Go Pro Baseball Wise: Minor League Memories

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Players in the minor leagues discover the importance of humor in pro baseball.


"Odd things happen in the minor leagues, like the lights going off during a game, the sprinklers coming on, or the bus quits, and the fields are lousy. That's why they call it the minor leagues."
— Mark Grace,
former ML player, 16 seasons
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Now I Know How Casey Felt
Memories of a Minor League Season

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FOUR: Only in Minor League Baseball! (July 19-July 30)

MONDAY, JULY 19

"Doubleheader in this heat? Are they crazy?" The whole team was clustered in a small patch of shade behind the plate to do their stretching. "That's the bad news. The good news is it's just as hot for the Ems as it is for us and they don't have the home crowd behind 'em." They tried to laugh, but it was too hot.

"NO," Strom emphasized. "The real good news is that each one of these games is gonna be seven innings. So no extra innings tonight…no matter what!" He fanned his face with his cap.

Glenn Godwin started the first game. He looked good, confident, and in charge as he pitched a two hit shutout through six. Unfortunately he faltered and gave up four in the seventh before Myers came in for the save. Dave Peterson was the big bat for Medford. He almost hit for the cycle with a homer, double and single. Graham played flawlessly at second. Final score: Medford 7 - Eugene 4.

Baseball clown Max Patkin entertained the fans between games. As the second game started, he was still in his old uniform at least five sizes too big, busily tormenting players on both sides. The crowd enjoyed it immensely but the young players weren't too sure about him. So they tried to ignore him and concentrate on the game. Patkin didn't make it easy.

John Vela started, hoping to get his first professional decision after a year and a half in pro ball. He threw five good innings but left in trouble in the sixth. Dennis Gonsalves came in. Then, with a 2-1 count on Eugene's first baseman Scott Radloff, just as the catcher caught the pitch, the sprinkler system came on. It soaked everything: the entire field, the base runners, the batter, the umpires, and many fans before the groundskeeper could turn it off.

The Ems players in the dugout had an incident of their own to laugh about while the groundskeeper hustled to get the water under control. "This is nothin'" Orsino Hill laughed. "Remember that night game up there when the lights went out a couple of times during the game? Once in the middle of a pitch? Geez, glad I wasn't the guy standin' at the plate with that bullet comin' at ME in the dark!"

"The whole place was completely black. I'm glad we were in the field. I just stood my place in the outfield so I wouldn't stumble around in the dark, step in a hole and sprain my ankle or something," another added.

"I stood my spot, too," Hill concluded, "Think all of us did. It was weird, remember?"

Everyone who remained dry laughed and laughed. "At least we're cooler now," they all agreed. Scott Radloff showed his great sense of humor as he returned to the plate without drying off, and the fans could clearly see the water dripping off the bill of his cap. Only in minor league baseball!

Things immediately got hotter when the game resumed. Since nobody called "time," all players wisely held their positions. But Gonsalves had released the pitch just as the shower began and the ump called it a "no pitch" because of the distraction. All Rogers' arguing and protesting went for naught. Radloff was eventually walked, the Ems tied the score, then went on to win the game. Final score: Eugene 6 - Medford 4.

Champ Summers, former ML player: "There's a lot of humorous things that happen in the minor leagues. They're the things you remember later. I remember one winning play I made because of a mental lapse. I caught a long fly ball for the third out. The runner on second base was running so I tried to throw him out and the ball hit him in the back. I mean, the coaches and umpires were walking off the field and so forth, and I'm still out there throwin' the ball. I was so embarrassed! In a dumb attempt to make light of it, I crawled from the foul line to the dugout. Everybody was laughing at me. I finally stood up and laughed at myself. If you can't laugh at yourself, you don't belong in this game."

TUESDAY, JULY 20

Myers and Epp arrived at the park together. Myers needed to take care of his leg. Ed, now often called "Awesome," pitched in both ends of the doubleheader. He got another save in the first game and took a line drive off his shin in the second.

"Doc said he'd be here for me, so where is he?" he asked Bathe, who also hobbled around.

"Dunno. I need something, too, 'cause I twisted my back in my last at bat in the second one last night and it's killing me! That guy's never around when you need him," he stooped over dangled his arms, and bobbed up and down. "Ah-h-h, this is the only position that feels good, but it's hard to hit this way," he smiled.

Eventually both players got the attention they needed. It was a constant thing before every game. Either Doc was late or he didn't have enough bandages, or he forgot stuff at Medford that he should have taken on the road trip. Several players who wanted medical attention took themselves to local doctors wherever they were and hoped the organization didn't find out.

They didn't like this trainer and definitely didn't trust him. He was only a couple of years older than they were and obviously had no medical training. There was always speculation about why he had the job. In this league only one team, the Padres, had a trainer with a degree in sports medicine. As the season progressed he became the object of many pranks which he thought made him "one of the guys." It didn't.

After workouts the players from both teams collected at the snack bar in search of a popsicle or a cup of ice.

