June 2008

Three Days in Orem

Orem Owlz manager Tom Kotchman won his 1,500th career game Friday night at Ogden.

 

There’s a scene in Miracle, the Disney movie about the 1980 U.S. Olympics hockey team, where coach Herb Brooks has his team skating back and forth on the rink for hours after a lackluster performance.

I see a lot of Herb Brooks in Tom Kotchman, which isn’t surprising considering Kotch began his managing career in 1979. A few months after Brooks’ miracle, Kotchman was named the Manager of the Year in the Rookie-A Appalachian League as he took the Bristol Tigers to a 36-33 record.

Kotch took a page out of Brooks’ coaching manual last night, keeping his players at the ballpark hours after they dropped a twinbill and three-game series to their division rivals, the Casper Ghosts.

As detailed by Jason Franchuk’s article in today’s Provo Daily Herald:

The Owlz last won Friday night. It was Kotchman’s 1,500th victory at the minor-league level.

A manager doesn’t reach that ultra-rare milestone without knowing how to push a few buttons. Many of Kotchman’s former players regard him as a master, still remembering the tactics (some more crude than others) he used to get the most out of them.

It’s this group’s turn to see, hear and feel them. The season unofficially started late last night, after the season’s 14th game. Kotchman walked his players through various fielding and baserunning drills.

It was 9:30 p.m. as the team on a rare losing streak in Utah County on Kotchman’s watch took the field again.

This might have been the toughest opponent yet for the young, mostly new professional ballplayers: a manager who had every whim to extend the already long day far beyond 14 innings.

Kotchman wasn’t in a hurry to go back to his hotel room — just to get this season on track, and re-focus a lot of players after a hot start to the season has been tempered.

My hotel room at the Hampton Inn was across the street from the ballpark. I peeked out the window around 10 PM and saw they were still at it.

I joined the team Friday night for their road game at Ogden, about 75 miles up the I-15 from Orem. The Owlz won 5-3 in 10 innings, 10-1 in their first 11 games to give Kotch his 1,500th win, but I kinda had a feeling that the Herb Brooks “moment” wasn’t far off. There was a certain sloppiness to their game, some players seemed to lack focus or not take their new profession all that seriously, perhaps still acting like they were in high school or college instead of having to produce to earn a living in professional baseball.

Another problem on Sunday was that the pitching staff was gassed. After 10 innings on Friday and 13 innings on Saturday, they faced another 14 innings on Sunday. (Minor league doubleheader games are seven innings each.) Kotchman had to carefully manage the pitch count for his staff in both games, essentially running the pen, leaving struggling pitchers out on the mound even though they were getting pounded.

Things were bad enough Saturday night that catcher Ivan Villaescusa was used in the 13th in mopup relief after the game was lost. Things were worse when Ivan had to pitch again to mop up Game #1 of Sunday’s doubleheader.

Kotch hoped to nurse lefty starter Buddy Boshers through Game #2 as far as he could. Boshers pitched an inning on Thursday at Ogden. He pitched into the third and was replaced by Chris Scholl after giving up a run, but the Owlz led 4-1 after three.

It all fell apart in the top of the 4th.

The Ghosts scored a run but it was still 4-2 with two outs and runners on first and second. Scholl induced a ground ball by Andy Goff to shortstop Darwin Perez, but Darwin tried to showboat the ball and it bounced off his glove for an error, loading the bases. Kane Simmons then doubled, clearing the bases, giving Casper a 5-4 lead. Kotchman was forced to replace Scholl with Jayson Miller.

Perez was yanked from the game after the inning.

Casper posted two more runs in the 7th off reliever Reyes Dorado, and the Ghosts won 7-4.

The Ghosts have a bit of arrogance about them. Shortstop Carlos Martinez spiked the ball after catching a pop fly to end Saturday night’s marathon, a gesture that did not go unnoticed in the Orem dugout. I have a feeling these two teams will duel for the division championship come September, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a brawl sooner or later.

I recorded an interview with Kotch the afternoon after winning his 1,500th game. Click Here to listen to the interview, Windows Media Player required. We also talked about Kotch’s first year in the Angels system, the 1984 Redwood Pioneers that were 53-17 in the second half in the California League that year, which I believe is still a league record. Tom gave me a print of the team photo, which I’ll scan and post here when I get the chance.

As always, we talked prospects.

