Author Archive

The Final Frontier


The Vehicle Assembly Building was used to stack the Saturn V moon rockets and the Space Shuttle.

Every baseball career comes to an end.

Most players, coaches, and other personnel leave involuntarily. They’re fired, released, traded or simply shown the door.

A few have the privilege of choosing the time and place where they depart from the game.

After thirteen seasons of Angels minor league baseball, I’m going to exercise that privilege.

When I moved to Florida in June 2009 from Orange County, I knew it would be hard to continue covering the Angels’ minor leagues. But I tried.

In recent months, it’s become clear that my Angels life is behind me and a new adventure is about to begin.

In April, I was hired as a “communicator” at the Kennedy Space Center. I lead tours, but also lecture to the public about the NASA space program. My job, essentially, is to tell the world about the next chapter of human history.

That’s a great and humbling responsibility, one I sought when I moved here.

We’ve been training to soon take the public into the historic Vehicle Assembly Building, where the Apollo moon rockets and Space Shuttles were stacked for launch. It’s the first time since 1976 that public tours will be allowed inside the VAB.

Tours may soon go to other famous and historic locations long off-limits to the public.

The Space Shuttle program has ended, but several new human space flight programs are in the pipeline. NASA will operate the International Space Station with its partners through at least 2020, probably through 2028. New commercial cargo delivery flights to the ISS begin next year, and commercial crew flights in 2015. NASA announced on September 14 its design for the new Space Launch System that will take astronauts out into the solar system, possibly as soon as 2016. And the space center itself is about to begin a $300 million renovation to prepare for 21st Century demands.

It’s my job to tell the world about all this.

So it’s time to put baseball on the shelf, at least for now.

When FutureAngels.com began in 1998, the Internet as we know it today was only in its infancy. I began the web site to support the Angels’ minor league affiliates. Most of them didn’t even have web sites. In the early days, I posted their schedules, rosters, press releases.

I travelled to the affiliates, shot photos, recorded interviews, and as broadband became more common started to videotape player highlights.

All of that was unprecedented, not only within Angels fandom but probably minor league baseball.

It was copied, it was imitated, and a few times it was even ripped off. But it was, and always will be, the first.

But it’s no longer unique, at least in fulfilling its original purpose. Major League Baseball Advanced Media manages web sites and statistics for all minor league teams. You can find videos on YouTube of minor leaguers. Fan sites score interviews. The players themselves have Twitter and Facebook accounts. So the original need no longer exists.

FutureAngels.com will continue to operate as an historical archive. That was always an original intent — to preserve Angels’ minor league history — and that is still a unique service.

You may be aware of my ongoing project with the surviving members of the 1961 Statesville Owls, a Class D team in the now-defunct Western Carolina League, one of two Angels affiliates in that inaugural season.

Fifty years later, the 1961 Owls reunited in Statesville, at the site of their ballpark. It was the culmination of four years’ work tracking them down, conducting interviews, doing research, and finally staging a reunion at the Angels’ Tempe Diablo minor league complex in October 2009.

After watching those players throw out the ceremonial first pitch at their old ballpark, I realized I could never top that and it was time to move on.

I may write here on the blog from time to time. If and when I publish an article, I’ll send out a message on my Twitter account. Click here to sign up for my “tweets” if you want to be notified of a new article.

I also want to complete the FutureAngels.com Database, which would be a searchable database of Angels’ minor league statistics. It’s always been a low priority, but it’s one I want to finish.

All that’s really changing is that I will no longer pay attention to Angels’ baseball on a daily basis. FutureAngels.com will no longer have daily updates, nor will it have links to stories from around baseball. The archives will remain — photos, audio, video — and you can still order reprints of the photos.

One continuing feature will be the popular “game of the week” audio archives. I’ve archived Angels minor league webcasts since 2003. I’ll post a new one every week during the off-season, and certain historic games will be permanently available in the Audio Gallery. Sign up for the Twitter account and you’ll be notified when a new game is online.

FutureAngels.com will also continue to be the “unofficial” web site for the Tempe Diablo minor league complex. I will continue to post schedules and rosters for minor league and extended spring training, the summer league, and fall instructional league. That doesn’t require “daily” attention, and I know it’s still the only place on the Internet where you can find that information.

So many people and so many memories from the last thirteen years will be a part of me for the rest of my life. I am indebted to the Angels for the special privilege and trust they gave me over the years, allowing me to go places where no outsider is permitted.

Many places exist on the Internet to find the coverage that was once unique to FutureAngels.com, including the web sites of the minor league affiliates. In particular, I recommend the Orange County Register Angels Blog. The sportswriters have embraced covering the “future Angels,” Sam Miller in particular.

On October 1, I’ll make a permanent change to the FutureAngels.com home page to reflect the new format.

If you find yourself out Florida way and want to visit the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, please send me an e-mail at home@futureangels.com. I’ll let you know when I’m working and how to get on one of my tours.

The future is about to begin. And I want to show it to you.

Follow Stephen’s writings about space exploration at SpaceKSC.com.

The First Angels’ No-Hitter


A photo of Alan Flitcraft in the August 28, 1961 Statesville Record & Landmark.

The first no-hitter in the history of the Angels organization was thrown fifty years ago today, August 26, 2011.

Angels fans have been raised to believe that Bo Belinsky threw the first Angels’ no-hitter.  That was on May 5, 1962, for the Angels against Baltimore at Chavez Ravine (AKA Dodger Stadium).

But Alan Flitcraft beat him by 252 days.

Flitcraft pitched the no-hitter for the Statesville Owls, a team in the Class D Western Carolina League.  Statesville was one of two affiliates the Angels had in their inaugural season, the other being the Triple-A Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers.

