainment and good ball."

"Good ball sounds good," I said.

"Any ball," Pyers reminded me.

Point taken, counselor.

She added, "We're not looking to take business away from the Dodgers or Angels. Far from it. We're just a nice alternative for people who don't care to go that far."

Considering that roughly 380,000 people reside within Long Beach's city limits, or only around 80,000 fewer than in Kansas City and 50,000 fewer than Pittsburgh, hey, the town is right and the time is right. Long Beach is already the Little League capital, remember. It is ready now to go bigger league.

Much like the new Northern League, which got going in 1993 and drew more than 700,000 fans in its first year, the Western League will have a 90-game schedule through Labor Day, followed by a championship series between division leaders. No team is affiliated with any single major league organization.

Miles Wolff, who once owned the Durham Bulls, helped organize the Northern League. So did Bruce Engel, who snapped up the franchise in Duluth, Minn., for himself. Engel had helped save baseball in Erie, Pa., after its long tenure as a big league farm club had been severed. He saw firsthand how much fun life in the minors could be.

Mike Veeck, son of Bill, made it more fun. At home games in St. Paul, where he's in charge, customers could get their shoulders rubbed by Sister Rosalind, a Roman Catholic nun and licensed masseuse. Pedro Guerrero, the former Dodger slugger, played in the Northern League last summer at 38. So did old Bull Durham himself--Leon, the ex-Cub.

"Miles and Bruce and Mike Veeck, they made baseball fun again, the way it's supposed to be," said Pyers, who became intrigued when she heard about the new league forming out West.

She wasn't the only woman so inclined. One of the Western League franchises based in Washington state also is being run by one, Suzan Bond. There will be three teams up there, plus one in Surrey, B.C., along with a Southern Division made up of California clubs in Long Beach, Palm Springs, Salinas and Sonoma County.

This wasn't what Pyers pictured herself doing when she was playing pro basketball in Switzerland or after she had graduated magna cum laude from law school. She was captain of USC's 1988 team, then went to Zurich as a player-coach and averaged 30 points and nine assists a game.

Now she's general manager of a pro baseball club, same as her Palm Springs counterpart, Al Campanis of Dodger lore.

As executive vice president of 643 Sports, Inc., she and fellow owner-directors Jim Agate, Dr. Robert Bedrossian, Chris Gibbs, Howard Homan and William Scripps are already making an impact, beginning with their recent successful "Name the Team" contest. Everybody at 643 Sports wants baseball back on the field where it belongs.

Six-four-three?

"Right," Pyers said. "As in double play."

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