With the Dodgers in Phoenix for the weekend I figured I’d check out the Inland Empire 66’ers. Catch some Class A California League baseball. Why not?
Friday night I made the trip to Arrowhead Credit Union Park for the 66ers and the High Desert Mavericks. I’d never been to the ballpark and figured there were a couple of Dodger prospects that I was curious about.
The guys I was interested in didn’t disappoint. I’m no scout, but Trayvon Robinson looks like he’s got a chance to be pretty good. He hit a home run, his 15th of the year to straight-away center field. Very impressive. Robinson is still just 21 years old. He’s a switch-hitter who is also leading the Cal League in steals with 43. The batting average is a hard .306.
The 66ers went back-to-back with their homers in the fourth inning. Scott Van Slyke following Robinson with his 20th home run. Van Slyke certainly looks the part of a prospect. They list him at 6’5 220 lbs. To me, in his uniform he looks more like Dave Winfield than his dad, Andy. Van Slyke stole his 9th base during the ballgame as well.
A lot of times the numbers that players put up in the Cal League are a little screwy. Most people will tell you its a “hitter’s league” … and you don’t really know if you can trust the stats. (Koby Clemens, Roger’s son, is leading the Cal League in On Base Percentage + Slugging Percentage while playing for Astro-affiliate Lancaster.) But both Robinson and Slyke are having fantastic seasons. Dodger fans can always hope.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are Dodger Dogs at Arrowhead Credit Union Park. The hot dogs are just as long and just as good as at Dodger Stadium, but for some reason the buns aren’t quite the same. I had planned to eat a couple (don’t tell my cardiologist) but the bun just didn’t do it for me. It is a mystery.
I was excited to see that Charlie Hough is still kicking around in the Dodger organization. The old knuckleballer is the Inland Empire pitching coach. A quick check of Hough’s lifetime record shows that he was 216-216 in his big league career. He’s got the most wins of any MLB pitcher that was officially mediocre. If you ask me, despite a .500 lifetime winning percentage, Hough was anything but average. When you can pitch until you’re 46 by floating up that knuckler … you’re not allowed to be called average.
All in all I had a good time at the ballpark. The price was right and the 66ers even won the game in extra innings. Now, if we can just do something about that Dodger Dog bun …
— Eric Collins
Hall of Fame baseball writer Jerome Holtzman wrote a book called “No Cheering in the Press Box.” I understand the sentiment … but sometimes something special comes along where you have to fudge the rules just a little bit. For me, the exception to the rule is the Dodgers newest arm out of the bullpen, George Sherrill.
Sherrill is a talented big league reliever. An All-Star with the Orioles just last summer. A guy with 31 saves last season.
But it wasn’t always that way.
It was 8 summers ago, back in 2001 when I first heard of George Sherrill. I was broadcasting games for the Schaumburg Flyers of the Northern League and Sherrill was playing his first season in the Northern League with the Sioux Falls Canaries.
Sherrill was 24 years old, undrafted out of Austin Peay University, and had already kicked around for a couple of seasons in the Frontier League (an independent league with an age-limit) and the Northeast League (another independent league). Getting a chance to play in Sioux Falls was actually a big-time step up on the minor league baseball ladder,
Just to be clear. Any form of independent baseball is a tough racket. Indy ball is the very first step in the world of pro ball … or the very last step on the way out. Indy ball is made up almost exclusively of guys (and occasionally a woman, Ila Borders) who have gone undrafted out of college or guys who have been released by teams in affiliated ball. The goal? To get out of independent ball and hook up with a minor league team that is affiliated with a big league organization.
Sherrill was pitching out of the bullpen for Sioux Falls. He was the match-up lefty who came in in late-game situations and faced a tough left-handed batter or two. It was hardly glamorous work. When the announcers around the NL gave each other scouting reports for new guys in the league … Sherrill was a J.A.G. … or Just Another Guy.
Boy, were we ever wrong. During the course of that summer of 2001 I never saw Sherrill give up a run. I checked my old scorebook …. no runs allowed in 5 games against the Flyers. (A 37-year old Matt Nokes making a comeback with the Flyers had no chance against Sherrill.)
