Joel’s Lansing Lugnut Notes: an introduction

Although blogs hadn’t yet been invented, seventeen years ago I kept a Lansing Lugnuts weblog, which I called Joel’s Lansing Lugnut Notes. The 1996 Luggies were a new team. I began keeping the online journal because I’d been watching Midwest League (MWL) play for several summers and figured I had something to contribute to the Lansing discussion. As things worked out I did a writeup after each series, and composed a few other pages as inspiration struck. I plan to repost all of the weblog entries, and most of the other pages, to this journal over the next few months. Most will be posted 17 years to the day after they were originally written.

My MWL website, A Fan’s Guide to the Midwest League, was a spinoff from my Luggie journal. I’ve discussed this transition elsewhere on this blog, and will doubtless do so again.

Our Main Characters

Lansing’s team was (and remains) owned by the Chicago-based husband-and-wife team of Tom Dickson and Sherrie Myers. They’d purchased the Waterloo, Iowa, team after the 1993 season and moved it to Springfield, Illinois, when lease negotiations with the Waterloo city fathers broke down. This occurred shortly before play began in ’94. Early in 1995 they committed to move the team to Lansing, and we’d all been impatiently waiting for the team’s arrival.

In 1996 the Lugnuts’ general manager was Jim Weigel. The team’s on-field host was Jason Colthorp Michael Baird [see Jason’s comment, below], and Mike VanderWood (note the spelling change) was the Luggies’ radio voice

The original Lugnut team was a Kansas City Royals affiliate. The Royals assigned Brian Poldberg, a minor league lifer, to manage the team. Poldberg was assisted by hitting coach Curtis Wilkerson and pitching coach Mike Moore, both of whom were former major league players. Jeff Stevenson was the trainer.

Forty young players appeared on the field during Lansing’s team’s inaugural season. Seven of those players–Carlos Beltran, Carlos Febles, Kevin Hodges, Mark Quinn, Jose Santiago, Matt Treanor, and Jeff Wallace–eventually appeared in the majors. Beltran, of course, is nearing the end of what may be a Hall of Fame career, but played only briefly in Lansing. Treanor was still catching in 2012, though his prospects for playing this summer appear slim. But my story’s as much about the other guys, all of whom will be able to tell their grandkids they played professional ball.

I will, of course, also mention (and sometimes discuss) other 1996 Midwest League players as their (remembered) teams pass through Olds Park. In retrospect the big names were David Ortiz (Big Papi was going by Arias, not Ortiz, in 1996) and A.J. Pierzynski. In 1996, of course, it was by no means clear who would become major league stars. Frankly, I didn’t care. I still don’t, for that matter.

My Plan

Since I’m already a few entries behind, I plan to catch up to today-seventeen-years-back over the next few days. Thereafter I plan to post entries in time-delayed real time. I expect to post most of those exactly as I originally wrote them, even when I said something obviously stupid (I’ll likely add some hyperlinks–and either delete or fix some broken links). It’s also likely that I’ll add some commentary in each entry’s first comment.

How I plan to publicize postings:

  • I’ll list new entries in the first comment on this page. You could bookmark it, and check from time to time.
  • You could bookmark this Lugnuts Notes directory page, and occasionally check there for new listings. The difference between this option and the “comment” option is the descriptions.
  • I’ll create link-back pages on this blog pointing to the new (back-dated) entry every time I post something. The link-back pages will be temporary, as I plan to delete each as the next link-back is posted.
  • I’ll mention the new entries on Facebook, which of course will only notify my FB friends. I’ll do the same on my Google+ page, which is a bit more public.
  • I’ll mention the new entries on my Twitter feed.

I expect this to be fun, and I’m looking forward to the feedback. Thanks for reading.

The Baseball Thesaurus by Jesse Goldberg-Strassler: a short review

For a book that’s basically a long list, this one is surprisingly readable. Goldberg-Strassler, who’s the radio voice of the Lansing Lugnuts, tells us he began compiling this book when he noticed he kept repeating the same phrases to describe the action on the field. That he’s shared the list with us is a delight.

