Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Tony Torcato had better be ready to talk about baseball's No. 2-ranked home run hitter. Fans will be asking. So will the media. Even teammates.

Torcato, who spent part of each of the last four seasons with Barry Bonds during his stints with the San Francisco Giants, helps the Golden League inaugurate its second season this week as a member of the Chico Outlaws. It is pretty easy to guess Bonds will be a topic any time the 26-year-old infielder-outfielder with a .298 major league batting average pops his head out of his clubhouse cubicle.

While Chico is delighted to have the former first round draft choice, defending champion San Diego probably is seeking a bat to replace Graham Koonce, who just became another Golden Leaguer to sign with a major league organization. Milwaukee picked up Koonce, who has 178 career minor league home runs.

The six-team league starts the campaign with San Diego at Yuma, AZ Thursday. The others open Friday night.

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Friday, May 26, 2006


I suppose I am somewhat normal when I daydream about being somewhere else, especially if it is another baseball stadium.

My dream for next week takes me to CanWest Global Park in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and it isn't just that the Winnipeg Goldeyes, one of the Northern League's perennial playoff teams, seem to always fill up the ballpark.

No, it is that next week's Thursday-Sunday (June 1-4) series will find two of Independent Baseball's most successful players in headline roles, health permitting, of course, when Winnipeg and the Edmonton Cracker-Cats battle it out.

I would love to see what Team Canada hero Stubby Clapp contributes for Edmonton and what reliable Harry Berrios does for Winnipeg. Clapp, widely admired for his emotional leadership on a baseball diamond, was Edmonton's MVP last season, months before he helped Team Canada surprise the United States in the World Baseball Classic. Berrios continues to pile up Northern League records. He leads or is second best of all time in the 14-year-old league in games, at bats, runs, hits, doubles, home runs and RBI.

It should be a dandy series.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Doug Simunic had achieved just about everything in his 10 previous season as manager of the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks of the Northern League. Two championships (plus one at Winnipeg in 1994), three-time Manager of the Year, winning record every season, all-time winningest NL manager.

But he hadn't experienced having one of his player proteges reach the major leagues until Chris Coste joined the Philadelphia Phillies this week. Lefty Jason Pearson, a 10-game winner in 2000, had a couple of brief stints with the Padres and Cardinals, but he didn't really plant down the same roots in Fargo as hometown product Coste, who was with the Redhawks for four seasons.

So big Doug had reason to be happy and proud.

Was there one game Coste had played that stuck out in his mind, I inquired on the telephone, as I was building my Independent Baseball Insider column which features Coste this week. Simunic pointed to a single at bat.

It was a three-run home run Coste hit, Simunic said, after a rain delay off Northern League stalwart and Winnipeg rival Rick Forney in a playoff game in 1998. Sorry, Doug. Coste told me Wednesday from his New York hotel room he remembered the home run, which came "in Game 2" but it was not a three-run job. "It was a grand slam."

Just a small detail since 1998 was the season Simunic and Coste won a Northern League title together.

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Monday, May 22, 2006


Chris Coste's 11-year journey from the Brandon Grey Owls of the defunct Prairie League in 1995, to four seasons with his hometown Fargo-Moorehead Redhawks in the Northern League, to five affiliated minor league teams, to several major league spring training camps finally ended up with the catcher-third baseman-first baseman in the majors Sunday.

How excited Chris must have been to be in uniform for Philadelphia's 10-5 win over Boston, one of his former organizations, even though he did not get into the game.

Now Coste's major league debut seems likely to come at some point in the National League East headline series at Shea Stadium starting Tuesday when the first place Mets host the second place Phillies.

While many players peak somewhere between 27 and 31 "there is no question I am a better player now" at 33 Coste told us over breakfast this spring, a spring training in which he hit .463 for the Phillies and still got sent down the last day before the regular season opener. (See our Independent Baseball Insider column of April 6.)