The game turned into a wild one. Gorman, Gonsalves and Myers combined forces to hold the Ems in check. Orsino Hill and catcher Terrance McGriff each homered for them. Then we entered the "Twilight Zone." Hill had to leave the game later with a bruised Achilles tendon he got chasing a fly ball in center. He stepped into a hole and got his cleat caught.

The Medford infield was shifted because Bathe was out with back spasms. Graham moved to third, and Glick was back at second. It was the game of Dave Glick's season. He got three hits including a homer, drove in three, scored three himself, and stole two bases. If anybody doubted his ability or desire, they had to think it over after that one. Even Dennis Rogers admitted he had a great night.

Phil Strom reminded the Ems how he got the nickname "Harmon" by bashing a homerun that he decided didn't land until after the bars closed.

By the bottom of the ninth with Eugene ahead 9-8, Medford staged another comeback in their last time at the plate! Mikki Jackson threw three in middle relief to pick up his first win. Final score: Medford 10 - Eugene 9.

The blackboard read: "Bus leaves for Eugene, 11:00 A.M."

WEDNESDAY, JULY 21

The bus trip to Eugene was lively. Lots to talk about from the game last night and just stuff from the season in general.

The poker game raged in the rear. Dave Glick, Jim Good, and Phil Strom sipped sodas and talked baseball. Glick was obviously pumped up. He'd finally showed Dennis Rogers and Oakland the kind of baseball he could play if given half a chance. "I grew up with sports," he emphasized. "My dad played football with the Houston Oilers. He was All-Pro for three years and held the interception record for 17 years until Lester Hays broke it. I remember how he dealt with adversity and I've taken Dad's advice. He told me to seize every opportunity and make it go my way. 'Make them look stupid for not putting you into the lineup,' he told me. And I think that happened last night."

"Well, my man," Barry grinned, "you certainly did that last night. Wish I could've heard his call to Oakland after that one!" They all laughed. Glick was pumped and positive he'd finally get his chance.

The bus dropped them off at what they called "The Bates Motel" a little before three that afternoon. When they got to the park Glick's bubble burst when he read the lineup card and his name was conspicuously missing. He said nothing but the entire team knew what he must've felt. Several patted him on the back but said nothing. What could they say?

Between infield and BP they gathered by the Coke machine. "You know," he said to Strom, "on nights when Graham struts out there and leaves me behind on the bench, he always makes a remark to me under his breath after he makes a good play or gets a hit. But I'm not gonna play that game with him."

"Don't worry about him," Strom reassured. "He's the kind of guy who's gonna get caught in his own mouth-trap one of these days." I've played against him all my life and he's been asking for it for years."

"Yeah. Big college star. Mr. Magna cum Loudmouth!"

Jim Good joined the group. "Sh-h-h-h, looks like Rogers had a brain fart and forgot how to spell G-L-I-C-K. Sorry, man. That's tough."

"Ya know," Glick told them," at Arizona State I played third string third base behind Bob Horner and Hubie Brooks. They were older, and they were better. But here? I guess it's all politics. I signed as a free agent and they've got money in Graham."

"We haven't even played half our games yet. There's lots of time left. Maybe you'll be back in there tomorrow."

But they all knew they were probably wrong. As life has a way of working out, a few years later rumor had it that Glick had the last laugh because his new wife won an Arizona lottery worth nine million.

Rogers signaled to Glick a few minutes later and told him to report to his room in the motel after the game.

It was one of those "bad news and good news games." Unfortunately it was the worst start of the season for Jeff Kaiser. The look on his face after the first batter told the tale. He fought as hard as he could but the command he wanted simply wasn't there. He struggled from the first pitch and gave up seven runs before he left without getting the first out in the third. He was frustrated and angry, but he didn't let it show. Medford finally got the first Ems player out in the third following a prolonged argument which resulted in Rogers' fourth ejection in the season.

There were several arguments, seven wild pitches, lots of hitting from both teams, good base running from both, all of which resulted in a four-hour game. Final score: Medford 18 - Eugene 8.

Back at the motel later, Glick knocked on Rogers' door. When Rogers finally opened the door Glick saw piles of neatly arranged papers that completely covered the top of the bed. Rogers had that black book in his hand.

"Come on in. I was getting ready to phone Oakland, and I wanted to talk to you about how things are going for you so far."

Dennis did most of the talking and Glick listened intently.

"I'm a great believer in three intangibles: mental toughness, heart, and guts. Last night I finally saw that heart in you and was impressed. I'm still looking for the mental toughness because you won't survive in this game without it. That means that in addition to what you do on the field, you have to get enough rest. You have to obey team rules and curfew. You have to be on time. You can't miss the bus."

Glick nodded to indicate he understood.

Dennis continued, "Last night you were very successful. You know it. I know it. Oakland knows it. But that puts more responsibility on you. Now you've set a standard and I expect you to show Oakland this game wasn't a fluke. Don't worry. You'll have more opportunities to showcase your talents."

They shook hands and Glick left. He didn't discuss the conversation with other players except to say he was less frustrated, but not satisfied.

