Category Archives: Minor League Spotlight

Minor League Spotlight: Summer Wrap, Part 2

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

This is the second installment of the Summer Wrap for the Minor League Spotlight, Click Here for the first installment.

During the 2010 season, the Minor League Spotlight examined baseball all over the country, including the far reaches of the Alaska Baseball League. As we did in May, we checked in with Jesse Jack of 49th State Hardball to see how the ABL’s 2010 season shaped up.

Michael Maher: You did fairly well with your predictions on where the teams in the ABL would end up at the end of the 2010 season, were there any surprises during the season with players, teams, or the league in general?

Jesse Jack: “I guess the biggest surprise was that I was as close on my predictions. Though one prediction I made didn’t pan out at all, which was that all the teams would finish the season fairly closely. I was way off on that one. The league was basically split; the Miners, Goldpanners and Oilers were all in the race down to the last few days, with the Miners and Goldpanners tied for first heading into the last game of the season. On the other hand, the Bucs, Fire and Glacier Pilots got beat up pretty badly all season long. I was afraid the Pilots wouldn’t even break into double-digit wins at one point. I was definitely surprised that those teams didn’t do better, but the nature of summer ball is such that next year it’ll be a whole new crop of players and anyone’s guess who will take the title.”

“One event that I thought was really awesome, that I had never done before, was the Scout’s Showcase. Of course there are plenty of pro scouts who make their way through Alaska during the summer, but honestly, it’s kind of off the beaten path. The league puts on the showcase to make it a little more convenient. Toward that end of the showcase, they set aside a three-day weekend where every team converges upon Anchorage for a round-robin style event. It’s set up so that you can see every team three times in one weekend, and though it’s geared toward the scouts, it’s a great value for fans, too. A single ticket gets you into the park for a full day for three baseball games. Somehow I talked my wife into letting me spend a whole Saturday at the park, and it was probably one of the coolest days of my life, no joke.”

MM: The player video coverage and analysis of ABL players on the blog is great content, any plans to expand next season?

JJ: ” I’m glad the readers enjoy it, and I think this is an angle I really want to run with. A couple of my goals with 49th State Hardball are to offer something that you don’t get in the local papers — the score, the stat line, etc. — and at the same time connect with people outside of Alaska. I think this really covers that well. For example, fans outside of the state who might follow a particular MLB team and want to know something about a certain draft pick or free-agent sign, and discover the ABL for the first time when they come looking for a scouting report. On the other hand, the local fans, the die-hards who might have seen a certain player even more than I have, get a chance to leave their comments regarding a player and create a sort of crowd sourced scouting report.”

“To answer your question, I’m hoping to expand it, particularly the video. I’ve always been all about reviewing the scouting reports and opinions and such, but the video was something I started about halfway through the season. I was reluctant to do it at first, because I was worried that it would be just one more thing to add to the list of stuff to worry about. But after I took the camera to one game I became aware of something that seems so obvious now. That is, if I get something on video, I don’t have to struggle to pick up on all the little details as they happen live. I can focus on the big picture, and then take the video home, replay it, slow it down, and analyze something like the break on a pitcher’s two seamer or how a batter’s hands move. The video makes other things easier. So next year, I think we can expect not only more videos on more players, but also better video. I’ll have more footage to choose from and I can throw out the clips where I sneeze or a mascot walks in front of the camera — and also scouting reports on more players as a consequence.”

MM: The ABL season ended more than a month ago, but your blog has been churning out tons of great insight into prospects from the ABL and where they’re heading in MiLB. Do you have any big plans for the off-season?

JJ: “I think the big thing this off-season will be the push toward the draft in the spring. Of course the scouting video and reports fall under that category, because many of those players will be drafted in 2011 and I think people will want to know about the players that their favorite team drafts, so I’m going to keep that content coming at a fairly regular pace. But I’ve also started compiling lists of draft-eligible alumni from each ABL club, which will culminate in a big list of draft-eligible players and hopefully a draft prospect ranking. The other side of the coin will be, of course, the players who are coming into the league, so as the recruiting rosters come out and solidify a bit we’ll start looking at those.”

“I’m also strongly considering doing some video blog type posts, but we’ll have to see if I can pull them off without it being ultra-cheesy, so no promises! Other than that, there will be a lot of the same types of posts that I’ve done in the past: covering players in winter leagues, tracking college transfers, maybe doing some “all-star” style awards at various levels, and looking back to the history of the league with stories on some of the legendary players who got their starts playing in Alaska. So, in other words, there’s plenty of irons in the fire and the only question is how much of it I can get cranked out by June.”

Be sure to check out Jesse Jack at 49th State Hardball throughout the off-season for great insight into baseball up north.

In early May, the Minor League Spotlight focused on the Rochester Red Wings, one of the most storied franchises in all of baseball. Jim Mandelaro, co-author of Silver Seasons and A New Frontier along with Scott Pitoniak, took some time out to answer a very important question following a dismal season for the Red Wings.

MM: The Rochester Red Wings had a remarkably disappointing season, yet they had several players who were capable of providing a great offense. What went wrong?

