Archive for the ‘Can-Am League’ Category

2009 Bus Leagues Independent Awards

Andrew approached me last week with a complaint: in compiling the list of nominees for the Bus Leagues Player of the Year award, I had neglected to include representatives from any of the independent leagues.

You could argue that this was an inexcusable offense for someone with my background; I prefer to imagine that it was my way of protesting the likely death of independent baseball in Nashua (note: it was the first reason).

In the end I figured it was worth it to go through each of the independent leagues that played in 2009 and try to find some of the top performers.  And was I ever glad that I did, because there were some crazy numbers posted around the independents this year.

(A note on the selection process: rather than pester the guys who voted for the affiliated Player and Pitcher of the Year awards, I decided to just make this call on my own, with some input from Andrew.  It just figured to be easier that way.  I also added a Reliever of the Year award as a nod to those who didn’t like the fact that all pitchers were combined for the affiliated award.)

Independent Player of the Year
Joey Metropoulos, Southern Illinois Miners (Frontier League)

joey metropoulosCutting the list of offensive players down to about ten names was easy.  Getting it to six was tough, but doable.  Picking a winner was damn near impossible.  Finally, in a fit of “I just don’t know what to do,” I decided to take drastic measures, reading each player’s name to my wife and grading based on her reaction.  The first few were lukewarm: “eh”, “maybe”, and one flat-out “no”.  Then I got to Joey Metropoulos, who was greeted with such an enthusiastic “YES!” that I was, quite frankly, a little concerned.

So Metropoulos had the benefit of having a great name, one that is strong and lends itself well to a variety of nicknames (the one I’m using right now is “Captain Metropoulos”).  That got things off to a good start.  As luck would have it, he also had a tremendous offensive season, hitting .317 with 31 homeruns, 82 RBI and a 1.061 (.651 SLG/.410 OBP) OPS.  Just for kicks, I figured out what his numbers would have been over the course of a 162 game season (he actually played in 96 games) – how does 52 homeruns and 138 RBI sound?

For Metropoulos’ troubles, he won the Frontier League’s Most Valuable Player award and earned a spot on Baseball America’s postseason All-Independent Leagues First Team.

Honorable Mention
Ernie Banks, River City Rascals (Frontier League): 24 HR, 75 RBI, .353/.668/.437
Nelson Castro, Calgary Vipers (Golden Baseball League): 11 HR, 81 RBI, 33 SB, .410/.647/.460
Jason James, Rockford Riverhawks (Frontier League): 14 HR, 48 RBI, .374/.571/.455, 40-game hitting streak
Charlton Jimerson, Newark Bears (Atlantic League): 21 HR, 62 RBI, 38 SB, .335/.567/.387
Greg Porter, Wichita Wingnuts (American Association): 21 HR, 86 RBI, .372/.617/.453

Independent Pitcher of the Year
Kyle Wright, Rockford Riverhawks (Frontier League)

kyle wrightKyle Wright was, after much deliberation, my first choice for Independent Pitcher of the Year.  Then new information came to light and I decided that he didn’t deserve the award.  Then I thought about it some more and realized that even though my original information was bad, Wright was still pretty good.  So he wins.

From the glazed look on the collected face of our readers, I gather that further explanation is required.  Very well – Wright’s season stat line went as follows: 10-6, 2.24 ERA, 129 strikeouts, and 144 innings in 20 games (all starts).  More digging revealed that he had enjoyed both a lengthy winning streak and a lengthy losing streak this season, so I found some box scores on the Frontier League web site and plotted out his game-by-game numbers.

I went over the numbers three times and arrived at the same result each time: Wright allowed 143 hits, 52 runs, and 41 earned runs in 2009.  His ERA was 2.56.  The problem is that those numbers differ from the ones on his “official” stat line: 140 hits, 50 runs, 41 earned, and a 2.24 ERA.  This discrepancy, which I can’t seem to figure out, significantly tightened the Pitcher of the Year race.  Wright’s closest competition, Ross Stout, was 13-5, 2.94, 138 strikeouts in 143 innings (assuming his dailies are more on the level than Wright’s).  10-6/2.24/129 seemed more impressive than 13-5/2.94/138; the ERA was what really did it for me.  The stat adjustment gave Wright a .32 increase in his ERA, which made me question just how significant the new gap was.

