Thursday, February 28, 2008


FIRST OF A SERIES--Today's blog marks the first of our regular Monday-Wednesday-Friday series on major league spring training to give fans and the industry added coverage on many of the nearly 50 onetime Independent Baseball players in the 30 camps. Your comments are welcome, and we will gladly post those which seem appropriate. Enjoy. Bob Wirz


Juan Gonzalez Off to Solid Start

In Quest to Make Comeback in St. Louis

Most people are not going to be thinking of Juan Gonzalez and Independent Baseball in the same breath, but it was with the Long Island (NY) Ducks of the Atlantic League where the two-time American League Most Valuable Player last wore a professional uniform in the United States prior to his non-roster invitation to join the St. Louis Cardinals for spring training. Gonzalez. now 38, had 130 at-bats for the Ducks two summers ago, hitting .323 and showing off his long ball ability six times.

After getting praise early in the Cardinals' camp and confirming one of his remaining desires is to hit 500 major league home runs (he has 434 along with 1,404 RBI), the sweet-swinging Puerto Rican got off on the right foot in the major league exhibition opener Thursday by collecting two singles in his three times at the plate, scoring once and driving in a run. He started the game as a designated hitter although former Cardinal Eduardo Perez told ESPN The Magazine's Tim Kurkjian earlier this spring Gonzalez "played great defense in right field" during winter workouts.

"He will get an opportunity to make the club if he has his game, and I'm told that he does," Manager Tony LaRussa told Kurkjian.

LINDSEY, BOZIED DELIVER--John Lindsey of the Dodgers and Tagg Bozied of Florida, a pair of non-roster first basemen still trying to get into their first regular season major league games, delivered big time Thursday.

Lindsey, who played for the New Jersey Jackals of the Can-Am League in 2005-06 and already had a three-hit intrasquad game performance under his belt, gave Joe Torre his first managerial win for Los Angeles with a two-run single with one out in the bottom of the ninth against Atlanta at Vero Beach. Lindsey went 1-for-2, although he also had an error. We will have much more on Lindsey in our March 6 Independent Baseball Insider column.

Bozied slugged 24 homers and drove in 82 runs for St. Louis's Memphis farm club last season, then signed with Florida during the offseason. This onetime Sioux Falls (SD) star went 2-for-2 in the Marlins' Grapefruit League debut, a 16-3 pounding of Baltimore.

HARRIS GETS A BONUS START--Jeff Harris, who has an exceptional 83-53 record in 13 seasons but has not been in a regular season major league game since 2006 (Seattle), got a bonus Grapefruit League start Thursday.

The 33-year-old righthander took advantage of the fact Jake Westbrook had to be held out with a sore arm to set down Houston 1-2-3 in the first inning of a game in which Cleveland Manager Eric Wedge used a new hurler in each inning. Harris pitched in Quebec in 2003 and briefly in 2004 after compiling a 20-12 record with Chico, CA in 2001-02.

HAVE YOU VISITED today? It is your opportunity to buy books, baseball merchandise, attend a tryout camp or even buy a team, and you may advertise your own desire to work in the industry or that collectible you want to sell.

WILLHITE GETS 4 K'S--Matt Willhite started strong in a two-inning relief stint during the Los Angeles Angels' 3-3 tie with Texas. The onetime Frontier Leaguer (Kenosha, WI) struck out four Rangers hitters while allowing only one hit. Nathan Haynes, a onetime outfielder for Gary, IN in the Northern League, scored a run and went 1-for-2 as he attempts to retain the backup role he had much of last season.

HOCHEVAR SOLID--Kansas City seems to plan on going slowly with highly-touted righty Luke Hochevar, but if the 24-year-old No. 1 draft choice keeps putting up zeroes he may make it tough on new Manager Trey Hillman and pitching coach Bob McClure. While it has been said the Royals have as many as 11 starting candidates and do not want to rush this onetime Fort Worth (TX) Cat, Hochevar retired all six Texas hitters he faced in the third and fourth innings of Wednesday's Cactus League opener despite the fact he was shaking off flu-like symptoms.

"I've been feeling really good, and the things I've been working on have been extremely helpful in getting a good downward plane and keeping the ball down in the zone and attacking the strike zone a lot better," Hochevar told's Dick Kaegel the day before the appearance. Hochevar, entering only his third professional season, started his career with four strong starts (1-1, 2.28, 34 strikeouts in 22.2 innings) in the American Association in 2006.

Hillman told Kaegel prior to the first spring training appearance his "performance, because he has had no major league experience (except for four games last September), would have to be above and boyond anyone else's who has already had the experience of being able to do that (start)." The Royals have indicated they would consider working Hochevar out of the bullpen for a time, if he does not win a starting job.

