Thursday, October 26, 2006


The New York Times devoted two full columns on its front sports page and more than half of an inside page today (Thursday)to the ESPN mini-series called The Bronx Is Burning, but business writer Richard Sandomir missed this corner's readership.

He did not mention the role of several Independent Baseball players for the movie which we first told you about in this space September 22.

One of the Indy players who isn't likely to be left on the cutting room floor when the eight-hour production airs next summer is Tim Keinath, who portrays fellow righthanded pitcher Mike Torrez. In the first place, the movie doesn't have an actor portraying Torrez, who hurled two complete game victories and was on the mound when the New York Yankees got the final out in their six-game World Series triumph over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Keinath is Torrez. Why not. Both are 6-foot-5 and weigh about 220 pounds. "I have been in tons of shots", Keinath told us. And the champagne shower after the movie Yankees eliminated the Kansas City Royals in a tense five-game American League Championship Series was "really cool". After all, how many players--major league or Independent--get to be part of that event in real life or for a movie.

Keinath, still only 27 and coming off a 7-6 season for the New Haven (CT) County Cutters of the Can-Am League, played in Tampa Bay's system for a year, but has been an Indy hurler at Newark, NJ (Atlantic League), Brockton, MA (now Can-Am League) and mostly at New Haven the last four seasons.

We can identify eight other Can-Am people who have had roles in the movie, including New Haven Manager Mike Church, who has portrayed catchers Carlton Fisk and Jim Essian. We may have missed some more.

Aric Leclair of Nashua, NH plays Yankees closer Sparky Lyle and the Cutters' Horace Lawrence uses his lefty bat to portray Reggie Jackson for some shots. Catcher Matt Hackney of New Haven County and four North Shore (Lynn, MA) players have been part of the fun. Pitchers Matthew Bishop, Kevin Rival and Dennis Robinson and outfielder Rob Fischer all played for the Spirit in real life. Rival and Fischer both spent the first part of last season with another Indy team, St. Paul, MN of the American Association.

I understand the movie set food was pretty good, too.

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Friday, October 20, 2006


I had two special reasons for wanting to blog today.

It is an opportunity--even though it has little to do with our ongoing topic of Independent Baseball--to offer the very best of Golden Wedding Anniversary wishes to longtime Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and his wife, Luisa. I worked for Bowie for the last 10 years of his commissionership (1974-84), which included extraordinary growth for our great game. I feel honored to have known these wonderful people, who love the game at all levels, since 1969.

Secondly, with the World Series opponents now established it seems only appropriate to send special congratulations all of the people who have toiled in the Independent game. There are many more than St. Louis reliever Josh Kinney (River City, Frontier League), who I have been writing about a lot in this space and in my Independent Baseball Insider column recently.

Two people who I can identify will be in Detroit uniforms. They are infield coach Rafael Belliard, who played for Albany, NY when it was in the Northeast League, and bullpen catcher Scott Pickens, whose affiliation was with Florence, KY of the Frontier League.

Detroit has two minor league managers out of Independent ranks, who surely are thrilled to have the Tigers in the World Series. Duffy Dyer, who managed at Bridgeport, CT of the Atlantic League, handled Class AA Erie, PA this summer and had Pete Incaviglia as a coach. Incaviglia finished his impressive playing career in the Atlantic League with Nashua, NH, plus New Jersey stops at Newark and Atlantic City. The other manager is Andres Thomas, who handled Detroit's Dominican League team. Thomas was at Victoria, when the Canadian League was active.

Remember Leon Durham, one of the first established major league players to test the Independent waters at St. Paul, MN in the Northern League's inaugural season of 1993? He was a coach for the Tigers' Triple-A players at Toledo, OH this summer.

St. Louis is not quite as deep with former Independent people, as best I can tell, although Double-A affiliate Springfield, MO, always a Cardinals hotbed, had Blaise Ilsley as its pitching coach this summer. He knows some of those strong, young bullpen arms. Ilsley has Northern League time. Onetime Gateway Grizzlies (Sauget, IL) employee Brady Bruhn has advanced from the Frontier League to being a group sales account executive for St. Louis. He should get ready for an extremely busy offseason, as eager Cardinals fans plan for 2007.

Let the games begin.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006


How is this little nugget to warm everyone's spirits as we await Game 7 of the NLCS tonight?

The Sporting News had its correspondents single out the "Biggest Surprise" on each major league team this season. The nod for San Francisco, according to Rich Draper, who also writes for, is catcher Eliezer Alfonzo, who finally reached the majors in his 11th season. That includes 2003 at St. Paul, MN when the Saints of the American Association still were in the Northern League.