It was the final day of the 1961 regular season, and Statesville was playing a makeup doubleheader at home against Newton-Conover.

Flitcraft joined the Owls in June that year after completing his college season at Manatee Junior College in Bradenton, Florida.  He was 19 when he arrived in Stateville.  Alan would appear in 11 games for the Owls, finishing with a 5-1 record and a 2.55 ERA in 60 innings.

As it is today, back in 1961 minor-league doubleheader games were seven innings each, so Flitcraft’s gem was not a “full-length” nine-inning no-hitter.  But it went in the record games as a complete game and a no-hitter.

Here’s the box score:

The last Angels’ no-hitter was thrown on July 27, 2011 by Ervin Santana. You might think there’s no possible connection between Flitcraft and Santana, but there is.

Flitcraft went on to become the baseball coach at Northern Arizona University from 1966 to 1981. One of his players in 1980-1981 was Kernan Ronan, who went on to a five-year professional career in the San Francisco Giants minor league system. Ronan was hired by the Angels in 1989 as the pitching coach for Palm Springs in the California League. In 2004, he was Santana’s pitching coach at Double-A Arkansas.


Angels’ minor league pitching coordinator Kernan Ronan reunites with his college coach Alan Flitcraft at Tempe Diablo Stadium in October 2009.

Might there have been some wisdom from Alan Flitcraft passed along to Ervin Santana through Kernan Ronan? Who knows, but at least indirectly the man who threw the first Angels’ no-hitter had a tangential influence on the man who threw the last one.

Alan and Kernan reunited at the Angels’ minor league complex in Tempe, Arizona in October 2009 during a reunion of the 1961 Owls. They decided that they would like to reunite again, in 2011 at Statesville for their 50th anniversary.

That pledge was honored on June 18, when eight surviving members of the 1961 Owls gathered on the Statesville Stadium field to be honored by throwing out the first pitch.


Alan Flitcraft warms up at Statesville Stadium on June 18, 2011 — the same field where he threw a no-hitter fifty years ago.

Alan was wise enough to warm up in the bullpen before the first pitch ceremony. His toss was straight and true for a strike.

With him were five teammates who were in the lineup on August 26, 1961. Those present were:

1. Dave Best 2B
3. Jerry Fox LF
4. Dick Simpson CF
5. Vito Porta 3B
8. George Bryson SS
9. Alan Flitcraft P

Ed Thomas and Bob Lucas also attended the reunion but were not in the lineup for the no-hitter. Jack Hiatt played right field that day, but was unable to attend as he was representing the Giants at an event in Spokane, Washington.

The 1961 doubleheader was played on a Saturday night. The Statesville Record & Landmark did not publish on Sunday, so the story about the no-hitter didn’t appear in the paper until Monday, August 28.

Click here to read the newspaper report. (Adobe Acrobat Reader required.)

According to sports editor Jerry Josey:

Only three balls were hit to the outfield as Flitcraft hung his gem on Newton-Conover in the opener. The righthander from Bradenton, Fla., received 10-hit backing and errorless support afield from the Owls, with a doubleplay erasing one of the four runners he walked. Flitcraft issued a pair of walks to open the fourth and didn’t allow a runner past second. One walk in the second was eliminated by a George Bryson-Bob Johnson doubleplay and he walked another in the fifth.

“Errorless support afield” was rare in those days, as the Statesville infield was all dirt and strewn with rocks.

Outside of Alan and his teammates, only those of us who research the obscure history of minor league baseball will note the passing of this date. But I suspect that somewhere within Alan Flitcraft still dwells that 19-year old who can forever claim to have thrown the first Angels’ no-hitter.

2001: A Draft Odyssey

Casey and Tom KotchmanCasey Kotchman played for his father Tom with the Provo Angels for about a week before spraining his wrist and missing the rest of the 2001 season.

Baseball analysts recall the 2001 amateur draft as one of the deepest talent pools in recent history. The first two players chosen were Joe Mauer (Twins) and Mark Prior (Cubs). Mark Teixeira (Rangers) went #5 overall.

Drafts are more art than science — remember Colt Griffin? The Royals chose him at #9. All velocity and no control, he played five minor league seasons, never higher than Double-A. In 373 2/3 innings, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 271:278. That’s not a typo.

The Angels had two extra picks in early rounds as compensation for the Rangers signing reliever Mark Petkovsek — a supplemental pick after the 1st round (#33 overall), and the Rangers’ third-round pick.

In a talent-rich year, it was thought this might be the Angels’ best draft ever. In the immediate years that followed, it seemed likely that would be a reality.

Such judgments in retrospect are, of course, strictly subjective. But although none of the players chosen by the Angels in the draft became superstars, many went on to play in the majors.

Who were the major leaguers? By round:

Casey Kotchman 1B (1st)
Jeff Mathis C (1st, supplemental)
Dallas McPherson 3B (2nd)
Steven Shell RHP (3rd, compensation)
Jake Woods LHP (3rd)
Matt Brown 3B (10th)
Ryan Budde C (12th)
Nick Gorneault OF (19th)
Stephen Andrade RHP (32nd)

Two didn’t play in the majors, but are now coaches in the Angels’ minor league system. Catcher Brent Del Chiaro manages Cedar Rapids, and Mike Eylward is their hitting coach.

Sixth rounder Quan Cosby never made it above Low-A, but went on play wide receiver for the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals.

Kotchman, Mathis and McPherson were considered top prospects, and it would be fair to say none of them achieved expectations.

Casey Kotchman reached the majors in 2004, called up from Double-A Arkansas after Darin Erstad was injured. He was eventually packaged with minor league pitcher Stephen Marek in a trade to the Braves for Teixeira. Casey went on to Boston and Seattle but never achieved his potential. This year at age 28, he’s having a career year with his home town team, the Tampa Bay Rays. In 328 at-bats, his AVG/OBP/SLG are .332/.394/.457.

