Monday, December 31, 2007


Death would not ordinarily be something we would expect to "celebrate" as we end 2007and head into a new year full of hope. But Kash Beauchamp, recently named manager of the new Wichita (KS) Wingnuts of the American Association, reminded this corner there has been a celebration of sorts with the passing of his father, onetime major league first baseman-outfielder Jim Beauchamp during the holiday season.

"The outpouring of support has truly made this a joyous event," Kash said in an email. We must realize Jim Beauchamp had been ill for some time. "Dad fought a great battle, outliving expectations by months. He passed peacefully...which was my prayer."

The Beauchamp family has had an impressive baseball history. Jim, only 68 at the time of his death, played in 393 major league games over an 11-year span (1963-73), finishing with the New York Mets in the World Series of '73 where he went 0-for-4. He was Field Operations Supervisor for the Atlanta Braves up to the end of his life.

"His two proudest (baseball) moments," Kash said of his father were having a new high school baseball diamond in his hometown of Grove, OK named after him, and helping raise money for Southwest Christian Care, which helps handicapped children and provides hospice care.

Kash did not reach the majors as a player although he was the first Independent Baseball player signed by a major league organization (Cincinnati) in the startup year of 1993, and he has earned his stripes as a successful Independent manager as well as in coordinating player acquisitions in recent seasons for both the Golden League and the South Coast League.

The younger Beauchamp believes his father, "Shootfire" as he called him, is in a better place and once again hitting "fungoes", which any baseball man would like to be doing.

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Friday, December 28, 2007


How about some real baseball news as we head into this final weekend of 2007?

The winter leagues always give me the feeling a new season will be here in the good old USA before we know it, and this December is no exception.

One non-roster invitee I am going to be keeping my eyes on come March is former All-Star Edgardo Alfonzo, who recently signed with Texas after a summer in the Atlantic League. Now 34 but out of the majors for nearly two seasons (he did play in 30 games between the Dodgers and Blue Jays in 2006), the onetime prized third baseman of the New York Mets, is hitting .343 (59-172) in his native Venezuela. He has a solid .912 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).

Edgardo, who played briefly at Bridgeport, CT in the Atlantic League in '06, was at Long Island, NY all last season, hitting .266 with five homers and 56 RBI in 105 games for the Ducks. He continues to walk about the same amount of times as he strikes out with 16 of each in his first 48 games this winter.

Meanwhile, San Francisco catcher Eliezer Alfonzo, seemingly no relation, is playing virtually daily in the Venezuelan League. He continues to show power, too, with 13 homers in 51 games, while hitting .261. The Sporting News predicted in its December 24 issue that Eliezer and Guillermo Rodriguez "should have an intriguing battle for the backup catcher spot" in 2008. Eliezer, who once played Independent Baseball for St. Paul, MN, was limited to 26 major league games--and 18 in Triple-A--when slowed early by injuries in 2007 while Rodriguez also split time between the parent club and Fresno. They are of similar age and both bat righthanded.

Rightie Cory Bailey, who also has played at Long Island, has a solid 3.19 ERA for 13 starts in Venezuela although his record is only 2-5. In the Dominican Republic, venerable Jose Lima, another former Atlantic Leaguer (Newark, NJ, 2003), is an impressive 3-2, 2.84 for 10 starts, and lefty Derek Lee (Texas) is 2-2, 3.72. He was at Somerset, NJ in the Atlantic a good part of 2005.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007


This is a great time of year to hand out some awards, even if this batch is merely hypothetical.

I believe it is safe to say virtually every Independent Baseball team deserves some credit for its charitable undertakings. Two prime examples during the holiday season come via the Atlantic League. The Lancaster (PA) Barnstormers' mascot, Cylo, was on the go for 10 days up to Christmas delivering toys--and joy--to the needy. Money came out of the Cylo Fund accumulations of the regular season where revenue came in in exchange for video board messages, and K-B Toys lent a helping hand by discounting prices on its merchandise.

In Bridgeport, CT, the Bluefish provided storage at The Ballpark at Harbor Yard during November and December so the Evergreen Network, Inc. could assemble food and gift baskets which were eventually distributed to nearly 100 families affected by AIDS or other major diseases.

Proof that holiday joy can come in a number of forms.

On the field, we counted up 33 players deserving of added respect because they played in every one of their team's games in 2007. The American Association was tops with 12 such players, the Northern League had nine, the Frontier five and the United four.

The most interesting of the group might have been 26-year-old Adam Shorsher in that he is primarily a catcher, baseball's most challenging defensive position. Catching 75 per cent of the games is pretty good. Now some eager beaver may tell us Shorsher missed a game somewhere because he was traded June 29 from Edmonton to Fargo, both in the Northern League. But I am giving him credit since he was in 95 games, the same number played by Fargo.

The toll of being behind the plate every day appears to have been pretty significant in lowering his batting average. Shorsher hit .303 in his 39 games for Edmonton--all as a catcher--but he slumped to .165 in the last full month of August. The only relief he got from being behind the plate was through spotty duty in other roles--pinch hitting once, being DH another time, playing first base on one occasion and appearing in the outfield three times.

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Monday, December 17, 2007


Our notebook keeps filling up, thankfully with items other than the Mitchell Report, where only two players (Brendan Donnelly and Howie Clark) who have been in Independent leagues got any mention. This is some of what has been crossing the desk.


One of the countless stories I have found amusing in Tim Kurkjian’s memories-filled book “Is This a Great Game, or What?” is about cunning Kenny Rogers, who recently signed for another year with Detroit.

As ESPN’s Kurkjian relates it, Rogers was a 135-pound lefty outfielder-shortstop when, at age 17 in 1982, he was discovered in Plant City, FL. “…but because he is left-handed and had arm strength, Texas selected him late in the draft as a pitcher on the recommendation of Joe Klein, their Director of Player Procurement and Development. In his first training camp, Rogers was asked to pitch from the stretch. “I don’t know how to do that,” Rogers is quoted as saying.

Now fast forward 25 years. Rogers, now 43 and with more than 200 major league victories, is one of the best around at picking runners off base. He learned very well.

And Klein, the Atlantic League's first and only executive director, still has scouting in his blood, as evidenced by the fact he annually chairs a Winter Meetings event which honors the Scouts of the Year.

One more note on scouts while we are at it. Praise is due the Goldklang Group for creating a tribute to that hard-working and sometimes unheralded group with all six minor league teams they own or help operate, including their banner franchise at St. Paul, MN in the American Association. The Goldklang operation, headed up by Marv Goldklang and Mike Veeck, has management contracts with Brockton, MA in the Can-Am League and Sioux Falls, SD in the American Association.


The first time my path crossed with reliever J.J. Trujillo it was to honor him with the Rolaids Relief Man award for the entire affiliated minor league system. That was in 2000, and the second year of his professional career which started in Indy baseball with the Frontier League's Johnstown (PA) Johnnies.

Phillies Independent scout Mal Fichman believes Trujillo was part of something never accomplished previously this past September. Returning to the mound after rehabbing some arm woes, the righthander started this season with Newark, NJ in the Atlantic League. Eventually, the Phils jumped in and signed the now 32-year-old, and he worked for both their Double-A team at Reading, PA and Class A Clearwater, FL, where he was part of the run to the Florida State League championship.

"Because we worked so closely with Newark all year," Fichman wrote in an email, "we released J.J. (after the FSL ended) so he could finish the season and playoffs with them (the Bears)." As we know, Newark won the Atlantic League playoffs, giving Trujillo what Fichman said were the first two championships of his pro career. And it all took place in September.


It seems to me the norm in Baseball America's annual Great Parks Calendar has been to feature one Independent Baseball stadium.

But three have made it for 2008. The Brockton (MA) Rox's Campanelli Stadium is featured from the Can-Am League, U.S. Steel Yard, home of the Northern League's Gary (IN) SouthShore Railcats, is singled out and LaGrave Field in Fort Worth, TX (American Association) made the calendar. LaGrave has the added distinction of being included for the second time in the last six years.

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Friday, December 14, 2007


Anton French had to keep his suitcase handy during his 15-year playing career in that his resume runs all of 25 lines, and he never spent more than two years wearing the same team's uniform. He still cannot unpack for very long in that he just signed on to become Philadelphia's minor league bunting and baserunning instructor.

Only listed at 32 years of age, the 5-foot-11 product of Chicago certainly seems suited for that job. He has 476 stolen bases to his credit, but Anton may well have decided it was time to use his talents other than as a player since he never made the major leagues and found himself wearing four different sets of flannels in '07. He played 36 games in Winnipeg (Northern League) and 37 split somewhat equally among Somerset, NJ (Atlantic League), North Shore (Lynn, MA., Can-Am League) and Tijuana in the Triple-A Mexican League.