Jim Mandelaro: “If you look at the Red Wings’ lineup, you’d never guess they would finish with such a horrible record. It wasn’t Murderer’s Row, but it wasn’t the ’62 Mets, either. The pitching, however, was atrocious.”

“I’ve never seen a team with more underachieving players than the 2010 Red Wings. I’m not sure why; the team seemed to get along just fine. I feel like somewhere along the way, probably early June, the Red Wings decided they were a losing team and this became their persona. They accepted losing quite easily. Manager Tom Nieto never balled them out, to my knowledge, and I never saw a player knock off the postgame spread.”
“The Twins deserve a mulligan, because they’ve generally been pretty good for Rochester. But they will have to step out of character and sign some “4-A” free agents. They prefer to build through the farm system, but Double-A New Britain was even worse this year (if you can believe it). The 2011 season will be very interesting in Rochester.”
Thanks to Jim for taking time to answer a question about the Rochester Red Wings. You can follow his coverage of the Red Wings at his Extra Bases blog at the Rochester Democrat And Chronicle.
The final installment of the MLS featured the Frisco RoughRiders, a Double A team that had a major role in the Texas Rangers reaching the 2010 World Series. Chris Moore wrote about the Frisco RoughRiders for Examiner.com during the 2010 season and took some time to answer a question for the summer wrap up prior to the World Series.

MM: The Lee trade and a few other trades depleted the Texas Rangers organization(in particular the RoughRiders), but it also bolstered the big league club for their first postseason appearance in more than a decade. Do you think the moves by the team were good decisions in the long term, and if you had to guess, how far do you expect the Rangers to go on this run?

Chris Moore: “The Cliff Lee trade definitely had a major impact on the RoughRiders, as they went from a team that dominated the Texas League in the first half to one that lost the opening playoff round to a .500 team. It wasn’t just that trade, however. The Rangers made multiple deals leading up to the deadline, and it cost the Riders a number of key players, including their top two starting pitchers in Blake Beavan and Tanner Roark. Technically, Beavan was sent to AAA before the trade, but part of me wonders if that was done intentionally to up his trade value.”

“Of course, the Rangers organization’s primary objective has to be improving their own major league ball club, so they have to do what’s necessary. To be honest, I’m a bit concerned about whether or not the moves they made will pay off. Lee has not shown himself to be the anchor of the staff unless he’s pitching against the Yankees or another team that one would think he wants to sign with. There have been suggestions by some national media members that Lee is not happy in Texas, and while I don’t want to believe that, he hasn’t done a lot to disprove it.”

….

Thanks to Chris Moore, who covered the Frisco RoughRiders all season at Examiner.com which is worth checking out as the team had a rollercoaster season. As well, another thanks to all of the great writers that helped make the first season of the Minor League Spotlight a success. The minor leagues feature a plethora of great talent not only on the field, but with the people who follow, write about and work with these teams each summer.

The off-season will not have weekly installments, but there will be occasional Spotlights for readers to enjoy. First up, a review of “Time In The Minors”, a documentary by Tony Okun about two minor leaguers with big league dreams. Be sure to check out Baseball Digest.com’s affiliate website, I70 Baseball, and their recent interview with the director on I70 Baseball’s Radio Show. The Minor League Spotlight on Tony Okun and “Time In The Minors” will appear on BaseballDigest.com next Tuesday, so check back here for a full review.

Minor League Spotlight: Summer Wrap, Part 1

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

The 2010 season was the debut season of the Minor League Spotlight,with profiles of the minor leagues and independent leagues, along with teams and people that make up these organizations. Part of the success of the MLS can be attributed to the numerous writers that contributed their voices to the series throughout the season. Several of them took some time out after the season to talk about the teams they cover and how the season shaped up for them. Due to a large response, the Summer Wrap for the Minor League Spotlight will be a two part series. Keep an eye out for the second installment on November 16th.

The first article of the Minor League Spotlight featured the great writing staff of Bus Leagues Baseball, one of the top sources for original minor league baseball coverage.

Michael Maher: Can you tell us a little bit about how your season shaped up at Bus Leagues?

Brian Moynihan: “We had an interesting, busy season. One of our writers, Chris Fee, saw Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman when they passed through the International League, and another, Jordi Scrubbings, went to the Florida State League All-Star Game. We also had the opportunity to do a number of interviews with players, writers, and executives from around the game, which was very cool.Right now, we’re wrapping things up with our 2010 Player of the Year awards.”

“We typically don’t post much during the offseason, but you never know. Our guys are always coming up with good ideas to keep us moving forward, and I don’t expect the next few months to be any different. As far as what’s on tap for next season, more of everything, hopefully – more interviews, more ballpark visits, more book reviews. Just more interesting stories in general.”

Eric Angevine: “I had the chance to go to the Richmond Flying Squirrels opening day game, which was great. Will Georgantas was with me, and we posted some fun video on our YouTube channel. I also got to stop by the Akron Aeros a couple of months ago while I was on my way to Cleveland to see an Indians game.”

“Brian took our player interviews to a whole new level this season, for which I have been eternally grateful. He spent time with Kyle Drabek and Mike Moustakas this season, and got some excellent insight into how they approach the game. They obviously ended up being two of the best MiLB players of the season.”