THIS 'N THAT--Kansas City had former Golden League catcher Cody Clark in the major league camp for a time even though he had not been listed on non-roster lists we had seen. Clark, 26, has primarily been at the Class A level since being signed away from the San Diego Surf Dawgs after the 2005 season. He hit .292 with eight homers and distinguished himself by strikeing out only 27 times in 264 at bats for SD. He has now been assigned to the minor league camp...Another Clark, Howie, who has had various major league trials including last season at Toronto, is in Minnesota's big-league camp. He played briefly for Chico, CA, when it was in the Western League, in 2001...The two Clarks increased our list of known Indy grads in major league camps to 48 after we scratched RHP Chris Fussell, who was mistakenly identified as going to camp with the parent Los Angeles Dodgers...Michel Hernandez, Somerset, NJ's catcher last summer (Atlantic League), went 0-1 in his first game for Pittsburgh and threw out the only Manatee Junior College runner who tried to steal on him, then went 1-for-2 with an RBI in a win over Philadelphia Thursday...Nate Field, who played his Indy baseball at Sioux City, IA and has some major league time with three teams, turned in his second consecutive scoreless inning in his quest to make the New York Mets bullpen...Catcher Robinson Cancel, a grad of both the Atlantic and United Leagues, got one at bat in Thursday's Mets game...Lefty Craig Anderson, an Australian who pitched for Brockton, MA, picked up two strikeouts in a scoreless inning for Baltimore...Bobby Brownlie, who started last summer's Atlantic League All-Star Game while wearing a Newark, NJ uniform, and Craig Breslow, who toiled for the New Jersey Jackals in 2004, hurled scoreless innings against college opponents for Washington and Boston, respectively.

In coming days we will report on:

**Catcher Ryan Smith's stunning first game ever in spring training
**Reliever Scott Patterson's reaction when he first joined the Yankees

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It was a swift and no doubt frustrating turn of events which led the South Coast League to trim its lineup to only four teams for its 84-game 2008 season. I can only feel for Chief Executive Officer Jamie Toole, who always strives to paint a positive picture, and everyone else involved.

It was less than a month ago when Toole told me "my outlook on our company (league's owners) is rejuvenated". While bringing up the fact no Independent league in the southeast has made it to Year 3, he was talking of the fact "we learned some invaluable lessons" in the first year, and expressed considerable confidence heading toward '08.

That was after Jackson, MS had been added and at a time when Charlotte County (Florida) still was in the mix. The Charlotte County Redfish now have been scratched for this season since improvements to Charlotte County Stadium, where the Tampa Bay Rays will play next spring training, and the SCL has delayed the addition of Jackson. It is said both teams should return in 2009, and the SCL says it hopes to add two additional franchises as well.

Meanwhile, the league hopes its telemarketing efforts out of a central office in Macon, GA will lead to increased sales and possibly even a presenting sponsor.

While I thought the Atlanta Braves' move of their Triple-A Richmond Braves to Atlanta's Gwinnett County might doom hopes of the SCL getting into that huge market, Toole believes it may actually open up opportunities in the area. He also expressed interest in such metropolitan markets as Nashville and Charlotte at some point in the future.

The four remaining SCL league teams are Peach State entries Macon and South Georgia (Albany) plus South Carolina teams Aiken and Anderson.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Bulletin! Bulletin!

I don't really know how often that term is used these days, but this one seems to qualify, at least in the world of Independent Baseball.

With the launch of our dedicated Monday-Wednesday-Friday coverage of the former Independent players in major league spring training camps in this space three days away--this Friday--I could not wait to share the first meaningful development to come to our attention.

John Lindsey, who played for the New Jersey Jackals (Little Falls, NJ) in the Can-Am League in 2005 and 2006 and is entering his 14th professional season, appears to be off on the right foot in convincing the Los Angeles Dodgers he is ready for his first major league opportunity.

Lindsey, a first baseman, "crushed the ball in each of his at-bats" in the Dodgers' first intrasquad game, according to the team's public relations report. He had two singles, a double, scored twice and drove in a run. Cynics might stress it was only an intrasquad game, but 31-year-old rookies must take advantage of every opportunity. The 245-pound righthanded hitter is coming off a monster season in which he led all Los Angeles farmhands with 30 home runs and 121 runs batted in while splitting the season between Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A Las Vegas. He hit a combined .317 one season after hitting .311 in the Can-Am League.

The intrasquad explosion was the second recognition already this spring for this native of Hattiesburg, MS. The team reported he provided the loudest "I got it" during a wind-infested pop-up drill.

