Tag Archives: Atlantic League

Triple B Flashback: The Curious Case of Scott Kazmir

Editor’s Note: In honor of Scott Kazmir being traded From the Oakland Athletics to the Houston Astros we take a look back at the curious rise and fall of the Houston native who rebuilt his career and became an All-Star when many thought he had nothing left in the tank in a column that originally appeared last July.

Hollywood, and the world of sports, both love a good comeback story of redemption.

Whether it is the story of a loveable group of misfits banding together and claiming a title, or a washed out boxer making one more trip into the ring, the Hollywood movie machine churns out film after film that tugs at the heart strings of movie goers and helps them believe in the underdog.

Of course occasionally the world of fact trumps the world of fiction when it comes to tales of redemption and making the most out of second chances.

For a real life story of redemption, that very well could have the stuff of a Hollywood blockbuster, let us consider the curious case of Oakland Athletics pitcher Scott Kazmir who was named to his third career All-Star team over the weekend, and first since 2008.

Kazmir was drafted by the New York Mets in the first-round in 2002 and was traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization two years later. Kazmir helped lead the Rays to the World Series in 2008.

Scott Kazmir made is Major League Baseball debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and his Atlantic League debut with the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson

Scott Kazmir made is Major League Baseball debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and his Atlantic League debut with the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

Following the World Series run the Rays traded Kazmir to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim midway through the 2009 season.

Following the trade Kazmir’s “True Hollywood Story” included some mighty struggles.

Although many players struggle to adapt to their new surroundings following a trade, the struggles of Kazmir were epic in nature.

After two extremely rough seasons in Southern California Kazmir was released by the Angels on June 15, 2011 despite having $14.5 million remaining on his guaranteed contract.

Kazmir failed to get picked up by another Major League club following his release from the Angels and his career seemed all but over despite being less than three years removed from appearances in both the All-Star Game and World Series.

History is full of players who seem to suddenly lose their stuff for no apparent reason. While injuries can often be blamed for declines in performance sometimes a player, such as Kazmir, just starts to see their performance fade without suffering the type of career ending injury experienced by many.

Of course sometimes the mental aspect of the game can be just as debilitating as an injury and players often have to struggle to overcome doubt and other mental factors to return to the top of their game.

Kazmir was out of Major League Baseball for two seasons as he continued to struggle with his mechanics and other factors that had rendered the once dominant hard to hit pitcher as easy to hit off of as a pitching machine.

The true rock bottom for Kazmir likely came when he signed with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League on July 7, 2012.

While the Skeeters represented a chance for Kazmir to play baseball near his home town it was likely a huge shot to the ego to be playing on a team that had no Major League affiliation.

While the Skeeters offer a competitive atmosphere, and the Atlantic League often has players who sign Minor League contracts with Major League ball clubs, the adjustment period for Kazmir likely was difficult as very few players on independent league rosters have World Series starts on their resumes.

Kazmir started 14 games for the Skeeters during the 2012 season and finished with a 3-6 record and a 5.34 ERA.

Following the end of the Skeeters’ season Kazmir signed with Gigantes de Carolina of the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League posting a 4.37 ERA while striking out 27 batters in 23 innings.

The time with the Skeeters and the Gigantes had gotten some attention and the performances earned Kazmir an invite to the Cleveland Indians Spring Training in 2013.

It is fitting in a way that it was the Indians that invited him as the Major League movie franchise focuses on the Indians being a place where players that seem to be washed out can find second chances.

Our Hollywood story could easily have ended right there with Kazmir getting a chance for one more Major League Spring Training before calling it a career after failing to crack the starting rotation of the Indians as a non-roster invitee.

But Kazmir did crack the rotation for Cleveland out of Spring Training and excelled with the Indians to the point that the Oakland Athletics signed him to a two-year $22 million contract prior to the start of this season.

In year one of the deal Kazmir has been the Athletics most consistent starter and earned a place on the All-Star Team.

