October 2009

Astros join the Aneurysm Awareness Week effort

Got another exciting update on the Arizona Fall League and Joe Niekro Foundation front.

The Arizona Fall League is teaming up with the Joe Niekro Foundation for a great
fundraiser/awareness-raiser this week. Any pitcher from one of the
seven organizations Joe Niekro pitched for who strikes out a batter
this week helps raise money for aneurysm awareness and research. Four
sponsors have agreed to donate $36 (Niekro’s number during his playing
days) per strikeout. That’s $144 per K.

But it’s gotten more interesting the past couple of days. Earlier in the week, the Cubs stepped up and agreed to make a donation to the foundation if the Cubs pitchers in the AFL led the seven organizations in strikeouts for the week.

Now they are not alone. The Astros, with whom Joe Niekro spent 11 of his 22 years in the big leagues, have jumped in as well. If the group of Houston arms in Arizona end up with the most K’s for the week, the Astros will make a donation to the Joe Niekro Foundation as well.

So lets take a look at what happened on Thursday and where things stand:

Mike Minor, Braves (Saguaros) — 2 K
Wilton Lopez, Astros (Saguaros) — 2 K
Chia-Jen Lo, Astros (Saguaros) — 2 K
Mike DeMark, Padres (Saguaros) — 2 K
Evan Scribner, Padres (Saguaros) — 2 K
John Gaub, Cubs (Solar Sox) — 2 K
Day Total: 12 K x $144 per K = $1728
Grant Total: 44 K = $6336

Nice job by those Saguaros yesterday! Looks like the Yankees’ Ian Kennedy and the Tigers’ Scot Drucker are both starting today. Here’s the updated organizational standings (I’ve bolded the two teams who have officially told me they’re “putting their money where their arms are”):

Tigers — 7 K
Twins — 7 K
Cubs — 7 K
Astros — 7 K
Padres — 7 K
Braves — 5 K
Yankees — 4 K

parisi.jpgIt’s hard to pick a Star of the Day for hitters for a change. There were no home runs hit yesterday in the Fall League. That happens about as often as Fox News is Fair and Balanced. I guess we’ll give today’s nod to Carlos Rivero from the Indians, who went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and two RBIs in the Saguaros’ 4-0 blanking of the Desert Dogs.

There are more pitching choices from a day that saw two shutouts and a grand total of 12 runs scored. Lopez deserves a shout out for his four shutout innings (not to mention his 2 K’s for the Joe Niekro Foundation), but Mike Parisi has to be the guy. The Cardinal hurler coming back from Tommy John surgery went five scoreless, allowing just two hits and walking none while striking out four as his Surprise Rafters beat Scottsdale, 3-0.

Putting money where his arms are

I love it when someone is willing to stand behind his team. I’ll get to exactly what I mean in a minute.

As I’ve discussed the last couple of days, the Arizona Fall League is teaming up with the Joe Niekro Foundation for a great
fundraiser/awareness-raiser this week. Any pitcher from one of the
seven organizations Joe Niekro pitched for who strikes out a batter
this week helps raise money for aneurysm awareness and research. Four
sponsors have agreed to donate $36 (Niekro’s number during his playing
days) per strikeout. That’s $144 per K.

But now there’s more to make this interesting. Oneri Fleita is the VP of Player Personnel for the Chicago Cubs, one of the seven teams Niekro played for. When he heard about what was going on in the AFL involving his pitchers, he wanted to get involved. So he’s standing behind them and putting his money where his arms are. Should the Cubs pitchers strike out the most batters this week, he will make a donation to the Joe Niekro Foundation in his pitchers’ names.

I’m hoping the other six teams involved in this great effort will see how Fleita has stepped up and will follow suit. It would make for an exciting contest — as well as raise more money and awareness for the Foundation if every team got involved in this way. I’ll be sure to update here if and when others make the same fantastic pledge Fleita has made.

