HELLO … GOODBYE?
I know, I know … HELLO HELLO HELLO … I have no good excuse for the fact that it’s been almost three weeks since my last post but I DO promise here and now to catch up on all random thought processes big and small over the next three nights before hitting the road again …
Since I last posted, I’ve hit one All-Star Game (Carolina-California League in Myrtle Beach which had many great things to touch on and a few not so great) … I’ve had the truly awesome pleasure of getting to actually sit down and enjoy a fabulous meal in a great Greek restaurant with one of my ABSOLUTE favorite baseball bloggers (you Rangers fans know her as Marla Hooch) … I’ve anticipated and absorbed the announcements of the US Futures team, the World Futures team, the International League Triple-A team and the Pacific Coast League Triple-A team and am trying to keep all my notes on those four teams separate enough to not clog my brain TOO much as I prepare for my upcoming weeklong road trip where I’ll be expected to know everything about all of them.
I’ve spent a lot of time shopping with my Berklee College of Music-bound rising freshman daughter shopping for “college stuff.” It is my pleasure to be able to take breaks from my work here and there to have her want me to be with her to pick out those little things like sheets and towels and desk lamps and quilts (jeez, I had no idea a quilt could be quite such a statement of self). And it’s hard when I realize that in two months all of these things will be packed into the back of a rented minivan and driven to Boston and I may never see any of them again. And the only way I’ll know what’s going on in her life from then on is if she deigns to text me.
But … enough about my empty nest for now … Hello Goodbye, right?
I’ve been thrilled that my editors at MLB.com allowed me to insitute a “new weekly feature” this year, the “Movin On Up” column (column title kudos go to Jason Ratliff, my cutting edge editor). Writing up Minor Leaguers’ big league debuts was something that was really popular back in my good ol’ Baseball Weekly days … and this week was especially intriguing as there were some unusual and off-the-beaten-path debuts.
For one, there was 30-year-old Colorado Rockies pitcher Cedrick Bowers, who I first met back in 1997 when his Charleston River Dogs (then the Rays, who had made him their fourth-round pick the previous summer) were playing in Kannapolis at Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium against the host Phillies, then known as the Piedmont Boll Weevils. Get the cotton connection? Huh?
It was a doubleheader and I sat with starting pitchers Bowers, Bobby Seay and, I believe, a third hurler who is lost to my memory (maybe Bowers, Seay or the unremembered guy could tell me who it was). We watched a relief pitcher named Trevor or Travis amaze us all by getting guys out with a pitch that was SO SLOW it didn’t register on the radar gun (and said pitcher eventually made it up to the big leagues briefly).
And we watched a speedy outfielder for the Phillies named Erick Williams turn an apparent routine groundout into a hit, and a routine pickoff into a steal, and what should have been two outs into a run in a 1-0 win. Ricky Williams eventually left baseball for the NFL after winning a Heisman Trophy football, and then to follow his heart (or I guess more accurately his “head”), But I’ll always remember him as one of the most electrifiying players I’ve seen at that level.
So … Bowers spent several years in the Rays system as a very very effective pitcher, but in 2005 he opted to head to Japan where Yokohama signed him and he pitched well for them, just as he’d pitched well everywhere else he’d been. He moved on from Japan to Korea and finally, this year, the Rockies came a-calling and signed him and voila, three months later, he makes his big league debut.
I am SO happy for him. But it doesn’t always work out quite that well.
Example. Say you’d pretty much dedicated your life to baseball. Well, that would describe about 98 percent of minor leaguers, right? So you’ve spent all your waking (and maybe sleeping) moments working towards the day you were going to pitch/hit in the big leagues.
And if maybe you don’t have that blazing 90-something fastball or light-tower power, you were just going to make it with your guile and heart and savvy.
And you’re from Canada, where it’s kinda tough to play on a regular basis to start with. So you head down to South Carolina to play college ball at a lesser known school but at least get to play in warm weather.
So you get drafted by a good organization (let’s say one that has won two World Series titles in the last few years) and you post pretty damned awesome numbers (5-1, 1.94) as a 14th-round pick in 2004 for their high-level short-season team. And after suffering a back injury you get released because your stuff is just off-speed stuff so it’s not really worth waiting around for you to rehab. After all, your 55-MPH curveball can’t break the speed limit.
So you go and pitch in the indie leagues and do well there, well enough to get your former team’s BIGGEST RIVALS to sign you to a minor league contract. And you pitcher EVEN BETTER for them in their Class A outpost (0.61 ERA in 44 innings of work), which at least is in your old college stomping grounds. AND you get released. Again.
FINALLY, after yet another indie league “audition,” the Philadelphia Phillies sign you. And you reward them by posting a 2.25 ERA in 44 innings over two Class A levels in 2007 and then dominating Eastern League and International League hitters at Double-A and Triple-A in 2008.
AND YOU GET CALLED UP TO THE BIG LEAGUES!!!!! NO JOKE! The guy who couldn’t break glass with five off-speed pitches, who scouts said would never get past Class A, he gets his contract purchased from Triple-A Lehigh Valley when former first-round ace Brett Myers gets sent down.
And then if all this happens and you never get into a game and you get sent down the next day, what do you call that? A steal? A robbery?
Meet southpaw R.J. Swindle.
A shocker … and I mean shocker … callup from the newly-spawned IronPigs club, he was just as quickly dispatched when the next night’s starter, JA Happ, was recalled. And I know he probably feels like he already beat the odds by getting there at all … and the fact that he was optioned back and not outrighted means he is still on the 40-man roster and is a good sign .. but I now have this season’s PLEASE LET THIS GUY MAKE HIS MAJOR LEAGUE DEBUT candidate and his name is R.J. Swindle.
ETA: An interesting possible twist to the story is that thanks to his Canadian background, Swindle may be in the mix to head to the Olympics with Team Canada. That squad will be announced sometime next week. Fingers crossed that he will get to wear the maple leaf with pride.
Well, I’ll stop rambling for now but will pick up again tomorrow with tales of joy and woe and annoyance from my Carolina-California League All-Star trek in Myrtle Beach and with my list of my top 5 Steely Dan songs to counter that of the lovely and awesome Marla Hooch (check out the “Girls Don’t Know About Baseball” blog widget link for the reference there) …
Meanwhile, enjoy those fireworks and hey, hey, hey … be careful out there.