At 23 and 5-Foot-6, ‘Veteran’ Independent Umpire Takes His Talent to Affiliated Baseball
Kevin Winn couldn’t be blamed if he popped a few pride buttons these days with three of the umpires he has supervised working major league spring training games and half of the 10-man umpire contingent in the Class A California League coming out of the American Association, but I found him this week largely singing the praises of an undersized find from a showcase in Grand Prairie, TX, who will get his first affiliated assignment in one of the short-season leagues any day now at the age of 23.
The umpire supervisor—he also serves the Can-Am League—said Rich Grassa was “one of the most youthful (umpires) I’ve ever seen” when as a 19-year-old in 2009 he earned an opportunity in the American Association. You could tell he had some natural ability. He has an infectious personality; everybody loves him.”
After three years in the American Association, Winn made the Lindenhurst (NY) High School product a crew chief in the Can-Am League last year. “By the end of the season, I felt I had earned the respect of most of the players (in the league),” Grassa said, which is pretty darn good for the recent Adelphi University physical education graduate who stands all of 5-foot-6 and weighs “a buck fifty”.
Meanwhile, the cherished call to work major league games could come any day for former Can-Am umpires Will Little and Adam Hamari who have met the prerequisites of working in both the Arizona Fall League and spring training games and have received their official numbers indicating they are now qualified for the big time. Former Association arbiter Nick Bailey also worked exhibition games.
Stars Like Vladimir Guerrero Draw Attention to Ducks
The Atlantic League is full of storylines with its opening night games which usher in the Independent Baseball season only a week away (April 18), including the 2010-11 champion York (PA) Revolution building a team under new skipper Mark Mason with at least 13 former major league players, Lancaster, PA re-loading with the stars who came within one game of the ’12 championship and Sugar Land, TX giving some hope its second season may be just as intriguing as its crowd-pleasing inaugural year.
Still, the defending champion Long Island (NY) Ducks have a lock on the early-season intrigue because they have loaded up with star power, starting with 2004 American League Most Valuable Player Vladimir Guerrero. His playmates, who will make the home clubhouse at Citibank Park seem much like that of the neighboring New York Mets, include ’03 National League Rookie of the Year Dontrelle Willis and 13-year major league veteran catcher Ramon Castro, who caught Mark Buehrle’s perfect game five years ago. The Ducks also have all-league standouts Dan Lyons (shortstop) and Ray Navarrete (utility) returning.
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Colabello Stays Hot, Named Batter of Week
Chris Colabello still has his foot on the accelerator. The longtime Can-Am League star (mostly with Worcester, MA) was Batter of the Week in the International League for his first (abbreviated) week in Triple-A. The first baseman-designated hitter’s average has “slipped” all the way to .455 after six games (10-for-22) with an attention-getting .538 on-base percentage, three homers, four RBI and seven runs scored for Rochester, NY, Minnesota’s top farm club.
Nava’s Fortunes Still Climbing
The season is too early to draw long-term conclusions, but there is no mistaking that Daniel Nava, who likely would not be playing professional baseball if not for the onetime Golden League (Chico, CA) after he grew—literally and figuratively—from his student manager days in college, is improving his fortunes day by day with the Boston Red Sox.
The switch-hitter, formerly much better from the left side, is now contributing as a right-hander as well, resulting in DH, first base and leftfield play for the improved Red Sox, and he leads the team with gaudy batting (.467) and on-base (.571) averages even though he has been in only five of their eight games. The 30-year-old has yet to strike out and has three home runs among his seven hits (seven RBI), the most notable a three-run round-tripper—a bomb some called it—which led to a 3-1 home-opener win.
“Yeah, it (his first home opener in Boston) was definitely all that it was cranked up to be, that’s for sure,” he told ESPNBoston.com. “Opening Day is a special experience to begin with, and for me it’s special just with the journey and stuff I’ve taken.”
By BOB DUTTON The Kansas City Star
(This is an excerpt from the column Bob Wirz writes year round on Independent Baseball. Forty columns are planned during 2013. Fans may subscribe at www.WirzandAssociates.com, enjoy added stories on the 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.)