With that in mind, let’s see what the totals are after Day 2 of Aneurysm Awareness Week:

Andrew Oliver, Tigers (Javelinas) — 4 K
Daniel Meszaros, Astros (Saguaros) — 2 K
Day Total: 6 K x $144per K = $864
Grand Total: 17 K = $2448

OK, Tuesday was a little light, but there weren’t that many pitchers from those organizations going. Today, the Padres’ Steve Garrison gets the start for the Saguaros, as does the Cubs’ Andrew Cashner for the Solar Sox (a good chance for Fleita’s Flock to jump into the lead). And it sometimes works that the relievers coming in back of the starters are from the same organizations, so here’s hoping for a huge Wednesday. Here are the organizational standings through two days:

Tigers — 7 K
Twins — 5 K
Astros — 3 K
Cubs — 1 K
Yankees — 1 K

Some quick notes and Stars of the Day. Royals’ first round pick Aaron Crow, discussed in this brilliant article (OK, it was written by me) not long ago, makes his AFL debut today for the Rafters. As for stars, going to make them brief:

Hitter: Jose Tabata, OF, Pirates (Scorpions) — Hitting leadoff for Scottsdale, Tabata went 3-for-6 with a double, a homer and six RBIs. That’s no easy feat, driving in a half-dozen from the leadoff spot. His home run came in the second inning off of Nick Hill, a three-run shot with two outs to highlight a four-run second. Tabata, at age 21, seems to be prepping for the start of his big-league career. He’s hitting .326 and slugging .535 so far this fall and by all accounts simply punishing the baseball on a regular basis.

Pitcher: Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals (Desert Dogs) — As much as I wanted to give it to Oliver for racking up 4 K’s for the Niekro Foundation, it’s hard to look past what Strasburg did in this bounce-back effort. The No. 1 overall pick went four innings without giving up a hit, allowing just a single base knock in the fifth before leaving the game. In 4 1/3 IP, he gave up just the one hit and one run, while walking two and striking out five. No Pitch FX from that game, so I’m not sure what he was throwing, but it seemed to be working for him on Tuesday.

K for Aneurysm Awareness Update/Stars of the Day

As I mentioned yesterday, the AFL is teaming up with the Joe Niekro Foundation for a great fundraiser/awareness-raiser this week. Any pitcher from one of the seven organizations Joe Niekro pitched for who strikes out a batter this week helps raise money for aneurysm awareness and research. Four sponsors have agreed to donate $36 (Niekro’s number during his playing days) per strikeout. That’s $144 per K. So lets see how things went for the first day:

Mike McCardell, Twins (Solar Sox) — 4 K
Robbie Weinhardt, Tigers (Javelinas) — 3 K
Spencer Steedley, Twins (Solar Sox) — 1 K
John Gaub, Cubs (Solar Sox) — 1 K
Chia-Jen Lo, Astros (Saguaros) — 1 K
Grant Duff, Yankees (Rafters) — 1 K
Total: 11 K x $144 per K = $1584

Not a bad start. If pitchers come up with 11 K’s a day, that will lead to a donation of just over $9500 for the foundation ($9504 to be precise). I’ll keep tabs every day here to keep everyone updated.

Just for fun, let’s also keep a running standings of which organization racks up the most K’s for this cause.

Twins — 5 K
Tigers — 3 K
Cubs — 1 K
Astros — 1 K
Yankees — 1 K

Now on to Stars of the Day for Monday’s action:

Hitter

Going crazy and giving out 2 hitter awards. The second one is more for “body of work” than just for one game, but he’s still worth noting.

Nevin Ashley, C, Rays (Desert Dogs):
Ashley had just one hit for Phoenix, but it came atnevin_ashley.jpg apretty good time. With the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the ninth inning, Ashley hit his second homer in as many games, a walk-off grand slam. He’s now hit in all seven of the games he’s played in, for a .379 average. 

Grant Desme, OF, A’s (Desert Dogs):
He hit his 8th homer of the AFL season on Monday and drove in three runs. That’s eight home runs in 10 games, tops in the league. His 16 RBIs also lead the AFL. SLG and OPS? Yup, tops in those categories as well. The only thing he hasn’t been doing is running, a little surprising after he went 30-40 during the regular season. But we’ll cut him a little slack considering his 1.047 SLG looks more like an OPS and his OPS of 1.547 is ridiculous. Oh, and his .442 average is second highest in the circuit. As his AFL teammate Josh Bell said on his Twitter account (@JBellAFL): (Oakland A’s
Desme) Half man half amazing… DES is like a created player on a
nintendo game every category 100 except his power is 200
. Then, he added: Oakland A’s (Desme) is no longer half man half amazing, we have come to figure out he’s not human he’s a machine!!

