Thursday, October 30, 2008


Did you see No. 27 piling on last night? He didn't even get flagged for 15 yards.

No. 27 was Philadelphia Phillies catcher Chris Coste, who spent five summers in Independent Baseball, including 1996-99 with his hometown Fargo-Moorhead (ND-MN) Redhawks of the Northern League, before finally even sticking in a major league farm system (Cleveland) for the 2000 season. He reached the majors with the Phillies in 2006 at the age of 33.

Coste ran from the dugout at the dramatic close of Game 5 of the World Series to dive onto the pile in the middle of the diamond at Citizens Bank Park. He and his Phillies teammates were World Champions, and No. 27 was very visible on television sets everywhere.

Other players drew most of the attention, but no one among the 25 postseason-eligible Phillies has a right to be happier or prouder of reaching this pinnacle.

"I'm getting closer" (to believing the reality of it all), Coste said over the telephone when I reached him a midday Thursday, roughly 14 hours after the final out of the 4-3 clincher against Tampa Bay.

He said the reality might well sink in for many players during Friday's championship parade.

I had heard numerous plaudits for Philadelphia's vocal fans through my TV set all night Wednesday, sometimes thinking, "don't we hear the same thing every October when the champions are being crowned." Maybe not. Coste brought the subject up, stressing how much fun it was "to be able to share it with the city".

"There is no coincidence we did not lose a (postseason) game at home," he said. When I asked for further explanation, he cited, among other things, how he could see these flag-waving, vociferous fans "get the opposing pitcher rattled a little."


In addition to wife Marcia and daughter Casey, 9, part of the postseason was witnessed in person by Coste's mother, stepfather and "people from Fargo". One person he singled out was Kansas City T-Bones Manager Andy McCauley, who lives near Philadelphia. McCauley, a coach with Fargo-Moorhead during part of Coste's lengthy stint, lived his own celebration out earlier this fall. His T-Bones, only 46-50 during the regular season, won the Northern League title after losing Game 1 of the best-of-five championship series and trailing Gary, IN 7-1 in the second contest.

HOW DOES $700,000 SOUND?

We did not talk about the financial side of being on a World Series winner, but Coste's salary of $385,000 for his first complete major league season and a full Series likely to top $300,000 (each Boston player received $308,000 last year) would be welcomed by anyone who has worked his way through Independent play.

It would even dull any feelings for only playing in one World Series game (0-for-4 in Game 1) after pretty much sharing catching duties during the regular season.


Tampa Bay backup catcher Michel Hernandez, who spent part of 2007 with the Somerset (NJ) Patriots of the Atlantic League and was in the Pittsburgh farm system until August 31, came within a few feet of getting into the final World Series game and ending his drought for the entire postseason because of the solid play of regular backstop Dioner Navarro.

Manager Joe Maddon had Fernando Perez run for Navarro in the top of the ninth inning Wednesday. Perez stole second, and represented the tying run when pinch hitter Ben Zobrist scorched a liner at rightfielder Jayson Werth with one out. Had that drive settled to the ground--as it first appeared it might--and the fleet Perez scampered home Hernandez would have strapped on the chest protector in the bottom half of the inning. The 30-year-old Cuban native with more games in Somerset (25) than the majors (10) would have had some story to tell. Come to think of it, the near-miss isn't half bad.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Has that player you followed in Independent Baseball to the very end of the season had his contract purchased by a major league organization?

We try to keep track of all signings, and this is what we have seen so far. We will continue to add to the list, and we invite readers to let us know if we miss anyone since the news sometimes comes out from the player's team or his hometown without us seeing it immediately.

