Tag Archives: Sugar Land Skeeters

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

May the Fourth Be With You and Play Ball

Today is May 4th, and in many Ballparks in galaxies both near and far, far away, teams will be celebrating in blockbuster ways in honor of a little science fiction franchise that first hit the global scene before most of the current professional ballplayers were even born.

That science fiction franchise was Star Wars and for those who may not be aware, May 4th is known as Star Wars Day due to a pun surrounding a popular phrase found in the films.

That phrase of course is “May the force be with you,” which can easily translate to “May the fourth be with you.”

The link between Star Wars and baseball has lasted for many years. Today, one Star Wars Day the tradition continues as several Minor League Baseball teams will wear special Star Wars themed jerseys. Photo R. Anderson

The link between Star Wars and baseball has lasted for many years. Today, one Star Wars Day the tradition continues as several Minor League Baseball teams will wear special Star Wars themed jerseys.
Photo R. Anderson

For years baseball teams have celebrated May 4th in the Ballpark but how many times can you really dust off that storm trooper costume to throw out the first pitch before it gets a feeling of been there done that?

With teams looking for creative and new ways to celebrate Star Wars Day it was only a matter of time then until May the Fourth was celebrated on a Minor League Baseball diamond in the form of players wearing Star Wars themed jerseys.

Two years ago the Wookie awakening occurred when the Detroit Tigers’ Triple-A Affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens, celebrated both May the Fourth, and May the Fifth, wearing jerseys that looked like a Wookie complete with utility belt.

Not to be outdone the Kane County Cougars, the Chicago Cubs Class A affiliate, went Wookie wild last year with a double dose of furry jerseys on May 2 and an encore on August 30.

While players dressing up as Wookie is a fairly new Ballpark trend it is not the first time that a Wookie, or at least an actor who played a Wookie, has been at a Minor League Ballpark.

Even the players on the Jumbotron get a Star Wars treatment as was the case when the St. Louis Cardinals visited Minute Maid Park a few years back. Photo R. Anderson

Even the players on the Jumbotron get a Star Wars treatment as was the case when the St. Louis Cardinals visited Minute Maid Park a few years back.
Photo R. Anderson

During a May 1, 2010 game between the Oklahoma City Red Hawks and the New Orleans Zephers Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Wookie extraordinaire Chewbacca, threw out the first pitch as part of the 30th Anniversary celebration of the original Star Wars film.

While Wookie jerseys have a certain been there done that feel to them after two years on the field, a timeless go to jersey involves a certain trash can shaped droid.

Last year the Durham Bulls, Class Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, celebrated May the fourth in R2-D2 uniforms. This year The Round Rock Express, Class Triple-A affiliate of Texas Rangers, kicked of Star Wars Night a tad early by rocking the R2-D2 look on the Dell Diamond last Friday.

While the Round Rock Express started the celebration early, the Sugar Land Skeeters will wait until August 8 for the force to be with them on Star Wars Night showing that the world of Star Wars cannot be contained to a single day.

One does not need to be from a galaxy far, far away to feel the force on May 4th. Photo R. Anderson

One does not need to be from a galaxy far, far away to feel the force on May 4th.
Photo R. Anderson

With the spirit of Star Wars lasting from generation to generation it is likely that the force will still be strong in the Ballpark in August when Star Wars Night rolls around.

Another popular go to jersey for a Ballpark Star Wars celebration is the ever popular Darth Vader look.

It seems that if a team is going to the trouble of wearing Darth Vader jerseys though they should invite James Earl Jones, the man behind the voice of Vader, to announce the players.

Of course with James Earl Jones playing a pivotal role in Field of Dreams it seems even more appropriate to have his booming voice over the Ballpark public address system.

That truly would be a field of dreams to see James Earl Jones announcing a game with players dressed up as Darth Vader.

It would be made even more magical if the announcement was made using the Darth Vader voice box.

