May 16, 2013

Eagle editorial: NBC behind the count

The National Baseball Congress hasn’t struck out, but its financial struggles and those of its current manager have put it behind the count.

The National Baseball Congress hasn’t struck out, but its financial struggles and those of its current manager have put it behind the count.

Rallying the city-owned summer tournament will require better management, more city oversight and greater community support.

A city audit released this week showed that the NBC has managed to scratch out a tiny profit the past two years. But it also has been delinquent paying its bills, and bad accounting practices make it unclear how much the tournament made from ticket revenue.

A bigger concern is that the Wichita Wingnuts baseball team – whose staff members currently manage the tournament – has significant financial problems. The audit showed that the Wingnuts organization has exhausted a $147,500 line of bank credit on the tournament taken out in 2009 and hasn’t paid back any of the loan principal. The team also owes the city $138,000 for unpaid leases on Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, and it has a delinquent $72,000 water bill, according to the city.

As City Council member Jeff Longwell noted, the fact that the city apparently didn’t realize the team hadn’t paid rent for two years is evidence of how the city dropped the ball, too.

Another challenge facing the NBC is that the economy and competing tournaments have hurt its ability to attract teams from across the country. As a result, it has become more regionally focused and has lost some prestige.

But the tournament still has a lot going for it – the first being its rich tradition.

The NBC began in 1935, and over the years many baseball greats have played here, including Ozzie Smith, Albert Pujols, Mark McGwire and Satchel Paige, whose jersey number was retired during last year’s tournament.

It also has passionate fans and participants.

Bill Pintard, the manager and owner the Santa Barbara (Calif.) Foresters, which won last year’s NBC World Series, said that his players “beg, borrow and steal to come to Wichita.”

What’s also encouraging is that city officials are starting to get engaged. The city acquired the NBC in 2006 after its previous owners, the Rich family of Buffalo, N.Y., moved the Wichita Wranglers out of town, but city leaders have needed to take more ownership.

“We are totally committed to this tournament and bringing it back to its glory days,” said City Manager Robert Layton. “I think that everyone agrees the tournament can be better and should be better.”

That’s going to take work. Just because the annual tournament has lasted this long doesn’t guarantee that it can continue. But the NBC is a great event for Wichita, bringing in visitors and providing quality entertainment for local fans.

It’s worth going to bat for.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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