With the Athletics currently holding the top spot in the American League West standings it is entirely possible that Kazmir will pitch in the postseason once again six years after tasting the postseason for the first time with the Rays.

It is even within the realm of probability that the Athletics could make it all the way to the World Series.

While the Scott Kazmir story of second chances is certainly still being written, a very strong footnote would be to have him hoisting a World Series trophy in October.

Yes, sometimes reality does trump fiction when it comes to the magical Hollywood ending and after several seasons in the valley, that featured stops through the Atlantic League and Puerto Rico, Scott Kazmir appears to be making the most of his second chances.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to practice my pitching in case Hollywood needs a southpaw to portray Kazmir in the movie of his life.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

Pace of Play Shows Nothing Gold Can Stay

When I was a senior in high school I had to memorize the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” as part of an English assignment.

Whenever I am dealt setbacks, or encounter things that make no sense to me logically, I often think of that poem and its message of the inability of golden things to last forever and the inevitable decay that takes their place.

I was reminded of that poem the other day when I read a story about a lake near Boulder, Colorado that contained thousands of goldfish.

Now before you bemoan the fact that your local swimming hole is not filled with thousands of goldfish, rest assured that goldfish are not native to Colorado either.

It seems that at some point someone put a few pet goldfish into the lake and over time those goldfish begat more goldfish which ushered in the circle of life that the animated lion and his friends sang about.

An unknown number of pet goldfish were placed in a Boulder, Colorado lake and have now swarmed to a school of thousands. Photo R. Anderson

An unknown number of pet goldfish like these were placed in a Boulder, Colorado lake and have now swarmed to a school of thousands.
Photo R. Anderson

As well intentioned as the person, or persons, were when they added the goldfish to the lake, the resulting swell in goldfish population has led Colorado wildlife officials on a search for a way to remove the invasive species.

Most likely the remediation plan will result in the death of the goldfish either through draining of the lake or electroshock since someone has determined that while goldfish have a place in man-made aquariums they do not belong in a man-made lake.

That’s right the entire lake is invasive itself if one really stops to think about it.

Personally I think the people of Boulder are sitting on a gold mine and missing a golden opportunity. I mean how many other towns can say that they have a huge goldfish pond?

I would leave the goldfish where they are and promote the lake as a golden pond where people young and old can come and see goldfish that have grown much larger than they would have grown were they swimming around in a little fish bowl.

But sometimes people fail to see the gold that is in front of them and instead bring on the decay by invoking change when no change is needed.

Take for example the efforts to speed up the game of baseball.

For the past 10 seasons or so the average length of a Major League Baseball game has increased. Last season the average duration of a nine-inning baseball game clocked in at a record 3 hours, 2 minutes, up from 2 hours and 33 minutes in 1981.

As such, Major League Baseball is seeking to shorten the game through pace of play initiatives such as requiring a batter to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box at all times.

Players who step out of the batter’s box will be fined since they are lengthening the game by taking too much time between pitches.

Personally I do not think that batters stepping out of the box is a bad thing and often enjoy some of the comical routines that players do between pitches.

Former Houston Astro Hunter Pence was an especially fun player to watch in the batter's box since he took his batting helmet off between pitches and rubbed it on his elbow each time without fail. photo/R. Anderson

Former Houston Astro Hunter Pence was an especially fun player to watch in the batter’s box since he took his batting helmet off between pitches and rubbed it on his elbow each time without fail.
photo/R. Anderson

Hunter Pence was especially fun to watch when he was with the Houston Astros since he took his batting helmet off between pitches and rubbed it on his elbow each time without fail.

If I were going to change something about the game to make it go faster, I would limit the number of pitching changes that were allowed.

The trend of pitching specialists who only face a single batter is ludicrous and is the real reason games are longer.

Unless an injury replacement is needed teams should be limited to no more than four pitchers in a nine-inning game.

