Brendan Sagara mug Life in the Minors

Brendan Sagara

Sunday, August 1, 2004

Opportunity knocks
for 1 teammate

Life got rather exciting for us with the Springfield-Ozark Ducks this past week.

With the usual thrills associated with professional baseball, being in a work environment that allows us the elation and frustration of winning and losing each day, we had the added joy of learning that one of our players was moving up in the world.

Deep asleep and no doubt dreaming about winning the lottery or pitching a no-hitter in game seven of the World Series or something, I was abruptly awakened by a series of early morning phone calls at around, well, 11 a.m. this past Monday. Of course, I didn't answer.

When the first call came in, I tried in vain to find my way to the end of the bed near the phone, but could not get untangled from the sheets quickly enough. I pulled the covers over my head to hide from the second call when it came in about 30 seconds later, and contemplated pulling the phone out of the wall during the third and final call, which followed the second by a good 15 seconds.

After all, having finally drifted off to sleep at 4 am or so, I was rather upset to be awakened four whole hours before our team bus was scheduled to leave for T.R. Hughes Stadium where we were to play the River City Rascals.

A few minutes passed before I was able to regain my composure and re-attain an acceptable sleep position. Just as I began to doze off a loud, thundering series of thuds awoke me. I thought it was the hotel maid asking if I needed any service today, so like any other grown man, I covered my ears with pillows and ignored the knocks.

The knocking, however, was coming from our manager, Greg Tagert, who, knowing my sleep patterns, felt the need to identify himself as if that would make a difference.

Of course, it did. As I peeked through the peep hole just to make sure that it was indeed him and not a hotel maid with an uncanny talent for voice impersonations, I unlocked the dead bolt and let Tagert in. A true morning person, Tagert, in his usual excitable mood made fun of me for sleeping in so late, and then proclaimed that the New York Yankees had called to acquire our closer Randy Vanderplow to assign him to their Single-A Midwest League affiliate in Battle Creek, Mich.

Having spent five years in the Frontier League as a player and now coach, I have seen many players receive the call to make the move up the professional baseball ladder. As an independent league, Frontier League clubs have no Major League parent team. Instead, the league consists of 12 teams that employ 24 players apiece, who are property of the team and not the New York Mets or Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Frontier League is heavily scouted by Major League scouts and is considered to be at the Single-A level of competition by many. With a working agreement with Major League Baseball regarding player acquisitions, the league has had over 250 players and coaches move into the affiliated baseball ranks in the past few years.

A number of players I came to know in the Frontier League have gone on to success with Major League organizations. Dustin Delucchi, our left fielder with the Dubois County Dragons in 2001, is hitting just under .300 and was selected to the Texas League All-Star game with the Seattle Mariners' Double-A affiliate in San Antonio. Our third baseman from that season, Pichi Balet, is now slugging it out for the Colorado Rockies affiliate in the California League.

In 2002, Adam Olow and Josh Tranum were scooped up by the Chicago White Sox and San Diego Padres, respectively. Last year, one of our relievers with the Kenosha Mammoths, Matt Wilhite, was signed by the Angels organization, and ended the year closing out some games in Double-A.

The ladder from the Frontier League to the Major Leagues has been ascended by a number of players, including a former teammate of mine from the Evansville Otters, George Sherrill, who was called up by the Seattle Mariners last week for his Major League debut. With 26 more alumni in Triple-A and Double-A, it is possible that a few more may be completing the journey soon.

This year, one of the signings was Vanderplow. With nine saves, a 2.-something ERA, 33 strikeouts in 22.1 innings and a devastating spike curve we worked on in spring training, he earned a spot in the league's midseason All-Star game, and now was on his way to suit up for the Battle Creek Yankees.

Vanderplow's journey to stardom has been quite similar to another pitcher we came across in 2001. Like Vanderplow, Matt Hampton pitched at the University of Washington and was used sparingly by the Huskies. Like Vanderplow, Hampton was quite talented and just needed an opportunity to develop as a pitcher. After spending spring training of 2001 with us in Dubois County, Hampton overcame injury problems to earn a shot with the Padres organization, and is currently relieving for the Triple-A affiliate in Portland.

We are hoping that with this opportunity and some luck, Vanderplow will be able to enjoy similar success as he makes his way up the ranks. While his departure leaves us with big shoes to fill at the back of our bullpen, we were all glad to see one of our guys get the call.

While the call came as quite a shock to Vanderplow, it made us all remember one important fact of life. When opportunity knocks you have to answer the door. Even if you think it's just the hotel maid.

Brendan Sagara, a former University of Hawaii-Hilo pitcher, is in his first season as pitching coach with the Springfield-Ozark (Mo.) Ducks.


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