August 2009

A Giant Leap for the Tempe Angels


Jon Bachanov allowed one hit in 2 2/3 relief innings to earn the win as the Tempe Angels won 3-1 over the Scottsdale Giants in 12 innings.

 

It was pretty much do or die last night for the Tempe Angels, and they came through with a 3-1 12-inning win over the Scottsdale Giants. The win leaves the Angels one game behind Scottsdale in their division with four games to go. The season finale is at home against the Giants.

Tempe needs to at least tie Scottsdale to qualify for the playoffs, which would be a one-game contest against the Giants, who won the first half. That winner goes on to play the other division’s winner in a one-game title contest.

Click Here to read Rodney Johnson’s article on last night’s game. Rodney is an official scorer for the Arizona League but had the night off so he went over to Scottsdale to cover the game.

Coast to Coast: Rain Check


Lightning storms around the launch pad kept STS-128 from launching during the night.

 

Click Here to watch the video of the lightning storms around the launch pad. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.

STS-128 was supposed to launch at 1:36 AM EDT last night, a rare opportunity to see a spectactular night launch. My wife and I headed out to Titusville to watch from Kennedy Point Park, on the Indian River across from Kennedy Space Center. The launch pad is roughly ten miles to the east.

Florida weather being what it is, no launch is guaranteed, and lightning storms forced a postponement until tomorrow night at 1:10 AM EDT. Click Here to read NASA’s weather criteria that restrict launch conditions.

The video at the above link shows you the view from the park across the river. You’ll see various lightning strikes in the vicinity. Enormous floodlights illuminate the pad at night. A deluge over the pad diffused the light to create an amazing halo effect around the Shuttle. At the end of the clip, you’ll hear the chatter on NASA’s weather circuit from a plane circling above, monitored by someone with a portable scanner.

The Playoff Picture (August 24)

I wrote on August 18 a review of where each Angels minor league affiliate stands in the pursuit of the post-season. I’ll update this each week until the regular season ends.

Salt Lake — The Pacific Coast League is a full-season league, no split-season schedule, so the Bees must win their division outright to qualify for the playoffs. The Bees are currently 62-66 and trail Colorado Springs by six games with 15 games left, including five at Colorado Springs August 26-30. Tacoma is now a half-game ahead of the Bees; Salt Lake is at Tacoma August 31-September 3.

Arkansas — The Travelers finished 28-42 in the first half, ten games behind Springfield in the Texas League North Division. They’re currently 24-30 in the second half, 5½ games behind Tulsa. Northwest Arkansas trails Tulsa by a game. They have 16 games left on the schedule, including four August 25-28 at Tulsa and four at home September 1-4 against Northwest Arkansas. While it’s not impossible for the Travs to win the division, it’s rather unlikely unless they go off on a really hot winning streak, and they did shave two games off their deficit this last week.

Rancho Cucamonga — The Quakes finished 30-40 in the first half, 13 games behind High Desert in the South Division, which won the first half. The California League has rather unusual post-season eligibility rules. The first-half winner in each division get a bye, while the second-half winner faces the team with the next best overall record in a best-of-three series. If High Desert wins both halves, then the teams with the second and third best records will face each other. In the second half, the Quakes are 26-30, five games behind the Mavericks. They had a poor week, going 1-5 to fall behind Lancaster (27-29) and tie with Lake Elsinore (26-30). In the overall standings, after the Mavs it’s Lake Elsinore (65-61) with a nine-game lead over the Quakes (56-70), and then Inland Empire (53-73) and Lancaster (53-73) three games behind the Quakes. At this point, with fourteen games left, it looks like Rancho’s best bet is to finish third in the overall standings and make the playoffs as a wild card. One oddity in their schedule is that they end the regular season on the road in the North Division for seven games, so their ability to knock off rivals down the stretch will be limited. Clear as mud?

Cedar Rapids — The Kernels finished 40-30 in the first half, good enough for second place one game behind Kane County, so under Midwest League rules they’re in. It’s way too early to say who’ll they’ll face in the first round of the West Division playoffs. In the second half, the Kernels are 30-26 with an overall record of 70-56, second-best in the division behind 72-52 Peoria.


UPDATE August 25, 2009 — According to Jeff Johnson at the Cedar Rapids Gazette, the Kernels will probably face Peoria in the first round of the Midwest League playoffs.


