SIOUX CITY -- On the morning he heads home to Evansville, Indiana, I hope it’s not too late to thank Ed Nottle for all these years he’s continued to come back for visits to a community he truly grew to love.
Nottle, of course, was the original field manager for our Sioux City Explorers baseball team, guiding the X’s for their first eight seasons (1993-2000) and then coming back for another two years in 2006-07.
And, since the weather last Thursday and Friday was so dreadful, far too many of you missed the opening game at which “Singin’ Ed” made a surprise appearance. In addition to taking part in first-pitch ceremonies with some other dignitaries, he also grabbed a microphone to share some fond reflections with those in attendance.
Team officials wanted to keep the visit a surprise, but they might have gotten more mileage out of turning Ed loose for a series of media interviews to help promote the opener. Heaven knows, he wouldn’t have minded.
No doubt about it, this team wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without Bob Scott and Jim Wharton, a pair of longtime public servants, reaching out to former Baseball America publisher Miles Wolff, the commissioner of the reincarnated Northern League. They were also among the dignitaries.
More recently, the Explorers wouldn’t still be around without the financial sacrifices of team owner John Roost, who has done more than just keep the doors open for a franchise that has struggled at the turnstiles. Mother Nature sure seems to be cruel, as well, when it comes to these early weeks in the X’s schedule.
Hats off to Steve Montgomery for putting together playoff teams the last two seasons -- the first back-to-back postseason appearances in franchise history. Improved attendance or not, I’d honestly be surprised now if he didn’t pull it off again this year.
Meanwhile, it bears repeating how much Nottle’s tireless efforts to promise the Explorers helped attract upwards of 3,000 fans per game in each of the club’s first five seasons. Indeed, twice in those early years the average was over 3,500. That included an all-time high of 3,587 for 41 home dates in 1996, even though that ’96 team still easily claims the X’s worst record ever at 26-58.
Even now, at age 77, Ed still has that proverbial knack for selling ice to an Eskimo. There was no way to figure how many of those seats he filled in his travels around Siouxland, but I can promise you no one in his precious and special world of baseball has ever topped him on a per capita basis.
The only thing better than having him here to celebrate the start of the team’s 25th season was seeing that he’s holding up nicely. Based on the decade since he left the X’s for a second and final time, he’s made a point to come back once or even twice a year to visit some of the many friends he made.
Here’s hoping that tradition continues for years to come.
# Even though the Northern League is now a distant memory, it’s quite impressive how many of the old rivalries still remain from the early years of the league’s 1993 reincarnation.
There were just six teams when Wolff got independent baseball off the ground in ’93 and the current 12-team American Association still includes three of them with our Explorers along with the Sioux Falls Canaries and the St. Paul Saints.
Give yourself some bonus points if you didn’t need my help dredging up the other three, which were the Duluth-Superior Dukes, Rochester (Minn.) Aces and those unforgettable Thunder Bay Whiskey Jackets.
Winnipeg’s Goldeyes have been around since 1994 and the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks originated in ’96. The Lincoln Saltdogs were launched in 2001 and the Kansas City T-Bones in 2003.
Quite a lot of juggling has occurred since then and that includes five seasons (2006-10) when some of the teams remained in the Northern League while the others moved over to start an American Association that began with 10 teams.
# It was somewhat of a first when the Laredo Lemurs folded earlier this month, becoming the first team in either league to bail just a few short weeks before a season got under way.
The Salina (Kan.) Stockade, who had already pulled out of a far less formidable circuit called the Pecos League, have agreed to cover Laredo’s 100-game schedule. The Stockade, though, will only play seven games in Salina while “hosting” eight neutral site contests to be played in Wichita, Kansas City and Cleburne, Texas.
Cleburne, replacing a Joplin, Mo., franchise that lasted only three seasons, hopes to hang around for awhile. Meanwhile, the Gary SouthShore Railcats will have another Chicago-area rival next season when a new team moves into a new $55-million, 6,300-seat ballpark in Rosemont. That’s not far, by the way, from the 18,500-seat All-State Arena originally known as the Rosemont Horizon.
The ever-grinding rumor mill suggests Wichita, a former Class AA Texas League city, is hoping to bring back an affiliated team with the promise of a new stadium to replace venerable Lawrence-Dumont. Also, there’s talk that Fort Worth may want to rejoin the American Association with LaGrave Field sitting empty for a third summer in a row.