Tag Archives: Atlantic League

Southpaw Flashback: The Curious Comeback of Scott Kazmir

Editor’s Note: In honor of Scott Kazmir being traded From the Oakland Athletics to the Houston Astros we take a look back at the curious rise and fall of the Houston native who rebuilt his career and became an All-Star when many thought he had nothing left in the tank in a column that originally appeared last July.

Hollywood, and the world of sports, both love a good comeback story of redemption.

Whether it is the story of a loveable group of misfits banding together and claiming a title, or a washed out boxer making one more trip into the ring, the Hollywood movie machine churns out film after film that tugs at the heart strings of movie goers and helps them believe in the underdog.

Of course occasionally the world of fact trumps the world of fiction when it comes to tales of redemption and making the most out of second chances.

For a real life story of redemption, that very well could have the stuff of a Hollywood blockbuster, let us consider the curious case of Oakland Athletics pitcher Scott Kazmir who was named to his third career All-Star team over the weekend, and first since 2008.

Kazmir was drafted by the New York Mets in the first-round in 2002 and was traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization two years later. Kazmir helped lead the Rays to the World Series in 2008.

Scott Kazmir made is Major League Baseball debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and his Atlantic League debut with the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson
Scott Kazmir made is Major League Baseball debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and his Atlantic League debut with the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

Following the World Series run the Rays traded Kazmir to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim midway through the 2009 season.

Following the trade Kazmir’s “True Hollywood Story” included some mighty struggles.

Although many players struggle to adapt to their new surroundings following a trade, the struggles of Kazmir were epic in nature.

After two extremely rough seasons in Southern California Kazmir was released by the Angels on June 15, 2011 despite having $14.5 million remaining on his guaranteed contract.

Kazmir failed to get picked up by another Major League club following his release from the Angels and his career seemed all but over despite being less than three years removed from appearances in both the All-Star Game and World Series.

History is full of players who seem to suddenly lose their stuff for no apparent reason. While injuries can often be blamed for declines in performance sometimes a player, such as Kazmir, just starts to see their performance fade without suffering the type of career ending injury experienced by many.

Of course sometimes the mental aspect of the game can be just as debilitating as an injury and players often have to struggle to overcome doubt and other mental factors to return to the top of their game.

Kazmir was out of Major League Baseball for two seasons as he continued to struggle with his mechanics and other factors that had rendered the once dominant hard to hit pitcher as easy to hit off of as a pitching machine.

The true rock bottom for Kazmir likely came when he signed with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League on July 7, 2012.

While the Skeeters represented a chance for Kazmir to play baseball near his home town it was likely a huge shot to the ego to be playing on a team that had no Major League affiliation.

While the Skeeters offer a competitive atmosphere, and the Atlantic League often has players who sign Minor League contracts with Major League ball clubs, the adjustment period for Kazmir likely was difficult as very few players on independent league rosters have World Series starts on their resumes.

Kazmir started 14 games for the Skeeters during the 2012 season and finished with a 3-6 record and a 5.34 ERA.

Following the end of the Skeeters’ season Kazmir signed with Gigantes de Carolina of the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League posting a 4.37 ERA while striking out 27 batters in 23 innings.

The time with the Skeeters and the Gigantes had gotten some attention and the performances earned Kazmir an invite to the Cleveland Indians Spring Training in 2013.

It is fitting in a way that it was the Indians that invited him as the Major League movie franchise focuses on the Indians being a place where players that seem to be washed out can find second chances.

Our Hollywood story could easily have ended right there with Kazmir getting a chance for one more Major League Spring Training before calling it a career after failing to crack the starting rotation of the Indians as a non-roster invitee.

But Kazmir did crack the rotation for Cleveland out of Spring Training and excelled with the Indians to the point that the Oakland Athletics signed him to a two-year $22 million contract prior to the start of this season.

In year one of the deal Kazmir has been the Athletics most consistent starter and earned a place on the All-Star Team.

