Big Two of Atlantic League and American Association Give Independents Pair of 2,000,000 Draws
When the curtain drops on most every Independent league’s regular season schedule this Labor Day Weekend the one factor that will be increasingly clear is that two circuits have become dominant.
Look no further for proof than at the gate where the American Association and the Atlantic League give the non-major league-affiliated brand of the professional sport its first season when two leagues will finish above 2,000,000 in total attendance. Both likely will have record years, as well, although we will not know for certain about the Atlantic for another three weeks or so since its season does not end until September 23. The Frontier League is a solid third at about 1.5 million, and this 14-team operation which caters to younger professionals could well break its record of 1,503,220 in ’07.
The American Association dropped from 14 to 13 teams this season, but with the Laredo, TX coming on board with a new stadium attendance totaled 2,127,362 through Wednesday and with five days remaining the record set last season of 2,162,269 seems virtually certain to fall.
The Atlantic League benefitted by the addition of Sugar Land, TX, and is on pace to break its 2008 record of 2,208,734. The eight-team league, which plays a longer season at 140 games (the AA schedules 100 games), has already totaled 1,985,258 fans, with Sugar Land a virtual lock to have the best season count of nearly 460,000 and the top average crowd. The Skeeters have drawn 396,644 spectators, an average of 6,611, and have 10 home dates remaining.
Independent Baseball attendance will come very close to last season’s 6,426,849 by the time the final pitch has been thrown.
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Who Leads MLB Recall Possibilities?
Dylan Axelrod’s outstanding return to the Chicago White Sox Wednesday night could merely be the opening act for the roster of onetime Independent Baseball players active in the major leagues swelling significantly in the days ahead.
It is easy to pinpoint several other players who would seem to deserve the opportunity to show their ability at the top level as well as to draw a major league salary for a few weeks, although opening 40-man roster spots always plays into the decisions.
For starters, it would seem likely Indy original Tanner Scheppers (St. Paul, MN, American Association) would rejoin the Texas bullpen where the right-hander was 1-0, 2.45 in his last 10 outings (1-0, one save, 4.56 in 29 games overall) before being optioned to Round Rock, TX days ago.
Among other hurlers on the horizon, Toronto could well give a look to recent York, PA righty Shawn Hill, who has won nine of 10 decisions (4.46) in Triple-A since leaving the Revolution in June after a string of 27.2 scoreless innings. Tampa Bay might want Dane DeLaRosa to fortify its relief corps after his 19 saves (0-4, 2.89 with 82 strikeouts in 65.1 innings) at Durham, NC. DeLaRosa pitched for Southern Maryland (Waldorf) in the Atlantic as well as at El Paso, TX in the American Association and for four Golden League teams. Highly-regarded lefty James Paxton (Grand Prairie, TX, American Association) might get a call to Seattle, especially after going 5-1, 2.33 in the second half of his 20-start season at Jackson, TN (8-4, 3.05, with slightly more than a strikeout an inning all year).
For position players, veteran Felix Pie could give postseason-contending Atlanta outfield depth after his .283-5-47 performance along with 16 steals at Gwinnett, GA since leaving Camden, NJ (Atlantic) earlier this season. Minnesota might want to look at first baseman Chris Colabello (Worcester, MA and Nashua, NH, Can-Am League) after his breakout season in Double-A where he has been atop the Eastern League in runs batted in (95) for much of the season along with hitting 19 home runs and 37 doubles and lifting his average in the second half to .289. Kansas City might choose to do the same with versatile Indy original Anthony Seratelli (Windy City, Crestwood, IL., Frontier League), who has hit .306 with 17 round-trippers and 65 RBI plus 15 thefts for Triple-A Omaha.
The Chase to League Records
Josh Lowey of Wichita, KS not only broke the American Association record for victories this week when he shut down El Paso, TX 1-0, working seven innings of two-hit baseball for his 15th win, but he also leads all of Independent Baseball for the season (Jeff Duda, Quebec, Can-Am League has 14 victories). Last season’s Frontier League Pitcher of the Year (River City, O’Fallon, MO) had tied the mark in a 16-11 slugfest against the same opponent six days earlier.
On the long ball front, Rockland County, NY outfielder Keith Brachold had a two-homer game to move within two of Eddie Lantigua’s Can-Am record of 31 set with Quebec in ’05. Lantigua is Independent Baseball’s all-time home run king with 174. Brachold and Jose Vargas of Traverse City, MI (Frontier League) share the season homer lead for Indy players with 29 apiece, one ahead of Chad Cregar of Windy City (Crestwood, IL) in the Frontier League.
(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.)