International League news and notes

February 24, 2005 - International League (IL)

News Release

BROWN TO DEFEND CROWN: The Buffalo Bisons will be fortunate enough to have the 2004 International League Manager of the Year Marty Brown back to lead the team in 2005. By guiding the Herd to the IL North Division Title and the Governors' Cup Championship in 2004, Brown was also awarded Baseball America's Minor League Manager of the Year. This year, Brown will be joined by Hitting Coach Felix Fermin and Pitching Coach Ken Rowe.

STAYING STRONG: The 2005 Buffalo Bisons have resigned several free agents that were part of the 2004 Governors' Cup Champion team. All-Star designated hitter Ernie Young rejoins the team after leading the Herd in home runs (27) and RBI (100) last season. Also back is starting pitcher Kenny Rayborn, who posted the 9th best ERA in the International League (3.64) to go along with an 8-2 record in 2004. Reliever Jake Robbins returns after a solid regular season (6-1, 3.20ERA) and a dominating post season (1-0, 2S, 0.00ERA) for the Bisons in 2004. Finally, the Herd will once again have the veteran leadership of catcher Dusty Wathan, who posted a .303 average to go along with his solid play behind the plate last year.

NEW FACES IN THE HERD: Outfielder Andy Abad is one of the many talented free agents that could be having their first stint with the Bisons in 2005. A career .300-hitter in the Minor Leagues, Abad hit .292 with 12HR and 49RBI with Nashville last season. Also, John Rodriguez (.300, 16HR, 69RBI with Columbus) and Darnell McDonald (.234, 7HR, 44RBI with Ottawa) may join Abad in the Dunn Tire Park outfield in 2005. Infielders Warren Morris (.287, 5HR, 51RBI with Toledo) and Jeff Leifer (.281, 20HR, 83RBI with Indianapolis) have been signed by the Indians. Finally, Chad Zerbe (6-6, 4.29ERA with Fresno), Steve Watkins (5-3, 3.07ERA with Portland) and Denny Stark (8-2, 3.50ERA with Colorado Springs) could bolster an already strong Bisons pitching staff.

FAMILIAR FACE RETURNS TO FORT MILL: Nick Levya returns to the Knights as manager after three years away from Charlotte. Nick Leyva, 51, managed the Charlotte Knights in 2000 and 2001 and led the Knights to a record of 145-142 (.505). Leyva has spent the last three
years as a roving instructor for the Chicago White Sox. Last season he replaced Ken Dominquez as manager of the Winston-Salem Warthogs and led Winston-Salem to the second half Southern Division title with a record of 45-25 (.643). Juan Nieves will join Charlotte as the pitching coach, Manny Trillo has been named hitting coach, and Scott Johnson will return as the trainer for the Knights.

KNIGHTS GIVE FANS EXTRA INCENTIVE TO ROOT FOR THE HOME TEAM: The Knights have announced details for the largest contest in the history of the team. The $10,000 Grand Slam Challenge is a special 15 game ticket package that is on sale now. Upon purchasing the package fans will select the 15 games from the Knights regular season schedule that they wish to attend. If the Knights win every home game in their ticket package they win a share of the $10,000. There are only 200 of these special packages for sale and this promotion will not be extended beyond that point.

EXCLUSIVE RADIO DEAL ANNOUNCED: The Charlotte Knights and Sports Radio WFNA 1660 AM have announced that all Knights radio broadcasts for the 2005 season will be aired exclusively on 1660 AM. WFNA will carry all of the Charlotte Knights’ night, weekend, holiday, and playoff games during the 2005 season. Matt Swierad returns for his eighth season as the Knights play-by-play voice and Mike Pacheco will join Swierad on all home games.