With the Athletics currently holding the top spot in the American League West standings it is entirely possible that Kazmir will pitch in the postseason once again six years after tasting the postseason for the first time with the Rays.

It is even within the realm of probability that the Athletics could make it all the way to the World Series.

While the Scott Kazmir story of second chances is certainly still being written, a very strong footnote would be to have him hoisting a World Series trophy in October.

Yes, sometimes reality does trump fiction when it comes to the magical Hollywood ending and after several seasons in the valley, that featured stops through the Atlantic League and Puerto Rico, Scott Kazmir appears to be making the most of his second chances.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to practice my pitching in case Hollywood needs a southpaw to portray Kazmir in the movie of his life.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

Advertisements

Pace of Play Shows Nothing Gold Can Stay

When I was a senior in high school I had to memorize the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” as part of an English assignment.

Whenever I am dealt setbacks, or encounter things that make no sense to me logically, I often think of that poem and its message of the inability of golden things to last forever and the inevitable decay that takes their place.

I was reminded of that poem the other day when I read a story about a lake near Boulder, Colorado that contained thousands of goldfish.

Now before you bemoan the fact that your local swimming hole is not filled with thousands of goldfish, rest assured that goldfish are not native to Colorado either.

It seems that at some point someone put a few pet goldfish into the lake and over time those goldfish begat more goldfish which ushered in the circle of life that the animated lion and his friends sang about.

An unknown number of pet goldfish were placed in a Boulder, Colorado lake and have now swarmed to a school of thousands. Photo R. Anderson
An unknown number of pet goldfish like these were placed in a Boulder, Colorado lake and have now swarmed to a school of thousands.
Photo R. Anderson

As well intentioned as the person, or persons, were when they added the goldfish to the lake, the resulting swell in goldfish population has led Colorado wildlife officials on a search for a way to remove the invasive species.

Most likely the remediation plan will result in the death of the goldfish either through draining of the lake or electroshock since someone has determined that while goldfish have a place in man-made aquariums they do not belong in a man-made lake.

That’s right the entire lake is invasive itself if one really stops to think about it.

Personally I think the people of Boulder are sitting on a gold mine and missing a golden opportunity. I mean how many other towns can say that they have a huge goldfish pond?

I would leave the goldfish where they are and promote the lake as a golden pond where people young and old can come and see goldfish that have grown much larger than they would have grown were they swimming around in a little fish bowl.

But sometimes people fail to see the gold that is in front of them and instead bring on the decay by invoking change when no change is needed.

Take for example the efforts to speed up the game of baseball.

For the past 10 seasons or so the average length of a Major League Baseball game has increased. Last season the average duration of a nine-inning baseball game clocked in at a record 3 hours, 2 minutes, up from 2 hours and 33 minutes in 1981.

As such, Major League Baseball is seeking to shorten the game through pace of play initiatives such as requiring a batter to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box at all times.

Players who step out of the batter’s box will be fined since they are lengthening the game by taking too much time between pitches.

Personally I do not think that batters stepping out of the box is a bad thing and often enjoy some of the comical routines that players do between pitches.

Former Houston Astro Hunter Pence was an especially fun player to watch in the batter's box since he took his batting helmet off between pitches and rubbed it on his elbow each time without fail. photo/R. Anderson
Former Houston Astro Hunter Pence was an especially fun player to watch in the batter’s box since he took his batting helmet off between pitches and rubbed it on his elbow each time without fail.
photo/R. Anderson

Hunter Pence was especially fun to watch when he was with the Houston Astros since he took his batting helmet off between pitches and rubbed it on his elbow each time without fail.

If I were going to change something about the game to make it go faster, I would limit the number of pitching changes that were allowed.

The trend of pitching specialists who only face a single batter is ludicrous and is the real reason games are longer.

Unless an injury replacement is needed teams should be limited to no more than four pitchers in a nine-inning game.

Additional pitchers could be used in an extra inning game but I see few reasons why a team cannot field a competitive nine-inning game with four pitchers.

