The 2015 California League schedule has been released, and to nobody's surprise it perpetuates the decade-long financially driven practice of extreme imbalance.
The Modesto Nuts' 140-game schedule includes 94 games against the other four teams in the North Division - 25 against Bakersfield and Visalia and 22 against Stockton and San Jose.
Meanwhile, games against the South Division will be scarce (46 in total) and front-loaded, as I'll explain below. The Nuts play Lake Elsinore 12 times, Inland Empire 11 times, High Desert 10 times, Lancaster seven and Rancho Cucamonga six.
Keep in mind that that while the schedule is constructed by the league, it must be approved by the owners of every club, and their focus always has to be on the bottom line, not what goes on between the while lines.
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Here are some of the details, highlights and lowlights of the 2015 schedule:
Key Dates - The Nuts again open with seven on the road, starting the season April 9 in Lake Elsinore. The home opener is April 16 against Inland Empire, and the annual Independence Day celebration again will be on July 3, against Bakersfield. Modesto hasn't had a home game on July 4 since 2008. Modesto's final home game is Aug. 30, and the Nuts close the season with a seven-game all-commuter road trip to San Jose and Stockton.
Hello, South - Modesto plays 24 games in South Division ballparks, with 14 of those coming within the season's opening 31 games. Of the 46 games against the South, 31 fall in the first half of the season. The Nuts will play in every Cal League ballpark in the first half and will host every team except Lake Elsinore before the All-Star Break. The silver lining to the front-loaded southern exposure is that Modesto plays only seven road games in the south in the second half.
Hello, North - By playing so many games against the South in the first half, the second half naturally is filled with North teams. Inland Empire and Lake Elsinore come to Thurman Field for four-game sets, but the other 27 second-half home games are against Stockton, Visalia, and Bakersfield (seven each) and San Jose (six.)
The schedule I've advocated for years would have each team play 80 games within its own division (20 against each team) and 60 in the opposite division (12 against each team.) For starters, every team would play the same schedule, automatically creating competitive balance. The reason the Cal League does not play a balanced schedule is money. Except for the games pitting Lancaster and Lake Elsinore, every south intradivisional game is a commuter, which do not require stays in hotel rooms.
So just at first glance, the Modesto Nuts will spend a minimum of 38 nights in hotel rooms during the 2015 season, while Rancho Cucamonga will spend 15 nights in hotels. The each team arranges for special rates at their host hotel, but the travel costs are borne by the visiting team.