“Jordi has been writing some wonderful pieces about his experiences in that hotbed of minor-league ball, Florida. I especially liked his write-up of cub scout campout night – it really captured the nostalgic feeling of being at a ballgame with kids. The way kids look at the game at any level takes a lot of the cynicism out of our adult way of looking at things.”

Be sure to take a look at all of the coverage over at Bus Leagues. They were incredibly helpful during the first season of the Minor League Spotlight!

During the season, I received a great insight into the every day life of working in the business through the Birmingham Barons Clubhouse Manager, Jeff Perro. Like earlier in the year when I wrote about the Birmingham Barons, he was a great source when I asked him about his season.
MM: With a 53-87 record, the Birmingham Barons slumped to a last place finish. As the Clubhouse Manager, how would you describe the season finished professionally and as someone who spends a great deal of time with the players?


Jeff Perro: “It was a tough season, but it was fun! This season was different for me than any other in my career, it was the first time my team hasn’t at least made the playoffs. Even though we didn’t quite put it together on the field, we had a very good team in the clubhouse. It was, without a doubt, the best group of guys that I’ve had. It was just a fun, easy to get along with group. I’ve heard stories of clubhouses and locker rooms being tense places to be when a team is not performing. It wasn’t like that at all, there was no finger pointing or any drama of the sort. I think everybody just decided to grin and bear it.”

“Most of the players and staff were glad to see the season end. Not only because we lost a handful of games, but because they got to go home, see their families and loved ones, and just relax. I, however, never want baseball season to end. Sure, there are crazy long hours during baseball season, but it beats the long off-season. I typically take a two to four week vacation after the season before I find something for the time between seasons.”


“I would say that there is a 95% chance that I will be back as the Home Clubhouse Manager of the Birmingham Barons next year. This is what I want to do and this is the town that I want to do it in. It would take something pretty special to drag me away from it. By special I don’t mean “well-paying,” I mean “fun and baseball related.” This is not a profession to get into to get rich, you have to be beyond passionate about the sport.”


You can follow Jeff Perro all season(and off-season) long on Twitter, @MiLBClubbie. He was incredibly helpful with providing an insider’s view for the Minor League Spotlight this past season.

One of my go-to reads on Twitter has been @HeelsOnTheField, the Twitter feed for Jessica Quiroli. She covers the Trenton Thunder, New Jersey high school sports, and writes on her own blog, High Heels On The Field. In July, she answered a few questions for the Minor League Spotlight, and offered a few tidbits of insight as we enter the long off-season.

MM: How did this summer compare to previous seasons covering the MiLB/Indy scene?

Jessica Quiroli: “I’m just learning more and more, and I’m always seeing something new. This year was different from the last, because I gained even more experience. Which is what any writer hopes for with each passing season. Or at least, the ones who don’t get in the frame of mind where they start to just feel like experts. Those types are stale to me. They have no inspiration, but plenty of ego and a desperation to feel they’re better than the guy next to him in the press box. I think Jayson Stark’s a great example of a guy who’s seen it all and there’s still so much energy in his writing. There’s a youthful, awestruck quality to his tone. I hope to keep that kind of curiosity my whole career. If I dig a little deeper, I’d say that the players recognize me more and there’s more respect than before. I value that more than anything.”

MM: The Trenton Thunder reached the playoffs this season, had you covered postseason games before? Do you notice any difference in coverage aside from the obvious excitement of the playoffs?

JQ: “I had covered the Trenton Thunder in 2008 during the post-season, but it was very odd. No one knew me and I just kind of breezed in for a few days for The Trentonian and that was that. I didn’t really have any kind of feel for the team or what that felt like for them. The atmosphere was exciting, but it was just a job that week. This year was completely different. I had been around a lot of those guys all last year and the new guys for a full season, so I cared more and felt their triumph and struggles more. I was also, obviously, able to see firsthand who made progress throughout the season. I got to see Brandon Laird go on a remarkable run. I was able to watch Austin Romine firsthand, after hearing all the hype. It was clear to me why he commands such respect as a catcher. When you just hear reports and are told to write about the player, it’s not the same. While you’re not supposed to root for anyone, watching them get to the post-season and all the work that went into it was very meaningful to me.”

MM: Do you have any plans for the off-season in covering MiLB/MLB/Indy baseball or another sport? 2011 is far off, but any changes for next season?

JQ: “I’ve covered high school cross country the last two baseball off-seasons and have enjoyed that a lot. I love writing about high school sports. I was hired by Ultimate Athlete magazine which covers high school sports in New Jersey and New York this season for feature work. I’d like to continue to cover the Thunder in 2011 and also continue covering the Eastern League. It’s always stocked with so much talent and I find that exciting. What I get at Trenton is the chance to cover one team regularly, while also doing stories on the visiting team, so there’s still a freedom there. I value my relationships with the Thunder, particularly with manager Tony Franklin who teaches me something everyday I sit in his office. I also hope to give my collection of Minor League short stories to a publisher. I’ve been working on them for seven years. My hope is to be known as a Minor League baseball writer and all I want is to add to that next season. It’s where I always want to be.”