Each entry begins with a simple list of alternatives, usually ending with one or more Spanish equivalents. If there are obvious sub-categories–Pitch, for instance, gets diced in several dimensions–the list offers equivalents for each type. Similarly, words like Win get split to reflect that different substitutions are appropriate in different contexts. And many entries include lists, labeled SPECIFIC, which show variants which reflect diverse roles or situations.

This isn’t simply a list of words and their alternatives. The author doesn’t limit himself to providing alternatives. There are explanations of some of the more obscure word substitutes, illustrative examples of some of the more colorful phrases, and the occasional (sometimes vaguely related) yarn. Jesse tells stories for a living; he’s not going to refrain from the habit. Like all good sports announcers, the author collects anecdotes and uses them well.

There are certainly things to quibble about. I was hoping for an entry discussing Coach; there is none. I’d have included kick under * complain about an umpire’s call. Some of the alternatives are likely too obscure to be useful (LOOGY–lefty one-out guy, which I think is a John Sickles coinage–comes to mind).

An excellent book, in all; informative and entertaining, and certainly worth a few hours of your time. And it’s a good basis for a hot stove discussion.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

A Fan’s Guide Farewell

I’m no longer maintaining I stopped working on the site in March, when my project-driven job got out of hand, but I made the end official last week.

A Fan’s Guide to the Midwest League was born early in 1996 late in 1995 as a Lansing Lugnuts weblog. The Luggies were new to Lansing, and I was hearing and reading nonsensical things about how the team and the Midwest League operated. My object was education; I wanted to explain what was going on. I’d been following minor league baseball in The Sporting News since the early 1960s and in Baseball America for over a decade, so I had a firm basic understanding of the ground rules. I’d been watching Midwest League games since the South Bend expansion, and had a feel for the realities of low-minor-league baseball. An incidental, and intended, side effect of the blogging project was that I learned to code text in HTML, something that seemed worth mastering.

Around mid-season I knew I wouldn’t continue the blog far past the end of the season; indeed, I’d decided to move my fan loyalties back to Battle Creek’s team. I mentioned this to Joanne Gerstner, who was covering the Lugnuts for the Lansing State Journal; she asked what I’d do instead. I said I’d probably build something about Midwest League history. Off such offhand responses, sometimes, are commitments made. I spent the winter laying the groundwork for the refocused MWL website.

In the mid-nineties all web designers were cowboys. There were no standards, and few examples to follow. I looked around and found no-one–literally, no-one–building a website anything like the one I had in mind. So I laid out a basic framework, and started assembling pages to fit the design. For a while that construction was pretty much catch-as-can, because I didn’t want to build a bunch of contentless shell pages. But an early project was to define a basic year/team/affiliate page and fill in the necessary information to meet a minimum spec. While I’m still not entirely satisfied with that solution, it filled a real need; you can find a fairly complete history for the league within the website.

Circumstance, not intention, forced an emphasis on the current season. When I started building the website, there was no unified coverage of Midwest League baseball on the web. In fact, there was little coverage of individual teams, as relatively few local newspapers had any serious web presence before, roughly, 1999. Baseball America and Minor League Baseball took years of experimentation to figure out how to do what needed done. While I enjoyed writing scouting reports on the teams, they were an enormous drain on my time. Their quality reflects that.

The site’s basic structure has worn well. I’ve worked backwards through League history, with some side projects to cover topics which don’t fit well in what is essentially a chronological structure. There are many gaps I’d like to fill, but I’m not going to get to those.

Emails often made my day. I heard from fans, from past and present players, from team radio voices, from former and would-be player girlfriends, from executives, from prospective team owners, from newspaper reporters. Over the years I received thousands of notes on a vast array of topics. A Danville fan told me about the joy of watching Butch McCord in his prime. One writer told about his mother boarding black players in Decatur. Another filled me in on a former player’s troubled life after baseball. A batboy told about his continuing friendships with players who’d shared the Dubuque dugout. Pat Neshek wrote me a delightful note after his MWL summer. Bob Sprout thanked me for writing up his remarkable season, as did Bob Lawrence for his; both were reminded of lost friends. The best email I ever received was from a kind lady in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, who told me in detail how her family became unintentional hosts to a gentle giant named Juan Salazar, and fell in love.

