June 2008

Flood Waters Begin to Recede in Cedar Rapids

The flood waters have begun to recede in downtown Cedar Rapids.

But the recovery will take years, if not decades.

I’ve been watching KCRG TV’s live video stream all evening and I’m horrified.

I wrote yesterday that this is Cedar Rapids’ “Katrina.” It’s not hyperbole.

The water downtown appears to have crested about 8 to 10 feet above street level. Video footage taken from motor boats shows block after block of downtown with the first story of buildings almost totally submerged.

On the southwest side of the Cedar River, block after block of homes are submerged to the rooftops.

For those of you who’ve stayed at the Best Western Cooper’s Mill, I still haven’t seen any direct video or photos of the hotel, but KCRG did show video tonight of the Blimpie and Dairy Queen around the corner at 1st Ave. SW and 2nd St. SW. Both businesses are completely under water to the rooftops. The water goes up to the bottom of the Blimpie and Dairy Queen signs. So I have to figure the first floor of Cooper’s Mill is submerged, and maybe part of the second floor.

In my last call, I issued a call to arms for the other affiliates. Fans in two of the towns have already responded. I won’t get into details because I don’t want to create any unwarranted expectations, but I’m so proud of the friends I’ve made through FutureAngels.com because they understand we’re all one big family, and right now the Cedar Rapids clan desperately needs our help.

Of course, the Kernels and the rest of the community are in no position to tell us how to respond. For now, send your donations to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. If and when I hear of any official plans from the Angels affiliates, or the Angels themselves, I’ll let you know.

As for the Kernels … I just don’t know how this season is going to proceed. The visiting team hotel is hosed for the foreseeable future. Based on what I’ve seen, there’s no way most of Cedar Rapids will be able to reach Veterans Memorial Stadium — and baseball will be the least of their worries.

I hate to think that the Kernels might become a nomadic team, playing all their games on the road, but that might be what happens in upcoming weeks. Earlier in the season, Quad Cities used the Vet and Clinton’s ballpark for a few games while their neighborhood flooded. But their flood was nothing like this apocalypse.

The Kernels are currently on the road in Kane County. After Sunday’s day game, they return by bus to Cedar Rapids and have three days off for the Midwest League All-Star Game. Assuming they can even get to Cedar Rapids, where do they go? Some host parents may have lost their homes, and some others live on the northeast side of the river which is currently cut off except by taking the I-380. The next home game is scheduled for Thursday June 19. No one can possibly know now if that game can be staged, and they may not know until that morning.

I’ll continue to keep you posted. Keep the people of Cedar Rapids in your thoughts and prayers, and donate to the Red Cross.

The “Katrina” of Cedar Rapids

Until this morning, the record crest for the Cedar River through Cedar Rapids was 20 feet.

They passed that record two days ago.

Experts predict the river will finally crest today at over 33 feet.

KCRG.com intermittently streams live their disaster news coverage. It breaks my heart to see places I’ve frequented so many times over the years when I visited Cedar Rapids. A reporter standing several blocks into downtown from the northern bank showed fish swimming up the street.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette has a huge photo on its home page of downtown under water. The photo boggles the mind.

Even worse, after the crest the water may not recede back into its banks until Tuesday or later. That means downtown will be soaked for days.

Many residential blocks are flooded too. KCRG showed video shot from a boat they piloted down 1st St. SW from the river towards the I-380. That’s the road I take from the Best Western Cooper’s Mill to the ballpark. Now the road and the neighborhood are under several feet of water.

The Best Western Cooper’s Mill is the visiting team hotel. Kernels players will stay there until they find host parents, and over the years some coaches have chosen to stay there rather than rent an apartment. Cooper’s Mill isn’t a state-of-the-art hotel, but it was a home on the road, and I swear the restaurant’s omelets alone were reason enough to get up in the morning.

If you watch the opening scenes of A Tale of Two Ballparks, a video documentary I made in 2003, the shots by the river were filmed outside Cooper’s Mill.

It’s all under water now.

I checked with the Kernels’ front office to find out if they could recommend a relief fund. For now, send donations to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund and the United Way of East Central Iowa.

I’ve contacted the Angels’ minor league affiliates and asked them to consider setting up relief funds for our Cedar Rapids friends.

