Willie Upshaw Already Has a Significant Major League Resume, But Bridgeport Skipper Longs for Chance to Lead a Team
Willie Upshaw’s post-playing-days reputation as both a major and minor league hitting guru seems unchallenged and he enjoys the opportunity to be near his home in Fairfield, CT, but he is much like those he manages in the Atlantic League in that he wants a different job.
“I get pigeonholed as a hitting coach”, the Bridgeport (CT) Bluefish manager admitted. “(But) I’d like to manage in the major leagues. “I like to have my hands in all phases of the game.”
He had one interview for a major league managing job (Toronto), but that was some time back. His resume is strong enough for more people to pay attention with 11 seasons and 1,264 games as a first baseman-outfielder for the Blue Jays and Cleveland, six more years as a coach with three major league teams plus seven years managing Bridgeport over two separate stints with one championship, every one of his full seasons resulting in a winning record and two Manager of the Year selections (1998 and 2010).
The 55-year-old Upshaw’s biggest booster may be his current boss, Bluefish General Manager Bob Goughan, who likes to say “Willie can take a .250 hitter and turn him into a .300 hitter”. Goughan knows a thing or two about baseball, too, with about 25 years as a Triple-A GM and three Executive of the Year honors at that level before he took the Bridgeport job three years ago.
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Another Surge in Player Sales
The major leagues have not been shy about purchasing players from Independent leagues again this season with 27 such events that we can account for since teams broke from spring training with 13 of them in the last two and a half weeks, including two each from Fargo, ND (American Association) and Bridgeport (Atlantic League). This does not even include a trio of former big leaguers who have been in the non-affiliated ranks but were free agents this time around. St. Louis added lefty Clay Zavada (Southern Illinois, Frontier League), Boston inked right-hander Mark Prior (Orange County, Golden League) and the Los Angeles Angels signed outfielder Cory Aldridge (Newark, NJ before the Bears left the Atlantic League for the Can-Am).
Nava, Valdes Continue to Represent Independents Well in Majors
Daniel Nava and Raul Valdes are continuing to be among the best newsmakers from the Independent ranks in the major leagues.
Nava (Chico, CA, Golden League) has played every one of the 20 games in leftfield for injury-depleted Boston since his early May elevation from Triple-A. “He has played so well,” Manager Bobby Valentine told NESN.com. “He’s got the best on-base percentage on the team during this short period (.432)”, said Valentine, who put the switch-hitter at the top of the Red Sox batting order this week. “I was reluctant to do it earlier. I wanted him to get his feet wet at the major league level.” Nava was to take a .279 average (two homers, 15 RBI, solid defense) into what the Bosox hope will be a four-game sweep after Thursday night’s game against Detroit.
Valdes (New Jersey Jackals and Nashua, NH, Can-Am League) had not given up any runs until touched up for a three-run ninth inning in an easy Philadelphia win Wednesday night. It was his eighth major league outing this season. The 34-year-old southpaw still has a 3.00 ERA and two wins while striking out 11 hitters and only walking one in his nine innings of work. The superb control has to be sweet music for Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel.
(This is an excerpt from the column Bob Wirz writes year round on Independent Baseball. Fans may subscribe for 2012 at reduced rates 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.)