Kotchman scouted and signed Ryan Chaffee, the Angels’ third round pick who’s currently at Tempe rehabbing a foot injury. Kotchman described Chaffee as “a combination of El Duque (Orlando Hernandez), Mark Fydrich, and John Lackey.” (The thought of John Lackey with The Bird’s personality boggles the mind …) I can’t wait to see him pitch.

Based on what I saw, the top prospects on the current roster would be third baseman Luis Jimenez, left fielder Roberto Lopez and right fielder Angel Castillo. As with many young Latin players, plate discipline is a problem for Jimenez and Castillo but they do exhibit potential power. Lopez, a college senior from USC, is 22 (turning 23 in October) so my first instinct was to think he’s old for this league, but you can’t knock his start — an AVG/OBP/SLG of .491/.540/.702 in 13 games. An alumnus of Rancho Bernardo High School (and baseball factory) in San Diego, he was selected in the 25th round of the June draft. If he keeps up this pace, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Angels move him up to Cedar Rapids or even Rancho Cucamonga before season’s end.

Will Smith is the highest-round pitcher on the staff, but I didn’t see him pitch and I really didn’t see enough of the others to form an opinion.

As for the Owlz operation, I have to say it looks like they’ve finally established themselves in “Happy Valley.” They’ve had a tough go of it, because the Utah Valley region had no real tradition of professional baseball. Since Provo-Orem is Mormon Central (BYU is six miles down the road), historically they’ve never drawn on Sundays.

Saturday night, they drew 3,700 and I’d guess they had 1,500 for Sunday, which is an astonishing number for them. They decided to turn Sunday into Dollar Days — one dollar to enter, one dollar for hot dogs, etc.

The on-field entertainment was solid and constant, the fans never lacking for something to keep them active between innings. The office staff constantly worked the concourse, greeting fans and seeking opinions about their product.

I also noticed more Angels caps and shirts than ever before. I went to a Mimi’s Cafe in Orem for breakfast on Sunday wearing an Angels T-shirt. As I walked in, a gentleman said to me, “Go Angels!” Wow, I’d never heard that before in the eight years I’ve been coming here.

The Owlz Booster Club was omnipresent and the host parent program is strong. A special thanks to outgoing president Brenda Ridley, who doubles as a host mom, for all her hospitality and support while I was there. Brenda works at the aforementioned Hampton Inn and arranged for the room overlooking the ballpark. As she pointed out, I could look out the window at any time to see what was going on. It turned out to be a veteran move by Brenda as I was able to watch Kotch administer a Herb Brooks moment into the wee hours of Sunday night …

Cedar Rapids Update

More efforts being announced to help the people of Cedar Rapids and other flood victims.

This press release is from the Kernels:


Minor League Baseball donates to Iowa flood relief

June 26, 2008 – Minor League Baseball announced today that they, and the affiliated minor league teams, will be making a donation toward flood relief effort in Iowa. The announcement was made today by Pat O’Connor, President and Chief Executive Officer of Minor League Baseball.

Minor league baseball clubs are asked to donate 50 cents from each ticket sold from one home game between July 3rd and July 6th. Teams that do not have home games during that time, are encouraged to make a donation as they see fit.

To kick off the effort, Minor League Baseball will donate $50,000 to this relief fund, set up by Minor League Baseball Charities. This fund will be distributed among the four cities in Iowa with minor league baseball teams that were affected by the flooding: Burlington, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Davenport.

The Minor League Baseball office will then tally up the totals and distribute like amounts to flood relief efforts in the above cities.

For more information, please contact Jack Roeder in the Kernels Office (319-363-3887).


Mark Cova of the Quakes Booster Club sends along this notice:

On Thursday July 3rd, the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes Booster Club, with the support of the Quakes front office, will have an auction table on the third base concourse during the Quakes game vs. the Inland Empire 66ers. We normally run our auction table during weekend home games with the proceeds supporting the work of the Booster Club, But on July 3rd, the Booster Club will donate 100% of the gross proceeds to the Cedar Rapids Red Cross. In addition to auctioning the normal memorabilia signed by players and formal players — including some signed by current Angels, we will also be auctioning items specially donated for this auction by the current Quakes players.

BeesGal sends along www.2008flood.org, which I believe was started by Cedar Rapids locals.