Jessica Quiroli is a must read for MiLB coverage, and one of the best sports writers you’ll find on Twitter.
Look for the second installment of the Summer Wrap on November 16th, as it will include the Q&A with a few more of the great writers featured in the Minor League Spotlight, including Jesse Jack of 49th State Hardball and Chris Moore of Examiner.com.

Minor League Spotlight: Frisco RoughRiders

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

The Frisco RoughRiders mirror their major league affiliate in a lot of ways. They’re named after a United States volunteer cavalry, along the same lines of the Texas Rangers being named in honor of the first state run law enforcement division of the country. They’re also relatively ‘young’ compared to the teams throughout their league, and they’ve reached the playoffs just three times, the same number of times as the Rangers. One major difference with that final point, is that the RoughRiders will reach the postseason in 2010 for the 4th time in their 8 year history. Interestingly enough, the big league club looks poised to join their Class AA affiliate in the postseason hunt as well. The RoughRiders have a lot to do with that, both through history as stepping stones of current players and recent trades that have changed the big leagues hopes for the better.

In 2003, the Texas Rangers moved their Double A affiliate to Frisco, Texas; just about an hour north of where the big league squad plays at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas. Though the team is not even a decade old, there have been several future All Stars key players on the current 40 man major league roster that have put in time in Frisco before reaching the big leagues. Perhaps most notably today is C.J. Wilson, the current ace of the Rangers, who logged parts of three seasons with the RoughRiders before sticking with the big league club in 2006. In addition to Wilson, current Rangers include Ian Kinsler, Elvis Adrus, Julio Bordon and closer Naftali Feliz among the players that have spent quite a few games with the Double A Affiliate. The team has produced such talent, that during the off-season, Chris Moore of Examiner.com argued that the team should be bumped up to the Triple A!

There are a number of future MLB players that gained fame after leaving the organization as well. Former RoughRider Edinson Volquez won 17 games in his first season with the Cincinnati Reds following a trade, and John Danks provided a solid back end in the White Sox rotation during their 2008 postseason run. However, the most famous former Frisco RoughRider to date is arguably Armando Galarraga, the Oakland Athletics pitcher who lost a perfect game on June 5th of this year due to an umpire’s error.

It’s impossible for teams to judge exactly which prospects will end up being the next Armando Galarraga , but the Texas Rangers have shown they’re not afraid to take a gamble with pulling the trigger on trades that can help them right now. Earlier this season, the team traded Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matthew Lawson along with prized future star Justin Smoak to the Seattle Mariners in return for an ace in Cliff Lee. The trade benefited the Rangers immediately, as Lee takes joins C.J. Wilson in a powerful 1-2 punch that looks to solidify the lead for the A.L. West title. This trade coupled with another that sent pitcher Evan Reed to the Florida Marlins for Jorge Cantu and a third trade of Tanner Roark and Ryan Tatsuko to the Washington Nationals for Christian Guzman has left the team dizzy.

The RoughRiders felt an immediate impact to their own playoff hopes, as their best pitcher, a quality reliever, and solid piece of their offense were shipped out to the Seattle Mariners. A team that dominated the Texas League with a 38-31 first half to clinch a playoff spot have since gone 23-28 during the second half of their season. Fortunately for Frisco fans, it seems as though the team might be pulling itself together despite the barrage of roster changes. Chris Moore highlighted a recent thrashing the RoughRiders gave the Tulsa Drillers.

Jason Cole of the Lone Star Dugout for Scout.com is another writer who follows the RoughRiders and highlights the entire organization. He has featured a number of interviews with prospects that have been part of big and small trades this season. Active on twitter, he is a must follow for anyone who wants to learn about exactly what makes up an intricate deal such as the one that sent three RoughRiders and Justin Smoak to the Seattle Mariners. In addition to his great articles, Cole tweets updates on all of the happenings throughout the Texas Rangers organization.

As the postseason nears, the Minor League Spotlight will keep tabs on how the RoughRiders’ shuffled roster shapes up. Follow along with the RoughRiders on Facebook and on Twitter @RidersBaseball!

Previous Spotlights:

Stay Tuned: Keep an eye on Baseball Digest.com for an all-new Minor League Spotlight next week!

Minor League Spotlight: Brooklyn Cyclones

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

Before 2001, the borough of Brooklyn in New York City went without its own baseball team for more than forty years. As part of a revitalization plan, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani brought two teams to the city; the Brooklyn Cyclones and the Staten Island Yankees. Like their big league counterparts, the Cyclones and “Baby Bombers” have developed a rivalry over the last decade that matches only the one between the major league affiliates in the same city. With only 13 miles between the Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees, they play closer to each other than any two baseball organizations.

Though the Cyclones are officially the New York Mets Single A affiliate, there is a great deal of connections made between the Coney Island squad and the major league Brooklyn Dodgers who left decades earlier. Their mascots, Pee Wee and Sandy The Seagull, are named in honor of famous Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers Sandy Koufax and Pee Wee Reese. Along the rows of seats, the ends are emblazoned with the interlocking “NY” symbol and the original Brooklyn Dodgers “B”.