Additional pitchers could be used in an extra inning game but I see few reasons why a team cannot field a competitive nine-inning game with four pitchers.

Speaking of pitchers, another time saving innovation in the pipeline is a pitch clock where pitchers have a set amount of time to pitch. Go over the pitch clock and the batter is awarded a ball.

The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball was the first to use a pitch clock last year and this year pitch clocks have made their way into affiliated Triple-A and Double-A Minor League Baseball Ballparks.

Under the pace of play rules Minor League pitchers have 2 minutes and 25 seconds to begin their windup or come to set between innings, and 20 seconds between pitches.

The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball was the first to use a pitch clock when the Sugar Land Skeeters and other teams implemented it last year. Photo R. Anderson

The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball was the first to use a pitch clock when the Sugar Land Skeeters and other teams implemented it last year.
Photo R. Anderson

Part of the beauty of baseball that is getting lost in all of this is that baseball is the only professional sport without a game clock of any kind.

The action is controlled by the number of outs, not the number of seconds.

I see no reason to change that.

As for some other sports that do have clocks, they are close to the length of a baseball game and do not offer any more on field action.

In 2010 the Wall Street Journal conducted a study on the amount of action in a National Football League game and discovered that 11 minutes of the average NFL game can be considered action.

For the purpose of the study action was considered the time that the ball was snapped until the play was whistled dead by the referees.

While listening to people shout “Omaha, hut, hut” can be fun, it was not listed in the action category.

By comparison the Wall Street Journal determined that a fan will see 17 minutes and 58 seconds of action over the course of a three-hour MLB game.

Items considered action as part of the Journal’s study included balls in play, runner advancement attempts on stolen bases, wild pitches, pitches, home run trots, walks and hit-by-pitches, and pickoff throws.

With the average MLB ticket price far below the average NFL ticket price it is clear that baseball offers fans much more bang for their buck and nearly eight more minutes of action.

If something is not broken there is no need to tinker with the formula.

And if someone does not have the attention span to sit through a three-hour baseball game, no amount of tinkering can fix that.

Koi are common in fish ponds, pet goldfish not so much. Photo R. Anderson

Koi are common in fish ponds, pet goldfish not so much.
Photo R. Anderson

Instead, continued tinkering will likely alienate long term fans.

Just as the Colorado goldfish should be left to swim out their days in peace, the game of baseball should be left to unfold as it has for the past century or so without adding a pitch clock or whatever other effort is proposed in the name of time saving.

But of course as Robert Frost taught me all those years ago in Mrs. Phillips’ English class, nothing gold can stay.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it is time to feed my fish.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

Spending Summer’s Last Gasp at the Ballpark

Today marks the first day of fall.

By and large fall, or autumn if you prefer, is my favorite season.

I enjoy the changing leaves, and the chill in the air, along with the various pumpkin flavored items that hit the grocery stores and restaurants this time of year to mark the season.

Of course having lived in Florida and Texas for the majority of my life, I usually have to settle on pumpkin flavored ice cream and chilled apple cider since for the most part  temperatures are still too hot for changing leaves and breaking out the fall coats.

But when I lived in Maryland as a much younger version of myself, I would visit the local apple orchard and pumpkin patch each year on school trips and jump into leaf piles that were above my head.

The Sugar Land Skeeters may be the road less traveled in the Houston area baseball scene but word is quickly spreading as the success grows. Photo R. Anderson

The Sugar Land Skeeters may be the road less traveled in the Houston area baseball scene but word is quickly spreading as the success grows.
Photo R. Anderson

I may yet return someday to a land where autumn and other seasons exist but for now I will take part in the two Texas seasons of hot and not quite as hot.

So on the last day of summer with temperatures still in the low 90’s, I decided to mark the occasion with a baseball game.

After all baseball players are often referred to as the Boys of Summer so what could be more American than baseball to mark the end of summer?

