Eddy Rodriguez’s First At-Bat Homer Tough to Top Although New Leadership at Newark Makes a Statement
For every pitch during nearly three and a half hours (3:28), the game had every bit the look of the final game in a championship series. The lead changed hands three times and the game was tied on four occasions. Play was crisp throughout with 25 hits and 15 runs. And the winning run scored on the only error as the runner hustled home from second base when a low throw could only be knocked down at first base. Some 4,000 noisy summertime campers were among the 4,683 fans on a mostly beautiful late morning and early afternoon.
Baseball at its edge-of-the-seat best.
This particular Can-Am League game in tree-lined and picturesque Rockland County, NY probably should not have meant so much even though the home-standing Boulders are fighting for a playoff spot. The visiting Newark (NJ) Bears are buried in the second division with a struggling 21-50 record and have just lost their manager, Ken Oberkfell, for the season because of physical problems.
Guess who won? The Bears, of course, because this is baseball where the predictable seldom carries the day and hustle pays off.
Newark eeked out the win because shortstop Mike Richard, who earlier had hustled his way to third base with an RBI double and an aggressive steal as the Bears overcame an early 3-0 deficit, never quit running from second base when a teammate’s eighth inning grounder was misplayed even though the ball never left the infield.
The important postscript, which I daresay very few, including some in the press box, did not know that this was the first game ever of leadership above the high school level for new Newark Manager Chuck Stewart. Stewart had a four-year professional career as a catcher at the Class A level in the Chicago Cubs’ system, and walked into the new job when longtime major leaguer Oberkfell liked what saw in the Pompton Lakes, NJ native, and abruptly asked him to become the team’s third base coach. Oberkfell managed his last game Tuesday night, and mere hours later, after one more commuter trip back to Newark for the team, it was Manager Chuck Stewart, wearing uniform #11 and showing his encouragement at every step to the roster so depleted half of its players are rookies.
Stewart is not new to baseball, mind you. The Port St. Lucie, FL resident was head coach at Lincoln Park Academy in nearby Fort Pierce until recently, compiling a 116-110 record and winning district championships the last three seasons (four overall in nine years).
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Latest Indy Grad to Majors Homers in First At-Bat
Lightening struck again for an Independent Baseball player this afternoon (Thursday) when catcher Eddy Rodriguez, only two years removed from the American Association (Sioux Falls, SD), hit the fourth pitch he saw as a major leaguer into the left-center field stands in Cincinnati for the first home run the Reds’ Johnny Cueto has given up since May 25.
It was a 416-foot blast to start San Diego on a comeback effort from a six-run deficit, and the first homer in an Indy player’s major league debut since Daniel Nava hammered his very first pitch for Boston in 2010. A fan tossed the ball back onto the field, so Rodriguez now has a great souvenir. The catcher also grounded out, struck out and walked in the 9-4 loss.
Ironically, Rodriguez played his first three seasons after a college career at Miami (Florida) in the Cincinnati farm system, then started anew with full seasons in El Paso, TX (also American Association) in ’09 and a record 63-win season for Sioux Falls the next summer.
The 26-year-old, who was a non-roster invitee to the Padres’ major league spring training camp, was playing in Class A when he got his promotion, a rarity in itself. And it was another former Indy catcher who made it to the majors, Lake Elsinore, CA skipper Shawn Wooten, who told Rodriguez he was going to the major leagues.
Lew Ford’s Return to Bigs Adds Excitement
Lew Ford (Baltimore) joined Eddy Rodriguez in making it a very memorable week for Indy grads in the major leagues. While they are the 170th and 171st players to make this climb, in records maintained exclusively by the Independent Baseball Insider, Craig Breslow (New Jersey Jackals, Northeast League) and Steve Delabar (Brockton, MA, Can-Am League, and Florence, KY, Frontier League) also were part of the major trade-deadline shuffle of rosters. Relief pitchers, Breslow went from Arizona to Boston and Delabar from Seattle to Toronto.
Ford’s story rivals that of Rodriguez for excitement in that the 35-year-old outfielder (he turns 36 on August 12) did not expect to get back to the majors, where he had logged 494 games with Minnesota before tumbling out of the big time after 2007. “Did I ever think I was going to get back here? No,” he told Newsday.
Ford played parts of the ’09, ’11 and ’12 seasons with the Long Island (NY) Ducks (Atlantic League), and joins a short list of players who have gotten to the majors in the same season in which they were in an Independent league. Jerome Williams did it one year ago in starting with Lancaster, PA (Atlantic League) and ending up with the Los Angeles Angels, where he still is pitching.
(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 with Kansas City and as spokesman for two Commissioners and lives in Stratford, CT.)