Outside of MCU Park, there is a bronze statue of Pee Wee Reese putting his arm around Jackie Robinson. The statue commemorates the time during the 1947 season when Reese showed his support for the future Hall of Fame second baseman who was the first player to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

With the recent opening Luna Park,an amusement park located right next to the famous Cyclone roller coaster and down the street from the home of the Cyclones, the team is located in the middle of a major revitalization of Coney Island. With the original Cyclone and the Parachute Jump as a backdrop to MCU Park, the great past of Coney Island seems to quite literally touch the great future of the area.

On the field, the Brooklyn Cyclones are playing more closely to the level of talent of the old Brooklyn Dodgers than the current New York Mets. The Brooklyn Cyclones lead the New York-Penn League with a 35-16 record, 4 wins more than the closest team. They have lost just 5 times at home this season, and hold a 9 game lead over the second place Hudson Valley Renegades in the McNamara division.

Like most minor league teams, the Cyclones have long had great promotions to bring fans to the ballpark, and it seems as though this season they’re leading the league in promotions as well as wins. Several weeks ago the Cyclones hosted a “Jersey? Sure!” night, complete with a jersey giveaway featuring Sandy the Seagull fist-pumping on the back. Over the years, they have held bobblehead giveaways, had medieval knights sword fighting between innings, and at one time changed their name to the Baracklyn Cyclones in honor of President Obama.

The Cyclones have always had a way with paying tribute to their Mets and Brooklyn connections, and not just off the field with promotions and stadium designs. The current manager of the Cyclones, Wally Backman, was a long time member of the New York Mets during the 1980s, playing second base. The .283 career hitter with the Mets rose to the occasion during the 1986 World Series, hitting .333 against the Boston Red Sox. Backman follows in a trend by the Mets to hire former players to manage in the minors, specifically the Cyclones. The first skipper of the team, Edgar Alfonzo, is the older brother of Edgardo Alfonzo, who logged 7 seasons at second base for the New York Mets. Howard Johnson, Tim Teufel, and Mookie Wilson round out the list of former players who have donned the Mets uniform and the Cyclones uniform later as managers. In addition to having a major league influence at the helm, there have been 25 players who have played for the Cyclones that have reached the Major Leagues, including current New York Mets Ike Davis, Angel Pagan and Jenrry Mejia.

Between BaseballDigest.com’s and GothamBaseball.com’s coverage of the Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees, there is no shortage of outlets for finding out what’s happening with the rising stars of both New York City minor league teams. Most recently, GothamBaseball.com highlighted the “New York Feel” that the upcoming NY-Penn All Star Game that will feature 8 Brooklyn Cyclones and 5 Staten Island Yankees on the roster as the Baby Bombers host the sixth annual all star game.

The Brooklyn Cyclones are among the teams that have latched onto the social networks of Twitter and Facebook to reach their fans. They have utilized Facebook to offer fan-only prizes and giveaways. As the dog days of summer are here, catching the Brooklyn Cyclones after a trip to Nathan’s for a hot dog seems like a no brainer, considering they may be the hottest team in Single A baseball.

Previous Spotlights:

Stay Tuned: Keep an eye on Baseball Digest.com for an all-new Minor League Spotlight next week featuring the Frisco RoughRiders, the Double A Affiliate of the Texas Rangers!

Minor League Spotlight: High Heels On The Field

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

After a mid-season break, the Minor League Spotlight has returned with a focus on a writer that every fan of Minor League Baseball should be aware of and should be “following”!

If you use the social network of Twitter to find out the latest news and stories coming out of minor league baseball, Jessica Quiroli is a must-follow. Her Twitter account, Heels On The Field, is a shortened name of her blog, High Heels On The Field.

On Twitter and through her own blog, Jessica has become a valuable source for news and tidbits throughout MiLB. You can find her re-tweeting interesting news items such as Koby Clemens(son of long time MLB pitcher Roger Clemens) cranking two home runs in a game, or writing up an article on the talented young player in a way to bring him out from beneath his father’s legacy.

While she focuses some of her articles on the Trenton Thunder, there are many articles featuring players and teams from throughout the minor leagues. She provides a blend of writing that isn’t tied to just providing player updates. In some articles, she showcases players moving from one level to the next, like Matt Rizzoti of the Reading Phillies. In another she reviews the latest book to hit the newsstands that focuses on life in the minors, current Toronto Blue Jays minor leaguer Dirk Haywurst’s “The Bullpen Gospels”.

Jessica Quiroli’s strong daily twitter presence and in depth coverage through her blog are a must-read for any fan of the game. Jessica took some time last week to answer a few questions for the Minor League Spotlight.

Baseball Digest.com: How did you end up covering MiLB, and what path led you to write about baseball?

Jessica Quiroli: I started covering MiLB from the start of my career. I started writing for Scout.com at the same time I was writing a screenplay. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just felt an immediate passion for it. After I visited Scranton (Phillies affiliate at the time), I did a couple of assignments at Reading and I was hooked.