Jeff Mathis has started 59 of the Angels’ 113 games to date. Manager Mike Scioscia values him for his defense and game-calling. Jeff never manifested in the majors the offense he showed in the lower minors, and many fans question why Scioscia continues to play a catcher whose AVG/OBP/SLG are .181/.226/.259.

Dallas McPherson reached the majors in 2004 but was never healthy. A lower back injury that began in spring training 2003 grew worse over the years, eventually resulting in a series of increasingly invasive surgeries. The Angels granted him free agency after the 2007 season, and since then Dallas has led a nomadic baseball existence. He played briefly for the Marlins in 2008 and was called up earlier this year by the White Sox, where he was 2 for 15. He currently plays third base for the Triple-A Charlotte Knights.

Was it the Angels’ best draft ever?

Probably not. But of the thirty drafted players who signed, nine appeared in the major leagues. And that’s not bad.

Ervin Santana’s Journey to a No-Hitter

Ervin Santana in fall instructional league, October 5, 2000.


(Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection required to watch the videos linked in this article.)

Anaheim’s most significant international signing in recent years was Venezuelan Francisco Rodriguez. Santana is No. 2 with a bullet after agreeing to an undisclosed six-figure bonus last September. At 6-foot-2 with extremely long arms and fingers, Santana oozes the projectability the Angels covet. If his fastball gets any quicker he’ll be truly overpowering, because he already throws 90-93 mph with a peak of 95. His breaking ball and changeup are still works in progress. He flies open with his delivery and drags his arm when he throws his slider, but both it and his change should become at least average pitches. He’s more advanced than fellow Dominican Ramon Ortiz was when he joined the organization, and Ortiz was 19 to Santana’s 16. In 2001, Santana could pitch in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League or make his U.S. debut in the Pioneer League.

Baseball America 2001 Prospect Handbook

When he signed on September 2, 2000, Ervin Santana was neither Ervin nor 16.

Santana used the birth certificate of a relative to make the Angels think he was younger than he was. It was not an uncommon practice at the time. The name he gave was Johan Quezada Santana, with a date of birth of November 28, 1983. His real name was Ervin Ramon Santana, and he was born on December 12, 1982 — eleven months earlier than he claimed.

The discrepancy was discovered during the winter of 2002-2003, as part of an industry-wide investigation. Some Dominicans were found to be years older than they claimed, so eleven months wasn’t that big a deal.

I saw Ervin pitch for the Angels in fall instructional league on October 5, 2000. It was at the Angels’ old minor league complex, Gene Autry Park, in Mesa, Arizona. If it wasn’t his first start in the U.S., it was one of his first.

Look at his photo above. He was reed-thin. The Angels’ media guide next spring listed him as 6’2″, 150 lbs. That sounds about right.

He was very raw. BA analyst Jim Callis was correct about his mechanics. Ervin flew so wide open that I thought his head might snap off his neck. But that would be fixed with time.

Ervin Santana at Rookie-A Provo, August 27, 2001. That’s Pedro Liriano on the right.

Regardless of age or language barriers, I learned quickly that Ervin wasn’t shy. He was playful and outgoing. In the above photo, he and Pedro Liriano asked that I take their picture together. As I started to snap the photo, Ervin tipped his cap. Typical Ervin.

2002 at Low-A Cedar Rapids was his first full season. His ERA wasn’t all that great at 4.16, but he won 14 games and struck out 146 in 147 innings.

It was that winter we found out his real name was Ervin. Assigned in the spring of 2003 to High-A Rancho Cucamonga, the host parents hung the nickname “Magic” on him, a play on Lakers legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson. He had his glove inscribed “El Magic.”

The 2003 Quakes were predicted to be an historic team. Most of the Angels’ top prospects had converged on the opening day roster — Santana, Joe Torres, Casey Kotchman and Jeff Mathis. Dallas McPherson would arrive about a month later after a back injury in spring training that would ultimately derail his career. Mike Napoli was there too, although at the time we didn’t know he would work his way into prospect status from backup catcher and first baseman.

Others who played on the 2003 Quakes that eventually made it to the majors were Ryan Budde, Brian Esposito, Nick Gorneault, Tommy Murphy, Stephen Andrade, Edwar Ramirez, Steven Shell, Rich Thompson, and Jake Woods.

I videotaped a lot of raw footage that year, hoping to one day produce a documentary about that group once enough time had passed to give us a perspective on their careers. I still have the videos; perhaps 2013, their ten-year anniversary, would be a good time.

If you want to see Ervin pitching for Rancho in 2003, click here to watch a clip of him pitching at Inland Empire on April 20, 2003. That was his breakout season; Ervin was 10-2 with a 2.53 ERA in 20 starts. He struck out 130 in 124 2/3 innings. His opponents’ average of .212 was the lowest in the California League. Ervin finished 2003 with six starts at Double-A Arkansas.

By 2005, Santana was in the majors. His big-league debut was on May 17 at Cleveland. The game was forgettable. The first four batters hit for the cycle against him. But he was only 22, and had years of growth and maturity ahead of him.

We crossed paths for the first time in many years when I visited extended spring training in April 2009 at the Angels’ new minor league complex at Tempe Diablo. Ervin and John Lackey were there on rehab assignment. I filmed his bullpen session; click here to watch.

A week later, he pitched a rehab start at Rancho Cucamonga (click here to watch), six years after his All-Star year with the Quakes. His glove was still inscribed, “El Magic.”

May 4, 2009 … Ervin Santana wearing the “El Magic” glove during a rehab assignment at Rancho Cucamonga.

That was one of my last games at Rancho Cucamonga, as I moved to Florida a few weeks later.