A few final thank yous, for valued support, to Jon Mielke, Rich Hanson, Paul DuBois, Al Seeger, Jeff Yeo, and David Malamut, all of whom I’ve thanked before. Tim Rask, Brad Seward, Howie Magner, and Scott Sailor deserve special mention. A small host of others have encouraged me over the years. Couldn’t have done this without your help.

All that to say: Goodbye. It’s been fun. It’s time I did something else. See you at the ballyard.

Edit 3/10/2013: I located my archived copy of the original website the other day and discovered I’d written–and posted–two or three pages I’d forgotten. My first post turned out to be dated October 26, 1995.

Cooley Stadium!

The Lansing State Journal reports this morning that Lansing-based Thomas M. Cooley Law School, the nation’s largest, has purchased naming rights for what has heretofore been Oldsmobile Park. Maybe they’ll replace all the chrome decorations with dark wood panelling….

Seriously, though, this makes sense. Cooley’s got a stake not just in Lansing, but in the immediate neighborhood; perhaps they’ll find some synergies and certainly the school cares about the vicinity. And if Cooley Law wants to use the ball team to advertise, why is that worse than an insurance company or a hospital? Or a car manufacturer, for that matter?

Thomas Cooley was a member of the Michigan Supreme Court for a couple decades, immediately after the Civil War; after his court tenure, he was appointed the first chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887. I encountered his name occasionally in another life while studying nineteenth century business practices, and nearly everyone says he personally gave the Michigan Supreme Court its dignity–our state was, after all, quite young during his term.

Knowing my political opinions, I’m reasonably certain I’d not have liked the man had I been his contemporary, but he’s an important figure in Michigan history.

My preferred name for Lansing’s ballyard would be The REO Diamond. But it’s not gonna happen.


After a fairly long break–I’d only been to a pair of games in three weeks–the baseball will be fast & furious for the next fortnight.

Went to Fifth Third Ballpark last night to watch the Whitecaps host the Lugnuts.  It was a silly ballgame.  Lansing won by a 10-6 score and the game was actually less close than the score suggests.  Lansing second baseman Robinson Chirinos was the game’s star–he needed a triple for a cycle in his last AB, but that didn’t work out; all the same, he had three hits, seven total bases, & four ribbies. Needless to say, no one pitched very well; Carlos Marmol got the win, but not because of his own efforts.  The most interesting thing about the game was that relatively few balls were hit on the ground.

West Michigan’s 5/3 BP is not what I’d call a charming yard–really it’s just a big bowl–but it’s a comfortable place.  Kinda like an old sofa.  The Caps don’t really do things differently from the other successful minor league organizations, but they work harder on the ballpark ambiance.  Lansing, in a more interesting ballyard and with a similarly excellent staff, produces a harder-edged experience that’s more exciting but less cozy.  In Battle Creek, the ballpark layout and the small crowds force a focus on the game, which works well for me but less well for the business.  That I think all three are worthwhile should be pretty obvious.

Opening Day

Battle Creek’s Chase Wright pitched well, and looks impressive, but threw too many pitches and was visibly tired by the fifth.  Regardless, Sean Marshall, a lanky guy with some apparent potential, pitched a better game.  The most interesting thing seen was Lansing’s Clay Rapada, who is a radical sidewinder; don’t remember seeing a southpaw throw like that before.  Lansing’s Kyle Boyer had a fine day at the plate.

The Yanks were pretty sloppy in the field, particularly late in the game. 

 A good crowd, by Battle Creek standards.  Noisy, and very much in the game.

A box score, courtesy of ScorePad, a product I can recommend. Drew Larsen’s last name is mispelled, as is Brian Dopirak’s; there may be other errors….

