A Minor League Journey

Every season, baseball players leave their hometowns to travel to their new teams for the year. Some players travel hundreds or even thousands of miles while others may be moving to whole new countries to start their baseball season. Many interns around the country do the same thing to work for teams with the hope of making it in the industry and securing a full-time position with a club. This season, I was one of those interns.

This is my second season in minor league baseball but I was fortunate to have spent my first season with the Frisco RoughRiders in 2012. I was lucky because the ballpark was close to where I was already living so the commute was only about 20-40 minutes away. For this season, I made the cross-country trip from Texas to Idaho which originally totaled out at 28 hours but ended up being 33 hours overall.

The first leg of the trip was from Dallas, Texas to Salina, Kansas. The drive was pretty smooth and the weather was perfect and sunny. I decided to stop around the Oklahoma City area for lunch. I was going to stop by Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, home of the Oklahoma City Redhawks, but the traffic to downtown OKC was ridiculous. It would have taken over an hour to get in and over an hour to get out so I decided to head north. About 10 minutes north of Oklahoma City is Pop’s Soda Ranch, an awesome soda shop on Route 66 that I highly recommend. It’s not hard to miss judging by the 30-40 foot tall soda bottle in front of the gas station/restaurant/store.

Pop's Soda Ranch (Jarah Wright)

Pop’s Soda Ranch (Jarah Wright)

When you walk into the store, almost every inch of wall space is covered in glass soda bottles. Pop’s boasts carrying and selling over 600 different types of soda including what probably was over 100 types of root beer and sarsaparilla. 2The diner fare was great. A three-cheese patty melt with bacon hit the spot before filling the car up with gas and heading back out on the road. The next stop wouldn’t be until Kansas and I stopped at a landmark that can only be described as the Holy Grail of food places for all college students and quite possible minor league players as well: the world’s first Pizza Hut.

The World's First Pizza Hut (Jarah Wright)

The World’s First Pizza Hut (Jarah Wright)

This beauty of a building is located on the campus of Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas just a few blocks away from where the building originally stood when the first Pizza Hut pizza came out of the ovens in 1958. It’s been a college staple ever since. After bunking in Salina at what can only be described as a shady hotel with orange water and broken bed springs, it was on to Denver for leg two. Driving through Kansas, there were many windmill farms with hundreds of windmills spread across the countryside with cows grazing beneath them speckled with the occasional corn field here and there. DSC09934With an easy, uneventful drive behind me, I arrived in Denver. Of course, I couldn’t pass up the chance to see Coors Field in person so I made my way to see the home of the Colorado Rockies and it definitely didn’t disappoint.

Home Plate entrance with a statue of Branch Rickey. (Jarah Wright)

Home Plate entrance with a statue of Branch Rickey. (Jarah Wright)

The field is absolutely gorgeous and the tour was very informative. I had no idea the field was heated from underneath or that lots of other stadiums get their grass from Colorado.

Perfect view of Coors Field

Perfect view of Coors Field (Jarah Wright)

We checked out the owner’s suite, the club level, and had pretty awesome views from the press box, a double-decker right behind home plate.

Radio and TV broadcasters on top and print reporters on the bottom. (Jarah Wright)

Radio and TV broadcasters on top and print reporters on the bottom. (Jarah Wright)

Then we went to the visitor’s locker room before wrapping up the tour in the visitor’s dugout. Our tour guide told us that normally we would go to the home dugout but today, a couple was getting married at home plate. Congrats to the happy couple!

Visitor's locker room

Visitor’s locker room

View from visitor's dugout

View from visitor’s dugout

After settling in for a night in Denver, it was on to Cheyenne, Wyoming. However, a snow storm shut down the Interstate forcing me to go back to Denver. Luckily because I stayed further south, this Interstate was open the whole way to Idaho. The scenery in Colorado and Utah was gorgeous but with a 15-hour drive, there wasn’t a lot of time to stop and admire it.

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After four days, seven states, and over 30 hours on the road, I made it to my apartment in Idaho and definitely had a greater appreciation of all of the traveling that players go through over the course of the season. But we all share the same passion which makes it all worthwhile: baseball.

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Seven Apache Soccer Players Sign

    

Apaches Class of 2013 Graduating Soccer Sophomores Back row, from left to right: Ricardo Tavarez, Rayon Gibbs, Brandon Riley, Hector Lasso, Connor Adamson,  Front row: Atsou Ayah, Mike Paye, Fernando Castellanos (Jarah Wright)

Apaches Class of 2013 Graduating Soccer Sophomores
Back row, from left to right: Ricardo Tavarez, Rayon Gibbs, Brandon Riley, Hector Lasso, Connor Adamson,
Front row: Atsou Ayah, Mike Paye, Fernando Castellanos
(Jarah Wright)

     The Tyler Junior College Apache soccer team is sending sevent players on to the next level after a successful 2013 campaign leading to the national championship game. The Apaches finished 2013 as the national runners-up with a 19-2-1 record on the season. TJC won the national championship in 2009, 2010, and 2012.

     “I’m proud of these guys. We had another great group. They won the national championship last year with not a bad run this year as the national runners-up,” head soccer coach Steve Clements said. “They are going to great schools including six D-I schools and a D-II school. We are proud that all of our guys are graduating and are progressing on and off the field.”

     Atsou Ayah is moving closer to home signing on with the University of South Florida. During the 2013 season, the Tampa native played in 22 games with three goals and one assist with seven points. Joining him at USF will be TJC teammate and fellow Floridian Brandon Riley. The defender from Orlando played in 21 games and was named to the 2013 NJCAA National All-Tournament Team.

     Two Apaches are heading to Creighton University in the form of Fernando Castellanos and Mike Paye, both from Raleigh, North Carolina. Castellanos played in 21 games scoring 10 goals with five assists and a total of 25 points. He was also named to the 2013 NJCAA National All-Tournament Team. Paye played in 20 games with five assists and five points on the season.

     Another pair of Apaches are going to Grand Canyon University including New Yorker Hector Lasso and El Paso native Ricardo Tavarez. The two defenders combined for two assists and two points with Lasso playing in 22 games and Tavarez playing in 19 games. Rayon Gibbs will continue his collegiate career at Rutgers University. Gibbs, from Jackson, Mississippi, played in 20 games with six goals and 12 points.

Edwar Cabrera Overcomes Shoulder Struggles

It’s a muggy Thursday afternoon. Frisco RoughRiders’ pitcher Edwar Cabrera smiles while talking about being on the other side of Dr Pepper Ballpark as the team prepared to take on the Northwest Arkansas Naturals on opening day. During the 2012 season, Cabrera played at Dr Pepper Ballpark as a member of the Tulsa Drillers, the Colorado Rockies Double-A affiliate.

“It’s different but I’m happy to be here,” Cabrera said. “I feel happy, so happy to come back a year and half later.”

Cabrera has been on quite the journey since that 2012 season including his major league debut. He split most of the 2012 campaign between Tulsa and the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate, the Colorado Sky Sox, before being called up to the bigs. He made his debut on June 27, 2012 against the Washington Nationals.

“That day was awesome. It was the first time I was in the big leagues. The first inning, I was a little nervous and panicky,” Cabrera said. “My second start in the big leagues was a lot better. It felt more normal like I was back pitching in Double-A or Triple-A. It felt like I was back home.”

Cabrera made two starts for the Rockies before finishing the season with the Sky Sox. During his time with the Sky Sox, he pitched 31.2 innings en route to a record of three wins and one loss. He allowed 26 hits and 18 runs while walking 12 and striking out 39. Cabrera was confident going into the 2013 season until he was sidelined with his shoulder.

“My shoulder started feeling different in March 2013,” Cabrera said.

The injury continued to nag him and he had surgery on his left shoulder on July 10th. Cabrera didn’t pitch at all during the 2013 season and focused on rehabbing to get back in time for the 2014 season.

“I did rehab with Andy Stover (Rockies’ assistant rehabilitation coordinator) for two months, I think,” Cabrera said. “Then in the off-season I worked on rehabbing with my trainer in the Dominican.”

In mid-October, the Texas Rangers claimed Cabrera off of waivers from the Rockies. Cabrera said he was excited to join the Rangers but was a little uneasy heading into spring training.

“I was feeling nervous going into spring training. First, I was afraid if I started throwing hard, I would feel something in my shoulder,” Cabrera said. “That was in the back of my mind but my trainer from the Dominican told me not to worry about it. He told me to throw hard and do my best and we’ll see what happens.”

Cabrera was assigned to the RoughRiders at the end of spring training and as of today has pitched in three games with a 2.45 ERA pitching 7.1 innings allowing six hits and two runs while walking two and striking out nine. He said while he focuses on pitching well, he just wants to do whatever is best for the team.

“I have worked hard with the guys here. The trainer has helped me and my pitching coach is teaching me a lot. I’m happy,” Cabrera said. “I want to help my team and help my teammates. I want to be that guy to help guys in whichever way I can. I like to talk to younger guys and help them. I feel like the Latin guys need me more to explain to them how I work and prepare myself for each game in the season. I think it helps them become better players.”

With things looking up for Cabrera, he said there is one more thing that would put the icing on the cake. His family has never been over from the Dominican to see him pitch.

“I’m trying to bring them over to the United States,” Cabrera said. “I know they’re proud of me.”

Double Draft Days: Alec Asher’s Road To Rangers

The MLB draft. For teams, it’s a chance to recruit new talent and make someone’s dreams come true. It’s three days full of excitement as athletes crowd around their TVs and computers waiting for the day their name will be called. In 2010, over 1,500 names were called including current MLB players Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. In the 23rd round, pitcher Alec Asher was selected by the San Francisco Giants out of Lakeland Senior High School.

“That was my whole goal was to play professional baseball and signing at 18 was really exciting,” Asher said.

Things were in place as Asher agreed to sign with the Giants and take a physical. However, the physical revealed a bone spur in his elbow which led to the Giants not signing him.

“When I got out there, they did x-rays and MRIs and stuff like that as part of the normal protocol and they found it. I didn’t even know I had it. We were hanging out for a couple of days and they let me know,” Asher said. “The doctor called me and said ‘Hey. We’re not going to sign you. We’re sorry things didn’t work out.’ It was disappointing. I was really excited and it was like my dreams were shot down real quick.”

Disappointed but determined to make it, Asher decided to go to Santa Fe Community College before transferring to Polk State College which was closer to home.

“I didn’t have a lot of offers to big D-I schools out of high school and I wanted to be able to get drafted every year,” Asher said. “You can do that when you go to a junior college. I wanted my shot at getting drafted every year.”

Asher put up impressive numbers while at Polk State College earning a Rawlings Gold Glove award and was named a First Team National Junior College Athletic Association All-American and the Suncoast Conference Pitcher of the Year. As part of the 2012 Polk State College baseball team, Asher and his teammates won the Suncoast Conference Championship, the Florida College System Activities Association State Championship, and advanced to the NJCAA World Series for the first time ever in the school’s history.

His patience and hard work resulted in being drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 2012 draft in the fourth round. Asher said his second draft day was even better than the first.

“It was definitely better because I kind of matured a bit in the process. Obviously going higher and all that made it a better experience,” Asher said. “My family was happy and was so supportive through both days. I’m  happy it worked out and I think it worked out for the best.”

Asher spent the 2012 campaign with the Rangers’ short-season team in Spokane before skipping a level to advance to High-A Myrtle Beach. He said it took awhile to adjust to his first full season in professional ball.

“It was difficult at first. I didn’t really know what to expect being a starter and going out there for my first full season. Staying healthy was a big challenge because the season is so long,” Asher said. “A lot of people don’t realize you get one, maybe two days off so preparing for the grind of the season is tough. Then you have to work on what you’re struggling with. I struggled around June last year pretty bad. I was like God, I don’t know if I can do this but then all your teammates and coaches help you through it and it ends up working really good.”

During his 2013 season in Myrtle Beach, Asher compiled a record of nine wins and seven losses with an earned run average of 2.90. He pitched in 133.1 innings allowing 120 hits while walking 40 and striking out 139. He said this season he’s looking forward to exceeding his goals and hopes the team can win it all in 2014.

“I’d like to win a championship this year. I think the guys we have are a lot of the guys we had last year and we had a pretty good team,” Asher said. “That’s the main goal and to win baseball games, progress, and get better.”

Matt Harrison Rehabs In Frisco

Matt Harrison looks in for the pitch. (Jarah Wright)

Matt Harrison looks in for the pitch. (Jarah Wright)

The rain may have ultimately postponed the baseball game but it didn’t dampen Matt Harrison’s rehab start with the Frisco RoughRiders on Thursday night. Harrison was named the starter for the Rangers’ Double-A club for Opening Day at Dr Pepper Ballpark.

The ‘Riders took on the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, the Royals’ Double-A club, and were able to get in two full innings before the storm hit with a heavy rain falling and soaking the field. The game was postponed to a doubleheader which was played yesterday. In his two innings of work, Harrison got two quick outs in the first before allowing two earned runs off of three hits before retiring three straight batters in the second. The game was tied at two runs apiece when the game was postponed meaning Thursday’s contest will not count.

Despite the downpour, Harrison said he thought it was a good outing.

“I know in the first inning after I got two outs, I thought I relaxed a little too much, got out of my rhythm, and lost the strike zone for a few batters but I got my tempo back in the second,” Harrison said. “I started attacking hitters and getting ahead of guys and I feel good. It was unfortunate to get shut down so quickly but there’s nothing I can do about Mother Nature.”

He added that he was glad the umpires were so quick with postponing the game.

“Once that rain started coming down, I was staring at the umpire waiting for us to get off the field because I mean, one slip could cause some problems for me so I’m glad he took us off.”

Harrison threw 41 pitches not including the extra 20 or so he threw in the bullpen before the game. He said he has worked out the “jitters” of being back in competitive games but definitely has some things to work on.

“Velocity is not quite there but the ball movement felt good. Like I said, I had a point where there were two outs in the first where it seemed to leave the strike zone but I got it back. It was kind of like my last start in San Antonio so I just have to start the same way I’m finishing,” Harrison said. “I know my last start in Arizona, I was throwing 90-93. Today I think it was 88 and I think I saw 92 a couple of times. I’m usually 91-92 so I hope it (velocity) comes back. I don’t know. It’s still a process and I have to knock the rust off and get my arm back in shape for multiple innings.”

Harrison said he expects to start for Frisco on Tuesday in another four-inning rehab start. He said his ultimate goal is to get back to the Rangers by April 23rd and that he feels almost back to normal.

“I’ve felt great in every start. I still do what I need to do to keep my arm strong but when I’m out on the field, I don’t worry about it anymore. It feels 100 percent.”