Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Now that the waistline has expanded once more with Holiday goodies, it is time to get back to the "important" things in life. That means all things baseball, of course.

If anyone is looking for a little extra inspiration I suggest a visit to www.CarePages.com. Care Pages is the website of the Shepherd Center, the catastrophic care hospital in Atlanta where Pensacola (FL) Pelicans ace Rusty Begnaud was taken for rehabilitation not long after the tragic swimming pool incident last June which left the hurler paralyzed from the chest down.

Rusty's parents, Calvin and Pat, show the grit this entire family seems to display, with their in-depth updates on the 26-year-old's progress now that he is back home in New Iberia, LA. And they find so many ways to express the joys or the small steps of progress in Rusty's new life, whether it is through his new flat screen TV, his talk to a church group of teenagers or his work just to transfer from his (wheel)chair to mats and learning to roll from his back to his side.

We should all gain strength from the Begnaud family.

This corner also would like to send best wishes along to longtime St. Paul (MN) Saints publicist Dave Wright. Dave, who had been at the center of the storied Saints franchise from its infancy, has left that assignment. What stories he must have tucked away in his mind of the days of Kevin Millar, Darryl Strawberry, the hundreds of other players who have come and gone plus all of the promotional stunts that helped put this franchise as well as Independent Baseball on the map.

Good luck, Dave, with whatever you do down the road.

For those of you wondering what the signing of catcher Rad Barajas by Philadelphia might mean to top Indy Baseball grad Chris Coste I don't feel you need to fret too much. Media reports have said the signing of the 31-year-old Barajas should take some of the burden off Carlos Ruiz, who seems likely to be given a chance to become the No. 1 backstop. That much appears to be true, but we were told some time ago the Phillies wanted to carry three catchers which makes it unlikely they expect Ruiz to be behind the plate every day.

And, it is evident Manager Charlie Manuel has not forgotten Coste's contributions in 2006, pointing out to the media during the Winter Meetings that Chris had hit .328 and "did a heck of a job the last part of the season." Since he was catching at least twice every time through the rotation it seems doubtful his starting time will come to a standstill.

Coste, who will play at 34 in 2007, also seems destined to getting some pinch hitting duties and possibly fill-in time at third base and third base. We also know he wears well on his managers.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006


A potpourri of leftovers, mostly from last week's Winter Meetings, which did not make their way into our most recent Independent Baseball Insider column.

The Golden League and United League both seem encouraged about their efforts to start winter leagues next month, although they still have room for more players at this time.

This corner still has not had definitive word about any cities joining the Continental League, but I was told one more time from a league official that they expect to have four to six teams playing in 2007. It sounds to me like Texas and New Mexico communities are the most likely to participate.

What is getting into the Kansas City Royals? Not only are they shelling out some sizeable contracts for major league free agents, but they announced the signing of 21 players to minor league contracts, including onetime Independent Baseball players Roberto Giron (Frontier, Northern and Texas-Louisiana Leagues), Graham Koonce (Golden League), Justin Gemoll (American Association), Omar Pena (Can-Am League) and Cody Clark (Golden). Only Pena was in the Royals' chain last summer. The others came from a variety of major league organizations.

Outfielder Victor Hall, who played with both Mesa and Reno in the Golden League, was the only player with Independent ties selected in the Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings. He was taken by Philadelphia in the Triple-A phase of the draft after hitting .320 in 63 games for the New York Yankees' Tampa affiliate. Keep Hall in mind as a possible choice to become the first Golden Leaguer to play in the major leagues.

Independent Baseball will be back on the silver screen in January. The Santa Barbara (CA) Film Festival picked up the 91-minute independent film production about the Samurai Bears, who played in the Golden League in 2005. Golden League Commissioner Kevin Outcalt described the movie as "sort of (like) Bull Durham meets Lost in Translation". Samurai Manager Warren Cromartie sings in the movie and among those who get screen time is Kash Beauchamp, now handling player acquisitions for the South Coast League. Ed Asner's son, Matt, and Donny Gold of Mod 3 Productions produced the movie.

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Friday, December 08, 2006


Oh, those good intentions of the Winter Meetings. I am going to find time to blog, get to a few "road office" tasks during down time, etc., etc. Well, here I am scrambling to write something decent from an Independent Baseball perspective, and packing for the trip back home.

The three days I was here--less than 72 hours, actually--are somewhat of a blur this morning.

At times, the center of the baseball universe seemed squeezed around the huge white Christmas tree in the center of the Dolphin lobby. Of course, anyone who has attended a Winter Meetings session realizes the lobby is the most important location to run into a friend, hear the latest trade or free agent rumor or see and be seen.

This lobby, a part of the sprawling Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando (actually, I believe it is Kissimmee), is smaller than the ideal Winter Meetings lobby. It was wall to wall humanity late in the evening, unless someone like super agent Scott Boras walked through, then there would be a tilt factor because the media would swarm to his side of the floor to attempt to hear what he was saying.

A friend asked me--for his blog, incidentally--if I could describe the sound in the room. It wasn't exactly a beehive buzz. What was it? I did not have an immediate answer (Sorry, Larry), but I reflected on his question later that night. The best I could come up with was that the sound, with everyone talking at once, reminded me of Grand Central Station when the trains suddenly stop running and everyone is trapped without a way home.

There were several news tidbits and rumors from the Independent world that I didn't get into this week's Independent Baseball Insider column, but they have to wait until I find more time or I will miss my airplane. Better not be late.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006


As we clean off our desk and get ready to head to the Winter Meetings in Orlando we decided you might like to see a recap of all the new managerial appointments in Independent Baseball since the season ended.

We count 17 appointments, including half of the 12-team Frontier League and two-thirds of the new, six-team South Coast League. Eight jobs are open--or at least not announced--by our count, with three of those somewhat surprisingly in the Atlantic League.

The 17 "new" faces include Dave Lapoint, Mike Marshall, Andy McCauley, Dan Shwam and Mike Pinto, all of whom have moved from one city to another. The new appointments by league:

AMERICAN ASSOCIATION: Butch Henry, El Paso; Steve Shirley, Sioux Falls. Pensacola's job is open.

ATLANTIC LEAGUE: Dave Lapoint, Long Island. Bridgeport, Camden and the expansion team at York, PA are open.

CAN-AM LEAGUE: Dan Shwam, Grays (road team).

FRONTIER LEAGUE: Mark Mason, Chillicothe; Jeff Pohl, Evansville; Phil Warren, Gateway; Mike Pinto, Marion; Toby Rumfield, River City; Andy Haines, Windy City. We understand the new Slippery Rock job has been filled although we have not seen an announcement.

GOLDEN LEAGUE: Cory Snyder, St. George; Mike Marshall, Yuma.

NORTHERN LEAGUE: Andy McCauley, Kansas City; Steve Maddock, Schaumburg.

SOUTH COAST LEAGUE: Desi Wilson, Anderson; James Frisbie, Bradenton; Jackie Hernandez, Charlotte County; Phil Plantier, Macon. South Georgia and Aiken are open.

UNITED LEAGUE: Laredo is open.

We will be writing our regular Independent Baseball Insidercolumn from Orlando, and hope to do some blogging as well as the Hot Stove season heats up.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006


I have had the good fortune of knowing Jackie Hernandez since we were with the Triple-A Denver Bears in 1967 and 1968. I was a starry-eyed young PR hopeful just starting my baseball career and Jackie was a flashy 20-something shortstop in the Minnesota Twins organization who was destined for a major league career.

Then we were reunited in Kansas City with the expansion Royals the next two seasons. In fact, Jackie’s every day play at shortstop—he appeared in 145 of the 162 games—was a major reason the Royals were respectable in their inaugural season of 1969. A guy by the name of Lou Piniella played leftfield and was Rookie of the Year.

So you can see why I was surprised—and had to offer my two cents worth here—when I first learned that old friend Jackie is taking on his first managerial job at Charlotte County, FL in the new South Coast League.

Why Jackie, was my first thought? This has nothing to do with Hernandez’s ability. But he has a nice pension from his nine seasons as a major league shortstop (1965-73), is old enough (66) to collect social security and is leaving what I would think, all things considered, was a cushy job as a coach for George Tsamis with the American Association’s St. Paul (MN) Saints.

Now in his 47th season of professional baseball the thin man from Cuba, who started playing the game for pay as a 20-year-old catcher in the Midwest League in 1961, is finally taking over managerial duties.

“I had opportunities (to manage) before but it was never the right spot,” the Saints’ media release quoted Hernandez. “This job is the only one that would get me away from St. Paul.” He pointed to the fact Port Charlotte is only a couple of hours from his longtime home in Miami, and while he did not say it the fact the Southwestern Florida community will average more than a few degrees warmer than most of the American Association cities in May and June might have been appealing. No more long johns, which Jacinto was known to wear even on milder spring nights in the leagues where he helped Tsamis wreak havoc on the opposition.

