More Independent Baseball Personalities Prove Success Can Come From Anywhere
When one looks up the word SUCCESS in the dictionary there is absolutely zero indication of pedigree or size or background being a requirement in order to reach this coveted stature. Of course it does not hurt to come from a long gene pool of standout athletes or to be 6-foot-5 or to be considered best-of-breed when your career begins.
The lack of fitting into a favorable mold in order to succeed was driven home several times in recent days as I followed the developing stories of Blake Gailen, Darren Bush and Mickey Callaway, all of whom have taken sizeable steps toward baseball glory. Forgive me, if I have overlooked anyone.
Gailen is a baseball giant at somewhere between 5-foot-8 and 5-foot-10 compared to Eddie Stanky or Phil Rizzuto or Fred Patek and has won back-to-back Independent league batting championships after starting out at one of the lower outposts, the one-and-done South Coast League. Bush and Callaway have worked their way up the ranks after putting in Indy time, and have been rewarded with first-time major league coaching jobs. These are their stories.
Two-Time Batting Champ Gailen Could Succeed ‘If Given a Chance’
Blake Gailen’s newest opportunity—his second with a major league organization—is in the Colorado Rockies system where he has been told he could start anywhere from a High Class A league to Triple-A.
Could the 27-year-old reach the major leagues, I asked Butch Hobson, his manager this summer at Lancaster, PA, where the left-hander hit a career-high 22 home runs while driving in 89 runs and hitting .338 to become both batting champion and Player of the Year in the Atlantic League? “If given a chance,” was Hobson’s quick reply, who went on to praise the Californian as “a very intense offensive player” with “a great eye” and pointed out he “probably had 12 to 15 assists” while playing leftfield but also could man center.
Gailen has earned praise wherever he has gone since leaving UNLV in ’07 where he was better known for his pitching despite his size. “He wasn’t the hitter then that he is now,” his first professional manager, Kash Beauchamp, told Baseball America when it selected the under-sized Gailen as its Independent League Player of the Year. “In 2007, he was a guy that I thought ‘I have to have on my team because of the attitude he sets.’” Gailen hit .365 in 42 games when he and Beauchamp were together at Anderson, SC of the South Coast League.
He advanced to hit .355 and .387 for Chico, CA (Golden League) as well as to play for Wichita, KS and Lincoln, NE in the American Association, with a batting championship (.406) for the Saltdogs one summer ago.
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From Indy Player and Manager to Oakland Bullpen for Bush
Oakland’s newly-named bullpen coach has been managing in the Athletics’ system since ’07, but Darren Bush got both his playing and managerial careers started in Independent Baseball. He was an outfielder and occasional catcher at Zanesville, OH and Springfield, IL for three seasons in the Frontier League, and when his affiliated career topped out in Class A three seasons later he put in a brief stint at Yuba-Sutter (Marysville, CA) of the Western League in ’02. The very next year Bush, only 29 at the time, got his initial managing job in the Northeast League (Berkshire, Pittsfield, MA) and one year later won a divisional championship with Quebec in the same league.
‘Love of Game’ Impressed New Indians Pitching Coach
Mickey Callaway’s new opportunity comes as Terry Francona’s pitching coach at Cleveland, but when I tracked him down in Memphis, TN Thursday I found out that while his Independent days were limited to 2008 when he was a player-coach under Dan Shwam at Laredo, TX (United League in those days, American Association now) he came away impressed.
The baseball was what he called “pure”, and the players “were there because they loved the game”, recalled Callaway, who had major league stints in five seasons (1999, 2001-04), compiling a 4-11 record in 40 appearances before surrendering to elbow surgery and time in Korea and Taiwan.
It Was Not Easy for Hobson to Shake Off This Season
While Butch Hobson says he can usually shake off a loss fairly quickly, “it took me a few days” to put the 2012 season behind him after his Lancaster (PA) Barnstormers lost the Atlantic League championship in the final inning of Game 5 of the championship series to Long Island, NY.
“It was a really special group of guys,” the veteran manager said Thursday, and he had taken a rare step (for him) of promising a championship to the fans. One aspect of his life no doubt helped erase the disappointment faster after the Barnstormers had established a league record for victories. That was getting home to Bakersfield, CA to pitch daily batting practice to son Noah, a 6-foot-3 high school sophomore who has decided to concentrate on baseball and basketball. Butch and Noah had taken about a 17-hour round-trip junket last weekend to watch another son, Hank, a sophomore linebacker at the University of Arizona, as the Wildcats upset powerful Southern Cal, 39-36. This is not a one-time venture into football for the Hobson clan since both Butch and his father, Clell, Sr., played quarterback at Alabama.
(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.)