Tuesday, May 27, 2008


We all hear people say “you see something new at the ballpark every day”.

Continental League fans certainly can say they saw something rare in Corpus Christi, TX Monday night when 4-foot-6 midget wrestler Chris Dube took a turn at bat for the Beach Dawgs. We will tell you more in a few paragraphs.

I saw a play while watching the American Association game between newcomer Wichita, KS and the home-standing Lincoln (NE) Saltdogs that happened so quickly at the start of the Memorial Day weekend it took a moment before it hit home that I could not ever remember witnessing a similar play in my many years of baseball, either in person or on television.

Wingnuts first baseman Steve Pearson ranged to his right for a nice stop on a hard hit bouncer. The unusual part was that Gates was slightly ahead of the runner, probably 40 feet toward second base. He was able to turn and make a quick tag before throwing to first base where Wichita barely missed out on a double play.

I don’t know if I was the only one to think how rare the play was, but there you have it.

That game, won by Wichita 6-3, wouldn’t normally be considered an artistic success because of seven errors and a few other gaffes, but it was played under wicked wind conditions. Too bad the errors have to go on the player records because of the chilly and strange late May night.

And I definitely tip my fedora to the decent sized crowd that turned out and stayed around with the wind blowing in toward home plate.

I would have liked to see Lincoln first baseman Dustin Yount, one of the American Association’s top early-season run producers, but he had taken a nasty bounce in the face from a stray hit during BP one night earlier.

Robin Yount’s son was replaced on this night by burly Mario Delgado, who had joined Tim Johnson’s team earlier in the week. Delgado had been released by the Northern League’s Kansas City (KS) T-Bones, for whom he had driven in 81 runs in 94 games with a .341 average and 15 homers in 2007. Rumor had it the move came about because of salary cap issues. Delgado also has played Indy baseball with Schaumburg, IL of the Northern League.

The combo of Yount and Delgado will add considerable wallop to Lincoln’s offense, as the Saltdogs build for yet another strong season.

Veteran Felix Jose had been signed by Lincoln to help the offense, but the Saltdogs did not see enough in nine starts (1-6-.282) so the 43-year-old was released, then re-signed as a coach. It turns out the coaching role was short-lived. We learned Wednesday the Golden League's Calgary Vipers have signed Jose so he can keep adding to his hit total which already is above 2,100, including 747 in the major leagues, in a pro career that started in 1984. Jose's other Independent stops have been in Nashua, NH when the Pride were in the Atlantic League, and at Lancaster, PA of the same league for a time last season.


When Bill Veeck signed Eddie Gaedel in a highly-publicized stunt between games of a doubleheader for his St. Louis Browns in 1951, the 3-foot-7 pinch-hitter walked in his only appearance.

Chris Dube, knowning in wrestling circles as Little Kato, did not do as well in his brief Continental League "career". He led off the bottom of the first inning Monday against Bay Area Toros righthander Brandon Sisk. The 114-pound Dube got the count to 1-2 before swinging and missing strike three.

"My goal was to get on base and score a run, and I was hoping the next batter would hit a homer so I wouldn't have to run that hard around the bases," Little Kato told the CBL's Director of Baseball Operations, Bob Ibach.

"It was a gas having Kato play in our league," Ibach and Commissioner/Owner Ron Baron said in a joint statement, and as a result the Beach Dawgs are acknowledging the country's high fuel prices by announcing three full tanks of gas will be given away at every Wednesday home game this season. Fittingly, the nights will be called "It's A Gas" Wednesday.

As a postscript to his baseball appearance, Kato wrestled his brother Bobby in a post-game Midget Wrestling match. Bobby pinned Kato. I guess that means Kato was 0-for-2 for the night.

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Friday, May 16, 2008


We missed being able to share joyous news of a first time major league call in our weekly Independent Baseball Insider by mere minutes Thursday night, but this gives us all an added reason to smile as we kick off this May weekend.

With his 30th birthday 21 months in the rear view mirror, it was no wonder Mark DiFelice had tears when he learned he was going to the major leagues for the very first time. It seems likely there may be more of the same tonight (Friday) when the National Anthem is playing at Fenway Park in Boston and DiFelice is standing across from the World Champion Red Sox in his new Milwaukee Brewers uniform.

You never know when that call is coming, but it happened Thursday for the 11-year veteran right-hander only hours before he was supposed to start for Triple-A Nashville in an attempt to improve on his 3-0 record for the young season.

"It's unbelievable," The Tennessean's Joshua Taylor heard DiFelice say. "I was talking to my father and I kinda broke down a little bit."

