If you had two umpires regulating a baseball game, as most lower level minor league games do, and one of the umpires had to leave in the middle because of injury or illness, what would you do? How about calling on a couple of players from the home team to be replacement umps.
That’s exactly what happened on August 11th in a South Atlantic League (A-ball) game at Delmarva. As the sixth inning concluded with Delmarva beating West Virginia 10-1, home plate umpire Dan Oliver started to feel the ill-effects of post-concussion syndrome— the result of a grade two concussion he had suffered a couple of days before. Oliver had to depart the game, leaving base umpire Tim Bretzke in a lurch. Instead of umpiring the rest of the game on his own, Bretzke decided to use a couple of players to cover for Oliver. According to West Virginia Power GM Andy Milovich, this incident had precedence from a year ago, and the officials of the South Atlantic League had informed umpires it was okay to use players to fill in if a situation like this should arise again. So, Bretzke delegated Delmarva outfielder Daniel Figueroa to umpire first base, and Delamrva pitcher Josh Potter to umpire third base.
At this point West Virginia protested, but not because of the Delmarva players being assigned as umps, but because they thought that Dan Oliver, still suffering post-concussion syndrome, was unfit to umpire the game in the first place. Supposedly, Bretzke was going to have one player from each team umpire, but West Virginia manager Ramon Aviles was so upset that Oliver had been allowed to work the game that he told Bretzke to just go ahead and have the Delmarva guys do the job.
There were no controversial calls for the rest of the game and Delmarva went on to win 12-3. While we are still awaiting word from the South Atlantic League Office on this
matter, according to a veteran minor league official scorer,
normally in this occurence the remaining umpire would finish the game
by himself. However, it should be noted that each league is independent
and has its own set of rules for situations like this.
Carl The Cabbie
As dusk strolls through Bakersfield, California, just beneath the glare of the sunset sky and next to the Kern River lies Sam Lynn Ball Park, the oldest ball field in the California League. This is where one can attend the last game of the night in professional baseball.
While the rest of west coast games in the minors or major leagues begin no later than 7:35 PM (PST), the Bakersfield Blaze (Adv-A ball) are at the mercy of the sun to begin their nighttime home games. In late June and through July umpires occasionally have to wait until almost 8:00 PM (PST) 11:00 PM (EST) to yell, "Play Ball!".
In 1941 Sam Lynn Ball Park was built with home plate facing the western skies, directly in line with the setting sun. For the past 65 years the time of the first pitch in Bakersfield has been decided by one solar moment, the sun dipping below the centerfield wall.
Tim Wheeler has been the official scorer for Bakersfield for the past 11 seasons and, in the tradition of Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken Jr., has not missed a night in over 800 consecutive games. To understand the reasoning behind the ill-conceived construction of Sam Lynn Ball Park, there is no better source than Mr. Wheeler.
There are many theories as to why Sam Lynn Ball Park was constructed in such an illogical way. The most popular story that has bounced around Bakersfield over the years has to do with the
repercussions of WW II. The speculation is that upon construction in 1941, the stadium lights were donated to the war effort allowing Bakersfield to play only day games. Thus, the direction home plate was facing would have no effect on the start time of the game. Tim Wheeler quickly debunks this theory, pointing out that Bakersfield’s inaugural game was on April 22nd, 1941, almost eight months before the United States entered WW II after the Pearl Harbor bombing (December 7th, 1941). Furthermore, if one were to look back at the game recaps from 1941 one would discover that the start time for Bakersfield’s first game against the Fresno Cardinals on April 22nd was 8:15 PM.
The New Deal
Another theory that has grown some legs has to do with the famous WPA (Works, Progress, Administration) projects initiated by Franklin Delenor Roosevelt in the 1940’s as part of his New Deal Plan to spur the economy and lift the country out of the Great Depression. It is a well known fact that many WPA projects were hastily put together with very little effort put into the planning stages. The main aim of these projects was to put people back to work as quickly as possible. Correct engineering was often a secondary thought. It was rather common for builders like Sam Lynn to disregard forces of nature like the position of the sun when constructing their projects. This theory might have some validity if you consider that an even more prolific WPA engineer, Robert Moses, obviously didn’t consider the sun when building many of the highways that connect Long Island to New York City. Anyone who has ever cursed the impotency of their car’s sun visor while driving from the Hamptons to Manhattan in the late afternoon might attest to this lack of forsight.
