Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Minor Leagues play major role in NCAA baseball tourney

The field of 64 for the NCAA baseball tournament was revealed today and most of the big name collegiate powers are there. The first round will be played at 16 different sites. Two of those places are worth noting.

The University of Texas is a No. 1 seed, but they aren't really playing at home. They're playing in the Austin suburb of Round Rock, Texas - home of the Triple-A Round Rock Express.

Coastal Carolina is also hosting a first round tournament, playing at the home of the Class A Myrtle Beach Pelicans. This partnership is particularly worth noting because of the unlikelihood that the small-school Chanticleers could have persuaded the NCAA to allow them to host the tourney at their home ballpark.

These are two wonderful examples of how minor league baseball clubs can help their community.

The Myrtle Beach Web site quotes Coastal Carolina coach Gary Gilmore as saying:

“Without the Pelicans helping out throughout the regional bid process this would not have happened, regardless of our talent on the field. The Pelicans boast a venue that gives us a chance to host a regional because we don’t have that type of facility on our campus. Coastal Federal Field is one of the top venues in the country and we are proud to host the regional there.”

The Dugout hopes this becomes a trend, allowing more small colleges a fair chance at advancing to the College World Series.

Dark FSL: How tough is it to get people to attend Florida State League games? The FSL didn't even schedule games on Memorial Day. The league has learned from past years that Florida baseball fans simply have better things to do on their holiday. And it's not just Memorial Day. The League also didn’t play on Mother’s Day. July 4, however, is one of the biggest days of the year for most clubs.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Great photos of families in the same pair of underwear

The West Virginia Power had a pretty impressive home stand. Twice this week the Brewers' South Atlantic League franchise hosted the Promotion of the Day. Monday was a Salute to Indoor Plumbing.

They topped that with Thursday night's World’s Largest Tighty Whitey Race and the World's Fastest Fat Guy Race. Kristin Call, the Power’s Director of Promotions, was kind enough to send photos from Thursday night.

The top two photos are from the Tighty Whitey race, which may be one of the funniest new promotions The Dugout has seen in a while. Let's hope West Virginia keeps it as a between-inning promotion for the rest of the year. The Dugout boldly predicts that this promotion may soon be as popular as the dizzy bat race at ballparks across the country.

The bottom photo is a shot of the contestants in the Fat Guy race. The Dugout was hoping for some real lard asses, but most of these contestants seem only moderately overweight. And there are no overalls. Really hoped to see fat guys in overalls. Oh well.

By the way, just judging from these photos, the ballpark in West Virginia looks pretty cool. And pretty full, too. Nice going guys.

Good month: No one will be sorrier to see the month of May end than Charleston’s Mitch Hilligoss. The RiverDogs third baseman has a hit in every game this month. A single in his second at bat on Saturday extended Hilligoss' hit streak to 32 games, longest in professional baseball this year. If he keeps it up, MinorLeagueDugout.com will have to do a full feature on him. Give it a week.

Race Fans: Tomorrow is the Indy 500. The Dugout was fortunate enough to attend the race in 1993, and while the five-day jaunt to Indianapolis was the trip from hell the six hours spent at the Speedway were downright incredible. Those cars are really just low-flying missiles. Incredible. If you ever have the opportunity, check it out.

While fried chicken is the traditional fare at the Speedway, The Dugout spent Saturday preparing ribs and fixins. It’ll be a great day of racing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Yes, he really lost a ground ball in the sun

Some of the things that happen on minor league baseball fields simply wouldn't be believed if not seen. Take last night's Florida State League game between Tampa and Jupiter, during which Hammerheads first baseman Gaby Sanchez lost a ground ball in the sun.

In the top of the second inning, Tampa's Marcos Vechionacci smacked a ground ball to first. It took a bit of an unexpected hop as it got to Sanchez, causing the first baseman to pop the ball into the air. As Sanchez attempted to corral the ball, the setting sun temporarily blinded him. Sanchez to lost sight of the ball while attempting to shade his eyes. The ball bounded over his shoulder, allowing Vechionacci to reach on an error.

A pitcher pretty much knows it's not going to be their day when the first baseman loses a ground ball in the sun. Former first round draft choice Chris Volstd took the loss, falling to 3-5 on the season.