Signings since the end of the Independent season with the Player, MLB Organization, Independent Team (Most Recent), League and Position. (Asterisks indicate he played his first professional game in an Independent league):

Barba, Ryan, Atlanta, Yuma, Golden, SS

Bladergroen, Ian, Seattle, Lancaster, Atlantic, 1B

Breen, Patrick, Los Angeles-AL, Orange County, Golden, OF

*Cullen, Chris, Pittsburgh, Lincoln, American Association, RHP (Cullen played forEdmonton of the Golden League in 2008)

Coello, Robert, Boston, Edmonton, Golden, RHP

Etherton, Seth, Arizona, Long Beach, Golden, RHP

Fultz, Aaron, Cincinnati, Somerset, Atlantic, LHP

Garcia, Geivy, San Francisco, Grand Prairie, American Association, RHP

*Grimes, Scott, New York-NL, Worcester, Can-Am, OF

Hawke, Phil, Florida, Windy City, Frontier, 1B

Hernandez, Santo, Philadelphia, Brockton, Can-Am, RHP

*Herr, Jordan, Chicago-AL, Lancaster, Atlantic, OF

Hunton, Jon, Oakland, Somerset, Atlantic, RHP

Krause, Brent, Milwaukee, St. Paul, American Association, RHP

*LaLuna, Michael, Detroit, Sussex, Can-Am, RHP

*Linder, Chad, Detroit, Alexandria, United, LHP

Lisk, Charlie, Detroit, Gateway, Frontier, C

Moss, Steve, Seattle, Long Beach, Golden, OF

Phillips, Paul, Tampa Bay, Pensacola, American Association, RHP

Pressley, Josh, Houston, Somerset, Atlantic, 1B

*Regas, Kris, Detroit, Sioux Falls, American Association, LHP

Reith, Brian, Milwaukee, Somerset, Atlantic, RHP

*Risser, Travis, Tampa Bay, Washington, Frontier, RHP

Sikaras, Pete, Philadelphia, Edmonton, Golden, RHP

Smith, Dan, Baltimore, Pensacola, American Association, LHP

Smith, Donnie, San Francisco, Fargo, Northern, RHP

Stanley, Patrick, Detroit, Newark, Atlantic, RHP

Torbert, Beau, Detroit, Sioux Falls, American Association, OF

Townsend, Tanner, Florida, Gary, Northern, 3B

Vento, Mike, Washington, Camden, Atlantic, OF

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Thursday, October 23, 2008


I counted up one time that I had been blessed to see at least 150 World Series games in person. I believe that number is conservative. What a treat, whether I was working, as was the case much of the time, or on hand as a fan. So I have a pretty good feel for what those involved in this World Series are experiencing.

I cannot relate to Chris Coste, the DH for Philadelphia in Game 1 last night (an 0-for-4, unfortunately, in the first game in his meteoric climb from five seasons of Independent Baseball) or Michel Hernandez, Tampa Bay's backup catcher, who spent part of 2007 in the Atlantic League. After all, I had enough trouble hitting at the most meager of sandlot levels during my youth in Nebraska.

But I can relate, in many ways, to others who have roles in the World Series. So, it was fun to have conversations over the last 24 hours with Phillies infielder Mike Cervenak, who is part of pre-game workouts every day as he stands by as a potential injury replacement, and Rusty Kath, the on-field Master of Ceremonies for the Tampa Bay Rays.

This is an Independent Baseball blog, I remind you, and they most certainly qualify. Cervenak played his first two years of what now is a full decade of professional baseball for the Chillicothe (OH) Paints of the Frontier League, hitting .306 and .357, respectively. Kath learned his trade with the St. Paul (MN) Saints, now in the American Association, before moving on to the Rays two years ago.


The phone rang shortly after noon Wednesday, some eight hours before the first pitch was thrown. It was Mike Cervenak, returning a call I couldn't have expected at that time.

Like anyone, I wanted to know some of the highlights of recent times for the personable first baseman-third baseman, a hitting machine at the University of Michigan and throughout the minor leagues, who had to wait until he was nearly 32 this summer to get into anything but a spring training exhibition in the major leagues.

"The fact I am going to the World Series and being on the bench," he said. (My heart would have been pounding.) He opened up about how "crazy" it would have been to even think of this possibility back in his Independent days.

I thought the personal game highlight of his first two months in the majors would have been his first hit, which came August 6 in Philly as a pinch-hitter against Florida. "I feel it was my first at bat," was Mike's response. "My parents (Mike, Sr. and Eva) were there, and it was in extra innings." He had told me in an earlier conversation that he hit the ball to the warning track (where it was caught) off Arizona's Connor Robertson.