Speaking of pitchers, another time saving innovation in the pipeline is a pitch clock where pitchers have a set amount of time to pitch. Go over the pitch clock and the batter is awarded a ball.

The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball was the first to use a pitch clock last year and this year pitch clocks have made their way into affiliated Triple-A and Double-A Minor League Baseball Ballparks.

Under the pace of play rules Minor League pitchers have 2 minutes and 25 seconds to begin their windup or come to set between innings, and 20 seconds between pitches.

The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball was the first to use a pitch clock when the Sugar Land Skeeters and other teams implemented it last year. Photo R. Anderson
The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball was the first to use a pitch clock when the Sugar Land Skeeters and other teams implemented it last year.
Photo R. Anderson

Part of the beauty of baseball that is getting lost in all of this is that baseball is the only professional sport without a game clock of any kind.

The action is controlled by the number of outs, not the number of seconds.

I see no reason to change that.

As for some other sports that do have clocks, they are close to the length of a baseball game and do not offer any more on field action.

In 2010 the Wall Street Journal conducted a study on the amount of action in a National Football League game and discovered that 11 minutes of the average NFL game can be considered action.

For the purpose of the study action was considered the time that the ball was snapped until the play was whistled dead by the referees.

While listening to people shout “Omaha, hut, hut” can be fun, it was not listed in the action category.

By comparison the Wall Street Journal determined that a fan will see 17 minutes and 58 seconds of action over the course of a three-hour MLB game.

Items considered action as part of the Journal’s study included balls in play, runner advancement attempts on stolen bases, wild pitches, pitches, home run trots, walks and hit-by-pitches, and pickoff throws.

With the average MLB ticket price far below the average NFL ticket price it is clear that baseball offers fans much more bang for their buck and nearly eight more minutes of action.

If something is not broken there is no need to tinker with the formula.

And if someone does not have the attention span to sit through a three-hour baseball game, no amount of tinkering can fix that.

Koi are common in fish ponds, pet goldfish not so much. Photo R. Anderson
Koi are common in fish ponds, pet goldfish not so much.
Photo R. Anderson

Instead, continued tinkering will likely alienate long term fans.

Just as the Colorado goldfish should be left to swim out their days in peace, the game of baseball should be left to unfold as it has for the past century or so without adding a pitch clock or whatever other effort is proposed in the name of time saving.

But of course as Robert Frost taught me all those years ago in Mrs. Phillips’ English class, nothing gold can stay.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it is time to feed my fish.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

The Curious Comeback of Scott Kazmir

Hollywood, and the world of sports, both love a good comeback story of redemption.

Whether it is the story of a loveable group of misfits banding together and claiming a title, or a washed out boxer making one more trip into the ring, the Hollywood movie machine churns out film after film that tugs at the heart strings of movie goers and helps them believe in the underdog.

Of course occasionally the world of fact trumps the world of fiction when it comes to tales of redemption and making the most out of second chances.

For a real life story of redemption, that very well could have the stuff of a Hollywood blockbuster, let us consider the curious case of Oakland Athletics pitcher Scott Kazmir who was named to his third career All-Star team over the weekend, and first since 2008.

Kazmir was drafted by the New York Mets in the first-round in 2002 and was traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization two years later. Kazmir helped lead the Rays to the World Series in 2008.

Scott Kazmir made is Major League Baseball debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and his Atlantic League debut with the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson
Scott Kazmir made is Major League Baseball debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and his Atlantic League debut with the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

Following the World Series run the Rays traded Kazmir to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim midway through the 2009 season.

Following the trade Kazmir’s “True Hollywood Story” included some mighty struggles.

Although many players struggle to adapt to their new surroundings following a trade, the struggles of Kazmir were epic in nature.

After two extremely rough seasons in Southern California Kazmir was released by the Angels on June 15, 2011 despite having $14.5 million remaining on his guaranteed contract.