The Venezuelan homered off the Mets' Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez in his debut June 3, then filled in more than adequately for injured regular Mike Matheny.

"He picked up hitters' tendencies and worked on catching techniques throughout the season, and he's all but assured of a job in 2007," Draper wrote.

The 27-year-old hit .266 in 87 games while collecting 17 doubles, 12 homers and 39 RBI, and was catching virtually every day down the stretch.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006


To those fans driving the 30 miles on Interstate 70 from O'Fallon, MO to Busch Stadium in St. Louis--as well as the Fox TV audience nationally--for Game 5 of the National League Championship Series Thursday the chances seem really good they will see onetime River City Rascals hurler Josh Kinney take the mound at some time against the New York Mets.

We have been telling you both here and in our last Independent Baseball Insidercolumn about the rookie reliever coming from Independent Baseball and working his way into prominence in the Cardinals bullpen.

But St. Louis Manager Tony LaRussa seems more likely than ever to want Kinney on the mound once he has to relieve Jeff Weaver in Game 5 or when the series returns to Shea Stadium Wednesday and possibly Thursday.

It is a combination of Kinney's effectiveness this entire postseason, and the pounding most of the bullpen took in Game 4, when the Mets thumped their way to a 12-5 series-tying win.

Kinney was the winner in Game 2, but beyond that his four postseason appearances have seen him throw strikes (two walks) and limit opposing hitters to a .091 average. Fans should especially watch for the 27-year-old when righthanded hitters Paul LoDuca and David Wright or pinch-hitter Julio Franco are up in key situations in innings five, six, seven or eight.

Kinney can make Independent Baseball proud once more.

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Monday, October 09, 2006


Only one of the 100 players who move on to the two League Championship Series knows first hand about Independent Baseball, but his story gives this writer added interest this postseason.

The story is that of rookie St. Louis reliever Josh Kinney, who made two key appearances in the Cardinals' three victories over San Diego and seems destined to get some spotlight time in the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets.

Kinney got his professional start five years ago with River City (O'Fallon, MO) in the Frontier League, then had his contract purchased by the nearby Cardinals after only three starts (1-0, 1.71 with 18 strikeouts in 21 innings). He worked his way up the St. Louis organization, and made his big league debut this July 3.

But Manager Tony LaRussa showed so much faith in the 27-year-old righthander that he added Kinney to the postseason roster and brought him into Game 2 against the Padres to protect a 2-0 lead with two-out in the sixth inning. Kinney got four key outs and allowed only a walk.

Then in the clincher Sunday night, Kinney came in during the eighth inning to face Mike Piazza. After making the pinch-hitting Piazza look bad on a breaking ball, he induced the future Hall of Famer to hit into a 6-4-3 inning-ending double play. Kinney was lifted in favor of new closer Adam Wainwright in the ninth, but he had done his job, and had given yours truly--and Independent Baseball fans everywhere--special rooting interest as we go deeper into October.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006


It takes only a little imagination to expand Independent Baseball into more of a world-wide sport.

This 14-year-old enterprise, which just finished its second consecutive record season of drawing 7.5 million fans as we first reported in our Independent Baseball Insider column earlier this week, is quite energizing in itself.

Now consider that the renowned St. Paul (MN) Saints of the American Association embark Tuesday on an 11-day trip to Japan where they are believed to be the first United States-based minor league team to play in that country. The George Tsamis-managed team will play five games and take part in other baseball and cultural activities.

That adds Asia to the Independent Baseball map.

And, this busy correspondent (my wife says fanatic is more appropriate) has found a way to include Europe. No actual games are included, at this point. But as we travel Italy we have had conversations with fellow vacationers about no less than four Independent teams.

In Roma (we say Rome, they say Roma) it was about the Frontier League's Michigan outposts of Traverse City and Kalamazoo. And just yesterday, in a little Trattoria in Florence, the young couple seated next to us were very conversant about Edmonton and Calgary of the Northern League. The Edmonton nickname temporarily escaped me, but the friendly owner of two Mongolian restaurants in Edmonton was only too happy to remind me it was the Cracker-Cats. They also were well aware of the Vipers.

So you see, our Independent game gets attention on a very broad basis.

I must sign off now to get back to the more mundane thoughts of touring the fantastic cathedrals--and vineyards--Italy has to offer. Grazie, for bearing with this tour guide.

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