My interest in baseball was always there, but I never thought I could be a baseball writer. I just knew I loved writing and baseball. My heart led me down that path. It wasn’t something I knew from childhood. I was just always very creative and always received attention for my writing. At a certain point, I realized writing about baseball was like an extension of myself. It was so natural, I couldn’t believe it took me as long to figure it out. It’s why I never discourage anyone from pursuing that or anything else they get an idea to try.

BD.com: Covering minor league ball, you’ve interviewed a number of ballplayers on their way to the big leagues. Have you had a chance to interview any players before and after they’ve reached the big leagues?

JQ: I don’t cover MLB often. Mainly I interview MLB players for Junior Baseball and that’s just a few times a season. The only thing that comes to mind is getting to know Twins reliever Alex Burnett last season and watching him get better and better at the Double-A level. Then when I covered Twins spring training, he was at big league camp. He’d received an invite. I found him to be the exact same guy and so focused. That’s what you want to see: young players who remain the same, even as their opportunity is happening. I’ve dealt with guys who’ve gotten sent up and back and some of them can’t handle it. Mike Zagurski is a guy who has such vitality and a working-class attitude that no matter how many times the Phillies bring him up and send him back, he keeps the same focus and determination. And he’s the nicest guy on earth. He doesn’t seem to get down on himself or feel put out by the process.

BD.com: You also cover affiliated baseball and independent league baseball, what would you say is the greatest difference between these levels?

JQ: The difference between independent league and affiliated is huge. I cannot overstate that. I spent a full season with the Atlantic City Surf and also did some coverage of the Worcester Tornadoes. Money is the obvious difference. But the mood is also different. You see their sadness sometimes. I remember after a game I was out with a few of the players having dinner. They had just lost a tough game, it was a blown save. The closer looks at me and says, “You know, sometimes I hate baseball.” I’ll never forget that. I realized that a lot of them were caught in confusion about their futures. They expected to play baseball for a living, they thought they could and it’s all they’ve ever really been good at. But as one coach at the independent level told me, good isn’t good enough for them. And if they can’t be better than good, it’s going to be extremely difficult. At the MiLB level there’s a ton of hope and promise. There’s more of a feeling that something bigger is possible.

BD.com: Baseball Digest.com has had a number of features this season that highlight women working in baseball, in particular Norm Coleman’s “Woman In Baseball” series. Though we live in 2010, would you say there remains a huge difference dealing with players and members of the media based on gender?

JQ: There are always going to be players and men in the industry who don’t take women seriously. I know when I walk into a MILB clubhouse, I’m likely going to be the only woman and that’s usually the case in the press box as well. I expect it with players a bit more. But when it’s a colleague that’s disrespectful to me, it’s more disappointing. When I’ve dealt with that, I’ve gotten very angry and I won’t tolerate it. Women in this industry can tend to be worse. They aren’t particularly supportive and encouraging of each other. There’s a lot of jealousy and judging. I really wish women in the industry would see the value of having one another’s backs, but if I could tell young women anything who want to do this for a living, it’s to have a great sense of humor and also put your emotional armor on. Be tough or you won’t make it. Don’t expect them to respect you when you walk in the clubhouse. Just do your job to the best of your ability and that’s all you need to know at the end of the day. And Have. Fun.

BD.com: Eri Yoshida’s pitching with the Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League, the first woman in nearly a decade to play professionally. Do you think we’ll see a woman reach the major leagues?

JQ: I don’t have the highest expectations of women playing at the Major League level. In many ways, I like that women have their own sport. I wish it got more attention and interest. But I think softball has gotten more exposure and respect in the last decade, due to Cat Osterman and Jennie Finch. Those girls have so much physical power and I am thrilled little girls see young women that could give any boy a run for the money.

BD.com: You’re a force on Twitter, with more than 1,600 followers and nearly 18,000 tweets. How has the social network helped you in reaching a new audience and has it helped at all with reaching out to players and teams that use the social networks?

JQ: I was a reluctant Twitter participant. I thought it was just people wasting time. Then I realized how useful a tool it is in receiving and sharing baseball information. It has helped me professionally and I never feel out of the loop. Getting accurate information is the most important thing, so there has to be caution. I’ve reached a lot of new readers who see what I have to say on Twitter and decide to read my blog. I think it’s a trust builder. If people get an idea of how knowledgeable and interesting you are as a writer on Twitter, they’re going to look at other things you do and take your opinion seriously.

A big thank you to Jessica for taking time to answer a few questions for the Minor League Spotlight!

With the dog days of summer upon us, we will undoubtedly turn to “Heels On The Field” for the latest news coming out of minor league baseball.

Previous Spotlights:

Stay Tuned: Keep an eye on Baseball Digest.com for an all-new Minor League Spotlight next week featuring the Mets Single A affiliate, the Brooklyn Cyclones! The article will feature a few photos from a recent trip made to MCU Park in Coney Island!

Minor League Spotlight: The Veeck Connection

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

In celebration of Father’s Day on June 20th, Baseball Digest.com has profiled several father and son connections including the Berras, the Bavasis, and the Bannisters. This week’s Minor League Spotlight focuses on a family that has dabbled in professional baseball for three generations.

