The pinnacle has been reached by three more Independent Baseball franchises as Fargo, ND has taken another Northern League title and Lincoln, NE (American Association) and Calgary, Alberta, Canada (Golden League) have earned their first championships in their current leagues. It is time to congratulate everyone involved because these feats are not easy targets.
At the same time, there is more than a little sadness around this great game in that it has said goodbye to Bob Flori.
Flori was a youthful 79 and nine months, although he kept those numbers pretty much under wraps as he continued to find managerial positions all the way through two summers ago. His last manager's post was at Shreveport, LA where he guided the Sports for three summers (2005-07) with a composite record 12 games over .500.
The Shreveport position was pretty typical for Bob, at least in the years I knew him and sometimes competed against him. He was normally working for a team that would have to be considered a "have not" at that stage, which means he did not enjoy some of the financial resources a competitor had.
That did not matter. He would turn over stones until he could build a competitive team.
Another prime example came in 2004 when Flori took charge of the Northeast League's travel team, the Aces. The uniforms were not the best, the pay rate he could offer players was under scale, and every night from May to September was spent on the road. His 70-something years did not even allow him to look as vibrant as other managers more like half his age.
Travel teams are not supposed to win. The deck is too heavily weighted against them. The Aces did not win the Northeast League championship or even reach the playoffs, which would have brought scorn to the entire league. They won only nine games and lost 37 in the first half of the season, but they had been hastily assembled in the final days before the Play Ball cry because another team had suddenly walked away from its obligations.
It was the second half of the season when Bob Flori's ability to form, manage and pacify a group of bus-weary players really shined. The Aces more than doubled their first-half output, winning 19 games and losing 27. Three teams that had home stadiums and had been able to do normal preparation finished below them. Heck, the Aces were the runner-up in the South Division.
Flori had proven himself years earlier in the very beginning of modern day Independent Baseball by dominating leagues with records like 56-13 and 54-24, but the Aces may well have represented one of his best jobs.
He bailed the league out when it needed a big bucket to have an eighth team and make certain there was a "visiting" team for every home date in the seven stadiums. And this is only one of the many reasons so many people are fondly remembering this husband, father, grandfather and baseball man today.
And, that's Baseball with a capital "B".