SPRING TRAINING: America's cure for cabin fever! Clippers’ pitchers on the 40 man roster battling for a spot on the Yankees opening day roster will be Jason Anderson (1-3, 4.63), Colter Bean (9-3, 2.29), Jorge DePaula (Tommy John surgery), Alex Graman (11-6, 3.37), Sam Marsonek (1-5 with 17 saves, 3.15), Bret Prinz (3-1 with 11 saves, 3.52), Scott Proctor (2-3 with 4 saves, 2.86), Ramon Ramierez (0-3, 8.50) and Chien-Ming Wang (5-1, 2.01). Danny Borrell is a non roster invitee. Borrell was 4-2 with a 2.93 ERA in 2003 before tearing the labrum in his left shoulder. He had two rehab starts with Single-A Tampa in 2004. DePaula, Graman, Marsonek, Prinz and Proctor all saw action with the Yankees in 2004.
DID YOU KNOW: Twenty players wore both Yankees and Clippers uniforms in 2004. Players who rode the Columbus shuttle were Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina, Orlando Hernandez, Jason Giambi, Jose Contreras, Steve Karsay, Homer Bush, Bubba Crosby, Felix Escalona, Alex Graman, Dioner Navarro, Dave Parrish, Andy Phillips, Brad Halsey, Felix Heredia, Sam Marsonek, C.J. Nitkowski, Juan Padilla, Bret Prinz and Scott Proctor.
CLIPPERS KICKOFF: A full house celebrated Winterfest in January as Co-Clippers of the Year Andy Phillips and Colter Bean were honored. Despite missing the first month of the season, Andy Phillips hit .316 with 25 HR and 84 RBI. Andy won the 2004 Triple-A All Star game for the International League all stars with a dramatic extra inning walk off home run in Pawtucket. Andy was called up to the Yankees in September and hit a home run over the Green Monster on the first pitch he saw in the big leagues. Colter Bean mesmerized IL hitters all season with his assortment of frisbee slurves. As Bucky Dent’s bullpen workhorse, Colter posted a 9-3 record in 53 games with a 2.29 ERA. Bean struck out 109 hitters in just 82.2 innings while only issuing 23 base on balls.
EIGHT FOR EVERS: The Durham Bulls begin their eighth season in the International League, and for the eighth consecutive year the manager is the same. Bill Evers, the winningest active manager among full-season minor league clubs, will be at the helm. With Durham, Evers has led the Bulls to six playoff appearances in seven seasons, including Governor's Cup Championships in 2002 and 2003. Evers' regular-season mark during that stretch is 548-454, and a tremendous 25-13 record during the post-season. For the third consecutive season, the entire Bulls staff will be the same. Pitching coach Joe Coleman begins his sixth season with Durham, while Richie Hebner is in his fourth year as hitting instructor. Tom Tisdale is the team trainer for the third consecutive season.

CUMMINGS AND GOINGS: Veteran Midre Cummings, who led the Bulls last year with 27 homers, became a free agent after the 2004 season, and signed a minor-league contract with the Baltimore Orioles. The 27 homer-total last year was Cummings' career-high. Outfielder Matt Diaz, who last year hit .331 with 21 HR and 92 RBI, was released this month by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Diaz was signed just days later by the Orioles. Other 2004 Bulls to sign with other organizations include: 1B/3B Jared Sandberg and C Keith Osik (Washington), RHP Jason Standridge and Jose Veras (Texas), RHP Jeremi Gonzalez (Boston), and IF/OF Charles Gipson (Houston)

NEWCOMERS CLUB: Tampa Bay has invited a number of non 40-man roster players to major league camp who played last year in the International League. Among them are 3B Earl Snyder (Pawtucket), 3B Brandon Larson (Louisville), OF Damon Hollins (Richmond), LHP Joe Beimel (Rochester) and RHP Jimmy Haynes (Toledo).

INDIANS TO BEGIN NEW AFFILIATION WITH PITTSBURGH: The Indianapolis Indians became Pittsburgh’s Triple-A affiliate in September when the clubs signed a two-year player development agreement. The new affiliation comes after five years with the Milwaukee Brewers, which included a 2000 Triple-A World Series Championship.

