October 2009

Coast to Coast: Home Plate

 

Now I officially live here.

My Florida license plate arrived Thursday.

Only here it’s not called a plate, it’s called a “tag.”

And, unlike California, you get only one.

The front can be whatever you want, just so long as it’s not another license plate, er, tag.

Anyway, I removed my old California plates and attached the Florida tag.

ATKSC stands for, “At Kennedy Space Center.” Everyone here knows what KSC is, but back in California they thought I was referring to fast-food chicken.

I kept the Anaheim Angels license plate frame. I don’t care what Arte Moreno says, the Angels are in Anaheim and that’s the way it’s going to remain on my car.

Most baseball fans here are transplants from New England. I encounter a lot of Yankees fans, Red Sox fans and Mets fans. I’ve yet to see another Angels cap or T-shirt.

When I moved here in June, I was out on the Jetty Park pier at Port Canaveral when someone wearing a Red Sox cap came up to me, pointed to the logo, and yelled, “This is the real deal, baby!” Then walked off.

I wonder where he’s sulking today.

Angels Before the Future

I’ve been shooting photos of the Angels minor leagues since 1998, when I volunteered to do photography for our California League affiliate, which at the time was the Lake Elsinore Storm.

Twelve seasons later, there’s quite a bit of history in the FutureAngels.com Photo Galleries. Once in a while, I’ll be processing new photos, or new reprint orders, and I’ll come across some memorable moments long forgotten.

I wanted to show you some photos that are my personal favorites of current Angels from their minor league days.


Scot Shields in the corn field at the Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville, Iowa, July 25, 1998. I’d driven out with Cedar Rapids reliever Jaymie Bane (the son of current Angels scouting director Eddie Bane) to shoot photos of him wearing his Kernels uniform. Scot and his mom Ida met us there. Both players posed in the corn field wearing Jaymie’s jersey.

 


John Lackey pitches for the Boise Hawks at Salem on August 20, 1999. This was a matchup of top pitching prospects. Jerome Williams was on the mound for Salem; he was the Giants’ first-round pick that year. Lackey was the Angels’ second-round pick.

 


Robb Quinlan with the Boise Hawks in the same Salem series. Robb played third base that year for the Hawks because he volunteered; manager Tom Kotchman asked if anyone had played third, and Robb said yes, although he really had little experience at the position. It got Robb in the lineup every day, and he led the Northwest League that year with 77 RBI in 73 games. He was named the NWL’s MVP.

 


Mike Napoli catching bullpen for the Butte Copper Kings in a road game at Ogden on August 8, 2000. Napoli appeared in only ten games for Butte that year and was pretty much considered a fringe prospect.

 


Ervin Santana pitches in the Angels’ fall instructional league on October 5, 2000. Back then, he was known as Johan and thought to be sixteen years old. A later investigation determined his true name was Ervin and he was eleven months older.

 


Jeff Mathis with the Provo Angels, July 30, 2001. Jeff was a first-round supplemental draft pick in June 2001. Even then I could see his remarkable athletic skills and natural leadership qualities. I remember thinking, “This kid will manage one day.” I still believe that.

 


Erick Aybar poses for a head shot in the dugout when Provo visited Ogden on June 20, 2002. Aybar was best buddies with Alberto Callaspo, and they generally moved up together in the system until Callaspo was traded to the Diamondbacks for Jason Bulger.

 


Speaking of Bulger … Jason pitching for the Lancaster Jethawks at Rancho Cucamonga, August 29, 2002. He was a Diamondbacks property at the time. Bulger was a first-round draft pick by Arizona in June 2001. The records show he made only two appearances for Lancaster in 2002 and both were starts, so he must have been the starting pitcher for the Jethawks in this game.

 

Coast to Coast: Stephen Strasburg’s Debut

One advantage of having the organization with the worst winning percentage in your backyard is you get to see top prospects, thanks to the team drafting first.

And so it was that Stephen Strasburg came to the Space Coast on Monday to make his professional pitching debut in the fall instructional league for the Nationals against the Tigers.

This was probably the most highly attended game in instructional league history. One paper guessed it was fifty patrons, but the truth is so many Nationals staff, media, fans, and rubber-neckers were about you really couldn’t tell who was a “fan” and who wasn’t. There was no admission fee, no tickets required, so anyone could walk in.

ESPN covered the event live, with a stationary camera high in the press box shooting through the net. Boring.