French was part of five Independent leagues in all, including the Northeast League (Massachusetts, Quebec and Allentown, PA), where he was one of that circuit's most exciting players in 1999 and 2000. His high-water mark in steals (61) came in 2002 when he was in the Western League (48 for Sonoma County, Rohnert Park, CA) and 13 at Trenton, NJ, then a Boston farm club.

Other Indy personnel hired recently by major league organizations include Andy Haines, who has gone from being the winning manager in the Frontier League this summer (Windy City, Crestwood, IL) to a Gulf Coast League coach for Florida, and Chris Hook, who has moved from being pitching coach at Florence, KY in the Frontier League to a minor league coaching position for Milwaukee. Carlos Pulido, who once pitched for Somerset and in the majors for Minnesota, has become a minor league pitching coach for Texas.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007


Every baseball fan should experience attending the Winter Meetings, which, of course, my boss and new Hall of Fame electee Bowie Kuhn used to remind me are a mere memory by the time the calendar gets us officially to winter.

It is not easy for a fan to attend because the event is so large it probably would be necessary to stay off site. But just to roam the hallways of the official hotel would be a joy because there would be sightings of Hall of Fame members, managers, general managers and baseball media who come into the living room nightly at most every turn.

The Opryland Hotel in Nashville, where this year's sessions were held, is a myriad of walkways, canals, lobbies and ballrooms so large it is difficult to comprehend. Still, once Joe Fan got accustomed to navagating his or her way around they could have evesdropped on the ESPN TV and Radio broadcasts, or those of or XM Radio, which have glamourized the setting.

I don't mean to be a name-dropper, but I have been to virtually every one of these gatherings since 1967 and have seen tremendous growth. It was fun even to a "seasoned" participant like myself to run into Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark at breakfast, to sit across from Cal Ripken, Jr., to watch another Hall of Fame member, Al Kaline, strolling along almost unrecognized and to run into--and have a conversation with--Lou Piniella. I've had the benefit of knowing and working with most of these men, but I don't see them all that often these days. My newer associates from Independent Baseball also were in evidence throughout each day, even though not all of them are as recognizable.

The casual fan would see all these personalities, too, and many times would be able to say hello, even though these are not intended to be autograph parties. Las Vegas gets the traveling circus of 3,000 or so participants next December.


A couple of weeks back while praising the American Association's development, I noted that the two-year-old league would get more attention if it could start getting players to the majors, where the Atlantic and Northern Leagues dominate with the Independent grads who are in The Show today. The American Association did have Luke Hochevar with Kansas City late in the season.

Now no less a source than Baseball America believes Max Scherzer, a fellow righthander who also played for the two-time champion Fort Worth (TX) Cats in the American Association, could play for Arizona in 2008. Scherzer only signed with the Diamondbacks in May, but he dazzled in three starts in Class A and held his own in Double-A, then fanned 18 hitters in 13 innings for Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League. BB-A correspondent Jack McGruder reports "his rapid ascension makes him a candidate for the major league roster in 2008".


The first official major league spring training invitation that this corner has seen for '08--there will be many more--went to Jeff Harris, now 33, a starter most of this season (6-9, 4.68) at Buffalo. It is good to see Cleveland wants the righthander back in its major league camp once more. Harris pitched in 14 games (2-5, 4.26) for Seattle in 2005-2006, shortly after the second of his two appearances in Indy baseball at Quebec. He also worked for Chico, CA, now a Golden League city, when it was in the Western League in 2001-2002.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007


Some meanderings while shipping out the early orders of our fourth annual book wrapping up an Independent Baseball season and packing for next week's Winter Meetings in Nashville where the rumor mill will be in full gear:

**If we had our own award, Philadelphia probably would walk away with Organization of the Year honors. The Phillies had 24 former Independent players in their system (prior to the usual free agency of six-year free agents), including major league catcher Chris Coste, when "The Independent Minor Leagues: 2007 Season in Review" went to press. They easily lead all other organizations, and many of the players came on board after Charley Kerfeld and Mal Fichman landed in Philadelphia somewhere around a year ago.

**I have not seen a breakdown of Yankees postseason shares, but if onetime Indy hurler Edwar Ramirez (Pensacola, FL, and Edinburg, TX) got even one-third his extra "gift" of $8,768 should make him smile here in the holiday season. Not bad for someone who was twice released by the Angels, forcing the changeup artist to work his way by through the Independent leagues. Several other onetime Indy players also get postseason checks, headed by J.D. Drew (St. Paul, MN), who got $308,235.75 as a member of the World Champion Red Sox, Stephen Drew (Camden, NJ), $139.459.87 with Arizona, and Joe Borowski (Newark, NJ), who earned $107,457.62 with the Indians.

**One cannot help but wonder which of these former major league stars will have the most impact in their new managerial roles in Indy baseball: Rick Miller, Nashua, NH, Can-Am League; Les Lancaster, Sioux City, IA, American Association; Von Hayes, Lancaster, PA, Atlantic League; or Butch Hobson, Southern Maryland, Atlantic.

**It is difficult even at this end of the keyboard to realize our annual book recapping the season has gotten up around 170 pages.

More soon when we visit the magnificent Opryland Hotel in Nashville.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007


What could possibly be better as we head to that big Thanksgiving dinner than a couple of Independent Baseball appetizers? And now we have them.

The New York Yankees moved smartly into the Independent player bag once more to re-sign a great big turkey (I could not resist) in the form of 6-foot-6, 230-pound Scott Patterson. And this time they gave the 28-year-old righthander, who labored his first four and a half professional seasons in Indy baseball, a major league contract. Spring training in Tampa with the big guys.

Another piece of news Wednesday came about on the Texas-Arkansas border where the Continental League announced it will have an expansion franchise next season in Texarkana, which has been without professional baseball since 1953.

Wouldn't it be something if the Yankees ended up with both Patterson and changeup artist Edwar Ramirez in their bullpen next season. Don't laugh, Ramirez, twice released by the Angels but revived during Independent stints in Pensacola, FL and Edinburg, TX, was in 21 games for New York this season, striking out 31 (but walking 14) in 21 innings.

Patterson had a dazzling first full season in the Yankees' farm system. His eye-popping stats at Class AA Trenton, NJ included 91 strikeouts and only 15 walks and 45hits in 74.1 innings. His earned run average was a miniscule 1.46, and it was even better at 1.02 for his 40 bullpen appearances. He didn't fare badly in his three early season starts, either, and finished with three innings of hitless relief in his lone outing for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, PA.

This product of West Virginia State went 21-7 in his first three seasons in the Frontier League (Gateway, Sauget, IL), then really turned it on once he started closing for the Grizzlies and Lancaster, PA in the Atlantic League in 2005 and 2006.

The Continental League may have had its best day yet Wednesday when it added Texarkana for its second season in the Lone Star State. Ron Baron's league had three teams in what amounted to high school facilities and a road team in its first year. It obviously needs more power to take its place alongside the more established Independent leagues. Texarkana might be the first step.

The mayors of both Texarkana, TX, and Texarkana, AR, were among the dignataries who expressed their enthusiasm during Wednesday's media conference announcing the team, and Baron indicated more teams may be added before next season. The yet-to-be-named Texarkana team will play in George Dobson Field, which is expected to seat 1,600 fans by the time the expanded schedule starts in May.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007


The list of former Independent Baseball players we just polished up in finishing our annual book called The Independent Minor Leagues: 2007 Season in Review who have current ties to a major league organization totaled a highly-respectable 210. That group includes about 65 who became six-year free agents recently. They can shop their services, but some probably also will be left on the outside. In that case, they will need to go back to an Independent league or head off to the outside world.

It is far too early to make many judgments, but the first three players we have seen with new contracts seem to have improved themselves. And in all cases, more experience--and presumably more maturity of their baseball skills--may prove beneficial in their newest opportunities.

Jeff Nettles stayed with Kansas City, however, climbing an important notch from Class AA to AAA. Paul Abraham did the same within the San Diego organization, and Bobby Brownlie moved from a postseason and strong Cleveland organization to Washington while also inking at the Triple-A level (Columbus).

This may make Brownlie the biggest winner of the trio since the Nationals certainly need pitching.

Nettles, now 29, signed with the Royals in the middle of last season after four and a half years with the Somerset (NJ) Patriots in the Atlantic League. Clearly, the right-handed hitting son of former major league standout Graig Nettles improved his power stroke a great deal since the last time he was in Triple-A at the age of 24 in 2002. He showed that while hitting 14 doubles and eight homers in only 58 games at Wichita, where he also drove in 41 runs. One problem for him with KC is that Alex Gordon is ahead of him at the hot corner.