For now, the 6-foot-2 DiFelice is ticketed for middle innings work for the Brewers, who signed him in January of 2007 after more than a year and a half in the Atlantic League. DiFelice was a bulldog in helping Somerset, NJ win the Atlantic League championship in 2005 when he hurled two complete game victories and picked up a save in a six-day period. The onetime Western Carolina University product, who was in the Colorado farm system for his first six professional seasons, was an Atlantic League All-Star in '06 when he had a career-high 12 wins as a starter for Camden, NJ.

DiFelice had a 3.91 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 23 innings at Nashville this spring.


The Northern League became the fourth of the eight Independent Leagues to open the 2008 season Thursday, and Wally Backman's Joliet (IL) Jackhammers played the spoiler against defending champion and homestanding Gary, IN, winning 3-0 to give the onetime major league second baseman a victorious debut in the league. Backman led the South Georgia Peanuts (Albany) to the South Coast League title last season.

Perennial power Fargo, ND and the Kansas City (KS) T-Bones were the other opening night victors. Next up, the Frontier League opens Wednesday, followed within 48 hours by the Can-Am, Golden and Continental Leagues.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008


Chris Coste's book sales may take another jump today after a 4-for-4 night on national television Wednesday which jumped his season average to .339.

The Philadelphia catcher and longtime Independent Baseball favorite (Fargo, ND, Northern League) would be well up the ladder among the National League's top ten hitters if he had enough plate appearances to qualify for that list we see every day in newspapers. The four consecutive singles weren't enough for the Phillies to keep pace with Atlanta, which prevailed 8-6, but Coste did his part by scoring two of the runs.

For those who have not caught up with the news, Coste's "The 33-Year-Old Rookie" was published by Random House during spring training. It is an enjoyable read as he describes his lengthy minor league meanderings, with a considerable amount of the book devoted to the North Dakotan's five Independent seasons.

DNPs ON THE RISE?--I don't have all the numbers immediately at hand to compare to other years, but as I track things for my weekly Independent Baseball Insider it sure seems more players are getting purchased off Indy rosters by the major leagues before they ever set foot on the diamond in one of the eight non-affiliated leagues.

What happens is an Independent team signs a player--usually from the tryout camp or on reputation--then a major league organization steps up and buys his contract before the Independent season starts. I can count 15 such cases among the approximately 175 players currently with one of the 30 major league organizations after being under contract to an Independent team. The Indy team gives up the player to help his career, and gets some compensation from the sale of the contract.

THINKING ABOUT THOSE INTER-LEAGUE EXHIBITIONS--It is nice to know the bad blood that spilled out when four teams broke off from the Northern League three years ago to help form the American Association has not kept teams from the two leagues apart during the preseason.

It seemed like old times, at least on the surface, to see matchups such as Sioux Falls, SD and Fargo, Lincoln, NE and the Kansas City (KS) T-Bones and Winnipeg and St. Paul, MN.

With the Northern League looking to add to its current six-team alignment, maybe some day there can be more than exhibition games involving some of these dynamic franchises.

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Friday, May 09, 2008


We could not fit everything into Thursday's Independent Baseball Insider, our primary weekly outlet, so this is a potpourri of other thoughts heading into Mother's Day weekend.

What a delight to pick up the telephone this week, and hear the southern voice of Matt Miller. I knew the sidearming righthander who started his pro career in Greenville, MS, in the Independent Big South and Texas-Louisiana Leagues (1996-98) and worked his way into Colorado's bullpen when he was 31 in 2003, had been in Boston's minor league camp, but I could not find him on a roster when the season started. I was fearful his professional days might be over, or at least that his major league career might have stopped at exactly 100 appearances even though he has a nifty 2.72 ERA and a 6-1 record. All but four of those appearances were with Cleveland.

Miller joyfully caught me up to date with the fact the Red Sox had kept him in extended spring training in Fort Myers, FL, and an appearance precisely one week ago today (May 2) got Pittsburgh interested in the now 36-year-old. Boston gave him a choice of staying in Florida and waiting for a roster spot somewhere or accepting a trade to the Pirates.

"I've been healthy," Miller said, with his flexor tendon (elbow) problems resolved. "I feel I've still got something (to offer). If I didn't feel I could get big-league hitters out..." You can finish the sentence yourself.