They first joined up in Waterbury, CT when that team was in the Northeast League, moved on to the New Jersey Jackals at Little Falls for both Northeast and Northern League titles in 2001 and 2002, and to St. Paul the next season. When the Northern League title is added from 2004 and the finals berth in the American Association this season they have had seven playoff teams in eight seasons.

Hernandez will have a leg up in recruiting on his South Coast League rivals for all the years past when he has so diligently worked with prospect after prospect around Miami during the off season.

The league will love his warm nature, and his major league credentials, including the 1971 World Championship in Pittsburgh when he threw out the final Baltimore hitter, will help build credibility.

P.S. More on this year's managerial changes plus an outline of new opportunities for players are included in my subscriber-based Independent Baseball Insider column.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Our milder-than-usual November temperatures--at least here in the Northeast--have kept me from starting my countdown of the number of days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training. We all know that is when spring arrives in our heart. But I have seen two indicators in Independent Baseball circles which tell me others have their countdowns to opening day started.

I first noticed it on the South Coast League's website (www.SouthCoastLeague.com) where the webmaster has set up a clock which lets fans know down to the second how long it is until the first official pitch is thrown in the new league. The clock read 183 days, 23 hours, 34 minutes and 10 seconds when I looked at it tonight (Tuesday).

Oh, I also found out the six teams in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina signed 16 players out of the South Coast League's initial tryout camp in Bradenton, FL last Saturday. That is a very high count out of approximately 70 attendees, which the SCL reported.

The other site where a countdown is under way is with the American Association's St. Paul Saints. A media release 12 days ago reminded readers it was only 183 days until the Saints once again march into Midway Stadium. So that count would have been down to 171 days today.

Mild weather or not, these reminders make the heart thump just a wee bit faster.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006


What offseason?

With so many leagues these days, including the startups, and all the news they create plus the personalities who deserve attention, I find it impossible to do justice to some of the topics in my every-other-week Independent Baseball Insidercolumn. So you should be seeing more entries here on www.IndyBaseballChatter.com.

Some of the nuggets I found interesting over the last few days that I did not get into last week's column include the stories that follow. Each represents something new.

A shortage of players wanting to break into the Independent Baseball ranks? I don't think so. The new St. George (UT) Roadrunners of the Golden League held a tryout camp, and 75 hopefuls from 19 states showed up. Manager Cory Snyder signed 12 of them, and used such terms as "pitching was superb" and "the passion and character...gives me great confidence" when the day was done.

Meanwhile, the United League, in addition to planning for its Winter League season, has announced its second summer campaign is being expanded from 90 to 100 games for each of its six teams. Byron Pierce's operation is really expanding its playoffs by going to two best-of-five sets in the first round and a best-of-seven for the championship round. No other league has a best-of-seven. Players can learn more about the pay-to-play Winter League at www.UnitedLeague.org.

And, the name of Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson will resonate in the Frontier League next season. That's because Bob's son Chris, who opted for college when his dad's St. Louis Cardinals drafted him out of high school, has signed to play the outfield for the Gateway Grizzlies. That's a great location for the lefthanded hitter since the Grizzlies play out of Sauget, IL, which is barely out of the shadow of St. Louis's Gateway Arch. I wonder if he will don uniform No. 45?

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Friday, November 03, 2006


I am proud today to let you know that our new book on Independent Baseball has been published. This is as much a labor of love as anything, especially to be able to have in print the new list we created of all former Independent players who made it to the major leagues. It is more than 100 names long. I hope we have not omitted anyone. The press release below tells the story for those of you who are interested.

The Independent Minor Leagues: 2006 Season in Review

Baseball fans seem to generally understand these days that Independent Baseball has given players who have been bypassed in the draft or need a second opportunity an alternative to the major leagues and their farm systems. Digging deeper into what the Independent leagues are all about is more of a puzzle.

A newly-published book of nearly 150 spiral bound pages helps unravel these details. Author and lifetime baseball professional Bob Wirz also has compiled lists not found elsewhere for this third annual publication: “The Independent Minor Leagues: 2006 Season in Review”.

It is difficult to imagine that the Independent Baseball industry, with seven leagues and two more scheduled to open in 2007, have produced more than 100 players who made their way from merely being non-affiliated minor leaguers to playing in the major leagues. 2006 Season in Review contains a list to prove it, including where they played in Independent leagues.

Another addition to this year’s book is a list of more than 100 non-playing personnel who were working in the major leagues or elsewhere in affiliated baseball jobs this summer. The range runs from umpires to broadcasters to scouts to a bevy of minor league managers.

The newly-published book contains a complete list of more than 200 active players who were under contract to major league organizations this summer. Thirty-one of them played in the majors, and some might never have gotten any professional opportunity if it wasn’t for the Independent leagues. This group includes such players as 33-year-old Philadelphia Phillies rookie Chris Coste, Josh Kinney, one of the youngsters who emerged to help St. Louis’s bullpen during the Cardinals’ surge to the World Series title, and Kevin Millar, who played in his 1000th major league game this summer.

Wirz, the onetime Director of Information for Major League Baseball, includes all 30 of his Independent Baseball Insider columns between February and October. They contain well over100 stories covering all aspects of the game, from the heart-warming side of human triumph, to the off-beat stories that make Independent Baseball an attraction a record of more than 7,500,000 spectators enjoyed in 2006.

The 2006 Season in Review includes an index that allows fans to easily find stories about their favorite player or team.

The Independent Minor Leagues--2006 Season in Review may be purchased at www.WirzandAssociates.com or by sending a check for $21 (including $3 for shipping and handling) to Wirz & Associates, 665-A North Trail, Stratford, CT 06614.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006


The New York Times devoted two full columns on its front sports page and more than half of an inside page today (Thursday)to the ESPN mini-series called The Bronx Is Burning, but business writer Richard Sandomir missed this corner's readership.

He did not mention the role of several Independent Baseball players for the movie which we first told you about in this space September 22.

One of the Indy players who isn't likely to be left on the cutting room floor when the eight-hour production airs next summer is Tim Keinath, who portrays fellow righthanded pitcher Mike Torrez. In the first place, the movie doesn't have an actor portraying Torrez, who hurled two complete game victories and was on the mound when the New York Yankees got the final out in their six-game World Series triumph over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Keinath is Torrez. Why not. Both are 6-foot-5 and weigh about 220 pounds. "I have been in tons of shots", Keinath told us. And the champagne shower after the movie Yankees eliminated the Kansas City Royals in a tense five-game American League Championship Series was "really cool". After all, how many players--major league or Independent--get to be part of that event in real life or for a movie.

Keinath, still only 27 and coming off a 7-6 season for the New Haven (CT) County Cutters of the Can-Am League, played in Tampa Bay's system for a year, but has been an Indy hurler at Newark, NJ (Atlantic League), Brockton, MA (now Can-Am League) and mostly at New Haven the last four seasons.

We can identify eight other Can-Am people who have had roles in the movie, including New Haven Manager Mike Church, who has portrayed catchers Carlton Fisk and Jim Essian. We may have missed some more.

Aric Leclair of Nashua, NH plays Yankees closer Sparky Lyle and the Cutters' Horace Lawrence uses his lefty bat to portray Reggie Jackson for some shots. Catcher Matt Hackney of New Haven County and four North Shore (Lynn, MA) players have been part of the fun. Pitchers Matthew Bishop, Kevin Rival and Dennis Robinson and outfielder Rob Fischer all played for the Spirit in real life. Rival and Fischer both spent the first part of last season with another Indy team, St. Paul, MN of the American Association.

I understand the movie set food was pretty good, too.

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Friday, October 20, 2006


I had two special reasons for wanting to blog today.

It is an opportunity--even though it has little to do with our ongoing topic of Independent Baseball--to offer the very best of Golden Wedding Anniversary wishes to longtime Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and his wife, Luisa. I worked for Bowie for the last 10 years of his commissionership (1974-84), which included extraordinary growth for our great game. I feel honored to have known these wonderful people, who love the game at all levels, since 1969.

Secondly, with the World Series opponents now established it seems only appropriate to send special congratulations all of the people who have toiled in the Independent game. There are many more than St. Louis reliever Josh Kinney (River City, Frontier League), who I have been writing about a lot in this space and in my Independent Baseball Insider column recently.

Two people who I can identify will be in Detroit uniforms. They are infield coach Rafael Belliard, who played for Albany, NY when it was in the Northeast League, and bullpen catcher Scott Pickens, whose affiliation was with Florence, KY of the Frontier League.