Joe Maddon, former manager, Salem Angels; bench coach, Anaheim Angels: "Every manager in this league reports by phone to the top brass in their organizations every night. I call in the line score first. Next, I verbalize what happened in the game. Then pitching performance, number of pitches, stats, control, hits, runs, runs given up, earned runs, base on balls, and strikeouts. Then give my comments and observations about each Angel pitcher in the game. Then I go down the whole lineup and do the grid on hitting, at bats, runs, hits, homeruns, doubles, RBIs. Who had a good game and what he did. And who's doing poorly and whatever. Errors, who made them and the effect on the game. Injuries and follow up on injuries. General information like mental mistakes, if I had to fine anybody that day and why. Who's screwing up and who's doing real good. The season won-loss record, how many games behind, tomorrow's pitcher, team he'll play and where we'll be, and a phone number if they need more information.

"A big part of my verbalization is about hitting. A guy may get the collar for the night, but he had a good night if he hit every ball hard, or if we're asking him to learn to pull the ball and he accomplished that even if it was for an out, or if he bunted for a successful sacrifice. How many times did he strike out, and on what pitch. The details go on and on, but the point of it all is to learn about each player. Where is he strong? Where does he need further development?"


Harmon Killebrew, member, Hall of Fame: "In every organization the minor league coaches and managers keep precise records on the daily progress of the players. We know this can be intimidating to a player who's struggling. But it can also be helpful. It also lets the people upstairs know who their top prospects are."

Dallas Green, former ML player; former Manager, GM, Cubs: "Within an hour after games every day organizations get a total breakdown of what players have done on the field and off. It's very comprehensive. It includes everything that goes into a day's work, a day's thinking. Everything at the entire minor league level is passed on to the major league system. Every kid is scrutinized every day."

All the players in the league were very aware of the reports, but it seemed only a handful knew the actual depth of them. Position players who played every day could improve a mistake in the very next game. But pitchers had to live with it until their next turn in the rotation. This was especially difficult for Jeff Kaiser. He came as a highly touted pitcher who knew he was struggling, but didn't want Oakland to know he had shoulder problems. Once he discussed it with Dennis he felt better about his status within the organization. But then he felt even more pressure to prove to Rogers that his confidence in him wasn't misplaced.

THURSDAY, JULY 22

This was one of the hottest days of the entire season, and they were scheduled to play a doubleheader. They spent the day lazing around the air conditioned motel rooms watching soaps, making phone calls, and a few took quick dips in the pool.

After the game last night Dennis told them they'd be excused from official BP and infield because of the doubleheader. They got to the park by four for the five o'clock start of the first game. As they got off the bus at Civic Stadium they were surprised to find a large group of Medford fans that had driven up in a long caravan. Inside the park things got even better. "Mikki, look at that!" Barry shouted.

"Oh man, I don't believe it!" Jackson shouted back with a wide grin on his face. He stopped in his tracks to admire a huge fifteen foot by four foot banner on the on the right field wall. Green letters two feet high that read, "Mikki Jackson - Number 1" were painted on the yellow background. There's no doubt about it. That banner made Mikki's season.

What a night! Both games went into extra innings. The first game was tied at one when an infield error gave the Ems their second run. That was all they needed to hand Eric Barry his first loss. Ems pitcher Tim Dodd had an impressive outing. He scattered five hits for a complete game win. Final score: Eugene 2 - Medford 1.

Between games there was a lot of wheelin' and dealin' in the Medford dugout. Some of the hitters were caught short because so many bats had been broken and their second bat order from Oakland was several days late. They busily made arrangements about who would use whose bats in case of emergency. Players considered their bats very personal tools they'd customized with pine tar, sand paper and tape to fit their own comfort zones. This was dead serious. One of the unwritten codes was that nobody used another guy's bat without his permission.

At a distant corner of the field Barry, Vela and Jackson were in a huddle. "#%$^$#@$%!!" Barry grumbled. "I hold 'em to one run and those guys who got eighteen runs last night can't even beat that. God Almighty! They blow the game on a fielding error and the loss goes on MY record." He was furious. The other two nodded in agreement.

It was a standard thing, a sort of catch-22 with them. When pitchers have a bad outing hitters grumble that they'll have to score 20 runs when THAT guy's on the mound. Or the pitchers grumble because they're not getting him some runs. Sometimes there was a lot of tension between these two groups.

The second game also went into extra innings, but that's where the similarity ended. At the end of five, Eugene held the lead 4-1. In the bottom of the sixth with Delwyn Young on third and two outs, reliever Ed Myers threw what he thought was the third strike and started to walk off the mound.

Then the fireworks began. Young and the umpire thought the pitch was a ball, and he ran dead ahead trying to steal home, but ran smack into catcher Pat O'Hara's tag. When the smoke cleared, three A's had been ejected: O'Hara for bumping the ump while arguing the "safe" call; Myers for arguing the call on his pitch; and, of course, Dennis Rogers for arguing period.

Dennis Rogers found a place under the grandstand near Medford's dugout to manage the rest of the game. He passed instructions from player to player to player. He acted like a little kid getting away with something. He enjoyed it and knew the brew-ha-ha got his team fired up.