Got all that?

In the end I decided to keep Wright in the top spot, even though his numbers didn’t add up and he lost five decisions in a row to close out the season.  Fact is, he was 10-1 with a 1.74 ERA on August 5 and while he didn’t light the world on fire over the last month, he was good enough at times that his team could have put another victory or two on his resume.  That’s enough to keep him just ahead of the field, in my book.

Honorable Mention
Brian Barr, Texarkana Gunslingers (Continental Baseball League): 9-3, 2.54 ERA, 80 strikeouts, 88.2 innings
Jim Magrane, Somerset Patriots (Atlantic League): 15-4, 2.70 ERA, 134 strikeouts, 183 innings
Dan Reichert, Bridgeport Bluefish (Atlantic League): 14-9, 3.53 ERA, 126 strikeouts, 193 innings, 7 complete games, 3 shutouts, 21 hit batsmen, 10 wild pitches
Ross Stout, Windy City Thunderbolts (Frontier League): 13-5, 2.94 ERA, 138 strikeouts, 143 innings

Independent Reliever of the Year
Rusty Tucker, New Jersey Jackals (Canadian-American Association)

rusty tuckerTucker was the Can-Am League’s Reliever of the Year after a season in which he went 5-2 with a 2.40 ERA, 24 saves, and 56 strikeouts in 41.2 innings.  He was also named the league’s Pitcher of the Week twice.

2009 was Tucker’s third consecutive season with the Jackals, the first in which he didn’t spend some time with an affiliated organization.  This year was almost a disappointment compared to the previous two:

2007: 0-1, 1.48 ERA, 14 saves, 37 strikeouts, 24.1 innings
2008: 3-3, 1.85 ERA, 21 saves, 54 strikeouts, 47.1 innings

That’s 59 saves, 113.1 innings, and 147 strikeouts.  And he’s only still only 29, which means he could still be coming to an organization near you.  Not too shabby.

Honorable Mention
Hunter Davis, Pensacola Pelicans (American Association): 3-1, 1.79 ERA, 22 saves, 40 strikeouts, 40.1 innings
Justin Dowdy, Wichita Wingnuts (American Association): 0-4, 2.25 ERA, 17 saves, 52 strikeouts, 44 innings
Bret Prinz, Somerset Patriots (Atlantic League): 1-2, 2.04 ERA, 21 saves, 51 strikeouts, 39.2 innings
Kris Regas, Sioux Falls Canaries (American Association)
: 2-0, 1.19 ERA, 15 saves, 25 strikeouts, 22.2 innings

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Meet The New Hampshire Road Warriors

tractor at holman

It’s a banner day: Nashua, New Hampshire made Deadspin.  Wheee.

For those who don’t like clicking links, the city of Nashua locked the American Defenders of New Hampshire out of Holman Stadium yesterday afternoon due to a number of unpaid bills.  The team and city could not reach an agreement on an acceptable payment plan, so the few remaining home dates have been rescheduled as road games.

As the title suggests, the situation calls to mind the old Pennsylvania Road Warriors from the Atlantic League, who played entire seasons on the road in the early 2000s.  I don’t recall the exact problem with the Road Warriors – lack of funding to build a stadium, maybe – but that’s not the point.  The point is that I remember what those teams were like: full of young guys who were willing to play for next to nothing, managed by one of the nicest guys in the game, and they almost never won.

You’d think I would be sad about what appears to be the death of professional baseball in Nashua, but I’m really not. Dan Duquette can blame it on the people of the city all he wants – the fact of the matter is that the ownership did an extremely poor job of a) selling the team to potential fans and b) understanding the situation they were getting themselves into.  They wanted a quick, easy buck, and when it didn’t work that way (because people in the city have been burned often in recent years and needed to be won over), they threw in the towel and refused to pay, hoping to make the mayor and the people of the city the bad guys who just wouldn’t support their team.