Orem — Tom Kotchman does it again. The Owlz’ 20-18 first half record in the Pioneer League’s South Division was only good enough for third place, so they need to win the division outright in the second half. They ran off a fifteen-game winning streak and now have an 18-2 record with a six-game lead over Idaho Falls. Rival Ogden won the first half. The Owlz have 18 games left in the second half, so short of a total collapse they’re going to the post-season. One big factor is that Kotch’s top starting pitcher prospects are stretching out their innings, with Garrett Richards perhaps emerging as the staff ace.

Tempe — The Tempe Angels have been great, but the Scottsdale Giants have been greater. Scottsdale won the Arizona League’s East Division in the first half by one game over Tempe, which finished 18-10. In the second half, Tempe is 16-7 but trails Scottsdale (18-5) by two games with five games left. If Scottsdale wins both halves, they get a bye and the Angels are out. Tempe can help themselves by beating the Giants in the two games they have against each other, starting tonight at Scottsdale. If the Angels don’t win tonight, it’s pretty much over. If they end up tied in the second half, then to go to the playoffs the Angels would need to have won the head-to-head series this season against the Giants. The Angels lead that series 4-3, so if they can knock off the Giants in both games then they’ve looking pretty good. But they really need to win tonight.

No Hits? No Problem!


Tempe Angels manager Ty Boykin gathers his players on the field after they were no-hit Saturday by the Phoenix A’s. Photo courtesy Rodney Johnson.

 

Eight days before, the Tempe Angels and Phoenix A’s played at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Three Angels pitchers combined to no-hit the A’s, winning 12-0.

On the same field, with the same teams playing, the A’s no-hit the Angels last night.

But the Angels won anyway, 2-1.

Here’s the recap of the game, as reported by official scorer Rodney Johnson. The game was tied 1-1 going into the bottom of the 9th. Fielding errors and walks forced in the winning run.

Another triumph for Moneyball. (That was sarcasm.)

Rodney was the official scorer for this game too. Click Here to read Rodney’s report on the game. Below is a photo Rodney took of the scoreboard.

 

I asked Rodney, what’s the record for most no-hitters scored by one official scorer in a season? I’m sure plenty over the years have scored two, but has anyone done more than two in a season? That would be a good trivia question.

End of the Line for Cyberbullies?

CNN.com reports the New York Supreme Court ruled that a blogging service must reveal the I.P. address and e-mail address of an individual who routinely harassed and attacked a person online.

The judge cited a similar ruling in Virginia. From the CNN article:

“The protection of the right to communicate anonymously must be balanced against the need to assure that those persons who choose to abuse the opportunities presented by this medium can be made to answer for such transgressions,” the judge said, quoting the Virginia decision.

The ruling applies only in New York state, but hopefully we’re one step closer to a similar federal law.

Cowards have flocked to the Internet, where they can live out their fantasies attacking people more successful than them. I’m a firm believer that individuals must be responsible for the words they speak, literally or virtually. This doesn’t abridge freedom of speech, because you still have the right to say what’s on your mind. The difference is you’re now responsible for what you say, if you abuse your right.

In New York. And Virginia. Hopefully, it will soon be nationwide.

The Playoff Picture

With about three weeks left to go in the minor league seasons, here’s the playoff picture for each of the Angels affiliates.

Salt Lake — The Pacific Coast League is a full-season league, no split-season schedule, so the Bees must win their division outright to qualify for the playoffs. The Bees are currently 59-64 and trail Colorado Springs by 5½ games with 21 games left, including five at Colorado Springs August 26-30.

Arkansas — The Travelers finished 28-42 in the first half, ten games behind Springfield in the Texas League North Division. They’re currently 21-28 in the second half, 7½ games behind Northwest Arkansas. They have 21 games left on the schedule, including four at home against Northwest Arkansas. They’d also have to leapfrog Tulsa, which is two games out of first; they have four games next week at Tulsa. While it’s not impossible for the Travs to win the division, it’s rather unlikely unless they go off on a really hot winning streak.

Rancho Cucamonga — The Quakes finished 30-40 in the first half, 13 games behind High Desert in the South Division. In the second half, the Quakes are 25-25 and only one game behind the Mavericks. The California League has rather unusual post-season eligibility rules. The first-half winner in each division get a bye, while the second-half winner faces the team with the next best overall record in a best-of-three series. If High Desert wins both halves, then the teams with the second and third best records will face each other. If the Quakes win the South Division in the second half, they would face the team with the next best overall record, which would currently be Lake Elsinore at 61-59 (followed by the Quakes at 55-65). If High Desert wins the second half, again the I-15 rivals would face each other. Rancho has 20 games left, and three other teams are within four games of them in the second-half standings, so for now it’s anybody’s race.

