Sunday, May 24, 2015

Rough starting

The Wild Things will take a 1-7 record into today's series finale at Normal.

Is this their worst start to a season?

In a word, yes.

Washington was 1-6 in 2008, and 2-9 in 2009, but until this year the Wild Things never lost seven of eight games out of the gate.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Gas up the bus, 2015 version

The Wild Things begin a nine-game road trip -- their first since 2011 -- tonight in Normal, Ill. This is after a 508-mile trip through the night from Washington. The Wild Things better get used to logging a lot of hours on the bus because this year they are the biggest losers on the league's travel chart. Yes, Washington will travel more miles this season than any Frontier League team, including the Greys, who do not play a home game.

With teams from Pennsylvania to Michigan to Missouri, at least one interdivision game every night, and not playing a balanced schedule, the Frontier League is a scheduling nightmare. Giving teams sensible road trips is not always possible, and we understand as much. Throw in having to schedule around college tournaments, youth leagues and even a professional women's softball team has to make the poor soul in charge of scheduling reach for the Excedrin. Throw in trying to give each team the same number of weekends at home and you have the formula for a migraine. Being the schedulemaker in this league is probably a thankless job because every player, coach and owner thinks his team has a bad schedule.

In one way, the Wild Things have the worst schedule.

A method for determining this is checking the miles each team will travel. The chart below is the mileage each team will log on the road this season along with the difference from last year. When calculating mileage for each team, I do not take into account if a team chooses to travel back and forth each night (in league circles it's called a commuter trip) to play a close rival. For example, Windy City is a commuter trip for Schaumburg because it's only 38 miles between the ballparks. Even in this case, I credit Schaumburg with only one 38-mile trip.

Miles       Team       (Difference from 2014)
10,123 -- Washington (952 more)
 9,492 -- Greys (2,396 fewer)
 9,468 -- Traverse City (1,054 fewer)
 8,698 -- Evansville (392 more)
 8,318 -- Lake Erie (1,074 fewer)
 7,434 -- Rockford (69 more)
 7,314 -- Southern Illinois (38 more)
 7,180 -- River City (230 fewer)
 7.023 -- Florence (192 fewer)
 7,001 -- Gateway (65 more)
 6,965 -- Joliet (1,199 more)
 6,477 -- Normal (190 more)
 6,319 -- Schaumburg (246 fewer)
 5,858 -- Windy City (817 fewer)

The Greys logged the most road miles each of the last two seasons. Washington logged the most  in 2012 at more than 11,000. In 2013, there were four teams, including River City from the West Division, who traveled more miles than the Wild Things.

While 10,123 miles seems like a lot, I did a quick comparison with the schedules for two teams in the American Association, Winnipeg and Laredo. One is in Canada, the other is on the U.S./Mexican border, which shows how far-flung the American Association has become.

Winnipeg will travel 13,001 miles. The Goldeyes play their first 10 games on the road and their home opener is not until June 2. Laredo's travel is even worse. The Lemurs will log 17,105 miles and have four trips of more than 1,000 miles between series, including one that covers 1,465 miles. By comparison, Washington's longest trip is 580 miles.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Top 10 lists

In honor of David Letterman's final show tonight, here are two top 10 lists of the things I like about the Wild Things and their season so far, and 10 things I don't like:

Top 10 things I like about the Wild Things and their season so far:

10. Lee Orr's potential - You would think first base would be one of the easiest positions to find a good player, but Washington hasn't had a first baseman with above-league-average production in many years. Orr looks like he will end that streak.

9. Matt Ford's bat - Only a week into the season and he's already working his way up the batting order. That's a good sign for a guy who started the year as the No. 9 hitter.

8. Good parking spaces are available, even at game time - You can figure out why by looking at the attendance numbers.

7. Maxx Garrett's contact - The ball has been jumping off Garrett's bat with much more authority than in past seasons. He could have a breakout year at the plate if he stays healthy.

6. Luke Wilkins' Australian accent.

5. The red hats.

4. Edinson Rincon's patience - For a guy who once walked only 22 times in 521 plate appearances during Class AA season, Rincon has shown a very good eye at the plate, drawing a team-high six walks in 20 plate appearances.

3. Richie Mirowski's split-fingered fastball - A true out pitch, It's why Mirowski has eight strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.

2. Hey, it's baseball season - Going to the ballpark sure beats trudging off to walk in the dead of winter with snow falling and the temperature hovering near zero.