It was inevitable that we would get to this point.  For at least two, maybe three years now, Nashua baseball has been an exercise in futility, with owners who seemed to think that insulting potential fans was the best way to draw them to the ballpark.  Surprisingly, it didn’t work.  The newest group, Duquette and Company, wanted us to believe that they weren’t like the rest, that they meant what they said and said what they meant.  But in the end, as WGAM’s Rich Keefe pointed out yesterday, “It was just lipstick on a pig.”

The only thing that really bothers me is that this will renew the chorus of the idiotic minority who claim that professional baseball “stole Holman Stadium from the kids,” because they used to play high school football and baseball there before the Pride arrived.  Never mind the fact that the presence of the Pride resulted directly in renovations being made to refurbish and somewhat modernize the ballpark, or that a beautiful new football stadium, Stellos Stadium, was built down the street from Nashua High School South, or that in the years I worked there (2003 and 2004) there were over 130 non-Pride events at Holman.  Why worry about facts?

Oh well.  Professional baseball in Nashua is finally gone, probably never to return (unless they can further improve the stadium, pay off the Red Sox to waive territory rights, and lure a low-level affiliated team to the city; oh yeah, it’s that easy).  Sure, the NECBL might drop a franchise in there, and there will be plenty of high school baseball to be seen, but if you want to see the pros play (and say what you will about the quality of the Defenders, they WERE professionals; probably in the A range, but professionals nonetheless), I don’t know what to tell you.

Oh,wait, yes I do…

There’s a game in Manchester tonight.

Maybe I Should Just Forward This Directly To Dan Duquette

I’ve written about the Nashua Pride/American Defenders here many, many times. For various reasons, and despite all attempts to break me, it is an organization that holds a place close to my heart.

I want the Defenders to succeed, and I feel bad that I don’t personally do more to make it happen. There are probably a lot of people in the city who feel the same way – “We like the idea of the team, we just haven’t done enough to support it.” It happens.

The problem is this: the Nashua baseball fan has been abused and taken for granted for years. Every year, they hear that their team is endangered, on the brink of extinction, only to be saved at the last moment by a kind benefactor who assures them that things will be better this time around.

An ownership group led by former Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette bought the Pride from local owner John Stabile (in 2005, conventional wisdom held that the one thing that could save the Pride was local ownership), who had been the main money man for three seasons, I believe, before taking shots at an “apathetic” community near the end of his foray into minor league sports.

At the time of Stabile’s comments, I noted that this was the absolute wrong attitude to have, that after being kicked in the proverbial head for five years or more, after seeing promise after promise after promise fail to come to fruition, the Nashua community needed to be nurtured. The team’s fan base was broken; only years of hard work and patience would bring it back.

Stabile didn’t have that patience (although, to be fair, I’d be a bit short-tempered myself if I lost as much money on the team as he did). I hoped that Duquette and his crew would be sharper, more willing to work with the community and convince people that the new Defenders were not an outside entity, but an honest-to-goodness member of the local community.

*Sigh*

“We were hoping to make a stronger connection with the community and that hasn’t happened,” Duquette said. “The stadium is charming. We would like to succeed here in Nashua but only if we get the support of the community.”

“All teams need to connect with the community in a meaningful way,” he said.

When asked why that connection hasn’t yet formed, Duquette seamed [sic] miffed.

“We’ve tried,” he said. “And we’re going to continue to try.”

It is July of the team’s first season of existence. Criticizing the Nashua community, even lightly, for not supporting the Defenders at this point is asinine.  It’s not a good idea.  Just don’t do it.

What you have to do – and I’ve written similar stuff here before – is show the people in the local community that you actually give a crap.  Get out there, players and coaches and front office and all, and build relationships. Go downtown and talk to people.  Volunteer at the Soup Kitchen.  Put it an appearance at Special Olympics softball practice.  Talk to kids in the schools.  Take every last nook and cranny in Nashua and blanket it with Defenders-related goodwill.  If someone of Eric Gagne’s caliber is coming to Holman Stadium, you get out there and spread the word.  Tell all 85,000 people in the city personally, if you have to.

What don’t you do?  Don’t pass out 4,000 vouchers for free tickets, then get pissy when thirteen people show up – putting a piece of paper in someone’s hand without showing that you give a crap about them won’t work at this point.  And don’t whine in the paper that you’re trying SO hard, but the community just isn’t responding.