Wednesday July 27, 2011 happened to be my off-day from work. The Angels were at Cleveland playing a day game. Santana was the starting pitcher.

By chance, I visited the Angels’ web site and saw Ervin had a no-hitter through five innings. It wasn’t available here on TV or radio, so I checked back on the web site once in a while.

As Ervin went into the 9th, MLB Network went live to Cleveland, picking up the Angels’ TV feed.

I got to see the final three outs, as Ervin pitched the first Angels’ no-hitter since 1990, and the first complete-game no-hitter since 1984.

Erick Aybar, one of this Dominican teammates, dumped the Gatorade bucket over Ervin’s head in the middle of a post-game interview with analyst Jose Mota. Their careers didn’t quite parallel in the Angels’ system, as Erick was usually a year or two behind Ervin. But no teammate was better suited for that prank than Erick.

Ervin Santana is now the toast of baseball, at least until his next start.

I began FutureAngels.com in 1998, so I “grew up” so to speak with many of the homegrown Angels on the parent club roster. With some, a special relationship develops, and you know that even though you’re separated by time and space you still have that special relationship. Around our house, he was always known as the “Ervin Baby,” one of the kids you really did feel like he was your son. I suspect at least two host families who once housed Ervin got a phone call last night from him.

Ervin always had a big heart — which is why he had room for so many of us.

Clash of the Titans



John Lackey and Jerome Williams face off at Salem-Keizer two months after they were selected in the June 1999 draft.

August 20, 1999.

Tom Kotchman and the Boise Hawks were in Oregon to play the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, the San Francisco Giants’ affiliate in the Short-A Northwest League.

I’d flown up to visit nearby friends and see the Anaheim Angels’ affiliate on the road. The game that night was billed as a match of top pitching prospects.

Jerome Williams was the Giants’ first round supplemental pick that June, #39 overall. John Lackey was chosen in the second round by the Angels, #68 overall.

Williams was considered the more polished product. Lackey had converted to the mound that year in his junior college season while not playing first base.

The next winter, Baseball America ranked Williams the Giants’ #4 prospect. They wrote:

Williams is a classic projection draft with a loose, wide-shouldered body that has been compared to that of Dwight Gooden. His fastball is in the 89-92 mph range now, and the Giants expect his velocity to go up as he fills out. Williams has a fluid, easy delivery and arm action.

BA concluded that “Williams might have the highest ceiling in the organization if he physically matures as the Giants think he will.”

A few weeks later, BA published the Angels’ Top 10 prospects list. Lackey wasn’t on it. Under “Newcomer Report,” David Rawnsley included Lackey in a list of Boise pitchers who “flashed above-average stuff.”

When they met on August 20, Williams had the better night. He worked four innings, gave up two runs on five hits in four innings with three strikeouts and three walks. Lackey took the loss. In six innings, he gave up seven runs (six earned) on eight hits with four strikeouts and five walks.

History, of course, shows that Lackey went on to a far better career. He won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series and hit the jackpot when he signed a free-agent contract in December 2009 with the Boston Red Sox for five years totalling $82.5 million.

Williams reached San Francisco in 2003 at age 21 and posted a 3.30 ERA in 21 starts (131 innings). He was traded to the Cubs in 2005, claimed by the A’s on waivers in late 2006 and released, then signed with the Nationals but suffered a rotator cuff injury and was released. His nomadic career took him into independent ball, the Puerto Rico winter league and even Taiwan in 2010.

Jerome began 2011 with the Lancaster Barnstormers in the independent Atlantic League. The Angels acquired him on June 16 after he posted a 6-0 record with a 2.91 ERA.

Williams made his Triple-A Salt Lake debut last night. In six innings, he gave up three runs (one earned) on eight hits in six innings, with six strikeouts and no walks. The Bees won 6-5 — at Fresno, a Giants affiliate, and Jerome’s home team in 2002, 2003 and 2005.

This morning’s Fresno Bee wrote:

The right-hander, a first-round pick in the 1999 draft, worked in and out of trouble for six innings and left with a 5-3 lead. He allowed eight hits and fanned six.

“It was awesome, amazing. I felt great,” he said, standing by the Grizzlies dugout. “I got some balls up, but for the most part kept them down and got groundballs.”

It was home-sweet-home for Williams, who has lived in Fresno since 2002 when he met his future wife, Sarah, a Fresno City student and Central High graduate. They married in 2004, have three children and he’s part-owner of L&L Hawaiian Barbecue that has restaurants in Fresno, Crescent City and New York.

Last night was only one start, but if Jerome should resuscitate his career at age 29 and contribute to the Angels in the major leagues, it will be a feel-good year in a season desperately in need of one.

Return to Statesville


The 1961 Statesville Owls team photo. Nine surviving players reunited fifty years later on the same field.

It all began when the Los Angeles Angels, one of two American League expansion teams in 1961, desperately needed minor league affiliates.

Roland Hemond, the Angels’ newly appointed farm and scouting director, had only three months to find affiliates. He signed working agreements with a Triple-A team in Dallas-Ft. Worth that was already affiliated with the Phillies, and with a Class D team in Statesville, North Carolina whose players were mostly signed independently.

The Statesville Owls were part of the Western Carolina League, a circuit created to feed talent into the Contintental League, a proposed third major league. But when the Continental League folded — in part because the A.L. expanded into the Los Angeles market — the WCL scrambled to find its own talent.

“Affiliation” had a much looser connotation in 1961. A minor league club could still sign, trade and release its own players. But they could also get players from an affiliated major league club. Some got them from more than one.

The 1961 Owls had indy players from North Carolina and across the South, but added Angels players to their roster as soon as they arrived. Most Angels were from Southern California, although a few came from Florida and elsewhere. One player, Gaetan Boudreau, came from Quebec and spoke very little English.

