Saturday, August 1, 2009

Alive and Well in Louisville

On the way back to blog headquarters from my trip to the Metro East of St. Louis, I stopped in Louisville to visit with former Frontier League broadcaster Matt Andrews. Matt has been one of the play-by-play announcers for the Triple-A Louisville Bats for seven seasons after winning back-to-back broadcaster of the year awards as the voice of the Chillicothe Paints.

He showed me around Louisville Slugger Field, which is a stone's throw from I-64 as it winds its way through the downtown area. What a gem! It ranks up there with the best the International League has to offer. Matt's press box perch is outstanding and you can tell how much he is enjoying life just a rung away from the Big Leagues. In fact, his partner on the air, veteran announcer Jim Kelch, has spent a great deal of time this season with the parent club, the Cincinnati Reds, filling in when they've needed help on radio and TV. That's left Matt as the sole play-by-play guy on those dates and I'm sure that the Louisville audience appreciates him more than ever.

While living in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky, Matt has also done basketball for the men's and women's teams at Morehead State University. He may be adding football for the Eagles to his resume this fall. One of his recent thrills, he told me, was doing the Morehead State NCAA tourney play-in game this past spring in Dayton, which the Eagles won. He then got to announce the next sectional game as part of a doubleheader, which included his alma mater, Ohio State. Unfortunately, neither of his favorites made it past that venue.

It was fantastic getting a chance to get caught up with Matt. He is one of the true class acts, of any job description, that has graduated from his time in the Frontier League to increasingly good things. He certainly laid the groundwork for FL broadcasters to move up the affiliated ranks. As I've mentioned in this blog before, three other alums, Scott Leo and Ryan Mitchell (Columbus) and Jason Benetti (Syracuse) are currently working in the IL.

When the Frontier League has a day off, or your favorite team isn't in action, you should dial Matt up on the Internet and listen to his call. You'll be as impressed as all of us were when he was describing the action at V.A. Memorial Stadium.

Friday, July 31, 2009

What It's About

On the way to GCS Ballpark yesterday afternoon, I stopped by the Frontier League office, which is actually just outside GCS's left field wall, to say hello to FL Commissioner Bill Lee. He wanted to show me something that he had just received in the mail. A young man named Ryan Walling had sent him a drawing of the logos of the League and each of its teams. Bill had already called Ryan and left a message expressing his appreciation and was about to put it in a frame to display in his office. The Commish said that it was things like this youngster taking the time to create such artwork that reminds him everyday of what the League means to its fans. You could tell that it meant a lot to him.

I told you yesterday that I was looking forward to talking with Gateway GM Steve Gomric about the latest food creation at the ballpark. Well, I actually returned to an earlier-introduced item in the Grizzlies "Baseball's Best" line - their version of the soft pretzel. Hand made each day at GCS, the soft pretzel has a hint of cinnamon, combined with a lighter salt that made me order two, pretending that I was going to share with someone else. Steve (still "pound for pound . . ." - you know the rest if you frequent this blog) reveled in my enjoyment of the pretzel. Word is he is dreaming of even bigger things in the litany of stadium food for next season (it's like the Rose Parade - the planning and execution never stop).

I also got to visit with Windy City GM Steve Tahsler, who had traveled to Sauget to watch his ThunderBolts play the Grizzlies. If folks don't know Steve, he is the FL's resident statistician, and not just the numbers of baseball. He, with a committee of others, helps create the League's schedule each season. A graduate of Georgia State University, Steve actually has a degree in statistics and his ability to manipulate the 96-game regular season grid to make things mesh is legendary. He also has had a knack to help teams improve their bottom lines. Not one to mince words, a yes or no from Steve means exactly that (no more verbiage is necessary), people around the FL circuit pay attention to his thoughts on just about any subject involving the business of running a baseball team.

Back on the road today. More reports soon.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Oh To Be Back in Sauget

Traveled to the Metro East area today to see the Windy City ThunderBolts and the Gateway Grizzlies tonight at GCS Ballpark in Sauget, Illinois. The ThunderBolts won the opener Wednesday to jump into a tie (trailing by just percentage points) for first place in the West Division with the River City Rascals.

The Grizzlies and Southern Illinois Miners pulled off a big trade yesterday, with Gateway sending all-star outfielder Stephen Holdren and lefty reliever Adam Revelette to the Miners, receiving outfielder Kevin Koski and all-star closer Chris Wiman in return. It will be interesting to see how that plays out for both squads.

Will be reporting tonight on the tiny burgh of Sauget, one of the smallest, if not the smallest, cities to host professional sports. Will also have a chance to catch up with Grizzlies' GM Steve Gomric and see what food concoction he's dreaming up now. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

No Jinx

For the record, I did not jinx Kalamazoo's Fran Riordan with yesterday's post. The Kings came from behind and then held on in a precarious ninth inning to edge the Midwest Sliders 3-2 in Ypsilanti for Fran's 412th career win in the Frontier League. Greg Tagert and he are now tied for most all-time managerial victories. The Kings and the Sliders go at it again today to see if Fran can jump into the lead all by his lonesome.

I spoke on the telephone yesterday with FL Commissioner Bill Lee, who is in Ypsilanti, and he reminded me just how important his dining favorites, as listed in the League's Media Guide, are to him and should be to me. He noted that after the game he would be on his way to the Sidetrack Bar and Grill in Y-Town for the best "handcrafted" burger he had ever tasted. I'm not sure how other burgers are crafted, but I do know that Bill is seldom off the mark with his recommendations.