I’m almost out of optimism regarding this team.  I’ll still go to games.  I’ll still hope they succeed.  But I harbor no illusions that it will actually happen.  I think they might have finally broken me.

Enjoy Canada.

Is It The End Of Nashua Baseball As We Know It?

After last night’s American Defenders game, my friend Chris was moved to write down a few thoughts of his own on the current state of the team and its seemingly inevitable demise.

There comes a time in everyone’s life where their childhood memories eventually fade away. It may be something small and minuscule or it may be something significant. This is minuscule but it is still something that is hard to watch die right before your eyes. I am talking about Nashua minor league baseball. Last night I went to the American Defenders of New Hampshire game at Historic Holman Stadium and in front of a crowd of about 150 I saw former all star and major league record holder Eric Gagne pitch.

Gagne was someone who at one time was considered one of the best closers in the game, then injury struck and he was never the same. He pitched for the Red Sox for a short time as well, but those facts alone were not good enough to draw more people than an average night at the Olive Garden. I bought the cheapest seats in the house and had free roaming abilities to move all the way to the first row behind the visiting dugout.

This brought me back to a time when I used to work for this ball team. I was making minimum wage but loved every minute that I was able to work there. On a good night two to three thousand people would be there cheering on their beloved Nashua team, watching local legends like Butch Hobson and Glen Murray.

I am not going to compare Gagne’s appearance to Ricky Henderson’s… actually, I am. When Henderson came to town the house was packed, the energy was fantastic and it was the place to be. The scoreboard was working, and the reason why I start with this is because the scoreboard was turned on but it was like when your computer is on screensaver – it’s on but no one is there. The PA announcer had to keep announcing the score and if it wasn’t for the outfielders putting up their hands to show how many outs there were the game could have gone on all night.

To see a team that I once had the privilege to work for in the state that they are in now was tough to sit through. I heard the players swear when they made a mistake, a conversation from three sections away, and (worst of all) the cheers from the Little League game just outside the stadium completely overshadowed any cheering that took place for the Defenders baseball team. Unless there is some sort of miraculous marketing change in Nashua where they can convince people that they need baseball in that city, Holman Stadium will turn into another baseball memory that will be written about in a book or magazine that people will always say “whatever happened to…” It truly is the end of an era for Nashua minor league baseball.

Eric Gagne Comes To Nashua

My road trip was originally supposed to end on Sunday, June 28, with a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  About three weeks ago, however, I saw a story that changed my plans slightly: the day after our return, Eric Gagne was coming to Nashua.

gagne looking sadIn a way, it’s more fitting that the long weekend (which I’ll write about eventually, provided I can remember all the wild stuff that happened) came to a close in Nashua.  Holman Stadium has become my home ballpark over the past five or six seasons, and the prospect of seeing Gagne from one of it’s 2,800 seats made the situation all the more perfect.

It rained at multiple points early in the day, making my actual attendance virtually a game-time decision.  My friend Chris and I were the only two people from the trip who were interested in going; we exchanged texts at 2:30 and basically decided that if they played, we were there.  I laid down on the couch shortly thereafter and didn’t wake up until my boss called at 4:37.  It was somewhat sunny, which could mean only one thing: it was American Defenders time!

Pulling into the parking lot, I was surprised by the number of empty spaces.  Gagne may not have been impressive in his last trip to New England with the Red Sox in 2007, and he may be working as a starter now, but he was a former major leaguer, and a damn good one.

While the weather certainly played a role in the low attendance, I ultimatelygagne in nashua chalk it up to the same old story: the team did a poor job of getting the word out about Gagne’s impending arrival.  It was mentioned on the road sign on Amherst St. and on the team Web site (the latter according to Chris; I looked there and never saw it), but obviously, those don’t do the trick.  Now, according to the most recent information I could find, about 25% of Nashuans have French or French-Canadian ancestry.  The team should have sought out prominent members of that population (like the mayor, perhaps – Donnalee Lozeau) and put together some sort of celebration, with Gagne’s appearance serving as the central point.  Who cares if he doesn’t play for the home team?