For those of you who are players or players’ parents who came through Cedar Rapids, it’s time to step up and give back to the community that helped you along the way. You should call or e-mail your host parents to check on them.

This is the “Katrina” of Cedar Rapids. It will take years for them to recover. The community of Cedar Rapids has given so much over the years to help the future Angels in their quest for the big leagues. Now it’s time for us to help the community of Cedar Rapids.

News coverage:

KCRG TV — intermittent live video stream of their local news coverage.

WMT 600 AM Radio — streaming live audio almost non-stop.

Cedar Rapids Gazette — The local newspaper with disaster stories, photos, video clips, and comments posted by locals in the community.

Cedar Rapids Faces “Catastrophic” Flood

The Kernels are on the road, but our thoughts are with our friends in Cedar Rapids as they are about to experience a flood called “historic” and “catastrophic.”

The mandatory evacuation area has been expanded to match the city’s 500-year flood plan. Veterans Memorial Stadium is on a slight hill and just beyond the perimeter of the mandatory evacuation area, so it appears there’s no danger for now, but let’s not forget that some Kernels’ host parents and boosters may face evacuation.

To follow this story, we recommend the Cedar Rapids Gazette and KCRG TV web sites.

UPDATE 2:45 PM — KCRG is now streaming live video coverage. Go to www.kcrg.com and click on the link titled “Click Here to Watch the KCRG-TV9 News” in the red banner.

This ‘N That

Right about now, I’d intended to be on the road to Rancho Cucamonga to shoot photos and video at today’s Quakes game against Inland Empire.

But the fates have conspired against me.

The main culprit is the political project I’m mentioned in earlier posts. That’s eating up so much time that I don’t have spare time for much of anything else.

For example, it took me almost three months to complete processing the photos I shot last March at minor league spring training. They’re finally online now in the FutureAngels.com Digital Photo Gallery.

Of course, with gas now above $4/gallon and rising, it doesn’t take much to discourage long-distance driving.

The Quakes are home next Sunday, so I’ll try to make it out then. I want to see the newly arrived Hank Conger and Ryan Mount.

The Angels’ 2008 draft is over, and if you read posts on certain fan boards the front office staff should be fired because the Angels didn’t have a first-round draft pick. (Mind you, the pick was lost as compensation for signing Torii Hunter …)

The cluelessness of such rants aside, which round a player is selected in really doesn’t mean much any more.

Nick Adenhart was considered the top high school pitching prospect going into the 2004 draft, but blew out his elbow and underwent “Tommy John” surgery. The Angels took a chance on him in the 14th round, signed him for half of a first-round bonus, and at age 21 he made his major league debut this year.

Mark Trumbo had signed a letter of intent to go to USC, but the Angels selected him in the 18th round of the 2004 draft and paid him first-round bonus money to lure him away from SoCal. Having altered his hitting mechanics — a process duly noted in recent years by FutureAngels.com — Trumbo is now tearing up the California League. Today’s Inland Valley Daily Bulletin has a lengthy article on Mark. Trumbo’s current AVG/OBP/SLG are .308/.350/.583. He’s on a pace for over 30 homers.

Cedar Rapids pitcher Jordan Walden fell to the 12th round in the 2006 draft. His velocity dropped due to a groin injury, and there were signability issues. The Angels picked him anyway and waited while Jordan went to junior college. They signed him in May 2007 and now he’s on the fast track. In eleven starts (64.2 IP), Walden has a 2.78 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP, and a 53:19 SO:BB ratio.

Teammate and buddy Trevor Reckling was signed out of a tiny New Jersey prep school with a mediocre baseball program, but scout Greg Morhardt saw his potential and got the Angels to choose Trevor in the 8th round of the 2007 draft. “Reck” has now pitched 20 straight scoreless innings for the Kernels, dropping his ERA to 2.64 in 64.2 IP.

The Angels’ major league roster has plenty other guys who weren’t first-round picks. Mike Napoli’s name was called in the 17th round of the 2000 draft. Howie Kendrick was selected in the 10th round of the 2002 draft. Chone Figgins was a 4th round pick by the Colorado Rockies, acquired by the Angels in a minor league trade in 2002 for outfielder Kimera Bartee, and has become an elite leadoff hitter. Reggie Willits was a 7th round pick in 2003. Scot Shields was a 38th round pick in 1997.

