Friday, August 31, 2007


This typist had an unexpected night of Independent Baseball pleasure this week thanks to Mother Nature.

I had a personal trip planned back to my original home state of Nebraska to celebrate my mother’s 100th birthday, and when the latest round of heavy rain postponed Game 2 of the American Association’s North Division playoffs I was able to rearrange a few things to see the makeup.

It was one of those perfect August evenings and Haymarket Park in Lincoln always is a visual pleasure, as noticed by those who have selected it Best Playing Field in its league for all seven seasons it has been open. It would be difficult to argue with that selection, even if they broadened it to Most Beautiful and Best Maintained Stadium. It should be noted that the first five of those selections came while the Saltdogs were part of the Northern League.

The only factor—but a major one—in saying the entire evening was “perfect” was in watching the angst among the Lincoln management team. The Saltdogs put together by GM Tim Utrup and Manager Tim Johnson with help from player personnel guru Nick Belmonte had the best record in all of Independent Baseball in 2006, and they were among the best this season, especially as they won the first half of the split season.

But the perennially tough St. Paul (MN) Saints spoiled things by ousting Lincoln from the playoffs one year ago, and this Wednesday night game saw St. Paul take a 2-0 lead in still another best-of-five series. That’s tough on the fans in Lincoln, and, probably many times worse on the staff, which lives the season day by day, hour by hour.

Lincoln knows it had another wonderful season, including making more than 4,000 a night happy, but once again there probably would not be a postseason American Association championship after this loss. St. Paul made that fact official one night later by putting the finishing touches on the series back in their Minnesota digs.

Eventually, everyone within the Saltdogs organization, from Owner Jim Abel and President Charlie Meyer, will be able to take some satisfaction from what they have accomplished year in and year out in Lincoln. But it would take some time.

The gorgeous moon climbing above the leftfield fence and the satisfactions of the regular season successes could not possibly bring solace on this night.


It reinforced the already certified fact that St. Paul Manager George Tsamis knows how to assemble a team that will compete with the best, even if he has to do a lot of tinkering during the season.

One of the newest pieces for the Saints is first baseman Fernando Valenzuela, Jr. Picked up via Mexico with 21 games to go in the regular season, he hit a mammoth three-run homer in Game 2 and also made a nifty play on a tough bouncer, all the while wearing the No. 37 uniform his more famous father made a favorite for years at Dodger Stadium.

Lincoln made continued use in the closing weeks of a trio of escapees from the ill-fated New York State League. Catcher Joe Dempsey (.309 in 55 at bats), outfielder Ross McCoy (.302 with 12 ribbies in 96 at bats) and righthander Brian Campbell (2-3, 4.41) proved they could play in the higher ranks of the American Association.

It was good to say hello to Umpire boss Kevin Winn, who handles both the AA and the Can-Am League, and two of those he transferred from the Eastern-based league to the Midwest, veteran Steve Linton and now fulltimer Tim McCaffrey.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007


We all know the term "jack of all trades".

Matt McDermott certainly qualifies for what he did for the fledgling Continental League in Texas this summer.

Perhaps most importantly, he helped coordinate league and team publicity efforts, including statistics for the four teams. More established leagues could do well to emulate some of the what this writer saw come in from the CBL.

But Matt McDermott also served, at times, as a bullpen catcher, first base coach, fill-in public address announcer, part-time color commentator, marketing assistant, My Space coordinator, gave lessons to youngsters, and, in his words, was "chief bat bag carrier".

All of these tasks were no doubt secondary, in McDermott's mind, to what took place one sweltering day earlier this month. He actually played two innings for onetime major leaguer Tom Goodwin's Lewisville Lizards.

McDermott, who played club level baseball while working toward his BS in Management Sciences at SMU, had wanted a professional opportunity for 11 years. Now 33, he first went to a tryout camp for the Waterbury (CT) Spirit of the old Northeast League way back in 1997. He ended up doing some bullpen catching for Stan Hough, now the manager of the defending champion Fort Worth Cats in the American Association. It was a non-paying, non-playing position.

This Dallas resident, who thankfully has a stock-trading job as well as his own LLC called Bullpen Marketing, did not give up. He started training again in 2003 to seek a possible position with the Cats, he did some bullpen catching for them two summers ago and tried out again in 2006.

His two-inning stint August 5 came about when the starting catcher went down to injury. Matt reports his efforts included four putouts from strikeouts and a K of his own in his only time at bat in a 14-7 loss to eventual Continental League champion Tarrant County.

"I finally did it; it was great," McDermott told me, admitting a sense of relief in proving he had the ability. All he needed was a chance.

The world--not just the baseball world--needs more Matt McDermotts.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007


I am one of the lucky people, getting a vacation before the baseball season ends. But come to think about it, I can claim I was merely out collecting new information for this blog and my weekly Independent Baseball Insider column.