Abraham, 27, will get his first Triple-A opportunity at Portland, OR, four years after his brief stint at Quebec, where he did not give up a single run in seven apperances. The righthander had an impressive 2.39 earned run average in 47 games for San Antonio in 2007. He allowed only 39 hits in 52.2 innings and struck out 53 while posting a 1-3 record with eight saves.

Brownlie, a onetime first rounder with the Cubs (2002), was in the Atlantic League the first part of this summer, even starting on the mound in the All-Star Game. When the Indians came calling, he went to Double-A Akron, OH where he had a 2.98 ERA in eight starts (3.17 in nine games overall). Only 27, Brownlie may be in a prime spot to work his way to the new stadium in Washington, DC, and the level forecast for him when he came out of Rutgers.

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Monday, November 12, 2007


We may not even been halfway through November, but the list of topics I cannot wait to get answers to about Independent Baseball is growing.

WHERE IS MATT MILLER GOING TO END UP? This sidearmer, who got his walking papers from Cleveland a few days ago, surely is going to give some major league bullpen another good arm. Miller, who almost certainly would not have had any professional baseball career if not for the old Big South and Texas-Louisiana leagues, told me last month he was confident his elbow problems were behind him and knew he could continue getting major league hitters--especially righthanders--out. He was pretty certain his days with the Tribe were numbered, but who wouldn't want to take a look at this reliever who had a 2.72 earned run average for 100 big league appearances.

WHO WILL GET THE UPPER HAND IN THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION? Now that Kash Beauchamp has joined the established managerial ranks with the new Wichita Wingnuts, who will reign supreme? Beauchamp had the itch to get back into the dugout fulltime, and has already moved to the Kansas City, but this proven warrior still must content with the likes of onetime major league managers Tim Johnson (Lincoln) Terry Bevington (Shreveport) and successful Independent Baseball managers such as George Tsamis (St. Paul) and Chad Tredaway (Fort Worth). Sioux City is expected to name its replacement for Ed Nottle soon.

WHO WILL BASEBALL AMERICA CHOOSE NEXT? After honoring St. Paul (American Association) last fall and recently Long Island (Atlantic League) as Independent Franchise of the Year, who will be next? The publication will have plenty of choices to consider as some of the operations get better and better.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007


The Golden League received considerable attention when Edmonton and Calgary joined the league this fall, with one bonus being that now with eight teams the league could justify going to two divisions.

An added benefit came along recently when Darryl Brinkley, who hit .400 for Calgary and was named Northern League Player of the Year last season, signed to play another year. At 38, there had seemed to be some doubt. Now, the returning Golden League cities (Long Beach, Chico and Orange County in California, Yuma, AZ, St. George, UT and Reno, NV) will get to see the man Vipers Manager Mike Busch calls "the most mentally prepared player I've ever worked with" up close.

Good stuff for all concerned.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007


It will not be announced until Thursday, but the fourth attractive managerial hiring in the American Association of this offseason is about to take place. The respected Chad Tredaway, who built powerhouses at Edinburg, TX, has taken over at Fort Worth and onetime major league power king Pete Incaviglia has the reigns at Grand Prairie, one of the new entries for the league. This sets the stage for a major battle for supremacy in the Metroplex.

Down in Louisiana, former major league skipper Terry Bevington is starting his second stint in Shreveport, replacing the competent but lesser known Bob Flori.

The Thursday news will bring another solid Independent Baseball manager back onto the field fulltime.

The competition figures to get mighty stiff in the American Association, with George Tsamis always in the hunt for a title at St. Paul, MN. Onetime Toronto field boss Tim Johnson has had great clubs at Lincoln, NE, too, although he has not been able to get the Saltdogs to championship heaven.

What battles seem to lie ahead.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007


The news came down Tuesday of another Independent Baseball team going out of business.

This one is the New Haven County Cutters here in Connecticut, a member of the Can-Am League, and it hit home because I was one of the early people encouraging the league (it was the Northeast at the time) and Owner Jonathan Fleisig that New Haven should be a good location.

Greater New Haven had a baseball history along with an acceptable stadium known as "historic" Yale Field. It is historic because of its early days when Yale University was a collegiate power, since legends like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and the first President Bush played within the edifice and for 10 years before the Cutters it was home to the Class AA New Haven Ravens.

While I have not been active with the Cutters for about a year now, I did quite a lot of consulting on various subjects and even handled player acquisitions for a couple of seasons. So, it hurts to see the organization have to give up.

If only the public could understand the depth of the effort to make this work in a community that has anything but a good track record of supporting local professional teams. Ownership poured so much money into the four years, literally millions of dollars. The leadership also tried so many different tactics. And the staff hours, so many of them. Morning, afternoon and late night. The only good thing for the staff is every one of them have youth on their side; they will have another chance, and will have the value of this experience to help guide them.

Am I surprised at the failure? Somewhat, especially the timing. But I learned a long time ago you need business, political and media support, in addition to a fan base, to make a baseball team work. The business leaders and the local media need to look at themselves in the mirror, if they care at all about analyzing why teams cannot make it in their community. I mean they need to stand in front of the mirror for some time, and give the subject serious thought. Yale University, always vital in Greater New Haven, stepped up at various times, and the politicians may have been getting the message at the end. Much too late, of course.

What is Greater New Haven and its family base losing? The paragraph below, taken from the Cutters' letter to their supporters Tuesday, says it so well.

"We will miss the happy looks on the faces of fans, young and old alike, Tripper’s antics, children running the bases and seeking player autographs, 30 Seconds of Mayhem, group picnics in the pavilion, between-inning skits involving fans, shouts of joy from the Fun Zone, Derrick Gibson hitting a moon shot over the trees beyond the left field fence, Saturday night fireworks, smells from Joe Grate’s BBQ, Irish Night, Thirsty Thursday’s, concerts and star entertainers, the classic beauty of Yale Field, reading in the classroom, School Day, youth camps and clinics, community appearances, and helping raise money for worthy causes."

An opportunity missed, by an area that could use a local professional sports team to get behind. Maybe those who could have helped will understand someday. Maybe.

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Friday, October 26, 2007


A few ramblings heading into a weekend of World Series baseball...


The official addition of former Northern League entries Edmonton and Calgary certainly solidifies the Golden League, but I find the 12-game expansion of the schedule also intriguing. Instead of a 76-game schedule from June to August, the GBL teams will now start in late May and play 88 games, finishing up in early September. It seems entirely possible the Golden League still could add other teams, most likely Canadian, possibly getting to 10 franchises for 2008.

Meanwhile, the Northern League already has announced its schedule with, you guessed it, only six teams, half of what the venerable circuit had as recently as 2005 when it led Independent Baseball with nearly 2.2 million in attendance. Rumors indicate some of the remaining clubs may want out next fall.


The New York Yankees have become the first major league organization to sign players out of the Israel Baseball League, which debuted this summer with players from nine nations. The Yankees will give an opportunity to an outfielder who is a native of Australia and a catcher from the Dominican Republic. I would expect a few players from the Israeli league will find their way into Independent leagues by spring.


Several Independent teams have signed new managers within the past few days, but one job still open is that with the newly-named Harlingen (TX) White Wings. Eddie Dennis has retired from the team known as the Rio Grande White Wings during the first two seasons of the United League. General Manager Dave Kost has made it clear the team wants someone who "will weave his way into the community" in addition to leading a competitive team.


Nothing definitive has been announced on whether Nashua, NH will be back to defend it Can-Am League title, although various sources have been mentioning possible managerial candidates they have heard of for the Pride. That seems very positive, but it also would indicate veteran skipper Butch Hobson has choosen not to return.

Our regular Independent Baseball Insider column will dig deeper into some of these topics in its regular slot next Thursday.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007


With the World Series about to start, I always enjoy trying to identify people within the two participating organizations who have spent time in Independent Baseball. Each one can take pride from having some hand in helping their organization, and many of them probably will have World Series rings at some future date to prove their bragging rights.

The most identifiable person this time is Red Sox rightfielder J. D. Drew, who turned out to be one of the late American League Championship Series heroes. Indy fans remember J.D. for playing his first 74 professional games (1997-98) with the St. Paul (MN) Saints. He drove in a remarkable 83 runs and hit 27 home runs for St. Paul. Drew is the only one of the 50 players expected to be on the final rosters with Independent Baseball playing experience.

