Manager Dan Marple decided to walk away from the North County Indians after three years, and the summer collegiate baseball team’s burgeoning relationship with the nationally ranked Cal Poly Mustangs might be gone with him.
Marple resigned following a trio of successful seasons with the Indians due to what he called “a difference of philosophies” with general manager/owner Kevin Haughian regarding the length of the schedule — in particular, the amount of consecutive games.
“I think a summer program should be one that is there to develop players,” said Marple, whose Indians went 88-25-2 in his tenure, “and I think we were very successful in that.”
Marple said the Indians played too many games, and with a roster comprised of recent high school graduates, he felt the need for practice outweighed some of the seven-game weeks that were on the schedule.
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But Haughian, who did not return multiple messages seeking comment, approached the amount of home games from a fiscal background and wanted to keep the slate as is, Marple said.
“Kevin is looking at the bottom line and I’m looking at the line score,” he said.
Marple said he and his coaching staff mapped out a new schedule for next season that started two to three weeks later in the summer, and he took it into his end-of-the-year meeting with Haughian.
Neither side conceded, he said, and the conference turned into an exit interview.
“I’m under the philosophy of practicing like high schools or colleges, where you practice in the week and play on the weekends,” Marple said. “The pros are where you learn by playing. “I was surprised (Haughian) did not budge, but it was a very cordial meeting and we left it as a cordial meeting. I’ll continue to cheer for the Indians and the ballplayers in the area.”
Marple said attendance dwindled from between 200-250 in 2012 to no more than 70 spectators per game this past summer.
Part of the reason, he believed, is because alcohol sales are prohibited in the high school facilities the Indians use.
“I had hoped we would have shown better attendance,” Marple said, “but I know it wasn’t lack of ability.”
In the three years since Haughian relocated the team from Santa Maria to the North County — playing games in Templeton and Paso Robles — the Indians and Cal Poly have mutually benefited from the longstanding relationship between Marple and Mustangs coach Larry Lee.
Cal Poly standouts such as Brian Mundell, Casey Bloomquist and Slater Lee spent the summer following high school graduation playing for Marple and a staff that featured four coaches with professional experience, including 1980 World Series champion Dan Larson.
“It definitely helped to have our incoming players in such close proximity to Cal Poly,” Larry Lee said Tuesday, “and it allowed us to watch them and see how they progressed.”
The Indians went 33-8-1 this past summer, and seven future Mustangs played roles in that success — the largest amount of Cal Poly recruits in any one season after just Mundell and Bloomquist in 2012 and five more in 2013.
“It was a gradual step up in competition,” Lee said. “It got them away from home for a couple months before returning home for five to six weeks … and helped break that home sickness.”
Lee and Marple — himself an ex-Mustangs player and Major Leaguer — have known each other since the 1970s, and Lee said their relationship “for the most part” was the reason he sent some of his highest profile recruits for summer seasoning in North County.
“It gave us a great opportunity to bring in incoming freshman … to play for someone that has great knowledge in baseball and is very old school,” said Lee, whose Mustangs were consistently ranked in the top 10 this past spring and hosted an NCAA Regional. “It helped close the gap from where those players were at the time of high school graduation to the time they came on campus.”
Lee did not say the partnership is completely over, but he said the majority of his incoming players for the fall of 2015 have their summer assignments and none of them are with North County.
“We’ll just have to wait and see who they replace Dan with,” said Lee, who has not spoken to Haughian since Marple’s resignation.
Lee said he is fine with the length of the Indians’ schedule — 42 games in each of the past two seasons, according to the team website — but echoed Marple’s sentiments regarding practice time with younger athletes.
“He’s a very good baseball mind that happens to live in our community,” Lee said. “We took advantage of that as long as we could. Obviously, we wish he and the program continued success.”
Marple said he is not sure what is next for his career, which included playing at Cal Poly under Augie Garrido, spending time in the pros with Baltimore, Detroit and Oakland, and a three-year coaching stint in the 1980s at Cuesta College.
“I have mixed feelings about stepping away (from the Indians),” said Marple, who played for the Santa Maria Indians on his way to the majors, “and I’m not sure what is in store. “I was surprised Kevin wasn’t willing to compromise, and he was surprised I’d drawn a line in the sand.”