Posts Tagged ‘Tampa Yankees’

From MLB Draft Pick to NCAA Champion?

C.J. Henry (Getty Images)

C.J. Henry (Getty Images)

I know, I’m like you. That sounds totally backward to me.

In the course of doing research for an upcoming college basketball project, I looked into the much-vaunted Henry brothers, both of whom were set to play for the Memphis Tigers this season before coach John Calipari bolted for Kentucky. Instead, the brothers opted to switch their allegiance to the University of Kansas, which happens to be my alma mama, and that of Henry mom and pop, both of whom starred in basketball there.

This is all nice, Eric, but what does it have to do with baseball?

Well, while both Xavier and C.J. Henry are listed as freshmen on the KU roster, only one of them is truly a spring chicken. Xavier is a hotly-recruited blue-chipper who is only in college because of NBA rules. C.J. is a 23-year-old walk on who spent four years swinging a bat for the farm clubs of the Yanks and Phillies before deciding his future lay on the hardwood.

The Yankees made Henry – a 6’3″, 205-lb. shortstop from Oklahoma City – the #17 pick of the 2005 June draft. That’s the draft that gave us Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman, and Ryan Braun, not to mention Troy Tulowitzki and our hero, Jay Bruce. For perspective, the following players were drafted lower in the first round than C.J. Henry: Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza, Colby Rasmus, and Clay Buchholz.

The elder Henry brother had a modest first season with the GCL Yankees, then started 2006 with the Charleston RiverDogs. 77 games into the Sally League season, he was traded to the Phillies as part of the deal that sent Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle to New York. Henry was racking up errors as a shortstop, and his hitting was nothing to write home about, so 2007 saw him auditioning at third base and every position in the outfield for the Class-A Lakewood BlueClaws. The experiment failed, and Henry was released.

Believe it or not, that wasn’t his last gasp. The Yankees re-signed CJ in 2008 and even moved him up a level, to the A+ Tampa Yankees. He played in 20 games, put up a .237 average with no errors in left field, and then abruptly quit. He walked on at Memphis but sat out the season as a redshirt with a foot injury. Then Calipari left, and CJ rode his younger brother’s coattails to national title contender KU.

C.J. Henry has actually played this pretty well. As a walk-on, he doesn’t have to take up a precious scholarship, which would probably have limited his options, though his ability to bring his superstar kid brother along might have induced someone to burn one on a guy who might still be able to play. At 23, he probably still has his skill-set intact, and he had a year of practice time while sitting out at Memphis to shake off some of the rust. One assumes he still has some of his bonus-baby money to keep him in pizza and beer while he lives the college life. Even if he isn’t a major contributor, he’s going to be a member of a team that has Final Four written all over it.

They say there are no second acts in American lives. C.J. Henry begs to differ.

Guest Column: From the Bigs to the Buses

Getting to know other writers is one of the best things about having a blog. Since OMDQ and I have been in the writing version of the Bus Leagues for more than a year, we have met some great people we are proud to call friends & colleagues. One of those is Jordi, who writes about baseball, politics, and other blood sports at his site, The Serious Tip. Today, he shares his weekend experiences going from MLB to A-ball in South Florida. Enjoy.

From the rural sandlots to the city stadiums, the basic premise of baseball – three strikes, three outs, nine innings, etc – remains constant. Sure, the talent level rises with every step to the majors, but does an increase in whiz-bang glitz and glamour make for a more entertaining game? Is happiness and emotional attachment at the ballpark directly related to cost and hype? Or have I been reading too much Freakonomics?

These questions are a result of seeing two games of various levels this past weekend. Last Friday night, I used one of my season tickets and saw James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays one-hit the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The next night, I traveled to Viera, nee Melbourne, Florida, received a free ticket and watched the Class-A Florida State League Brevard County Manatees take on the Tampa Yankees.

As anyone who has followed my past writings knows, I am a closet Rays fan. Although I grew up a Mets fan, since moving to Tampa two years ago, I’ve had an interest in the Rays, especially in regards to the team’s transformation from doormat to dominant. So as an admirer, and not yet a full-blown fan, I was on my feet applauding what may have been the best pitching performance in franchise history.

Unlike my newfound fascination with the Rays, the Brevard County Manatees have been my favorite minor league team since their inception in 1994. Formerly a Marlins’ farm team, the Manatees are now the A-ball representative of the Milwaukee Brewers. Personally, I still wear the teal Manatees hat. I think it looks better than the newer red and blue version.

My two weekend destinations, independent of the score, couldn’t have been more different. A trip to the Trop is almost like a journey to the amusement park. Despite its reputation as a bad place for baseball, the Rays ownership has turned Tropicana Field into a fan friendly experience, with batting cages, speed gun contests, and plenty of other bells, whistles, gizmos, and doo-dads. The coup de grace of this new Trop is the new large video score board installed before the 2007 season. Every stat the above-average fan needs is broadcast, from OPS to pitch count, WHIP to walks per nine innings.

Even the fans at Tropicana Field have their own vibe. Whereas a growing number are starting to pepper the stands with Upton and Shields jerseys, many still wear generic merchandise mixed with attention-getting flare such as clown wigs and boxing robes. Topping off this group of new fans was an American Idol contestant in town to sing the National Anthem.

A Manatees game at Space Coast Stadium, on the other hand, is a far different experience. Instead of a celebrity singing for America, for example, the Manatees had two anonymous local crooners. Instead of a promotional foul line race between characters dressed as Pepsi, Aquafina, and Sierra Mist, the Manatees featured two local little league coaches dressed in generic ketchup and mustard bottles. Instead of amplified stereo noise, blinking lights, and new-age scoreboard, Space Coast Stadium relied on an old fashioned public address system and a video screen fit for an Sega Genesis.

So was the Rays’ game I paid for that much better than the low-budget Class-A Manatees contest I saw for free? Well, in this case, yes. But only because of the magnificent pitching artistry of James Shields. If not for the great Mr. Shields, it might have been a toss-up.

Thanks, Jordi! Readers will also enjoy hearing about the J-man’s quest to join the minor-league ranks during open tryouts.