Welcome to our Monday-Wednesday-Friday postings concentrating on the happenings with some of the Independent Baseball players in major league spring training camps. Websites are invited to reproduce any portion of this offering as long as credit is given to www. IndyBaseballChatter.com.
Tampa Bay's Jon Weber and Yankees' Justin Christian
Swinging With Effectiveness
Jon Weber has accumulated 104 minor league home runs the last nine seasons--43 of them while playing Independent Baseball--but chances are very few of them felt as good as the round-tripper he hit against the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers, FL Thursday. Sure, it was against the World Champions, but the mere fact it was while wearing a major league uniform probably was the sweetest part.
The left-handed hitter, who turned 30 in January, still is trying to achieve every player's dream of getting into a regular season major league game. Weber is a non-roster invitee for the Rays after splitting 2007 between Fargo, ND in the Northern League, Bakersfield, CA (Texas Rangers) and Durham, NC, Tampa Bay's top farm club. He had two and a half Independent seasons earlier, playing in the Frontier League (Canton, OH) in 2001 and Fargo the next year and a half.
Weber spoiled an otherwise encouraging start for Bartolo Colon with his second inning homer, the Lakewood, CA native's first of spring training. It was the only run Colon gave up in two innings to start the game. Weber has been active in that this was his 11th game for the hot Rays, going 4-for-19 (.211) with six runs and three RBI. Weber has fanned only one time.
CHRISTIAN AND BILLY CRYSTAL IN SAME LINEUP--No matter what happens the rest of his career, New York Yankees rookie outfielder Justin Christian, who started his pro career in 2003-04 with River City (O'Fallon, MO) in the Frontier League, can always tell friends he and comedien Billy Crystal played in the same major league game. Crystal's much-publicized appearance to celebrate his 60th birthday came in the first inning at Tampa, FL Thursday. Christian entered the game later as a pinch-runner for Hideki Matsui, and before the day was over (5-3 Pittsburgh win) the 27-year-old Christian had singled, doubled, scored a run and stolen a base. Since he has only 40 games as high as Triple-A, Christian has to be a long shot to crack the Yankees' roster now, but he is hitting .333 (3-for-9) in seven spring training appearances. Pirates catching hopeful Michel Hernandez, who played in the Atlantic League (Somerset, NJ) last season, was 0-for-1 in the late innings.
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ABDOMINAL STRAIN SLOWS JUAN GONZALEZ--Two-time MVP Juan Gonzalez, a Long Island Duck (Atlantic League) in 2006, is losing some time in his comeback bid with the St. Louis Cardinals because of what is being described as a minor abdominal strain. Often injured in recent years, Cardinals trainer Barry Weinberg told USA Today "it's a short term thing." Gonzalez started the spring as a DH, but he also has been in the outfield of late. The 38-year-old Gonzalez is believed to be one of three players in a battle for the final outfield job. He has helped himself with a .308 average with a homer and five runs batted in in 26 at-bats.
HOCHEVAR STARTS, AGAIN--Luke Hochevar, who the Kansas City Royals have been considering as either a starter or reliever, was allowed to stretch it out a bit with a four-inning start against the Los Angeles Angels Wednesday. The former Fort Worth (TX) Cats star served the American Association well by limiting the Angels to two runs, although he was touched for six hits.
EDGARDO JUMPS TO .350--Comeback-minded Edgardo Alfonzo, one of the players featured in yesterday's Independent Baseball Insider column, helped himself some more with the Texas Rangers Thursday when a single in his only time at bat improved his spring average to .350 (7-for-20). After getting untracked while playing the infield in the Atlantic League (Long Island) last summer, Alfonzo, only 34, has six runs batted in in his 11 spring appearances.
THIS 'N THAT--Squad cuts in the last couple of days have sent catcher Ryan Smith and pitcher Adam Pettyjohn back to minor league camps. Smith, who has extensive Independent experience with seven teams in five different leagues, was in camp with the Chicago White Sox. Pettyjohn, now in the Cincinnati organization, worked his way back from serious illness with Long Beach, CA in the Golden League in 2005-06...Our records still show 20 non-roster Indy grads in major league camps along with another 20 who are on 40-man rosters...Big Scott Patterson (Gateway, Frontier League; Lancaster, PA, Atlantic League) still has not been scored on in five appearances with the Yankees. In fact, he has only allowed one hit in 4.1 innings while continuing his outstanding control (no walks) and strikeing out four...Joe Thatcher has a 4.15 ERA after four appearances with San Diego. He started his pro career with River City in the Frontier League.