You’ve got to love baseball to play in the Northern League. In 2001 meal money was $15 a day and usually two of your three daily meals were PB&J at the ballpark. Often times an 1-for-24 week at the plate and you’re released. Blow two saves in a row and you’re demoted to mop-up relief. Have another bad outing and you’re gone. In the Northern League the lighting is poor, the bats are second-rate and you have to buy your own cleats.
But Sherrill played on. And on and on. In fact Sherrill eventually played 5 years of independent unaffiliated baseball before the Seattle Mariners offered him a contract in 2003 to join their Double-A in San Antonio. He would make it to the Mariners in 2004 and earned a big league spot for good in 2005.
When George and I caught up in the air-conditioned Turner Field visiting team clubhouse I asked him why he spent nearly a half-dozen years Indy ball in Sioux Falls, Evansville, Quebec City, Lincoln and Winnipeg. I asked him if he felt angry that he hadn’t been noticed earlier. He said, “Nope, it just took me a while to figure out how to pitch.”.
With apologies to Jerome Holtzman … that’s the type of guy that I cheer for.
— Eric Collins
It’s amazing some of the things that you hear and find out at the ballpark. Earlier today I was flipping through my notebook and realized that most of the information that I discover getting ready for a game goes unused. Conversations in the clubhouse, chats in the dugout during BP, factoids gleaned from reading whatever I can find … all of that stuff frequently gets lost in the ether.
Well, not today. Today is the day that I clear out the notebook.
Russell Martin’s fingernails are painted white. Hong-Chih Kuo had a hard time seeing the signs on Monday, so Russell painted his nails white. It’s not nail polish … he found some White-Out in the clubhouse and is using that.
My buddy Ethan Cooperson of Stats.Inc came up with this beauty. Matt Kemp is third all-time in Batting Average – Balls in Play (minimum 1000 balls in play)… trailing only Ryan Howard and Babe Ruth. I know, its a quirky stat category .. but its still pretty cool to be just percentage points behind Babe Ruth in anything. BABIP is simply batting average with strikeouts taken out of the equation. Fundamentally it’s a gauge as to how hard a batter is hitting the ball. Entering Tuesday’s game, Ryan Howard was .414, Babe Ruth .406 and Matt Kemp .405. You can spin numbers a lot of ways, but this is still kind of neat.
Of the 50 active players in the Dodgers/Cardinals series this week, only two have homered in their first career big league at-bat. Stunningly both are pitchers. Adam Wainwright in 2006 off of SF LHP Noah Lowery and Guillermo Mota in 1999 while playing with the Expos. When I asked Guillermo about it he remembered it vividly, telling me that Orlando Cabrera was intentionally walked to get to him. Red Sox LHP Mark Guthrie threw him a fastball, a curve and then another fastball that he pounded for the homer. I checked his memory on Baseball-reference.com http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/MON/MON199906090.shtml, and he’s right on.
St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright grew up with and played middle school basketball with former Laker Kwame Brown. They both went to Glynn Academy in Brunswick, GA.
IF Mark Loretta came on to pitch for the second time in his career Tuesday in St. Louis. Loretta has not given up a run in 1.2 innings of work in career. When I asked him, he knew that he struck out Ruben Rivera and Chris Nichting back in 2001. I guess some things you don’t ever forget.
Loretta’s number at Northwestern University is not retired. But Joe Girardi’s is.
Speaking of retired numbers. The Cardinals have a bunch of numbers retired. Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Red Schoendienst, Bob Gibson, Dizzy Dean, Ozzie Smith, Bruce Sutter, Ken Boyer, Lou Brock and Rogers Hornsby but for some reason Joe “Ducky” Medwick hasn’t been honored. Medwick is the last National Leaguer to have a Triple Crown season. He’s a Hall of Famer and a Cardinal World Series Champion. I’m sure there is a reason for the omission, but I haven’t uncovered it yet.
James Loney tells me that he can still throw a 90-mph fastball. James was a big-time prospect as a left-handed pitcher coming out of high school. He thinks he still has it.