NEW CHIEF FOR THE TRIBE: Trent Jewett was named the 57th manager in Indianapolis Indians history when he was selected to the post in November. Jewett comes to Indianapolis with 13 years of experience in the Pittsburgh organization. The second-winningest manager in Nashville Sounds history with 320 victories, Jewett led the Triple-A Sounds to their first division title in 10 years in 2003. He also spent three seasons (2000-02) as Pittsburgh’s third base coach, working under former manager Gene Lamont and current skipper Lloyd McClendon.

TOP-NOTCH PROSPECTS: The Pittsburgh Pirates farm system has been ranked fourth out of 30 Major League clubs by USA Today/Sports Weekly. The 2005 Indians roster could feature up to six of the organization’s Top 10 prospects, as voted on by Baseball America. In 2004, the Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh’s Double-A affiliate) finished with the best record in the Eastern League before suffering a setback in the Eastern League Championship Series.

LOUISVILLE SLUGGER FIELD RECEIVES FACE LIFT: In conjunction with Louisville Metro, the Bats are in the midst of taking steps to update areas of Louisville Slugger Field for the first time since the stadium opened in 2000. The left field lawn is becoming safer and more comfortable for families and children who watch games from the popular spot. The slope is decreasing making it flatter and 125 new chairback seats are being added to the top. The kids' playground in right field will be doubled to make room for a second ADA accessible playground designed for younger children, ages 2-5. Also, the Bats will also donate $1 of every carousel ride to Kosair Children's Hospital. The third improvement is a new ticket scanning system at every turnstile in the stadium. This new TicketMaster system will speed up lines and give the sales staff an accurate count of exactly how many season tickets are being used and by which accounts.

REDS TO PLAY EXHIBITION GAME: The Cincinnati Reds and Toronto Blue Jays will square off for an exhibition game at Louisville Slugger Field Saturday, April 2 at 1:05 p.m. The last MLB exhibition game in Louisville occurred in 2002 when the Reds hosted the Baltimore Orioles.

FIELD STAFF FOR 2005: Manager Rick Sweet will take the reigns of the Bats for the 2005 season, becoming the 15th manager in franchise history. Sweet replaces Rick Burleson who will return as manager at Rookie League Billings. Joining Sweet for his third season as hitting coach is Smokey Garrett while Mack Jenkins returns for his fourth season as the Bats' pitching coach. Rod McCray will serve as a coach for Louisville. McCray has been a roving instructor for the Reds over the past five seasons working as an outfield/baserunning coordinator. Chris Lapole takes over as Louisville's head trainer; it is his first season in Triple-A after spending 2004 with Double-A Chattanooga.

OBERKFELL AND HOJO HEADLINE 2005 COACHING STAFF: Norfolk Tides president Ken Young and the New York Mets announced the Tides field staff on January 9th. Ken Oberkfell will manage the club in 2005, while Howard Johnson will serve as hitting coach and Dan Warthen will return as pitching coach. Brian Chicklo will return to the team as the head trainer, and Kenny Coward will return as the strength and conditioning coach. “ Oberkfell and Johnson have spent the last two seasons together, leading the 2004 Double-A Binghamton Mets to the Eastern League playoffs. The pair were also together at High Class-A St. Lucie in 2003, where the team won the Florida State League Championship. Warthen, Chicklo, and Coward return to the Tides in 2005. Warthen has been a coach in several organizations since 1981, and Chicklo will be spending his seventh year as a head trainer in the Mets organization. Coward is returning for his fourth season in Norfolk.

BANK OF THE COMMONWEALTH CLASSIC AT HARBOR PARK: The Tides have announced that they will take on the Division I Old Dominion Monarchs in the annual Bank of the Commonwealth Classic at Harbor Park on Tuesday, April 5 at 7:15 at Harbor Park. The exhibition game will be the 15th in the series between the two teams, with the Tides holding an 11-2-1 record over the Monarchs. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children and ODU students. All proceeds from the game benefit the Baseball Scholarship fund of Old Dominion University.
NEW SKIP AT THE HELM: The Lynx will have a new man in charge when they take the field as Dave Trembley will become the 10th man to manage Ottawa. Trembley, 53, comes to the Lynx after holding the field manager position at Double-A Bowie for the last two seasons, where he won the first Cal Ripken Sr. Player Development Award in 2003. The 2005 season will be Trembley's 19th as a Minor League field manager, including nine seasons with the Cubs organization before joining Baltimore. Trembley is joined on his staff by some familiar faces to Lynx fans, as pitching coach Steve McCatty and coach Dave Cash both return for their third season in Ottawa. Athletic trainer P.J. Mainville and strength/conditioning coach Joe Hogarty also return for their second seasons.