Okay, so the 3-for-3 performance probably was more important.

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Monday, February 25, 2008


"It was like a John Wayne movie", Philadelphia's Independent Baseball scout Mal Fichman told me Monday. And he was only talking about the preparationS for Sunday's second and final day of the Phillies' invitation only tryout camp for 75 hopefuls in Clearwater, FL.

He went on to describe the scene of eight grounds crew members, including those from the major league camp, descending on the minor league complex in the pre-breakfast hours to make certain the fields were ready after a heavy downpour had washed out half of Saturday's action. And it tells something of the Phillies' commitment to such a camp, almost unmatched by major league competitors as they turn over every stone in looking for talented players.

General Manager Pat Gillick, Assistant GMs Ruben Amaro, Jr. and Mike Arbuckle, Senior Advisor Dallas Green and Minor League Director Steve Noworyta were among the many officials who took in at least part of the camp, which resulted in two signings and "eight more on a maybe list" when room opens up in the minor league system.

Independent Baseball talent scouts also came out in droves since about half of the players are free agents. "Every time you would go in a different direction you would run into an Indepedent leaguer", Fichman said. He listed the American Association, Atlantic League, Can-Am League, Frontier League, Northern League and United League as being represented although it was not known if any of the teams signed players right away.

Philadelphia signed 6-foot-6 southpaw Jared Locke, who worked in 21 games (1-1, 2 saves, 3.42 ERA) for Traverse City, MI in the Frontier League last summer after spending 2006 and the start of last season in the Texas Rangers system. The Phillies also inked righthander Charles Vartanian out of Wofford College in South Carolina.


An injury helped limit onetime Northern Leaguer Eliezer Alfonzo to 26 major league games last summer, but if the San Francisco Giants were not already convinced the 29-year-old catcher should back up Bengie Molina with the parent club this season his 15home runs which helped earned him Venezuelan League Most Valuable Player should be of value. Alfonzo banged nine homers when he was with St. Paul, MN in 2003, before the Saints moved to the American Association.

Alfonzo will be among the nearly 50 Independent grads we will be keeping our eyes on when we start our extended major league spring training Monday-Wednesday-Friday coverage on this site Friday. It so happens the Giants' first exhibition game is Thursday.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Dear Baseball Fans,

Today's contribution to this blog will be like nothing else we have given our baseball-hungry audience because it is to advise you of special coverage we will be offering during the month of major league Grapefruit and Cactus League exhibitions.

Even though we kick our regular subscriber-only Independent Baseball Insider coverage into high gear with weekly columns starting March 6, we will continue to bring you what we believe are very interesting stories and sidelights regarding Independent Baseball on this blog whenever we can. And here is the bonus. Starting Friday, February 29, and continuing every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until the exhibition season has ended we will bring you up to date on important news involving the nearly 50 former Independent players in major league camps here on

Who is hot. What players may sneak onto a regular season roster or get added playing time. We will include appropriate game accomplishments (and some failures) plus quotes and statistics, when they mean something.

As always, we will be gathering information in a number of ways, including what I can offer firsthand from an extensive time traveling in Florida. We hope you will share the news of the spring training coverage with your fellow Independent Baseball fans. And when you spot something interesting that we have not reported, please let us know.

We also have another exciting development regarding Independent Baseball which we will be sharing with you in the days to come. We would like to think our columns, our book, The Independent Minor Leagues: 2007 Season in Review, and this blog all are services to fans of Independent Baseball.

Let the games begin.

Bob Wirz

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Friday, February 15, 2008


We just could not let the weekend arrive without adding our two cents worth to a few "breaking" stories.

In case you missed the news, I suspect much of the Independent Baseball world is taking a sigh of relief over Thursday's announcement that Ed Nottle is going to manage the new Ottawa Rapides of the Can-Am League. We had lamented in our Independent Baseball Insider column December 20 how the personable Nottle's streak of managing in every season since the Indy game re-started in 1993 might end. Now, he and Doug Simunic of Fargo, ND in the Northern League can continue their march as the only two managers in each of Years 1-16.

What about that nickname chosen in Ottawa? Rapides comes into play because of the major transportation route along the Ottawa River as well as paying tribute to the pounding water down the river during springtime thaws.


This may be a case of "shame on me", but I know little of the Japanese version of Independent Baseball. The World Champion Red Sox, according to The Boston Globe, are trying to sign Independent league catcher Hayato Doue to a minor league contract. The deal may even be done by now. Doue hit .322 in the Shikoku-Kyushu Island League in 2007. That league and the Baseball Challenge League each have six teams.