A lot of great action out there today in the FL, including a doubleheader at Rockford's Road Ranger Stadium, home of this year's All-Star Game. Check out a game where you are!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Good Stuff

I'm now fully recovered from the All-Star trip and ready to go again. A few notes today:

At the risk of jinxing him (if I say it that way, it can't happen, right?), Kalamazoo's Fran Riordan is about to tie another career mark. As a player, he still holds the all-time record for games played and runs batted in. Now he is at the threshold of having the most wins as a manager in the Frontier League. At the moment, he has 411 victories in his eight plus seasons, just one behind Greg Tagert, who posted 412 in nine seasons. Tagert, who managed five teams in the FL, is now the skipper of the Northern League's Gary, Indiana team, where he has continued his great success. The Kings have a couple of games left in their current series with the Midwest Sliders, who are playing strong baseball, so Fran has his work cut out for him this weekend. A tip of the cap to you, Fran, for another milestone in your FL career.

What a year it's been for FL players moving on to MLB organizations. Earlier this week, Midwest ace James Albury was signed by the White Sox and Traverse City closer Jeff Williams went to the Yankees. That makes eight Frontier Leaguers that have moved on to the affiliated ranks after the start of the season. I know that I am fixated on the League's mission, but there is no doubt that the FL remains as the premier place for MLB scouts to find young talent to fill out their rosters. Looking at the stats leaders on the Frontier League web site, it wouldn't surprise me to see more action before the end of, and directly after, this 2009 campaign.

See you at a game soon.

Friday, July 17, 2009

17th All-Star Game

Just returned to the home base after driving back from Rockford for Wednesday's All-Star Game. Road Ranger Stadium, which is actually in Loves Park, Illinois, had a solid two-day stretch of fun and fun baseball. The game itself was a pitchers' duel until Florence's Ryan Basham hit a home run in the sixth inning. The visiting East team went on to defeat the West 5-2. Basham became the third straight Freedom player to win the A-S MVP award, following in the footsteps of Angel Molina last year and Reggie Watson in 2007.

A note about the All-Star Most Valuable Player Award. It is named for Alex Gamez, a member of the FL's Zanesville Greys, who was killed in a car accident just after being named to the 1995 All-Star Game. When his family traveled to Zanesville, after this overwhelming tragedy, they asked for his Greys' uniform so that Alex could be buried wearing it. He has become a symbol of what the League stands for - an opportunity for young, talented players, like Alex, to realize their dreams of playing professional baseball. I got to know Alex Gamez and he was a shining star, a star that continues to grace us with its light.

All in all, it was a great trip to northern Illinois for the midsummer classic. Next year, the cream of the League will head downstate, to Marion, Illinois, for the next installment. Hats off to RiverHawks' GM Josh Olerud and the Rockford staff for all of their work to make this year's event a success. Here's looking forward to the job that the Southern Illinois Miners front office will do in preparing Rent One Park for all of the festivities in 2010.

More trips coming up. Don't move the dial!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tuesday in Rockford

Yesterday's All-Star luncheon recognized the players who had been named to this year's East and West squads, as well as the managers and coaches. I'm always struck by the fact that many of the FL's players, which is true for a lot of baseball players, would be undetectable as professional athletes on the street. It's hard to miss pro basketball and football players in real life, but a great number of baseball guys can fly beneath the radar. One thing that separates them, however, from the general populace is their amazing hand-eye coordination. I can tell you that not a crumb hit the floor yesterday during lunch.

The crowd was welcomed to Rockford at the luncheon by one of the League's interesting personalities, the owner of the host RiverHawks, Kurt Carlson. Kurt, whose brother is the drummer for the Rockford-based band Cheap Trick, has his own compelling story to tell. In 1985, he was aboard TWA Flight 847, which was hijacked on its way from Athens to Rome by people sympathetic to the Iranian leader at the time, Ayatollah Khomeini. Kurt, an Army Reserve major, was returning to the U.S. following a training mission in Egypt. After a Navy Seal was killed by the hijackers, Kurt and seven other military personnel were taken off the plane and kept hostage for 17 days in Beirut, Lebanon. He was eventually rescued and came back to Rockford to a hero's welcome. Kurt wrote a book about his ordeal, "One American Must Die: A Hostage’s Personal Account of the Hijacking of Flight 847", which I recommend highly.

There was also a reunion yesterday. Part of the festivities Tuesday evening at Road Ranger Stadium was the Legends game between the Cubs and White Sox alumni. The owner of the Florence Freedom, Clint Brown, was walking along the concourse when he noticed that one of the players for the Cubs squad was his former high school teammate, Willie Wilson. Yes, that Willie Wilson. It had been more than 30 years since last they talked, but they were able to sit down in the clubhouse and get caught up in no time. Clint was quick to point out to me that he played in the outfield for their New Jersey high school and that the younger Wilson, who was a stellar outfielder for many years in the Big Leagues, was relegated to playing catcher. Clint then added that Willie was the biggest guy on the team, so going behind the plate made sense. He also noted that Willie could have played big-time college basketball or football had he decided on either route.

It was an entertaining day yesterday. Wednesday should offer more fun as the All-Star Game is set for a 7:05 start. Weather should be perfect, so come on out if you're in the area.