I stepped up to a pro shop counter at one of the beautiful golf courses on North Carolina's Outer Banks one day this week only to have the man who was about to collect my fees ask about the cap I was wearing. He probably expected to hear that it was a new version of Carolina Blue that he had not seen.

It happened to be a New Haven County Cutters cap, in Carolina Blue, and I explained that it was an Independent Baseball team from the Can-Am League and playing in Connecticut.

"Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson", he said, without missing a beat, remembering that they had played in an Independent league (Atlantic). He didn't seem to know much more about the Indy game, but it certainly reinforces that people far removed from any Independent Baseball team knows something about this brand of baseball. I hope the next time either you or I run into something similar we don't have Jose Offerman's name tossed back at us. We want to be remembered for the positive things in our game, and the Canseco and Henderson references seemed positive.

Changing pages...

My morning collection of emails this Sunday brought news of a terrific strikeout performance in the United League. I had been worried about the league losing more games because of the latest rainy spell, but nothing stopped Santo Hernandez of the Laredo (TX) Broncos Saturday night. He struck out eight of the first 10 Rio Grande Valley batters he faced, and went on to a 16-K night in only eight innings of the 6-4 victory. I do not recall any Indy hurler striking out that many batters this season.

Hernandez is having a great season for himself, winning nine of 13 decisions for a team 13 games under .500.

Rain has played havoc with the Continental League's playoffs this weekend, but the first year circuit still hopes to have a champion crowned by tonight (Sunday).

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Sunday, August 12, 2007


Friday night at Camden Yards proved to be a very entertaining time for this typist, although the many thousands of Red Sox fans who trekked down from New England would not agree because the Beantown boys could not hold a 5-1 lead they had only mustered with a five-run top half of the eighth inning.

The fans actually provided much of the enjoyment. The rest came because, as luck would have it, Tike Redman was all but officially making his Baltimore debut after paying a visit to the Atlantic League earlier this season. His return provided the meat this Independent Baseball writer needed.

Let me try to sort it out.

For those of you who do not know, Tike (pronounced TYE-k) Redman is a talented, 30-year-old outfielder. He had played 392 major league games before Friday, every one of them for Pittsburgh. But the last one was in 2005, and he has been moving around in the minor leagues since that time.

His journeys included spending a week in the Atlantic League in May, blistering the baseball at a .464 pace (13-28) in his seven games for York, PA. Fans of the Revolution may have a hard time accepting this as fact because all seven games were on the road, including a 5-for-5 game at Camden, NJ May 9. Then it was back to Baltimore's Triple-A club at Norfork, VA, where he had started the season.

Tike was announced as a pinch hitter Thursday, but his first actual game action was 24 hours later and he showed this observer he still can play, if ever a one-game trial means anything. Batting ninth and playing leftfield against Daisuke Matsuzaka (nice, easy way to get your feet wet, right?) Redman swung throught a high fastball in the second, singled sharply through the box in the fifth and showed he still runs well although Mike Lowell threw him out from third base his third and last time up. He left for pinch hitter Jay Payton after the Orioles had dramatically pulled back even, 5-5, in the bottom of the eighth.

But Tike Redman was back in the majors, hopefully for some time, and the trip to the Atlantic League did just what that league likes to do. It helps players tune up for another big league opportunity.

Now for those thousands of Red Sox-adorned fans. Don't think for a minute they just drive over from the Nation's Capital. My wife and I have proof a good percentage of them actually come from New England. We wanted to get a little lunch along the New Jersey Turnpike on our way from Connecticut. Harmless enough, right? Let me tell you it was virtually impossible to work your way through a food line because it was so deep with the Red Sox Nation. And every one of them was wearing the home team's attire.

The scene was duplicated, but in much greater proportions, once we got near Camden Yards nearly two hours before the first pitch. Everyone we saw was well behaved, but my oh my they were there in huge numbers. It was the largest crowd of the season to that point.

The Baltimore Chamber of Commerce had to love the envasion, with the cash registers clicking this entire weekend.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Baseball prefers those in the umpiring fraternity work anonymously whenever possible because that means they are doing their job. That goes for umpiring supervisors, as well, but when they leave us a void is felt by so many whose lives they touched.

We tell you this because longtime Independent Baseball Director of Umpires Butch Fisher passed away Wednesday morning after a battle with lung cancer which he had known about for only a short time.

The Stacy, MN resident played a major role in the Independent game, starting that very first year of the modern era in 1993. He was Supervisor of Umpires in the Northern League in 1993-94, then again from 1996-2004, and this season was the umpire boss in the new South Coast League. He also served the Central League for a time.

Fisher also had major impact in helping form an umpires association in his home state. Products of that group include current major league umpires Jeff Nelson, Tim Tschida and Mark Wegner.

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