Tag Archives: Koby Clemens

Sugar Land Skeeters Form A League of Their Own to Play Ball During Global COVID-19 Pandemic

The Sugar Land Skeeters, of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), recently announced their intention to form a four-team professional baseball league at Constellation Field, beginning July 3 and running through Aug. 23.

The idea of a four-team quick summer league sounds great on the surface. Of course, as one peels back the layers of the onion, they are reminded of the fact that we are still in the middle of a global pandemic caused by a virus with no known cure or standard treatment.

The news of the league comes as the number of COVID-19 cases in Texas continues to rise to record numbers on a daily basis. As a result of the rising numbers of cases and hospitalizations, some businesses that had reopened, like bank lobbies, are starting to close again.

The Sugar Land Skeeters, of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), recently announced their intention to form a four-team professional baseball league at Constellation Field, beginning July 3 and running through Aug. 23.
Photo R. Anderson

With that in mind, the team ownership noted when they announced the league that they would be working with local and state health officials to provide as safe of an environment as possible for fans, staff and players.

Among the steps being taken is following the guidelines from the state of Texas as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in regards to stadium capacity and social distancing. Players will be tested for COVID-19 at least once a week, as well as prior to their arrival in Sugar Land.

In regards to fans in attendance, the plan calls Constellation Field to allow up to 25 percent of its 7,500-seat capacity to be full for each of the planned 56 games in the season.

According to a press release from the Skeeters, there will be a total of seven games played at Constellation Field each week from the Opening Day on July 3 through the conclusion of the season on Aug. 23. The schedule is subject to change, but single games are anticipated to be played on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and doubleheaders will be played on Saturday and Sunday.

The names for the four teams have yet to be announced. In the spirit of helpfulness might I suggest such timely names as, the Pandemics, the Social Distancers, the COIVD-19’s, and the Doc Faucis.

The four teams will be managed by Skeeters manager Pete Incaviglia, seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens (along with his son Koby), and former Cleveland Indians pitcher Greg Swindell. The fourth team will be led by a manager to be named later. It should be noted that both Roger and Koby Clemens played for the Skeeters.

Former Sugar Land Skeeters player Koby Clemens will manage one of the four teams in the Skeeters Summer League alongside is father, Roger.
Photo R. Anderson

Open tryouts for the league are scheduled to take place at Constellation Field on June 24. It is expected that the teams will consist of former Major Leaguers and an assortment of professional players who’ve appeared at affiliated minor league levels as well as independent leagues.

Despite the best efforts of social distancing and testing, it is extremely likely that there will be people associated with the league who contract COVID-19. In the event that occurs, team officials have noted that the show will go on as the league takes the posture of accepting a certain level of risk in order to play baseball.

This is the magic question faced by all sports leagues, and in fact all individuals, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. How much risk is one willing to take in order to do the things that were done in the olden days of pre-March 2020?

The answer depends on the individual’s level of comfort, as well as whether the individual involved belongs to one of the identified high-risk categories of greater susceptibility to the virus.

Years ago I saw this sign at a Pensacola Pelicans game. It is unknown whether the tickets to the Sugar Land Skeeters Summer League games will include small print waiver language stating that fans in attendance assume both the risk of getting hit in the head by a foul ball, as well as assuming all risk if they contract COVID-19 at the ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

It is unknown whether the tickets to the games will include small print waiver language stating that fans in attendance assume both the risk of getting hit in the head by a foul ball, as well as assuming all risk if they contract COVID-19 at the ballpark.

I can picture the wording going something like this, “Sorry folks, you can’t sue us for getting sick. The lime green mosquito up front should have told you that.”

The Skeeters are not alone in trying to find creative uses for their Ballparks this season. According to the ALPB, the High Point Rockers, Long Island Ducks, and Southern Maryland Blue Crabs are working with several professional baseball clubs, towards finalizing a 70-game schedule of play that would begin in mid-July and wrap up at the end of September with a five-game championship series.

Other ALPB teams that are not able to host baseball games due to crowd size limitations in their regions are hosting movie and music festivals in their Ballparks as a means to generate revenue.

And of course, Major League Baseball is still trying to hammer out an agreement to play baseball without fans in attendance for the 2020 season.

Personally, I would love to see baseball at all levels sit the season out. I do not believe the short-term gains of unfurling those Opening Day banners in 2020 outweigh the long-term risks to player health, as well as overall league health.

The last thing anyone should want to do is have a short term pebble drop ripple turn in to a tsunami with unforeseen consequences down the road. One should not sell their soul for a shortened season.

And just because a Ballpark is open, it does not mean that fans need to go to it. If the movie Field of Dreams was filmed in the era of COVID-19 it is likely that the voice heard in the corn field would tell Ray Kinsella to “build it and they will come after the threat of the COVID-19 virus has been eliminated by the invention of either a vaccine or a therapeutic treatment.”

After all, those players may have been ghosts, but they were certainly in a high-risk category based on their ages. Speaking of that Iowa corn field, the New York Yankees and Chicago White White Sox are scheduled to play each other at a temporary ballpark adjacent to the field from the movie on August 13. It is unknown whether the game will be played, and if it is whether the people will be allowed to come, or if only the corn will have ears to hear the game.

Baseball, and the rest of life as we knew it in the golden days of pre 2020 will hopefully return next year. We will reach the other side, and when we do, the Ballparks will once again be full of fans and games of dizzy bat. Until then, teams and leagues will continue to seek creative solutions to “go the distance” as they navigate uncharted waters like a 21st century Lewis and Clark to ease our collective pain.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all this talk about shortened summer baseball leagues has me in the mood to watch Summer Catch.

Copyright 2020 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

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