Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Remember these guys?

Saw an interesting transaction today in the American Association. The Kansas City T-Bones, who are managed by former Wild Things manager John Massarelli, signed former Washington first baseman Ernie Banks.

Wild one at Gateway

GCS Ballpark was the site of the Frontier League's wildest game of 2015 Tuesday night.

It doesn't matter what league it is, a baseball season will usually generate one game that because of its uniqueness transcends all others played in the circuit that year. It could be a wild comeback, the length of the game or some unusual aspect of play that makes it stand out.

They played one of those games Tuesday night at GCS Ballpark in Sauget, Ill., where the Evansville Otters defeated the Gateway Grizzlies 16-14 in 13 innings.

Gateway scored a run in bottom of the ninth to force extra innings, then all the fun began. The ninth-inning run marked just the second time all season that Evansville's bullpen had blown a save.

Both teams scored a run in the 10th inning, which left the score tied at 6-6. The International Tiebreaker kicked in for the 11th, and Evansville seemed to have the game in hand when it scored eight runs in the top of the 11th. The Otters hit back-to-back-to-back home runs in the 11th, including a grand slam by Josh Allen.

Gateway, however, put together a eight-run bottom of the 11th to tie the score again at 14-14. Madison Beaird made it 14-14 by hitting a three-run homer.

After combining for 16 runs in the 11th and getting to start the 12th with a runner on second base, neither team scored in the 12th. Evansville then won the game in 13th.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What now?

The Wild Things have consecutive off days before playing a doubleheader Wednesday night at home against River City. That's two days for the team's decision-makers to chart the course for the final 36 games of the season.

After 60 games, Washington has a 25-35 record. Of the previous 13 editions of the Wild Things, only the 2012 "Bando Bunch" had a worse record (24-36) after 60 games. The 2010 team also was 25-35.

The Wild Things are in last place in the East Division, 16 games out of first place. They trail River City (33-27), the team currently holding the final playoff spot, by eight games. Washington even trails the Frontier Greys, the league's travel team that has not played a home game all season, by three games.

It was never supposed to be like this.

This was to be a season in which the Wild Things contended for a playoff berth. On paper, it had the look of a team that could qualify for the postseason for a second consecutive year. During spring training, the roster was chock-full of players with Class AA experience. That was highly unusual, not only for the Wild Things but for any Frontier League team. Early in the regular season, they re-signed C.J. Beatty, Carter Bell and Jim Vahalik, all key players on last year's team.

However, about as soon as the regular season began, the Wild Things' season started falling off the rails. Many of the former Class AA players didn't pan out and have been traded for nothing in return. The Wild Things are last in the league in team batting average, next-to-last in on-base percentage and have the most strikeouts.

Now, the Wild Things are closer to having the worst record in the league than they are to a playoff berth.

Manager Bob Bozzuto has not wavered in his assessment of team. He says almost nightly that the Wild Things are a good team, that his club is not a .236 -- or whatever Washington's batting average happens to be on a given day -- hitting team.

So with 36 games remaining, what do the Wild Things do? Do they continue to stay the course and hope they can somehow leapfrog five teams and make the playoffs? Do they attempt to sign or trade for some badly needed offensive help? Do they throw in the towel on the season, as then-manager Bart Zeller did at this point in 2013, and trade a few key players to other Frontier League teams for players who could help in 2016?

The powers-that-be for the Wild Things should have been asking these questions for at least two days. The answers will unfold over the next two weeks, if not sooner.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Mirowski traded for the popular PTBN

The Wild Things finalized a trade Monday, sending pitcher Richie Mirowski to the Amarillo Thunderheads of the American Association for the ever-popular player to be named. Amarillo is currently in fourth place in the five-team South Division with a 29-33 record and is eight games out of first place.

Placed on the suspended list last week, Mirowski had an 0-3 record with one save and a 4.76 ERA in 19 games (two starts). Mirowski had 42 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings. The Wild Things seemed to save Mirowski for potential International Tiebreaker appearances rather than using him regularly in the seventh or eighth innings as a setup reliever.