Looking at baseball in a unique way and introducing new, innovative ideas has been a signature part of the Veeck family for generations. It all started nearly a hundred years ago with William Veeck, Sr. He was a baseball writer who got his break into the business when the owner of the Chicago Cubs brought him on board following a series of articles suggesting how he would improve the team. As vice-president and later president of the club, the team won three pennants under the guide of the senior Veeck between 1919 and 1932. Though he passed away in 1933, the impact of William Veeck, Sr. was just beginning.

By 1937 the son of the former Cubs president, Bill Veeck, had joined the Chicago Cubs as the team treasurer. Though the younger Veeck departed the Chicago Cubs by 1941 to purchase the Milwaukee Brewers, there are two key ideas that he carried out before moving on. He was the person who planted the ivy that adorns the outfield wall of Wrigley Field, and he was responsible for the construction of the manually operated scoreboard. More than 70 years later, the ivy is still growing strong, the manual scoreboard remains and the Veeck connection to baseball continues as well.

Bill Veeck bought into the Cleveland Indians and instantly made an impact. In addition to signing the oldest rookie in history, Satchel Paige at 42 years of age, he may be most remembered for having a role in breaking the color barrier of the American League following Jackie Robinson’s debut in the Natiional League in 1947. Just eleven weeks after Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Veeck signed future Hall of Famer Larry Doby to the Cleveland Indians, following several seasons playing with the Newark Bears of the Negro Leagues. Doby went on to become the first African American to homer in a World Series, helping the Indians clinch the second, and last, World Series title. Doby’s career is not the only famous player connection for Bill Veeck.

A few years after Doby helped the Indians to a world title, Veeck sold his share of the team and bought into the St. Louis Browns. Due to differences between other owners and the front office of Major League Baseball, Veeck’s reign with the Browns came to end just two years after it began in 1951. However, he made the best of his time, and history records retain his fingerprints of creativity. In just his first season as owner of the Browns, Veeck secretly signed Eddie Gaedel and he debuted as a pinch hitter on Sunday, August 19th, 1951 during the second game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers. The man wearing “1/8” as a number set the record for shortest player in Major League history at just 3 feet, 7 inches in height. Though the stunt thrilled baseball fans, the secret signing of Gaedel ushered in new rulings by MLB that required teams to provide a contract to the league before suiting up with the team.

When Bill Veeck was pushed out from the Browns, he resurfaced a few years later in 1959 as head of the new ownership of the Chicago White Sox. He made an immediate impact on the franchise when he installed an exploding scoreboard that celebrated every White Sox home run at Comisky Park. The addition coincided with the White Sox first pennant in 40 years. By 1961, Veeck was out again as owner, and during that time wrote an autobiography entitle “Veeck As In Wreck”. The book ruffled the feathers of some of the old time baseball owners, and Veeck wasn’t heard from until 1975 when he again bought into the team. Over two decades that included two separate stints as owner, Veeck ushered in a number of promotions that have been praised as some of the greatest of all time. Perhaps the most famous stint during his time with the White Sox was the two times Minnie Minosa was activated and played in games in 1975 and again in 1980 to set the record of playing in five different decades. In addition to Minosa, Veeck fielded a White Sox team wearing shorts, conducted trades in public, and was the first to have announcer Harry Carey sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch.

In one of his finals stunts as owner, Bill Veeck brought in the next generation of Veecks to help make it happen. His son, Mike Veeck, was working in the White Sox marketing department at the time of the infamous Disco Demolition Night on July 12th, 1979. In an event held between a twi-night doubleheader between the White Sox and the Detroit Tigers, the promotion was to destroy disco records between the games. Over 90,000 people showed up and quickly overtook the stadium and the field during the promotion. The White Sox were forced to forfeit the second game of the doubleheader due to the condition of the field and the unruliness of the crowd.

With the advent of free agency and growing costs of running an organization, Bill Veeck sold his share of ownership in 1981, and retired from baseball. He passed away in 1986 following a battle with emphysema, but baseball never forgot the legend. He was inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame for his contributions to many teams, and the memories that generations of fans have come to learn about.

“Fun Is Good” is a motto of third generation baseball man Mike Veeck and for a name synonymous with promotional excitement, he continues to live up to the expectations of new ways to attract a fanbase for teams. As the son of Bill Veeck, perhaps the most famous baseball promoter in history, Mike Veeck’s own accomplishments are evidence that the eye for excitement extends to mutiple generations.

Like his father before him, Mike Veeck has found promotions for baseball in unusual places. Minnie Minosa playing professional baseball in his fourth and fifth decade seemed like an incredible feat at the time. Since then, Minosa once held the record for being the oldest person to play the game at 80 years old. In 2006, the youngest Veeck was approached by then 83 year old Jim Eriotes with an interest in playing ball. With a little help, he ended up debuting with the Sioux Falls Canaries of the independent Northern League(since moved to the American Association and known as the Sioux Falls Pheasants). While his reign as oldest person to bat in a game was supplanted by the late Buck O’Neil a week later when he played in the Northern League All-Star Game, the promotional genius wasn’t forgotten, as it caught the attention of ESPN.com.

A number of promotions involving teams Veeck has worked with have little to do with the actual game itself. The St. Paul Saints, for example, have held numerous bobblehead promotions that are slightly different than your typical bobblehead you might receive at a Major League Baseball stadium. Instead of celebrating players, the Saints celebrate events. In 2009, the team held a bobblehead event for a “Count Von Re-Count”, a spoof on Sesame Street’s Count Von Count, and more importantly a spoof on the 2008 election for United States Senator in Minnesota. Five years before then, the held a similar event during the 2004 presidential race, featuring bobbleheads with the faces of George Bush and Al Gore on either side. The stunt included a donkey and a donkey dressed as an elephant on the field.

While his father and grandfather dedicated their energy to one team at a time, Mike Veeck has turned his promoting skills into an empire of baseball teams. Working with a diverse group of people(including Jimmy Buffett and Bill Murray!), and with a group of baseball teams at a few levels of play, you never know when you may be offered a massage by a nun while sitting in the stands. You might just as easily find yourself locked out of a baseball game in an effort by the team to reach the all-time record for lowest attendance at a game! These are just a few of many promotions that have proved successful for Mike Veeck in the minor leagues of baseball.

Mike Veeck has a hand in seven baseball team promotions. As baseball season heats up, there are great options for attending a game featuring a Veeck Connection. Here is the list of teams included:

Looking Ahead: In the coming weeks, Baseball Digest.com may feature an update on the Veeck Connection which may include a person very close to the history of the family, and their involvement in baseball.

Previous Spotlights:

Stay Tuned: Keep an eye on Baseball Digest.com for an all-new Minor League Spotlight next week!

Is there a player or team in the minor leagues that you think should be featured in the Minor League Spotlight? Let us know in the Bleachers Forum!

A big thank you to Angela Weinhold for her help with research for this article! You can find her insight into St. Louis Cardinals Baseball here on Baseball Digest!

Minor League Spotlight: Northwest Arkansas Naturals

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

Last week, the Minor League Spotlight featured the Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League, a franchise rich with local baseball connections that celebrates the history of baseball in the region. The latest focus for Spotlight is a team that has had several name changes and a few different homes, while maintaining a tradition of success!

This week the Spotlight heads out to Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, Arkansas, home of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. The Kansas City Royals Double A Affiliate, and former San Diego Padres affiliate, has had a few incarnations since their days as the Amarillo Gold Sox in 1976. While the team has moved four times and have had five different names, they’ve had some consistency of success within the Texas League over the years. Since 1987, the team has won their division eight times and been the top team of the league three times, most recently winning their division in 2006.

Recently, Washington Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg tore through the minor leagues and many fans were witnessing history as he mowed down the Pittsburgh Pirates in his major league debut. However, the reality is many players take a longer journey to the big leagues than the 2009 number one draft pick. The Naturals most recent division title, which occurred when they were playing in Wichita, Kansas as the Wranglers, featured a hard hitting outfielder by the name of Mitch Maier. Maier was a first round draft pick, and along with more than a dozen members of the 2006 Wichita Wranglers, has gone on to become an everyday major league ballplayer. 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke was a part of that division champion rotation.

Major league talent rising through the ranks and paving their way as members of the Kansas City Royals Double A Affiliate has been going on for years. Before earning five trips to All-Star Games as a major leaguer, long time Royal Mike Sweeney slugged 14 home runs as a member of the 1996 Wichita Wranglers prior to joining the big league team for good later that season. The tenth round draft pick in 1991 slugged two more homers for the Wranglers a decade later during a rehab stint.

One of the first successes with the organization dates back to 1981, featuring a third round draft pick by the San Diego Padres from that same year. Before his Hall of Fame career lifted off, Tony Gwynn butchered the Texas League pitching as a member of the Amarillo Gold Sox to the tune of a .462 batting average! Four everyday players of the 1984 National League Champion Padres spent some time with the Amarillo Gold Sox.

Currently leading the Northern division of the Texas League by handful of games, part of the reason the Naturals have maintained a steady level of success is due to the draft picks made by the Kansas City Royals over the years. The number two overall pick of the 2007 MLB draft, Mike Moustakas, is hitting a robust .368 with 13 homers in 39 games this season, his first at the Double A level. Though he is three years removed from the draft, Moustakas is considered among the best prospects in the Kansas City Royals organization.

As Moustakas leads the offense with his bat, Michael Montgomery helps lead the way with his 2.04 career minor league earned run average that spans 39 games over three seasons. Baseball America ranked Montgomery the number one prospect in the Kansas City Royals organization in January.

The Kansas City Royals understand the value of finding talent wherever they can, and later this month they’re opening the doors of Arvest Ballpark to everyone over the age of 15. On Friday, June 18, at 8:30AM, the team will be holding a free try-out camp to everyone with a hope of reaching the big leagues.

You can find this and many more tidbits about the Naturals on their Facebook Fan Page, which has over 8,500 fans! The Naturals also utilize Twitter, using it to give fans news and deals, as well count down to the team clinching their division in the first half!

Previous Spotlights:

Next Week: To celebrate Father’s Day on Baseball Digest.com, next week’s Minor League Spotlight will focus on Mike Veeck, the third generation baseball man and promoter for six minor league baseball teams!