Tuesday, February 27, 2007


I am feeling somewhat like an expectant father these days, times which I thought were long past. This anxiety--only a bit of an overstatement--comes about as Grapefruit and Cactus League play begins, and we wait to see how the 47 Independent Baseball alums in major league camps fare. One can only imagine the increased pulse rate for the players themselves, starting with the 32 who are non-roster invitees.

But I also find myself fascinated with how many new signings from the Independent ranks are coming in even as the affiliated minor league camps swing their doors open. The talent level the Independents offer cannot possibly be lost on the major league scouting departments.

I can count 14 additions in the last three weeks to the master roster we keep of the onetime Independent players now toiling for the 30 major league organizations, and all of the news may not have even reached this cluttered desk.

The Phillies alone signed four players from among 74 who attended their first ever tryout camp for largely Independent players last weekend. All four were pitchers although several position players are among the 14 recent signees. One of the Philadelphia foursome had only college experience, but three were from the Indy ranks--Mike McTamney, Cory Willey and Jason Wylie. Technically, the trio all came from the Can-Am League, which could be causing some button-popping in the Durham, NC league office.

McTamney played in the Golden League last season, wearing both Fullerton, CA and Reno, NV uniforms, but he had recently been moved to the Can-Am's Brockton, MA franchise. Willey pitched for New Haven County, CT in '06 while Wylie was with both Brockton and the New Jersey Jackals.

The Philadelphia camp was run by Mal Fichman, the onetime Northern League manager who has been signing Independent players for years for the San Diego Padres.

Another signing which has peaked this corner's interest was veteran major league reliever Rich Garces joining the Can-Am League's Nashua (NH) Pride. Garces, who turns 36 in May, has 287 major league appearances, all out of the bullpen, and a 23-10 record, but I do not believe he has pitched professionally since 2002.

My Independent Baseball Insider column Thursday will include a spring training chat with Tagg Bozied, the onetime Northern Leaguer who is trying to make the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals roster this spring after the misfortune of a serious injury from a homeplate celebration after one of his walkoff home runs. He is a great hometown story, just like Philadelphia's Chris Coste (Fargo, ND), with Bozied being the pride of Sioux Falls, SD, which now is in the American Association.


It is encouraging that both the Golden League and the United League were sufficiently pleased with their winter league seasons that they will do it again next January. One other winter league is on the drawing board, possibly in Florida, although as best we know it is not directly affiliated with any league. And, the new Continental League was scheduled to unveil its last 2007 franchise in League City, TX (near Houston) today. It will be called the Bay Area Toros. The league's fourth entry, largely a traveling team, will be known as the Texas Heat. We understand it may play games in one or more prospective future cities. Tryout camp information for the Continental League is available at www.cblproball.com.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Craig Breslow had three respectable stints with the parent Boston Red Sox last season and a very strong performance at Triple-A Pawtucket to keep him on the 40-man roster, but his chances of opening the 2007 in the major leagues apparently took a hit when Japanese darling Daisuke Matsuzaka came into the picture.

If this doesn't seem to make any sense since Breslow is a lefty reliever and Matsuzaka a right-handed starter dig a little deeper. The Red Sox also signed established southpaw reliever Hideki Okajima, and Boston Globe baseball writer Gordon Edes says: "As a COD (Companion of Daisuke), Hideki Okajima would appear to be assured of a spot (on the roster)." He is 31 to Breslow's 26, but Okajima also has 10 years of experience in the Japanese leagues, he struck out 63 in 55 innings last season and the Red Sox very much want to impact the Japanese market.

It is not certain Boston will keep another lefty in the bullpen, but if it does Edes says J. C. Romero or Javier Lopez probably will get the first look. He called Breslow, who emerged from the New Jersey Jackals of the Northeast League (now the Can-Am League) in 2004, "the long shot".

Breslow fans should keep three things in mind. First, the odds can't be stacked as deeply against the Yale grad as when Milwaukee dropped him in '04 when he hadn't climbed above Class A. Secondly, the 7-1 record with seven saves to go with 77 strikeouts and only 49 hits allowed in 67 innings last season at Pawtucket (2.69 ERA) plus a 3.75 ERA in his 12 innings at Boston are reasons to hold your head high and believe in yourself. And third, he is a youthful lefthander. Those guys get opportunities, somewhere.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007


It was basketball ambassador Jim Valvano who brought the words "don't ever give up" to life, a very short time before cancer claimed him at an all-too-young age.

Independent Baseball is full of stories of the same theme because, after all, virtually every Independent leaguer has been bypassed in some way. He did not get drafted or he feels he did not get a solid chance after he signed. But where would Kevin Millar or Josh Kinney or Chris Coste or Matt Miller or the other Indy originals you will be reading about again with spring training starting be today if they had not persevered in their "hardship" times.

I was reminded of the "never ever give up" theme once more when I read about San Angelo, TX signing 27-year-old Brad Boutwell for the Colts' United League team. I imagine Boutwell still must impress Manager Doc Edwards during training camp to open the season with San Angelo, but this left-handed pitcher could have given up a long time ago without some unusual determination.

The Colts tell us Boutwell could not make his high school team even though he tried out every year. Well, he did talk the coach into allowing him to throw batting practice in his senior year. But he did not get into a single game.

It was the same story at San Jacinto Junior College in Houston. Not a single pitch. Boutwell played in men's leagues in Denver for the next five years, and attended tryout camps held by the Central League and the American Association in addition to the United League.

Finally, this determined bartender and baseball instructor met former Houston Astros pitcher Scipio Spinks. Spinks talked to Edwards, and Boutwell says "I have a professional contract on my wall. It is surreal."