The Mushy Theory
Yet, another theory has to do with the close geography of the *Kern River to the ballpark. Supposedly, if home plate was planted in the correct place the stability of the ground would have been destabilized by the damp soil near the river. However, to this day the grounds crew occasionally tests water marks in left field and along third base to make sure the ground isn’t deteriorating. It is highly unlikely that the builders would consider the dampness around home plate a problem while not considering the same predicament for the rest of the field.
My favorite theory is the final one that Mr. Wheeler puts forth and might be the most likely reasoning behind this building planning travesty, "The construction supervisor knew absolutely nothing about the game of baseball!".
Much like the search for the Holy Grail, the mystery of why Sam Lynn Ball Park was built with home plate facing the setting sun will most likely never be known. This is because there are no building plans to be found anywhere. The truth might lie with Sam Lynn, but for him to answer this great question for us we will have to use a Ouija board, since he passed away three months before the opening of his namesake ball field.
Sam Lynn Ball Park might not be the most well-constructed ball field in baseball, and the team that calls it home might struggle to win games, but if you’re a baseball junkie and you need just one more inning before you go to bed, you can always catch the Blaze in Bakersfield where they play the last game of the night.
While most teams have the task of preparing their fields for the occasional rain delay, Sam Lynn Ball Park has always had to prepare also for the dubious sun delay. Over the years, when Bakersfield officials have started games too early, they have had to interrupt play for short intervals because of
the blinding sunset. In 1994 they constructed a sun screen over the centerfield wall that has mitigated the frustrating delays greatly, but still fails to be high enough to be full proof. Since 1996, when Tim Wheeler began compiling a sunset schedule for game starts, there have been no sun delays. The last in-game sun delay occured at 8:07 PM (PST) on July 3rd, 1996 in the bottom of the first and lasted a total of three minutes.
*Though the area of the Kern River next to Sam Lynn Ball Park is relatively calm, any baseball fiends thinking of fetching baseballs from the river – BEWARE! The Kern River is one of the most dangerous in California. It is often referred to as the "Killer" Kern River because 150 people have died in it over the past 25 years.
**Sunset photo of Sam Lynn Ball Park was taken by Blaze fan Frank Domingo.
For any Mets’ fans who are still in the doldrums after Dunaer Sanchez’s recent traffic mishap, here’s a little positive news to perk you up! Pitcher Brian Bannister, recovering from a VERY severe hamstring strain, threw seven shutout-innings last night in his second rehab start for the St. Lucie Mets (single-A). Bannister struck out eight, walked no one, and threw all of his pitches. The Mets expect to give Bannister one or two more rehab starts at a higher level before deciding whether to add him to the roster. There’s a good chance that Bannister could be up later this month to help fill the void left by Sanchez.
Just when you think you’ve seen everything in baseball, along comes some strange wackiness that would even make the headless horseman scratch his head. The other day while I was smoking a cigarette out on the stoop, a little birdie flew by and chirped some very strange happenings from Bristol, Virginia.
On July 9th, in an Appalachian League game (Rookie Ball) between the Elizabethton Twins and the Bristol Sox, their was actually a "two-out" inning. According to my feathered friend, the incident took place in the top of the 5th inning with Elizabethton batting. This is how it went down—Daniel Berg led off with a line single to right. Richard Sojo then tripled him home. With no one out Steven Singleton lifted a sacrifice fly to center-field to score Sojo and record the first out of the inning.
Then things turned wacky.
Evidently, with Michael Lysaught at the plate and no one on base, the scoreboard listed that there were two-outs. When Lysaught popped out to center fielder Kent Gerst, the umps called three-outs and the teams left the field. The mistake unbelievably wasn’t noticed until the bottom of the fifth was already under way. The umpires decided to continue play as normal with Elizabethton’s next scheduled hitter William Luque leading off the top of the sixth. The Bristol pitchers ended up being credited with 9-innings pitched and 27 outs recorded even though they actually only got 26 men out.
So, what happened to the mystery out? If you look at the Game Log in the top of the 5th that day,
you will notice that the batter Michael Lysaught is credited for two-outs during his at bat. The second out is listed as batters interference. You’ll also notice in the Box Score that Lysaught, who was batting ninth in the lineup, is credited with 5 plate appearances while the rest of his teammates all have 4 plate appearances.
All this craziness didn’t hamper Elizabethton as they went on to win 5-3 anyway, but poor Mr.
Lysaught’s batting average got the short end of the stick as he wound up 0 for 5 instead of 0 for 4.