  CO Brown, Thursday, April 08, 2004

Final 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Lansing Lugnuts 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 0 3 9 0
Battle Creek Yankees 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 2
W: S. Marshall, L: C. Wright, S: W. O’Brien
Ryan Fitzgerald cf 4 0 1 1 0 1
Robinson Chirinos 2b 4 0 1 0 1 2
Brian Dropirak 1b 5 1 1 0 0 3
Andrew Larson dh 4 0 0 1 0 1
Kevin Collins lf 3 0 1 0 0 1
Tony McQuade lf 1 0 0 0 0 1
Jake Fox c 4 1 0 0 0 1
Kyle Boyer rf 4 1 4 1 0 0
Alfredo Francisco 3b 3 0 0 0 1 1
Carlos Rojas ss 3 0 1 0 0 0
Sean Marshall p 0 0 0 0 0 0
Clay Rapada p 0 0 0 0 0 0
Randy Wells p 0 0 0 0 0 0
Weston O’Brien p 0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 35 3 9 3 2 11
2B: B. Dropirak (Wright)
S: C. Rojas
SF: A. Larson; R. Fitzgerald
RBI: R. Fitzgerald, A. Larson, K. Boyer
2-out RBI: K. Boyer
Scoring position: 1 for 7
Team LOB: 10
DP: Chirinos Dropirak (Made off Marshall)
Pitcher IP H R ER BB SO HR
S. Marshall (W) 6.0 3 0 0 0 7 0
C. Rapada 1.0 1 0 0 0 3 0
R. Wells 1.0 0 0 0 1 1 0
W. O’Brien (S) 1.0 0 0 0 1 1 0
Totals 9.0 4 0 0 2 12 0
WP: C. Rapada
Pitches-strikes: S. Marshall 60-49; C. Rapada 19-14; R. Wells 14-9; W. O’Brien 16-10
Ground balls-fly balls: S. Marshall 9-3; C. Rapada 0-0; R. Wells 0-1; W. O’Brien 1-1
Batters faced: S. Marshall 20; C. Rapada 5; R. Wells 4; W. O’Brien 4
Melky Cabrera cf 4 0 1 0 0 1
Hector Made ss 4 0 0 0 0 2
Eric Duncan 3b 4 0 0 0 0 2
Erold Andrus lf 3 0 1 0 1 0
Bryce Kartler dh 3 0 0 0 0 3
Omir Santos c 4 0 1 0 0 1
Estee Harris rf 3 0 0 0 0 1
Luis Robles 1b 2 0 0 0 0 1
Willie Vasquez 0 0 0 0 1 0
John Urick 1b 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rafael Rodriguez 2b 3 0 1 0 0 1
Chase Wright p 0 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Harmsen p 0 0 0 0 0 0
Steven Wiseman p 0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 30 0 4 0 2 12
GIDP: H. Made
Scoring position: 0 for 2
Team LOB: 6
E: E. Duncan, E. Harris
Pitcher IP H R ER BB SO HR
C. Wright (L) 6.0 5 1 1 0 6 0
B. Harmsen 2.0 2 2 1 2 2 0
S. Wiseman 1.0 2 0 0 0 3 0
Totals 9.0 9 3 2 2 11 0
WP: C. Wright
HBP: B. Kartler (by Rapada)
Pitches-strikes: C. Wright 85-61; B. Harmsen 34-21; S. Wiseman 20-14
Ground balls-fly balls: C. Wright 5-6; B. Harmsen 2-2; S. Wiseman 0-0
Batters faced: C. Wright 24; B. Harmsen 11; S. Wiseman 5
Game Stats

Umpires: Clint Mahan, Mark Ripperger
Time: 02:20
Attendance: 1360
Weather: Fair 45

Lugnuts Notes: Series at South Bend Silver Hawks

July 3 to July 4

  • Lugnuts 2 games, Hawks 0 games
  • Lugnuts are 8-6 (.571)
  • Tied with the Whitecaps for first place, one game ahead of Michigan and Fort Wayne
  • Thorn threw a complete game on Tuesday
  • Tim Grieve’s been reassigned to Wilmington

Tuesday’s was the fourth consecutive excellent game; Wednesday, while less than perfect, was an easy win. Thorn’s CG was 99 pitches, according to pitch chart (I sat behind the gun again).

