Tuesday, April 29, 2008


I suppose, selfishly, we all would like to see the talent nurtured in Independent Baseball stay within the "family". It never will be possible to keep everyone, though, because the talent pool eventually becomes bigger than the job pool.

There has been plenty of evidence to prove the point recently.

I saw it first hand when Marie Heikkinen Webb, the general manager of the New Haven (CT) County Cutters, left not only the Indy game but the sport. She would have preferred to stay in baseball, I am pretty certain, and there was no shortage of offers when the Cutters dropped out of the Can-Am League. Both affiliated and non-affiliated jobs were in the offing.

But Marie, New Haven's first employee when the team started in 2004, got what easily was her best opportunity to coordinate all advertising for the Orlando Magic. Who wants to turn down the major leagues, even if it is in another sport. The Maine native had spent 11 seasons in baseball, and now she is no doubt celebrating--if she has time--the Magic's first-round win in the NBA playoffs. Baseball's loss is basketball's gain.

I just heard from another New Haven employee today when PR man Ted Leshinski, who actually moved on to a New York City job during the '07 season, let it be known he will be PR Manager at the Sports Museum of America. He said SMA opens next week in the Big Apple, and is partnering with more than 50 Halls of Fame.

Another Independent voice, literally, has seemingly moved up the sports ladder by joining the Mountain West Sports Network as a studio anchor. Bill Doleman, who handled PR and play-by-play for the Lincoln (NE) Saltdogs of the American Association, reports Mountain West's potential audience will jump from two million to more than 20 million homes by fall when the operation will be located in Denver. "I will dearly miss the Saltdogs...first class people with a first class product" as well as delivering the word picture of baseball, he said in an email, "but my new job is too good to pass up." Jason Van Arkel, who had produced games and filled in on occasion behind the microphone, has taken Doleman's place in Lincoln.

All of these stories reinforce one more time what a great proving grounds the Independent game is. And, it is not just for the Kevin Millar's and Chris Coste's of the world, whose names we read every day in major league box scores. The behind-the-scene family also learns, then moves on to greater opportunities.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Death is such a difficult subject to address under almost any circumstance, and in a close knit family like professional baseball we hear about many who are lost. Everyone undoubtedly read about 10-year major league vet John Marzano passing away days ago after an at-home accident at the terribly young age of 45.

Two other deaths related to the Independent Baseball family probably have not been so widely reported, except in their immediate hometown or baseball circles.

I was touched by the passing of Fort Worth Cats President John Dittrich's dad, Bob, who was 83. John, who has a wide circle of friends in both the affiliated and unaffiliated baseball worlds, including this writer, found words while grieving to heap such deep praise on his father, who will be laid to rest in his hometown of Kankakee, IL Wednesday.

"He was a great man and a true American hero in every sense of the word," John wrote on his blog the day after his father died, pointing out that Bob and his wife of nearly 60 years, Margaret, raised four children "all who love and admire our parents to the degree that we would never want to disappoint them in even the smallest way...we were raised in a small town by people who presented us with strong, yet simple, clear values."

Well said, John.

Out in Rockford, IL, the RiverHawks of the Frontier League are trying to deal with the death of Jake Bowen, who was only 27 and had played the infield for their 2006 divisional championship team. Bowen died in a traffic accident in his hometown of Cedar Park, TX.

"The enduring memory I would have of Jake is of his exuberance, his outgoing personality every day, regardless of the situation," said hitting coach J. D. Arndt, who was the manager in '06. "...You just couldn't be in a bad mood around him."

That summer was young Bowen's only professional season, one in which Rockford drafted him from a Frontier League tryout camp.

The RiverHawks will wear a patch on their home jerseys all season as well as establishing a permanent memorial at Road Ranger Stadium.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Kevin Winn is one of the delightful people I interview in covering Independent Baseball.

The Director of Umpires for the American Association and Can-Am League is prompt about returning calls and never asks for a thing, but more than that he is a solid interview. He has information, seems to always have his details straight and can articulate them.