Cervenak, who has a very calm and professional demeanor during interviews, became the most talkative when I asked if he had gone through the typical rookie hazing with the Phillies. I have to paraphrase, but he described, in detail, being selected to dress up as Brittany Spears "with a plaid skirt, really short, with a tie-up blouse showing my bare midriff and a blonde wig."

What a transition from portraying Brittany Spears to the feeling of being in the dugout during Chase Utley's two-run, first-inning homer or for the final out of a thrilling 3-2, Game 1 win.


I caught Rusty on his way to the airport to pick up friends on the morning after Game 1.

"I literally don't feel I believe it (being in the World Series), even after Game 7 (against Boston). It hasn't clicked." He quoted Phillies ace Cole Hamels who had said something like "we'll really enjoy this about holiday time."

Kath still is on the diamond pre-game in his role as MC, but expects to be "more buttoned up" and traditional, with word coming down to the staff that "we want a professional show" for the World Series. He does things we might get a glimpse of during the telecast of working with the youngsters selected to cry "Play Ball" and deliver the initial game baseballs to the umpires.

And, he is allowed, because he said both TBS (playoffs) and Fox (World Series) like it, to encourage the crowd to go a little wild just as the network telecasts begin.

What about the mohawk haircut, which has become a Tampa Bay trademark? "I have a beautiful mohawk", which was first cut with the "dog shears" the team mascot (played by a woman) carries. He got the cut during the postseason-clinching game. It has since been cleaned up, although Kath says "I look like an ugly 1980s punk rocker".

His tongue-in-cheek worry seems to be going back home to Minnesota, where his varied duties include many Minnesota Wild (NHL) games, because his mother-in-law, Dee Forkrud, told him "you used to be so cute. I may be sleeping next door, not even in the next room", said Kath, who married Forkrud's daughter, Angie, August 1.

Perhaps by that time being in a World Series will finally have set in.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008


What is it about the catchers?

Two of the four backstops expected to be on World Series rosters have paid their dues in Independent Baseball. Okay, so Philadelphia's Chris Coste and Tampa Bay's Michel Hernandez both enter the fall classic as No. 2 with their respective teams, but they are that familiar "heartbeat away" from taking over fulltime, in the same manner as the politicians like to remind us about Joe Biden and Sarah Palin two weeks ahead of the Presidential election.

But there is much more to the story of catchers coming out of the Independent game and getting into major league baseball's postseason.

We have already had the chapter of Mike Rivera being the No. 2 receiver for Milwaukee's October effort.

Going back three short years, Chris Widger was the backup when the Chicago White Sox won the 2005 World Series. Widger, who had hit 16 home runs in 55 games for Camden, NJ of the Atlantic League the previous season, caught the last five innings of the 14-inning Game 3 marathon, going 0-for-1 but getting an RBI and two walks in the White Sox's 7-5 triumph.

Hernandez, who has been active but has yet to be called upon in the postseason, logged 25 games in the Atlantic League one year ago (Somerset, NJ), joined Tampa Bay in September after spending most of the season in Triple-A for Pittsburgh. An injury to Shawn Riggans put him in the right place at the right time.

"This is a good place to be (when major league teams have a need) if you can catch and throw," Atlantic League Executive Director Joe Klein reminded us Tuesday afternoon.

While Hernandez is backing up Dioner Navarro at Tampa Bay, Coste has been rumored as a possible right-handed designated hitter for games in the American League park as well as available to spell Carlos Ruiz, with whom he alternated for much of the regular season. A right-handed bat will be called on to DH in Game 1 with lefty Scott Kazmir starting for the Rays.

Wouldn't it be great to see Coste's name in the starting lineup because of his five seasons in Independent leagues (as readers will see when they scroll down to our most recent posting)?


While not likely to be activated, another player like Coste who got his start in the Indy ranks, infielder Mike Cervenak, continues to be in uniform daily with the Phillies. Cervenak got into his first 10 major league games this season (2-for-13, 1 RBI), and is on standby should another infielder go down with an injury.