The Los Angeles Dodgers' PR staff had some fun on their last spring training at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, FL by selecting an all-Valentine's Day team. Bobby Valentine was the obvious choice as manager with the team including such names as Rick Honeycutt, Candy Maldonado, "Sweet" Lou Johnson and Johnny Roseboro. Naturally, we scoured the all-Cupid roster looking for members who had been in Independent leagues and found big Vance Lovelace, who is Special Assistant today to Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti. Lovelace was an imposing figure when he played and coached in the Northeast League in the twilight of his uniformed days since he stretched every bit of his listed 6-foot-5 and would have needed scales that went well beyond the 200-pound mark. A major league lefty for a brief time for the Angels and Mariners, Lovelace wore Northeast League uniforms for both the Catskill Cougars and the New Jersey Jackals, the latter still very much present in the Can-Am League.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008


Would anyone want to make a guess at which Independent Baseball graduate's fortunes have improved the most at the major league level since last season? A case can be made for any number of the 47 players who will be in the 30 camps when everyone has reported, but my vote as pitchers and catchers begin checking in would go to George Sherrill.

All of the fanfare in the recent six-player trade between Seattle and Baltimore centered around Erik Bedard since the former Orioles ace went to the Mariners for a quintet of players.

But George Sherrill, who spent four-plus seasons in Independent Baseball before getting his first affiliated opportunity and had two full years and parts of two others with the M's, has emerged as Baltimore's top candidate to close games. "...Orioles Manager Dave Trembley has already notified Sherrill that he would like him to be the team's closer," Baltimore Sun beat writer Jeff Zrebiec reported right after the February 8 trade.

That's quite a change in fortunes for the 30-year-old southpaw even though his 145 bullpen appearances the last two seasons shared the lead in the American League. Sherrill pitched only 45.2 innings last season in 73 outings. He was essentially a left-handed specialist although he did record three of his four career saves in '07.

And it is an even bigger change in career path when one considers the Austin Peay product spent two seasons in the Frontier League (Evansville, IN, 1999-2000) and more than two in the Northern League (Sioux Falls, SD, 2001; Winnipeg, Canada, 2002 and half of 2003) before the Mariners gave him an opportunity July 2, 2003.

Sherrill totes a 10-5 major league record with a 3.67 earned run average and 138 strikeouts in 127.2 innings into his new opportunity.

It will be fun to watch.

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Friday, February 08, 2008


This corner continues to be impressed with the depth of talent coming out Independent Baseball. The latest evidence is that at least 19 roster players and 28 non-roster invitees with Independent experience will be in major league spring training camps starting next week. That number will almost certainly swell to more than 50 as free agents continue to sign and the big-league teams bring minor leaguers up to fill out rosters for certain exhibition games in Florida and Arizona.

When we dissect the numbers, how impressive is it to find out 15 of the players--nearly one-third of them--started on the Independent diamonds and that eight of them played at least part of last season in a non-affiliated league. All of the latter group was attached to the Atlantic League, which makes sense since that 10-year-old circuit was set up to cater to the more experienced players who needed another opportunity with a major league organization.

Seven current leagues and three former ones all contributed to the list.

Just over half of the 47 players--24, to be exact--are pitchers, but all positions are well represented. We broke some of this down along individual Independent league lines in this week's Independent Baseball Insider column, which was delivered to subscribers Thursday.

The non-roster lineup we have identified, including major league affiliation, the Independent cities and their current or previous league affiliation, asterisks signify the players who started in an Independent league and DNP means a player signed with but did not actually play for the team:

PITCHERS (14)—Craig Anderson, Baltimore, Brockton, MA, Can-Am League; Bobby Brownlie, Washington, Newark, NJ, Atlantic League; D.J. Carrasco, Chicago-AL, Johnstown, PA, Frontier League; Kane Davis, Toronto, Somerset and Camden, NJ, Atlantic; Brendan Donnelly, Cleveland, Ohio Valley, Frontier, Nashua, NH, Can-Am; Nate Field, New York-NL, Sioux City, IA, American Association; Chris Fussell, Camden, Atlantic; Roberto Giron, Kansas City, Kalamazoo, MI, Frontier League, Duluth, MN, Northern League, Rio Grande, TX, United League, Springfield/Ozarks, MO, Texas-Louisiana League; Jeff Harris, Cleveland, Quebec, Can-Am, Chico, CA, Golden League; Gary Knotts, Philadelphia, Newark, NJ, Atlantic; *Brian Mazone, Philadelphia, Joliet, IL, Northern, Zion, UT, Western League; Adam Pettyjohn, Cincinnati, Long Beach, CA, Golden; *Matt Wilhite, Los Angeles-AL, Kenosha, WI, Frontier; Brad Ziegler, Oakland, Schaumburg, IL, Northern.

