The problems for Whitefish’s new independent baseball team began before the first pitch of the season was even thrown.
On May 20, the Skagit Valley Lumberjacks were sitting on a bus waiting to make the nine-hour drive to Whitefish to play the Glacier Outlaws in one of the premiere games of the new Mount Rainier Professional Baseball League. But there was no driver available and after waiting for eight hours the players checked into a hotel room for the night.
The next day, when the Lumberjacks finally tracked down a driver, the bus broke down and the season opener was delayed by an hour. When the Outlaws and Lumberjacks finally took the field, neither team had uniforms and they had to borrow balls from the local legion baseball team.
And the problems for the Outlaws and the new six-team baseball league did not end there.
Two weeks into its first season, the Mount Rainier Professional Baseball League is on the verge of collapse and Glacier Outlaws officials have told players to make plans to go home this week. Although commissioner Mike Greene said he is trying to reorganize and stabilize the league, local club officials say they don’t believe those efforts will succeed.
Lindsay Fansler, assistant general manager for the Outlaws, helped spearhead the effort to bring a pro baseball team to Whitefish after Greene approached locals about establishing a new independent league last year. In the subsequent months, Fansler and others helped line up sponsorships and a field to play ball. Greene, who had previously been a manager in the Pecos League in Texas, assured the six teams in his newly formed league — four in Washington, one in Oregon and the Outlaws in Whitefish — that he had the financial backing to support the endeavor during its first season.
But come opening day, commissioner Greene was nowhere to be found.
It turns out that Greene had checked into an emergency room with a condition called Rhabdomyolysis. The syndrome is usually caused by muscle damage and can lead to kidney failure. Greene did not communicate with anyone from the six teams during the first few days of the season. Meanwhile, problems continued to mount for the league.
While the Outlaws were able to play their first series against Skagit Valley, the second series of games against the Ellensburg Bulls, set to start on Memorial Day, were delayed because the team did not have gas money to get to Whitefish. The following day, May 26, a father of one of the Bulls’ players offered gas money for the entire team to carpool to Whitefish in their own vehicles. The Ellensburg team stayed in Whitefish for two of the scheduled four games before going home amid uncertainty about the league’s future.
With the Outlaws’ first two series at home in the books, at least partially, the team prepared for its first away games in Washington, but once again there was no bus to send the team on its way.
Greene finally informed the teams last week that he did not have the money to keep the league afloat the entire season, much less the first few weeks. He told officials that he would give each team to individual ownership groups in hopes of preserving the league as a whole.
“The last couple of weeks, frankly the last couple of months, have proven that I’m currently in over my head,” Greene wrote in a press release posted to the league’s website on May 30. “I should have asked for help rather than praying things would get better once games started getting played.”
According to Fansler, Greene told the team that if they could get to Ellensburg, he would provide players with hotel rooms and transportation to their next series in Grays Harbor and then back to Whitefish. Fansler told Greene that if he kept the promise to house and transport the team home, then the Outlaws would put together an ownership group to save the team.
Fansler then borrowed the Whitefish legion baseball team’s bus and personally drove the team to Washington on May 29 before turning back to Whitefish because the legion team needed the vehicle the next morning. Fansler said he stayed in Ellensburg long enough to make sure the players were checked into their rooms before embarking on the nine-hour drive home.
The Outlaws lost their first away game that night and things got worse when they went back to the hotel to clean up: they had been locked out of their rooms because the league’s credit card had been declined. The manager scrounged up some money so that some players could get rooms, while others crashed with friends.
The team played on May 30 and was scheduled to play the following night, but it turned out the field had been double-booked with a high school game. As the league’s future dimmed further, Fansler borrowed the legion team’s bus one more time to drive to Washington and bring the Outlaws home.
On June 2, Fansler and other team officials gathered the Outlaws players to tell them to make plans to go home. While Greene posted on the league website this week that he was still trying to preserve the league with four teams instead of six, folks in Whitefish said they don’t believe this 11th-hour effort will succeed.
“I will take the blame for this whole thing. I ran it. I didn’t get stuff in time, didn’t delegate enough and was relying too much on passion and drive rather than the reality that it takes money to make money,” Greene wrote on May 30.
On Tuesday, Fansler was frustrated with how things had gone and said he and others only wanted to bring professional baseball to the Flathead Valley. He placed much of the blame on Greene.
The Beacon was unable to reach Greene for additional comment.
“I hope that people understand that the folks here locally worked hard to make this work,” Fansler said. “We wanted to bring something unique to the community but what has become of this effort is disappointing to say the least.”