Angels to Donate to Cedar Rapids Disaster Relief

Kernels beat writer Jeff Johnson of the Cedar Rapids Gazette reports that the Angels will donate to Cedar Rapids disaster relief.

Los Angeles Angels General Manager Tony Reagins said Wednesday the club is planning to donate money to the city. Reagins said the Angels have been in regular contact with Kernels General Manager Jack Roeder throughout the flood crisis and have been waiting for the Kernels to decide the best time and place for a contribution.

“That community is near and dear to my heart,” said Reagins, who was farm director of the Angels for several years before ascending to the GM position this year.

The article also notes that Trevor Bell left a $2,500 for disaster relief before returning to Rancho Cucamonga.

Lanny Peterson informs me that an official relief fund has been started by the Kernels:

Stephen, You asked for a “local” group which is aiding flood victims in CR. I talked with GM Jack Roeder today, and the Board has set up such an entity through their foundation. Thus, if anyone is interested, he should sent a check made payable to the Kernels Foundation Flood Relief, PO Box 2001, Cedar Rapids, Ia 52404.

Get your checks in the mail. Mine is.

This ‘N That

Former Angels prospect Steven Shell made his major league debut Sunday with the Washington Nationals.

 

Taking a break from Cedar Rapids to talk about happenings elsewhere in the Angels universe …

So I’m driving home from work today and turn on the Angels radiocast to hear the Angels have a comfortable 8-1 lead in Washington. Cool. Then I hear Steve Physioc say that the Nationals have brought in Steven Shell to pitch.

Wow!

Steven was a third-round pick by the Angels in the June 2001 draft, an original Provo Angel, pitched in the 2003 California League All-Star Game for Rancho Cucamonga, and was considered a top pitching prospect until he falted at upper levels in the Angels system. During 2007, his final year with the Angels, Steven was moved to the bullpen. He wasn’t on the 40-man roster at season’s end, so he took his six-year minor league free agency and signed with D.C.

The Nationals sent him to Triple-A Columbus to start 2008. He began the year in the bullpen, made four starts, then went back to relief. When he was called up, Steven had a 2.62 ERA in 58 1/3 innings with a 54:14 SO:BB ratio and a 1.08 WHIP.

Shell is only 25 years old. Some guys take longer to develop than others. Organizations as deep in talent as the Angels lose more prospects to six-year minor-league free agency because they can only protect 40 players at a time (including the 25 major leaguers). I wish Steven nothing but the best — except against us.

Some other performances of note:

  • Quakes outfielder Anthony Norman has 29 stolen bases in 30 attempts. He also has 12 homers. An afterthought at UCLA and a non-drafted free agent who was finally brought to the Angels’ attention, Anthony is becoming this year’s feel-good story. His AVG/OBP/SLG are .266/.390/.528. I was skeptical last year when he was the Rookie-A Arizona League’s MVP at age 22, which is very old for that league, but at age 23 in the Cal League that puts him on the fringe of the age range for top prospects.
  • Mark Trumbo is sticking it to the fan board critics who last winter wrote him off as a “bust” and insisted he be returned to the mound as a pitcher. Mark has 17 HR so far and a line of .293/.334/.558. Here’s a positive statistic — in 294 AB, he has only 43 strikeouts, or one every 6.8 AB. That’s an excellent rate for a power hitter.
  • Peter Bourjos is another early candidate for Angels’ minor league player of the year. Impressed by Norman’s 29 for 30 SB rate? Bourjos is 37 for 39. His line is .331/.366/.470. The question is whether Pete will develop enough power to one day step into the Angels’ lineup as a starting center fielder, but as Chone Figgins has shown you don’t need a lot of pop to lead off a lineup. Borujos also makes excellent contract, striking out once every 6.38 AB.
  • Kernels pitcher Trevor Reckling’s scoreless inning streak ended Saturday at 29 innings, but he made up for it by striking out ten in 7 IP. In 13 starts (79.2 IP), Reck has a 2.37 ERA and a 60:40 SO:BB ratio. He’s given up only three dingers. Not bad for a 19-year old in the Midwest League.
  • And let’s close with top prospect Jordan Walden, who has a 2.57 ERA with the Kernels in 14 starts (80.2 IP). J-Wal has a 64:23 SO:BB ratio and 1.04 WHIP.