Despite their disparate backgrounds, and the Jim Crow culture that still permeated the Southern culture, the team became a true band of brothers. White, black, Western, Southern or Québécois. It didn’t matter.

Three went on to major league careers. The rest went on to other lives, their playing careers forgotten except for the arcane world of minor league historical archives, and in their own memories.

But after four years of research, phone calls, letters, e-mails and an October 2009 gathering at the Angels’ minor league complex in Tempe, the 1961 Statesville Owls have finally returned to their home ballpark.

On June 17 and 18, the city of Statesville hosted a reunion of nine surviving Owls. The attendees were Dave Best, George Bryson, Walter Darton, Alan Flitcraft, Jerry Fox, Bob Lucas, Vito Porta, Richard Simpson, and Ed Thomas. Fox and Thomas, two of the 1961 indy players, still live in Statesville and helped organize the reunion.


The 1961 Owls pose with City of Statesville mayor Costi Kutteh. Left to right: Jerry Fox, George Bryson, Richard Simpson, Mayor Kutteh, Ed Thomas, Dave Best, Walter Darton, Alan Flitcraft (partially obscured), and Vito Porta.

The Owls were hosted by a new college team that has adopted the original name. The new Statesville Owls are part of the Southern Collegiate Baseball League. The team set up a tent at a Friday night street fair where the players signed autographs on photos created from 1961 images. Later that evening, the 1961 Owls and invited guests gathered at a local restaurant for dinner and storytelling.

The next day, the players were treated to a barbecue at Jerry Fox’s farm. The players posed for a “Field of Dreams” photo in the corn field. They also called former teammate Jack Hiatt, recently retired as the San Francisco Giants’ farm director but still on the road as a special assignment scout.

And then it was on to their onetime home field.

The park looks much different than 1961. It’s used today as the home field not just for the college Owls but also Statesville High School. It’s in much better condition than 1961. The old infield was all dirt! The current infield is grass. One player joked that in 1961 they’d have been better off playing in the street than on that old rock-strewn infield.

The college Owls scheduled a fan fest before the doubleheader, but a thunderstorm passed through and the tents were gone with the wind, which seemed to affect attendance.

George Bryson, Alan Flitcraft and Vito Porta threw out the first pitches before the first game. Flitcraft went down to the bullpen to throw beforehand. He threw the first Angels’ organizational no-hitter on this field on August 26, 1961. When it came time to throw the first pitch, Alan threw a perfect strike.

Between games, the 1961 Owls were honored on the field with a City of Statesville proclamation, and a congratulatory statement from today’s Angels director of Player Development Abe Flores.

Five more alumni threw out the first pitch before the second game — Ed Thomas, Jerry Fox, Richard Simpson, Dave Best and George Bryson.

After the ceremony, they sat behind the third base dugout in an area set aside for them.

I filmed the weekend’s events. The, um, family-friendly version is available to watch online. Click here to watch the reunion video. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required. Photos from the weekend are below.

The Statesville Record & Landmark published a June 19 article about the reunion. In the print edition, the article was on Page 1 with a color photo of Flitcraft’s bullpen.

To put this event in perspective, it would be the equivalent of the 2011 Orem Owlz having a reunion in 2061. It’s a tribute to their camaraderie that the 1961 Owls were willing to return to this town of 27,000 people just so they could reunite their band of brothers and walk on that field one more time.

On a personal note … This ended my four-year odyssey to uncover the history of the Angels’ first minor league team. I walked on that field, met those players, and became one of them when they asked me to autograph their first-pitch baseballs. I have new friends in Statesville simply because we share a common love for baseball.

Fifty years later, the 1961 Statesville Owls are still a family.


At the street fair … Left to right — Walter Darton, Alan Flitcraft and Ed Thomas.

George Bryson discovers a photo of himself in 1961.

Statesville baseball historian Steve Hill (left) meets Alan Flitcraft.

The college Statesville Owls’ president Brian Suarez (left) with Bob Lucas.

George Bryson’s punch line gets a reaction at the reunion dinner.

The “Field of Dreams” photo at Jerry Fox’s farm. Left to right — Vito Porta, George Bryson, Alan Flitcraft, Dave Best, Jerry Fox, Walter Darton, Dick Simpson and Ed Thomas.

Vito Porta is interviewed by Statesville Record & Landmark reporter Jim McNally.

Alan Flitcraft throws on the sidelines at Statesville Stadium.

Alan Flitcraft (left) and George Bryson watch the college Owls play.

Dave Best (left) and Walter Darton discuss action on the field. Richard Simpson watches to the right.

The 2011 edition of the Statesville Owls. Is a 2061 reunion in their future?

The Other Angels’ 50th Anniversary


Seven Angels minor leaguers from 1961 reunited September 25, 2009 at Tempe Diablo. Left to right — Alan Flitcraft, Dick Simpson, Dan Ardell, Walter Darton, Ed Thomas, Jerry Fox, and Dave Best. Bobby Lucas arrived shortly after the photo was taken.

If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, you know that an ongoing project has been to reunite the 1961 Statesville Owls, one of two minor league teams the Angels had in their inaugural season. Statesville, North Carolina was Class D, a rough equivalent to today’s Low Class-A. The other affiliate was the Triple-A Dalls-Ft. Worth Rangers, an affiliation shared with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Angels are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, which means it’s the 50th anniversary of the Statesville Owls.

We staged a reunion in September 2009, held at the Angels’ minor league complex in Tempe, Arizona. Today’s future Angels had an opportunity to meet the original Angels minor leaguers. Click here to watch a video of excerpts from the reunion. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.

