The Travelers Return to Dickey-Stephens Park on Thursday, July 7
"College draftees get bigger signing bonuses, typically. HS kids get to free agency quicker and hence stand to make much more money. There's actually a good series of articles about this on fangraphs.com. It actually uses Cole and Tyler Chatwood as examples. You should consider investigating the details before arbitrarily taking a stance. Maybe see if Chatwood would trade his spot in the Angels rotation and 3 months of MLB service time for the glory years of overuse at college." -- Mars
I almost laughed out loud when I read the attendance in the box score from Thursday's game. 4,533? Try 1,533. I know they barely broke 1,500 because they were still handing out replica hats -- given away to the first 1,500 adults -- at 7 p.m.
Face it, fans in Central Arkansas have pretty much written off the season and moved on to football or whatever -- and I can't blame them. The Travelers have lost six straight and 13 of the last 18 games. They've lost the season series for the Car-Mart Cup with the upstart NWA Naturals, a farm team of one of the worst organizations in professional sports, and they've lost the season series with the Springfield Cardinals.
And they want us to buy tickets to see this team in the playoffs? To quote Jim Mora, playoffs? Well, I might be there, but I doubt very many other people will.
Another losing season brought to you by the Los Angeles Angels.
I don't blame Travelers CEO Bill Valentine for extending the contract with the Los Angeles Angels. LA seems to be a solidly-run organization and has probably been the best thing available for the Travs whenever the contract comes up. I also credit Valentine for only doing two-year deals with the Angels. The Travs have a good thing to offer an MLB club, and a two-year deal keeps the parent organization from neglecting that fact too much.
However, before everyone starts ladling so much praise on the Angels for being such a great MLB affiliate, let's look at the talent they've provided to the Travs and their commitment to winning. Yes, there are currently 22 players in Major League Baseball who came through Little Rock as an Angels prospect (an average of 2.7 MLB-caliber players per year), but we have all watched Travs teams take the field that barely had Double-A talent in one area or another. And we have all seen players mysteriously promoted just as the Travs got on a roll, leaving them with a string of losses.
Statistically, the truth is that the Angels have provided us with some very below-average teams since they started sending us players in 2001. In fact, only one team in those eight years finished with a winning record at the end of the season (first and second half combined), and that was by a mere two games above .500.
The total record in the last eight seasons (including this season through Thursday's game) is 492-610 for a .446 percentage. You know who is playing .446 ball in the Major Leagues right now? The Pittsburgh Pirates. Dickey-Stephens Park has been compared to PNC Park in Pittsburgh, but the comparison should be extended to the way the Pirates play ball in addition to where.
Here are the totals for the last eight seasons: 2001 - 66-70 2002 - 51-89 2003 - 70-70 2004 - 59-80 2005 - 71-69 2006 - 51-87 2007 - 65-75 2008 - 59-70
Now let's look at the totals from the previous eight seasons when the Travs were an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, which has been much maligned by Travs management and some Travs fans for not sending the Travs any talent. From 1992 to 2000, the Travs produced a record of 547-558 for a .495 average and had three winning seasons compared to the Angels' one.
Here are the totals for the previous eight seasons: 1993 - 67-69 1994 - 68-67 1995 - 70-65 1996 - 67-73 1997 - 68-72 1998 - 80-60 1999 - 59-81 2000 - 68-71
This revelation that the Travs were actually better under the Cardinals is somewhat ironic since the Angels are being praised for doing what the same people criticized the Cardinals for. Without spending the time to research this, my guess is that the Travs also produced a comparable number of Major Leaguers under the Cards' watch.
So was the contract extension with the Angels a good one? I guess. Could we have done better? Yes, and we did the previous eight years with the former parent club. And as a bonus it was the team the entire state has historically followed.
In my view, the Cardinals were only guilty of three misdeeds -- suggesting we build a new ballpark (which they were right we needed and eventually got), not sending us Albert Pujols for a week or two, and crossing Bill Valentine.
On the Sunday before the All-Star game in Yankee Stadium the best of the American minor leagues gathered there for the Futures Game. Several current Olympians were in that game, including Tulsa's center fielder Dexter Fowler.
Early in the game, because of his incredible speed, Fowler made a spectacular grab of a long drive deep in the gap that had the ESPN crew marveling at his talents. Analyst Peter Gammons spoke up and said however good a player Dexter was, he was an even better person. That kind of praise doesn't come often from a grizzled veteran like Gammons, and the fact is....it's true.