The Sugar Land Skeeters will celebrate their Star Wars Night in August which means I still have some time to decide what to wear. Photo R. Anderson

The Sugar Land Skeeters will celebrate their Star Wars Night in August which means I still have some time to decide what to wear.
Photo R. Anderson

Just picture it, “Now batting (insert breathing sounds), Ray (insert breathing sounds), Smith”

Of course players are not the only ones who get into the May the fourth festivities.

Often times fans dust off their finest galactic duds to head to the Ballpark as part of the celebration.

A few years back a complete regiment of Storm Troopers descended upon Minute Maid Park as part of the Houston Astros’ May the Fourth celebration.

It is all done in good fun and is kind of cool to see the worlds of film and baseball combine in such an entertaining way.

Another staple of many May the Fourth Ballpark celebrations is a post game fireworks show.

Baseball, hot dogs, and post game pyrotechnics, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Of course if they could manage a Millennium Falcon pregame flyover it would be an epic May the Fourth indeed.

With a new batch of Star Wars films slated to come out over the next few years it is almost certain that the link between Jedi knights and balls in flight will continue for years to come.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see if I can still make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. And May the fourth be with you.

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

Cyber Monday Deals of the Baseball Variety

Today is known across much of the internet connected world as Cyber Monday.

While Black Friday involves sales from the brick and mortar stores, today is the chance for online retailers to lure shoppers in with discounts and free shipping on everything from Apple Computers to Zenith televisions. (Granted Zenith is now owned by LG but I needed something that started with the letter Z for the sake of an A to Z analogy).

Personally I have never understood the herd mentality that has people camping out at stores to save a few bucks on an off brand appliance or some fleece pullovers.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good bargain as much as the next person, but I am not going to body check hundreds of other people trying to get the same item.

Online shopping provides the ability to get deals without feeling like one has survived a heavyweight title fight but it still only includes savings on the items that the retailers want you to buy.

So instead of getting corralled into buying things that I don’t need on this Cyber Monday I am going to focus on four baseball teams and what needs they should address in terms of their holiday shopping.

After losing Nelson Cruz to the Seattle Mariners the Baltimore Orioles are in need of a new designated hitter under the Birdland Christmas tree this year. Photo R. Anderson

After losing Nelson Cruz to the Seattle Mariners the Baltimore Orioles are in need of a new designated hitter under the Birdland Christmas tree this year.
Photo R. Anderson

Let us begin with the defending American League East Division winning Baltimore Orioles.

Earlier today it was announced that the O’s had failed to sign free agent Nelson Cruz. Instead Cruz is taking his league leading home run bat west to Seattle for the next four years.

In the end it may prove to have been a wise decision by the Orioles to not overpay for a slugger who has battled injures throughout his career. Recent history is full of examples of teams who have overpaid for players long past their productive years. The contracts of Josh Hamilton, Alex Rodriguez and Prince Fielder come to mind.

But in the short term the Orioles need to do something to replace the bat of Cruz if they want to defend their division title so for the residents of Birdland I will put find a new Designated Hitter on their Christmas list.

Further down the American League East in both geography and the standings sit the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Tampa Bay Rays are looking for only their fifth manager in franchise history following the unexpected departure of Joe Maddon at the end of last season. Photo R. Anderson

The Tampa Bay Rays are looking for only their fifth manager in franchise history following the unexpected departure of Joe Maddon at the end of last season.
Photo R. Anderson

The Rays have already traded several players since the end of the season and will likely make more tweaks to the roster as they look to regroup and rebuild after a disappointing 2014 season that started with preseason predictions of a playoff run and ended with the team’s first losing season in six years. The Rays were also left with the departure of manager Joe Maddon, who decided to take his muscle cars and hoodie up to Wrigley Field.

While it is unlikely that the Rays can find a manager right out of the gate with the same skill set as Joe Maddon, they need to find a manager who can handle the challenges the Rays face in a way that sees them remain competitive and not fall into the devilish ways of their pre Maddon years.

