Independent Baseball Insider: Vol. 11, No. 21, June 27, 2013
By Bob Wirz
Kansas’s only two professional baseball teams, both in the American Association, have been creating positive headlines of late although for largely separate reasons.
Wichita has been doing in mostly on the diamond where the Wingnuts, aptly named because of that city’s major aircraft-building industry, have the best record (26-14) in the sprawling, 13-team league. Kansas City, a couple hundred miles east where it plays in the unusually attractive sports complex which also hosts major soccer and auto racing and must also compete for attention with the major league Royals, who are just across the river into Missouri, normally is competitive as well. But the T-Bones’ legacy at the moment, aside from reminding out of town visitors juicy steaks are easy to find in the area, is more for the major crowds they are attracting to Community America Ballpark (pictured).
Never mind Kansas City’s summertime heat, a bevy of promotions helped the T-Bones attract consecutive crowds of 7,011, 7,932 and 4,971 in one series—19,914 in all—and maintain its ranking among the attendance elite in all of Independent Baseball. Kansas City is luring an average of 5,569, an increase of more than 350 per game over one year ago when its final average of 5,212 ranked fifth best in the Indy game. The T-Bones, despite a 15-24 record, lead the American Association in overall attendance this season (116,958) although they trail league rival Winnipeg, which currently has the best average (5,972) in any league for non-affiliated teams.
For added glitter for the fans, the T-Bones offer all-time Royals second baseman Frank White on their coaching staff on a regular basis. Kevin Hooper’s Wichita team is winning in a variety of ways, as shown by its .301 team batting average and composite 3.43 earned run average.
C. J. Ziegler leads the way for the offense with 15 homers and 46 runs batted in during the first 40 games and former major league outfielder John Rodriguez has scored 38 runs while driving in 29 and hitting .323. As if the Wingnuts did not already have firepower centerfielder Brent Clevlen has returned to town (he was there in 2011) after being released out of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization to hit .333, club seven homers and drive in 18 runs in his first 11 games.
Rodriguez, Hooper and Clevlen give Wichita co-owner Nate Robertson, still trying to get back to the pitching in the major leagues via Texas’s Triple-A Round Rock franchise, a reminder of the 2006 World Series. Rodriguez played in 102 games plus the postseason for National League champion St. Louis that season and Robertson was one of American League titlist Detroit’s starters while both Hooper and Clevlen were his teammates late in the season.
“He (Rodriguez) has been amazing in Wichita for everyone—the clubhouse and the fans,” Robertson told cjonline.com (Topeka’s Capital-Journal). Hoop is the same way and so is Cleve—they all work well together and they’re professionals. Their egos get checked at the door.”
Not One But Two Can-Am Umps Debut in Majors
The Can-Am League is enjoying a week that often comes only in dreams, and this time its players are not the ones in the spotlight. The men in blue deserve one giant salute because two of this league’s umpire graduates achieved rare major league status only 24 hours apart.
Adding to the story, 2006 Can-Am product Adam Hamari and 2007 umpire Will Little were both scheduled to call balls and strikes for the very first time on Thursday, Hamari, 30, at Milwaukee in the afternoon and Little, 29, at Baltimore in the evening. They are believed to be the only former Independent umpires in the majors although Lance Barrett, who came from the out-of-business All-American Association, debuted in the majors October 1, 2010.
“What were the statistical odds (of the two men debuting the same week),” asked Kevin Winn, Director of Umpires for the Can-Am League and American Association, when I reached him Thursday afternoon. “Both are very humbled and honored.” Hamari, who has been working regularly in the International League, was only assured of being in the majors to work the three-game Cubs-Brewers series, but he had “a slew of family” on hand, Winn said, since he lives in Marquette, MI. Little’s father was among those who got to witness the four-game Cleveland-Baltimore series while the Fall Branch, TN resident will have his mother, sister and fiancée on hand when he works a Cincinnati at Texas series this weekend.
Winn could smile even before these promotions because three of his former American Association umpires, Ron Teague (crew chief), Blake Felix and Lee Meyers, worked the California-Carolina League All-Star Game in San Jose, CA a week ago.
Photo courtesy of the Kansas City T-Bones
(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.)