And the No. 1 thing I like about the Wild Things' season so far:

1. David Popkins' hitting - Popkins, a switch-hitting outfielder, looks like he's capable of putting up Stewart Ijames-like numbers, especially when hitting from the left side.

Top 10 things I don't like about the Wild Things and their season so far:

10. The schedule - Washington begins a rare 9-game road trip Friday that will include stops at Normal, River City and Gateway. The Wild Things also will log more travel miles this season than any team int he league, and that includes the Greys, who are a travel team.

9. Too many fundamental mistakes - Some of the problems you get when putting a team together in two weeks popped up in the Wild Things' first five games: miscommunication on defense, mistakes during rundown plays, not getting bunts down, baserunning mistakes, etc.

8. The bench - Washington has 23 active players, one under the league maximum. There are only two position players on the bench each night, a backup catcher and a first baseman. There is no backup middle infielder on the roster, unless you count C.J. Beatty, who on some nights is the DH.

7. The record - It says the Wild Things are 1-4 but they could easily be, and probably should be, 4-1. To steal a line from a "Major League" movie, they stranded a small village in the opener and lose 1-0. Then they can't protect a four-run lead in the last inning of the second game. Then they give up three runs because of defensive miscues Tuesday night. The game Wednesday night is the only one in which you can say they were flat-out beaten.

6. Too many walks - Only Gateway, which has a 6.40 team ERA, has issued more walks than the Wild Things. You can count on improvement in this area.

5. The lack of sound effects between pitches - Apparently, this is a directive from the Frontier League office. They can still play the Pro Tech Auto Glass breaking glass sound because it's a paid promotion, but things like "Clap your hands" or organ music or even the "charge!" song (which the Wild Things never used) are taboo this season. This has removed much of the "atmosphere" from the ballpark. In other words, it has made the place rather boring until the ball is hit, even when there is a decent-sized crowd in the house.

4. The attendance - The last two games have drawn the two of the three smallest crowds in Wild Things history. I know it's tough to draw fans on a weekday during May, when the kids are still in school and the weather is crisp, but one has to wonder if Washington really cares if it has professional baseball or not. I'm leaning toward not and the numbers seem to support that belief. When a Class A baseball playoff game being played at the same time and across the parking lot has about the same number of butts in the seats as a Wild Things game, then you have to wonder about the future of professional baseball in this city.

3. The situational hitting, or the lack of it - Improvement needed in this area. In the loss to Evansville Wednesday night, Washington's first 12 at-bats with a runner on base failed to advance the runner. They had a runner on third base with no outs and left him stranded, the second time that has happened.

2. The weather - Too much rain and too cold for May.

And the No. 1 thing I don't like about the Wild Things' season so far:

Knowing the international tiebreaker rule will be used this season. IMHO, this is the dumbest rule in sports. More on this in an upcoming blog post.

Friday, May 15, 2015

How old are these guys?

If you follow the Frontier League, then you know it's the only one of the top four independent leagues -- the Atlantic League, American Association and Can-Am League being the others -- that has a age limit.

The rule is players without minor league experience must be at least 18 years old and no player can be 27 years old prior to Jan. 1, 2015, with the exception of one player who will be designated as a "Veteran" player and cannot be more than 29 years old on the above date, provided he has been listed on a FL active roster for a total of 100 regular-season games during the previous two seasons.

The 27-year-old age limit is what has given the Frontier League the reputation of being a "younger league" and the No. 4 league on the independent ladder. But is the average Frontier League team significantly younger than an American Association team or a Can-Am League team?

Here are the average ages of each team's active roster entering tonight's play, which is opening night for 10 of the Frontier League teams:

Age - Team
25.12 - Joliet
25.04 - Greys
25.01 - Traverse City
24.95 - Southern Illinois
24.77 - Normal
24.66 - Florence
24.56 - Schaumburg
24.52 - Washington
24.29 - Lake Erie
24.25 - Windy City
24.22 - River City
24.16 - Evansville
24.16 - Rockford
23.83 - Gateway

Just for comparison, I checked the roster of two American Association teams, Laredo (because the Wild Things traded Kevin Brandt to the Lemurs this week) and former Washington manager John Massarelli's Kansas City team. I also checked the roster of the Can-Am's Rockland and New Jersey teams because Rockland is managed by former Chillicothe manager Jamie Keefe and former Wild Things pitcher Shawn Sanford is with New Jersey. Laredo's roster checked in with an average age of 26.14 while Kansas City's roster averages 26.41. Rockland averages 25.85 and New Jersey is a very Frontier League-like 25.11.