Miller debuted with Pittsburgh's Triple-A Indianapolis Indians Sunday, getting four outs (three of them on strikeouts) before leaving his 33rd and final pitch of the game "out over the plate. I probably went to the well too much with the slider." Bingo, a three-run home run to a right-handed hitter, where the 6-foot-3 hurler normally is at his toughest. He came back with two scoreless innings and two more strikeouts at Richmond (Braves) Tuesday, saving a 3-1 victory.

The next step? Maybe it will be in the majors with the Pirates. Wouldn't that be nice.


In case you have been wondering where longtime major league infielder Jose Offerman is this season, the year after that ugly bat-swinging incident in the Atlantic League, he is hitting .355 for Rojos del Aguila de Veracruz in the Triple-A Mexican League. The 39-year-old switch-hitter has been stuck on six homers and 23 RBI for a while, adding to neither total in at least 10 games although he did single and double in four trips Thusday.


Young Joe Thatcher of San Diego, the Indy-bred lefthander out of the Frontier League (River City, O'Fallon, MO), took his fourth loss in as many decisions Thursday at Atlanta. But then it seems virtually all of the Padres are struggling with only 12 wins in 35 games. Thatcher is continuing to get work, but his earned run average is up to 6.75 after surrendering three hits and a walk while facing five hitters in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game.


One day after its scheduled American Association debut was rained out, the Wichita Wingnuts as well as American Association brass should have big smiles today because the first Independent Baseball game in the former Class AA ballpark in central Kansas saw 5,874 patrons show up. The Wingnuts sent fans home happy with a 7-4 win over Sioux City, IA.

It wasn't nearly as glorious for El Paso's opener, spoiled by a record number of runs for the three-year-old league. Visiting Shreveport, LA went into the record books with a 21-5 romp. The other new team, Grand Prairie, TX, was on the short end of a 10-3 decision before 5,092 at St. Paul, MN.

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Monday, May 05, 2008


One of the things I enjoy most when I attend a baseball game alone is that I can really get into what is unfolding in front of me. I do a little grandstand managing, silently in my case, and I get into some of the personalities on the diamond.

I attended my first Independent Baseball game of the season Sunday, the Atlantic League affair between the Somerset (NJ) Patriots and the Bridgeport (CT) Bluefish. It was a delightful day, especially in the sun, which warmed my spirits. And it always is enjoyable to try analyzing what is going through the mind of the two managers, especially when they are Somerset's Sparky Lyle and Bridgeport's Tommy John because both have terrific resumes from their major league playing days. John's 288 victories and Lyle's 99 wins and 222 saves (238, if unofficial saves are included). That is 625 major league victories where they had an important role, my friends.

Come to think of it, why wasn't this brought to the crowd's attention, in some respectful way.

But the two people I zeroed in on during the nearly three-hour game at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport were the Bluefish's Mutt and Jeff combination of centerfielder Adam Greenberg and DH Calvin Pickering. Both have major league resumes of their own, although not quite up to those of the managers.

I enjoyed Greenberg, whose 5-foot-9 frame does not help in his determination to get back to the majors, because his hustle stands out. It does not hurt, of course, when you know something of his story, which includes getting to the majors with the Cubs in 2005 only to be beaned by the first pitch of his first--and as it turned out--only at-bat. The 5-foot-9 stature is something Greenberg must overcome, but then Nathan Haynes (Tampa Bay outfielder, by way of the Northern League) is today's proof it can happen if you keep hustling. Last season, it was Tike Redman, who went from York, PA of the Atlantic League and spent the second half of the season in the Baltimore Orioles outfield.

Pickering caught my eye--and everyone else's--because of his size, too. Massive is one word that applies. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds (any of us wanting to lose a few pounds might try his scales), my first thought was what is he doing in a professional baseball uniform. The mammoth home run, which I believe hit off the scoreboard in right-center and provided the game's first run, began to change my thinking.

I watched more intently each time he came up. Good focus, it appeared. An eagerness to contribute. Good swing, including the game's final out which he scorched right at the leftfielder. I also glanced through the game program to learn the 31-year-old entered this season with 14 major league home runs (Baltimore, Boston, Kansas City) and 224 in the minors.

I would imagine a good portion of the crowd had no idea of Pickering's career stats, but they were into him like no other player because of the fourth-inning blast and because they could pick him out from among all the other Patriots and Bluefish, most of whom were the traditional 6-foot or so and wearing normal-sized baseball uniforms. "Calvin, Calvin," the fans were calling. You do not normally hear such enthusiasm directed to any one player at a minor league game.

It was fun to watch. Hey, there is nothing wrong with cheering for someone who adds a little spectacle or whatever you choose to call it as we enjoy the national pastime. He stood out, and the fans were very much into his presence.

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