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 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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