Anyone who cares about Independent Baseball will want to follow the Caribbean Series for the next few days (especially if they can see the games on ESPN Deportes or ESPN3)since about 25 per cent of the players on the four teams are current or former Indy players. New Newark, NJ (Can-Am League) coach Ken Oberkfell is even managing the Dominican Republic entry.
In fact, three of the four opening day starting pitchers in what turned out to be pitching-dominated games have Indy ties. The latest after the Insider
was put to bed last night was southpaw Kris Johnson, who limited Mexico to three hits and an unearned run in five innings to get the host Dominicans off to a good start in a 2-1 win.
Johnson pitched for the Kansas City (KS) T-Bones (American Association) much of last season after being released out of Triple-A with Boston. The 27-year-old has since signed with Pittsburgh, an organization that certainly can benefit from better pitching.
Nelson Figueroa, whose latest bid for fulltime major league duty will come with Toronto this spring, continued his exceptional work in the afternoon, winning for Puerto Rico at the expense of another former Indy hurler, Seth Etherton, who started for Venezuela. Figueroa spent a little Indy time with the Long Island (NY) Ducks (Atlantic League) while Etherton was with Long Beach, CA in what was then the Golden League.
I do not pretend to understand all of the roster qualifications, but Figueroa had pitched in the Dominican championship series for Escogido, that country's Caribbean Series representative. Figueroa has now won series games for three of the four countries. He had pitched for both the Dominican and Mexico in past years.
"I'm back here because I want the chance to keep pitching in the big leagues," the right-hander told MLB.com. "I could be sitting somewhere in an office and dealing with rush hour traffic, but instead the stadium is my office and I come to work and get to play and have fun."
NON-ROSTER COUNT UP TO 34
The Continental League is a thing of the past, but it cannot be forgotten because the latest Independent player to get a major league spring training invitation is left-hander Brandon Sisk, who started his pro career with Bay Area (Houston region) in that Texas-Louisiana-based circuit.
Sisk will be with Kansas City after the 26-year-old put up a combined 7-3 record and 2.52 ERA for 41 relief outings in Classes AA and AAA last season. He is the 22nd pitcher to get a non-roster invitation from a major league club. Twelve position players bring the overall count to an impressive 34.
SWEENEY RE-JOINS SEATTLE SYSTEM
Veteran right-hander Brian Sweeney, on the Venezuelan roster for the Caribbean Series, has signed as a free agent with one of his former teams, the Seattle Mariners. It does not appear he will be an official non-roster invitee although it is a pretty good guess he will get some major league exposure this spring.
Sweeney, 37, brings the long-departed Heartland League back to mind since he started his pro career in 1996 with Layayette, IN. He more recently trained with Southern Maryland of the Atlantic League and pitched one game for Somerset, NJ of the same league, both times then signing with major league organizations. He has pitched in the majors for San Diego and Seattle.
LET'S HEAR IT FOR THIS NATIONALS HOPEFUL AND HIS CHEERLEADER FIANCE
Okay, here is a Super Bowl story. Well, NFL saga, anyway.
Another former Independent player to cheer for as he attempts to climb through the Washington Nationals farm system is right-handed pitcher Ben Graham.
The onetime Wichita (KS) Wingnuts (American Association) hurler made some news late in the football season when he popped up at halftime of a Tennessee Titans game in a Santa Claus suit, took off his beard and proposed to cheerleader Janae Kram. She and her mates also were dressed in Christmas outfits.
Guess what, the blond cutie said yes.
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