Peninsula Oilers Baseball Inc. has stepped up to save the season of the American Legion Twins after American Legion Kenai Post #20 dropped its sponsorship of the Twins this year.
According to Twins manager Lance Coz, Post #20 has traditionally supplied 75 percent of the Twins' budget.
Coz, who spends his winters in Arizona, received a call from assistant coach John Butler in late April indicating that Post #20 had said there could be some problems with funding this year.
"It seems like there was always some question about funding going into the season," said Coz, who is in his 26th year managing the Twins. "It got to be kind of like crying wolf.
"I had some things of my own I was dealing with at the time, so I didn't follow up on it like I probably should have."
When Coz returned to the peninsula, he learned on May 23 that Post #20 had made the decision to no longer sponsor the Twins.
Post #20 would still hold a gaming permit for the Twins, but Coz said this year that gaming permit has been making $700 a month. No longer would Post #20 provide the extra cash to get to the 75 percent mark.
The Twins' budget has been as high as $50,000 in recent years, so the $700 a month would not be nearly enough to support the team this year.
Hoping for a reprieve, Coz spoke to the executive board of Post #20 on May 28, but the board confirmed the decision.
Post #20 had not been able to fund the Twins one other time in 1997. However, that time Coz had two months to stuff in some intense fund-raising and save the season.
After Coz got the official bad news May 28, he only had a couple of days before the Twins, who had started practicing in early May, were supposed to play their first game.
Making matters worse was an American Legion state rule that said if a ballclub could not field a team one year, it would not be allowed in the league the next year.
"I was thinking, 'This is a tough way to have to retire, but if it be, it be,'" Coz said.
Coz was all set to tell the parents of Twins players the bad news when the Oilers did their best Neo impression and swooped in at the last minute for the rescue.
Coz and Mike Baxter, the baseball operations manager for the Oilers, are in frequent contact because both teams practice and play at Coral Seymour Memorial Park.
Through Baxter, Karen Kester, the president of Oilers Baseball Inc. found out about the Twins' plight. Kester did some research and found some funds the Oilers did not have budgeted for this year.
Saturday, when the Twins were supposed to be opening the season at Seymour Park, Coz found himself meeting with the Oilers Baseball Inc. Board of Directors to plead for his team's life.
Members of the board voted unanimously to keep the Twins afloat this year.
"We're very fortunate that this worked out," Kester said. "If this would have happened last year, or the year before, those funds would not have been available."
Neither Coz nor Kester wanted to get into details of the arrangement. Coz said the Oilers gave the Twins the "nucleus" of what the team would need to survive. Coz said survival still would mean some debt on his credit cards and some people getting paid next fall.
And that is the least of the Twins' worries. Oilers Baseball Inc. will only be able to provide that "nucleus" this year, and Coz isn't optimistic about Post #20 coming back to be a sponsor.
"We've still got a lot of fund-raising to do, but at least we know what's ahead of us now," Coz said.
The manager said he often wonders how much the community values the Twins. He said in the next year, he'll find out.
He has found out how much the Oilers value the Twins.
"There isn't a kid who goes through Little League that doesn't have aspirations of playing for the Twins," Kester said. "What Lance gives to the kids is self-confidence, leadership skills, the ability to handle difficult situations and good decision-making skills.
"The people in the community, at this point in time, should start considering this program and put it in their budget for next year. I know the Oilers won't be able to do it again."
The Twins will open their season with doubleheaders in Anchorage Saturday and Sunday.
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