Friday, July 18, 2008


Some leftovers from a busy week along the Independent Baseball trail, heightened by a heavy schedule of affiliated and Indy All-Star Games.

Mike Cervenak must have felt like he was having one of those wild dreams where nothing was going right and everything was getting extremely complicated as he got called up to the major leagues for the first time in his 10-year professional career.

(We discussed the call-up and Cervenak's great credentials in this week's subscriber-only Independent Baseball Insider, including his current No. 2 ranking in the International League batting race--.310 with 7 homers and 52 runs batted in--but did not have the space to tell the rest of the story about his initial major league experience.)

It was not a dream however, as the most recent player who started in an Independent and now has a major league resume explained on the telephone Thursday as he was preparing to leave with his Philadelphia Phillies teammates for an important weekend trip to Florida to square off against the Marlins.

As the 31-year-old former Chillicothe (OH) Paints (Frontier League) star explained, his Lehigh Valley team had just finished a homestand with a night game (July 9) and had bussed to Syracuse, NY, where a road trip would start. It is roughly 200-225 miles from Allentown, PA to Syracuse so it is a reasonable assumption the IronPigs (sorry, that is their nickname) arrived no earlier than 2 a.m.

Cervenak and roommate John Ennis turned off their cell phones and went to bed. (I will paraphrase Mike's words from this point.) Wouldn't you know it, the hotel alarm clock kept going off, shortening the night of sleep even more. And, little did Mike know he was being called on the hotel telephone. It turned out it was broken.

The next sound was a pounding on the door about 7:30 a.m. It was Manager Dave Huppert. "Is Mike in there", he called. "They need you in Philadelphia."

Those are the magic words for every minor leaguer, of course, and even moreso if you played four seasons in Double-A after leaving the Independent world and were in your fifth year in Triple-A.

I'd have to believe that once Cervenak knew it wasn't a dream he could have gotten to the door in about one long step.

It was to be a day game in Philadelphia, too, at 1:05 job against St. Louis. Mike started scrambling, gathering whatever clothes he had and getting his baseball gear from the trainer.

An 11:30 flight was the best that could be arranged, and it was due in Philly at 12:30. Would it be on time? No way. It arrived nearly an hour late, with the game underway. By the time Mike got to Citizens Bank Park, signed his MAJOR LEAGUE CONTRACT, suited up in his sparkling Phillies uniform and reached the dugout the fifth inning was starting.

Cervenak did not get into the game as the Phillies won, 4-1, but he was there to celebrate with his new teammates, who included two others who labored in Independent Baseball, catcher Chris Coste and pitcher R. J. Swindle, the latter now back with the IronPigs.

Cervenak's long-awaited major league debut came the next night against Arizona. He pinch hit against Connor Robertson, shook off some of the nervousness he admitted feeling in the on-deck circle and flied out to the warning track with Ryan Howard on first base and one out in the 11th inning. The Phillies won it in the 12th.

What a day!

Mike Cervenak is a realist. He knows this major league experience could end any day, especially with the Phillies acquiring Joe Blanton from Oakland Friday. But he will not ever forget those early-morning experiences in Syracuse.


I wonder how many people were curious about the cap Hall of Famer Gary Carter was wearing for the celebrity softball game he was catching in during this week's major league All-Star festivities at Yankee Stadium? Golden League brass recognized it immediately. It was the cap of the Orange County Flyers of Fullerton, CA. Carter is the manager of the first-half champions. The hat also includes the Golden League logo.

The home run-hitting contest before the Atlantic League All-Star Game in Somerset, NJ had to be a one-of-a-kind attraction for fans. Several of the blasts by the winning player, the hometown Patriots' Josh Pressley, crashed off the scoreboard in right-center. Bridgeport, CT first baseman Jesse Hoorelbeke may have gone one better when he hit a drive off a moving train.

Maybe Donald Trump, a guest in Somerset, will start a reality TV show to highlight such feats.

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