In the seventh Tony Laurenzi, always a consistent hitter, homered to tie. Brian Graham homered in the ninth for the win. Dennis Gonsalves got his second win in relief. Final score: Medford 6 - Eugene 5.

FRIDAY, JULY 23

Ed Myers and Mike Gorman sat in a booth in the corner by themselves. Each one read the sports pages and the account of the game. "Sh-h-h-h, I just can't help thinkin' about that call last night," Myers said slowly without looking up from the paper. "The only good call the guy made was that O'Hara bumped him when he called Young safe at the plate. And that looked like an accident to me."

Gorman nodded. "Sure glad I don't have to throw tonight. The strike zone's gonna be small for our pitcher. Eddie, I've never seen you argue before. Make you feel any better?"

"Nah, especially when he threw me outta there."

In the game, Medford played well, but Eugene played better. Glenn Godwin completed eight and struck out eleven for his best outing of the season. Laurenzi, Bailey, Eppard and Graham did most of the hitting for Medford. Phil Strom took a size four collar. The scheduled seven inning game went nine and was jam-packed with action.

Ed Myers was called to pitch the bottom of the ninth, which began with a 5-5 tie. He pitched well, but not up to his standards. Eugene scored the winning run, which handed Awesome Ed Myers his first loss of the season. Even worse, it was a blown save. Final score: Eugene 6- Medford 5.

When the bus got back to the motel the trainer hollered, "Bus leaves for Salem at eleven sharp."

SATURDAY, JULY 24…SUNDAY, JULY 25

When the bus got to the ballpark at Salem, Rogers asked them to gather around the dugout before going out on the field. They deposited their gear and he began, "Remember, Chemeketa is no different than any other place we play unless we make it that way. You can psych yourselves down and beat yourselves," he paused and looked out at the diamond. "Or you can go out there with confidence and beat 'em!"

He let them stand there a minute or two to think about what he said, then clapped loudly, "Okay, infield. SHOWtime!" He gave his players a high five as each one passed by him single file and hustled onto the field.

"Let's make this a fast two games and get the hell outta here," Colburn mumbled as he arranged the bats he'd borrowed from the Salem team in the Medford bat rack. "Now we owe them a dozen new game bats if ours ever come in."

With that there was a flurry around those bats as the hitters each got one and had to get it game ready. "Who's got the pine tar?" Colburn shouted.

Players were told that Dick Wiencek, Walt Jocketty, and other Oakland brass were in Salem to see the series. They stood on the field behind the cage during BP watching players but mostly talking with Rogers. A couple of players later told me they overheard "Mr. Wiencek," as everyone called him, tell Dennis that they had a handful of releases determined already. This added more pressure to an already tense situation. Great! Just what they needed.

The game was another disappointment. Mike Gorman was the starting pitcher. His family and his girl, all from Portland, were at the game to cheer him on to his sixth win with no losses. It didn't happen. The press said they did exactly what Rogers told them not to do. They beat themselves. Their infield was sloppy from the get-go and briefly gave up on themselves. By the time they finally got their act together, the hitters were unable to produce. The big bats that usually hit doubles hit into double plays instead. Final score: Salem 4 - Medford 1.

Fortunately, Sunday was a different story. Medford played for pride and it showed. They scored eight runs on only four hits and Jeff Kaiser pitched six strong innings. After yielding one run in the first, he settled down and pitched five shutout innings. He walked two and struck out seven. Strom broke out of his slump, the defense was perfect, and Awesome Ed Myers lived up to his nickname in relief. He threw three innings, allowed no runs, one hit and struck out five to get his fourth save. Final score: Medford 4 - Salem 1.

Back on the bus Kaiser and Myers talked quietly. "I was beginning to wonder if I made a mistake by not signing when Toronto drafted me last year. But dad and I talked it over and decided I could do better if I stayed at Western, graduated, and took my chances with the draft this year. And he was right. We knew the risk if injury, but that's something you always think will happen to the other guy, you know."

"Oh, yeah. I was usually that other guy," Ed winked. "So how'd all this come about in the first place?"

"It happened at the very end of the season at Western. We were on a twenty-game win streak and it was billed as 'The Big Game' against Central. A Pitching duel between Randy Morris and Jeff Kaiser. It was chilly that day. For some reason I was kinda stiff and didn't throw too well. But I didn't say anything because the scouts were around and the press, too. The next day I couldn't even lift my arm. Didn't know what it was and I was scared! I owe a lot to our coach, Fred Decker. He didn't let me throw for the rest of the season and he protected me whenever the scouts hounded him, 'What's wrong with Kaiser?'"

"That was a lucky break for you," Myers jumped in.

"Without a doubt. Oakland didn't know about the shoulder and I decided not to say anything, well, at least not right away. I just didn't know what their response would be if I couldn't throw or had a bad year. It was pretty risky. I knew that. But so much was at stake. And that preyed on my mind every day of this season until now."