The Boston organization has five others I could identify with Indy ties. Regional crosschecker Mark Wasinger spent time at Corpus Christi, TX, scout John Booher was in both the Central (Jackson, MS) and Northeast Leagues (Elmira, NY), scout Dan Madsen was at San Angelo, TX, minor league manager Chad Epperson came through the Frontier League (Cook County, Crestwood, IL), and minor league pitching coach Bob Kipper was in the Frontier at Evansville, IN,

For Colorado, scout Todd Blyleven was at Sioux City, IA, roving infield instructor Rich Dauer was in the Western League, roving catching instructor Marv Foley managed Newark, NJ in the Atlantic League and minor league coach Eduardo Villacis was at Bridgeport, CT in the Atlantic League.

I would welcome readers pointing out any omissions.

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Monday, October 15, 2007


One of the first things I look forward to seeing each morning is the day's transactions. This time of year another reason to look at the moves is to see which of our Independent players who has gotten to the major leagues will keep his job. Soon it will be who is being elevated to the 40-man roster, which means an automatic invitation to major league spring training. That also strongly suggests that a player is well respected by the organization, and it does not want to take a chance on losing the player come the draft in early December.

I have several players in mind who could get promotions, but that will wait for another day.

We've already seen a few moves involving Independent "graduates".

The best sign, at least to this typist's thinking, comes for Chris Coste, who now has a lifetime major league average of .309, even though his first at bat came at age 33. Rod Barajas's presence in Philadelphia this spring probably kept Coste in the minors until midway in the season. Barajas has been released, so barring wintertime trades, that should put Coste in position of continuing to be the No. 2 catcher behind Carlos Ruiz. You should know by now that Coste spent five years in Independent leagues, the last four with his hometown Fargo (ND) Redhawks in the Northern League, before ever getting an opportunity with a major league organization.

Three players, all with Atlantic League ties, have been taken off major league rosters in the last few days, although at least two of them could get non-roster invitations to spring training. Jason Simontacchi (Bridgeport, CT as well as Springfield, OH of the Frontier League) was outrighted to Triple-A by Washington and the same fate befell Milwaukee outfielder Mel Stocker (Long Island, NY).

It should soon be known what will become of righthander Kane Davis, who has toiled for both Somerset and Camden, NJ in the Atlantic. He was with Philadelphia for the stretch drive, but the Phillies have designated him for assignment. That means he will either be released or will move to one of the Phils' minor league affiliates. It could be 10 days before the decision is known.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Isn't it neat that the top batting average, the No. 1 on-base percentage and the best runs batted in production in the entire minor league system in 2007 belong to players with strong Independent Baseball backgrounds.

I did not realize this until I got to my current Baseball America, which still does a tremendous job of reporting on the future stars of this great sport.

Brian Myrow, who still is looking for his first long term opportunity in the majors at the age of 31 but likely wouldn't have played professionally at all without an Indy contract (Winnipeg, Northern League, 1999-2001), led every minor league hitter with his .354 batting average and his .440 on-base percentage for the Portland Beavers in the Pacific Coast League.

Myrow received limited at bats, although some were in key situations, late in the season with San Diego after a similar trial with the Dodgers in '06. The lefty hitter, hampered by lacking the everyday major league tools that make baseball decision-makers drool, should get a long look somewhere next spring.

John Lindsey, one of the favorite subjects in our Independent Baseball Insider columns this summer, ended up leading everyone else in the minors with his 121 RBI. This two-time standout with the New Jersey Jackals in the Can-Am League drove in 33 runs in 56 games for Class AA Jacksonville, FL, then really turned it only with 88 RBI in only 77 games for Las Vegas. That adds up to 133 games, and the best he could do in 125 Can-Am contests in '05 and '06 was 103 RBI.

Lindsey, a 30-year-old first baseman, just missed making the top five in the minors with his 30 home runs. Nineteen of the round-trippers and 26 additional doubles came during his splurge in the PCL. One would think the Dodgers would give Lindsey a look in the spring even though they have young James Loney at first base.

On the pitching side of the ledger, onetime Golden Leaguer Adam Pettyjohn posted 16 wins in the Milwaukee organization, only one behind the best total in the minors. Two seasons after starring in the GBL's first season (10-2 at Long Beach, CA) the onetime Detroit hurler was 16-6 between AA and AAA.

Baseball America selected Chico, CA outfielder Daniel Nava as the best prospect among 2007 Independent Baseball players after his MVP season in the Golden League. BA believes all of the top ten Indy prospects are in the Golden, Northern, South Coast, United and Frontier leagues, surprisingly leaving out the Atlantic, American Association and Can-Am. Nava, 24, is a switch hitter with power from both sides and a good outfield arm.

The Golden League reports the former Santa Clara athlete has been invited to offseason tryouts by Philadelphia, Toronto and San Francisco.

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Monday, October 01, 2007


The image running constantly through my mind today--of all the possible images from the great weekend of tense baseball--came from one of this morning's newspaper photos. It had Phillies catcher Chris Coste, chest protector in place, rushing to the pitchers mound celebration after the final out in their National League East clinching game Sunday.

Can any of us image the thoughts going through this 34-year-old's mind at that moment?

We have told Coste's story on other occasions in this space and especially in our Independent Baseball Insider column. It seems worth repeating as he and as many as seven other players with Independent Baseball experience head to major league baseball's postseason.

Coste's story is the impossible dream becoming possible.

Undrafted out of Concordia College in Minnesota, then 22-year-old Chris Coste first experienced professional baseball by playing 24 games in 1995 in the long-departed Prairie League. Next it was four summers in the independent Northern League with his hometown team, the Fargo-Moorehead Redhawks. That's Fargo, ND and Moorehead, MN to the uninitiated. He grew from a so-so infielder into a starting catcher, although he continued to play some at various infield positions.

Pittsburgh signed Coste after the third of those seasons, but released him before the next season (1999) started. The Indians came along after '99. They released and re-signed him. Then it was the Red Sox and the Brewers, and, prior to 2005 Philadelphia. There were some spring training games and some near misses, but Coste spent the six seasons from 2000-2005 in the high minors, AAA and AA baseball.

Well into 2006 Philadelphia finally called Chris to the majors, primarily as a backup catcher. He hit .328 in his 198 at bats covering 65 games with his name listed in the starting lineup more frequently at the end. But, hold on. He went back to the minors on the final day of spring training this season and once more after a brief callup from May 14-24.

He came back on June 29, and stayed the rest of the summer, getting time behind the plate although largely backing up touted regular Carlos Ruiz. Coste got 129 at bats, hit five homers and drove in 22 and hit .279 even though he slumped in limited time of late.

Ruiz got plunked on the elbow in the fourth inning of Sunday's 6-1 win against Washington. Enter Chris Coste to catch 44-year-old Jamie Moyer to start the fifth with a less-than-certain 3-1 lead. Our hero also got hit by a pitch and scored a run, but more than anything he helped nurse Moyer and the bullpen to five scoreless innings to give the Phils their first postseason bid in 14 years.


Then came the image of the never give up, 34-year-old Coste celebrating. What an image for him, for the Phillies and perhaps most of all for every hopeful playing Independent Baseball while dreaming of one day putting on the major league uniform.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007


I have a new pen pal, and I have to admit she has stolen my heart.

Don't worry, my wife will not be jealous.

All of the Independent Baseball world needs to know about Victoria Glidden. Many know about her already.

Victoria is 9, and she is crushed that the North Shore Spirit, the Can-Am League team in Lynn, MA, will not be playing again. Owner Nick Lopardo, who poured a great deal of money and energy into the Spirit for five seasons, has closed up shop. He has not said it in so many words, to my knowledge, but the Spirit apparently did not receive the support they needed from the City Hall or the business and fan base to stop the financial losses.

"The Spirit is the best part of living in Lynn and it's being taken away from us," Victoria wrote in her first email to me. "We love the Spirit. I'm just a kid but I want to help find a way to keep the team in Lynn."

But unlike so many people who might say something similar, Victoria Glidden is not stopping with a few emails. She started a petition, and the last I knew she had collected 447 signatures. She got 209 from the internet and 238 from "talking to people". "I want a million (signatures)", she wrote, and she may be well on her way by now.

Victoria's plight has been on television and in newspapers in Massachusetts although she admits Mayor Chip Clancy, the primary target in her effort, has not responded.

"One of the things I want to do when I have enough money is buy a baseball team," Ms. Glidden told me in her most recent message. "The kids could always go to games and I'd give free tickets to the poor kids too so everyone can have fun."

Victoria's grandmother, Debra, told me "she (Victoria) is a wreck over the Spirit leaving. Spirit games are the highlight of her life. She has been to almost every game for five years."

"I'm so sad thinking I won't be able to go to any Spirit games next summer," was the most heartfelt of all of her lines. "It makes me want to cry."

Victoria even asked me if I would buy the team. I am afraid I remain powerless in this situation, Victoria. Maybe your message will get through to someone who can help. And regardless, Victoria, your determination will win out in life.