Kazmir failed to get picked up by another Major League club following his release from the Angels and his career seemed all but over despite being less than three years removed from appearances in both the All-Star Game and World Series.

History is full of players who seem to suddenly lose their stuff for no apparent reason. While injuries can often be blamed for declines in performance sometimes a player, such as Kazmir, just starts to see their performance fade without suffering the type of career ending injury experienced by many.

Of course sometimes the mental aspect of the game can be just as debilitating as an injury and players often have to struggle to overcome doubt and other mental factors to return to the top of their game.

Kazmir was out of Major League Baseball for two seasons as he continued to struggle with his mechanics and other factors that had rendered the once dominant hard to hit pitcher as easy to hit off of as a pitching machine.

The true rock bottom for Kazmir likely came when he signed with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League on July 7, 2012. While the Skeeters represented a chance to play baseball near his home town it was likely a huge shot to the ego to be playing on a team that had no Major League affiliation.

While the Skeeters offer a competitive atmosphere, and the Atlantic League often has players who sign Minor League contracts with Major League ball clubs, the adjustment period for Kazmir likely was difficult as very few players on independent league rosters have World Series starts on their resumes.

Kazmir started 14 games for the Skeeters during the 2012 season and finished with a 3-6 record and a 5.34 ERA.

Following the end of the Skeeters’ season Kazmir signed with Gigantes de Carolina of the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League posting a 4.37 ERA while striking out 27 batters in 23 innings.

The time with the Skeeters and the Gigantes had gotten some attention and the performances earned Kazmir an invite to the Cleveland Indians Spring Training in 2013.

It is fitting in a way that it was the Indians that invited him as the Major League movie franchise focuses on the Indians being a place where players that seem to be washed out can find second chances.

Our Hollywood story could easily have ended right there with Kazmir getting a chance for one more Major League Spring Training before calling it a career after failing to crack the starting rotation of the Indians as a non-roster invitee.

But Kazmir did crack the rotation for Cleveland out of Spring Training and exceled with the Indians to the point that the Oakland Athletics signed him to a two-year $22 million contract prior to the start of this season.

In year one of the deal Kazmir has been the Athletics most consistent starter and earned a place on the All-Star Team.

With the Athletics currently holding the top spot in the American League West standings it is entirely possible that Kazmir will pitch in the postseason once again six years after tasting the postseason for the first time with the Rays.

It is even within the realm of probability that the Athletics could make it all the way to the World Series.

While the Scott Kazmir story of second chances is certainly still being written, a very strong footnote would be to have him hoisting a World Series trophy in October.

Yes, sometimes reality does trump fiction when it comes to the magical Hollywood ending and after several seasons in the valley, that featured stops through the Atlantic League and Puerto Rico, Scott Kazmir appears to be making the most of his second chances.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to practice my pitching in case Hollywood needs a southpaw to portray Kazmir in the movie of his life.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Skeeters Add Tracy McGrady to Roster

Yesterday the Sugar Land Skeeters announced that former NBA star Tracy McGrady had been added to the team’s opening day roster.

McGrady had joined the team as a non-roster invitee during Spring Training and wound up earning one of the 25 roster spots.

McGrady will work out of the bullpen as a pitcher despite never playing professional baseball before.

Tracy McGrady is trading in the arenas of the NBA for the Ballparks of the Atlantic League as a member of the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson
Tracy McGrady is trading in the arenas of the NBA for the Ballparks of the Atlantic League as a member of the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

After the move was announced comments began to surface online about the move being a publicity stunt more than a way to help the ball club over the long haul.

Does signing a retired NBA player with local ties bring publicity to the Skeeters?

Absolutely.

When Michael Jordon retired for the first time 20 years ago and joined the Birmingham Barons Ballparks across the Southern League were filled to capacity with people wanting to see him play.

While some could argue that Jordon is a bigger star than McGrady the fact remains that people tend to pay attention when players try to pick up an entirely different sport than the one they are known for.

While the Skeeters are entering their third season of competition in the Atlantic League it is entirely possible that there were many people in the Houston area that had not heard of the team before the McGrady announcement was made.