It was sad to see so many empty spaces outside, and it didn’t get any better after I paid my $5 and passed through the gates.  The people were nice enough and they had a band playing covers on a platform next to the offices on the first base side, but it was very clearly a minor league operation.  (Actually, the words I used to explain my thoughts to Chris when he arrived were, “Train wreck.”)

They have a woman who handles game-day promotions from the field level.  Prior to the game, she was walking around on the field with a microphone, chatting with Booster Club members who were doing some sort of Player of the Month presentation.  When the time came for them to give their award, though, she was nowhere to be found.  As the guy with the microphone struggled through his prepared speech (without any introduction from the main PA, as well), it was obvious that she should have done the main portion of his talk and turned it over to him for the actual presentation.  It would have achieved the same results and appeared much more professional.

This woman actually holds the key to improving attendance, in my opinion (as long as she works full-time for the team during the day).  The problem with the Can-Am League is that it’s hard to build the franchise’s image around a particular player or core of players because most of them don’t stick around very long.  So what they should do is make HER the face of the franchise.  Instead of having her sit in an office and make cold calls all day, get her out into public.  Send her to downtown Nashua, the Pheasant Lane Mall, anywhere people gather in the city, to hand out pocket schedules and chat with people about the team.  Bring the mascot.  Get the word out on a grassroots level.  Eventually, expand the operations to Merrimack, Hudson, Amherst, Milford, and other nearby communities that might be interested.  But give people a personal connection.  Think about it – is someone more likely to attend a game because they saw something about it on a road sign or because a pretty blonde took a few minutes to talk to them?

The biggest problem with Holman Stadium on this night, however, was the scoreboard.  There are two sections to the scoreboard: the top is a small message board, the bottom shows the line score, balls and strikes, and other basic stuff.  The top half hasn’t worked since 2003, I think (although I might be wrong), which is awkward in itself because rather than make an attempt to cover it up with something useful, the darkened screen just sits there, blank.  By this point, however, I think it’s one of those things we’ve all gotten used to.

The problem last night was that the rest of the scoreboard didn’t work.  The power was on, so either the unit in the press box was busted or they didn’t have anyone to run it.  Either way, it was embarrassing.  None of the fans knew the score.  The pitchers had to keep asking the umpire for the count.  Combined with the 150 people in attendance (official announced crowd: 892; must’ve been a lot of groups or season ticket holders that didn’t show up), it made me wonder just how long we can keep this “baseball in Nashua” thing going.

On the field wasn’t much better.  Gagne got lit up for nine runs on fourteen hits with only two strikeouts (one of them on a silly-slow breaking ball to end the first), and it wasn’t like the Defenders got lucky.  Dude got hit hard.  You kinda had to feel bad for him.

The good thing about small crowds is that we were able to leave our seats after the fifth and sit directly behind the third-base dugout.  Great seats, although I was constantly terrified that a foul ball was gonna take my head off.  It’s been awhile since I sat that close to the field.

(That makes me think of something else.  Mike Coolbaugh was killed by a foul ball less than two years ago.  Last season, Major League Baseball made a big deal of instituting a rule requiring all base coaches to wear helmets on the field.  No base coach last night, for either team, had any sort of protective headgear.  Now, I’m inclined to think that the MLB rule is a little reactionary – based on where he was hit, Coolbaugh wouldn’t have been saved by the type of helmet those coaches now wear – but it’s not a terrible idea.  And the coaches last night were standing pretty close to the action.  I’m just surprised the rule change hasn’t filtered down into the independent leagues yet.)

The clouds looked ominous all evening.  They finally opened up in the seventh – I felt a drop on my arm, looked out at the field, and realized it was pouring rain in center field.  I looked at Chris and thought, “That’s our cue.”  Almost at the same time, he looked at me and said, “That’s my cue.”  We had barely made it to shelter when the rain began in earnest, quickly making it apparent that baseball was done for the night. I hit the store for a couple things (a program, two packs of 1987 Topps baseball cards, and a U.S. Military All-Stars card set that included Jonathan Johnston), decided against wandering into the Capitales locker room to interview Gagne (and trust me, I thought about it) and called it a night.