I got to know Fowler this summer during his visits to Dickey-Stephens with the Drillers and the word "class"describes him in every way. So it's been great to see him become the hitting star so far for the U.S. team in Beijing.
He lacked a home run to hit for the cyclein Tuesday's win over Taiwan and in today's 4-2 victory over Japan he had two hits and scored a run. With his single in the sixth, Fowler had reached base six straight times including five hits and a walk.
There's no one representing the country who could be any better an ambassador for America than Dexter. If you'd like to see why, go to www.USAbaseball.com to read Fowler's journal he's writing while in China.
How about that crazy rule 11th inning Olympicrule when a game is tied? To speed the game along a manager gets to decide who he wants to hit and then two runners are allowed on base at first and second. All have to be in the order of the line up.
That happened in todays game between Japan, and the U.S. team promptly scored to break a scoreless tie and ended up pushing four across in the top of the 11th. Fowler, the 9th hitter in the line-up was placed on first and came around to score the second run for the Americans.
Team USA, now the #3 seed will play defending gold medalist Cuba next, while Japan will play undefeated S. Korea.
Even though the Travs came away with only two victories during the recent six game home-stand against Corpus Christi and San Antonio, the weather was fantastic and the fans enjoyed everything from Clunker Car Night to pillbox hats as well as the return of outfielder Jordan Czarniecki (#12) from Class AAA.
As lucky # 76172 was called over and over Thursday night begging someone to come claim their piece-of-crap car that couldn't even make it on to to the field, the latest installment of Clunker Car Night got under way.
The '95 baby blue Olds' Cutlas with 117 thousand miles seen above, barely made it down the right field line before it stalled.
The annual promotion is sponsored by area businesses and car dealers, and if you've got the lucky # in your program or on your Bingo card, you win a bomb. It's that simple.
The Bingo cards are given away at the gate and programs are pro-rated according to how many you buy. Two dollars for one, fifty cents after that. So if my math is right that would 5 for $4, and so on.
Some people buy a lot. A whole lot to increase their chances of winning one of these beauties.
Eleven cars were put on the block. No word on how many actually were able to be driven away.
Congratulations to Traveler second baseman Nate Sutton for his best offensive night of the year Friday night!
Nate knocked in all four of the team's runs in the 4-0 vicotry over Corpus Christi at Dickey-Stephens. His two run homer in the 2nd was his first home run since June 17, the last game of the first-half and the division clincher over Springfield.
Also congrats go out to LHP Danield Davidson, making just his third start since transferring out of the pen. Daniel, who was on a pitch count, mixed his pitches beautifully to earn the win. It was nice to see Davidson, the '07 opening day starter, pitch so effectively. He missed more than a year (5/07-6/08) because of shoulder surgery, and told me in June when he returned he was "feeling good, feeling really good." He said then, "I'm done hurting...that's all I care about." And it showed at a crucial time.
Davidson came in to relieve Fernando Rodriguez in the top of the third during that June 17th 1st-half championship clinching game. Rodriguez had gotten bombed, and Davidson's clutch relief performance for four and a third kept Arkansas in the game.
Davidson out of Florida State, had 94 career starts prior to this season. He has not given up a runin his three starts since his return.
Two final notes on Friday night's game. To say the Travs' leading hitter, Brian Stavisky, had trouble with the Hooks' starter's mid-90's fast ball is putting it mildly. Bud Norris struck Stavisky out three times on 10 pitches!
And a game time temperature of 72 degrees!Are you kidding me for mid-August?
Great line by Cubs' broadcaster and former World Champion manager, Bob Brenly on WGN. They were talking about bat boys and how what a baseball education they receive. Brenly, the Cubs' color analyst, piped in, "Yeah, and they also get an education in the dugout on alot of things kids that age shouldn't know!"
My roommate in college happened to be a fill-in bat boy for the Cubs in his youth. Here is a treasured picture he shared with me, taken when he was with the Cubs during spring training years ago.
Travelerocity hopes Traveler General Manager and former Texas League Executive of the Year, Pete Lavin, had a supreme 39th birthday, even though he didn't get to celebrate it with an Arkansas victory as the Travs fell 9-8 to Corpus Christi Wednesday night at Dickey-Stephens.