Mirowski is one of the multiple players with Class AA experience the Wild Things brought in for spring training who is no longer with the team. He also is the third of the group to be traded to the American Association for a player to be named, which means the Wild Things will likely be getting nothing in return (see the post on this blog last month about player-to-be-named trades with teams from other leagues). By my count, Mirowski is the 29th player Washington has dealt for a PTBN and is still owed something in return.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Mirowski exits

The Wild Things made another roster move prior to tonight's series finale against Lake Erie. Pitcher Richie Mirowski, who started the 9-4 loss to the Crushers Wednesday night, was placed on the suspended list. Signed to fill the roster spot was Kolin Stanley, a rookie who played this spring for Marshall University.

Mirowski has an 0-3 record and 4.76 ERA in 19 games (2 starts). He has struck out 42 batters in 28 1/3 innings. Mirowski had reached the Class AA level in the Washington Nationals' system before being released.

Stanley led Marshall with a 2.65 ERA in 28 games (all in relief) this spring. He is the 38th player that Wild Things have had on their active roster this year.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Where do they rank?

Early this season, I heard a comment made by one of the Wild Things' coaches about his days in the American Association, which is another independent league. It had something to do with the coach being on a team that had a player who eventually made it to the major leagues but during his time in the American Association was traded to "a lower-tier team" in the league.

I had never heard the term "lower-tier team" used in Frontier League circles, but that comment got me thinking. Which Frontier League teams would be considered "upper-tier" based on their on-field performance, ballpark,  attendance and all the other things that go with making a team desirable for somebody considering playing in the league.

Here's one guy's current rankings:

1. Schaumburg  – Won league championship each of the last two years. Led the league in attendance in 2014. Was named organization of year in 2013. Has the best all-time winning percentage of any current team. Has been in the league only four years but has skyrocketed to the top.

2. Southern Illinois – Amazingly consistent team under Mike Pinto, who is the only manager the Miners have ever had (nine years, which scores points for consistency). Won a championship in 2012 and has made the playoffs five times with two division championships. Has NEVER finished with a losing  record. Three times Southern Illinois was named organization of the year.

3. Traverse City – Led the league in total attendance five times and has made the postseason three of the last five years with one division title. Only thing missing for the Beach Bums is a league championship. One drawback is it’s located more than 300 miles from the nearest FL team.

4. Gateway – Though the Grizzlies are going through a rough season – the tailspin actually started in the second half of last year – Gateway has many positives: great stadium, has finished int eh top 3 in attendance every season since 2003, has hit more home runs than any team in league history, was named the organization of year in 2014. Downside is the Grizzlies appear on course to miss to the playoffs for the third year in a row. Only championship was in 2003.

5. River City – These rankings are based primarily on the on-field product, which is where the Rascals do their best work. However, if it were only wins and losses that were considered, River City would rank higher than arch-rival Gateway. The Rascals won the league title in 2010 and have four playoff appearances in last six years. That includes three division titles. River City used to be at the top of the attendance list in the team’s early days and was the organization of the year in 1999 and 2000 but has not been selected since.

6. Lake Erie – Crushers are scuffling this year but that has rarely happened in Lake Erie’s seven years in the league. The Crushers have made the playoffs four times and won the league title in 2009, their inaugural season. Downside is attendance has decreased in each of the last four years and this year’s team currently sits in last place in the East Division.

7. Windy City – The ThunderBolts won back-to-back league championships in 2007 and ’08. They had a run of four consecutive playoff years (2007-10). Ballpark is interesting with an upper deck over half of the lower bowl, but based on the last time I was there it rated in the bottom half of the league. Though I have no hard data to support this, it seems like the ThunderBolts have had more players sold to affiliated ball than any other team in the league. Usually travels fewer miles than any other league team during a season because of its central location.

8. Evansville – Stable franchise playing its 21st Frontier League season. The Otters won their lone championship in 2006. Ended a string of seven consecutive years without a playoff berth last year but lost a wild-card at home to Washington. Last playoff win was in 2006. Team seems headed back to the playoffs for the second year in a row under manager Andy McCauley and has bettered its record each fo the last four years. The home ballpark, Bosse Field, is 100 years old. I’m not sure if that’s a positive or a negative.