Both the American Association and Can-Am League do not begin their seasons until next week, so their teams have not made final cuts. That means some of the younger players will be released and the average player age will increase slightly.

What all of this tells us is the average American Association and Can-Am League team has a roster that is only 1-2 years older than that of a Frontier League team. I expected the difference to be signifcantly greater, given all I've heard and read about the Frontier being a much "younger" league.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Nuno back in majors; Marks makes start in AAA

Troy Marks
Former Wild Things pitcher Vidal Nuno was recalled to the major leagues by the Arizona Diamondbacks Monday. Nuno had been playing for the Reno Aces, the Diamondbacks' affiliate in the hitter-friendly Class AAA Pacific Coast League. The only former Wild Things player to appear in a major league game, Nuno had a 3-2 record and 3.23 ERA in six starts for Reno. He struck out 37 in 39 innings.

Last Friday, former Wild Things pitcher Troy Marks was sent from extended spring training with the Diamondbacks to Reno to make a 50-pitch start Sunday for the Aces. That means for three days the Wild Things had two players in Class AAA on the same team's pitching staff.

Marks, who started Game 1 of the playoff series against River City last year, threw two shutout innings for the Aces before running into trouble in the third. He gave up five hits, two runs and a walk but Reno won the game 11-2.

Marks played the second half of last season with Washington and had a 5-1 record and 2.45 ERA in eight starts.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Cutdown day

Ryan Kresky, right, was one of 12 players dropped from the roster Sunday. Four more moves must be made before opening day.

Today is the first mandatory cutdown day and the axe was dropped hard in Washington.

The Wild Things trimmed their roster by 12 players -- we mentioned one of the moves in Saturday's edition of the Observer-Reporter as lefty relief pitcher Matt Phillips was placed on the retired list -- and now have 28 active players.

All teams must be down to no more than 24 players when the Frontier League season starts Thursday with two games, Joliet at Florence and Schaumburg at Windy City (yes, the Boomers will have played one game before arriving in Washington for the Wild Things' opener Friday night).

In addition to Phillips, who is recovering from shoulder surgery that caused him to miss all of last season, infielder Ryan Kresky was put on the retired list. Kresky played for Evansville in 2013 and was acquired by Washington last year in a trade. He batted .215 with four home runs and 24 RBI with the Wild Things. He had a miserable night Friday in a 6-4 exhibition loss to Lake Erie. He was charged with four errors, though not all were totally his fault. Kresky was a sure-handed player last year, committing only six errors in 63 games.

Washington also released 10 players and all but one, pitcher Mike Devine, is a rookie by league roster standards. A Springdale native, Devine played three seasons in the Frontier League with Traverse City and Normal.

The other players released were pitchers Jeremy Holcombe, Cory Jordan and Ryan Wakefield, catchers Sammy Ayala and Colbe Herr, first basemen Joey Miller and Jack Morrow and second baseman/outfielder Daniel Massey.

Jordan has been sidelined by a hamstring injury and I had expected him to be placed on the DL. Miller was edged out for a roster spot by rookie first baseman Brady North.

Washington has two catchers, five infielders and four outfielders on the roster. I anticipate all 11 to make the opening day roster, unless shortstop Juedy Valdez, who was issued a visa about nine days ago, arrives in Washington. The Wild Things have 17 pitchers on the roster.

Washington must trim four players who are classified as experienced off the roster before the season begins.

Prior to the exhibition games, Washington released rookie pitcher Kyle Davis and outfielder Tanner Mathis. Davis is a rookie from Allegheny College. Mathis played college ball at Mississippi and spent two years in the Houston Astros' system.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Big game for Ijames

Former Wild Things outfielder Stewart Ijames had a big game Wednesday for the Visalia Rawhide in the Class A California League. Ijames was 2-for-4 with two home runs and three RBI in a win over the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. One of Ijmaes' home runs came off Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Kenley Jansen, who is on an injury rehab assignment. It was the second home run for Ijames this year off a major league pitcher.

Ijames currently leads the California League in home runs with nine and is second in total bases with 62.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Now he feels like a Frontier League manager

Noticed this photo Tuesday with the following headline:

Mazey suspended 2 games for lingering after Sunday's ejection

Anybody who follows the Frontier League and recognizes the umpire on the left will get a laugh out of the photo and suspect that West Virginia baseball coach Randy Mazey picked the wrong umpire to get into an argument with. For the record, Jim Schaly did eject Mazey from a game Sunday against TCU, but it had more to do with the second-base umpire enforcing the stupid 90-seconds between-innings rule. Schaly just happened to be the homeplate umpire and closest to Mazey when the latter went on the field to argue what has been deemed a nonarguable rule, sorta like balls and strikes.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Attention, campers

Spring training is in full swing and there are only a few practices left before the Wild Things play three exhibition games in two days against the Lake Erie Crushers. Two games will be played Friday at Consol Energy Park and one Saturday at All Pro Freight Stadium in Avon, Ohio.