Failure to find a strong manager who can find a way to remain competitive in the toughest division in baseball against retooled Orioles, Yankees and Red Sox could very well doom the Rays for decades to come.

So while many may think replacing Tropicana Field is the team’s biggest need this Christmas, I maintain finding the right manager is the most crucial holiday need. I just hope that one of the three identified finalists becomes at least a fraction of the manager Joe Maddon is.

After suffering their first losing season since a name change and new uniforms the Tampa Bay Rays may need to dust off the old uniforms if a new manager fails to maintain their winning ways. Photo R. Anderson

After suffering their first losing season since a name change and new uniforms the Tampa Bay Rays may need to dust off the old uniforms if a new manager fails to maintain their winning ways.
Photo R. Anderson

If he does not then even a new Ballpark would not be enough to help the team’s long term future and they may as well dust off the green uniforms that took the field for many previous losing campaigns.

For our third holiday need we travel west from St. Petersburg, FL and find ourselves in Houston where today marks the 50th anniversary of the Astros being called the Astros.

For most of their five decades of existence the Astros found themselves in the National League. The 2015 season will mark the team’s third season of American League play and yet another season of rebuilding as the front office tries to find the right formula for building a winner on a budget.

Of course the build a winner on a budget approach only works when the other teams in the division play along. With skyrocketing salaries within the American League West and the Mariners, Angels and Athletics entering an arms race the best the Astros can realistically hope for in the coming years is to do better than their in state rivals the Rangers.

With a steady diet of Mike Trout and other power sluggers in the American League the Houston Astros are likely hoping a return to the more friendly National League Central is in their stocking this year. Photo R. Anderson

With a steady diet of Mike Trout and other power sluggers in the American League the Houston Astros are likely hoping a return to the more friendly National League Central is in their stocking this year.
Photo R. Anderson

A division title is likely not in the cards for the Astros in the American League any time soon. One can preach the sermon of rebuilding until they are blue in the face but that does not make it so when other teams aren’t reading from the same playbook.

With that said, my Christmas gift for the Astros would be a move back to the National League. Of course like that brown Matchbox police car that Santa could never locate for younger version of me despite the best of intentions, a move back to the National League is likely another unfulfillable wish no matter how much one wants it to happen.

For our final stop along the holiday gift giving trail we move a little south of Houston to Sugar Land, TX which is home of the Sugar Land Skeeters. The Skeeters, who play in the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, will start the 2015 season as defending champions of their division and with new ownership in place.DSCN7359

With all of their opponents located on the Atlantic Coast, my gift to the Skeeters, were it in my power, would be closer opponents to make those road trips not so long.

There are plans to expand the Atlantic League’s footprint in Texas in the coming years so it is likely that the Christmas wish will become reality before too long.

There are my four Cyber Monday gift ideas that are not available in stores but if they were they would certainly make the perfect stocking stuffers for the Orioles, Rays, Astros and Skeeters.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to take care of a little Christmas shopping while I am in the Holiday spirit.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

A Trio of Meaty Baseball Stories to Sink Your Teeth into

One of local barbecue restaurants I frequent has a plate called the pork three ways that includes pork ribs, pulled pork and pork sausage.

I mention this fact not to make people hungry for barbecue pork, but to point out that sometimes it is hard to pick a single entree leading to the need to combine things into a single meal.

In that same spirit we are going to focus on three entrees from the world of baseball since focusing on just one would not do justice to the other two, much in the same way that just getting ribs leaves out the pulled pork and sausage.

Our first entree comes to us from the Houston Astros who stepped on a player’s moment to create a look at us moment Monday.

For the first time in team history a member of the Houston Astros won a batting title. That player was second baseman Jose Altuve. Altuve not only had the best batting average in the American League but had the best overall average in all of baseball this season.

Jose Altuve won the American League batting title this year and had one day in the spotlight until the team announced it had hired a new manager. Photo R. Anderson

Jose Altuve won the American League batting title this year and had one day in the spotlight until the team announced it had hired a new manager.
Photo R. Anderson

Altuve also set a new team record for hits in a single season.

