Rebels face challenges as season opens

Mark Schnabel
The Kansan
The coaches and staff of the Newton Rebels greet the team on the first day of practice.

As the Newton Rebels prepare for its 22nd season of summer college baseball, the team is facing some challenges.

As of the start of practice Monday, the team was still looking for three host families. The team is also seeking sponsorships to help defray the costs of operation.

“The thing we’re trying to get across to the people of Newton is this is your team,” Rebels general manager Mark Carvalho said. “We wear Newton on the front. … In a community like this, we need to get more people involved — whatever it takes. We’ve reached out to the youth leagues. We’ve done camps with (former Wichita State and MLB player) Mike Pelfrey coming in. We’re trying to do other things like that.”

Carvalho said he used to have a waiting list for host families, but in the last couple of seasons, he’s had trouble lining them up.

There also has been more competition for players. Kansas has three summer college leagues sanctioned with the National Baseball Congress — the Sunflower Collegiate League, which includes Newton, and the Kansas Collegiate League — and the independent Mid-Plains League, based in the Topeka area.

Increasing the competition this season, when Major League Baseball took direct control of the affiliated minor leagues, it turned several pro leagues into summer college leagues, including the New York-Penn League and the Appalachian League.

“I like to win and I like to be on top teams,” Carvalho said. “There’s no doubt about it. You want to get back. We’ve been fortunate to do it. We want better players and players who work hard. When you do that, things will be a lot better.”

Carvalho said in recent years, colleges have insisted their players keep their pitch counts down in the summer.

Newton has one of the smaller budgets in the Sunflower Collegiate League. The team is funded through player fees, gate receipts and sponsorships.

“Prices have gone up, umpire fees have gone up,” Carvalho said. “Plus the sponsorships. We do sellout nights. We sponsor innings. We broadcast on YouTube. We’re the only team in the league that does them home and away. We’re trying to get more things like that to get the names out of businesses.”

One thing that has helped the team has been upgrades at Klein-Scott Field, including new grandstands, a new scoreboard and a new combination press box-restroom-concession stand.

“With the rec (Newton Recreation Commission) and the city here, it’s like a minor-league ballpark,” Carvalho said. “The scoreboard, the press box and the stands are all unbelievable. The grass, they take care of it very well.”

The Rebels open the season Saturday at the Wichita Dirtbags (Thursday’s game at McPherson was rained out).

The league season begins Tuesday at Derby.

The Rebels will play three games this season at Eck Stadium in Wichita.

Mark Schnabel can be reached at mschnabel@thekansan.com