Quote of the day comes from Ashley about Desme: “He’s my favorite player right now. I tell him that every day. I try to eat what he
eats, sit next to him to get the good vibes. It’s been working so far.”


Pitcher

Justin Cassel, RHP, White Sox (Javelinas): This isn’t just because the family bloodlines make for a cool story. Yes, Cassel’s brother Jack has pitched in the bigs with the Padres and Astros and was with Triple-A Columbus (Indians) this past season. His other brother, Matt, is the QB for the Kansas City Chiefs. The 2006 7th-round pick tossed four scoreless innings for the win on Monday, allowing just three hits and one walk in the process. He narrowly edges Zach Putnam, who tossed three scoreless and how has 5 IP over two outings without allowing a run.

Aneurysm Awareness Week and the AFL

As if a new week of Arizona Fall League action wasn’t enough, games starting today have some extra meaning, thanks to a joint effort by the AFL and the Joe Niekro Foundation.

It was three years ago today that Joe Niekro, the All-Star and knuckleball expert,  had a brain aneurysm that cost him his life. His daughter, Natalie, has worked tirelessly to set up the foundatoin to raise awareness and money for aneurysm research.

Here’s how the week will work. Joe Niekro played for seven Major League teams over the course of his career. Any time any pitcher strikes out a batter this week in the AFL, four different sponsors will donate $36 each to the foundation. For those of you who don’t want to do the math, that’s $144 for eavery K.

Natalie herself will throw out the first pitch at three different games during the week. Then, on Nov. 7 — Joe Niekro’s birthday — she’ll be at the Rising Stars Showcase (which will be broadcast on the MLB Network) to accept the check from the fund-raising effort. You can read more about the effort in the story I wrote that went up today.

I’m going to keep a running tally on here of how much has been raised via the strikeout efforts by those seven organizations’ pitchers. Here are the teams and the pitchers with each club:

Cubs (Solar Sox) — Andrew Cashner, John Gaub, Blake Parker, James Russell
Padres (Saguaros) — Mike DeMark, Steve Garrison, Brandon Gomes, Evan Scribner
Tigers (Javelinas) — Scot Drucker, Andrew Oliver, Thad Weber, Robbie Weinhardt
Braves (Saguaros) — Lee Hyde, Craig Kimbrel, Jeff Lyman, Mike Minor,
Astros (Saguaros) — Evan Englebrook, Chia-Jen Lo, Wilton Lopez, Daniel Meszaros
Yankees (Rafters) — Grant Duff, Michael Dunn, Ian Kennedy, Zach Kroenke,
Twins (Solar Sox) — Alex Burnett, Steve Hirschfeld, Mike McCardell, Spencer Steedley

Today, Mike McCardell will get things going. He’s starting for Mesa today. 

Bigger than the game

I’m taking a break from the usual AFL Stars of the Day today. Sometimes there are things bigger than the game that are important to discuss, times when tragedy — and the triumph of the spirit that so often shows the resilience of people — intersects with the game.

Just over two years ago, the baseball world was shocked by the news that Minor League coach Mike Coolbaugh was killed after being struck by a foul ball while he was coaching first base. He left behind his wife, Mandy, and now three children (Mandy was pregnant with their daughter at the time). The story sent shock waves around and outside of the game. Rather than retell the story, I’ll just encourage everyone to read S.L. Price’s wonderful book, “Heart of the Game: Life, Death, and Mercy in Minor League America.” You can also read my story about the book here.

As tragic as the story is, what’s happened since is truly remarkable tale of one man’s legacy and how those who loved him have battled with grief by trying to make sure that legacy is handed down and expanded to as many people as possible. Mandy Coolbaugh is a true inspiration, a woman who is raising three children on her own and trying to ensure her husband’s name continues to stand for the values that made him so special. She was gracious enough to write this first-person account on the two-year anniversary of Mike’s death.