For a team that has known more about losing than winning the last couple of years this individual achievement by Altuve gave fans of the Astros something to cheer about as another lackluster season came to a close.

Traditional wisdom would say that in a situation like this a team would give the spotlight to the player for a couple of days to give the proper attention to such a stellar achievement such as having the best average in all of baseball.

Instead, the smoldering tire fire that is the Astros front office saw fit to take the attention away from Altuve less than 24-hour after the end of the season to announce that they had hired a new manager.

The Astros certainly needed to fill the vacancy at the manager position. However, was the news that they hired a man with a losing record as a manager, who has been out of the dugout for four years, so important that they could not wait a day or two to announce it? Apparently in their minds it was and thus ended the spotlight on Jose Altuve.

While the hiring of A.J. Hinch left many fans underwhelmed and thinking that the Astros should have hired a more established manager the fact remains that more established managers have enough sense to stay away from the Astros in their current state.

As for the manager the Astros did get, Hinch managed the Arizona Diamondbacks from May 2009 until July 2010, and was fired after a 31-48 start. Hinch served as the vice president of professional scouting for the San Diego Padres from 2010 until this past August.

Not a very successful resume at first glance, but I will wait to see what he can do with his second opportunity to manage a big league club.

Speaking of managers, our second entree takes us to Minnesota where the Twins fired longtime manager Ron Gardenhire after a fourth straight losing season.

While I do not follow the day to day operations of the Twins as closely as I used to, I have been a fan of Ron Gardenhire since his days as the manager of the Orlando Sun Rays of the Southern League.

Ron Gardenhire spent nearly 25 years in the Minnesota Twins organization including the last 13 as manager. Photo R. Anderson

Ron Gardenhire spent nearly 25 years in the Minnesota Twins organization including the last 13 as manager.
Photo R. Anderson

As mentioned before I attended many Minor League Baseball games growing up in Orlando and several of those years were spent pulling for Gardenhire led teams at Tinker Field.

All in all Gardenhire spent around a quarter of a century within the Twins organization, including 13 seasons as manager, and was there for much of the teams success.

Unfortunately in a what have you done for me lately world, past success can only go so far in covering up current problems.

The Twins offered Gardenhire a front office position which he declined stating that he feels that he still has things to offer as a manager.

Personally I would not mind the Texas Rangers giving the reins to Gardenhire if for no other reason than to say that he managed both teams that used to be known as the Washington Senators as the Twins leaving Washington D.C. for the twin cities paved the way for the expansion team version of the Senators that became the Rangers.

Even if Gardenhire does not end up with the Rangers I have little doubt that he will end up in another dugout before too long.

Our third baseball entree takes us to Sugar Land where the Skeeters are hosting the first two games of the Atlantic League Championship Series against the Lancaster Barnstormers.

The series opened up last night with the Skeeters losing to the Barnstormers 10 to 6. Game two of the series is tonight and will find the Skeeters trying to even the series.

Regardless of whether or not the Skeeters hoist the championship at the end of the year they can be proud of what they accomplished this year.

Sugar Land Skeeters manager Gary Gaetti led his team to the playoffs for the second straight season. The Skeeters opened the Atlantic League Championship Series last night. Photo R. Anderson

Sugar Land Skeeters manager Gary Gaetti led his team to the playoffs for the second straight season. The Skeeters opened the Atlantic League Championship Series last night.
Photo R. Anderson

Among those accomplishments are hosting the All-Star Game in June, making the playoffs for the second straight year, and winning the first playoff series in team history against the York Revolution.

It is likely that the Skeeters will continue to build on their success next year during their fourth season of existence as they continue to form an identity

There you have it, three delicious entrees from the world of baseball this week.

As every good three meat plate needs a couple of side dishes, it should be mentioned that the Major League Baseball Playoffs kicked off last night with the American League Wild Card game between the Kansas City Royals and the Oakland Athletics and continues tonight with the National League Wild Card game between the San Francisco Giants and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about entrees has made me a little hungry.

