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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