Readers can learn more, including the petition, by visiting her blog,

Picture from

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007


With Jose Herrera playing the role of Reggie Jackson to perfection, the minor league baseball season ended triumphantly in Newark, New Jersey, Tuesday night.

People in these parts--and much of the country, for that matter--still remember that night in 1977 when Reg-gie, Reg-gie, Reg-gie blasted three home runs in one World Series game at Yankee Stadium.

I could not help but notice as I watched what turned out to be the final game in minor league baseball this season how the Newark (NJ) Bears had gotten so far into the Atlantic League's championship series with only one left-handed hitter in the batting order.

It turned out that southpaw hitter, 35-year-old Jose Herrera, crashed three homers, the last a three-run jolt in the Bears' eight-run, come-from-behind eighth that carried Wayne Krenchicki's Bears to a 13-7 win over Sparky Lyle's Somerset (NJ) Patriots. Somerset had a 7-3 lead behind venerable Lincoln Mikkelsen after 5 1/2 and a 7-5 lead into the bottom of the eighth as the Patriots tried to claw their way to a 2-2 series tie.

The mild September night with a bright and full moon overhead brought out a crowd of 3,152, which was noisy every time the Bears gave them reason, and frenzied during the lengthy eighth in which Mikkelsen tired and three relievers could not help out.

What a way to end the first minor league season in which attendance topped 50 million during the regular season, including 8.4 million who witnessed Independent Baseball games.

It was as much a joy to be there as to be able to share some of the happenings with you.

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Friday, September 21, 2007


What exciting times in baseball.

My daily world continues to include both the major leagues and the Independent scene, with attention largely to those with Indy ties who are helping to make the final weeks of the season so appealing.

I do not know exactly where Joe Thatcher stands in relation to being part of San Diego's postseason roster, but the rookie reliever certainly is doing his part in making the Padres' brass take notice. It must mean something that Thatcher was used seven times in one recent 11-game stretch.

The lefthander, who spent his first year and a half as a pro in the Frontier League with River City in O'Fallon, MO, turned in two important scoreless innings in one of San Diego's tight victories over Pittsburgh earlier this week. In the process, he lowered his earned run average to 0.64.

Thatcher's most important role when he was traded from Milwaukee to the Padres during the summer was expected to be to face lefthanders. The 26-year-old is getting righthanders out, too, almost more easily.

"His fastball that cuts is effective against right-handed hitters," Manager Bud Black told Corey Brock of recently. He's equally effective against both."


Lincoln Mikkelsen is one of those rare players who has been a fixture in Independent Baseball from the time it started.

I thought he might be done when he had not shown up on an Atlantic League roster for most of the year, then he made three starts late in the regular season for Somerset, NJ. Results were okay, but not dazzling. Recently turned 40, Mikkelsen won two of the three starts, but his ERA was a modest 4.24 and opponents hit .313 against him.

Now it is playoff time. Mikkelsen hurled Sparky Lyle's Patriots right into the championship series Thursday night, throwing seven innings of a deciding 13-4 win over Camden, NJ. He allowed only one walk, six hits and three runs.

When Camden won the opener of the best-of-three set I was about to anoint the Riversharks's Joe Ferguson as the genius of the dugout. He had gotten together with former Los Angeles Dodgers teammate Tommy John, who manages Bridgeport, CT, and lured Matt Beech to the Camden staff for the postseason. Beech, who was the intended victim the night Jose Offerman took his bat to the mound, was 12-8 for a struggling Bridgeport team this season. Even though he had not pitched for Camden, he was given the ball for the first game of the playoffs and turned in eight innings of two-hit, one-run work. He did not get the victory, but he kept the Riversharks in position, and they won that night, 4-1.


News crossed my desk this week that the Italian National Team still was searching for three starting pitchers plus a catcher and centerfielder for the World Cup in Taiwan next month. They prefer players who have at least reached Class AA, and anyone can be eligible for consideration if one of their great grandparents or a more recent generation was born in Italy.

Not a bad gig, it seems, with a salary and all expenses paid. Those interested should reach out to or 847 781-8039.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007


It is only on rare occasions when I get personal on this blog. Oh, I offer opinions and certainly try to give you insight on Independent Baseball. Today, I am making an exception, perhaps to tell you a little more about the guy at the keyboard.

I had a birthday recently, and my wife (Maybeth), who has this wonderful talent of putting words into rhyme, did me high honor to the tune of the "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." I'm not certain I am worthy, but the words certainly hit the old nail pretty squarely on the head.

Some people probably say "Grow up". There are much more important things in life than the National Pastime. Anyway, I decided to share her work, thinking you might get a moment of joy and keep your mind off the bigger issues of the day.

Here goes, with a slightly shortened version, but you must remember the tune is "Take Me Out to the Ballgame".


Bob Wirz really loves baseball, he’s obsessed with the game!
The strike-outs the hits and the RBIs;
statistics line up to put stars in his eyes!
So it’s read, read, read all the box scores,
that come in the paper each day.
And he know, knows, knows all the numbers,
In his head they stay!

Bob Wirz really loves baseball, he’s obsessed with the game!
It’s three-three in Boston, six two in L.A.
With so many scores, he keeps busy all day.
So he’ll watch, watch, watch on the TV,
or tune in XM in the car.
And he’ll search, search, search for those numbers,
wherever they are!

Bob Wirz really loves baseball, he’s obsessed with the game!
He loves keeping score with his pencil in hand;
his happiest moments are in the grand stand!
He will mark, mark, mark all the plays down,
and keep track of all of the game!
And he loves, loves, loves knowing
it’s never the same!

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Thursday, September 13, 2007


With modern day Independent Baseball only 15 years old there aren't many times when we get to go back into the sport's rich history. The recent American Association championship series, which will be one of my featured topics in this week's Independent Baseball Insider, created an exception because it came down to another battle royal between Fort Worth, TX and St. Paul, MN. Fort Worth's continued brilliance with its back to the wall is the theme in my column.

The Cats' president, John Dittrich, put together a point by point recap of some of the similarities in the storied history of the championship combatants, so with his permission, I want to share the details with those who journey to this blog. Here are the points he made:

***Both cities were long-time Brooklyn Dodgers farm clubs. Fort Worth was a Dodgers Class AA affiliate, feeding hundreds of players to Triple-A St. Paul, including pitcher Carroll Beringer and catcher Mike Napoli, both of whom still reside in Fort Worth and attend every Cats game.

***Both teams were members of the “old” American Association in the late 1950’s.
Baseball legend Wayne Terwilliger has coached first base for both teams. (He is currently the Cats’ first base coach and managed the Cats to the Central League title in 2005 at the age of 80.)

***Cats shortstop Mark Mirizzi is a St. Paul legend, hitting a walk-off homer to win the 2004 Northern League championship for the Saints.

***Both cities have become model franchises for the development of modern Independent Baseball both on and off the field with great attendance records as well as championship traditions.

***Both cities are “major league” markets in and of themselves. St.Paul is home to the NHL’s Minnesota Wild and the Twins, Vikings and Timberwolves are just minutes away in Minneapolis. Tarrant County (Fort Worth) hosts the Texas Rangers and will soon become home to the Dallas Cowboys, both facilites less than 20 miles from the Cats' LaGrave Field.

***Both cities, although major North American cities themselves, are in the shadows of and share an airport with other major cities, Minneapolis and Dallas.

***Both cities are connected by the longest North-South interstate highway in the mid-continent, Interstate 35.

***Both teams won back-to-back division championships in the American Association's reincarnation in its first two seasons to qualify for the title series.

While it took dramatics each time, Fort Worth emerged as the winner both years.

Adding a personal postscript to the series, this writer hired both managers to lead the Waterbury (CT) Spirit when that franchise played in the Northeast and Northern Leagues. Fort Worth's Stan Hough was the manager in 1997-1998 and St. Paul's George Tsamis followed in 1999-2000.

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Friday, September 07, 2007


Some odds and ends after another week of finishing the Independent Baseball Insider column.

It is difficult for this corner to realize that with Kansas City pitcher Luke Hochevar and Milwaukee outfielder Mel Stocker now in the major leagues for the first time, the number is up to 112 of players we can identify who have climbed to that level after playing in an Independent League. As Dick Vitale would say, "Awesome, Baby"!

Top draftee Hochevar was with Fort Worth in the American Association early last season and Stocker, a speedburner, played for Long Island, NY in the Atlatic League one year ago. Stocker was in the top five in five different offensive categories while playing for the Ducks after five years in the Kansas City farm system in which he did not climb above Class AA.

The duo are among five Indy players added to major league rosters so far this month.