During the game which featured a combined 23 hits on only one error, Traveler slugging first baseman Mark Trumbo hit another mammoth home run that cleared everything in left field and sailed in to the night.
Trumbo now has six home runs and 15 RBI since joining the club from Class A Rancho Cucamonga last month. He entered last nights game against the Hooks batting .328.
It's hard to not like Cody Clark when you meet him. He's personable and approachable with an Arkansas good nature about him.
The 27 year old right hander is one of the catchers for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, the Texas League's newest member and the Class AA affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. And those circumstances are what got him in some hot water, so to speak this past spring right before the beginning of the season.
As the team was rolling out the red carpet showing off its brand new stadium, uniforms, and talking about the state's "newest" rivalry during a media day, one reporter decided to take it a little further.
Cody was sought out because he was an obvious choice on a subject that has a lot more to do with lifestyle than it does baseball. Commonly called "The Great Divide" the division between Central and Northwest Arkansas is no longer geographical but rather political and cultural and truly has become a source of "side-taking" in the state.
Republican vs. democrat; conservative vs. liberal; Razaorbacks vs. Great Stadium Debate; Wal-Mart new money vs. old State Capital money. And with the start of this baseball season came the latest chapter.
Enter Arkansas' newest minor league league baseball team, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in Springdale. Notice the name. Get it? Not the Springdale Naturals, but rather proudly and regionally defined as the "Northwest's" team. Playing in the Texas League's North Division along with the "Arkansas" Travelers, who have been called that for generations, the geographic and political rivalry was now transplanted to baseball.
So to get the rivalry really stirred up before the start of the historic '08 season featuring two Arkansas professional teams, what better player to talk to than one who has lived in both regions, and ask him some pretty opinionated questions unrelated to baseball.
Enter Cody Clark.
Born and raised in Fayetteville, Cody lived there until he was twenty, when in 2003 he transferred from the University of Arkansas' baseball program to Wichita State's. The Texas Rangers liked what they saw in the 6'2", 215 lb. catcher and made him an 11th round pick. He has since seen his career move from Texas, to the Braves, and now the Royals' organization.
He comes from a baseball family. His dad, Doug Clark, was an assistant and hitting coach for the Razorbacks for 26 years under legendary head coach, Norm DeBriyn. After DeBriyn retired, Cody's parents moved to Conway, where his father became head baseball coach at the University of Central Arkansas.
Cody also lives in Conway now during the off-season and except for an internship, is almost finished earning his degree at UCA.
And so when Marty Cook, the Northwest Arkansas sports writer for the Democrat-Gazette, approached Cody, he didn't just want to ask about the new baseball rivalry. The first line in his piece asked the rhetorical question, "Is Northwest Arkansas better than central Arkansas?" Notice too, that "Northwest" is capitalized, yet "central" is not. Not only is that grammatically incorrect, but a smug insult as well.
Now we're not talking baseball here, no. We're talking more serious stuff, and if he was speaking tongue in cheek, the quote he attributed to Cody next was pretty serious stuff as it turned out for Clark.
He said Cody "fired the first impish shot of the budding instate rivalry," and then came the quote.
"I had always heard that people in Northwest Arkansas think it is better than [central] Arkansas, and vice versa," said Clark smiling. "I moved to Conway and I can say, sure enough, Northwest Arkansas is better."
Needless to say that alleged quote raised eyebrows and offended some, especially in Central Arkansas when the story came out on April 2, the day before the Texas League season began.
I read the article then, and I wondered why Cody would say something like that, especially with his parents now entrenched in Central Arkansas. It just didn't make sense that a guy, who now lives in Conway where his parents live and his dad coaches baseball, would go on record with the state's largest newspaper and call that region of the state inferior to Northwest Arkansas. I wanted to find out the whole story, if there was one. Turns out...there was.
I first approached Cody before a Naturals/Travelers game during the recently completed series (8/1-8/4) at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock. I asked him point-blank how much criticism he had received after the article was published.
He was taken back by my question, but he seemed eager to readily discuss the issue. He said he had received "some" and went on to say he felt he had been "misquoted" and his comments taken out of context. He also said only a portion of his comments to the reporter had been used, and that if his comment had been used entirely, then it would have come out a lot different.
Clark needed to get to the field and as he left I decided to seek more.