Fans of the Sugar Land Skeeters are hoping for many more visions of Tracy McGrady heading out of the bullpen. Photo R. Anderson
Fans of the Sugar Land Skeeters are hoping for many more visions of Tracy McGrady heading out of the bullpen.
Photo R. Anderson

So yes, signing a retired NBA player to your roster does bring the sort of media coverage that helps build a team’s reputation.

One of the local television stations even broadcast live from Opening Day yesterday and had one of their meteorologists throw out the first pitch after she received some pointers from Roger Clemens.

It should be noted that McGrady also worked with Clemens before starting on the quest to become a professional baseball player.

Speaking of Clemens, the Skeeters were the team where “The Rocket” pitched his final two games as a professional player.

The Skeeters are also the team with current Oakland Athletics starter Scott Kazmir was given a second chance after seemingly losing control of his pitches and having his future as a professional baseball player in serious doubt.

The Skeeters gave Clemens a chance to “have a catch” with his son in a professional game before calling it a career and also allowed Kazmir to regain his control and resume his Major League career.

The Sugar Land Skeeters gave Koby Clemens a chance to "have a catch" with his dad Roger Clemens during the Rocket's last professional game. Photo R. Anderson
The Sugar Land Skeeters gave Koby Clemens a chance to “have a catch” with his dad Roger Clemens during the Rocket’s last professional game.
Photo R. Anderson

Granted Kazmir and Clemens were both Major League Baseball players at one time so their stories are slightly different than that of a retired basketball player giving baseball a chance but they both show a history of giving players a second chance more than staging mere publicity stunts.

McGrady did not play during last night’s opener which I am sure disappointed some people in the sellout crowd but it should also temper some of those who are calling the move to sign him a publicity stunt only.

Gary Gaetti is entering his third season as manager of the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson
Gary Gaetti is entering his third season as manager of the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

The fact that he did not pitch last shows that manager Gary Gaetti and the rest of the coaching staff are not in the publicity stunt business and are there to win ballgames.

Were McGrady merely a publicity stunt to sell tickets and jerseys than the Skeeters would run him out onto the mound at every opportunity.

Speaking of jerseys there was a wide assortment of McGrady items in the gift shop during Spring Training which pointed to the likelihood of McGrady’s inclusion on the roster well ahead of the actual announcement yesterday.

As a rule teams rarely spend money on jerseys for non-roster invitees.

Unfortunately the Skeeters fell in their season opener to the Lancaster Barnstormers but one loss does not always set the tone for the season.

And if signing a former NBA star does bring more attention to the region regarding the existence of the Skeeters than that is not entirely a bad thing.

The Sugar Land Skeeters kicked off their third season in the Atlantic League last night. Photo R. Anderson
The Sugar Land Skeeters kicked off their third season in the Atlantic League last night.
Photo R. Anderson

The Skeeters offer a good product at a reasonable price and provide that small Ballpark feel that the Minor Leagues are famous for.

While the roster includes many players with Major League experience there are also players who never quite made it to the “Show” and are merely playing for the love of the game.

Contrast that with some of the Major League players who seem to only be in it for the money and one can see why the Minor League version of the game is preferred by many fans.

While the Houston Astros are still the Major League Baseball game in town there is plenty of room for the Skeeters and other teams in the region.

In fact, the Atlantic League is set to add more teams in the Western Division in the coming years which will give fans other options when it comes to watching baseball.

More teams in the Atlantic League will also mean that the Skeeters will likely not have as many long road trips to the east coast.

In the meantime the Skeeters and the Astros could always just have a royal rumble for bragging rights in the region. Were the two Houston area professional teams ever to play a scrimmage together the result would likely be closer than one might expect.

As for Tracy McGrady time will tell if his transition from the arenas of the NBA to the Ballparks of the Atlantic League leads to a lasting second career and potential Major League Baseball debut.

For now the only thing that matters is that he can call himself a professional baseball player who is living out a childhood dream.