When it came down to picking where to catch this fall eve last gasp of summer game I had the choice between the Houston Astros or the Sugar Land Skeeters since both teams were in town.

In true Robert Frost poem fashion it was much like I was standing before two roads, one well-traveled and one less traveled.

Were I to choose the more traveled road of the Astros, I would be watching a meaningless game in a mostly empty air conditioned Ballpark that seats 45,000 or so as the Astros went through the motions of finishing out another losing season that cannot end soon enough for players and fans alike.

Fans Gathered to see the Sugar Land Skeeters play the York Revolution on the final day of summer Sunday. Photo R. Anderson

Fans Gathered to see the Sugar Land Skeeters play the York Revolution on the final day of summer Sunday.
Photo R. Anderson

On the other hand, were I to choose the less traveled road that led to the Skeeters, I would be watching a game outside as nature intended in a much more fan-filled Ballpark as the Skeeters battled to clinch the Second Half division title.

With choices like that it was easy to pick the Skeeters of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball over the Major League Baseball Astros.

That is not to say that I have completely given up on the Astros, but with some of the front office moves made by the team lately it becomes increasingly more difficult to justify spending MLB type money to see a lesser product.

I will continue to wish the Astros well in their rebuilding effort but for now will be voting with my wallet by not supporting them in person until they make more strides towards being a competitive team. That will not stop me from visiting Minute Maid Park next year to see my Orioles and Rays play however.

While many of the recent players for the Astros seem to be in over their heads at times as they try to establish their careers many of the players for Skeeters are just trying to hold on to their careers a little longer.

The Sugar Land Skeeters are heading to the playoffs for the second straight year.  Photo R. Anderson

The Sugar Land Skeeters are heading to the playoffs for the second straight year.
Photo R. Anderson

Players in the Atlantic League for the most part will not be confused with Major League All-Stars, with the exception of Scott Kazmir who parlayed a stint with the Skeeters into a return to the MLB All-Star Game.

Rosters are comprised of former Major Leaguers and other players who could not find a place on an affiliated team roster for whatever reason.

The play in independent leagues, such as the one the Skeeters call home, can sometimes be sloppy with routine plays turning into errors on occasion but for the most part the errors even out as both teams are making them.

But what the players lack in polished skills they more than make up for in heart and determination. That is not to say that there are not Major League baseball players who play with heart and determination but as a whole those seem to be the exception.

Consider this, with entire team salaries far below what a single Major League Baseball player would make the men who make up the Skeeters roster are playing for the love of the game and the chance to put on a show each night for a couple of thousand fans under the lights.

Gary Gaetti has managed the Sugar Land Skeeters for their entire three-year existence. Photo R. Anderson

Gary Gaetti has managed the Sugar Land Skeeters for their entire three-year existence.
Photo R. Anderson

They know that their playing careers are finite but while they can they will continue to play the game that many of them have played as far back as they can remember.

So with these reasons in mind my last day of summer was spent under the sun watching the Skeeters defeat the York Revolution to clinch that division title for a berth in the playoffs.

I will take a game with players giving their all on every play over a game with players going through the motions every time. Also, a reasonably priced concession stand does not hurt either.

Two game diverged in a field, and I – I took the one where the players have the most heart. And that has made all the difference.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some playoff tickets to buy.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

 

Skeeters Wrap up Spring Training, Look Ahead to the Regular Season

The Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League wrapped up an abbreviated Spring Training with a trio of games against two local colleges last week.

While teams will often play exhibition games against colleges during Spring Training for the Skeeters scheduling games against colleges becomes a logistical necessity.

Unlike Major League Baseball where Spring Training sites are located within driving distance of each other in either Florida or Arizona teams within the Atlantic League are spread out over several states.

The Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League tuned up for the regular season with a pair of games against the Alvin Community College Dolphins. Photo R. Anderson

The Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League tuned up for the regular season with a pair of games against the Alvin Community College Dolphins.
Photo R. Anderson

When your closest league opponent is based in states that border the Atlantic Ocean finding teams closer to scrimmage with can certainly be a huge advantage.