Detroit has two minor league managers out of Independent ranks, who surely are thrilled to have the Tigers in the World Series. Duffy Dyer, who managed at Bridgeport, CT of the Atlantic League, handled Class AA Erie, PA this summer and had Pete Incaviglia as a coach. Incaviglia finished his impressive playing career in the Atlantic League with Nashua, NH, plus New Jersey stops at Newark and Atlantic City. The other manager is Andres Thomas, who handled Detroit's Dominican League team. Thomas was at Victoria, when the Canadian League was active.

Remember Leon Durham, one of the first established major league players to test the Independent waters at St. Paul, MN in the Northern League's inaugural season of 1993? He was a coach for the Tigers' Triple-A players at Toledo, OH this summer.

St. Louis is not quite as deep with former Independent people, as best I can tell, although Double-A affiliate Springfield, MO, always a Cardinals hotbed, had Blaise Ilsley as its pitching coach this summer. He knows some of those strong, young bullpen arms. Ilsley has Northern League time. Onetime Gateway Grizzlies (Sauget, IL) employee Brady Bruhn has advanced from the Frontier League to being a group sales account executive for St. Louis. He should get ready for an extremely busy offseason, as eager Cardinals fans plan for 2007.

Let the games begin.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006


How is this little nugget to warm everyone's spirits as we await Game 7 of the NLCS tonight?

The Sporting News had its correspondents single out the "Biggest Surprise" on each major league team this season. The nod for San Francisco, according to Rich Draper, who also writes for MLB.com, is catcher Eliezer Alfonzo, who finally reached the majors in his 11th season. That includes 2003 at St. Paul, MN when the Saints of the American Association still were in the Northern League.

The Venezuelan homered off the Mets' Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez in his debut June 3, then filled in more than adequately for injured regular Mike Matheny.

"He picked up hitters' tendencies and worked on catching techniques throughout the season, and he's all but assured of a job in 2007," Draper wrote.

The 27-year-old hit .266 in 87 games while collecting 17 doubles, 12 homers and 39 RBI, and was catching virtually every day down the stretch.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006


To those fans driving the 30 miles on Interstate 70 from O'Fallon, MO to Busch Stadium in St. Louis--as well as the Fox TV audience nationally--for Game 5 of the National League Championship Series Thursday the chances seem really good they will see onetime River City Rascals hurler Josh Kinney take the mound at some time against the New York Mets.

We have been telling you both here and in our last Independent Baseball Insidercolumn about the rookie reliever coming from Independent Baseball and working his way into prominence in the Cardinals bullpen.

But St. Louis Manager Tony LaRussa seems more likely than ever to want Kinney on the mound once he has to relieve Jeff Weaver in Game 5 or when the series returns to Shea Stadium Wednesday and possibly Thursday.

It is a combination of Kinney's effectiveness this entire postseason, and the pounding most of the bullpen took in Game 4, when the Mets thumped their way to a 12-5 series-tying win.

Kinney was the winner in Game 2, but beyond that his four postseason appearances have seen him throw strikes (two walks) and limit opposing hitters to a .091 average. Fans should especially watch for the 27-year-old when righthanded hitters Paul LoDuca and David Wright or pinch-hitter Julio Franco are up in key situations in innings five, six, seven or eight.

Kinney can make Independent Baseball proud once more.

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Monday, October 09, 2006


Only one of the 100 players who move on to the two League Championship Series knows first hand about Independent Baseball, but his story gives this writer added interest this postseason.

The story is that of rookie St. Louis reliever Josh Kinney, who made two key appearances in the Cardinals' three victories over San Diego and seems destined to get some spotlight time in the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets.

Kinney got his professional start five years ago with River City (O'Fallon, MO) in the Frontier League, then had his contract purchased by the nearby Cardinals after only three starts (1-0, 1.71 with 18 strikeouts in 21 innings). He worked his way up the St. Louis organization, and made his big league debut this July 3.

But Manager Tony LaRussa showed so much faith in the 27-year-old righthander that he added Kinney to the postseason roster and brought him into Game 2 against the Padres to protect a 2-0 lead with two-out in the sixth inning. Kinney got four key outs and allowed only a walk.

Then in the clincher Sunday night, Kinney came in during the eighth inning to face Mike Piazza. After making the pinch-hitting Piazza look bad on a breaking ball, he induced the future Hall of Famer to hit into a 6-4-3 inning-ending double play. Kinney was lifted in favor of new closer Adam Wainwright in the ninth, but he had done his job, and had given yours truly--and Independent Baseball fans everywhere--special rooting interest as we go deeper into October.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006


It takes only a little imagination to expand Independent Baseball into more of a world-wide sport.

This 14-year-old enterprise, which just finished its second consecutive record season of drawing 7.5 million fans as we first reported in our Independent Baseball Insider column earlier this week, is quite energizing in itself.

Now consider that the renowned St. Paul (MN) Saints of the American Association embark Tuesday on an 11-day trip to Japan where they are believed to be the first United States-based minor league team to play in that country. The George Tsamis-managed team will play five games and take part in other baseball and cultural activities.

That adds Asia to the Independent Baseball map.

And, this busy correspondent (my wife says fanatic is more appropriate) has found a way to include Europe. No actual games are included, at this point. But as we travel Italy we have had conversations with fellow vacationers about no less than four Independent teams.

In Roma (we say Rome, they say Roma) it was about the Frontier League's Michigan outposts of Traverse City and Kalamazoo. And just yesterday, in a little Trattoria in Florence, the young couple seated next to us were very conversant about Edmonton and Calgary of the Northern League. The Edmonton nickname temporarily escaped me, but the friendly owner of two Mongolian restaurants in Edmonton was only too happy to remind me it was the Cracker-Cats. They also were well aware of the Vipers.

So you see, our Independent game gets attention on a very broad basis.

I must sign off now to get back to the more mundane thoughts of touring the fantastic cathedrals--and vineyards--Italy has to offer. Grazie, for bearing with this tour guide.

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Friday, September 22, 2006


What to Independent Baseball players do in the offseason? Several of them are back on the baseball diamond for roles in the ESPN baseball movie series production which will be based on the Jonathan Mahler book "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning".

The movie is largely about the New York Yankees and their attempt to win the 1977 World Series.

So, the producers needed about 100 professional baseball players to portray Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, Graig Nettles and the other Yankees plus some of their primary opponents. A number of Can-Am League players were among those who turned out for the tryouts and subsequently were chosen for roles. The New Haven County Cutters, who had been eliminated from the playoffs a day or two earlier, will have about seven people among those taking part in the filming at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, CT.

I don't know that it is official, but the Cutters' top hitter, outfielder Horace Lawrence, is said to be in line to be the Reggie Jackson double. And Graig Nettles' golden glove will be represented by Jeff Maier. Yes, the onetime lean-over-the-fence-and-make-the-catch 12-year-old fan who drew the ire of the Baltimore Orioles. He was a college baseball star at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, and has been working for the Cutters in a front office job.

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Monday, September 18, 2006


Quebec (Can-Am League), Evansville, IN (Frontier League) and Fargo, ND-Moorhead, MN (Northern League) deserve congratulations for earning the latest Independent Baseball championships, but this corner also takes its hat off to the Long Island (NY) Ducks today.

When was the last time an Independent league team was so confident of its drawing power that it scheduled a day-night doubleheader instead of the traditional single admission twin bill. Long Island the visiting Bridgeport, CT were rained out of their Atlantic League game Friday night so the Ducks did what the major leaguers are doing these days--booked separate admission games in the afternoon and at night.

All the Ducks did was fill up Citibank Park twice, drawing crowds reported at 6,191 and 6,057. Capacity is listed at 6,002.

The Atlantic League has the entire Independent Baseball spotlight to itself now that the other league playoffs have concluded. The AL season ends Sunday, then its postseason play will begin.

Quebec rebounded from a 16-27 first half, qualified for the Can-Am playoffs at the last minute, then surprised favored North Shore (Lynn, MA) in the first round and outlasted Brockton, MA in a tense, five-game struggle for its title under Manager Michel Laplante. While Quebec was 44-44 in the regular season, Greg Jelks' Evansville Otters were 46-50 in Frontier League play before stripping division champion Rockford, IL in five games and sweeping the finals, 3-0, against Chillicothe, OH. Fargo-Moorhead got some revenge for losing in the championships to Gary, IN last season, by defeating those same SouthShore Railcats this time. The triumph gave Manager Doug Simunic his fourth Northern League title, the last three with the RedHawks.

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Friday, September 15, 2006


Memo to Independent Baseball Scouts: At all cost, try to get Marc Mirizzi.

Sure, this onetime New York Yankees draftee will play at 32 most of next season. It doesn't matter.