And then there are players like Ervin Santana, Erick Aybar and Francisco Rodriguez, who are not subject to the draft and are therefore signed through good scouting.

I suspect the true motivation behind the mouths calling for Reagins et al to be fired are really just people looking for attention by posting stupid messages guaranteed to offend people. In any case, they’re not real Angels fans, just trolls.

By the way, the Angels are now tied with the Cubs for the best record in baseball.

Before I go, a recommendation to check out The Sporkball Journals, a new blog by BeesGal, a frequent supporter of FutureAngels.com and — as you may suspect — a Salt Lake Bees fan.

Back to politics …

Tom Kotchman Strikes Again

Day One of the 2008 amateur draft is over, and it’s no surprise to see Tom Kotchman’s imprint on one high-round pick.

Last year’s first-round choice was Jon Bachanov, selected out of Orlando’s University High School, who was scouted by Kotchman. Bachanov went down with an elbow injury and underwent “Tommy John” surgery last winter, but these days that’s no big deal. (Ask Nick Adenhart.) This time next year, Jon will be on the mound at extended spring training as he prepares to report to Kotch in Orem, or maybe he’ll go to Cedar Rapids.

The Angels had no first-round choice this year, losing their pick to the Twins in compensation for Torii Hunter, but the Angels’ successful “high-risk, high-reward” philosophy means they’ll just be a little smarter when their turn comes around.

Picking #74, the Angels chose Tyler Chatwood from Redlands’ East Valley High School. (Redlands is about 25 miles east of Rancho Cucamonga.) In the third round, they called the name of Ryan Chaffee, who pitched this year at Chipola Junior College.

If you know your Tom Kotchman 101, Chipola JC is the community college almost in his backyard. Christal Kotchman, his daughter and Casey’s sister, played softball at Chipola.

As soon as I saw Chaffee listed, I checked Baseball America and found this entry:

Florida always has one of the deepest pools of junior-college talent, and this year is no different. Ryan Chaffee is the best of the bunch. The winning pitcher for Chipola in the Junior College World Series championship game last season, he broke his ankle in April and had surgery to repair it. Chaffee returned late in the season and pitched a shutout in the Florida junior college tournament, striking out 18 and sending Chipola back to the Junior College World Series. Committed to Louisiana State, Chaffee attacks hitters from multiple arm slots, creating three different breaking balls. He pitches in the low 90s and throws a plus changeup. When healthy and commanding all his pitches, Chaffee is dominant.

A Chipola press release says Chaffee suffered a broken bone in his foot, not an ankle, but whatever …

Here’s Chaffee’s page on the Chipola web site.

I’ll be with Orem for their June 27-30 games. Hopefully I’ll see Chaffee pitch for Kotch … and if Ryan is reading this, I promise to do photos and video if you’re there.

The PCL’s a Hit

I’ve written many times about how Salt Lake Bees stats have to be viewed in context because five PCL parks — Salt Lake, Colorado Springs, Las Vegas, Tucson and Albuquerque — distort offensive numbers.

The annual FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects reports in recent years have split Salt Lake numbers not using home vs. road but those five parks versus “normal” parks. Of all the prospects reports I’ve read, written by professionals or amateurs, mine is the only one that drills down to get a more accurate representation of Salt Lake statistics.

A new article on Baseball America proves what I’ve been saying all along. (The article requires a BA subscription to read.)

Entitled “Examining PCL Production: Perceptions of League Skewed by High Offense West,” author Matt Eddy calculates a statistic called Park Factor (PF) based on the league’s 2005-2007 seasons. To quote Eddy:

Using home/road data from the years 2005 to 2007, we arrive at the basic runs per game park factors (PF) for the 16 teams, with 100 being average. So, for example, Albuquerque’s 140 park factor indicates that for the three seasons inclusive, the Isotopes scored and allowed 40 percent more runs in home games than road games.

The PFs for the five parks I’ve pulled out in my analyses are:

Albuquerque 140
Colorado Springs 125
Las Vegas 124
Salt Lake 120
Tucson 111

No other PCL park is over 100.

In addition to their 70 home games in Salt Lake, this year the Bees will play a total of 24 road games in hitter-friendly parks. That’s 94 games that will distort numbers.

Anyway, it was nice to see validation of my methodology from a credible source.