Coste's story should provide a happy day for every Independent Baseball player still trying to reach the majors. We will have much more to say about that topic in this Thursday's "Insider" column. Maybe we can even talk about his first big-league hit by that time.

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Friday, May 19, 2006


I couldn't help but think about my friend Jackie Hernandez, who now coaches third base for the St. Paul Saints, this week.

Jackie left his native Cuba nearly a half century ago to come to the United States and play baseball. Could he ever pick 'em at shortstop, bow legs and all. Many of those who have seen the spry 65-year-old on Independent Baseball diamonds the last several years probably don't even realize he spent nine years in the major leagues (Angels, Twins, Royals, Pirates) and threw out the final batter when Pittsburgh won the 1971 World Series.

I think about Jackie for so many reasons, since he and I date back to 1967 in Denver (Triple-A), but on this particular day it was a little chilly as the New Haven County Cutters of the Can-Am League worked out. The players who had just arrived from points such as Florida, Venezuela and Puerto Rico were being introduced to Northeastern May chill. They weren't prepared.

Jackie Hernandez never has gotten used to the sub-80-degree days. So, if you are at an American Association game and if you look closely when he is waiving Saints runners around third base and it is much under, say 65, it is a decent wager he has his long johns under his uniform.

You can even say I told this little story on him.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006


One can only imagine how exciting Friday is going to be for Linden Black, the first local investor in the American Association's St. Joseph (MO) Blacksnakes. They play their first game Phil Welch Stadium Friday night.

He was a young boy the last time St. Joe had a professional team and that was in 1954, some 52 years ago. He confesses the return of a professional team "has been a dream of mine for a long time" and President Mark Schuster says "he (Black) was critical to the team coming here and will be a great help moving forward."

We hope the weatherman gives them a beautiful Midwestern evening and at the risk of alienating the visiting Sioux Falls (SD) Canaries that the Blacksnakes get off to a rousing start.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006


We have not received any word on the Battle of the Chainsaw Superstars in Sioux Falls, SD Monday night, but we can tell you the novel American Association doubleheader played in two stadiums in two different states within 11 hours may have disappointed virtually all of the fans. We are only kidding, of course.

It is just that the visiting team won each game. Sioux Falls scored twice in the ninth to prevail 3-1 over homestanding Sioux City, IA in the morning game. After traveling 85 miles to Sioux Falls the Explorers got revenge, pounding out 19 hits while gaining an 8-4 victory.

It was a great experiment. Now, if we can only get the chainsaw results.

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It sometimes is a two-edged sword for Independent Baseball teams when major league organizations come calling about a player. They want the best for the player, but they also hate giving up someone who helping their team win.

Bridgeport, CT Manager Dave LaPoint got right to the point when discussing veteran major leaguer Donovan Osborne (1-0, 2.36) after the southpaw had hurled a complete-game four-hitter for the Atlantic League's Bluefish Sunday. He had retired the first 19 hitters he faced five days earlier.

"Sometimes he's a man against boys out there," LaPoint told The Connecticut Post's Rich Elliott. "I've had him for two years now (Long Island, NY part of 2005) and I don't understand why he's not helping the New York Mets right now or somebody like that because the guy can pitch."

For the record, Osborne, who turns 37 next month, has a 49-46 major league record, but last pitched in the bigs in 2004 when he was 2-0 with a 7.13 ERA in nine appearances, including two starts, for the New York Yankees.

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Monday, May 15, 2006


If I could have my choice of being at any Independent Baseball location today (Monday) it would be along Interstate 29 in the midwest.

Longtime rivals Sioux Falls, SD and Sioux City, IA cooked up a novel day-night doubleheader in the two cities that are 85 miles apart. American Association President Dan Moushon points out this is believed to be the first time two teams have played a doubleheader in two different states in the same day.