I called Kevin this week in order to discuss his busy job (understatement on my part) in Thursday's Independent Baseball Insider column. I also got an education on a point to which I had not given much thought.

Why can umpiring in an Independent league be more demanding than in some affiliated minor leagues for the young balls and strikes guys coming out of the two major league-supported umpiring schools? It was a simple answer, once Winn explained. "A (young) umpire goes to the (rookie) Gulf Coast League to learn how to umpire", Winn said, in much the same manner as a recent high school graduate goes to that youthful Florida league to learn how to be a professional player. In Independent leagues such as those he supervises "the level of play is too high". The umpires just getting a start would be overmatched.

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Friday, April 11, 2008


In the course of any given week as I prepare for my Independent Baseball Insider column, I get an opportunity to see many innovative ways teams are hustling to promote their product. As a "baseball guy", I am naturally drawn to stories about player signings. But I know it is not all about the players; not by a long shot in the minor leagues.

I wrote two weeks ago about the statue that was about to be unveiled honoring Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson at Sovereign Bank Stadium in York, PA. In the process of developing that story, I learned that another feature during the Revolution's Fan Fest was that lawn signs were being given out. There were 1,000 of them, I believe.

The signs had the Atlantic League team's logo, but probably more importantly they had the slogan "Rev It Up". Get it, Rev It Up for the York Revolution? Pretty clever. Think about the marketing strength of those signs as they are stuck in lawns around town and become constant reminders that the Revolution will soon be playing.

Other teams can certainly replicate what York is doing. If you are willing to have a sign in your yard, it beats the heck out of promoting a politician. Right?

I'm also impressed with the success the Camden Riversharks had with their annual reading contest. A lot of Independent teams have reading contests in which students read so many books, usually in addition to their school work. This is a major aid to the schools and to Moms and Dads in getting children to read. Camden added a design element whereby students would make home-designed bookmarks. Well, more than 200 schools participated with more than 60,000 entries.

Those are mighty impressive numbers.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008


This is a tough one to write.

While it was not unexpected, more than 40 Independent Baseball players whose contracts had been picked up by major league organizations have been released in recent days out of minor league camps. It happens every spring--and not merely to Independent players--as the minor league operations departments put together the rosters of their full-season affiliates. More cuts will have to come, but the number should not be nearly as hefty.

Some of these players will land jobs in other organizations, but the vast majority probably will be back in tryout camps, showing up on 2008 Independent rosters or will give up on everyone's goal of playing in the major leagues and find a new career path.

The recent releases include two outfielders who were non-roster invitees to major league camps, Jorge Piedra (Long Island, NY, Atlantic League) with Florida and Chad Hermansen (Sioux Falls, SD, American Association) with the Los Angeles Angels. Hermansen saw only limited major league action in the Cactus League while Piedra, a left-handed hitter who turns 29 later this month, had a solid showing, hitting .400 (4-for-10) with a home run and a .455 on-base percentage. Former major leaguer Junior Spivey, who played briefly for the World Champion Red Sox this spring, also has been released.

Other players released include John Anderson, Chadd Blasko, Steve Boggs, Tim Brown, Ken Chenard, Ian Church, Derrick Ellison, Branden Florence, Sheldon Fulse, Chris Fussell, Lino Garcia, Chris Grossman, Lee Gwaltney, Gerald Haran, Joe Hulett, Mike Just, Jared Locke, Brian Logan, Sam Marsonek, Luke Massetti, Charles Merricks, Brent Metheny, Jeff Nettles, Franklin Nunez, Dustin Pease, Eddie Pena, Brian Peterson, Josh Pressley, Scott Richmond, Chris Rivera, Jim Rushford, Luany Sanchez, Gary Schneidmiller, Dan Schwartz, Juan Senreiso, Mike Thompson, Steve Torrealba, J. J. Trujillo, Mike Vicaro, Cory Willey, James Wladyka, and Jeremy Zick.

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