I was behind home plate with my camcorder, shooting through the net, for my other site SpaceCoastBaseball.com. Unlike ESPN or other media in attendance, I went down to the bullpen to film Strasburg’s warmup and got the only footage that showed you the batter’s perspective.

Click Here to watch the Strasburg video. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.

It’s amazing what one hot prospect can do for a web site’s hit count. The number of unique visitors increased ten-fold yesterday over the number of usual SpaceCoastBaseball.com visitors. The site is new, so not many people know about it, but events like this help spread the word.

There’s also a sense of deja vu covering the Nationals. It reminds me of what the Angels went through in the late 1990s, when Baseball America ranked us the worst organization in baseball. After the Gulf Coast League (Rookie-A) Nationals won the pennant on September 3, I told local staff that I knew what it felt like to have everyone treat you like you were inept. Better times are ahead, and the pennant is a sign of that. In fact, a big championship pennant now flies alongside Stadium Parkway outside the minor league complex office.

Strasburg’s debut was a lot of hype, of course, for a meaningless instructional league game. But it gave the Nats’ staff another little ray of hope for the future.

Coast to Coast: The FWBL Tryouts


“El Duque” Orlando Hernandez (center) watches the Florida Winter Baseball League tryouts Saturday at Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium in Sanford, Florida.

 

The Florida Winter Baseball League held its second of two tryouts on Saturday. The first was two weeks ago in Miami. Demand was so high, a second tryout was scheduled.

The FWBL is an attempt to create a viable professional winter league here in the United States so players won’t have to go to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico or Venezuela. The season begins October 30 and has a 60-game schedule.

League officials tell me they have verbal commitments from 13 of the 30 Major League Baseball organizations to provide players, mostly from the lower minor league levels. The league itself is independent of MLB, so right now it’s scouting and signing players from the independent leagues, or those who have been released.


Space Coast Surge general manager Sean Boudreaux (left) and Global Scouting Bureau president James Gamble evaluate players during Saturday’s workout.

 

Some players have been signed without a tryout, based on past performance or scouting reports. The FWBL has partnered with the Global Scouting Bureau, an independent outfit out of Louisiana, to find and sign players.

Although they’ve been reluctant to tell me who are the investors behind the league, some prominent baseball names have publicly associated themselves with the effort. Ken Griffey Sr. is the league commissioner, and it’s been made very clear to me he’s more than a figurehead. Former Cincinnati Reds slugger George Foster will manage the Lake County team. And former major league star pitcher “El Duque” Orlando Hernandez is apparently one of the investors.

Hernandez was quite actively involved in Saturday’s tryouts. He was all over the field injecting his opinion into how things should be run, offering advice to the tryout players, and acting as a mentor for the Latin players.

I haven’t seen any former Angels minor leaguers yet, although I was told two former players are possible signees.

As for the stadium used for the tryout, it sounded awfully familiar. A visit to the stadium’s web site reminded me that Sanford is the home town of popular former Angels infielder David Eckstein.

Saturday’s tryout was supposed to be limited to 100 players, but about another 20 walked up. They had to wait until everyone who pre-registered showed (or didn’t show), and then they were allowed to sign up. Some guys showed up by prior arrangement. A couple Latin players were referred by Hernandez.

Everyone was fed at lunch time with cheese pizza from a local pizzeria while the scouts made the first round of cuts. An afternoon game was played, nine innings, with 18 pitchers given one inning each. No one scored, as base runners weren’t allowed past third base, and the batting cage was kept in place so the scouts could stand behind it and watch. (The cage was a major buzz killer for photography …)

I’d guess that about a half-dozen players were offered contracts at day’s end. The scouts made it clear that others might be offered contracts later, or might be on a depth list if a player is needed later in the season. I saw a couple pitchers I thought had decent enough stuff, although few came close to, say, Tom Kotchman’s Rookie-A Orem Owlz talent.

If you’re thinking these guys sound like the bottom of the barrel … you’re right. But every once in a while, the independent leagues help to resurrect a player’s career. It’s more common for major league organizations to reach into the independent leagues to acquire players to fill out rosters, especially at the Double-A and Triple-A level, to surround top prospects with experienced players.

If nothing else, I would expect this league to help place some players with major league organizations for the next minor league spring training. After that, their talent will take them as far as it can.


Players stretch at the beginning of Saturday’s workout.

 

Click Here to watch an interview with Jake Leonhardt, an independent player who signed at Saturday’s workout. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection are required. A Houston native, Leonhardt formerly pitched in the Astros system and travelled here from Texas to qualify for the league.

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