It is always good when dreams can come true.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get my tickets for the game tomorrow.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Skeeters Wrap up Spring Training, Look Ahead to the Regular Season

The Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League wrapped up an abbreviated Spring Training with a trio of games against two local colleges last week.

While teams will often play exhibition games against colleges during Spring Training for the Skeeters scheduling games against colleges becomes a logistical necessity.

Unlike Major League Baseball where Spring Training sites are located within driving distance of each other in either Florida or Arizona teams within the Atlantic League are spread out over several states.

The Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League tuned up for the regular season with a pair of games against the Alvin Community College Dolphins. Photo R. Anderson
The Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League tuned up for the regular season with a pair of games against the Alvin Community College Dolphins.
Photo R. Anderson

When your closest league opponent is based in states that border the Atlantic Ocean finding teams closer to scrimmage with can certainly be a huge advantage.

The Alvin Community College Dolphins and the San Jacinto College Gators filled the roles of Spring Training opponents to help the Skeeters prepare for the start of the regular season.

The Skeeters won all three of their Spring Training games as one would expect but the games proved to offer more than just a box score.

For starters the games allowed the use of a mixed fleet of bat types.

While Professional baseball leans toward the wood bat camp college baseball allows the inclusion of metal bats.

With the metal bats in play fans were treated to the rare pinging sound of a ball meeting a metal bat within a Professional Ballpark.

Additionally the players from both colleges will be able to tell their friends that they played against a Professional baseball team. Of course the players who managed to get hits of of those same Professional players will have even bigger stories to tell.

Another plus for the Spring Training crowds in attendance was plenty of elbow room and the chance to scout out the best seats in the ballpark.

Koby Clemens enters his second full season as a member of the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson
Koby Clemens enters his second full season as a member of the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

For the most part there are not any bad seats in the Ballpark but it never hurts to try to see the view from various vantage points whenever one has the opportunity.

Speaking of opportunity, fans were treated to their first views of Tracy McGrady who is trying to join an elite club of former NBA stars to become professional baseball players.

Hoping to make the team as a pitcher, McGrady, worked one inning Friday night against the Dolphins and allowed one run on three hits.

While his baseball stats may have a small sample size thus far, McGrady was a seven time All-Star and recipient of two scoring titles during a 16 year NBA career where he spent time with the Toronto Raptors, Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs.

Whether past success in basketball will transition to future success in baseball will remain to be seen. But if the rack of McGrady jerseys in the Skeeters team store is to be believed someone in the organization is hoping that it does.

Aside from the normal concession stands and gift shop found in most Ballparks, the Skeeters facility also includes two water features in the form of a pool and a splash pad area.

The multiple water features allow fans the opportunity to cool off during those hot nights at the Ballpark and have become a feature of many of the Minor League Ballparks within Texas.

Saturday night the Skeeters introduced a new on field water feature as well when the sprinkler system inadvertently went off in the middle of the game.

While several fans in the front rows along the third base side of the field ran for dryer ground many of the players stayed put during the impromptu rain delay.

Sometime you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes the grounds crew forgets to turn off the timer on the sprinkler system. Photo R. Anderson
Sometime you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes the grounds crew forgets to turn off the timer on the sprinkler system.
Photo R. Anderson

To paraphrase Bull Durham baseball is a simple game. Sometime you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes the grounds crew forgets to turn off the timer on the sprinkler system.

In an era where every second inside the ballpark experience seems scripted from sponsorships and other concerns it is refreshing when something like the sprinklers going on occurs to remind people that it is still a game where the unexpected can happen.

With a 3-0 Spring Training record the Skeeters will spend this week making final roster cuts to get to their 25-man roster before the regular season begins on Thursday.

Early signs and shirts certainly point to Tracy McGrady making the team but an official announcement will likely not occur before Thursday.

Until then fans will sit and wait to see who makes the Opening Day roster.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I suddenly have a craving for some peanuts and Cracker Jacks.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson