‘It Feels Really Good’ to Be Back on Diamond After Four Years Away for Fit-Looking Shea Hillenbrand
One of the more improbable of comeback attempts is that of two-time major league all-star Shea Hillenbrand, who averaged just over 85 runs batted in for his first four full seasons (’02-05 with Boston, Arizona and Toronto) before falling out of any level of affiliated baseball five years ago. He did log 36 games (.340) with York in 2008.
“I hadn’t touched a baseball in four years,” the fit-looking Hillenbrand, who turns 37 Friday, told me in the Bridgeport, CT clubhouse, where he is trying to rebuild a life, if not his major league career. He said the “love of the game” and being in the “low spot in life” brought him back.
“It feels really good,” said the onetime third base standout, who lost some 30 pounds (to 200-205) through diet and supplements. “You can’t replicate the feeling you get on the field. I’m not here to make it (back to the majors), he said, while also stating he always thought the years between 35 and 40 would be his best “because mentally you are more mature. I want to help and be of service.”
The 6-foot-1 Hillenbrand, who lives in Glendale, AZ, emphasizes one of the best parts of his new opportunity, even though it was not planned, is being reunited with Bluefish Manager Willie Upshaw, his hitting coach for the last 60 games of ’06 with San Francisco.
“This is a Godsend to be with Willie,” he emphasized, before adding the postscript that Barry Bonds said Upshaw was the best hitting coach he ever had. While he has hit two home runs, it should not be surprising Hillenbrand has strugged to a .156 batting average (7-for-45) in his first 13 games of the comeback.
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San Rafael Star Has 37-Game Hitting Streak
The all-time record modern day Independent Baseball hitting streak is in serious jeopardy with a veteran of five non-affiliated leagues over a seven-year period in pursuit.
Outfielder Maikel Jova of the San Rafael (CA) Pacifics has assembled a 37-game streak in the North American League. The only mark better in the 20 seasons of Indy play is 40 consecutive games, a mark set by outfielder Jason James of Rockford, IL in the Frontier League in 2009.
The irony is Jova’s batting average has actually slipped in recent games. He was hitting .400 as recently as 15 games ago, and now leads the NAL with a .380 average, which goes along with his six home runs and 39 runs batted in. The only game in which the 31-year-old did not hit safely was the season opener on June 4.
Jova, a right-handed hitter, had a career-high .358 average for Yuma, AZ (Golden League) in ’08. He split last season between Lincoln, NE (American Association) and Lake County (Zion, IL, NAL) and also has played for Sussex (Augusta, NJ, Can-Am League), Joliet, IL (when it was in the Northern League) and Chico, CA (Golden).
Quebec’s Duda 10-0, ‘Triple Crown’ Leader
Quebec right-hander Jeff Duda has put himself in position for an accomplishment that might even rival the day he struck out 17 batters in the Little League World Series in 1998 which led to an opportunity to meet his hero, Roger Clemens.
Duda, now in his third professional season at the age of 26, won his Can-Am League-leading 10th consecutive victory (10-0) with seven shutout innings of a 5-0 interleague game at Winnipeg Thursday and continues to lead in every triple crown category for pitchers. He lowered his earned run average to 2.09 and struck out nine hitters to increase his league-leading total to 82 in 77.2 innings for the pacesetting Capitales. He has walked only 14. Duda is now 16-0 in two seasons for Quebec. He was 4-3 for Victoria, BC (Golden League) in his professional debut in 2010. The husky hurler was the losing pitcher for Langley, BC in the International Final of the World Series, but he and his teammates were honored before a game in Toronto and Clemens autographed a jersey for Duda. Both wore uniform number 21.
(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 blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com, or comment to RWirz@aol.com. The author has 16 years of major league baseball public relations experience withKansas City and as spokesman for two Commissioners and lives inStratford,CT.)