The switch-hitting shortstop has won not one but two Indy league championships with his bat. In 2004, it was Mirizzi who hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning to cap an improbable seven-run inning which catapaulted the St. Paul (MN) Saints to a stunning Game 5 Northern League title victory against Schaumburg, IL.

Flash ahead two years and it was Mirizzi's two-out double in the sixth inning of Game 5 last weekend which broke a 1-1 deadlock and boosted Fort Worth, TX to the American Association crown. The victim: His old team, the Saints. Mirizzi went 9-for-23 with 3 runs batted in to capture MVP honors.

Ready for another irony? This onetime USC Trojan was on a second half South Atlantic League championship team in 1999. And the manager of that Greensboro, NC team was none other than Stan Hough, who piloted Mirizzi's 2006 championship Fort Worth Cats.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Three more Independent Baseball league championships go up for grabs starting tonight (Tuesday), and based what has already taken place the form chart can be tossed aside.

The championship round team seemingly on the biggest spot is Fargo, ND-Moorhead, MN of the Northern League. The perennially contending RedHawks won both the first and second halves in the Western Division. How much does that mean? Not much, if you ask North Shore (Lynn, MA) of the Can-Am League or Lincoln, NE of the American Association. They won their division twice only to be cast aside before the championship round of the playoffs. Edinburg, TX dominated the United League, but bowed out in the playoffs. We will examine these upsets in more detail later this week in our weekly Independent Baseball Insider column.

So who made it to the championship series in the three leagues starting play tonight?
Quebec, which barely made the playoffs at all, is hosting Brockton, MA in the Can-Am League 21 hours after eliminating North Shore in a rain-delayed series. The Northern League has a repeat of last season with '05 champion Gary, IN hosting Fargo-Moorhead. In the Frontier League the regular season divisional runnersup meet with Evansville, IN hosting Chillicothe, OH. All three series will be best three of five affairs.

Fort Worth, TX (American Association); Reno, NV (Golden League); and Alexandria, LA (United League) have already won championships.

The Atlantic League continues regular season play through September 24.

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Monday, September 04, 2006


It is Labor Day, but how can it possibly be labor when I am writing about baseball, right? Anyway, a few Independent Baseball thoughts today.

How disappointing to read that Kansas City released southpaw Bobby Madritsch, one of the bright lights from the Indy game. I haven't researched it thoroughly to this point, but they must have given up because of the shoulder woes which have had him sidelined for virtually two full seasons. Even if it should be the end, it was quite a ride for the 30-year-old who still calls his birthplace of Oak Lawn, IL home.

He was Cincinnati's sixth rounder in '98, but they cut him loose after three seasons, including 1999 when he was injured. The Independent trail through the Texas-Louisiana League (Rio Grande and San Angelo), Western League (Chico) and Northern League (Winnipeg) finally led to the Seattle Mariners chain after an 11-4, 2.30 campaign with Winnipeg in '02. By midway through 2004 he was with the American League Mariners, and soon after in their starting rotation. If he doesn't make it to the mound again no one will ever be able to take away the fact he has a 6-4 major league record and gave up a stingy 78 hits in 92.1 innings.

Congratulations, Bobby.

When I wrote in last week's Independent Baseball Insider about the former Independent catchers making an impact in the major leagues, I had one of those terrible boo-boos. I focused on the Giants' Eliezer Alfonzo, Chris Coste at Philadelphia and Chris Widger at Baltimore, but left out Milwaukee's Mike Rivera, who was signed from Atlantic City in the Atlantic League last season. It was especially embarrassing in that I had written about Rivera earlier this summer. The Brewers' Brad Del Barba, who had signed Rivera, pointed out my oversight. Rivera has been a solid contributor (.269-3-12) the second half of the season for Milwaukee.

Lloyd Johnson, who along with Miles Wolff is editing the next edition of the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, contributed some details about that 20-game losing streak suffered recently by the Can-Am League's Sussex, NJ team. The Skyhawks shouldn't feel too bad in that 13 previous minor league teams had longer streaks. Muskogee in the Southwestern League is the champ, if you want to call it that. Muskogee lost 38 in a row in 1923. And how about Granite Falls of the Western Carolina league in 1951? It lost 59 of its last 60, with streaks of 33 and 26. Ugh!

Johnson tells us they hope to have the new Encyclopedia out by Christmas. The current volume you can purchase now through this blog.

And, one final note that hits home with this writer. When the American Association starts its championship series Monday, it will be between St. Paul and Fort Worth. The Saints are managed by George Tsamis and the Cats by Stan Hough. I was President of the Independent team in Waterbury, CT, which played in the Northeast League from 1997-2000. Who managed those Spirit teams: Hough 1997-98 and Tsamis 1999-2000. A little piece of trivia for this Labor Day.

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Thursday, August 31, 2006


There must be a sense of relief in the beautiful farm country around Augusta, NJ today. The first-year Sussex Skyhawks, who play at Skylands Park, ended a 20-game losing streak in the second game of a Can-Am League doubleheader Wednesday night. I virtually share that feeling with them even though I have an involvement with the team that was on the short end of the 6-2 score, the New Haven County (CT) Cutters.

The loss didn't represent any major disaster for the Cutters since they started the twinbill with a 12-0 victory, thereby clinching a wild card entry into the Can-Am playoffs.

The most puzzling part of the losing streak is that Sussex sailed off to an 18-10 start in its Can-Am debut, and the Skyhawks were a decent 30-34 when they toppled powerhouse North Shore (Lynn, MA) August 4. It was a buzzsaw from that point until Jose Correa, who had not won since July 24 despite an overall 7-4 record, threw an eight-hitter at New Haven County.

The Skyhawks had something else to celebrate. A near-capacity 4,375 fans turned out, and joined in the jubilant singing of "We Are The Champions" at game's end.

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Monday, August 28, 2006


This writer has been getting questions about Jose Canseco, who has not played in a couple of weeks. The same question could be raised about Juan Gonzalez. We will touch on that duo later in this message, but how about some uplifting news first?

The Long Island (NY) Ducks, for whom Gonzalez still is listed on the roster, are going to get more attention this week because they will greet their 3,000,000th fan at Citibank Park, as long as the weatherman cooperates. The capacity-to-overflow crowds keep coming (6,002), they need only 22,588 more fans, and they have home Atlantic League games all week starting Tuesday. Early congratulations to Frank Boulton and the organization.

Our eyes also are on Havana, Cuba, where Team USA has won its first two games in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, with the two Independent Baseball graduates on the 24-man team playing key roles. Second baseman Bobby Hill (Newark, Atlantic League, 2000) scored twice and drove in a run in the opening 9-3 win over Canada Saturday, and Jeff Farnsworth (Atlantic City, '04, and Newark, '05, both in the Atlantic) got the win with a scoreless 10th Sunday as the USA edged Brazil, 8-7.

And wasn't it impressive that the top four in the Canadian batting order against Davey Johnson's USA team all played Indy Baseball this season. 2B Stubby Clapp and LF Jeremy Ware, who hit leadoff and cleanup, respectively, were at Edmonton in the Northern League while SS Kevin Nicholson and RF Ryan Radmanovich, who hit second and third, play for Somerset, NJ in the Atlantic League.

The top two teams in this 11-day event qualify for the '08 Olympics in China, with the third and fourth place teams advancing to a secondary qualifying event.

As for Canseco and Gonzalez, neither has appeared in a game in some time. Neither Long Beach, CA, where Canseco has been a struggling DH and knuckleball pitcher, nor Long Island, where Gonzalez (.308-6-19 in 29 games) was playing pretty regularly until his last appearance August 8, has provided anything in the way of specific explanations to our questions about the recent absences.

We can tell you the Yuma (AZ) Sun quoted Canseco a few days ago that he could not stay for a weekend Long Beach-Yuma series because he needed "to get back to take care of his daughter" Josie, who is nine. The Golden League season ends Monday night, and the playoffs, without Canseco's Long Beach Armada, open Wednesday with Fullerton, CA at Reno, NV.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Shortstop Tomas De La Rosa is the most recent player who can make the claim of being in Independent Baseball one season and in the major leagues the next year.

The 28-year-old played 22 games for Nashua, NH in the Atlantic League in 2005 before the Pride shifted to the Can-Am League. He was in the majors previously, but his 33 games were for Montreal back in the 2000 and 2001 seasons.

De La Rosa was playing for Fresno, CA, San Francisco's top affiliate, until last weekend when the parent Giants called him up. Who knows if the promotion will be permanent, but the 5-foot-10 De La Rosa has one tale he can tell the rest of his life.

That is about the day he pinch ran for Barry Bonds. It happened Sunday in his second appearance with the Giants, in one of those great San Francisco-Los Angeles rivalry games.