Cedar Rapids — The Kernels finished 40-30 in the first half, good enough for second place one game behind Kane County, so under Midwest League rules they’re in. It’s way too early to say who’ll they’ll face in the first round of the West Division playoffs. In the second half, the Kernels are 27-24 with an overall record of 67-54, second-best in the division behind 68-51 Peoria.

Orem — What would the post-season be without Tom Kotchman? The Owlz’ 20-18 first half record in the Pioneer League’s South Division was only good enough for third place, so they need to win the division outright in the second half. That’s what they’re doing, as they’ve won eleven straight to post a 12-1 record and a 4½ game lead over Idaho Falls. Rival Ogden won the first half. The Owlz have 25 games left in the second half, with three at Idaho Falls on August 28-30, so it’s a bit early to declare them the second-half winner. But given Kotch’s track record, I wouldn’t bet against him.

Tempe — The Tempe Angels have been great, but the Scottsdale Giants have been greater. Scottsdale won the Arizona League’s East Division in the first half by one game over Tempe, which finished 18-10. In the second half, Tempe is 13-6 but trails Scottsdale by 2½ games. With two teams added to the AZL this year, divisional playoffs are new so it’s unclear to me what happens if the same team wins both halves. Let’s assume the team with the next best record goes to the first-round playoff for the division title. In that scenario, the Giants at 34-12 are 3½ games ahead of the 31-16 Angels, and the 27-20 Mesa Cubs trail the Angels by four games. Tempe has nine games left in the regular season, so their post-season chances look pretty good. They have two games left with the Giants, at Scottsdale on August 24 and at Tempe to close the season on August 29.


UPDATE August 19, 2009 1:00 PM PDT — Per the Angels staff in Tempe, if Scottsdale wins both halves of the AZL East Division then they get a bye in the first round, so Tempe has to win the second half to go to the post-season. Tempe is currently three games behind Scottsdale with nine games to go, including two with the Giants.

Tempe Angels No-Hit the Phoenix A’s


Left to right: Ricky Alvarez, C.J. Bressoud, pitching coach Trevor Wilson, Josh Blanco and Jeremy Gillan. Photo courtesy Tempe Diablo Stadium employee Tom DeCenso.

 


UPDATE August 18, 2009 11:30 AM PDT — Rodney Johnson, the official scorer for the no-hitter, e-mailed to give me the link to his article about the game. Click Here to read Rodney’s article. He notes that former Angels minor leaguer Jason Stockstill pitched a no-hitter for Mesa in 1995.


UPDATE August 19, 2009 4:30 AM PDT — Better late than never, MiLB.com acknowledges that the no-hitter happened. And with quite a nice photo. Click Here to read the article.


Did that really happen?

Three Tempe Angels pitchers combined to no-hit the Phoenix A’s Friday night, but according to Minor League Baseball’s official web site no one knows about it.

Four Daytona Cubs pitchers combined Saturday night to throw a seven-inning no-hitter in the first game of a doubleheader against Dunedin. That got MiLB’s attention. But the Tempe no-no didn’t. According to MiLB.com:

[Cubs reliever David] Cales, who wasn’t aware of what he’d done until he reached the dugout, took great pride in finishing off the Minors’ second no-hitter in as many days and third this week.

“After the game, they came up and said you threw a no-hitter together,” Cales revealed. “I said, ‘Oh, really? That’s awesome.’

“So much goes through your mind when you get put in line with those great names, like Kerry Wood,” he added. “These are only once-in-a-lifetime chances. I can’t put into words how good this feels.”

Oklahoma City’s Luis Mendoza fired a nine-inning no-hitter against on Friday night in the Pacific Coast League and Cory Rasmus tossed a seven-inning gem for Danville of the Appalachian League on Tuesday.

No mention of Friday night’s Tempe no-hitter.

But it did happen, as reported on MiLB’s Scoreboard page. Click Here to see the box score.

Starter Jose Perez, on rehab assignment from the Kernels, struck out nine in the first five innings. Josh Blanco pitched three no-hit innings, and then converted catcher C.J. Bressoud retired the A’s 1-2-3- in the 9th to complete the no-no. Jeremy Gillan caught the game.

The above photo was sent to me by Tempe Diablo employee Tom DeCenso. He got together several of the players from the game, along with pitching coach Trevor Wilson. Tom got the scoreboard in the background with the no-hit line on it, but unfortunately the stadium lighting wasn’t good enough for his camera to get decent resolution.

