Friday, September 18, 2009


The ups and downs in baseball are something we are never going to figure out.

The last time these fingers discussed former Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne's comeback effort in the Can-Am League it definitely looked like a downhill story. Then Thursday night, right after we had finished our weekly Independent Baseball Insider column, all Gagne did was lift the Quebec Capitales to within one victory of the league championship.

Gagne obviously was at the top of his game, thrilling 5,011 of his French-speaking fans with a complete-game six-hitter in which he walked only one and struck out eight as Quebec dispatched Worcester, MA, 5-1. The Capitales were to take a 2-1 series advantage into Game 4 before their home fans Friday night.


Since Miles Wolff is commissioner of both the Can-Am League and the American Association, it is difficult to imagine he could have had a better day all-around than Thursday. That postseason crowd of 5,011 in Quebec had to put a little extra gingle in his walk, doubly so since he is the owner of the team.

Then two pitchers who started their pro career in the American Association early this summer signed with major league organizations for what is believed to be well over a combined $4 million.

Aaron Crow, who had pitched at Fort Worth, TX, got what scribe Dick Kaegel estimated was a guaranteed $3 million plus incentives for a three-year major league deal with Kansas City. Tanner Scheppers, who worked for St. Paul, MN, got a reported $1.25 million for his deal with Texas, and may be invited to major league spring training.

Not bad.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009


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".

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009


With playoffs under way in five of the eight Independent leagues, the only challenge in this corner is to figure out what is THE most interesting. I give up on that point, but I can tell you...

ATLANTIC SEEMS ALL BUT DECIDED: It is going to take a major, major run by someone in the final 12 days to keep Newark, NJ and Long Island, NY from winning the wild card races and joining first half winners (and probably second half repeaters) Southern Maryland (Waldorf) and Somerset, NJ in the Atlantic League playoffs. Newark's 66-61 overall record was one-half game better than Long Island going into play Wednesday, but the Ducks' margin for the last position was five and a half games over Lancaster, PA and six in front of Bridgeport, CT.

AMARILLO REPEATS: The Amarillo (TX) Dillas won their second United League championship is as many years Tuesday night when they turned back San Angelo, TX 7-3 in the fifth and deciding game. Amarillo topped Alexandria, LA last season, and the Aces have already triumphed this year, winning the title in the Continental League.

A 'LISTENING PARTY': Knowing how difficult it can be to draw crowds in the playoffs when school is back in session and fans do not have a lot of notice on games, I found it intriguing that the Pensacola (FL) Pelicans held a "listening party" while the team was in Fort Worth, TX for the first round of the American Association playoffs. The 70 fans who showed up were even given a chance to take batting practice. Pensacola lost that night, but came back to oust the Cats and move into the championship series against Lincoln, NE. Both teams are going after their initial AA title.

SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES: The Northern League is at the other end of the experience level in its championship series. Greg Tagert has Gary, IN involved for the fifth season in a row while Doug Simunic has Fargo, ND going after its fourth crown since 1998. In fact, Gary or Fargo has won four of the last six championships, with each club on top twice in that time.

GAGNE ON THE HILL: Eric Gagne was set to take the mound for Quebec in one half of the Can-Am League playoffs as they were scheduled to start Wednesday night. We will be able to follow up on that effort against Brockton, MA as well as focusing on our annual evaluation of Independent Baseball attendance when we publish our Independent Baseball Insider column on Thursday.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Nelson Figueroa is not the typical Independent Baseball graduate because he neither started that way nor spent years working his way up through various leagues until a major league organization took notice. His only Indy time was for two starts with the Long Island (NY) Ducks (0-1, 2.79) early in the 2006 Atlantic League season.

Nevertheless, when a player is in an Independent league it almost always means he needs a fresh start of some nature, unless he is a top draft choice only on the scene to get some work until his agent can negotiate what he and the player consider a fair contract.

Figueroa spent all of 2005 rehabilitating from rotator cuff surgery so he went to Long Island to work his way back. Washington signed the right-hander, now 35, on May 9 of 2006, and he spent the summer with their Triple-A New Orleans farm club and the next season in Mexico.

These stops helped the Brooklyn, NY native get a renewed opportunity in the major leagues, where he had not been since 2003-04 stints at Pittsburgh.

He rattled between New Orleans, which had changed parent organizations from the last time he was in the Crescent City, and the New York Mets last year (3-3 for the Mets; 4-7 for New Orleans) and was in Buffalo for the Mets most of this season until the injuries continued mounting for the ill-fated residents of the new Citi Field.

This is a long leadup to a story that seems to have taken a nice turn. Figueroa has stepped in for the decimated New York pitching staff, and turned in a career-high 10 strikeouts while stopping the Cubs at Wrigley Field, 4-1, early this week. He allowed six hits and one run while pitching into the eighth inning. He had fanned eight Cubs on the same diamond for the Milwaukee Brewers, but that was almost seven years earlier (September 4, 2002).

"He is the epitome of getting secondary pitches over," Manager Jerry Manuel told The Associated Press. "And it also looks like to me he's kind of a cerebral guy where he has a good memory out there as to what he did before to get a particular guy out and able to command his fastball enough to be able to attack them in different spots.

It would seem pretty evident Figueroa (2-3, 4.50) should get regular work the last five weeks of the season, pitching only a few miles from where he once toiled for the Long Island Ducks.

Good for him.

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