If the Defenders can put people in the seats, they might have a shot.  The in-game promotions were unimaginative but not awful, the team can hit, and all the staff I dealt with was very nice (when I got into the store, the girl behind the counter was receiving a call from the tarp crew saying that the tarp was messed up.  I told her, as seriously as I could manage, that I had tarp experience and could help if they needed me.  I then told her that I had experience messing up the tarp and could help out with that as well.  She didn’t look very amused).

But man, they need to get that scoreboard fixed, and more people in the seats to look at it.  In other words, not much has changed in Nashua.

Minor League Baseball: It’s For Everyone

Up to this point, the biggest story in the Can-Am League this season was Quebec’s signing of former major league pitcher Eric Gagne.  The Boston Herald, however, ran a story today on the first base coach for the Brockton Rox, Justine Siegal.

justine siegal

Yeah, HER name is Justine.  The Rox think she is the first female coach in professional baseball history (that’s actually the fun thing about independent baseball: you can claim pretty much anything and run with it until someone proves you wrong.  Then, if they do prove you wrong,  you just smile and nod and move on to the next promotion.  It’s great).

One of the big questions in the story was whether or not Siegal’s position was a legitimate one; the Rox are owned by Mike Veeck, who comes from a family that has been known to tweak the nose of the baseball establishment from time to time, just to show that it can.  Legit or not, though, it’s a nice story.  She’s out there, on the field, helping the team.

And more than that, maybe this will help open some doors and minds to opportunities for everyone in the game.  I remember about five years ago, there was a girl in Nashua who wanted to play baseball in middle school.  The coach, a well-respected member of the community, wouldn’t let her join the team because girls weren’t allowed to play with the boys beyond Little League.  Her father sought out Butch Hobson’s advice, then refused to stand up for his daughter after Butch told him the coach’s decision was the right one.

When Mackenzie Brown pitched a perfect game in a New Jersey Little League this spring, news of her achievement was tempered by the “Well, she’s gonna have to switch to softball soon” mindset:

Most of the estimated 100,000 girls who play Little League each year switch to softball by age 10, but Mackenzie’s been content to strike out the boys. She’ll have to switch next year, however, in the hopes of playing college softball.

Maybe now, a girl in the same position can say, “If Coach Siegal can coach a bunch of men, why can’t I play baseball with a bunch of boys?”

(Also, I enjoyed this caption on the photo that accompanied Steve Buckley’s column:

Justine Siegal is a major sensation as professional baseball’s first female coach, for the Brockton Rox. Here she keeps an eye on baserunner Keith Brachold during a home game Tuesday against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

Nice job, Boston Herald caption writers.  The New Hampshire Fisher Cats are the Eastern League team that plays in Manchester.  The Rox were playing the American Defenders of New Hampshire from the Can-Am League, the team formery known as the Nashua Pride.  Just for that, I’m borrowing John Wilcox’s picture for this post.)

Proof That God Is Not A Fan Of Independent Baseball

On Monday evening, the Manchester-based New Hampshire Fisher Cats played in front of 7,057 fans.  It was Memorial Day, and it was beautiful – my wife opened every single window in our apartment while doing some spring cleaning.

On Tuesday evening, the Fisher Cats welcomed the Portland Sea Dogs to town.  Always a good draw, the Sea Dogs on this occasion brought a little something extra – rehabbing Red Sox pitcher John Smoltz (now known in the local media as “future Hall of Famer John Smoltz”; it’s weird that his candidacy was cemented by the fact that he made a rehab start in New Hampshire).  Nearly 9,000 fans – more than last year’s Eastern League All-Star Game – turned out on another bee-yoo-ti-full night for baseball.

On Thursday evening, the American Defenders of New Hampshire (nee Nashua Pride) were scheduled to play their Can-Am League season opener at Holman Stadium.  It rained all morning, into the early afternoon, and when I stopped by the box office just after three o’clock to buy tickets, was told that the game had been postponed.  It continued raining into today, until just an hour or two before game time.  If the pushed-back opener was played this evening, surely the weather was bad just long enough to convince scores of potential fans that it was NOT a beautiful night for a ballgame.

A doubleheader is scheduled for tomorrow starting at four o’clock.  It’s probably going to snow.