The fun was to begin at 11 a.m. at Sioux City's Lewis and Clark Park, with the nightcap eight hours later at Sioux Falls Stadium. As I29 heads north toward Sioux Falls it either goes through a tip of South Sioux City, NE or it would be only a Tiger Woods drive from the Cornhusker state. I hope someone took this into account so the bus drivers could veer into Nebraska. This would allow romanticizing the story more so everyone could claim it was a three-state trip to get the two games played.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006


With the American Association opening its inaugural Independent season tonight (Thursday) and tomorrow, I thought it would be fun to analyze where the players were one year ago.

Fifty-five of them (21.7 per cent) spent at least part of 2005 playing for major league organizations while only 17 (6.6 per cent) were playing college baseball. Twelve are returning to professional baseball after being out of it for one or more seasons, and the remainder were in Independent leagues. We will go into this more completely in our weekly Independent Baseball Insider column, which subscribers receive later today.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006


We don't need a limb to climb on when predicting a frenzied atmosphere Saturday when Ft. Worth hosts Shreveport in the third game of the American Association's launch season. In our mind, that's a bonus for all of Independent Baseball because of the attention it will create.

Luke Hochevar, the unsigned first round draftee the Los Angeles Dodgers stand to lose if they have not come to terms with him a week before the June 6-7 draft, will make his first regular season start for the host Cats that night. We had previewed this latest Scott Boras client's status in our Indedependent Baseball Insider column on April 27.

A bevy of scouts (we've heard estimates from 30 to more than 40) were in the stands Monday when Hochevar threw three innings in an exhibition game. He is said to have hit 97 miles an hour. Statistical results were so-so, but the praise seemed to rank the performance much better. The former Tennessee star gave up three hits, walked four and allowed two runs in three innings. He also fanned four.

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Monday, May 08, 2006


My mind always seems to be full of thoughts about baseball whether they are rambling points or something major. Some weekend musings follow.

I am still frustrated for Scranton-Wilkes Barre's Chris Coste after this onetime Northern (Fargo) and Prairie (Brandon) standout missed out on his first major league opportunity despite hitting .463 for the Phillies this spring. The latest is that when Mike Lieberthal went on the DL Philadelphia reached down to Scranton and called up the hot-hitting Carlos Ruiz, who was on the 40-man roster, to replace him. At least, that opened the door for Coste to move from the infield and get some more work behind the plate, which still is his favorite position. Maybe that boost will get his bat back in gear.

I saw my first Atlantic League game of the season in Bridgeport, CT Sunday. How can you beat watching baseball on a sunny and comfortable afternoon in a beautiful ballpark?

Some 50 miles to the south at Shea Stadium, Atlantic League alum Jose Lima (Newark, NJ, 2003) was back in the majors one more time as an emergency starter for the New York Mets. These call-ups always draw some attention to Independent Baseball.

In catching up on my mail, it was fun to read the note St. Paul Saints (American Association)veteran publicist Dave Wright sent along about our piece here on injured Baltimore reliever Tim Byrdak. Dave pointed out that it was Byrdak, way back in 1994 for St. Paul, who faced the great Minnie Minoso when the 71-year-old stood in the box one more time for a Northern League at bat. Minoso walked, thanks in part to some good sportsmanship on Byrdak's part.

Friday, May 05, 2006


It was impressive to read longtime American League umpire Jim Evans' comments after he toured Atlantic League ballparks, where he now serves as an umpiring consultant. While not giving specific comparisons, he praised the stadiums as better than in many affiliated parks. "I was blown away," he told the Atlantic League.

Evans addressed the Independent league's umps at a session in Camden, NJ, focusing on the mental aspects of their job.

With 28 years in the big leagues plus running the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring for nearly 20 years, Evans should know a thing or two about dealing with more than just calling balls and strikes.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


What fun for the Winnipeg Goldeyes! This banner Northern League franchise has auctioned off for an entire team of locals to play a full nine-inning exhibition game against the Goldeyes May 12 with part of the $3,101 from the winning bid going to the team's Field of Dreams Foundation.

What impresses me most is that since the Foundation was started in 1995 the Goldeyes have raised more than $800,000 for children's charities in Manitoba.

This has to be one of the great success stories for an Independent Baseball organization. Congratulations!