As the almuni departed, they tasked me with a solemn responsibility — to reunite them in Statesville for their 50th anniversary.

My wife and I moved from California to Florida in June 2009, so in March 2010 we drove 600 miles to Statesville. We met with Ed Thomas and Jerry Fox, two 1961 Owls who still live in Statesville. They took me to stand on the very field where Angels minor league baseball began. Click here to watch video of the Statesville ballpark visit. We established the initial contacts to make possible that 50th anniversary reunion.

Circumstances required me to bow out, so the locals took over planning, led by the new Southern Collegiate Baseball League Statesville Owls. They’ve arranged for a two-day celebration of the 1961 Owls, starting with a street concert in downtown Statesville the evening of June 17. The next day, as part of their FanFest, the Owls will play a doubleheader and honor the alumni. The first pitch in each game will be thrown out by the alumni, and between games they’ll be honored with a ceremony.

I didn’t think I’d be able to make it, but circumstances have changed so I’ll be heading north next week to record the events for posting on FutureAngels.com and this blog.

I do believe I’ll wear my 1961 Los Angeles Angels cap …


Ed Thomas, FutureAngels.com publisher Stephen Smith, and Jerry Fox in Statesville in March 2010. Thomas and Fox played on the 1961 Statesville Owls. Photo courtesy Steve Hill.

2010 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects Revisited

Mike Trout remains one of the top prospects in all of minor league baseball.

Last November I published the 2010 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report. These are published at the end of every season as a review of the year just concluded.

We’re two months into the 2011 season, so let’s take a look at how those prospects are doing so far this year.

1. Mike Trout OF — Considered one of the top prospects in all the minor leagues, Trout remains on course. His AVG/OBP/SLG as of May 31 were .305/.413/.512 (164 AB) with 13 stolen bases in 18 attempts. With Double-A Arkansas players, it’s always important to look at their home/away splits because Dickey-Stephens Park is one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the Texas League. Trout’s splits (AVG/OBP/SLG):

Overall: .305/.413/.512 (164 AB)
Home: .268/.360/.423 (97 AB)
Away: .358/.482/.642 (67 AB)

That split suggests the 19-year old wunderkind is having a much better year than the overall numbers tell us.

I won’t be surprised if Trout moves up to Triple-A Salt Lake after the Texas League All-Star Game (which is June 29 at San Antonio).

2. Hank Conger C — Last November I wrote:

Hank has Jeff Mathis, Mike Napoli and Bobby Wilson ahead of him, but it’s expected that the Angels may move at least one of them this winter. Conger most likely will get more Triple-A seasoning in 2011 as he needs more catching experience and to clean up his throwing mechanics. Absent a setback, it’s reasonable to assume Hank will be the Angels’ starting catcher by the end of 2011.

That was pretty much on target. Mike Napoli was traded to the Blue Jays along with Juan Rivera for Vernon Wells. (The Blue Jays then flipped Napoli to the Rangers.) I didn’t think the Angels would carry three catchers, but they have, with Bobby Wilson having the least playing time.

The Angels have played 57 games to date, and Conger has appeared in 31 of them, 26 as the starting catcher. He’s thrown out only 7 of 31 runners (22.6%), but that’s often a misleading stat as it doesn’t reflect how well his pitchers have held on runners. He’s been charged with only one passed ball in 200 total chances; last November I noted he had allowed no passed balls in 2010.

Hank’s offense has been what you’d expect from a 23-year old rookie going through his first 100 at-bats. His overall AVG/OBP/SLG are .233/.288/.369 (103 AB), but Hank’s a switch-hitter. Mike Scioscia has given Conger only eight at-bats against left-handed pitchers (he’s 2 for 8, both singles), so most of his at-bats have been left-handed.

For now it looks like Conger will continue to split time with Mathis, although he may be on track to fulfill my predication that he’ll be the starting catcher by the end of 2011.

3. Jean Segura 2B — I wrote last November that the Angels had tested Segura at shortstop during fall instructional league and might move him to that position with Inland Empire in 2011. That turned out to be accurate, but he’s in the middle of his second stint on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain. The injury began in mid-April when he was hitting .412 twelve games into the season; since then, his AVG has dropped to .276. Even with the injury, he’s managed to swipe 18 bases in 23 attempts over 37 games. We’ll have to wait until the injury fully heals and Jean is back to his aggressive self to get a handle on his progress; the California League All-Star Game may be out of the picture.

It should also be noted that Arrowhead Credit Union Park is one of the few pitcher-friendly parks in the league. Let’s look at his home/away splits:

Overall: .276/.343/.428 (152 AB)
Home: .205/.284/.329 (73 AB)
Away: .342/.398/.519 (79 AB)

Hmmm … As with Trout, it looks like Jean’s home park is masking an overall better performance.

4. Garrett Richards RHP — Here’s what I wrote in conclusion about Richards:

It’s likely that Garrett will start 2011 with Double-A Arkansas, where he’ll find pitcher-friendly Dickey-Stephens Park to his liking. The key will be to look at his Texas League road numbers to get a more accurate gauge of his progress.

Okay, so let’s go to the splits:

Overall: 5-1, 3.90 ERA, 9 Games Started (57.2 IP), 40:23 SO:BB Ratio, .232 AVG.
Home: 3-0, 1.86 ERA, 4 Games Started (29.0 IP), 18:7 SO:BB Ratio, .198 AVG
Road: 2-1, 5.97 ERA, 5 Games Started (28.2 IP), 22:16 SO:BB Ratio, .264 AVG

So it looks like the home field is masking some overall mediocre starts by Garrett. A particularly stark contrast can be found in GO/AO, which is Ground Outs to All Other Outs. At home it’s an outstanding 2.12. On the road it’s 1.21.

