Look No Further Than 67 Victories Posted by Pitchers To See How Independent Baseball Contributed to 2012 Major League Season
Major league baseball does not get any better than it is in October when it is keeping us glued to our seats on a daily basis, but in order to reach this plateau it seems necessary to spend some time looking back on the last six months to see the role products of the Independent game have played in reaching this autumn crescendo.
Start with the fact 17 pitchers who started in or have played in the non-affiliated leagues earned no less than a combined 67 victories, and if we add in the 20 triumphs of onetime Atlantic League (Camden, NJ) trainee Jered Weaver the total would virtually get a team to the postseason. St. Louis and Detroit both had 88-win seasons.
Thirty-two Indy players, including two who were there this very summer, got to experience the thrill—and the financial reward—of playing in the majors in 2012. That count was down from last season’s record of 40, but nonetheless made a significant contribution from a segment of the baseball world that started 20 seasons ago (1993) facing long-shot odds of survival.
Some of the Indy players had already firmly established their major league credentials prior to this year, and that count was supplemented by numerous others who figure to be around for years to come, so long as they stay healthy. The leader of that pact might well be onetime bartender and adult softball star Tom Wilhelmsen, who saved 29 games (in 34 opportunities) and won four others while establishing himself as the closer of an up-and-coming team in Seattle only three years after re-starting his pro career in Tucson, AZ (Golden League). Wilhelmsen had a 2.50 ERA in 73 appearances and struck out 87 hitters in 79.1 innings.
The relief pitching corps is both deep and talented as proven by Steve Delabar (Brockton, MA, Can-Am League, and Florence, KY, Frontier League), a combined 4-3, two saves, 3.82 with Seattle and Toronto along with stunning numbers that included only 46 hits allowed and 92 strikeouts in a mere 66 innings, a resurrected Josh Kinney (River City, O’Fallon, MO, Frontier) with the Mariners, first-year rookie Tanner Scheppers (St. Paul, MN), American Association) with postseason-bound Texas and late-season bloomer Brandon Kintzler (St. Paul and Winnipeg, the latter then in the Northern League) with Milwaukee. Kinney and Scheppers both got their professional start in Independent Baseball.
The two who went from the Indy ranks to the majors during the ’12 season, outfielder Lew Ford (Long Island, NY, Atlantic) with Baltimore and right-hander Shawn Hill (York, PA, Atlantic) with Toronto, both in comeback mode, surely will get looks next spring.
Scherzer, Drew in MLB Postseason Picture
The two grads most likely to make major contributions in the big-league postseason both started their professional journey in Independent leagues.
Max Scherzer, who came out of the American Association (Fort Worth, TX), is one of Detroit’s strong starters after winning 16 times this season (16-7, 3.74) and striking out 231 (187.2 innings). Stephen Drew (Camden, NJ, Atlantic League) is the regular shortstop and No. 2 hitter for the suddenly heroic American League West champion Oakland Athletics.
* * * *
ANXIOUS FOR MORE INDEPENDENT BASEBALL COVERAGE?
We Have It at www.IndyBaseballChatter.com
* * * *
Days Are Busy for Atlantic League Boss Boulton
Should anyone think the offseason is take-a-rest time, a visit with Atlantic League Founder Frank Boulton might change that opinion.
Boulton has his attention divided among his plan for a feeder league for the 15-year-old circuit, plus “monitoring” developments which may find the league getting a franchise near Washington, DC by 2014, and planning trips to Texas to continue the search for companion teams to the 2012 runaway success in Sugar Land, TX, all while his initial team, the Long Island Ducks, compete for this year’s championship.
“I can’t give you a (startup) date,” Boulton said of what he calls Atlantic League Professional Baseball Two, although he expects a decision by about year’s end and confirmed “I’ve gone to a few markets where I’ve been invited.” Those cities are believed to include Brockton, MA, now in a college league after leaving the Can-Am League, and Atlantic City, NJ. “I think there is momentum”, he said, for the league that would go after recent college players and those less experienced than in the Atlantic.
The Loudoun Hounds have been back in the news because the team’s owners, VIP Sports & Entertainment, appear near a deal to build a 5,500-seat stadium in a planned community in Ashburn, VA, not far from a previous location near Dulles Airport. “It is a great site,” praised Boulton. “The other one was as well.” Rezoning appears to be the next step, which could allow construction to start by spring.
NHL’s Bergeron Involved at Trois-Rivieres
A second celebrity owner is involved in the new Can-Am League franchise in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec. In addition to former relief pitching ace Eric Gagne, Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, a native of Trois-Rivieres, is part of the group owning the new team. Bergeron has played for six different teams in his nine-year National Hockey League career.
(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.)