He stretched, then continued. "I felt so much pressure since my last outing, and knew this one was the game of my life. I've played things pretty low key since my last outing. Spent the time with Thoma and Pete just thinking about my progress and lack of progress so far. I didn't need a crystal ball to tell me that Rogers would give Oakland a thorough report after this one, especially with the brass hovering. I knew they all liked me personally, but that didn't matter if I didn't show them anything on the mound. I was more focused than ever," Kaiser confided.

"I can understand your frustration," Myers began, "but I think you put too much on yourself. If the team doesn't score, how much can you do? Oakland can figure that out."

"I get that part. Tried not to think of Mike and Barry with five wins each and I was going for number three. But that's only surface stuff. I had to worry about my career as a single entity, and not in comparison to theirs."

"Yeah," Myers yawned, "but they didn't start out with shoulder problems."

"Yesterday was my birthday. Today I got my present. I felt so good out there. Confident. Strong. I proved I could still pitch. Proved it to them. Proved it to myself. That was good enough for me. The win was a bonus."

"You CAN still pitch. That's for sure. You're a left-handed pitcher, that's for sure, too." They both laughed quietly.

"Did I tell you our radio announcer interviewed me during pre-game workouts while I was trying to get my head ready to start warming up? In the middle of it he said to me, 'You know, Jeff, if you don't pitch well this game, you're out of the rotation.'"

"What? That idiot told you that right before the game?" Myers exclaimed.

"Yep. I told him then and proved to him during the game that I'm IN the rotation. Thought about his comment a couple of times while I was out there. Maybe it motivated me. Who knows?"

After the season was over Jeff and I recalled his struggles up to that game and his success that followed it. "It was like that outing was the start of it. I never got another loss that season. And Chemeketa? It was no jinx park for me. I did well there."

Near the rear of the bus the usual players were deep into their poker game. When it was over and Phil Strom busily counted the four dollars he won, he leaned over to Bob Bathe and whispered, "Come here for a second."

When Bathe complied, Strom asked, "Do you know how to get a one-armed third baseman out of a tree?"

"What?" Bathe asked with a puzzled look on his face surrounding the fresh wad of dip in his mouth.

"You're a third baseman and you may need to know this someday. Do you know how to get a one-armed third baseman out of a tree?" he repeated sounding a little impatient. "Wave," he laughed.

"You dog," Bathe shrugged with the same expression he had every time Strom pulled one of these things on him.

"Whew," Brian Graham said to Ray Thoma. "It's gonna be good to play in Medford for the next five days."

"Yeah, I'm so tired of hearing those boos all the time. What's with them calling us 'college boys'? Is that supposed to intimidate us or what?"

"Probably the 'or what' because those guys gave us a good battle and took a few games."

"Well, I'm tired of it. Don't want to think about it anymore. I'm taking Michael out to lunch at Mickey D's tomorrow. It'll be fun to see the look on his face when he sees all the stuff I'm bringing him."

The bus pulled into the lot at Miles Field around midnight

All season long the press and media made a point of emphasizing that Medford was mostly former college players and the oldest team in the league. The other five teams in the Northwest League were primarily players drafted out of high school. The subject wasn't unique to that league or that year.

Roly DeArmas, manager, Bend Phillies: "In our organization we always have the youngest club wherever we're at. We believe in signing young kids. We prefer to sign them right out of high school. I'll tell you one thing. You take four teams I've coached in rookie ball and play them against some of the teams I've faced, the older clubs, and there's no comparison. You take them right out of high school and take them three years down the line, and they're so far ahead of the guys who just played three years of college baseball."

Dick Wiencek, former Scouting Director, Oakland A's: "We don't have too many high school boys. We do have a few, but I don't like to pick too many of them unless they're outstanding pitchers or something like that. This is because the odds of them handling all the extra pressures away from the field are even greater for those away from home for the very first time. Now, everybody in my business doesn't agree with me, thank goodness, because if they did, I wouldn't be able to do it the way I do and then everybody would be taking college players. It's simple. They're more mature. They've been away from home before."

Eddie Mathews, member, Hall of Fame: "In my first year as roving batting instructor with Oakland, 1982, the organization drafted a lot of college players. One of the reasons they did it that way was because Charlie Finley didn't leave us with much of a farm system. We were pretty well strung out. I mean the player reserve in the minor leagues as far as prospects were concerned was pretty thin. So we had to go into a more or less immediate process of development and hope for the best. I think you'll see our management more or less mixing it up more with high school drafts in the future. We just felt this would help speed things along at this point."

Jimmy Stewart, former ML player; manager, Eugene Ems (Reds): "In our team we have six kids who are eighteen. A kid who's twenty-two is four years older. He has four years less left in his playing career. By then these kids will either be up or out. So a kid twenty-two years old in this league better hurry up, 'cause he's still got four jumps ahead of him to get to the big leagues. We actually don't look for younger athlete per se in the Cincinnati Organization. We just go after the best athletes available who can do the job."