It probably went largely unnoticed the way Boston's 7-6 win played out in Baltimore Thursday night, but the player who broke rookie Clay Buchholz's no-hit skein was the O's Tike Redman, who played in the Atlantic League (York, PA) for a short time this season. Buchholz threw the no-no last Saturday against the Orioles in Fenway Park, in only his second major league start

With the Red Sox pretty well stocked with starters, his first appearance since that time was out of the bullpen in the sixth inning of a 6-6 game. After Brian Roberts walked, Redman hit a clean single to halt the strike of no-hit innings. It was the only hit the young phenom allowed in his three innings, and when Boston scored in the top of the ninth his record was pushed to 3-0.

As an aside, this inquisitive mind can't help but wonder how long it has been since a no-hit hurler did not make his next appearance in another starting role. I hope we get that answer.

Redman also was a main culprit in ending Tim Wakefield's run of 22 scoreless innings when he singled, stole second (his third of the season) and came home on Miguel Tejada's single in the first inning. Redman would seem to be getting a full head of steam up for 2008 since he hit in the No. 2 slot, played centerfield and went 3-for-5 to elevate his batting average to .357.


When Milwaukee picked up catcher Mike Rivera's contract from Nashville to give the parent Brewers a backup, the moved also helped a second Independent player. Milwaukee promptly signed Brian Munhall from Edmonton of the Northern League to replace Rivera for the Pacific Coast League playoffs. Munhall, who hit .261 in 85 NL games and drove in 38 runs, caught Thursday night (0-for-3) when Nashville dropped its second straight in the best-of-five set against New Orleans.

His batterymate, ironically, was another former Independent player, the Golden League's Adam Pettyjohn, who went 12-4 (3.87) in the regular season. Pettyjohn had played in the GBL for Long Beach, CA.

Rivera played his Independent Baseball for Atlantic City, NJ before the Surf left the Atlantic League for the Can-Am.

Yes, Independent players seem to pop up everywhere. And, we like it.

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Friday, August 31, 2007


This typist had an unexpected night of Independent Baseball pleasure this week thanks to Mother Nature.

I had a personal trip planned back to my original home state of Nebraska to celebrate my mother’s 100th birthday, and when the latest round of heavy rain postponed Game 2 of the American Association’s North Division playoffs I was able to rearrange a few things to see the makeup.

It was one of those perfect August evenings and Haymarket Park in Lincoln always is a visual pleasure, as noticed by those who have selected it Best Playing Field in its league for all seven seasons it has been open. It would be difficult to argue with that selection, even if they broadened it to Most Beautiful and Best Maintained Stadium. It should be noted that the first five of those selections came while the Saltdogs were part of the Northern League.

The only factor—but a major one—in saying the entire evening was “perfect” was in watching the angst among the Lincoln management team. The Saltdogs put together by GM Tim Utrup and Manager Tim Johnson with help from player personnel guru Nick Belmonte had the best record in all of Independent Baseball in 2006, and they were among the best this season, especially as they won the first half of the split season.

But the perennially tough St. Paul (MN) Saints spoiled things by ousting Lincoln from the playoffs one year ago, and this Wednesday night game saw St. Paul take a 2-0 lead in still another best-of-five series. That’s tough on the fans in Lincoln, and, probably many times worse on the staff, which lives the season day by day, hour by hour.

Lincoln knows it had another wonderful season, including making more than 4,000 a night happy, but once again there probably would not be a postseason American Association championship after this loss. St. Paul made that fact official one night later by putting the finishing touches on the series back in their Minnesota digs.

Eventually, everyone within the Saltdogs organization, from Owner Jim Abel and President Charlie Meyer, will be able to take some satisfaction from what they have accomplished year in and year out in Lincoln. But it would take some time.

The gorgeous moon climbing above the leftfield fence and the satisfactions of the regular season successes could not possibly bring solace on this night.


It reinforced the already certified fact that St. Paul Manager George Tsamis knows how to assemble a team that will compete with the best, even if he has to do a lot of tinkering during the season.

One of the newest pieces for the Saints is first baseman Fernando Valenzuela, Jr. Picked up via Mexico with 21 games to go in the regular season, he hit a mammoth three-run homer in Game 2 and also made a nifty play on a tough bouncer, all the while wearing the No. 37 uniform his more famous father made a favorite for years at Dodger Stadium.

Lincoln made continued use in the closing weeks of a trio of escapees from the ill-fated New York State League. Catcher Joe Dempsey (.309 in 55 at bats), outfielder Ross McCoy (.302 with 12 ribbies in 96 at bats) and righthander Brian Campbell (2-3, 4.41) proved they could play in the higher ranks of the American Association.

It was good to say hello to Umpire boss Kevin Winn, who handles both the AA and the Can-Am League, and two of those he transferred from the Eastern-based league to the Midwest, veteran Steve Linton and now fulltimer Tim McCaffrey.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007


We all know the term "jack of all trades".

Matt McDermott certainly qualifies for what he did for the fledgling Continental League in Texas this summer.

Perhaps most importantly, he helped coordinate league and team publicity efforts, including statistics for the four teams. More established leagues could do well to emulate some of the what this writer saw come in from the CBL.

But Matt McDermott also served, at times, as a bullpen catcher, first base coach, fill-in public address announcer, part-time color commentator, marketing assistant, My Space coordinator, gave lessons to youngsters, and, in his words, was "chief bat bag carrier".

All of these tasks were no doubt secondary, in McDermott's mind, to what took place one sweltering day earlier this month. He actually played two innings for onetime major leaguer Tom Goodwin's Lewisville Lizards.

McDermott, who played club level baseball while working toward his BS in Management Sciences at SMU, had wanted a professional opportunity for 11 years. Now 33, he first went to a tryout camp for the Waterbury (CT) Spirit of the old Northeast League way back in 1997. He ended up doing some bullpen catching for Stan Hough, now the manager of the defending champion Fort Worth Cats in the American Association. It was a non-paying, non-playing position.

This Dallas resident, who thankfully has a stock-trading job as well as his own LLC called Bullpen Marketing, did not give up. He started training again in 2003 to seek a possible position with the Cats, he did some bullpen catching for them two summers ago and tried out again in 2006.

His two-inning stint August 5 came about when the starting catcher went down to injury. Matt reports his efforts included four putouts from strikeouts and a K of his own in his only time at bat in a 14-7 loss to eventual Continental League champion Tarrant County.

"I finally did it; it was great," McDermott told me, admitting a sense of relief in proving he had the ability. All he needed was a chance.

The world--not just the baseball world--needs more Matt McDermotts.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007


I am one of the lucky people, getting a vacation before the baseball season ends. But come to think about it, I can claim I was merely out collecting new information for this blog and my weekly Independent Baseball Insider column.

I stepped up to a pro shop counter at one of the beautiful golf courses on North Carolina's Outer Banks one day this week only to have the man who was about to collect my fees ask about the cap I was wearing. He probably expected to hear that it was a new version of Carolina Blue that he had not seen.

It happened to be a New Haven County Cutters cap, in Carolina Blue, and I explained that it was an Independent Baseball team from the Can-Am League and playing in Connecticut.

"Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson", he said, without missing a beat, remembering that they had played in an Independent league (Atlantic). He didn't seem to know much more about the Indy game, but it certainly reinforces that people far removed from any Independent Baseball team knows something about this brand of baseball. I hope the next time either you or I run into something similar we don't have Jose Offerman's name tossed back at us. We want to be remembered for the positive things in our game, and the Canseco and Henderson references seemed positive.

Changing pages...

My morning collection of emails this Sunday brought news of a terrific strikeout performance in the United League. I had been worried about the league losing more games because of the latest rainy spell, but nothing stopped Santo Hernandez of the Laredo (TX) Broncos Saturday night. He struck out eight of the first 10 Rio Grande Valley batters he faced, and went on to a 16-K night in only eight innings of the 6-4 victory. I do not recall any Indy hurler striking out that many batters this season.

Hernandez is having a great season for himself, winning nine of 13 decisions for a team 13 games under .500.

Rain has played havoc with the Continental League's playoffs this weekend, but the first year circuit still hopes to have a champion crowned by tonight (Sunday).

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Sunday, August 12, 2007


Friday night at Camden Yards proved to be a very entertaining time for this typist, although the many thousands of Red Sox fans who trekked down from New England would not agree because the Beantown boys could not hold a 5-1 lead they had only mustered with a five-run top half of the eighth inning.

The fans actually provided much of the enjoyment. The rest came because, as luck would have it, Tike Redman was all but officially making his Baltimore debut after paying a visit to the Atlantic League earlier this season. His return provided the meat this Independent Baseball writer needed.

Let me try to sort it out.