Turns out Grieve was in Lansing on a rehab assignment. Nothing against that, but I always imagined the first Lugnut to get a promotion would be someone I’ve seen enough to appreciate. Oh, well; player development counts more than my expectations.

Additional note on Grieve: Tim’s brother, Ben, is a highly-regarded prospect in the Oakland organization; he played the first half of last season for the Whitecaps. Their father Tom was once a major leaguer and is the former GM of the Texas Rangers.

Cepeda hit a home run in South Bend, his first as a professional. The crowd didn’t properly appreciate it, of course, but the Lugnut players were delighted, and astonished. He’s been hitting really well since mid-season.

Spokane Indians Roster

Just some sketchy information. I’ll do the same with GCL team soon.

Coaching Staff

Manager: Bob Herold
Coaches: Jeff Garber & Buster Keeton


Alonzo Aguilar      1995 draft; East Los Angeles JC; 1995 GCL Royals
Brandon Baird (LH)  1996 draft; Wichita State
Jamie Burton (LH)   1995 GCL Royals
Enrique Calero      1996 draft; St Thomas
Jake Chapman (LH)   1996 draft; St Joseph's
Steve Huesten       1996 draft (round 10); California State
  (I've got references to this player with his name spelled three ways....)
Aaron Lineweaver    1996 draft; Dallas Baptist
Scott Mullen (LH)   1996 draft (round 7); Dallas Baptist
Taylor Myers        1996 draft (round 2); Green Valley HS (Henderson, NV)
Donald Quigley      1996 draft; Sonoma State
Allen Sanders       1995 draft (round 7); Lee (TX) JC; 1995 GCL Royals; 1995 Spokane
Craig Sanders       1995 draft; University of Nebraska; 1995 Spokane; 1996 Lansing
Jason Simontacchi   1996 draft; Albertsons College
Ethan Stein         1996 draft; North Carolina
Modesto Villarreal  1995 Spokane; 1996 Lansing


Roman Escamilla     1996 draft; Texas
Juan Robles         1995 GCL Royals; 1995 Spokane; 1996 Lansing


First Base
Jason Layne (LH)    
Kit Pellow          1996 draft; Arkansas
Second Base
Kenderick Moore     
Third Base
Courtney Arrollado  
Kris Didion         1996 draft; Riverside CA
Eric Sees           1996 draft; Stanford
Brett Taft          1996 draft; Alabama


Carlos Beltran (SH) 1995 draft (round 2); Arroyo PR; 1995 GCL Royals; 1996 Lansing
Brandon Berger      1996 draft; Eastern Kentucky
Jeremy Giambi (LH)  1996 draft (round 6); California State
Scott Harp          1996 draft; Dallas Baptist
Rick Pitts (SH)     1995 GCL Royals; 1996 Lansing

Designated Hitters

Doug Blosser (LH)   1995 draft (round 3); Sarasota FL; 1995 GCL Royals; 1996 Lansing
Tony Miranda        1995 draft; Cal State Fullerton; 1995 Spokane

Lugnuts Notes: Series at home against Burlington Bees

June 29 to July 2

  • Bees 3 games, Lugnuts 1 game
  • Lugnuts are 6-6 (.500)
  • Tied for second place, one game out; division standings are Whitecaps at 7-5 (.583) and everyone else at 6-6.
  • Juan Rocha’s the Lugnuts Player of the Month for June

Saturday was awful; the Bees didn’t deserve a win but our guys didn’t want one. Then three terrific games, but only one win to show for the effort. [Carlos] Paredes looked very good on Tuesday, and [Jeff] Wallace looked unhittable on Sunday. But then we went to the relief staff, with the usual results.

