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.

Waterloo Diamonds by Richard Panek: a short review

When Panek’s editor suggested that he write a book about the resurgence of the minor leagues, he decided the way to research that book was to learn a lot about the 1992 Waterloo Diamonds. The result was a very different book than his editor probably expected.

This book is almost entirely about how the Diamonds died. It’s a portrait of the owners, the team officers, and the city slowing coming to realize that the team was no longer viable, and of the efforts of a large number of people to stave off what was perhaps inevitable. It’s also an exploration of the causes of that death. Waterloo Diamonds is a wonderful, if sad, book, and its great strength is its sympathetic portraits of the principal characters. They didn’t all agree, and their differences are the drama. Excellent book; if you can find a copy I highly recommend it.


This short review was originally published on A Fan’s Guide to the Midwest League, and was later republished on LibraryThing

Revision History:

Lugnuts Notes: The Beloit Snappers

Four games at Pohlman Field in Beloit, Wisconsin.


The Snappers are affiliated with the Milwaukee Brewers and are locally (“community”) owned.

The National Association’s page [no longer available in that form] for the Snappers is typical of their efforts. Timothy Prentiss also offers a Snappers Page [gone]; perhaps you want to capture the team logo in several sizes here but the information on the page is obsolete. The Beloit Daily News [link was to old front page] covers the team on the web, as part of its other coverage. There’s a review of Pohlman Field on Dustin Schubert’s Single-A Ballparks page [do I need to repeat that I miss this site?].


The Snappers are managed by Luis Salazar (#3); his coaches are Bill Campbell and John Mallee.


The Ballpark

Harry Pohlman Field is a small field by any measure: It seats only about 3,100 fans and its dimensions are 325-380-325. There’s a picnic deck down the right field line. STATS says it favors power hitters but isn’t particularly a hitters park. It’s a cozy, suburban ballpark, built on the edge of town in 1981.

Directions: Leave I-90 at the Shopierre exit (81 West). Turn right at Cranston Road (the first light) to the ballpark. There’s limited free parking at the park, but lots of street parking nearby.


The Team

Statistics are thru Independence Day.


All-Stars: Mike Kinkade (3B), Peter Benny (P), Valerio de los Santos (P).


The Snappers finished fourth in the Central Division with a 31-35 (.470) record for the first half-season; they’re now in the division cellar at 5-9 (,357)–tied with Wisconsin, four games out of first.

Historically, the Brewers have fielded a small but extremely successful farm system. It’s “successful” in the sense that the teams win games and pennants; it’s less successful as a player development system. (This farm system is a topic for debate in some circles.) The team has long-standing relationships with the ownerships of all its farms. Those include the Snappers (easily our league’s best team in 1995 at 88-51/.633), the Helena Brewers of the (Rookie) Pioneer League (44-28/.611 for second of eight) and the Chandler Brewers of the (Rookie) Arizona League (34-22/.604, third of six). The position players for this year’s Snappers are drawn from both Rookie teams; the pitchers mostly played for Helena last season.

In general, this is a poor-hitting team. Third Baseman Mike Kinkade (.279-9-51; 65 runs, 14 steals) is an excellent hitter and general offensive threat. Second baseman Ryan Ritter is really quick; lots of triples and steals for this season. First baseman Kevin Noriega and outfielder Anthony Iapoce have good BAs, while outfielder David Elliott draws quite a few walks for no reason I can see.

The pitching resembles Lansing’s. Southpaw Valerio De los Santos is among the league’s leaders in wins (8) and is third in strikeouts (96). Righty Peter Benny has decent stats, but not to get excited about. Tony Pavlovich is being used as a closer, without great success; Darren Berninger, also being used in relief, has had some success with weaker stats. Lefty Jason Dawsey doesn’t seem to have a set role but does show promise; his strikeout pitch is effective.

joel


Revision History:

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

Pitchers

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

Catchers

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

Infielders

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

Outfielders

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

Revision History:

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.)


Revision History:

Lugnuts Notes: The Burlington Bees

Four home games against Burlington. The Famous Chicken will entertain us on Saturday night, while Tuesday’s game will have fireworks and be televised on WLNS (Lansing Channel 6).

The Bees are affiliated with the San Francisco Giants and owned by local residents.

Chuq Von Rospach, a Giants fan who also oversees the Internet’s Minor League Maillist, maintains a Bees webpage [gone, of course]. The National Association’s page [broken] is about like its other pages.

Sort of related: A 1994 photo essay by Jeff Schrier of the Saginaw News about Bees pitcher (and former Central Michigan University student) Aaron Knieper [link, sadly, gone] won a prize from the Michigan Press Photographers Association.


The Bees are managed by Glenn Tufts with coaches Keith Comstock and Juan Lopez.


The Ballpark

While I haven’t seen Community Field, it’s reputed to be an extremely cozy, 4,000 seat ballpark with the seats close to the action. The center field fence is extremely short at 370 feet. The wooden grandstand dates from 1970, and is downtown.


