Pan American Gold for Team USA May Depend On Continued Work of Atlantic Leaguer Andy Van Hekken
Despite all of its world-wide baseball success, including the Olympic Games, the United States has not won a gold medal in the Pan American Games in 44 years (1967). Team USA set off its latest bid to capture the title as we were putting this column together Thursday, and if it is to be successful over the next several days in Lagos de Moreno, Mexico, much of the burden seems certain to fall on the shoulders of at least one former Independent Baseball standout.
Southpaw Andy Van Hekken, who spent the lion’s share of 2006-2008 with the Somerset (NJ) Patriots of the Atlantic League, was given the chore of holding the Dominican Republic bats in check in the initial game at Pan American Stadium. He came through big time, allowing only a single in the first five innings, had a six-hitter with no earned runs through seven while using a stingy 84 pitches, and Team USA led, 14-2. If the 32-year-old Van Hekken needs late-inning relief it could come from another Independent veteran, Scott Patterson.
They earned the right to be ace and closer, respectively, in the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) World Cup in Panama, with Van Hekken allowing only one earned run in 14 innings (0.64) of two starts and Patterson saving two games during a team-leading six mound appearances as the USA earned a share of the bronze medal.
“This (event) has more of an Olympic feel,” Van Hekken said via telephone before boarding the team bus from practice Wednesday. But the time in Panama also was impressive for the 14-year pro, who is experiencing the pride of representing his country for the first time. “There is a playoff atmosphere every time you pitch,” the Holland, MI native and resident said.
Patterson, also 32, had brief major league time with the New York Yankees and San Diego after starting his pro journey in the Frontier League in 2002-04 and three stints with Lancaster, PA of the Atlantic League. The third Indy grad on the team that does not include any major league 40-man roster players is left-handed reliever Randy Williams (Edinburg, TX, Central League). Williams got a save at the IBAF, but also took a loss and gave up three earned runs in 3.1 innings.
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FOR ADDITIONAL INDEPENDENT BASEBALL COVERAGE
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Scouts: Are You Listening?
Independent Baseball continues to be a good source for major league scouting departments as evidenced by the fact 40 former players made their way onto the 30 American and National League rosters this summer and well over 80 others signed for affiliated minor league rosters, so it is baffling that only one player from Baseball America’s “top 10 prospects” list has had his contract purchased.
Baseball America limits its choices to players 25 and under, too.
The only one sold (so far) is outfielder Jake Rife, who was listed at No. 6. Rife, a left-handed outfielder, hit .343 with 13 homers, 71 RBI and 24 steals for Chico, CA of the North American League, and was only picked up by Atlanta after he was traded to Lincoln, NE of the American Association.
North American MVP Wants Another Chance
North American League Most Valuable Player Todd Linden is another talent still on the market even though he accomplished what he says was a preseason goal of proving he still has all of the skills at 31 that made him a major leaguer for 270 games for the San Francisco Giants from 2003-2007.
“I wanted to put the age-thing to rest so it wasn’t an excuse,” he told The Kitsap Sun in his home state of Washington. “I wanted to make sure I was in good shape and running well.” A career high of 23 stolen bases was one of the prideful achievements for the switch-hitting outfielder, who hit .355 with 14 homers and 79 runs batted in while leading the Edmonton (Alberta) Capitals to the NAL title.
(This is an excerpt from the column Bob Wirz writes year round on Independent Baseball. Fans may subscribe at www.WirzandAssociates.com, enjoy his blogs, www.AtlanticLeagueBaseball.com and www.IndyBaseballChatter.com, or comment to RWirz@aol.com. The author has 16 years of major league baseball public relations experience with Kansas City and as spokesman for two Commissioners and lives in Stratford, CT.)