By Bob Wirz
If anyone ever doubts the American Association is making major contributions to the playing talent in major league organizations they only need to study rosters throughout the American and National Leagues. While new names seem to be added each month, some 55 players–that is an average of well over four per American Association team–will be in training camps in Arizona and Florida by the time all of the minor league camps open.
Twenty-five of the 30 major league organizations are included.
Nine of the 54 hold prized spots on 40-man major league rosters. The other 45 have minor league contracts although seven of those are training with the big guys as non-roster invitees and some of the others also will get exposure on occasion in Grapefruit and Cactus League exhibitions.
Thirty-three of the minor league contract players are pitchers, well ahead of the 12 position players. The entire list, including the major league affiliation and the American Association cities where they have played:
Pitchers (33)–Tim Adleman, Cincinnati (Lincoln, El Paso); NR Tyler Alexander, Oakland (Fargo-Moorhead); Omar Bencomo, Baltimore (Wichita, Laredo); NR Ryan Bollinger, San Diego (St. Paul, Winnipeg); James Buckelew, Chicago-NL (Kansas City); Robert Calvano, San Diego (Kansas City); Jason Creasy, Atlanta (St. Paul); Carlos Diaz, Cincinnati (Kansas City, Gary); James Dykstra, Cincinnati (Sioux City); Tyler Fallwell, Philadelphia (Sioux City); *Kevin Folman, Chicago-AL (Sioux Falls); Taylor Grover, Baltimore (Chicago); NR *James Hoyt, Cleveland (Wichita); Eric Karch, Minnesota (Sioux City); Sebastian Kessay, Arizona (Fargo-Moorhead); NR Mike Kickham, Miami (Kansas City); Zack Jones, New York-NL (St. Paul); Nick Lee, Cincinnati (Kansas City); Parker Markel, Seattle (Sioux City); Tyler Matzek, Arizona (Texas); Kevin McCanna, Arizona (Sioux City); Ian McKinney, Seattle (Sioux City); Trey McNutt, Oakland (Fargo-Moorhead); James Needy, Miami (Sioux City); Chris Nunn, Texas (St. Paul); Connor Overton, San Francisco (Sioux City); Matt Portland, Chicago-AL (Lincoln); Zach Prendergast, St. Louis (Fargo-Moorhead); Danny Reynolds, Milwaukee (Laredo); NR Bo Schultz, Baltimore (Grand Prairie); NR Tayler Scott, Seattle (Sioux City); *Matt Solter, Cleveland (Gary, St. Paul); Caleb Thielbar, Detroit (St. Paul); *Josh Tols, Philadelphia (Kansas City).
Position Players (12)–INF-OF *T. J. Bennett, Chicago-AL (Lincoln, Joplin); NR-INF Ryan Court, Chicago-NL (Sioux City); OF Keith Curcio, Boston (Kansas City); INF Taylor Featherston, Kansas City (Kansas City); INF *Ryan Fitzgerald, Boston (Gary); OF *Blake Gailen, Los Angeles-NL (Lincoln, Wichita); 1B John Nogowski, St. Louis (Sioux City); C Justin O’Conner, Chicago-AL (St. Paul); *Joe Robbins, Arizona (Lincoln); OF Jordan Smith, Cleveland (Sioux Falls, St. Paul); OF Dillon Thomas, Milwaukee (Texas); INF Dylan Tice, New York-NL (Kansas City).
*Played first professional game in an Independent league
NR-Non-roster invitee to major league camp
When it comes to name recognition around the American Association the people best known likely are the broadcasters. Players come and make a name for themselves, then they are off to major league organizations, move into the coaching ranks or possibly move out of the sport.
And the broadcasters often fit into one of two categories. Like the better players in the league, they often get opportunities to move on to a higher level of play. Or, they choose to stay right where they are and become well known local voices for many a year.
Two men from the latter category with a combination of more than seven decades behind microphones between them have picked up major awards in recent weeks.
Dave Nitz, with 45 years of sports broadcasting including more than a decade of play-by-play in the American Association, has been selected for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, while Jack Michaels, with “only” 26 years in the industry has been crowned North Dakota Sportscaster of the Year. Both awards will be presented in June.
“I was surprised to say the least,” Nitz told “The Shreveport Times”. “I never thought this would come about…It means a lot to me, and it will mean a lot to my family, too.” He has been the voice of Louisiana Tech University sports for 45 years, and among a bevy or other tasks he aired Shreveport Sports games when they were in the American Association in 2006-2008 then aired Sioux City Explorers games the next nine seasons, finishing up in that role in the 2017 campaign.
Michaels has twice been the voice of the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks throughout their 23 years of play. The sports director of Midwest Radio also has broadcast a variety of other sports including University of North Dakota football and women’s basketball. He also hosts the weekday Jack Michaels Show on 740 The Fan.
Previously the chief spokesman for Baseball Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth, Bob Wirz has been writing extensively about Independent Baseball since 2003. He is a frequent contributor to this site, has a blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com, and a book about his life, “The Passion of Baseball”, is available at Amazon.com or at www.WirzandAssociates.com.