Tis the Season When the Road Goes Both Ways

As the 30 Major League Baseball teams make their final cuts this week to get down to their 25-man active roster there will likely be tears of joy as well as sadness depending on which side of the cut a player is on.

For every player who is told that they made it, there are many more who will start the season in the minor leagues. For others, the dream will end altogether as they realize that their professional baseball careers are over altogether.

The Pensacola Pelicans are a former independant baseball team where players would try to prolong their careers. Photo R. Anderson
The Pensacola Pelicans are a former independent baseball team where players would try to prolong their careers.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course getting cut by a MLB team does not have to be the end. Many players try to extend their careers through playing overseas or for one of the many independent baseball teams around the country.

The motivation for not wanting to call it a career and give up on the dream can be easily understood when one considers that for many of these players baseball is all they have known since they were old enough to hold a bat and wear a glove.

The decision to continue their careers in the independent leagues can be a financial burden for many players who never made it to the Major Leagues. One aspect of many independent leagues involves finding host families where the players can live rent free during the season since many of them are making less than minimum wage to follow their baseball dreams.

Two stories that recently broke involving players associated with an Independent baseball team down the road from me prove that the dream can continue after the road most taken ends.

Let us consider the curious cases of Scott Kazmir, Koby Clemens and the Sugarland Skeeters of the Atlantic League.

Kazmir was recently named the Cleveland Indians’ fifth starter entering the 2013 season resurrecting a career that had seemed doomed after control problems derailed his Major League career in 2011.

As a member of the Tampa Bay Rays during the 2008 World Series he was a dominant ace. Shortly after that Kazmir’s fall from grace was swift and painful to watch when he collapsed following a trade west to the Angels.

After being out of the show for a few years, and still considered a relativity young pitcher at only 29 years-old, the Houston area native and former American League All-Star looked to revitalize his career as a member of the Skeeters last season.

He started 14 games with Sugar Land, going 3-6 and collecting 51 strikeouts in 64.0 total innings pitched. The performance with the Skeeters, as well as time spent in Winter Ball, gave Kazmir an invite to Indians Spring Training where he was 1-0 with a 3.46 ERA with 13 strikeouts in four games.

Whether that return to form will last over the course of the season remains to be seen but what is known is for the first time since 2011 Scott Kazmir will be on a Major League opening day roster.

The case for Koby Clemens finding redemption and another shot at Major League glory through the independent route is a little hazier. Koby, son of Roger, has bounced around the minor leagues since being drafted in 2005 by the Astros. Aside from being invited to Major League Spring Training once, he has not advanced beyond AAA ball.

After eight years in the minor league farm system of the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays Koby Clemens has landed with the Sugarland Skeeters of the Atlantic League. Photo R Anderson
After eight years in the minor league farm system of the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays Koby Clemens has landed with the Sugarland Skeeters of the Atlantic League.
Photo R Anderson

Drafted as a catcher and spending time as a first baseman and third baseman the tools just have not been there to earn a look at the big league level.

Koby did catch in one game last year for the Skeeters when his dad was on the mound. It was recently announced that he will be the team’s full time catcher this season and he will try to regain some of the confidence behind the plate that first had him drafted eight years ago.

Time will tell whether the detour to independent baseball will help prolong and perhaps kick start Koby Clemens’ career the same way it helped give another chance to Scott Kazmir.

The odds would say that Clemens will become just another statistic and victim of a system where only a select few ever excel, but one never knows.

When I was in high school I had a friend who was a star pitcher on the school baseball team. The team made it to the state playoffs my junior year. The following year it was not uncommon to see various pro scouts in the stands.

Although he never made it on the 25-man roster, Koby Clemens did get invited to Spring Training once with the Astros. Photo R. Anderson
Although he never made it on the 25-man roster, Koby Clemens did get invited to Spring Training once with the Astros.
Photo R. Anderson

My friend was a southpaw pitcher which was then and continues to be a hot commodity. He ended up signing with the New York Yankees right out of high school and as Tom Petty would say, “the future was wide open.”

Setbacks on the field as well as off the field led him to bounce around the Minor Leagues for 10 years until finally calling it a career without so much as a cup of coffee in the show.

There are thousands of players just like my friend who seek the bright lights of big league ballparks only to find their dreams cut short.

Many will bounce along as long as possible chasing the dream until the realities of life and family commitments lead them to a more steady form of work.

I lost track of my friend a few years before the end of his career but would still follow his career whenever I saw a blurb on one of the Minor League sites. I hope he is doing well for himself and that he landed on his feet after he hung up his glove for the last time.

Now if you’ll excuse me I think it is time to order some Skeeter tickets.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

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