A Flag of a Different Color: There's plenty of fun at Space Coast Stadium, home of the Brevard County Manatees (See lead story on MinorLeagueDugout.com), but there is also a good dose of pragmatism.

A couple of weeks ago one of the clips used to attach the American flag to the flagpole beyond the outfield wall broke. The Manatees made numerous phone calls to the city of Melbourne, which operates the park, only to be told the city was too busy to fix it. During one game a member of the Palm Bay fire department offered to fix the connector.

The next day the Palm Bay fire department drove their fire truck the 20 or so miles up I-95 and performed the repairs. Then they asked Brevard County General Manager Buck Rogers if they could fly the City of Palm Bay flag on an adjacent pole (photo, right). Grateful that Palm Bay was able to accomplish something his own city couldn’t - or wouldn’t - Rogers gladly agreed.

Word is that Melbourne is pretty mad at Rogers, but has yet to send out a truck to take down the Palm Bay flag. The Dugout commends Rogers and the City of Palm Bay for their actions. And Melbourne, if the flag is that unimportant to you, don't complain when yours is replaced.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Music sing, Redfish smoked out and Juice just odd in the SCL

The Dugout received a surprise phone call on Saturday from South Coast League CEO Jamie Toole. The dugout was critical of the independent SCL's preparations for the start of their inaugural season in a previous blog, including not responding to interview requests from MinorLeagueDugout.com.

Toole apologized for not returning the call earlier. He didn't mention the blog entrie during the 20-minute conversion, leading The Dugout to believe the criticism didn't prompt the call. The SCL regained some points for that. It looks like he really was too busy.

In the blog, The Dugout was also critical of the SCL's inability to update their Web site. Toole acknowledged the Web site issues and promised they would be remedied quickly. As of Monday afternoon, however, there were still no entries one the scores or standings pages. Who's leading the SCL? This early in the season it must not be important.

Overall, Toole was pleased with the opening couple of days. He attended the league opener in Macon. According to the Macon Telegraph, the Music played in front of more than 5,000 fans for Thursday's opening night game, but that number was cut in half for Saturday's contest.

Wild fires caused a few more glitches for Charlotte County (Fla.). The Redfish, who play in the park the Texas Rangers used for spring training, had to cancel their opening night fireworks because of drought. They planned to put the money budgeted for fireworks toward a money drop. They planned to load a helicopter with more than $1,000, then toss the money onto the field after the game. The mad dash for cash had to be cancelled in the fifth inning because smoke from a nearby wildfire grounded the helicopter. Luckily, the money drop was going to be a surprise to the fans, so the crowd didn’t leave upset. The Redfish have yet to decide whether they will reschedule the event.

The SCL originally hoped to start the season with eight teams. It settled for six, with plans to expand. Toole is hoping to grow to 10 teams by 2009. He would not say which markets the league is considering, but did mention that, at one point, the league was looking at putting a team in Tinker Field in Orlando. That deal could be reached with the city. There are a few other former spring training facilities available in FloridaCocoa Beach and Kissimmee come to mind – which could host a team.

Hopefully those teams will come up with a better nickname than Bradenton's. The Juice is an odd nickname, especially in this supposed “post-steroids era.”

Again, The Dugout wishes the SCL well. Still, they need to overcome plenty of challenges to reach that 2009 season.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Rumor has it the South Coast Baseball League season started yesterday

Every new league experiences growing pains. The South Coast Baseball League seems to be experiencing more than most.

The six-team league opened its inaugural season last night. Surprised you didn't hear about it? Don't be. The league seems content to play in anonymity.

The Dugout hoped to do a story on the league, but repeated phone calls to the league office were never returned. Bitter? A little – but it's tempered by amazement. Most independent leagues, let alone startups, do everything they can for publicity. That doesn't seem to matter to the SCBL.

It's not just that the folks shunned MinorLeagueDugout.com. A Google search on the league yields precious little information. Their Web site is only marginally more helpful. Game time is approaching for Friday's contest, yet there is still no mention of last night’s opening night festivities. There aren't even scores from opening night.

Maybe they want to keep the league small and quiet so that it has the exclusive feel of a top-flight South Beach bar. Maybe they figure their fans can’t read, so why go to the effort. Most likely, they simply underestimated how much work goes into the launch of a season.