NEW FACES IN NEW PLACES: The Lynx club in 2005 should look much different than the club that took the field last year. New faces include 2004 International League All Star OF/DH Midre Cummings, as well as former American League All-Star RHP James Baldwin. Also signed in the offseason to minor leagues deals were INF Chris Stynes, INF Enrique Wilson, RHP Jay Witasick, C Sal Fasano and C Brandon Marsters. A few faces familiar to Lynx fans were also resigned, including bullpen mates RHP Tony Fiore and LHP Tim Byrdak, starting LHP Andrew Lorraine and utility INF Joey Hammond.

ON THE COMEBACK TRAIL: One of the great stories to follow this spring will be the comeback attempt of LHP Tony Saunders. Saunders, 30, is attempting a comeback after breaking his arm twice in a 15-month span more than four years ago. The left-hander retired on August 26, 2000, at the age of 26 after compiling a 13-24 record and 4.56 ERA in three major league seasons with Florida and Tampa Bay.

JOHNSON NAMED PAWSOX MANAGER: It has been quite an eventful off-season for new Pawtucket manager Ron Johnson. In November he was introduced as the new PawSox manager. One month later he was in attendance at the wedding of the off-season. No, not Donald Trump’s. How about Red Sox cult hero Johnny Damon’s wedding (featuring week-long golfing, fishing, boating, and other fun) in Orlando, FL. Ron managed Johnny at Wichita (Double-A) in 1995 when both were members of the Kansas City organization. All Damon did was hit .343 that year for Johnson to earn an August promotion to the Royals. Johnny has not been out of the big leagues since and he still holds Ron (a fellow Orlando resident) in the highest of regards. The 48-year-old Johnson is a veteran of 27 years of pro ball including the past 13 consecutive seasons as a minor league manager with the Kansas City and Boston organizations. He returns to the Triple-A level this season for the first time since 1999 when he was the manager of the Omaha Royals in the Pacific Coast League.

RADIO DAYS: Pawtucket has long been proud of their fine tradition of sending players on their way to the Major Leagues. However, the PawSox have also recently built a reputation for sending their radio broadcasters to the big leagues as well. The list grew again this month as two more former PawSox radio men landed coveted jobs in the majors. Andy Freed, play-by-play man for the past four seasons will be joining the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. And this morning it was reported in the Washington Post that Dave Shea will be named as one of the radio men for the Washington Nationals. Freed and Shea join an illustrious group of PawSox broadcasters now in the Major Leagues including Gary Cohen of the New York Mets, Don Orsillo of the Boston Red Sox, and Dave Flemming now with the San Francisco Giants. (Two PawSox broadcasters are currently in the NBA: Eric Reid of the Miami Heat and Matt Pinto of the Dallas Mavericks).

LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD: After correcting a grade difference of almost two feet in the outfield, trucking in more than 100 loads of dirt, installing over a mile of drainage pipe and putting down 2.3 acres of new sod, the field makeover at The Diamond was pronounced complete in January by the Richmond Metropolitan Authority. Outfielders will no longer have to run uphill or downhill as they chase balls into the gaps. Duraturf had to raise left field about 10 inches and lower right field 12 inches to get the required slope for drainage on the 51-year-old field. In the event of a downpour, the new field is expected to perform as well as any of the newer fields in stadiums around the country.

ALVAREZ RETURNS TO RICHMOND: Mike Alvarez joins Pat Kelly’s staff in Richmond after spending the 2004 season as a roving minor league pitching instructor for the Braves. Entering his 21st season of instruction, Alvarez has worked in the Atlanta organization each year since 1998, including a stint as pitching coach with Richmond in 2000. Spending two seasons with Double-A Greenville, Alvarez played an instrumental role in the development of major leaguers such as Jason Marquis and Odalis Perez.