For those of you who do not know, Tike (pronounced TYE-k) Redman is a talented, 30-year-old outfielder. He had played 392 major league games before Friday, every one of them for Pittsburgh. But the last one was in 2005, and he has been moving around in the minor leagues since that time.

His journeys included spending a week in the Atlantic League in May, blistering the baseball at a .464 pace (13-28) in his seven games for York, PA. Fans of the Revolution may have a hard time accepting this as fact because all seven games were on the road, including a 5-for-5 game at Camden, NJ May 9. Then it was back to Baltimore's Triple-A club at Norfork, VA, where he had started the season.

Tike was announced as a pinch hitter Thursday, but his first actual game action was 24 hours later and he showed this observer he still can play, if ever a one-game trial means anything. Batting ninth and playing leftfield against Daisuke Matsuzaka (nice, easy way to get your feet wet, right?) Redman swung throught a high fastball in the second, singled sharply through the box in the fifth and showed he still runs well although Mike Lowell threw him out from third base his third and last time up. He left for pinch hitter Jay Payton after the Orioles had dramatically pulled back even, 5-5, in the bottom of the eighth.

But Tike Redman was back in the majors, hopefully for some time, and the trip to the Atlantic League did just what that league likes to do. It helps players tune up for another big league opportunity.

Now for those thousands of Red Sox-adorned fans. Don't think for a minute they just drive over from the Nation's Capital. My wife and I have proof a good percentage of them actually come from New England. We wanted to get a little lunch along the New Jersey Turnpike on our way from Connecticut. Harmless enough, right? Let me tell you it was virtually impossible to work your way through a food line because it was so deep with the Red Sox Nation. And every one of them was wearing the home team's attire.

The scene was duplicated, but in much greater proportions, once we got near Camden Yards nearly two hours before the first pitch. Everyone we saw was well behaved, but my oh my they were there in huge numbers. It was the largest crowd of the season to that point.

The Baltimore Chamber of Commerce had to love the envasion, with the cash registers clicking this entire weekend.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Baseball prefers those in the umpiring fraternity work anonymously whenever possible because that means they are doing their job. That goes for umpiring supervisors, as well, but when they leave us a void is felt by so many whose lives they touched.

We tell you this because longtime Independent Baseball Director of Umpires Butch Fisher passed away Wednesday morning after a battle with lung cancer which he had known about for only a short time.

The Stacy, MN resident played a major role in the Independent game, starting that very first year of the modern era in 1993. He was Supervisor of Umpires in the Northern League in 1993-94, then again from 1996-2004, and this season was the umpire boss in the new South Coast League. He also served the Central League for a time.

Fisher also had major impact in helping form an umpires association in his home state. Products of that group include current major league umpires Jeff Nelson, Tim Tschida and Mark Wegner.

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Friday, July 27, 2007


Anytime two Independent Baseball graduates make it to the major leagues in the same week it seems worthy of getting out the trumpet.

Joe Thatcher, one of those who got his first professional opportunity in an Indy league, made his debut with San Diego Thursday night, hurling a scoreless seventh inning at Houston. It took him only 14 pitches (nine strikes) to dispatch of three Astros, collecting one strikeout along the way. Bud Black picked a non-pressure situation for the 26-year-old lefty to get some of the nerves out of the way since the trade that brought Thatcher from Milwaukee was only about 24 hours old and the Padres were trailing, 7-1. Thatcher, who we wrote about again in some detail in Thursday's Independent Baseball Insider column, broke in at River City (O'Fallon, MO) of the Frontier League in 2004 and 2005 after pitching at Indiana State.

Kansas City called righthander Jason Shiell up from Triple-A Omaha Thursday, giving the 30-year old who played part of last season in the Atlantic League (3-2, 2.92 in nine games for Somerset, NJ) his fourth major league opportunity. He already has worn the uniforms of San Diego, Boston and Atlanta, compiling a 2-2 record and one save so far over 24 appearances.

While Thatcher and Shiell are drawing major league meal money, two Independent managers got their pink slips this week. Neither lasted a full season. Defending Atlantic League champion Lancaster replaced Frank Klebe with pitching coach and longtime major leaguer Rick Wise. Klebe was a coach under Tommy Herr last year.

Edmonton fired Frank Reberger, replacing him with coach Gord Gerlach.

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Monday, July 23, 2007


The fact the rookie-level New York State League did not make it is not the biggest shock in the sports world. The fact it folded after only 18 days is a bit more surprising, and a real shame because of what it does to so many players who agreed to play for $500 a month in order to get the opportunity to show the professional baseball world they had talent.

What chance did the league have when it was known from the beginning that all games would be played in one stadium, aging Murnane Field, in the largely blue collar community of Utica, NY? Very little.

Where was the revenue going to come from to support it? It wasn't like this was a hot, new market. And founder Jay Acton had been through the startup process before with the Northeast League so he knew how costly it would be.

Acton told the Utica Observer-Dispatch "we're bleeding $10,000 a day". He should have known the economics all along. So attendance was disappointing. It wasn't the first time he had seen that happen.

One has to question why he--and any investors--would undertake this venture without the resources to keep it going for at least a full season?

This writer had taken a position of neutrality because the league would afford a good number of non-drafted college players the opportunity to be showcased or to at least prove to themselves they could not continue living the major league dream.

Should the failure of the NY State League become a major black mark on Independent Baseball? Absolutely not, because none of us can stop an operator from undertaking this type of venture. If anything, it further convinces this writer (I author the weekly Independent Baseball Insider)the leadership in the established Independent leagues should think hard about forming some type of association so they can establish certain groundrules whereby a league must meet specified standards before being recognized as an Independent league.

Several players who started in the NYSL showed enough talent to win promotions to other Independent Baseball leagues. I would expect others will be signed in the days ahead. One can only hope the operators of the league will do everything they can to see that those who go unsigned are treated fairly as they transition back to a normal life.

And to future idealists who want to start similar undertakings: Please check the thickness of your wallet and your level of determination before you leap into action.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007


Michel Laplante was a quality pitcher during his regular playing days, perhaps never better than in 1999 when he reeled off 11 victories in 13 decisions and compiled a 2.06 earned run average for Les Capitales de Quebec. He also won as many as 10 games in the Northern League (Madison, WI), made it to Triple-A and worked in Taiwan's major leagues.

Today, he manages Les Capitales, the defending champion in the Can-Am League. At least, that is his primary in-season job. But when Quebec was beset by injuries and a suspension earlier this week the 36-year-old manager activated himself and played the first two games of the second half in the outfield while Quebec was visiting the New Haven (CT) County Cutters.

Quebec, a first half contender, lost both games, but give Laplante credit. He could have sent a pitcher into Yale Field's mammoth outfield, but that would have risked further injury. The manager-turned-outfielder blooped a single into center in his final at bat (1-for-7), and hustled his way to a run, setting a very good example.

Since Michel was a pitcher back when, Can-Am rules show him as a rookie position player. I doubt a new career is in the making, but this corner tips the old sombrero his way.

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Friday, July 13, 2007


I have always been one who enjoys the notes at the end of game stories, many times reading them first. This is a day for my notes from the delightful Atlantic League All-Star Game in Lancaster, PA Wednesday which did not fit into yesterday's Independent Baseball Insider column.

Grand Marshall Brooks Robinson and Ellie Rodriguez, who is the league's talent boss in Latin America after nine seasons in the '60s and '70s as a talented major league catcher, reminisced of the day (1972, Ellie believes) when the man known as the vacuum cleaner at third base turned his smash down the line in Milwaukee into a triple play. "I felt certain I had a double," Rodriguez recalled, "but Brooksie dived (toward the line) and dragged his foot across third", then threw from the ground to second to continue the around-the-horn triple killing.

It also is noteworthy that Robinson started his Hall of Fame career nearby in York, PA, where he now is part owner of the newest AL team, the Revolution. He hit .331 with 11 homers and 67 RBI in 95 games as a second and third baseman as an 18-year-old in that 1955 season. The teen from Little Rock was with Baltimore before the season ended although he did not stay with the Orioles fulltime until 1960.

All-Star Managers Tommy John (Bridgeport, CT) and Frank Klebe (Lancaster) presented an interesting match since T.J. is the winningest major league pitcher (288) not in the Hall of Fame and Klebe (pronounced KLEE-bee) may have been best known as a ranked boxer. John is a bit hobbled these days while Klebe appears fit enough to go into the ring...well, at least to reach the pre-game meeting at home plate.

The first time I saw former Rutgers standout Bobby Brownlie he was responsible for terrific "buzz" at the Cape Cod League-New England Collegiate League All-Star Game in Keene, NH. Now 26, the onetime Chicago Cubs first rounder still has not pitched in a major league game, but he won his last four starts (7-3, 3.33) to help Newark, NJ come from well off the pace and capture a first half title. It also earned Brownlie the start--and a scoreless inning--for John's winning North Division All-Star team.

