A happy tale of star-lacrossed lovers
Sports romance - Angela Batinovich, owner of the Portland LumberJax, and a team player are engaged
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Perhaps Portland's professional lacrosse team should try a new slogan: "Nets, Nastiness, Nuptials."
The LumberJax of the National Lacrosse League have achieved an unusual "first" in professional sports: The team owner is marrying a player.
Angela Batinovich, majority owner of the second-year franchise, is engaged to Adam Bysouth, a player for the indoor team.
"We kind of had to decide if this was going to be something we really wanted to try or if this was just something we needed to just end and not let it complicate our lives," Batinovich said. "And we decided we wanted to keep going."
Bysouth proposed in May, after asking permission from Angela's father, Robert Batinovich, a real-estate developer and LumberJax minority owner. Angela said she told NLL commissioner Jim Jennings about the relationship and received his blessing.
Through a spokesperson, Jennings declined to comment.
Batinovich and Bysouth, who plan to marry in August, join a small group of management-player relationships in pro sports. Leonard Armato, commissioner of the Association of Volleyball Professionals, is married to tour player Holly McPeak. Ty Votaw dated LPGA player Sophie Gustafson when Votaw was commissioner of the women's pro golf tour. They married in June, and Votaw now works for the PGA.
Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson is dating Jeanie Buss, a team executive and daughter of owner Jerry Buss.
But the Batinovich-Bysouth pairing appears to be the first between a pro team owner and player. Even the opportunity for such a union is rare. Owners and players usually are male, and they often clash over labor issues.
Batinovich and Bysouth met early in the 2005 season, when Bysouth played for the league's now-defunct Anaheim, Calif., franchise and Batinovich was in the city researching ownership possibilities. They hit it off and began dating.
Team members and others around the league knew about his and Angela's relationship, but most of the public didn't. Batinovich, 26, and Bysouth, who will turn 28 in January, lived together last season, when the LumberJax went 11-5 and Batinovich was named the league's executive of the year.
Bysouth played in 13 of the LumberJax's 16 games last season and worked as the team's community relations director.
"I didn't want people to think I was just playing on the team because I'm dating the owner, kind of thing," Bysouth said. "But it's actually turned out to be the exact opposite of that. I've had nothing but good comments about it."
Although the relationship raises conflict-of-interest issues, Batinovich said she has dealt with them. Bysouth reports to the LumberJax's vice president, not to Batinovich. She rarely negotiates salaries with players and doesn't dictate playing time for Bysouth or anyone else.
"It wouldn't work for a lot of other people," LumberJax star Brodie Merrill said. "But because he's such a great guy, he's able to handle it and make it work."
David Carter, a sports business professor at the University of Southern California, said Batinovich and Bysouth's closeness in age and the low salaries in the NLL (the average is about $14,000 a year) reduce the potential for conflict.
LumberJax coach Derek Keenan acknowledged that the intra-franchise romance is unusual but said the close-knit, 13-team league honors it. Keenan said he left Bysouth unprotected in the expansion draft in July, giving another team the chance to sign him, because Keenan knew other teams respected that Bysouth wanted to stay in Portland.
Bysouth is mulling retirement after the coming season, which starts Dec. 30 for the LumberJax. But for now, he will continue to do double duty as No. 20 and the top boss's fiance.
Meanwhile, the couple retains a sense of humor. LumberJax players have teased Bysouth about the situation -- "I don't know if there would be anything that would be clean enough that I could say for you," Merrill said -- and Batinovich had an unusual exchange with the LumberJax dance team.
"The dancers were like, 'Are we allowed to date any of the players?' " Batinovich said. "And I'm like, 'Well, I did.' "
Rachel Bachman: 503-221-4373; firstname.lastname@example.org