Blaine Mull’s still our best pitcher, and among the best in the league. Since he’s still here, perhaps they intend to leave him.

Rocha deserves the prize. He’s having a splendid season.

Someone asks why the Royals sent [Doug] Blosser and [Carlos] Beltran down as they recovered from injuries, but [Brett] Schafer stays (and plays). This move isn’t as silly as it looks: Lansing needs a fifth outfielder, and that outfielder’s not going to be Beltran. Schafer’s as good a choice as any of the new signees, so he stays.

Since the Royals have Beltran and Blosser pegged as potential big-league stars, they want them someplace they’ll play every day. They don’t think of Schafer that way, so every day isn’t a concern. Filling the Lugnut roster is a concern; he stays. (As always: I’m guessing. But this isn’t a difficult situation to decipher.)

Lugnuts Notes: Series at Quad City River Bandits

June 24: Off Day

June 25 to 28

  • Lugnuts 2 games, Bandits 2 games
  • Lugnuts are 5-3 (.625)
  • Second place, one game behind the Whitecaps, tied with the Battle Cats
  • Mull pitched a complete game
  • Catcher Doug Murray has been added to the roster

The last game looks like a disaster. The others showed promise, though.

Doug Murray, our new catcher, is reportedly a brand-new free-agent hire from Northwestern University. I don’t know anything about him.

Now that they’ve successfully trained Pat Hallmark to play center field, they’ve moved him back to catcher. Doesn’t make sense to me, unless KC thinks his future’s as a utility player. But that’s a really strange utility player. I hope this experiment is temporary.

Blaine Mull’s complete game was the team’s first, and leaves only the Whitecaps without at least one CG this season. In this league, you need three things to get a complete game: A pitcher capable of completing a game, a manager willing to let him finish, and a pitch limit high enough to make it. Our guys seem to be on tight pitch limits. (Oakland’s farm at West Michigan gets about one complete game per year because of really extreme pitch limits set by the farm system; their only CG in 1994 was a 69-pitch seven-inning game.)

Lots of roster switches lately, and almost certainly more to come. We get to learn some new players, and see how the team starts to fit together. In some ways, this is the most interesting time to watch the Midwest League; entire teams change character, and sometimes the reason is obvious. It can be glorious. Or it can be frustrating.

I received a note from a Spokane fan that said Juan Robles hit his first professional home run the other day.

Garden’s doing nicely, thank you. Daylilies have opened, or at least started, and one (exactly one) of the traditional lilies is also open. The weather’s even being civil, more or less.

And there’s a hummingbird eating just outside the bedroom window. You should see Butterscotch watch, all tense and excited….

Lugnuts Notes: Series at home against Wisconsin Timber Rattlers

June 20 thru 23

  • Lugnuts 3 games, Rattlers 1 game
  • Lugnuts are 3-1 (.750)
  • First place, one game ahead of the Whitecaps, the Silver Hawks, and the Battle Cats
  • Tim Grieve and Jose Amado have been assigned to the Lugnuts
  • Modesto Villarreal, Juan Robles and Carlos Beltran have been reassigned to Spokane; among others, they join former Lugnuts Rick Pitts and Craig Sanders

New (half-)season; new attitude. Let’s hope this lasts.

Amado was traded to the Kansas City organization by the Mariners during the course of Friday’s game; the Rattlers benched him at that point and the next day he switched sides of the field. He’s a Midwest League All-Star, a third baseman with power. The intention seems to be to use him at DH and let Cepeda continue to practice those long throws to first.

Grieve pitched at Eugene, then a Kansas City farm in the Short-Season A Northwest League, during the 1994 season. He was probably the best pitcher in the league; 7-1, 1.55 in 58 innings. I presume he was hurt last season, because I can’t find any evidence that he played professional baseball.

Water & Light's Lugnut

While I was gone, BWL put up their Lugnut smokestack decoration across from the ballpark.

Olds Park will host next season’s Midwest League All-Star game. Can’t say I’m surprised; the last few have been played in new ballparks during the stadium’s second season. Obviously this is policy.