The Surprise Fightin’ Falcons were a One-Year Wonder that played during the inaugural season of the Golden Baseball League (2005-2010). The Golden League was an independent loop that started as a class project at the Stanford Graduate School of Business that grew into a full-fledged business with $5 million in start-up funding and a $1 million presenting sponsorship from the Safeway supermarket chain in its first year.
The 2005 inaugural season featured four franchises in California (Chico, Fullerton, Long Beach, San Diego) and three in Arizona (Mesa, Surprise and Yuma). An eighth team intended for Tijuana, Mexico ran into problems and was hastily replaced by a travel team composed of Japanese players known as the Japan Samurai Bears. This creative solution to a potentially embarrassing setback earned the Golden League considerably national press attention.
The Mesa and Surprise teams in Arizona both played in state-of-the-art Major League spring training facilities. In the case of the Fightin’ Falcons, the team played at Surprise Stadium, a 10,000-seat facility constructed by HOK Sport in 2002 as the spring training home of the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers. On the down side, the large capacity created a poor atmosphere for independent baseball – the Fightin’ Falcons announced attendance of 49,057 scaled to just over 1,000 per game. The Golden League, which managed all of the teams under single-entity ownership in 2005, also reportedly had less- than-favorable concessions revenue splits with the Major League facilities in both Mesa and Surprise.
The Fightin’ Falcons played their first home game on May 26, 2005. Local baseball fans entering the gates were greeted with a complimentary bobble head doll of Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak, one of the Golden League’s original investors. Under the direction of field manager Ozzie Virgil Jr. Surprise finished the season at 45-45, 6th best in the 8-team circuit.
The Fightin’ Falcons oldest player, 37-year old outfielder Desi Wilson, was also their best. Wilson, who had a cup of coffee in the Majors with the San Francisco Giants in 1996, led the Golden League with a .411 batting average and took home league MVP honors.
Following the 2005 season the Golden League contracted two of its three Arizona franchises, eliminating Surprise and Mesa. The Fightin’ Falcons shut down on November 22, 2005.