Chet Montgomery, former Director of Minor League Operations, Pittsburgh: "Our philosophy is very plain. We naturally want to find and sign players that are not only good athletes, but who have a good aptitude to learn. We try to sign as many young players just out of high school as we can because we can teach them our own way of baseball that way. Part of this philosophy is because there is a difference in teaching in every organization and colleges. So we really like to get a youngster before he gets what people call 'bad habits' and mold him into the Pirate way of playing the game. Don't misunderstand about this. Our way probably isn't that different from many other clubs, and they'll all tell you that, but each club has some things that are different from others."

Larry Monroe, former VP/Minor League Director, White Sox: "We would love to get the high school player, but it comes down to economics. When you draft a high school player who's as good as we're talking about here; he probably has a college scholarship someplace. We could draft him in a high enough round and hope we can buy him out of his scholarship or offer him enough money as incentive to sign. I think most organizations would prefer the high school player they can mold the way them want them to play. But it just doesn't happen that way."

Jim Skaalen, former manager, Walla Walla Padres; Hitting Coordinator, Milwaukee: "Our organization, like most others, would prefer good high school players. However, if a kid has the ability and desire to go to college, then he should do it and play pro baseball later, especially if they have a good scholarship. There are so many good college programs now, that they can have their cake and eat it, too, that way. However, for players who have a tremendous amount of talent and no desire to go to college anyway, like Mitch Williams for example, then they should sign and get on their way."

Woody Woodward, former VP/Baseball Operations, Seattle Mariners: "Draft preferences, high school or college players? Well, we look at it from the angle that we want the best player available in every round we select. Our preference isn't high school or college, but the best available athlete who can fill our need. I'll explain. We go into the draft with the thought that our system is strong in a particular area…maybe pitching…but we're not real deep in middle infielders. So when we have the choice, we'll go for a middle infielder to fill that need without giving a great deal of thought as to whether he's a high school player or a college player."

Gerry Hunsicker, former Director of Minor League Operations, Mets, Astros; GM, Astros: "In general we prefer to draft high school players because the feeling is that we are professionals who know how to develop players to play pro baseball better than anyone else. Therefore, the sooner we can get that player and begin training him our way, the sooner that player can reach his potential. And that's not a slam at the college coaches out there. But they train players differently than we do in the pros. Their goal is to win games. Ours is to prepare players to play successfully at the major league level."

MONDAY, JULY 26

Another very hot day and the players were crowded into the patch of shade behind the plate, stretching.

"Five days home. Ah-h-h-h, I sure can use some fan support after playing at Chemeketa. Who's comin' in anyway? Oh yeah, Bend then Bellingham, right?" Strom chattered as he went through the motions. He looked over at Bathe. "You were lucky sitting on the bench in an enclosed dugout last night. I got hit right in the ear with a peanut somebody threw." He rubbed his ear. "Threw it hard, too."

"Good thing you're so tough," Bathe laughed.

Rogers signaled Graham over and they walked away from the group out toward left field. "It's not so much your performance, Brian. It's your attitude. You LET it get in your way and you PUT it in their way."

They sat down on the grass. "You're too hard on yourself. Too up-tight about what you consider your mistakes. You have to learn to deal with adversities in a more positive manner. Understand what I'm saying?"

"Yeah, Dennis, but I'm struggling." Before he could continue, Rogers interrupted.

"I want you to identify the negatives and turn them into positives. For instance, when you were out with that ankle you radiated 'tense.' You went crazy sitting out a couple of games. I heard you gave Glick a bad time, too, because he played 'your' position. But when I asked you to pinch hit you came off the bench cold and you came through. I know you remember that. Another one. Your temper. When you fail to execute at the plate, the tantrums on the way back to the dugout are so predictable the others pantomime your actions as you do them and mouth your words as you say them. Slam goes the helmet. Slam goes your bat. Those antics not only make you feel lousy all over again, but, what's worse, Brian, they make you look bad. In this league we're more interested in how you deal with your problems than the problems themselves."

Brian Graham, always a good listener and eager to improve, listened intently.

"Look, Brian, this is the last time we're going to talk about it."

"I understand." They stood up and walked back to the group. "It's just that all my life coaches have told me if I make it, it has more to do with my heart, desire, guts than my talent. Well, I think it takes both. Scouts told me I have a lot of talent. Oakland saw something because they took me in the fourth round. But I'm struggling here and haven't shown them what I can do. Time's running out."

"I know how you feel," Rogers said. "But you've got to learn to control those aggressions and channel them in a more positive way. Remember it's better to tame a wild horse than to kick a mule. Which are you?"

They stopped. Rogers looked at him intently. "It's always been in your hands. It's up to you." Brian shook his hand, then ran to the cage to take his cuts.

Brian Graham respected Dennis Rogers and took his advice to heart. He thought about it many times when things didn't go his way. He said it helped him relax and allow his strengths…his positives…to shine through after all. The game with the Bend Phillies was well played by both teams. Barry pitched a shutout through eight. In the top of the ninth, with the A's ahead 4-3, the Phillies had two outs and the tying run on first base, Rogers took the ball from a tiring Barry and called for Ed Myers. He threw four pitches to pinch hitter Keith Hughes and it was over. Hughes struck out. Final score: Medford 4 - Bend 3.