Joe Torre had a monster 1971 season here in St. Louis, winning the NL MVP with a .363 batting average, 230 hits and 137 RBI. Albert Pujols is a phenomenal player, but Joe’s BA and hit total are higher that anything Pujols has ever put up … and the 137 RBI are tied with Pujols’ best.
The notebook is now clear.
— Eric Collins
With Manny Ramirez beginning his minor league stint prepping for his return to the Dodgers, it got me thinking about my time as a minor league broadcaster.
I spent four years in minor league baseball, one in Rochester, NY with the Red Wings of the International League … and three with the Schaumburg Flyers of the independent Northern League.
I got a chance to see a no-hitter thrown, a four-home run game, and a player play all nine positions in a nine inning game. I saw a veteran player hit a homer, round the bases, rip off his shirt and retire at home plate. I saw a manager order that an opposing player be hit by a pitch for three consecutive at-bats because the offending batter had accidentally fouled a ball off the manager’s daughter the night before.
I’ve heard John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” quite possibly thousands of time and every version of rain delay music you can think of (Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, Here Comes the Rain Again, Can You Stand the Rain?, Singing in the Rain, Rain in the Summertime etc …).
I’ve seen the Zooperstars perform too many times to count … and Myron Noodleman’s act TOO MANY TIMES.
I’ve seen nuns giving massages in the grandstands, pigs delivering balls to the umpires and Ila Borders, the first female pitcher in pro ball, throw back-to-back no-hit innings.
I’ve been on bus trips from Chicago to Winnipeg where players have boarded without a book, magazine, computer or cellphone and looked out the window for an entire 16-hour trip. Let me tell you, the view doesn’t change much on that trip. Cornfields and more cornfields. I’ve also had some of the best baseball conversations in my life over $8 steaks in Sioux Falls.
And that’s what I’ll always remember.
My first year with the Schaumburg Flyers was in 1999. The Flyers were an expansion team that year. An expansion team in an unaffiliated independent league. It doesn’t get any lower than that in pro ball. The roster is made up exclusively of undrafted college players and players that have been released from the lower levels of big league organizations.
Back then in was 22 players splitting each team’s salary-capped $82,000. Meal money was $15 a day. But you had a chance. A chance to play pro ball for the summer and hope against hope that you could catch the eye of a scout working for a team in affiliated ball. Once you got signed … well then you could really dream.
Of those 22 players on the 1999 Schaumburg Flyers, two of them have made the big leagues. Jim Rushford making it to Milwaukee Brewers in 2002. And just last year, Alberto Castillo getting a chance with the Baltimore Orioles. The fact that two guys made it to The Show is astounding.
I’ve had a lot of good times in the world or baseball. But the moments that make me proudest are the moments I spent in the minors. You’ve got to earn your way in baseball. That’s the way its always been. That’s the way it always should be.
— Eric Collins
Glad you found our new blog … this should be a lot of fun. A casual way to talk about the team and life on the road. Steve and I are hoping to update this blog more often than not before and after games, hopefully we can get a good dialog going with you and maybe it’ll spill over into the broadcasts. That’s the goal.
Today was the first regular season broadcast for Steve and I. I feel a bit guilty that the Dodgers’ 8-game winning streak came to an end on our watch … but what can you do? The Dodgers didn’t do a ton right for the majority of the game but they still had a real shot to tie or go ahead in the ninth. They fought and that’s got to make everyone happy. I think that Joe T. will take his chances with Russell Martin at the plate with the game on the line. He’s a special player.
For me … I had a blast doing my first TV Dodger game. There were a lot of 16-hour bus rides to Winnipeg to get to this point. A lot of pickled eggs and lutefisk sandwiches in Fargo to get to my first Dodger TV game. A lot of rainy nights pulling the tarp on and off in Rochester thinking about a chance like this. Thousands of hours of minor league games where no one was listening to get to this point where I could talk with you Dodger fans.
Unfortunately the final score wasn’t that memorable. But I’ll always remember it. And hey, the Dodgers have still won 8 of 9 …. and still can go 158-4 on the season.
Until tomorrow ….