I’ve always said summer rookie ball in the minor league camps is a wonderful little secret most people don’t know about. But not reporting Tempe’s no-hitter takes that a bit too far.


UPDATE August 17, 2009 3:00 AM PDT — Pilljoon Jang made his own run at a no-hitter last night, pitching four perfect innings against the Peoria Mariners. But with one out in the top of the 5th, Jang gave up a solo homer.

There He Goes Again


Manager Tom Kotchman’s Orem Owlz won their ninth straight game last night,
6-2 at Helena.

 

It’s as inevitable as the sun rising in the east, taxes due on April 15 and the Yankees collecting future Hall of Famers.

Tom Kotchman’s Orem Owlz once again have injected themselves into the Pioneer League post-season hunt, having won nine straight to take a commanding lead in the South Division second half race.

Hand him lemons, and he’ll make lemonade. Talent-laden rosters or marginal prospects, every year he has his team molded into an unstoppable force as they approach the finish line.

Some years, it takes longer than others. This year’s Owlz were a bit of a disappointment in the first half, finishing 20-18, four games behind the rival Ogden Raptors (Dodgers affiliate). The first half winner is automatically seeded into the first round of the playoffs, facing either the second half division winner, or if Ogden wins again then they face the team with the second best overall record.

Having played eleven games so far in the second half, the Owlz are 11-1 with a four-game lead over Idaho Falls (Royals affiliate) and five over Ogden. In the overall season standings, Orem is 30-19 (.612) with a one-game lead over Ogden at 29-20 (.592). Orem and Ogden have the best overall records in the league.

With 26 games to go, obviously Orem could blow it, but Tom Kotchman history suggests that’s unlikely.

There’s also the possibility that the Owlz will receive reinforcements from the talent-laden Tempe Angels squad. Tempe finished one game behind the Scottsdale Giants in the first half, and currently trails Scottsdale by two games in the second half. In the overall records, the Giants are 32-12 (.727) and the Angels are 29-15 (.659). The Arizona League playoffs end August 31, while Orem’s regular season ends September 11, so it’s quite possible that top prospects like Randal Grichuk, Mike Trout, Fabio Martinez-Mesa and Jon Bachanov could be wearing Owlz uniforms in September.

Let’s also acknowledge the combined no-hitter three Tempe pitchers threw last night against the Phoenix A’s. Jose Perez struck out nine and walked one in the first five innings to get the win. Josh Blanco continued the no-no for three innings, and then former catcher C.J. Bressoud pitched a 1-2-3 9th to give the Arizona League team their first no-hitter … well, in my memory, and mine goes back eleven years.

Locker Room

Greg Porter (left) and Quan Cosby were amateur football players the Angels
tried to convert into professional baseball players.

 

A recent article on the Orange County Register web site reported that Angels scouting director Eddie Bane is still in pursuit of University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker. According to the report, the Angels would let Locker play college football for one more year before he’d have to give up the pigskin for the horsehide (taking on the risk that Locker doesn’t get turned into a pretzel by some overly zealous linebacker).

The Seattle Times followed up by calling Locker’s father, who said there’s nothing new to report.

The Angels this decade have had a penchant for chasing amateur football players in the hope of converting them into professional baseball players. The results have yet to produce a Bo Jackson.

The most prominent example is Greg Porter, selected by the Angels in the 45th round of the June 2001 draft. Porter played at Texas A&M and in his first two Angels minor league seasons left his team early to report for football camp. The NFL’s Houston Texans signed Porter after he graduated, but he never made the team so his football career never materialized. Forced into a full-time pursuit of baseball, Greg took his six-year minor league free agency after 2007. He signed with the Yankees, was shipped to the Nationals, and then released at the end of 2008.

The Wichita Eagle published on July 17 a profile of Porter, who is now with the independent Wichita Wingnuts. The article quotes Greg as saying he might give football another try this winter.

Click Here to listen to a May 2002 interview I recorded with Greg in Cedar Rapids. You need Windows Media Player to listen.

Click Here to watch Greg hit a walkoff homer for Arkansas in June 2007. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.

Quan Cosby was drafted by the Angels in the sixth round of the June 2001 draft, and gave pro ball a try for four years before leaving baseball to play college football at the University of Texas. In his senior year with the Longhorns, Quan became one of the more prominent wide receivers in the nation. He’s currently with the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals who signed him as an undrafted free agent.