Copyright 2014 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

 

The Curious Case of Scott Kazmir

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 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 exceled 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 2014 R. Anderson

Celebrating Independence in a Most American Way

Today is the Fourth of July which is a day set aside to celebrate America’s independence from the occupying British forces.

With a roaring declaration in 1776 proclaiming independence, the American forefathers set in motion many of the freedoms and truths that we hold self evident to this very day.

That independence from British rule established principles regarding life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Today is July Fourth which means the skies from sea to shining sea will be filled with firework shows. Photo R. Anderson

Today is July Fourth which means the skies from sea to shining sea will be filled with firework shows.
Photo R. Anderson

Each year as part of that pursuit of happiness I try to take part in as many staples of American life as possible. One of those yearly patriotic pursuits is trying to spend part of my July Fourth in a Ballpark watching some baseball.

This year the baseball scheduling powers saw fit that both of my local teams, the Houston Astros and Sugar Land Skeeters, were playing away games today which meant for the first time in several years I would not be able to watch live baseball on America’s birthday.

But, when the baseball schedule taketh it also occasionally giveth.

This giving came in the form of televised Tampa Bay Rays action.

While the Rays are not exactly having a stellar season opportunities to see them on television do not come along often in Texas so I will be watching them tonight while also looking east to see the rockets red glare from the neighboring fireworks show on the bay.

Last year I was able to see the Rays play live against the Astros in Minute Maid Park during an afternoon game but this year my patriotic watching of the Rays will take place with the help of ESPN.

As part of my observance of July Fourth each year I try to eat a Nathan's hot dog in honor of the annual Coney Island contest. Photo R. Anderson

As part of my observance of July Fourth each year I try to eat a Nathan’s hot dog in honor of the annual Coney Island contest.
Photo R. Anderson

In addition to trying to catch baseball games on July Fourth another All American tradition I try to include on this day each year is eating a Nathan’s hot dog.

For about a century now Coney Island, New York has hosted the Nathan’s Famous July Fourth International Hot Dog Eating Championship.

And while competitors come from nations all over the world to take part, the item remains All-American in that it occurs on July 4th.

Last year, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut ate 69 hot dogs in 10 minutes to win another title on his path to establishing himself as one of the best competitive eaters of all time.

To honor this achievement of man concurring frankfurter I stage my own mini hot dog eating contest on the Fourth of July each year.

While I never eat anywhere near 69 hot dogs, I do venture to my local Sam’s Club to get an authentic Nathan’s hot dog each and every Fourth of July.

Nathan’s was one of the brands I grew up with on the east coast and they are hard to find here in Texas.

Don’t get me wrong there are some very nice hot dog choices here but to me a hot dog on July 4th has to either be a Nathan’s or an Esskay hot dog. I am sure there are people that feel the same way about whichever hot dog they grew up with as well.

A Fourth of July with a hot dog lunch and one of my favorite baseball teams playing on television is about as close to a perfect celebration as I could imagination.

Between those two events I will also catch a concert of patriotic music and a midway full of junk food so my day will be about as American as can be.

Were it not for the Founding Fathers declaring independence so long ago, we would likely drink way more hot tea and enjoy sports such as cricket instead of the good old American Pastime of baseball.  Photo R. Anderson

Were it not for the Founding Fathers declaring independence so long ago, we would likely drink way more hot tea and enjoy sports such as cricket instead of the good old American Pastime of baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

I doubt the founding fathers had hot dogs and baseball diamonds in mind when they decided to break away from the British but I am certainly glad that they did declare independence to allow such things to occur in the centuries that followed.

Otherwise activities today might be filled with watching cricket and shouting “pip, pip” while sipping Earl Grey tea, hot.