THE BATTLE BACK: Horacio Ramirez threw live batting practice on Monday without any pain and could see his first action since a late September relief appearance for Atlanta last year. Ramirez started the season in Atlanta’s rotation posting a 2.28 ERA before nerve damage to his shoulder caused him to miss the majority of 2004. Horacio rested his shoulder during the off-season to help with the nerve damage and had arthroscopic surgery to repair fraying in his rotator cuff. Ramirez is scheduled to throw live batting practice Thursday, February 24th and barring any setbacks could make his Grapefruit League debut March 7th.

RED WINGS FREE AGENT SIGNINGS: The Red Wings have added some quality free agents this off-season. Outfielder Jason Tyner (Richmond/Buffalo in 2004), infielder Brent Abernathy (Buffalo in 2004), RHP Trey Hodges (Richmond/Japan in 2004), RHP Pat Strange (Norfolk in 2004), and LHP C.J. Nitkowski (Columbus in 2004) look to help lead the Red Wings to the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

A CALL TO ARMS: The Red Wings starting rotation looks to be one of the teams’ strengths going into spring training. Rochester’s projected starting rotation is LHP Dave Gassner (led IL in wins in 2004 with 16), RHP J.D. Durbin (clocked at 100 mph in Arizona Fall League and had a 13-strikeout performance in his Triple-A debut last season), RHP Scott Baker (Twins #10 prospect), RHP Matt Guerrier (4th in the IL last season with a 3.19 ERA), and RHP Boof Bonser (146 strikeouts in 154.1 IP last season in Double-A New Britain).

STOP….HAMMER TIME: Triple-A rookie RHP Bobby Korecky looks to take over the closer role in 2005. Korecky comes from Double-A New Britain where he led the Eastern League with 31 saves last season. The Red Wings saves record is 22 set in 1970 by RHP Al Severinsen.
PHILLIES HAVE BUSY OFF-SEASON ON MINOR LEAGUE SIDE: Several familiar faces may be returning to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons this season. Of the 25 plus six-year free agents signed by the Phillies, several have previous playing time with the Red Barons. Heading the list are Jim Rushford, Mark Budzinski, A.J. Hinch, Buzz Hannahan and Robert Ellis. Rushford was a member of the International League All-Star team and was among team leaders in games played (134) and RBI (75) to go along with his .275 average. Budzinski hit .283 with 5 home runs, a team record 15 triples and 52 RBI as the starting centerfielder. His most memorable game came in a 19-18 win over Toledo July 25 that saw him win the game with a bases loaded triple in the 9th inning and set a new club record with 9 RBI. Hinch split the catching duties with Michel Hernandez. In 77 games he hit .234 with 2 HR and 32 RBI. Hannahan was the winner of the 2004 Greg Legg Tenth Man Award for his outstanding play off the bench. He was a true “super utility” player seeing action at six different positions and appearing in 8 different spots in the batting order. Robert Ellis will forever be a part of Red Barons history. In his first start June 6 after being acquired in a trade from Buffalo, he tossed a seven inning no-hitter facing just one batter over the minimum. Overall he finished the season 5-8 with a 4.23 ERA in 16 starts. Other notable players with Triple-A service time include: Sean Fesh (P), Andrew Beattie (Inf), Chris Coste (C/3B), Anthony Medrano, Kevin Barker and John Castellano.

SUNDAY GAME TIMES CHANGED TO 2:00 P.M.: Citing fan surveys and an online poll, the Lackawanna County Stadium Authority has approved a change in game times for the upcoming season. Every Sunday home game will now start at 2:00 p.m. The surveys and online poll at found that 70% of fans preferred a start time of either 1:00 p.m or 2:00 p.m. Traditionally, Sunday games started at 2:00 p.m. in April and May then switched to 6:00 p.m. for the remainder of the season. “Our fans expressed a strong desire to have Sunday afternoon games all year and we listened,” said General Manager Jeremy Ruby. The only games affected by the change this year are June 5 vs. Toledo, June 26 vs. Charlotte, July 31 vs. Rochester and August 7 vs. Syracuse.