The actual star of the night, in one man's opinion, was Clipper Magazine Stadium, which appears to be a treasure any time and was as lively as a ballpark can be on this balmy summer evening.

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Monday, July 02, 2007


What does the second year United League have in common with its much older brethren, the Atlantic, Frontier and American Association?

For one thing, the United now joins the other three Independent Baseball leagues by being able to boast that it has graduates wearing a major league uniform.

Edwar Ramirez, the slender relief pitcher who has been racking up stunning strikeout totals wherever he has pitched the last three seasons, has joined the struggling New York Yankees. "You can't argue with the numbers," Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman told The New York Times.

It was less than a year ago (July 9) when the Yankees bought Ramirez from the United League's Edinburg (TX) Coyotes, where he struck out 46 hitters in 25 innings while saving 16 games and winning another and posting a 1.07 earned run average. The 26-year-old Dominican righthander started his dazzling strikeout spree in another Independent city, Pensacola, FL in 2005, whiffing 93 hitters in only 43 innings. Pensacola is in the American Association today, but it was part of the Central League at the time, and Ramirez was between two stints in the Los Angeles Angels farm system.

Ramirez struck out 80 in 43.1 innings this season for the Yankees with time split between Double-A Trenton, NJ and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, PA. Hitters were limited to a .128 average and his combined ERA was 0.62.

While Ramirez's growth has been mostly in Independent Leagues, Chris Coste started in the Prairie League (no longer active), then went to hometown Fargo, ND in the Northern League. The catcher-infielder is back for third stint in two years with Philadelphia, and didn't wait long to make a statement, homering as a pinch hitter in his first time back in the majors Friday during a big showdown series with the Mets. The 34-year-old Coste has his lifetime big-league average up to .330, including a 3-for-8 performance this season. Will he get to stay this time?

Stay tuned. Meanwhile, both Coste and Ramirez are making great statements for the Independent game.

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Friday, June 29, 2007


One of the great joys of baseball is the way people you have known through the years, even casually, keep reappearing.

It was enjoyable seeing Ed Ott recently, especially since he was in a more relaxed environment as a coach for the Can-Am League’s New Jersey Jackals as they visited the New Haven County (CT) Cutters. Ott, who was the Pittsburgh Pirates’ No. 1 catcher during some of their good years from 1977-1980, had managed Allentown, PA for several seasons. He was a bit feisty, as Northeast League umpires would attest, although once again he had success, including divisional titles in both 1998 and 1999.

Now 55 and years removed from hitting .333 during the Pirates’ 1979 World Series championship as well as from the rigors of managing, Ed was playful on his way to the third base coaching box at Yale Field. I watched with amusement as he toyed with the sumo wrestlers and when he tipped one of the contestants how to win prizes in an on-field card game.

We even had a chance to reminisce about the time we had four lefthanders, including Ed and myself, in a five-man scramble at the Little League World Series Golf Tournament in Williamsport, PA. “We finished two over—and it was in a scramble,” Ott lamented. Needless to say, we didn’t win any prizes that day.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Your humble typist was blessed to have David Carpenter as a partner for several years, primarily in the 1990s in Independent Baseball franchises in Thunder Bay, Ontario and in a greater way in Waterbury, Connecticut. The Waterbury team was known as the Spirit, then of the Northeast League and later the Eastern Division of the Northern League. It might as well have been named the Spirit for David, because he certainly had it.

Mr. Carpenter, who was an all-too-young 69, was laid to rest on a tranquil hillside near his Woodhull, NY farm Monday.

Every community with an Independent Baseball team--or desiring one--should have a David Carpenter. Unfortunately, not nearly enough exist.

He was a man of immense, self-made wealth, which is very important to pay the bills, especially if things do not go well in a baseball startup. The wealth came from his brilliance in the field of zinc oxide applications, where he helped build a Fortune 500 manufacturing company and where he was known as Dr. Carpenter.

But what made David Carpenter special was his nature. He was an uncommon man with a commoner's touch. The glass was always brim full, at worst. It was never half empty. He saw the positives in everything and in every person, as was pointed out so poignantly by those who spoke during the touching funeral service. He treated everyone exactly the same, with an attentive ear to hear his or her story. He did not step forward to tell his story. It was yours that was important.

David Carpenter was so modest he was not a high profile person during his years in Independent Baseball, where he could have offered so much more if only he had been asked. He would have impacted still more lives.

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Monday, June 18, 2007


The Frontier League has three .400 hitters at the one-quarter pole in its 96-game season, but it seems a pretty good bet one of the most scrutinized players in the 27-and-under league is rookie Chris Gibson, who is battling to get back to the coveted .300 plateau.

Chris Gibson is the son of Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson, who also was capable of swinging the bat during his days with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Young Gibson, a lefthanded-hitting designated hitter and occasional outfielder, is at a respectable .289 while helping the Gateway Grizzlies (Sauget, IL) and not far from St. Louis's Gateway Arch, take command of the Western Division race. Phil Warren's Grizzlies have built a six-game advantage in winning 18 of their first 25 games.

Gibson, a 6-foot-2, 210 pounder, has not shown much power to date with four doubles and seven runs batted in in 22 games, but he has had two torrid stretches. He went 7-for-14 over one four-game stretch, then blazed away at a .550 pace (11-20) in another seven-game period which zoomed his average to .407. He had four multi-hit games in that span, including a 4-for-4, four-RBI effort at River City (O'Fallon, MO) June 5.

"He is an exceptional athlete," Warren praised, when Gibson first signed. The Cardinals drafted the Bellevue, NE product out of high school, but he opted to attend college, first at Pratt (KS) Community College and later at Southeast Missouri State.

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Monday, June 11, 2007


If nothing else, doing this blog and my weekly IndependentBaseballInsider column keep me busy working on my geographical knowledge of the United States and Canada.

My current reason for reaching for the atlas is that the United League will be announcing on Tuesday that it is awarding a franchise to Brownsville, TX. Brownsville is as far south as one can go in the Lone Star State, and it is only some 25 miles from the existing Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings of Harlingen, TX. The addition of Brownsville to the six-team, second-year league isn't an overwhelming surprise, but I believe it will be that community's first professional baseball team since the Gulf Coast League left after 1953.

Brownsville is the third new addition to the Independent map for 2008, joining Southern Maryland in the Atlantic League and Grand Prairie, TX, the Dallas-area community which is entering the American Association.

The buzz continues around any number of other new entries into what is a 74-team Independent landscape this season. Very recent talk has been about Loveland and Castle Rock, CO, both for the American Association; and Killeen, TX for the Continental League.

But it is a long time before the 2008 baseball season. Stay tuned.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007


The traditionalist in this blogger believes Bud Smith should command considerable attention when the Golden League starts its third season Thursday, but the realist knows the spotlight will fall on 5-foot-10 Tamara Ivie, a longtime star in women's baseball circles.

Smith, now 27 and still trying to fully regain the stature earned as a dazzlingly promising southpaw for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2001, probably would have opened the season for Arizona's Triple-A Tucson farm club had it not been for a leg injury during spring training. The Diamondbacks set him free, and the Long Beach (CA) Armada signed him for a second time.

What made Smith such a prized hurler for the Cardinals was his major league debut in 2001 which included a 4-0, no-hit gem at San Diego September 3. Smith allowed only four runners (walks) in throwing 134 pitches. As a fourth round draftee in '98, the Torrance, CA native drew attention throughout his early career, but the 6-3 rookie record plus five innings of one-run baseball in a National League Division Series victory over Arizona lifted the hype even more.

He has won only one additional major league game (2002) and eight in the minors while battling shoulder woes, including surgery for a torn labrum. He won only twice at Long Beach last summer although posting a 2.70 ERA in nine starts and one relief appearance.

Meanwhile, Ms. Ivie has emerged as a probable Long Beach teammate, which would make her the first woman to play professional baseball since pitcher Ila Borders brought attention--and some success--to the Northern League and the Golden's predecessor, the Western League.

"Tamara has the ability to play at this level or I wouldn't have her out here," Armada manager and former major leaguer Darrell Evans said when camp opened last week.

Indeed, she has been a standout among women. She hit .477 for the United States women's team that won the World Championships last summer. She played for four seasons with the traveling women's team known as the Silver Bullets, and that followed an all-America college softball career at Cal State Northridge. She also has played softball professionally, and is the current head coach at Santa Monica College.

The six-team GBL has openers Thursday at Yuma, AZ; Reno, NV, where the Silver Sox begin defense of their league title; and in the league's newest city, St. George, UT.

We wish success to Smith, Ivie and everyone else.

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