Blakely has wild season
with independents

The independent leagues are kept happy and their rosters full because of the desire of players to stay in pro ball with the hope that a team in organized baseball will take note.

Ten players with Hawaii ties took this route last summer.

Darren Blakely (Hawaii) went to spring training with San Diego, but the Padres were loaded with outfielders. When the domino effect hit, he was asked to go to extended spring training.

"I didn't want to do that because you don't get paid. I asked for my release and went home," Blakely said.

He eventually signed with the New Jersey Jackals of the Northeast League. Blakely was a key player, hitting .312 with 18 doubles, three triples, eight homers and 38 RBIs as the Jackals won the first-half South Division title.

"The brass in New Jersey thought they were the New York Yankees and got rid of a lot of players, upsetting everything we had going for us," Blakely said. "I asked to be traded."

He was traded the Brockton (Mass.) Rox.

"When I left, I told my Jackals manager I hoped I'd be on a team that played New Jersey in the playoffs. I told him we would whip their ass," Blakely said. "That's what we did and it made my season."

Blakely then won a championship when the Rox swept North Shore 3-0 in the title series.

"Overall, it's been a good year. The numbers are good, but it's independent ball. I want to hook up with a team in organized baseball next year," Blakely said.

Aaron Pribble (Hawaii) also won a championship when the Jackson (Miss.) Senators won the Central League crown.

The left-hander began the season with the San Angelo (Texas) Colts in the same league, but developed arm trouble. He strained the flexor mass, the muscle that connects the forearm to the elbow. He was released and went home to California to rest. Healthy again, he signed with Jackson on July 23.

"It was good to get a ring. I've never experienced that before," Pribble said. "I felt I was getting back to where I want to be (at season's end). Jackson retained my rights and I plan to give baseball another shot next year. I'm also still interested in going to law school."

Patrick Scalabrini (Hawaii), released by the Chicago Cubs during spring training, signed with the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the Northern League for his third pro season in independent ball.

"The Cubs barely looked at me; I don't know why the signed me," Scalabrini said.

The former Rainbow third baseman was a fixture at second base for Winnipeg. He really caught fire in August, hitting .354 to help the Goldeyes capture the Eastern Division second-half title by seven games.

"I felt like I had a tough season. I was on the disabled list for a couple of weeks with a pulled left oblique muscle and it bothered me to swing," Scalabrini said. "I was player of month in August and that kind of saved my season. I was kind of pissed at myself up to that point.

"I think this is my last season playing. I'm going to go home, get a haircut and get a real job."

Scalabrini finished with a .300 average, clubbed 28 doubles that tied him for the league lead, and had four homers and 45 RBIs.

Gabe Memmert (Punahou, Maine) started out as the hitting coach for the Kenosha (Wis.) Mammoths in the Frontier League. He was released from his duties there because of philosophical difference with manager Greg Tagert and eventually signed with San Angelo in the Central League.

"I decided I was still good enough to play. I did well after not working out for so long and not having spring training," Memmert said.

In the Colts' final 26 games, the first baseman hit .277.

Bryce Uegawachi (Kaiser, Hawaii Pacific) started real slow and took a long time getting comfortable at the plate and in the field with the Kenosha Mammoths of the Frontier League.

When Hawaii-Hilo alumnus Brendan Sagara was hired by the Mammoths after Memmert was released, things improved for Uegawachi.

"I want to go back for one more year. If you take that 1-for-23 away, it wasn't too bad. It could have been worse," Uegawachi said.

He started the season with one hit in his first 23 at bats, then went 18-for-57 (.316) the rest of the season.

Mark Okano (Aiea, New Mexico) had an interesting if not strange summer in his quest to play ball.

He went to spring training with the Coastal Bend (Texas) Aviators of the Central League, was released, but signed with the Tecate (Mexico) Cerveceros of the Arizona-Mexico League.

An outfielder, Okano got off to a fast start, hitting .417 in seven games. Then, the owner of Tecate had to bail out the owner of another team and had no money to pay his players.

"He couldn't pay our contracts, so I left and played in a semi-pro, wood bat league in San Diego," Okano said.

"It was a heart-breaker because I finally I got in on a team. It was a good taste while it lasted. I want to play again next year and will hook on wherever. I just want to play."

Michael Tejada (Kamehameha, Brigham Young), a catcher starting his fourth pro season, was released by the Colorado Rockies during spring training.

Tejada signed with the North Shore (Lynn, Mass.) Spirit of the Northeast League and was enjoying a solid season when he left the team in early August for personal reasons.

At the time, he was hitting .306 with nine doubles, six home runs and 23 RBIs.

Tom Ford (Hawaii-Hilo) signed with the Lincoln (Neb.) Saltdogs of the Northern League after being released by the Baltimore Orioles during spring training.

The left-hander was 4-4 with a 5.12 earned run average the third week of July, then won six consecutive games to end the season at 10-4 with a 3.78 ERA.

Justin Hall (St. Anthony, Long Beach State) joined the St. Paul Saints in the Northern League this year. Despite batting second in the lineup, he was among the league leaders in runs batted in until sidelined for three weeks with a sprained ankle.

Hall, in his sixth year of playing for pay, knocked in 47 runs and finished with a .310 batting average.

Key Voshell (Hawaii, Louisville) played second base for the Richmond (Ind.) Roosters in the Frontier League. Because of roster rules, this was the last season he could play in the Frontier League.

Voshell hit .262, his lowest batting average in five seasons with Richmond, but had 12 doubles, three homers and was successful on 11 of 12 stolen base attempts.


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