On deck … I fly to Utah on Friday for three days with the Orem Owlz. Friday night is at Ogden against their rivals, the Raptors (a Dodgers affiliate). The Owlz have won six straight against Ogden, so their fans should be good ‘n riled up. Saturday and Sunday, we’re at home against the Casper Ghosts, formerly known as the Casper Rockies. Sunday’s game is a doubleheader.

As always, I’ll try to post game summaries, videos, the traditional Tom Kotchman interview, and whatnot.

Cedar Rapids Update

Trevor Bell pledged $100 per strikeout today for Cedar Rapids flood relief. Seven strikeouts equalled $700.

 

Kernels starting pitcher Trevor Bell pledged to donate $100 for each strikeout today to help Cedar Rapids flood victims. Trevor put his wallet where his mouth is, pitching a complete game as the Kernels won 6-2 over Wisconsin. He struck out seven, translating into $700 for flood victims.

Jonathan Mayo of MiLB.com wrote in his blog today about Bell’s donation.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that on June 15 I shot video at Rancho Cucamonga of the Quakes players sending good thoughts to Cedar Rapids. Click Here to watch the video. (Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection required.)

Andy Pantini, the Kernels’ Director of Communications, downloaded a copy of the video to run on their video board. Today I heard from Lanny Peterson, who helps run the Kernels’ host parent program. Here’s what Lanny had to say about the video and the crowd reaction:

Thanks so very much for the video that was played at our ballpark for several nights. I can speak for the host families and many others: tears were plentiful to hear those guys talk to us about our situation. And I want to thank you for being so kind and thoughtful. This was a terrific and heartfelt message.

We are getting back to “normal” (but a definition of normal will take some time — some are saying it will be years). With prayers and words of hope from people as you, I’m confident that we will persevere.

For you Quakes players who participated in the video … you hit a home run. Thank you.

You really have to admire our players stepping forward to take the lead in providing both emotional and financial support for Cedar Rapids.

(When will we hear the Angels step up to the plate, wink wink, nudge nudge …)

I’m late in acknowledging BeesGal’s blog entry June 18 on The Sporkball Journals. She’s one of those fans who “gets it” when it comes to minor league ball. BeesGal is a regular at Salt Lake games, but more importantly she understands the importance of supporting these kids as they pursue their dream of a major league career. She was one of the first FutureAngels.com regulars to pitch in and start helping raise money for the good folk of Cedar Rapids.

Cedar Rapids Update

“This is Cedar Rapids’ all-time disaster.”

– Legendary Iowa broadcaster Bob Brooks

Life isn’t returning to normal, but it is a bit more routine these days in Cedar Rapids, ten days since the Friday the 13th flood that left $1 billion in damage and one-fifth the city’s population homeless.

The floodwaters have moved on, heading south through other doomed farm cities, eventually pouring into the Mississippi River. Iowa faces a potential $3 billion crop loss that could reverberate through an already bleak economy. According to CNN, FEMA estimates that 35,000 to 40,000 in several states have been displaced by the floods. About 25,000 of those are in Cedar Rapids.

Bob Brooks, who broadcast Iowa Hawkeyes football games for 55 years, appeared on the Kernels’ Friday pre-game show with John Rodgers. Now 81, Brooks has certainly seen it all in Cedar Rapids history, so his observations about the Flood of 2008 were particularly poignant. At one point, his face started to crack, and so did John’s.

(For what it’s worth, guys, I’ve done my fair share of mourning too.)

Click Here to listen to Friday’s webcast on MiLB.com.

A reminder to donate to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which is taking out loans to get by. If/when a Cedar Rapids-specific fund is set up, I’ll let you know.  John noted on the webcast that the Kernels raised $1,000 from fan donations during their Thursday night game, their first game since the flood.

This ‘N That

An article on today’s Provo Daily Herald web site reports that third-rounder Ryan Chaffee will be a little late reporting to Orem:

The Owlz will likely get a boost down the road with the addition of a few other arms. Third-round pick Ryan Chaffee is recovering from an injury, and could miss the first half of the season, but if the Owlz do get him, he could be worth planning your night at the ballpark around.

He broke his ankle in April, but when he returned, he pitched a shutout in the Florida Junior College tournament and fanned 18.

Sounds like he’ll be reporting to Orem right around the time I head for Tempe. Figures.

