WAILUKU - Na Koa Ikaika Maui will return to action on Tuesday at Maehara Stadium facing a five-game deficit, but with a new vision for the future.
After drawing more than 2,500 fans for a two-game exhibition series last week against the Ishikawa Million Stars, Na Koa team owner Bob Young and chief operating officer David Andrus unveiled a nonbinding letter of intent signed by both teams Thursday that could lead to counting games between the two teams and their leagues for the 2013 season.
"We had a wonderful, wonderful time welcoming our visitors," Young said. "Great crowds, we had almost 800 folks in Iron Maehara Stadium the first night Tuesday and Wednesday we had 1,729 people, roaring, roaring fans."
If the vision of a Pacific Rim competition comes to fruition in 2013 - Young and Andrus spoke of the best scenario being a College World Series-type of season-ending tournament with league champions from different countries taking place in Hawaii - it would be the fourth format for Na Koa in four seasons.
The Maui team is the only one left competing from the 10-team Golden Baseball League it took part in in 2010. Last season, Maui had a travel burden that included road games scheduled in Zion, Ill., Texas, and Alberta, Canada - Na Koa's final 27 games of the season were canceled and the North American Baseball League cut its season by a week.
This season, in the NAL, Maui is playing only division opponents in the regular season - the Hawaii Stars in Hilo, and the Sonoma Grapes and San Rafael Pacifics in Northern California. The North Division winner will face the South Division winner, made up completely of Texas teams, for the NAL title in September. Young also owns the Hawaii Stars, and the two California teams are also under one owner.
"Our staffs feel there is a real future in independent baseball," said Young of Na Koa and Million Stars. "We will travel to at least play the Ishikawa Million Stars and perhaps other teams in the Japan Baseball Challenge League. We are also moving forward to form a World Independent Baseball League with other countries. We are talking in New York as I speak to you; tomorrow, with some television channels from the Far East about some rights fees.
"We just feel that there is so much talent that needs to be exposed that this is just a wonderful opportunity for us and the state of Hawaii to be involved with our neighbors in the Far East."
Young pointed to the upcoming 12-game series with Sonoma that runs through July 29 as something that could be avoided with the new format.
"If there are multiple teams that come from Japan to play us and there is another team in the North American League that wants to do that - we want these games to count in our regular-season standings - then I think it is a real possibility there could be at least a championship series between the North American League and Japan Baseball Challenge League next year," Young said.
Na Koa also announced that general manager Dan Partney, who began his tenure after last season, is no longer with the team and the front office is restructuring its duties. Partney was Na Koa's fourth GM in its 2 1/2-year existence.
Young is also hopeful of landing a team on Oahu, as soon as next year. They are also seeking an airline sponsor to defray travel costs.
"Everything is in discussion, we are trying to move forward and realize our vision," Young said. "It takes time. ... Our goal has been to entrench professional baseball in the state of Hawaii. This has been very consistent with what we wanted."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com