And the work continues. In just two weeks (Saturday, Nov. 7), the third annual Mike Coolbaugh Memorial Tournament will take place at the Tapatio Springs Golf Resort in the San Antonio, Texas area. The event includes golf and a dinner, complete with a wonderful silent auction. The event, designed initially to provide help for Mandy and her kids, now has a wider focus. On the homepage of the site, it says:

This year
Mandy would like to give back to others in her community and promote
safety in baseball nationwide. She feels that so many people have
blessed her family with heartfelt messages and cards as well as
donations, she wants to help others. The proceeds from this year’s
tournament will go partially to help support Mandy and the kids, but
also to start a baseball clinic for kids from San Antonio who have lost
a family member. She also wants to do what she can to promote safer
conditions for baseball players, coaches and fans at every level.
Please join us to help support this heartfelt mission.

I would love nothing more than to be there to do just that, but it’s looking like it’s not in the cards for me. So I’m going to blog about it. And blog about it again. And then again. Look for several Coolbaugh-related messages on here from now until the event takes place. There’s still time to sign up to go if you’re going to be in the area and there are plenty of ways to donate. If yo have items you want to donate (memorabilia collectors, now’s your chance), send it to:

Cheryl Coolbaugh
11844 Bandera Rd. #447
Helotes, TX 78023-4132

I hope that as you read this, you look around your life and appreciate what you have. In getting to know the Coolbaugh family, in seeing Mandy’s heroism — and that’s not a word I toss around carelessly — I know my perspective of my own good fortune has shifted. Life is so fleeting — this tragedy painfully points that out — so I encourage all of you to live it to the fullest. To me, one of the best ways to fulfill that mission is to help others. Donating to this cause would be a really good first step.

****

I’m on a little bit of an “activist” kick, so stay tuned on Monday for a post (as well as a story on MLB.com) about a great team effort with the Arizona Fall league and the Joe Niekro Foundation for Aneurysm Awareness Week!

AFL Stars of the Day

Hey guys, I’m going to keep this brief because I’ll be back a little alter on today to talk about a few things that are a little more important (in life), so stay tuned.

Hitter

Brandon Snyder, 1B, Orioles (Desert Dogs): There was just a tiny bit of offense in Phoenix on Wednesday as the Desert Dogs piled up 17 runs on 17 hits. There could be many choices for a Hitter of the Day from the DD lineup, what with Grant Desme homering twice to give him five for the AFL season, Josh Bell going 4-for-5 including his first homer bringing his average up to a league-leading .600. But they pale in comparison to the week’s worth of stats Snyder compiled in one game. The 2005 first rounder went 4-for-5 with a pair of homers and seven — that’s right, seven — RBIs. He hit a two-run shot in the third against Nick Hill and a three-run homer in the seventh off of Phillippe Aumont. His 12 RBIs now lead the AFL and he’s sixth in both SLG and OPS while his .481 average places him fourth in the circuit. Not only does he have a six-game hitting streak going, but he’s picked up multiple hits in four consecutive contests.

Pitcher

Thumbnail image for gutierrez.jpg

Danny Gutierrez, RHP, Rangers (Rafters): Well, he gave up a hit this time, but he is the first B3 two-time winner of Star of the Day. Gutierrez picked up his second win by tossing 3 2/3 innings of shutout ball. He gave up two hits and two walks, while striking out one, but managed to not allow any runs  to cross the plate for the second straight outing. His 6 2/3 total innings are the most of any pitcher in the league thus far to have not allowed an earned run. That’s no small feat in a league where three teams are hitting over .320 and a fourth is at .299.