Medford's offense sparkled. Bathe and Rojas homered. Strom got a double. Eppard got three singles. Thoma and Graham each stole a base. To top it off, Myers was tough in relief. This time he got most of the attention of the press. The paper said he was awesome in a tough situation.

Everybody was loose before Tuesday's game. Microphones had been set up on the edge of the field for some entertainment scheduled before the game. During stretching Strom grabbed one of the microphones, turned it on and sang, "Please release me, let me go…" during stretching until Rogers smiled and suggested he needed to stretch more than he needed the audition.

Rogers gave them ten minutes to cool off before beginning BP. They were happy and lively. Anxious for this game to start. Newspapers littered the clubhouse floor. Gorman smoothed the wrinkles out of a copy of the paper on his knee and handed it to Myers. "You're gonna have to send this copy home to your mom. You're the talk of the town today," he winked.

"Yep. Got 'em all fooled. I'm fixin' to ask Oakland for a raise or somethin'," he yawned and kept reading the article.

"Geez, did you know you've only got the best strikeout to innings ratio in the entire league? Says you struck 39 batters in 26.2 innings. Not bad for a rookie," Gorman winked.

"I had a job to do and I went out and did it. So why all the fuss? Besides, my arm felt real good out there last night."

"How's it feel now?"

"Well, liftin' all those beers wore it out."

Brian made his first appearance in a different uniform.

Jackson asked, "What happened, man? Did I forget to wash your stuff?"

"Nope. I decided number 25 was a jinx and I'm not gonna wear it anymore."

"How'd you ever find a number 22 jersey? Were you hiding it all this time? Have it special made?"

"Nah. My girl's flying in tonight and I want to show her something. That uniform was in the way and this was all I could find."

"The Oakland brass is here again," one of them laughed.

"How do you know?"

"Easy. Look at Doc. How often do you see him trim his beard or tuck in his shirt? Gotta be somebody important." They laughed in agreement.

After Medford completed infield and BP and the Phillies were still on the field, the A's were scattered, cooling off with cool drinks and light snacks. By the dugout in what was becoming a regular sight, Jim Eppard signed autographs with one hand while holding his melting popsicle in the other. He was probably the quietest player on the team and the least flamboyant. His reputation was emerging because of his talent. He could hit! Everybody agreed he had a sweet swing.

It was a happy night. The music was loud. The fans were noisy. The players were eager for another victory. Oddly enough, we later learned the crowd that night was the smallest of the season. As they said, "Go figure."

The game had its ups and downs. The offense was up but the defense was down. Starter Glenn Godwin hoped to lower his ERA and have a good performance in front of Oakland's roving pitching coach, Jim Perry, who was back in town. Godwin was nervous with Perry there, but it wasn't necessary because Perry left in the third inning.

Brian Graham tripled to start things off in the bottom of the first. Medford's offense was clumsy. The lead changed hands half a dozen times. Fortunately nine innings makes it a game, because Medford had the most runs after nine. Final score: A's 9 - Phillies 8.

Medford now led the league, both Northern and Southern divisions with a record of 25-9.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 28

Rogers began the day with a quick team meeting in the shady spot behind the plate. He gave them another "don't be cocky, be classy" pep talk, then explained that Assistant Coach Tom Colburn would be at the helm for this game while he sat out the one-game suspension he received over the Delwyn Young incident.

"Thoma, what the? Why are YOU wearing number 25? It's a jinx," Graham shouted to him.

"Not my choice. There's gum or something all over the front of mine and I can't get it out. Gotta look clean for the brass, and this was the only shirt there."

After stretching, they did what they'd done before many other games. They passed around a few balls to be autographed. They were then given away at the games as prizes.

Thoma grabbed the last new ball in the box and said, "Make this one good, guys, because it's for Michael. He's gonna take this with him when he goes for his operation."

"In that case, I'll sign my own name instead of my usual 'J.J. Walker'," Laurenzi grinned.

Under Colburn's leadership, the team played its own version of Billy Ball. They played a much more aggressive game against the Mariners than they'd played against the Phillies. Batters sprayed the field with hits. They forced the Mariners to make defensive mental mistakes. Medford's defense was flawless. Mike Gorman pitched a powerful 8.2 innings. Myers got the final out in the ninth and the save. Final score: Medford 4 - Bellingham 3.

THURSDAY, JULY 29

Myers knocked on the door of the "Kaiser, Peterson, Thoma" apartment and poked his head in the door. "Jeff, just thought I'd bring you something for good luck in tonight's game. He handed him a can of green peas.

"Lucky peas?"

"Well, actually I figured they could be lucky. If somethin' you don't like happens on the mound, you can relax by thinkin' about peas."

"Okay. That's different," Jeff nodded.

"Here's the deal. You have lotsa ice and snow in Michigan in the winter, right?"

"Right," Jeff nodded as he tried to keep a straight face.

"And there's probably bears wanderin' around there, too, right?"

"Right."