Independent leagues need publicity of any kind. Fans won't go to the parks if they don't know there is a game. It's just that simple. The Dugout is a fan of every baseball league and sincerely hopes the South Coast League is successful. That being said, The Dugout will be shocked if the league survives to see its third season.

Monday, May 14, 2007

St. Lucie draws much needed rainout

Any fan who's watched Bull Durham knows that sometimes a rainout is a good thing. The St. Lucie Mets experienced one of those "good" rainouts Monday night.

In the movie Crash Davis, weary from a long stretch of road games in which the Durham Bulls were playing poorly, broke into the ballpark and turned on the sprinkler system, thereby flooding the field and ensuring a rainout.

The rainout in St. Lucie wasn't of the man-made variety, but it was just as welcome. Most of the Florida State League teams have been affected by the drought that’s struck the Sunshine State. Several teams were forced to cancel their season-opening fireworks displays because the grounds around the ballpark were a little too susceptible to fire.

A month and a half into the season conditions have only worsened, especially on Florida's west coast. Clearwater and Tampa both had to postpone games last week because out-of-control forest fires blanketed the ballpark in smoke. Other teams have played in what’s seemed like a week-long perpetual haze.

The peninsula finally started receiving some showers in the last two days – one of which apparently hit St. Lucie tonight. Tradition Field is in a fairly remote area of Port St. Lucie and the surrounding brush is susceptible to forest fires. Every little bit of rain helps squelch the potential flames.

It also may help avoid a major financial loss on the biggest weekend of the season.

Several ballpark general managers are already starting to worry about their July 4 fireworks. Almost every home team in the FSL offers an Independence Day fireworks show. Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter draws almost as many fans for their July 3 and 4 air explosions as they do for the rest of July combined.

The Dugout knows Florida will eventually return to its regular pattern of an afternoon deluge before every first pitch. Those days won't come soon enough for most FSL general managers.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

How 'bout a Brat and a Beer for Mothers Day

Happy Mothers Day to all you mothers out there, especially The Dugout's.

Those who saw that Sioux Falls won the Promo of the Day award probably also noticed The Dugout mentioned that there are several other Mothers Day promos across the country.

Connecticut, for instance, is doing a diamond ring dig. In this popular promo, the Defenders bury a diamond ring in their infield then allow all women in attendance onto the field to try to dig for it. What happens if two women simultaneously find the diamond? Talk about your blood diamonds.

Pawtucket is giving away a rose to the first 3,000 mothers who walk through the gates. Clinton is giving away two tickets on American Airlines. Savannah’s celebration is sponsored in part by The Lady and Sons, whose founder, Paula Dean, has a show on the Food Network.

Albuquerque, however, might have the oddest giveaway. The Isotopes are giving women 15 years and older a copy of the Isotopes Cookbook. Now, The Dugout likes the idea of a cookbook giveaway, but isn’t it a little too old school to give women cookbooks on Mothers Day? Why not give them a matching broom and dust rag?

That being said, The Dugout respects any mother who would spend her special day at the ballpark. Fellas, if you find a women willing to go to a baseball game on her special day, you’ve found a keeper.

Friday, May 11, 2007

QuackerJack's bobbling tail and the start of some independent leagues

First things first. Those of you visiting the blog looking for a picture of the Promotion of the Day, it's on the right. The Atlantic League's Long Island Ducks are giving away a bobble-tail doll. It depicts their mascot, QuackerJack, sliding head first into a base.

These bobble dolls are getting more inventive all the time. The Dugout especially likes the tush-waving duck. Long Island fans should be snapping this one up. Only 1,500 are available.

The independent Atlantic League is entering its second weekend of the season. A couple other independent leagues began play this week. Perhaps the most widespread league in the country, the American Association, began play on May 10th. The league features teams from Minnesota, Texas, Florida and many points in between. For shear distance, it rivals the Pacific Coast League, which features teams are far east as Tennessee.

The AA boasts two teams owned by Bill Veeck's Goldklang Group, which pretty much tells any baseball fan that there is some fun going on. St. Paul is so ahead of the promotional game that they run some wild stuff during their preseason exhibition games. But that is another blog.