The next night again before the ballgame, I told him I represented Travelerocity and would like to do an interview to set the record straight. He agreed. I could tell from the conversations the whole situation had really bothered him and he emphasized repeatedly he didn't want to start a controversy all over again, in fact it was the last thing he wanted. He just simply wanted a chance to tell his side. Travelerocity was glad to offer that chance.
For the next two nights until the series was over, we met after the games for the interview.
Q: Did you and your family receive a lot of criticism after the story came out right at the start of the season?
A: Well, I wouldn't say criticism, but I would say a lot of questions. My mom had a lot of questions, and then she called me and said, "Now why would you say that?" Kind of asking me because she'd gotten some questions about it, and I said "Well mom that's not what I said or that's definitely not what I meant to say, and it definitely came out wrong, and I didn't mean to say anything controversial."
Q: When we talked the other day, a couple of days ago, you felt you were misquoted and also what you said had been taken out of context.
A: Right, I felt like that I never said that Northwest Arkansas was definitely better than Central Arkansas or anything like that. I just was trying to make a point that Northwest Arkansas people think Northwest Arkansas is a better place to live and Central Arkansas people, who live in Central Arkansas think it's a better place to live. I never mentioned anything that I prefer Northwest Arkansas better.
Q: OK so if it had been done different, what do you wish he had done?
A: I wish he had just talked more about the rivalry and I wish he would have left out that I feel Northwest Arkansas is better, because I feel like I never once said that. I just wish he would have addressed more about the rivalry that's starting between these two teams.
Q: You feel like he misrepresented you?
A: Yes, exactly. That's a good way to put it. I feel like I was misrepresented in the article.
Q: You said yesterday, you wish he had printed the whole thing.
A: I certainly wish he would have printed the whole thing, and then I don't think we would have had any controversy.
Q: So you were misquoted?
A: I believe I was.
Q: (I read him the quote that was published) Did you really say that?
A: I can't remember what I exactly said, but that's definitely not what i was meaning to say. The point I was trying to say is that people in Northwest Arkansas think that it's better than Central Arkansas and vice versa. I didn't even mean to say that I thought it was better or I prefer Northwest Arkansas better or anything like that. I was just saying that the people in each part of Arkansas think it's better than the other part, so I would never come out and say I think Northwest Arkansas is better, because I've lived in both places and I would never say that. I mean I just wanted to put the whole thing behind me because my parents and I had been getting some flak about everything and I just appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight, in this you know....really.
For a complete look at the Democrat-Gazette article from 4/2/08 go to:
Billy Bob Thornton sat in with Mike Shannon and John Rooney for a few innings on Thursday's radio broadcast of the St. Louis Cardinals game with the other team from LA. When asked how he became such a big Cardinals fan, Thornton's answer was, "Everybody in Arkansas is a Cardinals fan because the Arkansas Travelers were the Cardinals' Double-A team."
While I would argue that everyone in Arkansas is a Cardinals fan because of KMOX and the Travs were more about capturing that fan base by becoming a Cardinals affiliate, I guess there are some people who got interested in the Cardinals from going to Ray Winder Field. Billy Bob Thornton is apparently one of them.
You are not going to hear anyone from Arkansas ever say they became a big Los Angeles Angels fan because of the Travs. This is what we are missing. Why was there no one out there who valued this affiliation as it was falling to pieces?
Add 1: While it is clear that the affiliation with the St. Louis Cardinals was ended on the Travs end first as Bill Valentine played get revenge on Walt Jocketty and shunned the idea of getting a new stadium (which by the way I will never believe was a mandate from the Cardinals), I still think the Cards would have eventually left once they were able to buy their own team in Springfield.
The Cardinals primary rationale for purchasing a team in Springfield was to lock in market share from that part of the state and lock out the Kansas City Royals from gaining any new fans in southwest Missouri. But, honestly, how in danger were the Cards of ever losing popularity to the Royals, one of the worst organizations in professional sports (and proud parent club to the NWA Naturals)?
In my view, and we will never know for sure what move the Cards would have made had they not been run out of my town by Travs management, it was a dumb move to think Springfield, where they were already selling tickets to fans driving to Busch Stadium, was more important for market share than Little Rock, where you had, emphasis on had, a whole state's worth of fans without a professional team of any sort to pull money from. Surely Bill DeWitt Jr. is not that dumb.