De La Rosa went one better Wednesday with a pinch single in his first at bat with the Giants. Teammate Eliezer Alfonzo, who played for the St. Paul (MN) Saints for a full season in 2003 (.300-9-46) when they still were in the Northern League (the Saints now play in the American Association), made it an even better day for the Independent Baseball grads with a game-winning RBI triple in the Giants' three-run seventh inning rally which propelled them to a 7-6 win over Arizona. Alfonzo gets much of the catching work for the Giants, and has driven in 31 runs while hitting .282 since coming up from Double-A Connecticut.

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'Baseball's Best Burger'

I wonder how many times we have heard someone say they have Baseball's Best Burger? The latest one I read about really caught my attention because I've been accused of being a ballpark food junkie and I admit to having a sweet tooth.

I understand the burger I am about to describe--or some version of it--is available in a number of places, but I first heard about it through a story in the Chicago Sun-Times. Staff reporter Dave Hoekstra, who is a self-proclaimed "huge fan" of minor league baseball, did an entire feature on this version of "Baseball's Best Burger" during a recent trip to St. Louis and nearby Sauget, IL, home of the Frontier League's Gateway Grizzlies. Not bad publicity considering the Sun-Times only has about a half million subscribers.

Hoekstra described the burger this way: "The Black Angus burger is topped with sharp Cheddar cheese and two slices of bacon. The burger is then placed in between each side of a Krispy Kreme glazed donut." Remember what I said about my sweet tooth?

Gateway General Manager Tony Funderburg told Hoekstra "If we have great food, good baseball and affordable prices, we're going to put people in the seats." I have not gotten to Sauget this summer, and the Grizzlies are struggling on the diamond. But they lead the Frontier League in average attendance (4,270) per game. It must be because of Baseball's Best Burger.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006


Jose Canseco's knuckleball had to be dancing in his starting debut Wednesday night.

The onetime major league slugging star now playing for Long Beach, CA got through four and a third innings in the Golden League game, and gave up only two hits. He left trailing 3-1 (only two runs were earned against him) and took an 8-2 loss against first half champion Reno, NV.

Now the bad news! He hit four batters, walked five others and threw a wild pitch.

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Monday, August 14, 2006


I live in Connecticut where two intriguing Independent Baseball stories have drawn huge local newspaper attention over the last few days, but I am bringing these to all my IndyBaseballChatter readers because they have wider appeal than just here in the Nutmeg state.

Both the New Haven County Cutters of the Can-Am League and the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League are frontrunners for playoff berths, although these stories carry mostly front office intrigue.

In Bridgeport, the news is that General Manager Charlie Dowd, who has compiled the winningest record since the Atlantic League started in 1998, has been taken out of the Baseball Department and asked to spend fulltime helping new Owner Mary Jane Foster re-build marketing and sales business. Columnist Chris Elsberry of the hometown Connecticut Post has written: "But between you and me, the smell (of the story) reeks of someone (Ms. Foster) who seems determined to get rid of all the old Bluefish staff and bring in the new." Dave LaPoint now handles player transactions as well as his managerial duties.

Remember Jeffrey Maier, the 12-year-old who was thrust into the spotlight a decade ago during an American League Championship Series game at Yankee Stadium when Derek Jeter's fly ball to the right field fence landed in young Maier's glove and Baltimore's protest that it was fan interference was overruled resulting with Jeter being credited with a game-tying home run? If you were following baseball closely in '96, you remember.

Young Mr. Maier has now become the all-time hit leader as a third baseman-outfielder at Wesleyan University in Middleton, CT, and while he hopes to become a professional baseball player he is wrapped up in various baseball business endeavers until that happens. He just completed an evaluation of the collegiate Cape Cod League for ESPN analyst Peter Gammons, and New Haven County has hired him for its front office.

Cutters General Manager Marie Heikkinen Webb told The New Haven Register for a Page 1 (sports) story "there will be a lot of variety (in Maier's duties) for the remainder of the season. He will be involved in community relations, promotional research...and he will be traveling to other ballparks. He'll be pretty busy."

I wouldn't be shocked if there were further developments down the road with both of these stories.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006


A tip of the cap today to the Kansas City T-Bones of the Northern League for aggressively helping advance the potential of the Buck O'Neil Education and Research Center at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

The T-Bones are soliciting donations at their last 16 home games, and that in itself is impressive in that they are among the Independent Baseball attendance leaders, averaging 5,792 fans a game at Community America Ballpark in Kansas City, KS. They also are in the running for an East Division title.

"The Negro Leagues were the original independent baseball, and Buck truly stands as the patriarch of independent baseball," said T-Bones Owner John Ehlert, who has committed $25,000 if the fans donate $50,000.

The T-Bones undertaking will be part of the Museum's "Thanks a Million, Buck", an effort to raise $1 million to kick off a $15 million renovation for the Education and Research Center before O'Neil's 95th birthday, which will be celebrated November 11.

AT&T also deserves a tip of the fedora since it is distributing the fund-raising message to its huge customer base in the Kansas City area. Fans who would like to know more may visit www.NLBM.com or call the museum at 816 221-1920.

We wish O'Neil a speedy recovery, too. He landed in a hospital Monday, and was said to be resting comfortably. "They (doctors) just wanted to slow him down a little," Bob Kendrick, who is marketing director for the Museum, told The Associated Press. That is a major task, as anyone who has seen the dapper O'Neil knows.

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Sunday, August 06, 2006


Now that Kansas City has committed at least $5.25 million to the nation's No. 1 draft choice, Luke Hochevar, it is going to want the former University of Tennessee standout to do well when he starts his new life in their organization. You do not want your top young gun to stumble.

He was in Kansas City to sign his contract this weekend, reports to Arizona to train starting Monday, then heads off to Burlington, IA in the Midwest League to pitch. It stands to reason he should do well in Low A baseball after pitching effectively early this season in the American Association. He was 1-1 with a 2.38 earned run average in four Independent Baseball starts, pitching for Fort Worth, TX.

"Those hitters (American Association), they're older (than at Tennessee), they're experienced and they're a lot smarter," he said at the time, as we quoted in our June 8 Independent Baseball Insider column. He should find that the hitters, on average, were more advanced than those he will oppose in the Midwest League.

Hochevar also is ticketed for play this fall, including the prospect-loaded Arizona Fall League.

Meanwhile, the Royals have signed at least their third Atlantic League hurler of the season for their Triple-A Omaha farm club. Veteran major leaguer Pat Mahomes was taken off the Long Island, NY roster this week. Kansas City signed Brian Boehringer and Donovan Osborne from Bridgeport, CT earlier although Boehringer has moved on again. He now works for Detroit's top club at Toledo.

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Sunday, July 30, 2006


What a treat it is to open my Sunday newspapers and pour over the weekend in sports.

As is the case for me so often, the baseball boxscores drew my initial attention today. This was an especially joyful morning for checking up on a number of the Independent Baseball grads now in the majors.

My friend Joe Yotch had tipped me off that Curtis Pride, a three-time member of the Indy Nashua (NH) Pride who I had written about in last week's Independent Baseball Insider column, had homered for the Angels Saturday at Fenway Park. Sure enough, Pride's two-run, seventh inning blast had given the Angels a temporary 5-3 lead. It was the 37-year-old's 20th major league homer, but his first since July 6, 2003 when he got a round-tripper for his only hit in 12 at bats for the New York Yankees.

Saturday's blast had put onetime Atlantic League (Camden, NJ) product Jered Weaver in position to run his major league record to 8-0. Alas, the lead did not hold up.

Another note about Pride, which I did not get to in the column. Curtis, who was born 95 per cent deaf, and his wife, Lisa, now have a charitable foundation called "Together with Pride", partly in tribute to their one-year-old daughter Noelle Angel, who has the same degree of deafness as her dad.

Now back to the boxscores.

Chris Coste, who is getting more key playing time with Philadelphia now that former backup catcher Sal Fasano has been shipped off to the Yankees, had another big day in the Phillies' 12-3 home romp over Florida. The onetime Prairie (Brandon) and Northern Leaguer (Fargo, ND) had a single, double, walk, run and two runs batted in. His average is up to .339, which is an unbelieveable feat for the 33-year-old rookie because of his slow start.

Sticking with catchers, Eliezer Alfonzo (St. Paul, Northern League) drove in his 24th run and kept his average at .300 even though his Giants lost to Pittsburgh. And Mike Rivera (Atlantic City, NJ, Atlantic League, and Springfield, IL, Frontier League), also is at .300 after his pair of singles and an RBI helped Milwaukee double up the Reds, 6-3.