Click Here to watch Quan single for Cedar Rapids in August 2003.

The Angels selected D.T. McDowell in the 20th round of the June 2004 draft. He played 21 games for Rookie-A Mesa before he left to play quarterback as a freshman for Troy University. Apparently he couldn’t keep his grades up, and later signed with the National Indoor Football League in 2006. D.T. showed up again on the Angels’ Tempe rookie league roster a couple years back but never played and disappeared off the radar again. I’ve no idea where he is now.

And then there are the guys the Angels drafted but couldn’t sign.

The big name is Pat White, drafted by the NFL’s Miami Dolphins in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft as a quarterback out of West Virginia. The Angels drafted him out of high school with their fourth round pick in June 2004 but he went on to college. They selected him again with their 27th round pick in June 2007. The Reds selected him in 2008, and the Yankees in 2009, but they had no more luck than the Angels.

The Angels selected Khiry Cooper in the fifth round of the June 2008 draft, but he chose to go to the University of Nebraska where he plays football and he plays baseball.

And if you dig far enough back in Angels draft history, you’ll find they called the name of an outfielder by the name of Bo Jackson with their 20th round pick in June 1985. Bo turned them down and went on to win the Heisman Trophy with Auburn.

One they should be glad got away was bad-boy NFL quarterback Todd Marinovich, selected out of high school with their 43rd round pick in June 1988.

Let’s close by noting the success they had with a University of Nebraska punter named Darin Erstad they selected with the #1 pick overall in the June 1995 draft. He turned out okay.

Coast to Coast: Back on Base


Manager Bob Henley and Coach Cesar Cedeno lead the Viera Nationals through a series of baserunning drills.

 

I spent yesterday at the Washington Nationals’ minor league training complex in Viera. It’s very similar to the Angels’ Tempe Diablo complex, where the minor league facility is across the parking lot from their spring training ballpark.

It very much had an “alternate universe” feeling to it, as I’m so used to being with the Tempe Angels. It’s Tempe with an ocean breeze — which, this time of year when it’s 110 degrees in Phoenix, is a good thing.

The Nationals are referred to as the “Nats,” not to be confused with “gnats” which seem to be everywhere as much of Viera was once swamp land. The Brevard County Manatees, who play in Space Coast Stadium at the southern end of the complex, are a Brewers affiliate in the Florida State League, an Advanced-A league which is the same level as the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. The Viera Nationals are in the Rookie-A Gulf Coast League, which is the same as our Rookie-A Tempe Angels.

Like I said, it’s an alternate universe.

The Manatees get a little coverage in the local paper Florida Today, but no one pays attention to the GCL Nats. That probably explains why they were so welcoming, because this is where major league careers begin and no one knows all the hard work and effort that go into making that happen.

The Nationals haven’t had a lot of positive publicity in recent years, as the transplanted Montreal Expos are the worst team in baseball and their front office has been in turmoil all year. General Manager Jim Bowden resigned in March in the wake of a Dominican signing bonus skimming scandal, and Manager Manny Acta was fired last month. But the Nationals have won eight in a row under new manager Jim Riggleman and interim GM Mike Rizzo, who began his professional career decades ago under legendary Angels minor league manager Tom Kotchman.

There are other Angels-Nationals crossovers. Former catcher Bob Boone is in the front office as an assistant general manager and vice-president of player development. Long-time Angels minor league manager and scout Moose Stubing is a special assistant to the general manager. Former outfielder Devon White is a minor league outfielder instructor.

Jose Cardenal, an Angels outfielder in the 1960s, is another special advisor and was here yesterday observing the game. Cardenal was acquired by the Angels from the Giants on November 21, 1964 for catcher Jack Hiatt. Jack has been a good friend to FutureAngels.com. An original “future Angel” who played on the 1961 Statesville Owls, Jack recently retired as the Giants’ farm director and still travels for them on special assignments.

I shot photos and flimed video during yesterday’s game, which was fraught with errors both physical and mental. The Nats won 6-4, but manager Bob Henley kept them late working on baserunning drills with coach Cesar Cedeno. You may remember Cesar as a star outfielder with the Houston Astros in the 1970s.

I filmed Bob and Cesar working the players through the drills. Click Here to watch the baserunning drill video. The clip runs about 16 minutes.

If and when he signs, first-round draft pick and super-prospect Stephen Strasburg should report here to Viera to begin his professional career, so I should be here to cover that.

In the meantime, there’s still this eerie sensation that I’ve stepped into a Twilight Zone episode.

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