The Alvin Community College Dolphins and the San Jacinto College Gators filled the roles of Spring Training opponents to help the Skeeters prepare for the start of the regular season.

The Skeeters won all three of their Spring Training games as one would expect but the games proved to offer more than just a box score.

For starters the games allowed the use of a mixed fleet of bat types.

While Professional baseball leans toward the wood bat camp college baseball allows the inclusion of metal bats.

With the metal bats in play fans were treated to the rare pinging sound of a ball meeting a metal bat within a Professional Ballpark.

Additionally the players from both colleges will be able to tell their friends that they played against a Professional baseball team. Of course the players who managed to get hits of of those same Professional players will have even bigger stories to tell.

Another plus for the Spring Training crowds in attendance was plenty of elbow room and the chance to scout out the best seats in the ballpark.

Koby Clemens enters his second full season as a member of the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson

Koby Clemens enters his second full season as a member of the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

For the most part there are not any bad seats in the Ballpark but it never hurts to try to see the view from various vantage points whenever one has the opportunity.

Speaking of opportunity, fans were treated to their first views of Tracy McGrady who is trying to join an elite club of former NBA stars to become professional baseball players.

Hoping to make the team as a pitcher, McGrady, worked one inning Friday night against the Dolphins and allowed one run on three hits.

While his baseball stats may have a small sample size thus far, McGrady was a seven time All-Star and recipient of two scoring titles during a 16 year NBA career where he spent time with the Toronto Raptors, Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs.

Whether past success in basketball will transition to future success in baseball will remain to be seen. But if the rack of McGrady jerseys in the Skeeters team store is to be believed someone in the organization is hoping that it does.

Aside from the normal concession stands and gift shop found in most Ballparks, the Skeeters facility also includes two water features in the form of a pool and a splash pad area.

The multiple water features allow fans the opportunity to cool off during those hot nights at the Ballpark and have become a feature of many of the Minor League Ballparks within Texas.

Saturday night the Skeeters introduced a new on field water feature as well when the sprinkler system inadvertently went off in the middle of the game.

While several fans in the front rows along the third base side of the field ran for dryer ground many of the players stayed put during the impromptu rain delay.

Sometime you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes the grounds crew forgets to turn off the timer on the sprinkler system. Photo R. Anderson

Sometime you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes the grounds crew forgets to turn off the timer on the sprinkler system.
Photo R. Anderson

To paraphrase Bull Durham baseball is a simple game. Sometime you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes the grounds crew forgets to turn off the timer on the sprinkler system.

In an era where every second inside the ballpark experience seems scripted from sponsorships and other concerns it is refreshing when something like the sprinklers going on occurs to remind people that it is still a game where the unexpected can happen.

With a 3-0 Spring Training record the Skeeters will spend this week making final roster cuts to get to their 25-man roster before the regular season begins on Thursday.

Early signs and shirts certainly point to Tracy McGrady making the team but an official announcement will likely not occur before Thursday.

Until then fans will sit and wait to see who makes the Opening Day roster.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I suddenly have a craving for some peanuts and Cracker Jacks.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

McGrady Shows That he Wants to Be Like Mike

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Michael Jordon’s attempt to become a professional baseball player.

For those who may have been too young to know, or old enough to have forgotten, “Air Jordon” took a stab at being “Ballpark Jordon” during a stint with the Chicago White Sox Double-A affiliate Birmingham Barons.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Michael Jordon's tenure as a Minor League Baseball player. Tracy McGrady is trying to be like Mike and make the rster of the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League. Photo R. Anderson

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Michael Jordon’s tenure as a Minor League Baseball player. Tracy McGrady is trying to be like Mike and make the roster of the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League.
Photo R. Anderson

As a 31-year-old multimillionaire with NBA titles under his belt Jordon certainly did not fit the mold of the typical Minor League Baseball player but in a gesture of good will towards his new teammates his “Airness” bought the team a new bus to travel all of the Southern League back roads on.