Brothers J.D. and Stephen Drew were hitless, but their Dodgers and Diamondbacks, respectively, turned in victories. J. D. had played at St. Paul and Stephen at Camden.

And so it was, just another day in baseball paradise for these onetime Indy leaguers. What fun for us fans, too.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Let's see, we have already had 94-year-old baseball icon Buck O'Neil, NBA star Troy Murphy and 24-year-old Indy racing darling Danica Patrick in Independent Baseball activities this month. A tip of the hat to those celebrities and the people who made the events take place as bonuses for the fans.

Several others celebrity sightings will liven up games this week.

I especially like what the Florence (KY) Freedom are doing Thursday night (July 27). That nickname, Freedom, really telegraphs this story. The Frontier League team has invited SPC Jeffrey Hawk, an area soldier who recently returned from his tour of U.S. Army Reserve duty in Kuwait and Afghanistan, to throw out the ceremonial first ball prior to the game against Chillicothe, OH.

"I am proud and honored to know that there are people that still support us and what we are doing by letting me be the guest at one of my hometown baseball team's home games," said Hawk, who has been a soldier for 3 1/2 years.

Olympic skier Bode Miller will don a Nashua (NH) Pride uniform on Saturday for a one-game stint in the Can-Am League. At least $5,000 in game proceeds will funnel through his Turtle Ridge Foundation to help the crusade against cancer as the onetime New Hampshire high school tennis champion makes his appearance.

And in Joliet, IL that same night such former major league standouts as Bill Madlock, Carlos May, Vida Blue, Bert Campaneris and Bobby Thigpen will be part of the Budweiser Legends Game at the Northern League JackHammers' Silver Cross Field.

In case you missed Murphy's appearance, he was third base coach for a night for the Newark (NJ) Bears in an Atlantic League game. "It's fun eating sunflower seeds, wearing the uniform and doing the signs," said Murphy, now with the Golden State Warriors. He is a native of Morristown, NJ.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Including the All-Star oddities of 94-year-old Buck O'Neil taking two trips to the plate and Jose Canseco impressing with his bat and failing on the mound, it has been a busy few hours in Independent Baseball topped by the fact recent Atlantic League grad Jason Shiell is stepping into the rotation--at least for a night--for the suddenly sizzling Atlanta Braves.

Left nearly for dead in the post-season chase, the rejuvenated Braves have become the first major league team since the 1930 Yankees to score 10 or more runs in five consecutive games. Now the Braves turn their wild-card fortunes over to 29-year-old righthander Jason Shiell Wednesday night, facing Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter in St. Louis.

It was less than a month ago (June 22) when Atlanta bought Shiell from Somerset (Bridgewater, NJ) of the Atlantic League where he was pitching for the first time in three seasons after undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery. He was 3-2 with a 2.92 ERA in nine starts for the Patriots, then went 1-1, 2.14 in three starts for Triple-A Richmond.

With the Braves adding Shiell and Boston recalling reliever Jermaine Van Buren from Pawtucket, RI the roster of former Independent players in the majors has swelled to a season-high 21, including eight Atlantic Leaguers. We will have more to say about Shiell's bounceback season in our weekly Independent Baseball Insider column which comes out Thursday.

In All-Star activity Tuesday night, onetime Negro League star O'Neil became the oldest player ever to appear in a professional game when he walked twice--once for each team--in the Northern League game played in his hometown of Kansas City. Canseco hit nine home runs in two rounds to win the Golden League's home run derby at Chico, CA, but his first mound appearance of the season in the All-Star Game was not as successful. He was touched up for three hits and four runs in only one-third of an inning. The American Association rallied for a 5-3 win over the Can-Am League at El Paso, TX, before an impressive crowd of 10,102.

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Monday, July 17, 2006


What fun it would be to be in Chico, CA, El Paso, TX or Kansas City, KS Tuesday. Those are the sites as Independent Baseball puts a wrap on its mid-summer All-Star Games.

The Golden League has center stage at Chico while Northern League All-Stars will do battle at Community America Ballpark in Kansas City. El Paso, which is part of the new American Association, hosts the game in which the AA entertains the Can-Am League.

Jose Canseco will be spotlighted during Golden League festivities, which we originally reported as scheduled for last night (Monday). The onetime major league star will pitch for the first time this season, working at least one inning and utilizing his recently-discussed knuckleball. He also will take part in a home run derby. After a slow start with the bat, Canseco has homered twice and driven in seven runs in his last five games with Long Beach.

Cristian Mendoza of the Quebec Capitales and the contingent representing the New Haven (CT) County Cutters will win the long distance award since those two teams will pick up on the regular Can-Am schedule in Quebec Thursday night.

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Friday, July 14, 2006


Making sense of my desk at the end of some split season mayhem and during the All-Star Game frenzy is a challenge, but there are a few notes I wanted to share which arrived too late or did not make my weekly Independent Baseball Insider column.

The best news in All-Star land probably was the telephone call Craig Breslow received. The former New Jersey Jackals lefthander was not used in the Triple-A All-Star Game, but he is now wearing a Boston Red Sox uniform. We hope Terry Francona can give this Yale grad a good look. Breslow logged major league time with San Diego last season.

Aaron Herr, who had signed to play for his dad, Tommy, in Lancaster, PA in the Atlantic League before Cincinnati signed him in 2005, did not appear in the Southern League All-Star Game as scheduled because he had been promoted to Triple-A Louisville.

Among the Independent Baseball grads who played in affiliated All-Star Games, Nate Field (Sioux City, IA) worked a scoreless inning in AAA while Corey Thurman (Florence, KY, Frontier League) hurled two scoreless frames with three strikeouts in the Southern League game and James Johnson (Canton, OH, Frontier) got in one scoreless inning in the Eastern League contest.

One highlight from an Independent All-Star Game was the continued performance by San Angelo, TX second baseman John Anderson in the United League game, which was played before a standing room-only crowd of 6,212 in Edinburg, TX. Anderson, who as we pointed out in this week's Insider leads all of Independent Baseball with his .389 average, hammered a three-run homer to help the All-Stars beat up on Edinburg, 12-2. Anderson had that record-setting 31-game hitting streak earlier.

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Monday, July 10, 2006


It is doubtful the Can-Am League could envision this when it elected to go with one division this season.

Entering play Monday and with only three days remaining in the first half of the split season, six of the eight teams were within one game of first place. I cannot help but wonder if this has ever happened previously in an Independent or affiliated league.

The only unfortunate part of it is that with several teams forced to cancel one or more games, a team could win based strictly on percentage points, but tied in the games-behind column.

The first place team qualities for post-season play while everyone else will need to fight for the second half crown or to have one of the best full season records. Four teams will get into the playoffs.

Sussex, NJ, with three games remaining, and Brockton, MA, which has four, shared the lead at 23-19 (.548). North Shore (Lynn, MA) and New Jersey (Little Falls, NJ) were one-half game off the pace at 22-19, with New Haven County, CT (23-20) also trailing by one-half game game. Worcester, MA, the defending champion, trailed by one game at 22-20.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006


I woke up this morning not knowing exactly what I wanted to write about, but The Sunday New York Times made it an easy decision.

Splashed across the front page of the Sunday Business section was an impressive feature on the Golden League. These guys really know how to garner the publicity.

I didn't find much new about the story because the Golden League has been featured numerous times in west coast publications, but the mere fact The Times devoted more than half the front page and an entire inside page certainly deserves the attention of any Independent Baseball fan. I also enjoyed seeing the photos to get a look at the Chico, CA ballpark, and some of you will just enjoy seeing photos of founder David Kaval and Commissioner Kevin Outcalt.

The Times recently featured the zany ideas created by the Can-Am League's Brockton (M
A) Rox. Both stories represent wonderful, free publicity for the Independent game.

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Monday, July 03, 2006


A little potpourri of baseball to talk about while you wait for the Fireworks Show to begin at your favorite Independent stadium this Fourth of July week.

The TV crews figure to be out in full force at Chico, CA tonite (July 3) when designated hitter/knuckleball pitcher Jose Canseco makes his first competitive appearance since 2002 for the Golden League's San Diego Surf Dawgs. Canseco, said to be down 30 pounds to 230, brings 534 professional home runs into his first appearance for Manager Terry Kennedy. Seven of those were struck for Newark in the Atlantic League in 2001 in his other Independent Baseball stint while 462 came while wearing major league uniforms. As for being part of the San Diego pitching staff, a wait-and-see attitude may be the best approach. His next mound victory will be his first.

The Golden League is going all out, also entering into a marketing agreement with Canseco, who turned 42 Sunday. The agreement is said to include a special Jose Canseco apparel line "and interactive events with fans and kids at all of the League's ballparks." We will no doubt have updates in this week's Independent Baseball Insider column.