The World Series games are going to be a family affair, as one might expect, for the Cervenaks. Mike Cervenak, Sr. told us Tuesday his son was invited to bring a guest to the first two games in Florida, and had taken his younger brother, Jonathan, who turned 20 today. Jonathan is a junior at Eastern Michigan University. Mr. and Mrs. Cervenak will attend Games 3-4-5 in Philadelphia.

In the small world department, Cervenak and Michel Hernandez were teammates with the New York Yankees' Double-A affiliate when it was in Norwich, CT in 2001 and 2002.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008


Do you believe it, Chris Coste is going to the World Series.

Sure, Cole Hamels was MVP of the National League Championship Series for the Philadelphia Phillies and Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and the other regulars had most of the spotlight in the five-game quieting of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I'll still take Coste, who burst onto the major league scene as the 33-year-old rookie two years ago, and who we have featured so many times in this space and in more detail in our subscriber-only Independent Baseball Insider column. (The column will have more later today.)

Coste deserves a special toast from everyone who follows Independent Baseball because he has driven so much attention by playing five years in three Indy leagues before getting his first opportunity in a major league organization (Cleveland, 2000) and labored for more than six years in the minors, sometimes teetering on the edge of a big-league call-up, before finally getting into a regular season game with the Phils May 26, 2006. He was their oldest rookie since 1945.

The splitting of time between Brandon, Manitoba, and Brainerd, MN, in two soon-to-fail Indy leagues in 1995 and four seasons in his hometown of Fargo, ND (Northern League) is paying dividends today.

Coste, who divided catching chores with Carlos Ruiz much of the season (.263-9-36 in what easily was a career-high 274 at bats), before the younger backstop (29) finally got most of the calls late in the season, only had one at-bat in the NLCS. He singled in Game 3, the only one Philadelphia lost, but it means in perpetuity he will be listed with a 1.000 batting average.

The lack of NLCS play is of little matter at the moment. Coste deserves to celebrate with wife Marcia and daughter Casey, because they also endured all of the ups and downs of this career that would not have happened without Independent Baseball being there to provide the opportunity to mature and be seen.

And who knows when this determined backstop may deliver on the biggest baseball stage of all in a few days.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008


Memo to Frank Boulton and Miles Wolff,

In the spirit of trying to help out, there may be a relatively easy solution to the dilemma you face in the Atlantic League (Boulton is Founder) and the Can-Am League (Wolff is Commissioner).

The suggestion, which I would not be shocked is in your collective minds already, is to help you out of the bind whereby Ottawa is without ownership in the Can-Am League and Bridgeport, CT is lagging behind everyone else on a success basis in the Atlantic League.

Here we go.

If Richmond does not find a replacement for its longtime Triple-A franchise from within the affiliated ranks, move Bridgeport to the Virginia city (and give the Atlantic League another major market). Then, move Ottawa into Bridgeport.

These moves solve several problems, not the least of which would have either or both leagues end up with an odd number of teams in 2009, forcing resurrection of one or two travel teams.

We know the Atlantic covets Richmond, given all the confirmed reports that Peter Kirk, who owns nearly half the Independent circuit already, has been working the scene for some time. His proposal, which would preferably include a new stadium, includes building the Brooks Robinson Life-Skills Center to benefit after-school activities as well as hosting indoor sports events beyond the ballpark's outfield fence to generate added revenue.

Even if the Atlantic League cannot stay in the market long term, it will have provided a quality location until Louden County, VA or West Chester, PA or the Meadowlands of NY is ready, and Boulton and his Past Time Partners, LLC, who are in the midst of taking over the under-capitalized Bridgeport franchise, will not have to fight to re-build the Bluefish into a financially success franchise under the burden of a 140-game season. It is appearing all the more likely this battle is a stiff one no matter who operates, especially given the less-than-agreeable evening temperatures in Connecticut in April and May and the fact school does not end until the latter part of June.