The Texas League a decade ago had a reputation as a hitter’s league, but most of the franchises have new ballparks so it’s now considered fairly neutral.

Garrett just turned 23 on May 27, so plenty of time to adjust to Double-A.

5. Randal Grichuk OF — Randal is becoming a real-life incarnation of Joe Btfsplk, the Li’l Abner character described as “the world’s worst jinx.” In 2010 he broke first his left thumb and then his right thumb. He was recovering from the latter injury in extended spring training when he fractured his knee cap on a foul ball. It’s expected that he’ll report to Cedar Rapids once he’s healthy.

Mark Trumbo has taken over the Angels’ first base job and leads all major league rookie with ten home runs.

6. Mark Trumbo 1B-OF — The common expectation over the winter was that Kendrys Morales would be ready for Opening Day, so Mark Trumbo would probably head for Triple-A Salt Lake. Morales failed to heal as expected and eventually underwent a second surgery that shelved him for 2011, so Trumbo has started at first base for most of the Angels’ games.

In 180 at-bats, Trumbo’s line is .256/.306/.472. Recent media reports note that Trumbo has changed his hitting mechanics, adding a higher leg kick with his front foot. Compare that to this April 6, 2008 video of a Trumbo home run for Rancho Cucamonga, where he barely lifts his front foot.

In their spring 2007 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America wrote of Mark’s hitting mechanics, “He doesn’t have much of a load and his hands are slow.” That was a common criticism in his early years, that he was largely immobile below the waist on his swings. But he’s worked to correct that and cites the leg kick for a recent increase in home run production.

With Trumbo’s 2010 Salt Lake numbers, I noted that five parks in the PCL are super-hitter friendly, including the Bees’ Spring Mobile Ballpark. At neutral and pitcher-friendly fields, his line was .236/.300/.505. That’s not too far off from his .256/.306/.472 with the Angels in 2011. He’s trending in the right direction so hopefully he’ll continue to improve. His defense has been better than many critics claimed in the past.

7. Fabio Martinez RHP — Last November I wrote about Fabio:

Martinez was shut down after a July 30 start due to shoulder stiffness, probably due to his bad mechanics, and missed the Kernels’ post-season run. He spent the rest of the season on rehab assignment at the Angels’ minor league complex in Tempe. He pitched again in fall instructional league; I was there for his October 15 start, and he was back to his old bad habits.

Well, Fabio is still at the minor league complex, technically on rehab assignment. The official word is that he’s suffering from shoulder weakness. It’s hoped that he’ll be assigned to an affiliate by July. My guess is it’s either Cedar Rapids or Inland Empire.

8. Alexi Amarista 2B — With Brandon Wood waived to Pittsburgh and various injuries to other players, Alexi found himself in Anaheim after just 55 at-bats with Salt Lake in 2011 (.455/.483/.673). At only 22, he’s overmatched in the majors for now (.136/.170/.227 in 44 AB) and should return to the Bees once Vernon Wells comes off the disabled list, assuming no one else gets hurt. Mike Scioscia showed enough faith in his versatility to give him four starts in left field; he’s not a total stranger to the outfield, appearing there in 34 games with Rookie-A Tempe in 2008, but he’s best-suited for second base.

9. Trevor Reckling LHP — Trevor was the Angels’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2009, but derailed in 2010 when he struggled at the Triple-A level. The Angels sent him back to Double-A for the second half of 2010, and that’s where he began 2011. In nine starts, he’s 1-6 with a 3.78 ERA, and a 38:18 SO:BB ratio in 52.1 IP. Looking at his home/away splits, it’s interesting to note that he’s been more successful away from Dickey-Stephens Park — a 4.28 ERA at home (27.1 IP), a 3.24 ERA on the road (25.0 IP). A recent MLB.com article suggests Trevor is pitching better than his record suggests. He just turned 22 on May 22, still quite young for Double-A.

10. Jeremy Moore OF — J-Mo ended May with an AVG/OBP/SLG of .269/.299/.451. As mentioned upstream, a more accurate analysis of PCL numbers would filter out the super-hitter friendly parks, but that sample size so far is too small, so let’s look at Moore’s home/away splits:

Overall: .269/.299/.451 (193 AB)
Home: .280/.314/.500 (100 AB)
Away: .258/.283/.398 (93 AB)

His AVG from April to May dropped from .321 to .236, although on May 28 he had a 5-for-5 game at Tucson (one of those hitter-friendly parks).

Moore will turn 24 on June 29. He’s always been a raw toolsy project. Patience is a virtue when it comes to J-Mo, so let’s see where the rest of the year takes him.

Tyler Chatwood has a 3.64 ERA in the major leagues after 11 starts.

In closing … I didn’t include RHP Tyler Chatwood in the 2010 list for a couple reasons. One was the way I weigh who ranks on the annual list. I give consideration to the parent club’s needs, and coming into 2011 the Angels seemed to need left-handed pitching prospects (such as Reckling) and power-hitting outfielders (such as Moore) more than another right-handed pitching prospect (such as Chatwood). I was well aware that internally the Angels were very high on how Chatwood ended 2010, but I was concerned about his drop in strikeout rate when he was promoted to Double-A last year as well as his high walk rate.

That concern didn’t bother the Angels, who sent him to Triple-A to start 2011. After Joel Piniero and Scott Kazmir were injured and Matt Palmer faltered, Chatwood found himself called up to Anaheim at age 22. He’s managed to survive, posting a 3.64 ERA in 11 starts (64.1 IP) despite a SO:BB ratio of 29:34. How does he survive despite his poor SO:BB ratio? Double play ground balls. He has 13 so far.

With Palmer inconsistent at Triple-A and Kazmir’s career in free fall, it looks like Chatwood may spend the rest of 2011 in the majors. Tonight he pitched 7 2/3 shutout innings at Kansas City, giving up five hits while striking out two and walking two.