Have you noticed Chris Coste's recent success with the Phillies? He has three multi-hit games in his last four appearances in which he has had more than a single at bat, and has raised his National League average to .294 by collecting eight hits in his last 18 at bats (.444). What's more, this Independent Baseball original may be in for a heavier schedule with Sal Fasano listed as day-to-day after being injured in a play at the plate Sunday. Coste pinch ran in the fourth, then singled, doubled, scored twice and drove in a run in Philadelphia's 11-6 win at Toronto.

As for the auto racing, NASCAR standout Matt Kenseth is making an appearance at Joliet, IL (Northern League) Wednesday, and Indy darling Danica Patrick will be at Rockford, IL (Frontier League) July 18. Ms. Patrick, who grew up in the area at Roscoe, IL, and the RiverHawks are teaming up for an auction to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006


Some encouraging news is coming out of Pensacola, FL where paralyzed Pelicans pitcher Rusty Begnaud is now nearly a week into his recovery from a broken neck suffered while diving into a teammate's swimming pool. He suffered paralysis from the chest down, but the word we are getting is he has some feeling in his hands and a little more mobility. We view any improvement as encouraging news, no matter how small it may be in the long scheme.

The Begnaud family will have Rusty moved to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta to continue his rehabilitation as soon as a bed becomes available.

Meanwhile, what a job the Pelicans and the Pensacola community have been doing in leading fundraising for the Rusty Begnaud Benefit Account. The American Association team reports fans donated nearly $10,000 during their homestand. The Pelicans Booster Club has gotten involved, all tips from concessions stands have been donated, businesses in town are stepping up and other teams in the league are helping out.

Fans can assist Rusty's rehabilitation by making a donation in his name through People’s First Bank in Pensacola at (800) 807-7227. The Gulf Breeze Branch of the bank, where donations are received, and Cat Country 98.7 radio are holding a cookout from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. this Friday (June 30) to raise still more money for the young pitcher, who was leading the American Association in wins at the time of the dreadful injury.

On the field, Pensacola also has rebounded from two losses right after the injury to three consecutive wins against first place Coastal Bend (Robstown, TX). Another Aviators loss Monday dropped them into a tie with Pensacola. We will have more to say about Pensacola's season in our weekly Independent Baseball Insider column which comes out Thursday.


When we featured former Independent Baseball personalities who now earn their paychecks from major league organizations in last week's Independent Baseball Insider column we overlooked a few more minor league managers, including two who are handling Triple-A teams.

Credit Can-Am and American Association Commissioner Miles Wolff with bringing our list up to date, starting with the addition of Stan Cliburn at Rochester, Minnesota's top farm club, and Ken Oberkfell, who guides the New York Mets' Triple-A shuttle from Norfolk. Cliburn spent time in the Texas-Louisiana League at Alexandria, LA and Oberkfell managed in the Northeast League.

Other current affiliated managers we overlooked with their 2006 team and affiliation with the Independent background in parenthesis: Jay Gainer, Yakima for Arizona (Northeast League); Rouglas Odor, Mahoning Valley for Cleveland (Texas-Louisiana); Bill Plummer, Tennessee for Arizona (Western League); Duffy Dyer, Erie for Detroit (Bridgeport in Atlantic League); and Daren Brown, San Antonio for Seattle (Texas-Louisiana).

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Monday, June 19, 2006


When I saw that Baltimore called up Howie Clark over the weekend, it reminded me of how often players are in the major leagues well after their Independent leagues have disappeared.

The Western League played its last games in 2002, yet three of its alums are on major league rosters today. Clark, who made his 2006 debut with a pinch single Sunday, and disabled Kansas City lefty Bobby Madritsch both played for Chico, CA, which is in the Golden League today. Both were with Chico for brief times in 2001.

Ken Ray, who continues to be one of the few bright spots for the Atlanta Braves, played for Yuba-Sutter, CA in 2002.

Other examples of players from leagues no longer around include San Diego reliever Brian Sweeney with Lafayette, IN of the Heartland League, disabled Indians reliever Matt Miller of Greenville, MS of the Big South League and Philadelphia catcher Chris Coste, who was with Brandon, Manitoba, of the Prairie League. All three of those leagues have been gone at least eight years.

Coste, who finally got three starts within seven days, picked up his first two elusive major league hits and his first RBI Friday.

I did not include the major leaguers who played in the Texas-Louisiana, Central or Northeast Leagues since many teams in each of those circuits merely moved to a new league such as the American Association, United or Can-Am.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006


Arguably, the hottest pitchers in the all of Independent Baseball are Ryan Bicondoa, Erik Dessau, and Joshua Beshears. Bicandoa has a perfect 4-0 record, the others are 3-0 and each sports an ERA under one.

Bicondoa, who pitches for the North Shore Spirit (Lynn, MA) of the Can-Am League, hurled a two-hit shutout at Quebec Thursday night, winning 1-0. The 6-foot-3 righthander has not allowed an earned run and has surrendered only 11 hits while striking out 33 in 30 innings.

Dessau, another righthander, has blown away 26 in his 26.1 innings. The Gateway Grizzles (Sauget, IL) starter has held Frontier League opponents to a .194 average, while posting a 0.68 ERA.

Beshears has gone a different route than his fellow righthanders. The Winnipeg Goldeyes hurler has allowed more walks (18) than strikeouts (17), but his .150 average against with runners in scoring position helps keep his Northern League- leading ERA at 0.56.

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Monday, June 12, 2006


Our thoughts and best wishes go out to onetime major league manager Tim Johnson, whose Lincoln Saltdogs have a four-game divisional league and the best record (21-8) in the American Association.

Johnson is with Lincoln for the start of a crucial series at St. Paul, MN Monday night as he awaits results from bone marrow tests. The Lincoln Journal Star says the tests are to "check for causes into a chronic fatigue problem that Johnson has been battling for a few months."

Johnson returned to the dugout Sunday after missing home games against St. Paul and Coastal Bend.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006


The buzz should be terrific at Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster, PA Tuesday night, and not just because of the battle between the Atlantic League's two division leaders, the visiting Long Island Ducks and the Barnstormers.

Two-time American League MVP Juan Gonzalez will be making his long-rumored debut with the Ducks. He is scheduled to be the designated hitter in all three games in the series, the Barnstormers say.

Although limited to 48 games the last two seasons because of injuries, the 36-year-old slugger still seems certain to bring butterflies to Manager Tommy Herr's Lancaster pitching staff because of the 434 major league home runs he has launched since 1989.


Stubby Clapp and his Edmonton Cracker-Cats won the personal and team battles over Harry Berrios and host Winnipeg over the weekend. Edmonton won two of the three games with their star shortstop helping out by going 6-for-12 plus four walks, scoring six runs and banging a home run. Berrios was 4-for-13 with a run and an RBI for the Goldeyes.

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Sunday, June 04, 2006


The St. Paul (MN) Saints, who almost certainly have had more of their former players reach the major leagues than any other Independent Baseball team, added another graduate Saturday. In fact, catcher Eliezer Alfonzo may have made the most dramatic debut.

Ten years of minor league duty, including a .300 season for the Saints in 2003, paid off when the 27-year-old Alfonzo blasted a two-run, sixth inning home run off Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez to power San Francisco from behind to a 5-4 lead and eventual 6-4 victory over the New York Mets in the opener of a rain-delayed Shea Stadium doubleheader. Alfonzo's homer spoiled El Duque's first game back in New York, where he had previously starred for the Yankees.

Alfonzo, who saw considerable spring training play with the Giants, had just been recalled from Class AA Connecticut. He went 1-for-4 in the game, and got into the nightcap as a defensive replacement.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006


Congratulations to Jermaine Van Buren on his first major league victory!

The former Fort Worth Cat pitched an inning of relief to pick up the win for the Boston Red Sox last night over the Toronto Blue Jays.

Van Buren pitched for Fort Worth (Central League) in 2003 compiling a 9-4 record with a 3.07 ERA and 113 K's.

Van Buren entered the game with a one run lead, a runner on third base, and one out in the fifth inning. He got the next two batters to ground out, stopping the Blue Jays rally and preserving the lead.

In three appearances for the Sox, Van Buren is 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA over 6.1 innings. He’s struck out two, while holding opponents to a .200 average.


Wouldn't it be something for Independent Baseball if Ken Ray, who was in the Can-Am League as recently as last season, turned out to be the key to the Atlanta Braves winning their 15th consecutive divisional title? It could happen.