The Team

All-Stars: Don Denbow (OF), Santos Hernandez (P).


Statistics quoted include games through Thursday, June 27.

The Bees played at a .500 clip for the first half, winning and losing 34 games en route to a second-place finish in the Western Division of the league; the Bandits beat them by three games. They have fairly good pitching; they have fairly poor hitting.

The Giants get by with only two squads in the low minors; Burlington here in the MWL, and Bellingham in the Short-Season A Northwest League. Last year’s Bees were 54-81 (.400), which was not quite the worst in the league. The Bellingham team, at 43-33 (.566), finished second in their league. This year’s Bees are drawn from both teams, approximately equally.

Burlington has one excellent hitter this summer: Outfielder Don Denbow is hitting .293 with 16 homers, 53 runs scored, and 49 runs batted in. He runs well (13 steals, 2 triples) and hits for power; this is a dangerous hitter. First baseman Mark Gulseth is having a good season; outfielder Alex Morales has an interesting stat line with some excellent numbers and some awful ones. Third baseman Michael Sorrow is a real threat to steal; so are Denbow, Morales, and outfielder Bruce Thompson.

This team also has one excellent pitcher: Lorenzo Barcelo has 7 wins, a 2.13 ERA, and a good strikeout ratio. The pitching staff has a couple weak spots but is generally very solid; runs will be earned. Closer Santos Hernandez has 19 saves, to lead the league. Jim Stoops, also used in late relief, appears to have a wicked strikeout pitch and excellent control.

joel


Revision History:

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….

Revision History:

Lugnuts Notes: The Quad City (Davenport, Iowa) River Bandits

Four games at the Bandits, assuming they don’t get weathered out.


The Quad Cities are Moline and Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa. I like this team’s logo; it’s cute. The River Bandits play in Davenport’s John O’Donnell Stadium, reputed to be the most beautiful of all ballparks.

The Bandits are owned by Rick Holtzman, who owns several minor league baseball teams.

Fanlink’s River Bandits Page [gone] is excellent. The National Association’s page [link broken] is about like its other pages. The web has a photo of John O’Donnell Stadium provided by a Quad Cities advertising agency [photo gone], or maybe the Chamber of Commerce, and another by Gary Jarvis. There was a better photo than these in the Smithsonian exhibit at Lansing Mall in March; the place is beautiful.

A related weblink merits mention: The Astros’ assistant scouting director, David Rawnsley, writes a column for the ‘Stros website on issues related to Scouting and Player Development [another missing link]. Dave’s is one of my favorite websites; check it out.


The Bandit’s manager is Jim Pankovits, and the coaches are Don Alexander and Joe Pittman.


The Ballpark

Perhaps you remember pictures of a flooded ballpark during the 1993 Mississippi River floods; John O’Donnell was that ballpark. The ballpark is directly on the river and everyone says the view from the grandstand is tremendous. This is the league’s favorite ballpark. It’s also the ballpark with the most games postponed due to weather….

The park’s dimension are 340-390-340; long down the foul lines and short to center field. STATS Minor League Handbook tells me it’s a pitchers park; runs are hard to get. (But lots of doubles get hit.) Attendance at this park is generally excellent (average is close to 4,000, annually); before the new eastern ballparks, this team was the usual league leader.

Directions: Exit I-80 at the US-61 South exit, and follow to River Drive. John O’Donnell Stadium is at the corner of S Gaines St. and River. It’s at the Mississippi River, next to Centennial Bridge.


The Team

Statistics quoted include games played on Sunday.

The River Bandits won the Western division for the first half of the season. This is an excellent team with terrific hitting and very good pitching.

You can reasonably compare this team to the Whitecaps. It has some stars, but it wins more because it plays good baseball than because some few players carry the team. Like the Caps, it’s a fairly “old” team; a year or two of experience counts a lot when you’re young.

Last summer the Astros’ Short-Season A club at Auburn in the New York-Penn League finished 5th (of 14) teams with a 40-34 (.541) record. The Rookie GCL Astros went 32-26 (.552) to tie for eighth in their league. The position players for this year’s Bandits mainly got promoted from Auburn, with a few hold-overs from last year’s excellent QC team. The pitchers come variously from the GCL team, Auburn, the Bandits, and Kissimmee in the Florida State League (Class A; one step up from MWL); many pitched for two of these teams last year.

The team’s hitting .274 right now, and everyone is contributing. Catcher Ryan Coe is hitting at a .357 clip with 9 HRs; and Jason Adams (3B), Carlos Hernandez (2B), and Hassan Robinson (OF) are playing regularly and hitting well. Carlos Hernandez steals lots of bases; Chad Alexander is also fast and leads the team in RBIs. Everyone knocks in runs; everyone scores.

Pitcher Brian Sikorski’s very successful (6 wins, 2.53 ERA, 81 Ks). Also starting (and winning) are Freddy Garcia and Paul O’Malley. Michael Walter has 10 saves (and few earned runs) in 24 appearances.

joel


Revision History:

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.


Revision History: