Saturday, March 14, 2009

WORLD SERIES RINGS MEAN AUTOMATIC SMILES

Any talk about World Series rings is virtually guaranteed to bring a smile.

That was the case this week when I raised the subject with the backup catchers from The Fall Classic of last October, Philadelphia's Chris Coste and Michel Hernandez of Tampa Bay, even though either one or both could have a new address by the time the 2009 season starts.

Hernandez, who was in the right place at the right time last August, broke into a huge smile when I asked him at his Charlotte Sports Park locker how it was going to be to put on his new jewelry. Words were unnecessary.

Coste, who obviously has advance information on the design of the World Championship ringS, joked that he might be able to lift weights with the new hardware.

Their careers have been unusual journeys in leading up to the World Series. It has been well documented that Coste, now 36, spent five years in Independent leagues, including four in his hometown of Fargo, ND (Northern League), before breaking into the majors with the Phils three summers ago.

Hernandez, who spent a month catching in the Atlantic League in 2007 (Somerset, NJ), still has only 10 games and four hits (in 19 at-bats) on his major league resume. He was with Pittsburgh's Triple-A team in Indianapolis until late last August when he was traded to the Tampa Bay organization. The 30-year-old did not even get into a game at his new destination of Durham, NC before being called to the American League when regular backup Shawn Riggans was lost for the season to an injury. In fact, the catcher told me in his broken English that he felt someone was playing a joke on him when they awakened him in Scranton, PA to tell him to report to the big league Rays. Hernandez reported barely in time to be eligible for the postseason.

He got into five games with Tampa, the same number he had been in with the New York Yankees in 2003, and was active but did not get called upon in the postseason. Now a non-roster player, Hernandez is no better than a long shot to stay with the Rays.

Coste's battle is with newly-acquired catcher Ronny Paulino, with both behind Carlos Ruiz.

Several major league teams are looking for catching so it would not be a shock to see either player in a new uniform by Opening Day.

The silver lining, of course, is no one can ever take away those shiny World Series rings.

WEBER LEADS A.L. IN RBI

I mentioned in this week's Independent Baseball Insider column that former Indy outfielder Jon Weber was leading Tampa Bay in runs batted in this spring. Little did I realize his 10 ribbies paced the entire American League at the time. The 31-year-old, who spent 2001 in the Frontier League (Canton, OH) and has played for Fargo in three different seasons, will be featured in our subscriber-only publication this week in his quest to break into the majors.

CONTINENTAL LEAGUE SETTLES ON SIX TEAMS

The court action in the prolonged United League dispute between the original founders and the recent owners has reached the stage where only Alexandria, LA will be joining the Continental League this season. Still, the CBL will have its biggest field with six teams, including a travel squad. This could open the door to some of the other UBL teams forming under another banner. It certainly would be a shame if such quality cities as Amarillo and San Angelo, TX do not have a chance to field teams.


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