My first trip to Autozone Park
I have walked through Autozone Park in Memphis before, but I'd never been to a baseball game or any other event there until I attended the Dave Matthews Band concert in Memphis on Saturday. That is one beautiful ballpark with a big-city atmosphere. Don't get me wrong, I think Dickey-Stephens was done totally right (other than possibly building up so fans could see the river rather than down so that the place can flood easier), but I have to take Autozone in the debate as to which is better.
It sits perfectly in downtown Memphis, with people sitting on rooftops and looking through windows from the buildings beyond the outfield, kind of like at Wrigley. To add to that big-city feel, planes regularly fly overhead on their way to and from the airport, but unlike Shea Stadium they are high enough that they aren't terribly noisy. In short, the park is good about capturing the essence of Memphis, and the idea that you can watch the Cardinals Triple-A players there is enough to make me want to make that two-hour drive more often.
A storm erupted at Dickey-Stephens Park Sunday night, both overhead and on the field.
In the bottom of the seventh during a Coby Smith at bat, fans were startled to see both managers charge one another and get in a severe face-to-face shouting match while being separated by the umpires, who then ejected them.
The series of events unfolded when shouting could be heard between Traveler manager Bobby Magallanes, who was in the third base coaches box and Northwest Arkanasas Naturals manager Brian Poldberg, who was in the visitors dugout. The shouting escalated and then Poldberg ran on to the field and charged toward Magallanes, who appeared to have to be restrained by the umpires.
The argument went on for some time and no one really knew what happened.
Poldberg seen leaving the field was the first to be ejected, while Magallanes conituned to argue, then he was tossed.
After the game, although this is unoffical, several players said the argument stemmed from Traveler outfielder Coby Smith attempting to bunt late in the game while the team had a big lead, one of those unwritten baseball rule no-no's. Apparently Polderberg took exception to it, leading to the confrontation.
Despite the storm the game concluded without further incident and capped by another fine pitching performance by starter Amalio Diaz, who finally got some run support, the Travs' four game losing streak came to an end with a 5-0 victory. _______________________________________________________________________________________
Prior to the game the Traveler Baseball Club hosted an on field clinic for kids conducted in 100+ heat by the players. Talk about a long, hot day. But as the pictures show, a satisfying one.
After two outstanding performances by Northwest Arkansas pitchers Blake Johnson and Daniel Cortes on blow torch hot nights, the Travelers find themselves sinking deeper in to last place for the second-half as the season unwinds.
Johnson the Naturals #14 prospect and Cortes, the #2 prospect allowed only two runs between them on consecutive nights and Arkansas has now lost four in a row.
In fact the offensive drought was so bad for the Travelers, the team hadn't scored in 29 innings going back to the third inning of Wednesday night's contest against Springfield.
That scoreless streak was finally broken in the bottom of the 5th Saturday night when the Travs scored two, but that would be their only runs in a 5-2 loss.
And there was a very odd#29 connection when Arkansas finally ended its scoreless streak.
Brian Stavisky, #29, scored after 29 innings of goose eggs on a Nate Sutton triple, which was the 29thball hit in fair play during the game!
It was the hottest night of the season, and with the game time heat index hovering above 100 you could plainly see why they are called "fans."
There were two '08 "bests" in this observer's opinion on Saturday night at Dickey-Stephens.
In the bottom of the 8th, Naturals shortstop Mario Lisson made the best play I've seen this year. He went deep in the hole to grab a Corey Smith grounder, flipped it behind his back with only the glove to second baseman Marc Maddox to force Nate Sutton, then Maddox managed to throw out Smith for the double play. The throw was off-line, but first baseman Ed Lucas made a great catch to double Smith.
When asked Lisson said he "had never made a play like that behind the back with just the glove."
And as often seems the case a player, Lisson, leads off the next inning. But it just seems that way because of the perception of the play still being on your mind.
A marketing analysis actually studied the occurrence and discovered the player who made the "great play" only lead off the next at bat 12% of the time, which is 1-in-8 or a normal batting rotation. In otherwords, you just think it happens more.
The other "best" was the National Anthem sung by Muskogee Creek Nation (OK) Native American, E.C. Haynes.
Congratulations to Traveler outfielder and DH Brian Stavisky for being named The Texas League Player of the Week in a ceremony before the game.
Stavisky entered the game leading the Traveler's in hitting with a .321 average but had been in a mild slump going 0-12 in the home-stand while not playing the first game against Springfield. He broke out of it though in the bottom of the third with a single off Cortes.