CLUBHOUSE(S) MAY SOON GET FACELIFT: The cramped and outdated clubhouses at Lackawanna County Stadium may soon be getting a major facelift. The Lackawanna County Commissioners recently approved a $10 million dollar bond issue for improvements to county
properties. They have publicly stated the money will be divided between a courthouse improvement project and renovations to both player locker rooms at the stadium. One of the preliminary plans calls for relocating the home clubhouse to the third base side due to a larger area for expansion. The visitors would then move into the vacated home locker room providing a much larger trainers room and a player lounge.

FAMILIAR FACES RESIGNED: Many of Toronto’s Minor League Free Agent signings are familiar faces to Syracuse fans. The most notable signing is former IL MVP Chad Mottola who put together one of the greatest seasons by a Syracuse player in 2000 hitting .309 with 102 RBI. Other familiar faces include outfielders Anton French and Anthony Sanders, infielder Juluis Matos and pitcher Josue Matos all back from last year’s team. Catcher Ken Huckaby played for Syracuse in 2002 and 2003 before spending last season with the Texas and Baltimore organizations.

PEVEY PREPARES PROSPECTS IN PEORIA: SkyChiefs Manager Marty Pevey guided the Peoria Saguaros to a second place finish in the American Division of the Arizona Fall League with a 17-17 record. Future SkyChiefs infielders had an impressive showing with 3B John Hattig finishing second in the league with 31 RBI to go along with a .310 batting average. SS Aaron Hill hit .315 with 22 RBI. Pitching prospect Francisco Rosario finished second in the league with 31 K’s. After missing most of the 2004 season due to injury, Jason Arnold used the Fall League to his benefit logging an additional 24 innings going 2-2 with a 4.50 ERA.

A NEW ALLIANCE: The home of the SkyChiefs has a new name after Onondaga County reached an agreement with Alliance Bank last week to take over the naming rights of the stadium formerly known as P&C. In the 20-year agreement, Alliance Bank will pay Onondaga County $2.8 million for the exclusive naming rights to the stadium. The stadium entry road will also be renamed "Alliance Bank Parkway."

FIFTH THIRD FIELD STILL IMPRESSIVE ENTERING FOURTH SEASON: The Mud Hens will begin selling single-game tickets Monday, February 28. Opening Day tickets will be placed on sale Saturday, March 5th. The Mud Hens expect to sell-out Opening Day within a week. The Hens have welcomed 1,609,313 fans through the gates during the first three years of Fifth Third Field. As a comparison, the last three seasons at Ned Skeldon Stadium saw 893,816 fans come to see the team from 1999-2001. That is an increase of 80%.

TELEVISION EXPOSURE EXPANDED FOR 2005: For the second straight season, the Toledo Mud Hens will televise over 50 games on Buckeye Cable Sports Network (BCSN) locally. Last season, the Hens televised 50 games on BCSN with 25 of those games being live. This season, the team will televise 52 home games and bring the Mud Hens fans 40 of those games live. The broadcast trio of Jim Weber, Frank Gilhooley, and Jason Griffin will again provide the play-by-play action of all 52 games on BCSN.

PROSPECTS TO SHINE IN GLASS CITY IN 2005: The Mud Hens should have plenty to get excited about for the upcoming season as several of Detroit’s top prospects should be playing in Toledo. The biggest prospect is OF Curtis Granderson, Detroit's top prospect according to Baseball America. Last season, Granderson was named to the Eastern League's post-season all-star team after hitting .301 with 21 homers and 94 RBIs for Double-A Erie, then played in nine September games with the Tigers. Infielders Chris Shelton, Ryan Raburn and Jack Hannahan are also expected to make Toledo their starting point. Also, it should be noted that more prospects are expected to be moving up soon from Double-A Erie, including three pitchers ranked among Detroit's top five prospects in Kyle Sleeth, Joel Zumaya and Humberto Sanchez.

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