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Lonely Crustaceans 

Every other team in the Far West League left without warning the Humboldt Crabs

Was it something we said?

The Humboldt Crabs appears to be the only team left in the Far West League after its three collegiate summer league-mates — the Menlo Park Legends, the Neptune Beach Pearl and the Walnut Creek Crawdads — joined the Santa Barbara-based California Collegiate League last week.

Crabs officials only found out about the mass exodus by reading the news on the other teams' Facebook pages, said Vikki Rossi, the Crabs' acting president. There were follow-up emails from the organizations, at least, so the Crabbies aren't being completely shunned.

Rossi said she doesn't know why the teams switched leagues, but she doesn't expect it to hurt the Crabs' 2014 season. Schedules had already been set for the organization's 70th anniversary season, and the Legends, Pearl and Crawdads — among other regular opponents — have all agreed to come play again at the Arcata Ball Park.

"Our plan most likely is to either play independent this year or inquire about other leagues we might be able to join," Rossi said.

But while the Crabs are scrambling to come up with a new game plan, it appears that its adversaries had this move slated for a while. Pat Burns, the commissioner of the California Collegiate League, said the three Bay Area teams contacted him more than two months ago, immediately after the season ended. 

"They called me and were very serious about their interest in joining the CCL and made a good-faith deposit in both monies and verbal commitments," Burns said. The teams will join the Pacific Union Financial Capitalists (now there's an American team name) to create a new division within the now 12-team league.

The Crabs organization had its share of troubles this year, including a bat-throwing incident that became a viral video, the post-season marijuana-related arrest of manager Matt Nutter and complaints about increasingly rowdy home crowds.

But former Crabs President Matthew Filar said he doesn't think those issues drove the rest of the league away. "Over the years fans have gotten a little bit louder," he acknowledged. Most teams say they enjoy some good heckling as long as it doesn't get personal, Filar added. After all, players' moms are often in the crowd. But Filar said it can get out of hand. "We're gonna try to convince them to tone it down a little bit this [next] year ... post some rules of conduct and reminders."

If the team opts to play independently next year, as the Marysville Gold Sox have done for some time, Filar said the only noticeable differences for fans will be that they won't get to compare Crabs' stats with league rivals and the team won't compete in a league championship tournament. However, Filar said the team management would likely organize an invitational tournament at the end of the season. 

Rossi, the team's acting president, agreed that fans have nothing to fear. "We're still gonna have a darn good year of baseball," she said. "There's no doubt about it in my mind." The team's first game is scheduled for May 31, a bit earlier than in past years.

It's not clear what will become of the Far West League. Rossi added that two other teams had recently agreed to join the league, but given the latest developments she's not sure whether they're still interested. She declined to identify the two teams.

Meanwhile, the commissioner of the California Collegiate League thinks there may be room in his league for some crustaceans. The newly christened "North Division" is just a working title, said Burns, "until we can somehow incorporate Humboldt and Marysville into the mix, because those are two really good operations that need to be in the California summer-ball mix. No matter how you mix it up they have to be there."

Joining a statewide league would likely require the Crabs to travel for away games, something that the organization has historically been reluctant to do because of the cost and logistical hardship of such long journeys. Between hotel rooms, a chartered bus and other expenses, a four-day team road trip can run about $12,000, according to Filar. The organization currently offers modest financial incentives to other teams to come play in Arcata.

Still, Burns thinks California's summer collegiate teams should be unified into a single league. "You would think at some point we all need to get on the same page and compete for a state title if we really want to give the players the best opportunity," he said. "I think everybody understands that."

Maybe. On the other hand, Arcata summers wouldn't be the same without Crabbies home games every weekend. For the team's upcoming 70th season, at least, that's where they'll stay.

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About The Author

Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns worked for the Journal from 2008 to 2013, covering a diverse mix of North Coast subjects, from education, politics and marijuana to human suspension, sex parties and amateur fight contests. He won awards for investigative reporting, feature stories and news coverage.

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