With their bullpen woes a primary concern the first third of the season, Ray could be the stabilizer. He closed out another victory Wednesday night with a two-strikeout, no-hit inning, but did not get a save since Atlanta had a 9-3 lead. He already saved two games in less than a week to move toward the regular closer's role, which we will be featuring in this week's Independent Baseball Insider column as part of a story on four Can-Am pitchers who have ascended from an Independent league one season to the majors the next.

Ray was with North Shore for part of the '05 Can-Am season. He also has Independent experience with Long Island (Atlantic League) and in the former Western League.

Bobby Cox has not committed to Ray as his closer--at least publicly--but the 31-year-old Atlanta native has won over Mark Bowman, who covers the Braves for MLB.com. "Through the first two months of the season, he's been as good as any reliever in the National League," Bowman writes. "So, obviously, my decision (to close) is Ray, who I propose should be called 'The Stinger' in reference to a sting ray."

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Tony Torcato had better be ready to talk about baseball's No. 2-ranked home run hitter. Fans will be asking. So will the media. Even teammates.

Torcato, who spent part of each of the last four seasons with Barry Bonds during his stints with the San Francisco Giants, helps the Golden League inaugurate its second season this week as a member of the Chico Outlaws. It is pretty easy to guess Bonds will be a topic any time the 26-year-old infielder-outfielder with a .298 major league batting average pops his head out of his clubhouse cubicle.

While Chico is delighted to have the former first round draft choice, defending champion San Diego probably is seeking a bat to replace Graham Koonce, who just became another Golden Leaguer to sign with a major league organization. Milwaukee picked up Koonce, who has 178 career minor league home runs.

The six-team league starts the campaign with San Diego at Yuma, AZ Thursday. The others open Friday night.

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Friday, May 26, 2006


I suppose I am somewhat normal when I daydream about being somewhere else, especially if it is another baseball stadium.

My dream for next week takes me to CanWest Global Park in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and it isn't just that the Winnipeg Goldeyes, one of the Northern League's perennial playoff teams, seem to always fill up the ballpark.

No, it is that next week's Thursday-Sunday (June 1-4) series will find two of Independent Baseball's most successful players in headline roles, health permitting, of course, when Winnipeg and the Edmonton Cracker-Cats battle it out.

I would love to see what Team Canada hero Stubby Clapp contributes for Edmonton and what reliable Harry Berrios does for Winnipeg. Clapp, widely admired for his emotional leadership on a baseball diamond, was Edmonton's MVP last season, months before he helped Team Canada surprise the United States in the World Baseball Classic. Berrios continues to pile up Northern League records. He leads or is second best of all time in the 14-year-old league in games, at bats, runs, hits, doubles, home runs and RBI.

It should be a dandy series.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Doug Simunic had achieved just about everything in his 10 previous season as manager of the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks of the Northern League. Two championships (plus one at Winnipeg in 1994), three-time Manager of the Year, winning record every season, all-time winningest NL manager.

But he hadn't experienced having one of his player proteges reach the major leagues until Chris Coste joined the Philadelphia Phillies this week. Lefty Jason Pearson, a 10-game winner in 2000, had a couple of brief stints with the Padres and Cardinals, but he didn't really plant down the same roots in Fargo as hometown product Coste, who was with the Redhawks for four seasons.

So big Doug had reason to be happy and proud.

Was there one game Coste had played that stuck out in his mind, I inquired on the telephone, as I was building my Independent Baseball Insider column which features Coste this week. Simunic pointed to a single at bat.

It was a three-run home run Coste hit, Simunic said, after a rain delay off Northern League stalwart and Winnipeg rival Rick Forney in a playoff game in 1998. Sorry, Doug. Coste told me Wednesday from his New York hotel room he remembered the home run, which came "in Game 2" but it was not a three-run job. "It was a grand slam."

Just a small detail since 1998 was the season Simunic and Coste won a Northern League title together.

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Monday, May 22, 2006


Chris Coste's 11-year journey from the Brandon Grey Owls of the defunct Prairie League in 1995, to four seasons with his hometown Fargo-Moorehead Redhawks in the Northern League, to five affiliated minor league teams, to several major league spring training camps finally ended up with the catcher-third baseman-first baseman in the majors Sunday.

How excited Chris must have been to be in uniform for Philadelphia's 10-5 win over Boston, one of his former organizations, even though he did not get into the game.

Now Coste's major league debut seems likely to come at some point in the National League East headline series at Shea Stadium starting Tuesday when the first place Mets host the second place Phillies.

While many players peak somewhere between 27 and 31 "there is no question I am a better player now" at 33 Coste told us over breakfast this spring, a spring training in which he hit .463 for the Phillies and still got sent down the last day before the regular season opener. (See our Independent Baseball Insider column of April 6.)

Coste's story should provide a happy day for every Independent Baseball player still trying to reach the majors. We will have much more to say about that topic in this Thursday's "Insider" column. Maybe we can even talk about his first big-league hit by that time.

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Friday, May 19, 2006


I couldn't help but think about my friend Jackie Hernandez, who now coaches third base for the St. Paul Saints, this week.

Jackie left his native Cuba nearly a half century ago to come to the United States and play baseball. Could he ever pick 'em at shortstop, bow legs and all. Many of those who have seen the spry 65-year-old on Independent Baseball diamonds the last several years probably don't even realize he spent nine years in the major leagues (Angels, Twins, Royals, Pirates) and threw out the final batter when Pittsburgh won the 1971 World Series.

I think about Jackie for so many reasons, since he and I date back to 1967 in Denver (Triple-A), but on this particular day it was a little chilly as the New Haven County Cutters of the Can-Am League worked out. The players who had just arrived from points such as Florida, Venezuela and Puerto Rico were being introduced to Northeastern May chill. They weren't prepared.

Jackie Hernandez never has gotten used to the sub-80-degree days. So, if you are at an American Association game and if you look closely when he is waiving Saints runners around third base and it is much under, say 65, it is a decent wager he has his long johns under his uniform.

You can even say I told this little story on him.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006


One can only imagine how exciting Friday is going to be for Linden Black, the first local investor in the American Association's St. Joseph (MO) Blacksnakes. They play their first game Phil Welch Stadium Friday night.

He was a young boy the last time St. Joe had a professional team and that was in 1954, some 52 years ago. He confesses the return of a professional team "has been a dream of mine for a long time" and President Mark Schuster says "he (Black) was critical to the team coming here and will be a great help moving forward."

We hope the weatherman gives them a beautiful Midwestern evening and at the risk of alienating the visiting Sioux Falls (SD) Canaries that the Blacksnakes get off to a rousing start.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006


We have not received any word on the Battle of the Chainsaw Superstars in Sioux Falls, SD Monday night, but we can tell you the novel American Association doubleheader played in two stadiums in two different states within 11 hours may have disappointed virtually all of the fans. We are only kidding, of course.

It is just that the visiting team won each game. Sioux Falls scored twice in the ninth to prevail 3-1 over homestanding Sioux City, IA in the morning game. After traveling 85 miles to Sioux Falls the Explorers got revenge, pounding out 19 hits while gaining an 8-4 victory.

It was a great experiment. Now, if we can only get the chainsaw results.

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It sometimes is a two-edged sword for Independent Baseball teams when major league organizations come calling about a player. They want the best for the player, but they also hate giving up someone who helping their team win.

Bridgeport, CT Manager Dave LaPoint got right to the point when discussing veteran major leaguer Donovan Osborne (1-0, 2.36) after the southpaw had hurled a complete-game four-hitter for the Atlantic League's Bluefish Sunday. He had retired the first 19 hitters he faced five days earlier.

"Sometimes he's a man against boys out there," LaPoint told The Connecticut Post's Rich Elliott. "I've had him for two years now (Long Island, NY part of 2005) and I don't understand why he's not helping the New York Mets right now or somebody like that because the guy can pitch."

For the record, Osborne, who turns 37 next month, has a 49-46 major league record, but last pitched in the bigs in 2004 when he was 2-0 with a 7.13 ERA in nine appearances, including two starts, for the New York Yankees.

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Monday, May 15, 2006


If I could have my choice of being at any Independent Baseball location today (Monday) it would be along Interstate 29 in the midwest.

Longtime rivals Sioux Falls, SD and Sioux City, IA cooked up a novel day-night doubleheader in the two cities that are 85 miles apart. American Association President Dan Moushon points out this is believed to be the first time two teams have played a doubleheader in two different states in the same day.

The fun was to begin at 11 a.m. at Sioux City's Lewis and Clark Park, with the nightcap eight hours later at Sioux Falls Stadium. As I29 heads north toward Sioux Falls it either goes through a tip of South Sioux City, NE or it would be only a Tiger Woods drive from the Cornhusker state. I hope someone took this into account so the bus drivers could veer into Nebraska. This would allow romanticizing the story more so everyone could claim it was a three-state trip to get the two games played.

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