Well, the only answers I can think of are that we have become so
conditioned to accept technology as omnipotent that it no longer occurs to us to question what an electronic scoreboard says; or that the home team knew what was going on, but decided to stay mum about it thinking that they had caught a break; or as my little birdie surmises, there was some kind of sedative in the water in Bristol that day. On the positive side, maybe this abbreviated-inning gaffe should be adopted as the norm—it sure would shorten the interminable length of ballgames these days!
I’m not really sure how to prevent this oddity from occuring ever again, except to suggest a new toy out on the market that might help the umpires refresh their counting skills— it’s a brilliant little item and can even be folded and packed in a bag for road games.
While many fans who like to look to the future mark down June 6th every year to see where the next great players will go in the Baseball Amateur Draft, July 2nd has become just as important a date. This is the day when teams are allowed to sign international free-agents. Two of the most interesting free-agents on the list this season were 16-year old catchers, Jesus Montero and Francisco Pena.
Francisco Pena has garnered much of the attention because of his famous baseball father, former MLB catcher Tony Pena, but Jesus Montero could be the top prospect among all the international free-agents. This past weekend both New York teams paid hefty bonuses to ink the talented young backstops.
The Yankees struck first, signing Montero to a reported $2 million contract. After losing out on Montero, the Mets quickly followed the Yankees’ lead by coming to terms with Pena for a reported $750,000.
Montero is considered by many scouts to be the best hitting prospect to come out of Venezuela since Miguel Cabrera. The fact that Tony Pena is the first base coach for the New York Yankees seemed to have no bearing on which of the two catchers the Yankees were targeting. Montero was clearly the favorite of Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman. His signing replenishes a Yankee farm system that, since the trading of Dioner Navarro, was devoid of top-talent at the catching position. He will start his Bombers’ career next season playing Rookie Ball for the GCL Yankees.
Montero was also the first choice of the Mets, but Mets’ GM Omar Minaya was ready to pounce on Pena once Montero chose the Yankees. At 6′ 2", Francisco Pena, from the Dominican Republic, is bigger and has more potential pop in his bat than both his father and brother (Tony Pena Jr. the shortstop for the AAA Richmond Braves). Upon his signing, he immediately becomes the Mets’ top-catching prospect.
"The kid is a good defensive catcher, but it is his bat that will take him far in baseball. We could say that he is a combination of Tony Pena’s defense and Mike Piazza’s bat."
Leo Mercedes, Pena’s baseball mentor
"I feel embarrassed to talk about my own son, but I think Francisco has a natural talent for batting, and as a catcher I can say that right now he has a better arm than I had when I was 16."
Tony Pena , father and 5-time all-star catcher
The Mets have not announced where Pena will start his career, but the GCL Mets in Rookie Ball is a good bet.
Carl the Cabbie
Shea fans might get a glimpse of their future this Saturday when the Florida Marlins roll into town. According to Adam Rubin of the Daily News, MLB wanted Mike Pelfrey to pitch in the Futures Game for prospects this weekend, but were told by Mets’ officials that he would not be available because he was under consideration for a major league assignment. Saturday is a doubleheader for the Mets and with Darrin Oliver most likely to pitch one game in place of Pedro Martinez, that leaves an open slot. The two leading candidates are Norfolk’s John Maine and Binghamton’s Mike Pelfrey. The Mets aren’t likely to announce anything before Friday, July 7th—that’s when Pelfrey is scheduled to pitch again at Trenton. So, keep an eye out on the scheduled starter for that day. If Pelfrey is scratched, then you can be assured of seeing him at Shea on Saturday.
Pelfrey was dominant in his last start against New Hampshire, going 7 innings while allowing only 2 hits, 3 walks, 1 earned run and striking out 11. In his last three starts for Binghamton he is 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA and 22 K’s in 19 IP. Overall this season, pitching between St. Lucie (Adv-A) and
Binghamton (AA), Pelfrey is 6-3 wih a 2.45 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP and 103 K’s in 88.1 IP.
Updated: July 9th 2006
As the Mets continue to seduce their fans with their winning ways, a true ‘summer of love’ has begun at Shea. Because of the solid job Omar Minaya has done in his short tenure as GM, the outlook should only get brighter through July and the dog days of August.
While signing Pedro Martinez and Billy Wagner and trading for Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca have certainly personified Minaya’s stalwart work thus far, one should not overlook the fantastic job he has done in continuing to rebuild a minor league system that was all but vanquished just a few years ago.
Two of Minaya’s more publicized maneuvers, drafting pitcher Mike Pelfrey and signing Cuban defector Alay Soler, have helped to build a sense of depth and hopefulness in a starting rotation that is ladened with age. But thankfully, Omar has not forgotten the need to develop new blood and more depth for the oftened overworked Shea bullpen. Today, we will highlight the development of flame thrower Henry Owens, who Minaya snatched from the Pirates in the 2004 Rule V Draft.