AFL Stars of the Day

We’ve got some new action on Twitter, folks:

Twins 1B Chris Parmelee — @CParmeleeAFL

Go and follow him, please. More to come in the coming days…

Going to be brief today and get right to the Stars O’ the Day

Hitter

Andrew Lambo
, OF, Javelinas (Dodgers): This was a tough call since there were fouLambo.jpgr different hitters on Tuesday to collect four hits. All of them — Bryan Petersen and Starlin Castro atop the Mesa lineup, Carlos Rivero for the Saguaros and Lambo’s teammate Jonathan Lucroy — deserve some credit. Lucroy was a perfect 4-for-4 with a home run in the Javs’ crazy 14-10 victory over the Solar Sox. I decided to give the nod to Lambo for his 3-for-6 effort, his 4 RBIs and his three runs scored. Lambo’s grand slam in the fifth was part of a massive eight-run inning for Peoria that put the club up 11-6. Lambo, coming off a so-so year in Double-A in which he hit .256 with 11 HR and a .717 OPS, has started his AFL campaign by going 11-for-23 with a 1.452 OPS (2 HR, 5 total XBH). He’s fourth in OPS and tied for second in RBIs

Pitcher

Braddock.jpgZach Braddock, LHP, Javelinas (Brewers): In a 14-10 game, any pitcher who gets people out deserves an award. Braddock did let an inherited runner to score when he entered in the seventh and allowed a single to Ryan Kalish. That would be the only hit he’d allow in his two innings of work, pitching out of a one-out bases-loaded jam in the seventh and retiring the side in order in the eighth. He didn’t walk a batter and he struck out three. Coming off a year in which he relieved full time for the first time and posted a 1.79 ERA and .193 batting average against, the lefty has made three scoreless appearances this fall, totalling 3 2/3 IP.

AFL Star of the Day/Another New blogger

The roll of AFL players sharing their experiences continues to grow. Go leave a comment for Brewers pitcher Josh Butler, will you?

The latest leaders on MLBlogs were just listed for the entire regular season and B3 finished No. 27. Not too shabby. Thanks to all who helped make sure I finished ahead of Tommy Lasorda. Keep coming back. I’d love to see B3 crack the Top 25 by the time when the year-end leaders are posted.

Now on to the Stars of the Day for Monday:

Hitter


Josh Bell, 3B, Phoenix (Orioles): Bell, who came to the O’s at the trading deadline in thejosh_bell.jpg George Sherrill deal, has been ridiculously hot. He went 4-for-5 on Monday with a double, a triple, an RBI and three runs scored. He’s tied for the league lead with a .533 batting average and he’s second with a 1.478 OPS. He’s gone 7-for-9 over his last two games. Bell is coming off a very solid 2009 campaign in Double-A, finsing with a .295 average, 20 homers, a .516 SLG and .892 OPS. He slugged .570 with a .917 OPS in 33 games after coming to the Orioles organization.

Pitcher

erbe.jpgBrandon Erbe, RHP, Phoenix (Orioles): It’s an O’s sweep. Erbe made his AFL debut a good one, tossing two perfect innings while striking out two. The Desert Dogs, not shockingly, are now 5-1. Erbe missed considerable time with a shoulder injury. When he was on the mound in Double-A, the 21-year old was nasty, with a 2.34 ERA and .170 batting average against.

AFL over the weekend

Greetings all. Lots to talk about.

Let’s start with our continued efforts to provide AFL interactivity online. First, in the blogosphere, head over and say hello to Jeff Lyman, the Braves reliever who just posted for the first time. You guys have done a great job in leaving comments for the Giants’ Steven Edlefsen, so do the same for Jeff, will you?

And on Twitter, we’ve had a veritable explosion. Rather than just point out the new ones, here’s a complete list of all the AFLers who are “tweeting” from Arizona:

Richie Lentz, Red Sox — @RLentzAFL
CJ Retherford, White Sox — @CJRetherfordAFL
Jonathan Gaston, Astros — @JGastonAFL
Scot Drucker, Tigers — @Utbaseball30
Garrett Parcell, Marlins — @GParcellAFL
Hank Conger, Angels — @HCongerAFL
Trayvon Robinson, Dodgers — @TRobinsonAFL
Joseph Dunigan, Mariners — @JDuniganAFL
Drew Storen, Nationals — @drewstoren

Drew’s also blogging, so if 140 characters isn’t enough for you, check out his thoughts over on Notes from NatsTown.