On the other hand, Bridgeport should do nicely in the Can-Am League, where each team hosts only 45 games or so instead of 70 and the budget is much, much smaller. A break-even or better result is likely for Boulton or whoever ends up running the Bluefish.

The Can-Am League would like to hold onto Ottawa, which averaged an okay 2,200 in its first post-Triple-A season, but unless strong new ownership shows up soon Wolff and Company may have to give it up. Ottawa still could be viable at some time down the road as a companion to Quebec and Montreal, if the latter can ever be developed.

So, both leagues would have their immediate franchise issues behind them. It seems a win-win.

Now wasn't that easy.

Bob Wirz, author of the Independent Baseball Insider and

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008


It appears the United League is slowly coming back to life after weeks of speculation that its third season may have been its last.

CEO Brad Wendt went public on the subject earlier this week, and even if the John Bryant-Byron Pierce lawsuit is playing a role in keeping it going we are once again seeing team press releases and player signings, which would seem to be decent indicators.


Perhaps it is the economy and maybe it is the mere recognition of the talent. Regardless, more major league organizations seem to be focusing increased attention on the Independent leagues.

Count Detroit as among those more active. The Tigers only had six of the 243 players who showed up on our master roster--an average of 8.1 per organization--until recently. But all of a sudden Detroit has reached into the American Association twice and the Can-Am and United Leagues once in recent weeks. Three pitchers and an outfielder for your at-home scoreboard.

By the way, we soon plan to post all of the recent signings on this blog.


A screaming headline in today's Connecticut Post informed readers the hometown Bridgeport Bluefish are getting new ownership with Past Time Partners, LLC, led by Atlantic League Founder Frank Boulton, taking over.

Boulton, who also owns the Long Island (NY) Ducks in the eight-team league, told the newspaper the other owners have approved the deal and that the new group will pay off the nearly $250,000 overdue in rent as soon as the city okays the sale.

Indications are the team will stay in Connecticut although it is well documented that another Atlantic League owner, Peter Kirk, has been working toward placing a franchise in Richmond, VA which Atlanta has just vacated as home of its longtime Triple-A franchise.


I do not profess to know whether Baseball America is merely trying to be fair to everyone in Independent Baseball, but the magazine's announcement of its All-Independent teams and its list of top Indy players not yet signed by major league organizations is very balanced.

Four leagues (Atlantic, Can-Am, Frontier, Golden) each placed three players on the 14-player first All-Independent unit. The Northern League and American Association had one player apiece with the United and Continental shut out. The Atlantic edged out the Frontier, six players to five, when the second team was included, but six of the eight leagues had at least three players apiece.

Seth Loman, an outfielder-first baseman at St. George, UT (Golden League), is Baseball America's top choice among players still without a major league organizational contract. Mike LaLuna, a hard-throwing righthander discovered in a tryout camp, had that honor, but his contract has been purchased by Detroit. BB-A had three United League players in its top ten unsigned (including LaLuna), with the American Association, Atlantic League and Golden League with two apiece. Some players were in more than one league this season.

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Friday, October 03, 2008


When I featured onetime relief ace Sparky Lyle in yesterday's subscriber-only Independent Baseball Insider column space would not allow the luxury of getting into everything we discussed, including the Somerset (NJ) Patriots manager's thoughts regarding the major league chances of anyone off the 2008 Atlantic League championship team.

Lyle should know something about this subject since four former Patriots were in the big time at season's end, including backup catcher Michel Hernandez now in the American League Division Series with Tampa Bay.

His top pick to have a chance is third baseman Brandon Larson, the Atlantic League Championship Series MVP when he hit .458 with three homers and seven runs batted in.

Wait 'til you read Lyle's praise.

"A pure hitter" to start with, he said of the right-handed batsman out of LSU who hit .304 this season with 95 RBI and 30 home runs. And, Larson is "the best defensive third baseman in the league". Not just now, but in the Atlantic League's 11 years, Lyle believes.

The odds against Larson getting back to the majors, where he has played 109 games over a span of a few years with Cincinnati, may seem a bit odd at age 32, but who am I to argue with the Somerset boss, who has won four championships and seen 10 of his Patriots players reach the majors.

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