CHICO — The Chico Heat baseball team will no longer be playing in 2019.
The Great West League, a summer collegiate wood-bat league which the Heat were part of, announced that it is suspending operations Thursday morning. That means the Heat will not be in action next summer, the team said in a press release.
“This was not an easy decision, but after deep consideration, evaluation and introspection, we have elected to suspend operations for the upcoming season,” said GWL commissioner Ken Wilson in the press release.
The Great West League was composed of six teams: the Heat, the Lincoln Potters, the Yuba Sutter Gold Sox, the San Francisco Seals, the Medford Rogues and the Klamath Falls Gems.
“The main factor is that the Great West League seized operations,” said Heat assistant general manager George Laver. “The factors behind that were that three of the six teams did not take care of either all or part of their financial obligations to the league.”
Each franchise is required to pay league dues that help cover costs for umpires and other fees, Laver said.
The Heat, which just finished their third season as a collegiate wood-bat team, captured their second GWL title in early August. The announcement comes exactly one month after manager Fred Ludwig announced his retirement. In three years, the Heat went 109-59 and won titles in 2016 and 2018.
The original Chico Heat team was in existence from 1997-2002 and was a professional independent baseball team of the Western Baseball League.
“We really tried to do our best and put a good product on the field,” Laver said. “We really made an effort to make things much like the previous Heat were before.”
As for the possibility of joining another collegiate wood-bat summer league, Laver ruled that out.
“The thought was that most of the other leagues in our area wouldn’t be feasible to play without having to travel extensively,” Laver said. “Pay to pay leagues — we’re not interested in that model.”
Laver added that the team did not want to shift to being a lower-quality collegiate baseball team. The Heat wanted to continue attracting top baseball players from Division I and Division II programs.
“We did not want to risk putting a poor quality caliber of team on the field just in an effort to put a team on the field,” Laver said. “We didn’t think that was fair to our fans. And ultimately that would end up causing fan attrition. We weren’t interested in doing that.”
Attendance at the Heat games also factored into the decision of suspending operations. The number of tickets sold increased this year, but the number of fans who attended games took a hit on a nightly basis, Laver said.
“The other thing that we found, we only had 54 percent of people who actually had tickets showed up to our games this year,” Laver said. “Where you make your revenue to sustain you through the summer and through the offseason, you make it in selling concessions and selling merchandise. If people aren’t willing to show up and come to the ballpark then we can’t make that revenue.”
Laver added that it’d be unlikely for the Heat to return in the next four to five years unless a new ownership group and a new league emerge. But, the team thanked the community for its support through the last three seasons at Nettleton Stadium.
“We were trying to do everything we possibly could do to make things affordable, family oriented and fun for not only the people on the field playing the game but the patrons in the ball park,” Laver said. “We’re disappointed that it didn’t work out.”