The United League also threw its first pitch this week. Based primarily in Texas, the United League’s season runs through Sept. 1. The six-team league features some interesting nicknames and logos, but The Dugout is particularly fond of the Amarillo Dillas.

Look for the start of several other independent baseball league's seasons in the coming weeks, along with a few more affiliated leagues following the amateur draft the first weekend in June.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Cleaning the desk drawer

The Dugout has shamefully allowed a few items to slip through the cracks. The crack stops now.

On April 28th,the Brevard County Manatees attempted to break the record for the most ceremonial first pitches thrown before a game. This was the Manatees' second attempt at this particular record, failing last season when their game was washed out.

Brevard succeeded this time, throwing 6,130 first pitches – breaking the record by more than 1,000. To accomplish that feat, the Manatees opened their gates at 4:30 a.m., throwing the first pitch at 4:55 and finishing just before the start of their 5 p.m. game.

"If I ever do it again my staff will beat my ass," said Brevard General Manager Buck Rogers.

Another Saints record: St. Paul set out to break the record for the tallest baseball player on Sunday and they appear to have succeeded. In the eighth inning St. Paul sent 7-foot-3 Dave Rasmussen to the plate. He struck out on three pitches, which is an official at-bat and likely makes Rasmussen the tallest player ever to whiff.

More to see: Nearly 6 million fans attended minor league baseball games in April – a new record for the first month of the season. The 5.9 million fans is an increase of nearly 122,000 from last season. The California League led the way with a 19.4 percent increase, followed by a 14.4 increase by Pacific Coast League teams.

The increase is even more impressive considering the International, Eastern and Midwest leagues lost more than 80 games to inclement weather.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A few more Travis Hake outtakes

Travis Hake said a couple of interesting things that didn't make the MinorLeagueDugout.com preview of the Atlantic League. Here are some of those responses.

The Dugout: Are you hoping to get picked up by a major league organization?

Hake: I just play to play. If I get picked up, I get picked up. There are guys who want to get picked up, and that's what this league is about. I think leagues ought to be more than just that. You've got to have players in the league like me. You've got to have guys that just care about the game and want to play. You can have all the guys in the world that just want to get picked back up, but what does that say for the fans? What are you telling the fans? We don't care if you like this player or not. We hope he gets out of here as soon as possible. I'd rather just go and give the fans a good game and make it fan friendly.

The Dugout: Do most players in the Atlantic League expect to be picked up by a major league organization?

Hake: There are a lot like me that still have the dream of getting to the big leagues. After you played affiliated ball for a few years and you're not quick to get to the big leagues, you almost have to put it in perspective that you are probably not going to get to the big leagues. Even the guys in here who get back out of this league, most of the time they just go to be a fill in.

The Dugout: What’s it like playing in front of the kids who pay you for lessons?

Hake: If you have a bad game then you always think, they must think I suck. I’m trying to teach these kids and what I teach them I don't even do some of the time.

Former Lancaster manager Tommy Herr on Hake's chances of returning to affiliated ball:

He's at an age now where it would be a reach for him to get another chance. Normally those types of guys don't get another chance unless they have Triple A or big league experience.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Newark the pick in the Atlantic League

The Dugout looks at the Atlantic League, which begins its season tonight.

Welcome: The York Revolution make their debut tonight in Bridgeport. Advance ticket sales for the new club have been outstanding, but fans will have to wait a while to see their new hometown boys. Stadium construction delays have forced the Revolution to play their first 10 "home" games in Camden.

See ya: Atlantic City left the Atlantic League to join the Can-Am League. The Surf's departure leaves the Atlantic League with only seven teams with a home presence. The Road Warriors, a league-operated team which plays all of its games on the road, balances out the league.

End of the road?: In theory, the Road Warriors will cease to exist next season when the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs join the league. But they were also supposed to disappear when Lancaster (2005) and York (2007) entered the league. Defections by Atlantic City and Nashua kept the Road Warriors around.

Prediction: York looked good in camp, but they will have trouble overcoming all the early road games. Long Island has the league's biggest name, Carl Everett, a major league pitching staff that includes Danny Graves, John Halama and Donovan Osborne, and Kevin Haverbusch hitting bombs following eye surgery. Newark, though, has fewer former major leaguers than normal, which will likely help team chemistry. That cohesiveness takes the Bears to the title.