I knew when I wrote the article last November that I was taking a risk by leaving Chat off the list. If he proves me wrong, it’s all the better for the Angels.

Coast to Coast: Missing in Action


No, it’s not me in the suit. But I do lead tours in the Rocket Garden behind him.

 

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know (1) my wife and I moved to Florida almost two years ago, and (2) I’ve posted less and less in recent months.

I’ve posted occasional updates about our Florida adventure, which was motivated mainly by our desire to live in the “Space Coast” which is the local nickname for Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island and nearby locales.

One major objective was to be hired as a Communicator at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. And after nearly two years of waiting for a position to open, I was hired last month.

A Communicator is a tour guide, but also much more.

We’ve been described as “NASA experts” and “NASA ambassadors.” Technically we don’t work for NASA. We work for Delaware North Parks & Resorts, which has the contract to run KSCVC for NASA. But the public doesn’t know any different, and of all the NASA contractors we’re the only ones allowed to wear the NASA logo.

I suspect that not all the Communicators are passionate about space exploration, but it helps.

Two positions were open, so when called for an interview I figured I had to do something to stand out. We were told to prepare a brief presentation about the next Space Shuttle launch, so I brought from my collection a Shuttle model to use as a reference.

When I walked into the interview, four people sat on the panel. One was a former astronaut — in uniform — who’s now an executive at the park. I’m sure that was to see if we could be intimidated.

Having been around pro ball players and other celebrities for many years, I’m not easily intimidated. But when I saw the “blue suit” as they call astronauts around here, I thought, “If I screw up with any technical details in this presentation, I’m not bluffing my way out of it.”

Well, I got the job, so I must have done well enough.

I was told later by one interviewer that when I came through the door with the model, he thought, “This guy knows what he’s doing.”

Most of my days are filled by leading the Discover KSC tours, which take guests to visit historic locations, including within about a mile of the Shuttle pad.

We’re also assigned as “pathfinders,” meaning we wander the facilities encountering guests to answer their questions (the most common being, “Where is the bathroom?”) and interpret the exhibits. NASA likes the pathfinder roles so much that we’re being assigned more locations.

Obviously I have a lot to learn, so it’s eating up all my free time. I update FutureAngels.com in the morning, then it’s off to KSCVC for the day, and evenings are spent reading books or researching NASA technology on the Internet.

As much as I love the Angels and their minor leaguers, I feel like I’ve been given a higher calling. People from all over the world come to visit KSCVC, especially near launch time. We are ambassadors not just for NASA, but for the United States.

I gave serious thought to shelving FutureAngels.com this spring, but finally decided it was too important for those of you who follow the Angels’ minor leaguers to shut it down. For now, though, it’s in second place in my life. Hopefully you understand.

Tyler Chatwood Measures Up


Tyler Chatwood pitches for the Rookie-A Tempe Angels in July 2008.

 

I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic about Tyler Chatwood.

He has talent. No quarrel there.

But he’s never made a FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects list since he was selected in the second round of the June 2008 draft and signed shortly thereafter.

Baseball America ranked Chatwood among Angels top prospects at #11 in the spring of 2009, #14 in 2010, and #2 in 2011 behind Mike Trout.

I’ve always had two concerns with Chat.

One has to do with his height. Tyler is listed at 6’0″. There’s a perception among both baseball professionals and some sabermetricians that the best starting pitchers are tall and lanky.

Personally, that doesn’t concern me much, as I’ve always believed that if Chatwood pitched effectively then “size matters not,” to quote Yoda.

My main concern was with Tyler’s high walk rate.

Take for example the game depicted in the above photo. July 22, 2008. The Tempe Angels hosted the Peoria Padres. It was about a month after Chatwood signed. In four innings, he struck out five, walked four, and gave up four runs on three hits.

It’s foolish to judge a player by one game, but that performance has always stuck in my mind because it was somewhat typical of what happens when Tyler loses his control.

From behind home plate, I could see that killer 12-6 curve. The problem was he struggled to throw it accurately.

A high walk rate has plagued Chatwood throughout his career.

In his first three minor league seasons, he averaged 7.6 strikeouts and 4.8 walks per 9 innings. Promoted to Double-A Arkansas for the second half of 2010, in 12 starts he averaged only 3.6 walks per 9 IP but his strikeout rate also dropped to 4.7. I was told that he was being very efficient, getting a lot of groundball outs early in counts.

I knew that, internally, the Angels this last winter were very high on Chatwood, and there were whispers he was on the fast track to the big leagues even though he just turned 21 last December.

He began 2011 with Triple-A Salt Lake. With Joel Piniero injured and Scott Kazmir ineffective, Tyler found himself in the big leagues for his debut on April 11.

After six starts, he’s walked more than he’s struck out — 4.9 strikeouts and 5.6 walks per 9 IP. Yet he’s survived. His ERA is 4.08. He’s getting his groundouts, having thrown eight double-plays in 35 1/3 innings.

I keep wondering how long his luck will hold out, yet last night against the 21-9 Cleveland Indians he went eight innings, allowing one run on two hits, striking out five while walking five. He threw 111 pitches, about 13.9 per inning, and pitching coaches like to see a pitcher average 10-15 pitches per inning. He may be walking a lot, but he makes up for it elsewhere.

How long can his luck hold out before the walks catch up with him?

Or the more optimistic question would be, how long before the walk rate tails off and Chatwood establishes himself as a reliable major league pitcher?

The Angels sent Matt Palmer to Salt Lake in late May, so clearly management has decided that Chatwood is in the majors until further notice.

Even with the high walk rate, Tyler is really making me wish I’d included him on that Top 10 list last November.

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