Throughout Jordon’s time with the Barons Ballparks across the Southern League sold out as fans crowded to see the future NBA Hall of Famer in action on the diamond.

Jordon’s time as a baseball player was also given the Hollywood treatment in the movie Space Jam.

When the Michael Jordon baseball carnival rolled into a Ballpark every media outlet in town sent a reporter and a photographer down to capture every swing of the bat and to capture the electricity in the stands.

By most accounts Jordon’s baseball career was a complete flop.

Or to put it more kindly Jordon was one of the many Minor League prospects who just don’t pan out and have to fall back on another career in order to put food on the table.

For Jordon the post baseball career included a return to the NBA and the Chicago Bulls and some more championships.

Now, 20 years after the Jordon baseball experiment another retired NBA star is set to try to find extra innings in his athletic career through Minor League baseball.

After retiring from the NBA, Tracy McGrady is trying to reinvent himself as a pitcher with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League.

While it is unknown if McGrady will earn one of the 27 roster spots available on the team his presence has already created a bit of buzz around the Skeeters facility.

At 6’8” McGrady creates a towering presence on the mound.

Former Houston Rocket Tracy McGrady is looking to join the ranks of the Sugar Land Skeeters as a pitcher. Photo R. Anderson

Former Houston Rocket Tracy McGrady is looking to join the ranks of the Sugar Land Skeeters as a pitcher.
Photo R. Anderson

Teams tend to like taller pitchers as they allow the ball to have more downward movement in most cases.

So from a size and stature standpoint McGrady has the intangibles to be a successful pitcher.

From a marketing perspective the Skeeters, fresh off of an Atlantic League crown, are benefiting from the publicity that comes from a former basketball player turned pitcher.

The Skeeters are also the team who lured Roger Clemens out of retirement to make a couple of starts during their inaugural season to stir up some publicity so they know a thing or two about putting on a show.

Like Roger Clemens who had both ties to Houston and a Hall of Fame worthy career, McGrady is also quite a household name around town with the local fan base since he was a member of the Houston Rockets.

Of course as Michael Jordon showed it is not easy to switch gears late in one’s career and try something completely new.

There have certainly been successful two sport stars before but most of them played both sports at a high level throughout high school and college before going pro.

Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders are perhaps the most famous two sport athletes and each played both baseball and football at a high level.

If all goes to plan Tracy McGrady will be up on the Texas jumbotron soon for the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson

If all goes to plan Tracy McGrady will be up on the Texas jumbotron soon for the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

But neither Jackson nor Sanders waited until after retiring from one of the sports to pick up the other.

I think the world needs another Bo and “Prime Time” to spice things up but I also think the commitments from teams on athletes nowadays would make it difficult for a two sport star to succeed.

Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, and under contract of the Texas Rangers, is the next logical player to be a two sport star but it is unlikely that the Seahawks would want to risk their star quarterback getting injured on the baseball field.

Of course Wilson could always decide to go into baseball after his NFL career is over since baseball players on average can play longer than football players.

But that brings us back to McGrady and his attempt to turn pro in a new sport.

In order for McGrady to make the team he will need to knock one of the existing pitchers off of the roster.

Rosters will be finalized next week so it will be known at that time whether Tracy McGrady can add professional baseball player to his already impressive athletic roster.

There will be a few Spring Training games between now and the roster deadline to allow him to show his stuff on the mound and for the coaches to decide whether or not he makes the opening day roster.

If Tracy McGrady does make the roster for the Skeeters and trades jump shots for curve balls he will join a unique set of players who have enjoyed a second act with a new sport.

As another bonus should McGrady defy the odds and make the team is that his battery mate behind the plate will be Koby Clemens, son of Roger Clemens.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to watch a basketball player pitch.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson