Feeling Kind of Small
After playing most of the previous four years with the Astros, second baseman-outfielder Casey Candaele, 33, has spent this season in the minor leagues with the Triple A Indianapolis Indians. "There are times when you say, 'What in the hell am I doing here?' " says Candaele, who as a free agent last November signed with the Reds' organization but then didn't make the big club. "I mean, we have to carry our own bags!
"In Triple A you're one step away from being the best in the world, and you have to be a fry cook in the off-season. But as long as you can deal with not having hot running water all the time and having to eat greasy food every day, it's a lot of fun."
Candaele is one of scores of former major leaguers, some with as many as 10 years of big league service, who are playing in the minors. He's one of 18 players on the Indianapolis roster who have major league experience, including 34-year-old catcher Barry Lyons. "Every home game we're announced as 'the future stars of the Cincinnati Reds,' " Candaele says. "That cracks me up. Future stars—yeah, right. They should say future star. We have, maybe, one guy."
Here's some more news from the minors, which, if there's a major league strike, may soon be the only game in town.
Ryan's hope. Hudson Valley Renegade pitcher Reid Ryan, son of Nolan, was, at week's end, 2-0 with a 2.04 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 35‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings since being drafted in the 17th round by Texas in June. "At every game, people ask me, 'Why isn't your dad here?' " Reid says. "I tell them, 'He has his own life.' Everyone also asks me, 'Are you going to be as good as your dad?' I usually say, 'No, who is?' "
A new franchise in the Class A New York-Penn League, Hudson Valley has drawn so well that Ryan doesn't even pack in extra fans when he starts. In fact, his pro debut on June 20 attracted only 2,687 spectators, the Renegades' smallest crowd of the season at their park in Fish-kill, N.Y. In Reid's second start, five days later, Nolan showed up in baggy clothes and fake glasses, and stood at the door of the Renegade clubhouse near the right-field line, hoping no one would notice him. Some fans did. Nolan left with a police escort after eight innings.
Back to reality. On Opening Day this year the Blue Jays had a rookie at shortstop (Alex Gonzalez), another in leftfield (Carlos Delgado) and one in the starting rotation (Paul Spoljaric). All three players were back in the minors by June 10. Delgado, who hit eight homers for Toronto in the first 16 days of the season—but who also had more strikeouts than hits by the time he was optioned to the Triple A Syracuse (N.Y.) Chiefs—is back playing catcher, his natural position. With a recent hot streak at the plate, he had raised his average to .351 with five homers and 19 RBIs through Sunday.
Gonzalez, who struggled at bat and in the field in Toronto, was hitting .296 with nine homers for Syracuse, but his defense (21 errors in 62 games at short with the Chiefs) still has the Blue Jays worried. Spoljaric opened the season as Toronto's fifth starter, but after going 0-1 with a 38.57 ERA in two appearances, he was shipped to Syracuse too. A disastrous 1-5 start with the Chiefs caused him to be dropped to the Double A Knoxville (Tenn.) Smokies, where he had won three of his last four starts.
The prospects are good. Count these minor leaguers among the players who should move up to the majors and make significant contributions next season: Russ Davis, the Yankees' third baseman of the future, who was hitting .261 with 13 homers and 42 RBIs for the Triple A Columbus (Ohio) Clippers; Billy Ashley, a talented young outfielder who's on his way to Dodger Stadium, based on his stats—.326, 20 homers, 65 RBIs—for the Triple A Albuquerque Dukes; Scott Ruffcorn, a likely starting pitcher for the White Sox, who was 10-2 with a 2.57 ERA for the Triple A Nashville Sounds; and Charles Johnson, who will probably be the Marlins' starting catcher, even though he was back playing Double A ball with the Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs. Johnson, 23, was hitting .253 with 16 homers and 42 RBIs. When recalled by Florida briefly in May, he went 5 for 11 with a home run, but it was the way he handled himself behind the plate that had everyone raving.
The NBA beckons. Birmingham Baron rightfielder Michael Jordan still fills ballparks across the Southern League, and he remains dedicated to improving his game—but he still can't hit Double A pitching. At week's end Jordan was hitting .192 with no homers and 34 RBIs in 313 at bats. Tim Harkrider, a shortstop for the Midland (Texas) Angels in the California organization, and Buck McNabb, an outfielder for the Jackson (Miss.) Generals in the Houston system, were the only other players who had more than 300 Double A at bats without a homer.
Far East update. Spring training pitching sensations Chan Ho Park of the Dodgers and Mac Suzuki of the Mariners are now toiling in Double A. Park, who made history on April 8 when he became the first Korean to play in the majors, struggled with his control in Los Angeles and was sent to the San Antonio Missions. In 13 starts with the Missions through Sunday, he was 2-4 with a 2.71 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 63 innings. The Japanese-born Suzuki has missed most of the Jacksonville Suns' season because of shoulder tendinitis, but he's pitching again and reportedly throwing in the low 90's.
Top Dog and Big Dog. One of the best pitching prospects in the minors is Salt Lake Buzz righthander LaTroy Hawkins, who has TOP DOG tattooed on his left arm and has pitched like one this season. Hawkins was 9-2 at Double A Nashville before the Twins promoted him to Triple A Salt Lake, where at week's end he was 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA.
While playing basketball for Westside High in Gary, Ind., the 6'5" Hawkins went head-to-head with archrival Roosevelt High's Glenn (Big Dog) Robinson, who went on to star at Purdue and was the first player picked in last June's NBA draft. "I held my own against him," says Hawkins, who in one game got into a fight with Robinson that escalated into a brawl. "He pushed me. Did we get punches in? Sure. Hey, we didn't fight for nothing."
Chip off the ol' block. Through Sunday the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League had sold out 12 of 19 games and averaged 6,214 fans at their 6,305-seat ballpark, which is situated approximately seven miles from Minneapolis's Metrodome. But that success at the gate should come as no surprise, considering that the Saints are run by Mike Veeck, a son of baseball's original promotional genius, Bill Veeck. Mike attributes the Saints' high attendance to low ticket prices: $4 and $6. ("It's $2 if you're a kid, or if you lie about your age, which we like," he says.) But you can bet that some of Mike's zany promotions are just as responsible for filling the seats. On July 31 the Saints will stage Mini-Bat Day, in honor of one of the stunts that made Bill famous: sending midget Eddie Gaedel to the plate as a pinch hitter for the St. Louis Browns. In addition to receiving a miniature baseball bat, Saint fans will watch Bob Cain, who pitched to Gaedel in 1951, return to the mound and pitch to the ghost of Gaedel. "I love to be disrespectful," Veeck says. "I should be arrested."
Just call him Stuck. Eric Stuckenschneider, an outfielder with the Dodgers' Class A Yakima (Wash.) Bears, has the longest last name—16 letters—in professional baseball. No one in major league history has ever had a last name longer than 13 letters. "On my uniform, my name starts at the middle of my back, goes up and around my number and comes around to the middle of my back on the other side—not quite a complete circle, but close," Stuckenschneider says. "Some guy on the other team yelled at me when I was at the plate, 'Can you please spell that in English?' "
Ron Hunt never did this. On July 5, Riverside (Calif.) Pilot catcher James Bonnici was hit by a pitch twice in one inning—on the arm in his first at bat and then on the ribs on his second trip. In his next at bat in the Class A game, the Mariner prospect hit a home run.
Barely Macon it. After losing 19 of their first 20 games, the Class A Macon (Ga.) Braves got hot and won 40 of their next 65, only to have tropical storm Alberto submerge their field, forcing them to play home games on the road for what might turn out to be a month. At one point there was five feet of water standing in rightfield and the clubhouse was flooded; 177 dozen baseballs and dozens of bats were ruined. "I knew it was bad when my white jersey had a water stain halfway up the back—and it was hanging up in my locker," says Macon manager Leon Roberts. "Even my golf clubs got ruined."
Bet the Storm. The Lake Elsinore (Calif.) Storm play in a city of just 24,000, but the Class A club, which is affiliated with the Angels, has challenged its fans to come out to the park on July 25 and help it outdraw its big league neighbors 70 miles to the south, the Padres. The Storm was 34-57 through Sunday, but its miserable showing on the field hadn't stopped the fans from cramming into its new, 7,566-seat ballpark, The Diamond. On July 2 the Storm broke the California League attendance record with a crowd of 7,608, and on some nights the first-year club has come close to outdrawing the Padres, who at week's end were 37-56 and attracting just 16,990 per game to 46,510-seat San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
Minor League Juiced Ball Note of the Year. At week's end pitcher Mike Campbell of the Las Vegas Stars (Triple A, San Diego) was hitting .526 (10 for 19) with one double, two triples and three home runs, all the homers coming off pitcher Brian Conroy of the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Rockies). "It's hilarious," says Campbell. "After the first home run, I rounded second and saw our bullpen running toward the dugout to give me high fives. They were laughing their heads off."
Candaele (2) now totes his own bags, while Ryan copes with the baggage of having a famous dad.
TOM BUSHEY/TIMES HERALD-RECORD
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Johnson (above) and Hawkins (right) are serious prospects; in upholding a family tradition, Veeck, by contrast, is all laughs.
DALE GATES/ST. PAUL SAINTS
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