He heeded Valvano's words.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Since I usually devote most of my Independent Baseball Insider columns to on-field activities, I am taking a little time today to give fans a flavor of some of the other happenings in our game.

Every team gets involved in tons of fund-raising activities, but one of the most effective I've seen this winter was the more than $15,000 raised in Gary to benefit youth baseball and softball in that Indiana community. How did the Northern League's SouthShore RailCats raise the money? It wasn't brain surgery. They got the Chicago Cubs to make Gary one of their preseason publicity caravan stops, and raised the money during the visit by Lou Piniella and Company.

Another Northern League team, the Calgary Vipers, found a way to do a nice turn when they went on a player search to the Dominican Republic. They took more than 30 baseball gloves to distribute to young hopefuls in that country. It may seem somewhat surprising with the attention given to baseball, but many youngsters do not have gloves.

And, what about the unique uses of stadiums during the offseason? Yes, it builds revenue for the teams, but it also provides enjoyable opportunities for residents, even those who may not yet be baseball fans.

Lancaster, PA has developed what it calls The Ice Park at its Atlantic League facility, Clipper Magazine Stadium. A Moonlight Skate is slated for couples Wednesday for Valentine's Day, and Saturday will be the second of two consecutive weeks with free skating lessons. How is that for community service?

In Kansas City, KS, the Northern League's T-Bones have announced they will turn CommunityAmerica Ballpark into an open-air market every Saturday from May-October. Farmers and artisans will offer their goods to fans, some of whom you can imagine will see the ballpark for the first time.

If you do not already know what special activities your hometown Independent Baseball team offers, check out the team website or give the team a call. It may be the offseason to you, but you will find the front office working away.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007


The Continental League, which seemingly had been in a holding pattern for months while its announced May 24 launch date was drawing closer and closer, is about to unveil its cities.

All indications are that Commissioner Ron Baron will reveal the first two cities in media conferences Thursday, with what the Independent Baseball Insiderhas learned will be a third Texas community to follow in a short time. Then the Continental League will open, as scheduled, most likely with a travel team completing the lineup for the 2007 season.

What this means to Independent Baseball is that the map will swell from seven leagues last season to 10 this summer, including two other newcomers, the six-team South Coast League and the Utica, NY-based four-team New York State League. The number of teams will go from 56 of 2006 to 72 or 74, depending on whether the Golden League fields six teams or eight.

The first two Continental League teams will be in Lewisville, TX (Denton County), which is north of Dallas, and Tarrant County, which is something like 20 miles from the American Association's defending champion Fort Worth Cats and 35 miles from the Texas Rangers in Arlington. Lewisville is a few miles further away. Both teams will be in rapid growth areas.

Former major league outfielder Jay Johnstone will be on hand along with Baron and onetime Chicago Cubs publicist Bob Ibach when the Continental League introduces its initial teams and discusses its 60-game Thursday-Sunday schedule. While the league works on newer facilities and more teams for the future, the three teams with stadiums in 2007 will play in high school facilities with each of them hosting about 38 games.

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Friday, February 02, 2007


One of the XM radio guys kept reminding me today only "13 more days until pitchers and catchers", and while that is always soothing news I had a wide-ranging baseball Hot Stove day in what I had really planned as a catchup, cleanup day after getting this week's Independent Baseball Insider column launched yesterday.

I can't give you all the specifics, but my day included listening to a caller tell me that a Russian team is rumored to be the next to join the Golden League or possibly a league in Texas, to discussing a new spring training museum that is under consideration in Florida, to reading about Saturday's debut of the full-length movie that grew out of the Golden League, to listening as an active Independent Baseball player share his intentions of launching a website service which will help other players map out everything they need to conduct their life off the diamond, to getting the impressions of a longtime baseball guy about one of his former Independent players who will be in a major league training camp this month.

Here are some of the highlights of this chilly Friday's conversations.

I have not had a chance to find out the reality of the Russian story, but why not with baseball spreading so rapidly around the world. The Golden League had the Japanese Samurai Bears two years ago so why couldn't that western-based league or the United or the proposed Continental League in Texas have such a team?

The Samurai Bears of 2005, the Golden League's initial season, prompted the movie Season of the Samurai, which debuts as part of the Santa Barbara (CA) Film Festival at the Lobero Theater Saturday night. "We are very impressed with the final product that Mod3 Productions has created from the over 300 hours of film that they shot," GBL CEO and co-founder David Kaval was quoted in a press release. I cannot help but wonder who will be recognized by more people future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson or game show host and Golden investor Pat Sajak.

If you want to dream along with a possible first-time major leaguer this spring you might not do any better than follow the progress of 27-year-old Tagg Bozied as he tries to make the 25-man roster of the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Bozied isn't going to beat out Albert Pujols at first base or Scott Rolen at third, so I am calling this non-roster invitee a first baseman-third baseman-outfielder-pinch hitter, and what better team than to be with one managed by Tony LaRussa, who certainly likes players who show versatility.

I had the pleasure of chatting about Bozied with Doc Edwards, who will celebrate his 50th year in baseball this summer as the skipper at San Angelo, TX of the United League, long after he played in the majors (1962-70) and skippered the Cleveland Indians (1987-89). He was Bozied's manager when the youthful Scott Boras client debuted with Sioux Falls, SD back in 2001. "Great kid," said Edwards, and "he could get the bat out front to consistently catch up with a 95-mile per hour fastball." That year in the Northern League plus five more ranging from Class A to Triple-A just may have him ready. I know I will be following his progress to see if he can become the newest Independent Baseball original to make it all the way up the ladder.

Now, I am ready for the weekend.

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