9. Joliet – Slammers can boast a league championship in 2011, which is why they rank this high. That was the team's first season in the league. Joliet has a nice ballpark in Silver Cross Field and the location of the city means the Slammers don't do as much traveling as teams like Washington and Traverse City. Has had an ownership change since joining the Frontier League.

10. Washington – The Wild Things were a top-half-of-the-league franchise for many years but have been a steady downward spiral. One exception is last year’s playoff appearance, the team’s first since 2007. Even with the postseason trip, Washington hasn’t finished higher than third in its division since 2007. The Wild Things were named Organization of the Year in 2002 and 2005, back in the days when they had as many as 34 sellouts in a season. Attendance has fallen off dramatically as has the record. Coaching instability factors in to this ranking. The Wild Things have had seven managers in nine years and haven’t had a hitting coach make it through an entire season since 2013. Two positives are last year’s team had five players sold to affiliated teams and one former pitcher (Vidal Nuno) is in the major leagues.

11. Normal – Would rate higher is it wasn’t for one thing: The CornBelters have never made the playoffs. That should change this season, the team’s sixth in the league, which will result in a rise in these rankings. Normal has never been named the organization of the year nor had an executive receive league honors.

12. Florence – I’ve tried to find reasons to rank the Freedom higher but I just can’t find many. Though the franchise has improved greatly over the years from its early days when it was a mess under previous ownership, the Freedom have made the playoffs one time in their first 12 seasons. Stadium is in a great location but the visiting club hotel has been called the worst in the league by many people.

13. Rockford –This was once a good franchise. That was when it was nicknamed the Riverhawks and produced a league championship in 2004. As the Aviators, Rockford has been a sinking ship. Attendance has been on a steady decline, to the point the Aviators are averaging only 794 fans per game this season. The future seems shaky as scuttlebutt around the league has Rockford likely playing its last season on the Frontier. Rockford has never been named organization of the year or had an executive receive league honors. Though in the thick of the playoff race this year, Rockford’s last playoff appearance in the Frontier League was 2007.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Remember this guy?

Brent Metheny

Anybody remember who the third-base and hitting coach for the Wild Things was at the beginning of this season?

You might recall that Brent Metheny, the former manager of the Frontier Greys, began the season as Washington's third-base coach and its hitting instructor. Metheny lasted about four series before being "dismissed" for reasons that were never clearly explained. What I've been told is it was simply a difference of opinion with manager Bob Bozzuto.

Metheny wasn't unemployed very long. By mid-June he was hired as the hitting coach for the Sussex Miners in the Can-Am League. Earlier this month, Metheny was promoted to interim manger, replacing former major league pitcher Steve Shirley, who took a leave of absence.

Here is a link to a story about Metheny's promotion. I find it interesting that Metheny's time with Washington was not mentioned:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wobrock goes 2-for-2, but West wins all-star game

Washington's Austin Wobrock in the 2015 Frontier League All-Star Game.

Rockford outfielder Michael Hur hit a two-run double and scored a run Wednesday night to power the West Division All-Stars to a 4-2 victory over the East in the Frontier League All-Star Game before a crowd of 6,572 in Schaumburg, Ill.

Hur was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after helping the West to a three-run third inning.
Washington shortstop Austin Wobrock had a good game, going 2-for-2 with a double and scoring one of the East’s runs.

Wobrock, a second-year pro from of the University of Hawaii, entered the game in the top of the fifth inning and hit a two-out single off Rockford pitcher Kyle Hassna. In the eighth, Wobrock hit a leadoff double off Joliet relief pitcher Navery Moore, advanced on a wild pitch and scored to when Brandon Tierney of the Frontier Greys hit a sacrifice fly.

Wobrock was the only Washington player in the game. Left-handed pitcher Kyle Helisek was voted to the East team but was unable to play after being placed on the disabled list last week.
Earlier in the day, former Wild Things center fielder Chris Sidick was inducted into the Frontier League Hall of Fame.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Popkins named Player of Week

David Popkins
Washington outfielder David Popkins was named Monday the Frontier League Player of the Week.

