February 8, 2023

Dodgers Likely Candidate to Acquire More Independent Talent Because of Vance Lovelace’s Affection for the Game

December 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

While they would not have been anywhere near the top of my list of major league organizations likely to be signing Independent Baseball players in the recent past, the Los Angeles Dodgers could well be prime candidates for the future.

There is a simple reason. A 6-foot-5 reason in the person of onetime major league first round draft choice Vance Lovelace, who recently was promoted to Director of Pro Scouting as well as special advisor to General Manager Ned Colletti for the National League team.

Lovelace’s last two teams in a pro pitching career that spanned 18 years (1981-98) were in what then was the Northeast League. He hurled for the Catskill (NY) Cougars and pitched as well as serving as pitching coach for the New Jersey Jackals (Little Falls), the latter now in the Can-Am League.

When I caught up with Lovelace via telephone from his Tampa, FL home this week, he talked about his Independent experience in a revered sense, calling it “the grass roots of baseball. (I saw) guys with the pure love of the game; you find some guys (there) with talent and determination.”

Lovelace, now 46, did not go to the Northeast League with any set plan for the future, but that experience seemed to prime his enthusiasm pump and get him prepared so that when Dodgers assistant GM Bill Geivett (now in a similar position with Colorado) found an opportunity to offer his former teammate at Class A Palm Springs, CA a scouting job he jumped at it.

Lovelace had returned from pitching in Taiwan, and was working for a liquor distributorship in 1997 when his buddy from Tampa’s Hillsborough High School, Floyd Youmans, was pitching coach for Catskill, working under Wally Backman. “I missed the game,” Lovelace admitted, so Youmans did not have to beg to see if anything was left in the southpaw arm which had gotten him brief major league stints with California and Seattle from 1988-90.

Not much was left, as the combined 1-10 record for Catskill and New Jersey show. But it ignited the new career with the Dodgers. “The experience in Independent Baseball was very good,” he said. “It helped me tremendously.”

Colletti talks much more openly about Lovelace’s value.

“Vance Lovelace approaches every day with this organization with more passion and pride and determination than anybody I’ve been around in the organization,” the general manager told MLB.com writer Ken Gurnick when the promotion was announced during the recent winter meetings. He also praised the job Lovelace and special assistant Toney Howell did as they compiled and delivered the scouting report before the Dodgers swept the Chicago Cubs in this fall’s National League Division Series.

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Big Bat, But Steep Climb to Yankees

It is not easy for a career minor leaguer to squeeze his way onto a $200-million payroll like the New York Yankees have, although fleet outfielder Justin Christian and pitchers Edwar Ramirez and Scott Patterson are a trio of Independent players who have accomplished this feat in the last couple of seasons.

Jon Weber, a 5-foot-10 outfielder who will play at 32 next season, is doing the best he can to make the Yankees think of him after signing with the team as a free agent this offseason. The left-handed hitter cracked two homers and two doubles in a Mexican Pacific League game Wednesday, lifting his average to .394, and trailing only free agent Sandy Madera’s .403. Weber, who played in the Frontier League (Canton, OH) in 2001 and Northern League (Fargo, ND) in 2002-03 and again in 2007, had a strong spring training as a non-roster player for Tampa Bay in March, then cracked 46 doubles (.302-14-69) for the Rays’ Triple-A club at Durham, NC and still did not get a big league call.

Golden, Northern Leagues in a New Relationship

News that the Northern and Golden Leagues are teaming up for All-Star Games the next two seasons will bring continuing attention, and both leagues have confirmed to this corner that they having on-going discussions of other ways they may be able to work together.

The range of talks, one or both parties confirmed, include possible inter-league or postseason play, bulk purchases and cross-league sponsorships. Geography always hampers the reality of overall championship series within overall Independent ranks, but all eight leagues might benefit from savings if they would work together on business-side transactions.

We have not seen any official announcement, but the Golden League seems to be dropping the designated hitter next season. “The offense in the league was a bit ridiculous and the games were getting too long,” Victoria (British Columbia) Seals President and Co-owner Darren Parker told The Victoria Times Colonist newspaper. “That (designated hitter) changes the chemistry of the game, so I was surprised the vote was nearly unanimous”, Parker said upon returning from the Golden League meetings in Indianapolis.

More Cities on Continental League Radar

Continental League leaders Ron Baron and Bob Ibach still may come up with eight teams although one or two probably will not have a fulltime home stadium. New Iberia, LA and Tyler, TX may emerge to join the Las Cruces, NM franchise that was announced earlier. The league says it is studying interest from cities in Colorado and Idaho, but that really stretches the footprint for this league that continues to stress a team can operate for around $200,000.

(This is an excerpt from the column Bob Wirz writes on Independent Baseball. Fans may subscribe 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.)

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