Wins are often hard to accumulate when ownership changes hands.
Adding players, subtracting others, plenty of organizational variables develop, and there's no one formula for turning around a franchise seeking its first playoff berth in seven years.
Bellingham Bells owner Eddie Poplawksi, general manager Nick Caples and Bells coach Gary Hatch and his staff found a solution this summer.
"Anytime you start with a fresh organization, there's a growth that is going to take place," Hatch said in a phone interview. "(Assistant coach/pitching coach) Jim Clem has done a tremendous job of putting this club together. We want players, but we also want character guys who have an understanding of the game. When you have character people, you have a quality ball club."
West Coast League rosters are traditionally loaded with first or second year college players. Roughly half the players on the Bells' roster will be entering, at least, their third college season following their stint with the Bells.
Those include key players such as Kai Hatch, Jarel Lewis, Johnny Farrington, Derek Atkinson, Michael Leach and Mark Lambson.
Poplawski's "first-class" treatment of players, as Gary put it, coupled with a clubhouse filled with veteran leadership and strong camaraderie, has helped Bellingham earn one of four spots in the WCL playoffs two years into Poplawski's tenure as club owner.
The Bells finished their regular season slate Thursday, Aug. 9, with a loss that dropped their record to 32-22 - a mark strong enough for a second-place finish in the East Division.
Bellingham opens a three-game series against East Division champions, the Wenatchee AppleSox, who have won the WCL in 2010, '09, '06 and '05, Saturday, Aug. 11, at Joe Martin Field. Game 2 is at 7:05 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12, in Wenatchee and, if necessary, game 3 will be played in Wenatchee on Monday, Aug. 13.
"You look at the last few years, and the Bells were struggling," Gary said. "When Eddie showed up, he made Bellingham a gem of the West Coast League. Everything has been first class, from the uniforms to the equipment to the sponsorships."
Bellingham third baseman Andrew Ely, who leads the Bells with a .324 batting average, acknowledged veteran guys in the clubhouse have taken on a leadership role, but Ely said he thinks the team's success has come from everyone embracing positives and mentally erasing negative plays or games.
"We're feeling really good," said Ely before last Tuesday's game when local player John Albert recorded a walk-off base hit in the 10th inning. "I think we've saved our best baseball for the playoffs. I would say we really feed off each other. Look at the last few games. Everyone is hitting. We just feed off the positives."
Bellingham is 4-4 in the eight games its played against Wenatchee this year, and Gary believes his club matches up well with AppleSox, who tout two of the top four hitters in the WCL in Taylor Sparks (.388 batting average) and Mitchell Gonsolus (.371).
"Traditionally in this league, it's Wenatchee and Corvallis (who are the class of the WCL)," Gary said. "Their ownership has a great understanding, and they do a great job of recruiting. We feel like we're in a hot spot right now. We're 4-4 against each other. It should be a heck of a series."
Not that any of the current Bells would remember, but Wenatchee knocked Bellingham out of the playoffs seven years ago in the WCL championship.
"We both have good pitching staffs," Ely said of his Bells and the AppleSox. "I think it will come down to a couple of pitches. We're going to give it everything to get a W."
The Bells are asking fans to wear blue T-shirts to Saturday's playoff game. Tickets can be purchased over the phone, online or at the ticket office on game day if still available.
If Bellingham beats Wenatchee, the Bells face Corvallis or Cowlitz in the WCL Championship Series.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.