A little over a year and a half ago while most of New York was oohing and aahing over the bombshell free-agent signing of "The Maestro" Pedro Martinez, the Mets were busily deciding on what players were worth signing from the minor league left-overs every club makes available each December in the Rule V Draft. The Flushing scouts decided only one player was worth the modest investment, relief pitcher, Henry Owens.
A year and a half later, Owens is one of the Mets’ top pitching prospects. At 27 years of age one would think Owens is well passed the hot-prospect label. But, this late bloomer has been held back by factors that have nothing to do with talent or skill. Owens was originally a catcher who spent his college career at Division II Barry University in Miami. In June 2001, he was more concerned with preparing himself for a career as a doctor than he was about getting drafted. As the 2001 amateur baseball draft unfolded Owens name was never called, just as he expected. As far as he was concerned his baseball career was over, "My focus throughout college was going to medical school, that was my intention… My intention was not to play professional baseball. I didn’t think I had a chance." But, because of his incredible arm strength the Pittsburgh Pirates came calling and took a chance on him. They signed him as an undrafted free-agent pitcher later that summer.
In the beginning, all Owens could do was rear back and throw his natural gas. He spent the
next three years in the Pirates’ low minors developing complementary pitches to his formidable fastball. By 2004 he had begun to transform an erratic curve ball into a potentially dangerous slider. His fastball was also becoming more dangerous as he was now mixing two-seamers in with his natural four-seamer, and was topping the radar gun regularly in the mid-90’s.
Just as Pirates’ scouts were starting to get excited, Owens suffered a long bout of elbow tendinitis and his progress was further hampered by chronic back problems. Owens fought through the 2004 season, but his control suffered and eventually the Pirates decided a pitcher who was 25-years old, and a converted catcher with elbow problems wasn’t worth protecting on their 40-man roster.
The Pirates’ misfortune was about to turn into one of Omar Minaya’s shrewdest moves when the Mets drafted him on December 13th, 2004. Owens was assigned to High-A (St. Lucie) for the 2005 season. This is where Owens began a string of dominating performances. From June through September of 2005 Owens allowed only 3 earned runs (ER) in 26 Innings pitched (IP) while posting a 1.04 Earned Run Average (ERA). His success led to a short stint in the Arizona Fall League where he was recorded topping the radar gun in the high-90’s. Building on his success in Arizona, he flew over to play Winter Ball in the Puerto Rican League. Owens handled the elevated competition with aplomb and began to work on a third pitch, a split-fingered fastball.
As the Mets opened camp this past spring, Owens was ready to open some eyes. And that’s exactly what he did. During his performance in spring training he wowed his big league teammates with his fire breathing fastball regularly topping 98 mph. As spring training wound down, the local NY media began to shine a light on his sensational camp.
On April 23rd, Owens celebrated his 27th birthday. For the first time in his career Owens would not be pitching in A-Ball. He was assigned to Binghamton, the Mets’ AA affiliate. Very quickly, Owens established himself as the closer. Besides a minor hiccup that sidelined him for much of May with a
strained elbow ligament, Owens completely devastated hitters in the
Eastern League. In 25.0 IP this season at Binghamton, he struck out a ******** 51
men allowing only 8 hits, 8 walks and 3 ER while garnering 11
saves. His ERA was 1.08 and hitters hit .106 against him.
While he continues to rely on a fastball that is thrown harder than any in the Mets’ entire system, his slider has evolved into a nasty strikeout pitch that some scouts have called Brad Lidge-like. He will occasionally mix in his two-seam fastball with his four-seamer whenever he wants to give the batter a different look, and he is starting to throw his splitter more often when he needs to induce a ground ball.
Because of the flame thrower attached to his right shoulder, Owens has completed his quick ascension through the Mets’ system. He was called up to Shea last Thursday. In two games Owens has tossed 3 shutout innings so far.
The Mets’ bullpen has been one of their brightest spots this season. But, with Aaron Heilman scuffling, Jorge Julio now in Arizona, and Duaner Sanchez in desperate need of a blow, Owens arrival provides a much needed boost to the Mets’ overworked bullpen.
Cabbie Scout Notes
Command (++1/2) Fastball (++++)
Competitiveness (++++) Slider (+++)
Intelligence (+++) Splitter (++)
+ below average
+++ above average
++++ lights out!