"Well, alright then. The peas will help ya catch one o' them bears."

"Okay, I give."

"Whatcha do is cut a hole in the ice and pour the peas in it. When that bear bends over to take a pea, ya kick him in the icehole."

The room was silent. Nobody wanted to give Ed the satisfaction of laughing.

"Thanks," Jeff smiled slowly. "If there's trouble during the game, I promise you the first thing that'll come to my mind is peas. Thank's so much." He smiled, opened the door, and gestured with his foot as if kicking Myers out.

During stretching, Rogers reminded them, "Don't forget tonight is Autograph Night. Everyone will be given a free team picture for you to sign. We'll take BP and skip infield. So be ready to go out there and mingle with the fans for a half hour or so."

The peas may have been lucky for Jeff Kaiser but they didn't do a thing for the other 17 players on the field that night. Jeff went 5.1 strong innings for his fourth win. Beyond that, the game turned out to be a long, silly comedy of errors. Nine errors: four committed by the A's and five by the Mariners.

Bob Bathe and Ray Thoma collided while running down a pop fly, and Thoma was sent to a local hospital with a minor concussion. When Rogers called Dennis Gonsalves in relief, the ump told him Gonzo wasn't eligible to play that night because Rogers had forgotten to put his name on the lineup card. Final score: Medford 8 - Bellingham 5.

FRIDAY, JULY 30

"Gonna be a long one tonight. We're not leaving for Bellingham till one A.M.? Makes me tired just thinking about it," Glick yawned.

After workouts they sat in the shade of the dugout eating their popsicles. Eppard asked Myers, "Did you talk to that agent? I guess Dennis knows the guy and brought him here to talk to us."

"Sounds like a pretty good deal," Myers answered. "He said he'd be my agent and give his services free till I get to the bigs, plus get me cleats and gloves at a good price. I guess he works with Nike, too."

"You goin' with him?" Eppard asked.

"Well, since Rogers brought him around, I guess he's alright. Anyway, he says it's just a verbal agreement. Maybe I'll go with him and see how it goes."

"Have you talked with him yet?"

"Been thinkin' about going over there and talking to him as soon as I finish my popsicle. Heard he's already talked to Graham, Gorman, Barry and the other drafts," and he tossed the popsicle stick and took off.

Thoma wandered in after a final check with a local doctor. "You okay?"

"A little dizzy, but he told me to sit a couple of games for safety. Man, I feel like a freight train ran over my head."

"You hear about who got invited to Instruction League?" Peterson asked. "I heard they invited some of the drafts already."

That topic caught everyone's attention.

"Dennis told me to prepare to go to Arizona after this season, so I guess I'll be going."

"Nope. I haven't heard anything," another replied. "Sure hope they invite me so I can show Oakland something."

The game was short. Barry got his eighth win with the help of Phil Strom's three run homer in the first, and Dave Peterson's grand slam in the seven run fifth inning. The tone of the game was set in the second when catcher Jim Good was hit in the head by a pitched ball. The players and all 1900 fans thought it was a deliberate beanball. After that incident the A's played more aggressively. Final score: Medford 10 - Bellingham 2.

The bus was waiting in the parking lot when they arrived at Miles Field at 12:45 A.M. When they started to board the bus they got a little surprise. Gorman and Myers were casually stretched out in their seats looking relaxed, comfortable, and a little bored.

"Hey, how'd you two get those two seats?" was the outcry. Mike Gorman used his all-too-familiar Humphrey Bogart voice to explain that Jim Eppard drove them to the depot and they were allowed to get on the bus there.

"Very clever," they all agreed.

On his way down the aisle to his own seat, Thoma's feet got tangled and he fell to his knees.

"You okay?"

"Well…the way things have been going for me so far this season, I'd be a fool to buy a five year calendar!" he grinned.

Rogers waited until everyone was settled, then asked for quiet. "Okey, we have two games at Bellingham, two at Walla Walla, then our All-Star Game Wednesday in Eugene. On the way back the bus will leave us there and the rest of you can go back to Medford and have yourselves a day off. Remember, the ones to stay are Mike Gorman, Eric Barry, Ed Myers, Ray Thoma, Bob Bathe, Pat O'Hara, Tony Laurenzi, Brian Graham, and Phil Strom." Because Medford had won the league pennant the previous season, Rogers was automatically the coach and Doc was the trainer.

"Sh-h-h-h. It looks like we could BE the team all by ourselves," Laurenzi snickered.

Once things were quiet and they were on the freeway, Mike asked Ed if he'd signed with that agent. They told each other they were going to think about it for awhile.

"Were you a little suspicious when he opened his trunk and it was stuffed with Nike cleats?"

"That was kind of weird, wasn't it. He just made me a little nervous, actually, " Mike answered.

[If you read "Go Pro Baseball Wise," you'll learn when to get an agent, how to get a good one and how the process is regulated for the protection of players, agents, and the game.]

"Anybody check to see how Goodie's doing" Bathe asked.

"He's okay. He'll join us in Walla Walla in two days," Doc answered.
 
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