After watching a few practices, I've come to one conclusion: I'm glad I will not be making the roster decisions that Bob Bozzuto and his coaching staff will over the next week. It's obvious there will be some very good players, especially pitchers, being let go because of the Frontier League's roster classifications and guidelines. There are more players classified as experienced in camp than ever before, so Washington won't be able to keep the best 24 players.

Three players were let go Monday: former Pitt outfielder Casey Roche, pitcher Willie Ethington and first baseman Tyler Peterson. All three are classified as rookies. I saw Roche, who played for Traverse City last year, bat a few times in an intrasquad game and pitch and inning. He really didn't look bad as a pitcher, throwing much harder than one might expect.

Peterson is one of three first basemen classified as rookies who were battling for what likely is one roster spot. Peterson's release leaves Joey Miller competing with Brady North.

I saw about a dozen pitchers throw in an intrasquad game Sunday. Of the newcomers, Richie Mirowski looked very good, as did Kyle Helisek. Steve Messner was with the Wild Things at the end of the 2013 season and he's back after spending one year in the San Francisco Giants system. He looks like a more polished pitcher than what I remember, so that was a pleasant surprise.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pete Rose coming to CEP

The Wild Things announced Tuesday that baseball's all-time hit king Pete Rose is coming to Consol Energy Park in June to sell his autograph.

My first reaction when I heard the news was this:


Well, the reason obviously is Rose is hitting the independent leagues this summer to make some money and drum up sympathy, er, uh, support, from the general public for his banishment from baseball to be overturned. Rose's representatives formally filed paperwork last month with new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred requesting reinstatement.

For $40, fans can purchase an autograph ticket for Rose to sign June 30 during the Wild Things' game against Lake Erie. For $100, you can purchase a VIP package that includes a 100-minute meet and greet with Rose.

And remember, apparently because he is banned from baseball, Rose will only sign Wild Things merchandise. No Cincinnati Reds or MLB gear will be autographed, so make sure you get to the CEP merchandise store early.

Hey, if you want to pay outrageous prices to see a legend up close, then go for it. I have no problem with that. Heck, I just paid a lot more than $100 to see the Rolling Stones from 50 yards away, so I can't criticize anybody for wanting to see a person who had more hits -- the baseball kind, not the rock and roll variety -- than anybody in history.

What did cause me to wonder why Wild Things ownership decided to bring Rose to Washington has nothing to do with Charlie Hustle's betting on baseball, his banishment from the game, his wanting to be in the Hall of Fame or the high price of becoming one of at least a million people across the country to own a Pete Rose autograph. Instead, it had everything to do with Rose being the guy Pittsburgh Pirates fans loved to hate during his playing days. That's why my first reaction to the Rose-to-CEP news was this:

Pete Rose? What, was Francisco Cabrera busy that day? Or Barry Bonds? Or Ken Stabler? Or Bobby Clarke? Or Aroldis Chapman? Or Ray Lewis? Or Alexander Ovechkin? These are the players Pittsburgh sports fans have despised.

This is like having Franco Harris sign autographs in Cleveland. Or Sidney Crosby signing in Philadelphia. Or Goliath signing autographs in David's back yard. There's just something wrong about crossing enemy lines, even after all these years.

Maybe I'm wrong about the dislike for Rose. Maybe I can't get over the fact I grew up in Pirates territory during the Lumber Company and Big Red Machine days but my best friend was -- and still is -- a diehard Reds fans. So Rose's success was always a thorn in my side. Perhaps it's because I am a child of the '70s that this seems so odd. People younger than I probably find nothing wrong with Pete Rose being in Washington.

I can't say anything bad about the way Rose played the game. He played the right way. He played hard, he played to win, he didn't miss games with injuries and the guy could roll out of bed during a winter blizzard and go 2-for-5. What he did on the field, I can totally respect.

I just think there are better options -- many of them current or former Pirates and Steelers -- than Rose to bring to Washington to sign autographs.

If you can't make it CEP June 30, don't feel badly. You can always wait for Bill Belichick Day at the ballpark next year.