The Minor League Game of the Week


Matt Holliday

Brad Hawpe
Today’s Colorado Rockies stars Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe were in the Tulsa Drillers lineup on July 6, 2003 to face Bobby Jenks and the Arkansas Travelers.

The new Minor League Game of the Week has a deliberate World Series flavor.

As the Colorado Rockies took the national spotlight with their incredible post-season run, I thought, "Hey, I know some of those guys." Sure enough, some of them were playing for the Double-A Tulsa Drillers in May 2003 when I visited Ray Winder Field in Little Rock to photograph the Arkansas Travelers.

Two of the Drillers, Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe, homered in that series, a portent of things to come. The Rockies’ presence in the World Series this week is proof of what happens when a team is patient and builds from within instead of caving to the instant-gratification demands by a few big-mouths in the press and fandom who don’t represent the majority that know better.

On July 6, 2003, the Drillers hosted Arkansas and faced Travs’ starting pitcher Bobby Jenks. This game really sums up all the problems Bobby had while he was an Angels property. This was his first Double-A start after rehabbing an elbow injury two months earlier. It was his second year at Arkansas after being suspended in 2002 for trying to sneak alcohol onto the team bus. And Bobby’s weight problems were rather obvious.

When shut down after his May 2 appearance, Jenks had made five starts, pitching 23 innings, striking out 27, walking 19 while allowing only 16 hits and had a 3.52 ERA. In this game, he started off wild, but when he left the mound after the 5th inning he’d allowed no runs, only one hit, and struck out six while walking four.

After the 2003 season, Jenks pitched in the Arizona Fall League, then went on to winter ball. With only a few weeks’ rest, he reported early to the Angels’ spring training camp in mid-February. With an already brittle elbow, it’s no wonder it stress-fractured on him again on April 19, 2004 when Salt Lake was at Fresno. FutureAngels.com was there; Click Here to watch the video of Jenks’ injury. (You need Windows Media Player and a high-speed Internet connection to watch.) By the way, the trainer racing to Bobby’s rescue is Adam Nevala, who today is one of the Angels’ trainers.

Jenks went to the minor league camp in Mesa for rehab and didn’t pitch again that year. While in Mesa, ESPN: The Magazine published an unflattering profile of Bobby in which he admitted to burning his own flesh for kicks. Jenks was suspended not for the article, but for a reported fight with a Mesa teammate.

Even with all the disciplinary problems, the poor physical conditioning, and the bum elbow, the Angels kept him around — until December 17, 2004, when they attempted to move him off the 40-man roster to the Triple-A roster, so they could make room on "the 40" for pending free agent signee Orlando Cabrera. That meant he had to pass through waivers. The Chicago White Sox claimed him.

Some people engage in revisionist history, posting on fan boards that the Angels stupidly "released" their best pitching prospect. The facts are (1) Jenks wasn’t released, he was claimed on waivers as the Angels tried to put him on the Triple-A roster, and (2) Jenks’ career at that point was pretty much in the toilet.

After that season, Jenks’ minor league career ERA was 4.97. In 391 IP, he had 401 strikeouts but also 270 walks — 6.2 free passes per nine innings. The last time anyone had seen him throw in a game — that would be the above video clip — his velocity was down into the mid-80s. He self-restraint was not far above that of a wild animal, and his ill-advised ESPN interview didn’t help. Beating up a teammate wasn’t the last straw, but Jenks’ future was so clouded at that point that it didn’t make much sense to continue protecting him on the 40-man roster while risking the loss of top prospects in much better physical condition and with their heads screwed on straight.

Fortunately for Bobby and his family, the White Sox acquisition seemed to wake him up to the reality that he could lose his means of income and spend the rest of his life pumping gas for a living. (And in a self-serve world, there aren’t many calls for that skill these days.) Jenks was on the mound when the White Sox won the 2005 World Series, and those blinding themselves to the facts surrounding Bobby’s departure started a disinformation campaign on fan boards to make it look like the Angels had let him go without cause.

So with all that historical context, Click Here to listen to the game. You need Windows Media Player to listen. The Travs’ broadcaster is Phil Elson, who will be a big-league broadcaster one day, you’ll see.

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