Popkins hit safely in all six Wild Things games last week, helping them to a 4-2 road trip to Windy City and Rockford. He hit four home runs, two doubles and drove in five runs during the week.

A switch-hitter out of Cal-Davis, Popkins played three years in the St. Louis Cardinals system and made it to Class AA Springfield last year as an undrafted player. It's interesting that since Popkins had a conversation with another switch-hitter, a guy named Pete Rose, Popkins has gone 16-for-39 with eight home runs. Rose told Popkins that he should concentrate more on watching the spin on the pitch. Popkins said his approach had been see the ball, recognize what kind of pitch it is and then swing.

"I practiced all winter hitting off a pitching machine that throws those yellow balls that don't have seams," Popkins said. "I never really focused on watching the spin on the ball before. I saw the spin, but I didn't focus hard on it. You can't do that when you're hitting those yellow balls."

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Wild Things ownership in court over blocked Kokomo expansion team

In case you missed it, in today's edition of the Observer-Reporter staff writer Barbara Miller has a story about the ownership of the Wild Things being in litigation over the Frontier League failing to land an expansion team in Kokomo, Ind., for the 2015 season.

Here is the link to the story:

If you want a Reader's Digest version, here it goes:

According to the lawsuit ...

* The Wild Things ownership, in its own right and for the benefit of the Frontier League, has filed suit against MKE Sports & Entertainment, Michael Zimmerman and MKE Baseball. The Frontier League was named as nominal defendant.

* The story goes back to the spring of 2014, when the Frontier League's board of directors identified Kokomo, Ind., as a potential site for an expansion team. Kokomo was building a new ballpark with more than 2,000 permanent seats and a lawn-seating area. The Frontier League was willing to give the potential Kokomo franchise to any current owner at the bargain-basement price of $50,000. They would have to fund the franchise until they could sell it to an outside owner. The league valued such as franchise at $1 million.

* Stu Williams, owner of the Wild Things, and Clint Brown, owner of the Florence Freedom, were appointed to negotiate a lease with the City of Kokomo to place an expansion team in the new ballpark. Brown eventually withdrew from the position.

* At the time Williams was in negotiations, the Rockford Aviators' ownership, in conjunction with Zimmerman, who owns KME Sports, also was in negotiations with Kokomo to land a lease for the ballpark.

* The Frontier League advised the Aviators that they were to take no further action in regards to Kokomo.

* The Aviators ignored the directive from the league and a contract/lease was signed between Zimmerman and Kokomo.

* Zimmerman tried to use the lease as leverage to be given a franchise in the Frontier League. He eventually has Kokomo join the Prospect League, which is a college summer league. Zimmerman also owns the Jamestown (N.Y.) franchise in that league.

* Because the FL does not have a team in Kokomo, the league's 13 owners must financially support for another season the Frontier Greys, the league's traveling team.

* After being denied a Frontier League expansion team, Zimmerman signs a contract to become CEO of the Aviators and KME Sports signs a management contract to run the day-to-day operations of the franchise.

* Williams asked the Frontier League to take legal action but it did not, so Williams proceeded on his own. Commissioner Bill Lee eventually imposed a "substantial" fine on those involved in getting Kokomo to sign with the Prospect League, but Lee's 44-page decision was ordered sealed by the court.

* MKE Sports terminates its contract with the Aviators after Lee rules that Zimmerman has an ownership in multiple teams in another league, violating the Frontier League's bylaws. A Frontier League team owner can have teams in other leagues, but to do so it must be approved by two-thirds of the FL. Zimmerman, apparently, did not have kind of support.

* Wild Things ownership is seeking a jury trial and is requesting: 1. an award of all costs associated with running the Greys in 2015 and a reasonable period of time after the season; 2. the $50,00 expansion fee (that price is now expired); 3. any profits or other benefits the Zimmerman Defendants directly or indirectly receive from the lease or the Kokomo team; 4. other relief.