Rather than go back and hand out Stars of the Day for Friday and Saturday, I figured I’d look at the first week of AFL action and nominate some candidates for Player and the Pitcher of the Week. Feel free to vote for your own in comments. The AFL might be doing an official version of that later today, but here are my own thoughts:

Player of the Week Nominees

Brandon Laird, Yankees: Starting off 10-for-16 isn’t too shabby. That’s a .625 batting average and he’s got a 1.500 OPS. He went 9-for-11 in his first two games and though he had just one hit in his third game, it was a homer and his 3 RBIs in that game give him 7 in the early going.

Mike Stanton, Marlins: Sure, he strikes out a bit (6 in 4 games), but he’s also hitting .533 (8-for-15) during his four-game hitting streak. He hit a monster homer on Oct. 17 and expect more of that before the AFL is over. He’s got three steals to boot.

Chris Heisey, Reds: Heisey’s following up a 20-20 season with a hot start in Arizona. The outfielder is also off to an 8-for-15 start. His 15 total bases tie him for the league lead (two doubles, a triple and a homer).

Andrew Lambo, Dodgers: He’s tied with Heisey with 15 total bases, having gone 8-for-17 in four games. He’s got five RBIs and two steals as well.

Casper Wells, Tigers: In three games, Wells has gone 7-for-13 with a 1.533 OPS and 6 RBIs. Three of his seven hits have been for extra bases.

Russ Mitchell, Dodgers: He’s tied for the league lead with his 8 RBIs and he’s got 2 homers as well. His 1.667 OPS tops all AFL hitters.

Clearly, there are plenty of hitting candidates for the week. But what about the pitchers?

Pitcher of the Week Nominees

Chia-Jen Lo, Astros: He’s been close to perfect in his two outings thus far. In four total innings, he’s yielded just one hit and one hit batter while walking none and striking out six. The 6 K’s lead the AFL.

Donnie Veal, Pirates:
It was just one outing, but it was perfect. The lefty went two innings in his stint and struck out three, giving up no hits and more importantly for him, no walks.

Dustin Richardson, Red Sox:  He’s made two appearances thus far and over 3 1/3 IP, has allowed just one hit and one walk while striking out five.

Sergio Santos, White Sox:  Like Lo, he’s gone four innings without allowing a run. He has yielded five hits, but hasn’t walked anyone and has struck out four. Plus, it’s a cool story since Santos played in the Fall League a few years back as a shortstop.

Stephen Strasburg, Nationals:
I’m checking the fine print, but I think I’m contractually obligated to mention him every time I talk about pitching in the AFL this fall. Besides, now I can include him in my Tags. In his “pro debut” of sorts, Strasburg went 3 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits and a walk while striking out two. He goes again on Thursday in Peoria, so you can check out the Pitch FX on Gameday to see just how his stuff is playing.

AFL Day 3: Mous on the loose

Before we get to the Star of the Day, some more on the player interactivity front.

We’re starting to get players up and running on Twitter. So far, two have taken the plunge, so he gets a special shout out:

Dodgers OF Trayvon Robinson can be followed @TRobinsonAFL.
Mariners OF Joe Dunivan can be followed @JDuniganAFL

Go and give them a follow, would you?

Now, on to our Stars of the Day

Hitter

Mike Moustakas, 3B, Surprise (Royals): The Rafters are now 3-0 thanks to their 18 hits onmoustakas.jpg
Thursday. Moustakas, the Royals top pick from 2007, went 3-for-5 with a
homer, two doubles and 7 RBIs. That’s a week for some people. Honorable
mention goes to Yankees prospect Brandon Laird (Gerald’s brother). He
went 5-for-5 in this game and is now 9-for-11 in two AFL contests.

Pitcher

gutierrez.jpgDanny Gutierrez, RHP, Surprise (Rangers): While that win over Mesa may have been more about offense (12-5), Gutierrez’s start should not be overlooked.While the Rafters were getting out to a 3-0 lead, Gutierrez was putting up zeroes over three innings. And that’s not just in runs. The right-hander didn’t allow a hit during his outing, walking two and striking out two.

Evidently, there’s some kid named Strasburg pitching tonight. Haven’t heard much about him, though.

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