I close shop on my four weeks in Florida with one final baseball stop today, then it is on to cheer the major league opener from a distance Sunday night and the countdown to the Independent league season. It has been enjoyable duty, except for the few days my wife was under the weather and the sad sidetrack with Bowie Kuhn's death.
The final baseball event should be enjoyable, too, as I look in on the South Coast League tryout camp in Bradenton and shake hands with the likes of Cecil Fielder, Wally Backman, Kash Beauchamp and my old buddy Jackie Hernandez. I'm sure there will be more to say in this space or in my Independent Baseball Insider column, which now becomes weekly through September.
Here are just a few of the memories I leave behind from a trip that saw me criss-cross the Sunshine State more than I like to remember:
HEARING MAL FICHMAN talk about his new law firm of Willey and Wylie. Philadelphia's new Independent Baseball scout was referring to lefty Cory Willey, who signed out of a Phillies tryout camp this winter after working out of the New Haven County (CT) Cutters' (Can-Am League) bullpen last summer, and righty Jason Wylie, who emerged from the same camp. Wylie got a new lease on his pitching life which he said "I thought was pretty much over" after the Cubs released him. He split '06 between Brockton, MA and the New Jersey Jackals in the Can-Am. Incidentally, both of these talented hurlers top 90 on the radar gun, which speaks well of the Indy game.
LISTENING TO JAY REYNOLDS say "I'm still in shock", after inking his first professional contract with Sussex, NJ of the Can-Am League. "I came in here with a dream", the 24-year-old outfielder out of Oauchita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, AR told me. He was a typical non-drafted player with a dream, who only learned about the International Performance Baseball World Free Agent camp in Cocoa, FL after his sister read about it on the internet. Obviously, he is hoping to be the next Kevin Millar or Matt Miller to climb all the way to the majors from an Indy start.
GETTING UP EACH MORNING and hustling to find the spring training boxscores to see if the various Independent grads had gotten into major league games. I was thrilled when I read that Tagg Bozied of the St. Louis Cardinals (Sioux Falls, SD, then in the Northern League) and Mike Cervanek of the Baltimore Orioles (Chillicothe, OH, Frontier League) had homered. Both players got a long look although neither will be in the majors at season's start.
HAVING LES LANCASTER, who manages at Reno, NV in the Golden League, tick off the names of some of what he considers the better major league prospects to emerge from that third year circuit. He mentioned such names as pitcher Adam Pettyjohn in the Milwaukee farm system (out of Long Beach, CA), pitcher Manny Ayala of San Diego (Mesa, AZ), his own centerfielder, Victor Hall, who will play at Clearwater, FL for Philadelphia, recent Reno signee Kennard Jones, an outfielder in the Baltimore system, and righthander Adam Thomas, who came from Long Beach and is with the Dodgers. Thomas also prepped in the Northern League (Winnipeg), Northeast League (Bangor, ME), Central League (Amarillo, TX) and with the Road Warriors in the Atlantic League, but keeps his big-league hopes alive.
The memories from this trip go on and on, but it is time to head out to that one, last tryout camp before starting north.
Saturday, March 31, 2007
HOMEWARD BOUND TO START THE SEASON
Former chief spokesman for Major League Baseball Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth. Six years as publicity director for the Kansas City Royals, and a background in newspaper, radio and television. Started Wirz & Associates, a sports PR and consulting firm, in 1985. Has written extensively on Independent Baseball since 2003.