IN MINORS AND MLB, INDY ALL-STARS ABOUND

IN MINORS AND MLB, INDY ALL-STARS ABOUND

Independent Baseball Insider: Vol. 11, No. 22, July 11, 2013

By Bob Wirz

Independent Baseball will never have the marketing impact of the powerhouse major league franchises when it comes to pushing for All-Star votes, but it still will have some bragging rights when the game’s marquee names gather for their annual mid-season classic at Citi Field in New York next week.

For one thing, the American League likely will trot out onetime American Association (Fort Worth, TX) hurler Max Scherzer (pictured), a brilliant 13-0 for the Detroit Tigers this season, as its starting pitcher, hoping to get off on the right foot toward winning the game and its prize of home-field advantage for the World Series.

And, Toronto reliever Steve Delabar, who had to overcome an excruciating broken elbow in the Can-Am League (Brockton, MA) in 2009 and a subsequent year off to recover before turning into a durable reliever (5-1, 1.74 with 57 strikeouts in only 41.1 innings), will be in the American League bullpen after drawing 9.6 million tallies in the highly-publicized fan vote for the final spot on the team.  One of Delabar’s competitors was still another former Independent hurler, Texas’s Tanner Scheppers (St. Paul, MN, American Association). 

It would not be a giant stretch to say Boston outfielder Daniel Nava (Chico, CA, Golden League) and relievers Tom Wilhelmsen of Seattle (Tucson, AZ, Golden), Arizona’s Brad Ziegler (Schaumburg, IL, Northern League) or Joe Thatcher of San Diego (River City, Frontier League) could just as well have been considered.

The last time the non-affiliated leagues had two players in the game five years ago the duo of J. D. Drew and George Sherrill—both more boastful because their very first professional games were in Independent leagues—stole much of the spotlight.  Drew, who had played at St. Paul, MN when the American Association’s Saints still were in the Northern League and is now retired, hit a dramatic two-run homer with two out in the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium to erase a 2-0 deficit, then walked to load the bases ahead of the winning sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 15th.

Sherrill, just released by Kansas City’s minor league department as the 36-year-old lefty and onetime stalwart major league closer tries to come back from elbow surgery, was every bit as important to the A.L. by striking out Adrian Gonzalez with the bases loaded to end the 12th, then worked two more scoreless innings, which is almost unheard of for an all-star reliever.  ESPN analyst John Kruk was among those who openly felt the MVP award should have gone to the southpaw, who journeyed from Evansville, IN (Frontier League) to current American Association cities Sioux Falls, SD and Winnipeg for more than four full seasons before a major league organization (Seattle) gave him an opportunity.  He hopes to continue pitching, news reports indicate, as he attempts to add to his 442 major league appearances, which included 31 saves with Baltimore in 2008.

 “The Independent leagues produce some exciting players,” a jubilant Miles Wolff, commissioner of the two leagues with all-stars, told us from his summer residence in Quebec. “We are excited they are getting these opportunities to show the entire baseball world.”

Indy to Have Five in Triple-A All-Star Classic

Further tribute to Independent Baseball will come next week because no less than five of its players will be in the Triple-A classic including No. 1 International League vote-getter Chris Colabello (Worcester, MA and Nashua, NH, Can-Am League), who leads the league in hitting (.357) and runs batted in (72) while staying in the home run chase with 23 round-trippers.  The first baseman will be joined by another Can-Am player, Rochester, NY (Minnesota) teammate Andrew Albers (Quebec) and another southpaw, Kris Johnson (Kansas City, KS, American Association) of the Pittsburgh farm system. Brock Peterson (Bridgeport, CT,  Atlantic League) will play for the Pacific Coast League.  Catcher Rene Rivera (Camden, NJ, Atlantic) also was selected but has since been called up to the parent San Diego Padres.  Peterson plays in the St. Louis organization.

Minicozzi Starts at Third in Eastern League ASG

Mark Minicozzi has been among the Double-A Eastern League’s hitting leaders all season (.329). The starting third base for the winning (5-0) Western Division was in Indy leagues all of 2009-11, playing for Worcester, MA (Can-Am League), Camden, NJ (Atlantic League) and current American Association cities Winnipeg and Kansas City, KS when both were in the Northern League. Minicozzi told the Home Run Derby crowd the night before the game that at 30 (oldest player on either team) he considers himself “like a fine wine and will only get better as he ages.”

Thielbar’s Scoreless Streak Ends

Caleb Thielbar (St. Paul, MN, American Association) could not catch up to fellow Indy hurler Brad Ziegler’s record for scoreless innings at the start of his major league career, but the Minnesota southpaw did get to 20 frames before Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist sent a belt-high fastball over the fence and jumped his rookie-season earned run average to 0.45.  “Just left a pitch up in the zone,” Thielbar told The St. Paul Pioneer Press.  “If I get it in there, he probably flies out to short left.”  Thielbar will miss three games now to attend his grandmother’s funeral in Minnesota.

(Bob Wirz also writes about Independent Baseball on www.IndyBaseballChatter.com.  Fans may subscribe to this Independent Baseball Insider column, which will be published 40 times in 2013, at www.WirzandAssociates.com or comment to RWirz@aol.com.  The author has 16 years of major league baseball experience with Kansas City and as spokesman for two Commissioners, and lives in Stratford, CT.)