Not that there is anything wrong with cricket or Earl Grey tea mind you, but I definitely prefer the American customs that have developed over the past 238 years or so.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about patriotism and American traditions has me craving some All-American apple pie.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Hooks to Host Missions in Futures Game at Minute Maid Park

Tomorrow the Corpus Christi Hooks, who are celebrating their 10th year of existence, will play their first home ever game away from Whataburger Field when they host the San Antonio Missions in a Texas State League Futures game at Minute Maid Park.

While Minute Maid Park is usually home to the Houston Astros of Major League Baseball, the facility will transform into a Minor League Ballpark for one night as the Double-A Hooks of the Astros farm system play the San Diego Padres farm club the Missions.

Of course there are some people who might think based on the performance of the Astros the past few 100 plus loss seasons that Minute Maid Park was already playing host to a Minor League ball club.

Despite appearances at times the Astros are in fact a Major League ball club.

Even though the Houston region is home to the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Independent Atlantic League, tomorrow’s game will mark the first affiliated regular season Minor League Baseball game played in Houston in over half a century.

The Corpus Christi Hooks will play their first home game outside of Whataburger Field tomorrow night at Minute Maid Park against the San Antonio Missions. Photo R. Anderson

The Corpus Christi Hooks will play their first home game outside of Whataburger Field tomorrow night at Minute Maid Park against the San Antonio Missions.
Photo R. Anderson

Although there are three Ballparks that the Hooks normally play at within four hours of Houston, for those unable to travel to Frisco, San Antonio or Corpus Christi the Futures Game will be their first chance to see them play in person.

For many years I have traveled to Frisco, Texas to see the Hooks play the Rough Riders at Dr. Pepper Ballpark.

I even ventured out to see the Hooks at their home Ballpark a few years back but bringing the team to the base in Houston is an excellent way to build the brand while giving fans a chance to see the future of the big ball club.

Staging a Minor League game in Houston is also a great way to gauge potential interest in moving one of the team’s clubs closer to the home region as has been a recent trend among the relocation of Triple-A clubs.

Besides market research another thing the Futures Game has going for it is rarity since the chance to see a Minor League Baseball game within a Major League Ballpark does not come along that often.

It is likely that the atmosphere within the Ballpark will be a cross between the intimacy of a Minor League game and the spectacle of excess of a Major League game.

The trick with any event like this is striking the right balance between the two.

The players will also need to strike the balance of not getting overwhelmed at the prospect of being inside a Major League Ballpark and just play their game.

The Corpus Christi Hooks have called Whataburger Field home for all of their 10 seasons of play as a Minor League affiliate of the Houston Astros. Photo R. Anderson

The Corpus Christi Hooks have called Whataburger Field home for all of their 10 seasons of play as a Minor League affiliate of the Houston Astros.
Photo R. Anderson

While the stands may be larger the distance between the bases and from the pitcher’s mound to home plate remains the same between a Minor League and Major League diamond.

As noted before I cut my in person baseball watching teeth mostly in the Minor Leagues and have a special place in my heart for the game at that level.

While there are always exceptions, the game at the Minor League level always seemed to be more about the players and less about the pay check.

While every Minor League roster includes high paid prospects for the most part the rosters are filled with guys just trying to make a living playing the game that they love for as long as they can.

Minor League Baseball is also very much about the fan experience. From the kids running after foul balls to the people filling out their score cards there is a certain atmosphere that makes the Ballpark come alive.

In recent years the corporate aspects of the Major League game have made their way into the Minor League system so it will likely not be too long until the Minor Leagues become just as corporate driven as their MLB counterparts.

One can only hope that Minor League games remain affordable to the point where families can continue to go to experience the game in person and pass that love of the game on to future generations.

At its core the game of baseball will always be best experienced live. There are certain elements that even the best surround sound high definition television cannot replicate.

Besides, one cannot catch a ball or a free t-shirt from the comfort of their couch.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to get ready for.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Breaking down Tracy McGrady’s Professional Pitching Debut

As noted on Monday former NBA star Tracy McGrady took the mound for his regular season professional baseball debut last Saturday for the Sugar Land Skeeters.         