The Owlz open tonight against their rivals, the Ogden Raptors. Ogden expanded its park, Linquist Field, during the off-season. I’ll be in the Salt Lake area June 27-29 to shoot the Owlz games. The June 27 game is at Ogden. The Ogden fans are always a lot of fun, a real rowdy bunch.

A Kernels press release states that the City of Cedar Rapids has given them the green light to proceed with their eight-game homestand starting Thursday. It should be interesting to see what the turnout is like, and the emotional state of the crowd.

Cedar Rapids Gazette beat writer Jeff Johnson noted in his blog the video we shot Sunday with Quakes manager Ever Magallanes and Quakes players wishing well to Cedar Rapids. Click Here to watch the video. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.

I took a lap around the Angels fan sites this afternoon, and haven’t found one that even mentioned the disaster in Cedar Rapids much less encouraged people to donate to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund to help. Disappointing.

Based on the raw numbers, it appears that somewhere around 20% of the city’s population is homeless right now. That’s a staggering number, when you consider the population is about 125,000. One of every five residents cannot go home. Think about that in your home town.

Every once in a while, I’ll see some Kernels fan argue the team should seek an affiliation elsewhere because “the Angels don’t care about Cedar Rapids.” Well, this is an opportunity for Angels ownership and Angels fans to show that isn’t true.

If Arte Moreno would step up now and make a public announcement the Angels are starting a disaster relief fund, it would send a message to Cedar Rapids to have hope because help is coming.

Cedar Rapids Update

An update on Cedar Rapids …

FEMA is calling this the worst flood since Katrina. USA Today reports that 25,000 people in Cedar Rapids are homeless, and the damage may top $1 billion.

Police were allowing people to enter their neighborhoods briefly to recover necessities, but further tests showed the conditions were too toxic and dangerous so access was shut down.

The American Red Cross reports that
their disaster funds have been depleted. Please consider visiting the American Red Cross web site to donate.

Several members of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes who were at Cedar Rapids in 2007 or 2008 filmed a video to let the people of Cedar Rapids know they care.
Click Here to watch the video. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection are required.

The Quakes’ players, coaches, fans, and front office are mobilizing to do what they can to help Cedar Rapids. It’s still early to know just what we’ll do because other than the Red Cross there’s no place to send money right now. Hopefully we’ll have a game plan once C.R. has an official relief fund.

As for the Kernels, they were on the road when this happened. They should be arriving in C.R. right about now. It’s anyone’s guess where they’ll go. They have a three-day break due to the Midwest League All-Star Game. The manager Keith Johnson and hitting coach Damon Mashore were staying at the Best Western Cooper’s Mill hotel, but it’s out of commission indefinitely after the entire first floor was submerged for days. I don’t think anyone knows when they might play again.

Quad Cities, a former Angels affiliate (before Cedar Rapids), cancelled its Sunday game due to flooding. The Triple-A Iowa Cubs in Des Moines lost their ballpark, which was also submerged.

FInally … If any of Arte Moreno’s people are reading this, Arte needs to step up now and take the lead in encouraging Angels fans to help the people of Cedar Rapids. One way to do that would be to cut a $1 million check NOW to the Red Cross. Another way might be to set up a disaster relief matching fund — for every dollar donated by Angels fans, the Angels match it.

The Red Cross is out of money, and Cedar Rapids is farm community without the resources to raise a lot of dollars. So it’s time we give back to them for all they’ve done for Angels fandom the last sixteen years.

Kernels Update

Kernels beat writer Jeff Johnson of the Cedar Rapids Gazette has an informative article in today’s edition about how the flood is affecting the team and the front office operation. Click Here to read the article.

Critical points:

  • The stadium parking lot is being used to stage disaster response equipment.
  • Cooper’s Mill is described as “under water.” Manager Keith Johnson and hitting coach Damon Mashore were living there but their rooms were on the third floor, above the water line, so their belongings should be okay but they don’t know when they might be able to retrieve them.
  • The official visiting team hotel is now the Best Western Longbranch Hotel near the Cedar Rapids-Marion border.
  • It’s unknown if the next homestand starting Thursday will happen. “Access to Memorial Stadium will be difficult for fans on the east side of the river, although it should be possible to get there. The question is how many people will want to get there, considering the circumstances,” Jeff wrote.

Cedar Rapids Road Closures

The below map is posted on WMT 600 AM Radio. You’ll see Veterans Memorial Stadium labelled in the lower-left of the map.

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