CATCHER (4)—Robinson Cancel, New York-NL, Pennsylvania and Somerset, Atlantic, Edinburg, TX, United; Ben Davis, Baltimore, Camden, Atlantic; Michel Hernandez, Pittsburgh, Somerset, Atlantic; Ryan Smith, Chicago-AL, Berkshire, MA and Albany, NY, Northeast League, Edinburg (DNP), Amarillo, TX and Alexandria, LA, United, Lincoln, NE, American Association, Elmira, NY, Can-Am League, Chico, Golden.

INFIELDERS (5)—Edgardo Alfonzo, Texas, Long Island and Bridgeport, Atlantic; *Tagg Bozied, Florida, Sioux Falls, SD, American Association; *Mike Cervenak, Philadelphia, Chillicothe, OH, Frontier; Aaron Herr, Cleveland, Lancaster (DNP), PA, Atlantic; John Lindsey, Los Angeles-NL, New Jersey (Little Falls) Can-Am.

OUTFIELDERS (5)—*Justin Christian, New York-AL, River City (O’Fallon, MO), Frontier; Juan Gonzalez, St. Louis, Long Island, Atlantic; Chad Hermansen, Los Angeles-AL, Sioux Falls, American Association; Jorge Piedra, Florida, Long Island, Atlantic, Jon Weber, Oakland, Fargo, ND, Northern, Canton, OH, Frontier.

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Monday, February 04, 2008


I am still sorting out my feelings on a couple of topics these days, and neither has anything to do with who should be the next President or how the Patriots should rank in terms of all-time NFL powers since the Super Bowl got away from them.

In doing some weekend channel surfing, I came across the Caribbean World Series. It is a visual delight to these baseball-anxious eyes because it is real, live baseball in the early days of February. And it continues for another 2-3 days as the four teams play what I understand to be a double round-robin (six games for each team).

Wouldn't you know, the first player with Independent Baseball time on his resume that I saw was Jose Offerman, DHing for Licey, one of the Dominican Republic's two entries.

Now you probably know one of subjects where I have mixed feelings. By all accounts, Offerman has been a gentleman and certainly a very decent player during a career that is entering its 21st season. He has played 1,651 major league games with seven teams, starting with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1990 and most recently in 53 games with the New York Mets in 2005.

Then came that terrible night last August 14 when Offerman, playing in an Atlantic League game for the Long Island (NY) Ducks, went to the mound in a bat-swinging mood after being hit by a pitch. Two players were injured, and one may never play again. The Connecticut Post, the hometown newspaper of the host Bridgeport Bluefish, rated the incident its No. 1 sports story of the entire year.

Two counts of second-degree assault led to a late October appearance in Bridgeport Superior Court where Offerman received two years probation and accelerated rehabilitation and was ordered to attend anger management classes and pay toward the injuries.

"I would like to apologize to all the fans that were at the stadium that day, especially the children," The Post quoted Offerman during his court appearance. "I embarrassed the game I love and I wish I could take it all back."

That helps.

The incident was touched upon during the Caribbean World Series telecast by the father-son broadcast team of Cookie and Victor Rojas, too. Stories of such an ugly nature do not go away quickly.

Should Offerman get another baseball opportunity at some point because he has been a good guy during his lengthy career? Obviously, the Dominican League has given its native son a new chance and now the Caribbean World Series moguls have said it is okay for the 39-year-old to continue playing.

It is a tough subject.

The other dilemma is not from such a heavy topic. The St. Paul Saints, whose fun-loving antics have helped them arguably continue as the best known of all Independent Baseball teams, are at it again.

They had planned a "retirement party" for Commissioner Bud Selig this July. But the Commish, who makes nearly as many millions as the game's top tier of players, recently accepted an extension which will keep him in office through 2012. Never mind, the retirement party still will be held in Minnesota July 15, the same night as the major league All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.

The Saints already have had, among other events, a night in which they gave away neckties with a caricature of Selig right after the All-Star Game ended in an embarrassing tie since the teams were out of pitching. And last summer they staged an event ESPN The Magazine called the Promotion of the Year. Those playful Saints gave fans a choice of being "suspendered". They could be probed, mythically speaking, by Senator George Mitchell, who was in charge of baseball's steroids investigation, or a receiving suspenders with Selig's likeness.

Good fun, I guess, but after working for a couple of commissioners for more than a decade, I like to see the game's top boss treated somewhat kindly, even though he did postpone his retirement.

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