While McGrady’s pitching line of 1 2/3 innings, 35 pitches (18 strikes/17 balls), 2 earned runs, 2 walks and a home run by Somerset Patriots shortstop Edwin Maysonet certainly does not sound like a Hall of Fame effort at first glance it is certainly notable in so much as it is not every day that someone goes pro in a second sport.

McGrady earned two NBA scoring titles and seven All-Star Game appearances during his first professional sports career.

Tracy McGrady made his professional baseball debut last Saturday for the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson

Tracy McGrady made his professional baseball debut last Saturday for the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

While McGrady spent 16 years in the NBA honing his basketball skills, the 34-year-old had not played organized baseball since high school.

Prior to Saturday’s game McGrady had just one inning of spring training work against Alvin Community College under his belt so he is obviously still green when it comes to baseball.

Speaking of green the Skeeters very well could be sitting on a promotional gold mine based on the sellout crowd on hand to watch the 1 2/3 innings of work.

Granted many of the fans arrived after McGrady’s debut had ended but if his outings get longer or the fans arrive earlier it very well could be win-win for all involved.

While I am not saying that the McGrady experiment is solely a money making promotional gimmick it is hard to forget that a 50-year-old Roger Clemens was sent to the mound in the team’s first season to drum up awareness of the new kid in town.

While many could question the long-term feasibility of McGrady as a pitcher, Sugar Land Skeeters manager Gary Gaetti stated in a post-game interview that he was sticking with McGrady as a starting pitcher.

Former Houston Astro turned Somerset Patriots shortstop Edwin Maysonet  (#12) collects his bat after rounding the bases on a foul pole rattling home run given up by Tracy McGrady Saturday night as Koby Clemens and the Skeeters dugout look on. Photo R. Anderson

Former Houston Astro turned Somerset Patriots shortstop Edwin Maysonet (#12) collects his bat after rounding the bases on a foul pole rattling home run given up by Tracy McGrady Saturday night as Koby Clemens and the Skeeters dugout look on.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course most managers prefer their starters to go until at least the sixth inning before making the call to the bullpen so clearly there is some work to be done there in terms of increasing McGrady’s pitch count while increasing his results.

Time will tell if he makes as big of an impact on the baseball scene once he works out some issues with his mechanics.

Personally I would love to see McGrady succeed in his professional baseball career.

While not all of us our multimillionaire former NBA stars with high name recognition, we all have dreams beyond our current jobs or other situations in life.

And if a 34-year-old retiree can chase his dreams it brings hope for the rest of us in terms of finding that next chapter to get out of whatever rut we find ourselves in.

The team has not yet announced McGrady’s next start but I am fairly certain that they will try to tweak the rotation to ensure that all of his starts occur during home games to help maximize the crowds and the aforementioned green.

It is even highly possible that McGrady has contract language similar to what Roger Clemens had with the Astros where he does not even travel with the team on road trips.

Tracy McGrady’s pitching line from his professional baseball debut is 1 2/3 innings, 35 pitches (18 strikes/17 balls), 2 earned runs, 2 walks and a home run.  Photo R. Anderson

Tracy McGrady’s pitching line from his professional baseball debut is 1 2/3 innings, 35 pitches (18 strikes/17 balls), 2 earned runs, 2 walks and a home run.
Photo R. Anderson

While I do not know if that is the case I would certainly hope that McGrady is traveling with the team and getting the full Minor League Baseball experience. Taking the bus rides alongside his teammates would certainly be a good team bonding experience and just might make them run after his wild pitches and other miscues on the mound a little bit faster.

And while giving up a home run in your professional debut is certainly not something that any pitcher wants to do McGrady can take solace in the fact that the foul pole hitting shot came off of a former Major Leaguer instead of a college kid during spring training.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go work on my curve ball in case the Skeeters need a thirty something left handed specialist to come in and mop up in the late innings.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson