Baseball And The Ties That Bind

It’s a warm, April evening as Quad Cities catcher Jacob Nottingham stepped into the batter’s box at Modern Woodmen Park. He launched the ball deep for his first home run of the season. A big smile crossed his face as he entered the dugout to be congratulated by teammates and knowing his family was with him in spirit.

“My dad watches every game and listens to every game,” Nottingham said. “My family is so excited for me. Plus my girlfriend was just out here and she’s excited for me too. I’ve got a great support system.”

Nottingham was born into a family of athletes that spanned multiple sports.

“My mom played four years of varsity basketball in high school and my dad played baseball,” Nottingham said. “But he decided to become a cop instead of keep playing.”

Despite not pursuing baseball further, Nottingham said his dad instilled a love of the game from an early age.

“I started playing baseball when I was four years old. I played in league baseball and on tournament teams. We played in USSSA tournaments around California,” Nottingham said. “Being from California, I was a big Angels fan growing up but I was a big Derek Jeter fan.”

He rotated around the diamond playing at second base and shortstop before settling back into catching during high school. Nottingham was also a two-sport athlete at Redlands High School which drew some attention from other sports recruiters.

“I played football and the University of Arizona recruited me to play for them on a football scholarship,” Nottingham said. “I was an outside linebacker and they wanted me to play tight end too.”

According to MaxPreps.com, during his junior and senior years of high school, Nottingham played in 17 games with a total of 97 tackles, five sacks, two interceptions, and four caused fumbles. But like his father, baseball was where he truly shined. During his sophomore year, Nottingham hit .442 with 47 RBIs, five doubles, three triples, and five home runs. He continued putting up strong numbers throughout the first half of his junior year until a knee injury put him out of commission for the next four to five months. However, that didn’t slow down Nottingham who returned to have a breakout senior year with the Terriers. Over the course of 25 games, he had a .543 batting average with a .971 slugging percentage with 38 hits including seven home runs. His career totals while with Redlands High School are a .453 batting average over 71 games with 87 hits and 94 RBIs. With those kinds of numbers adding up, recruiters and scouts sat up and took notice.

“I had all sorts of teams talk to me,” Nottingham said. “I think I had scouts of about 20 teams come to our house during my senior year. It was fun learning about the different organizations. I also had baseball scholarships to play at the University of Arizona and the University of Oklahoma.”

Draft day rolled around and although he had already committed to the University of Oklaoma Nottingham sat at his house with his family and girlfriend watching anxiously to see if and when his name would pop up.

“I had scouts tell me different rounds they thought I would go in but I knew it would be somewhere before the tenth which is what a lot of them were saying,” Nottingham said. “It was full of ups and downs but it was good once I heard my name be called and I was excited it was the Astros.”

Nottingham was drafted by the Houston Astros in the sixth round of the 2013 draft. With the decision of choosing either college or pro baseball, Nottingham was looking ahead to start his new profession.

“I just wanted to get my professional career started. I felt like I was ready for it,” Nottingham said. “I knew it was going to be a lot harder than I was expecting but I felt like I was ready.”

Coming into his first spring training was unnerving as a player drafted out of high school.

“My first spring was a little different. It was overwhelming seeing so many players out there,” Nottingham said. “There are over 180 guys out there and everything was just so intense.”

In his first professional season, Nottingham played with the Gulf Coast League Astros before being promoted to the Low-A Greeneville Astros in 2014. He earned another promotion coming into the season joining the Quad Cities River Bandits for 2015 joining head coach Josh Bonifay who managed Greeneville the year before.

“He is awesome. I had him last year and know what to expect from him,” Nottingham said. “Just play hard and he won’t say anything to you. He’s a great manager and you can really tell he loves the game.”

Coming into 2015, Nottingham said his goals are to hit 15 home runs and to hit over .270 while continuing to model his game after San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey. And like Posey, Nottingham is also getting some work in over at first base.

“It’s a different experience just trying to learn the position honestly. I’ve never played first base ever so I’m working hard to get both positions down,” Nottingham said. “Catching is a lot easier especially with the great pitching staff that we have but I’m just trying to learn as much as possible and get everything down.”

With high goals set for himself and strong support from his family and friends, Nottingham said he plans on enjoying his time in the Quad Cities this season.

“The weather hasn’t been too bad and the city is awesome especially the people who support you out there. The fan base is great. It’s beautiful here and I love it.”

River Bandits In The Majors: Past

The Quad Cities area has a long baseball history with professional baseball teams playing there since 1879. The stadium is no exception as games have been played at Modern Woodman park since it was built in 1931 although it has also been previously known as Municipal Stadium and John O’Donnell Stadium. In that long and storied history, many players started and continued their careers playing in the Quad Cities. Over the past 10 years, approximately 415 players have taken the field for the River Bandits and Swing of the Quad Cities. Of the 415, 41 saw action in the Majors. Here’s a quick look at the 16 Quad Cities alumni who were active in MLB.

Class of 2011:

Brian Tallet: Tallet was assigned to the River Bandits on a rehab assignment for one game back in 2011. However, 2011 was to be his last season in the majors after spending three seasons with the Cleveland Indians, five and a half seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, and half a season with the St Louis Cardinals. After the end of the 2011 season, the San Diego Padres picked up Tallet where he played 11 games for Triple-A Tucson before playing independent ball with the Lancaster Barnstormers in 2013. That ended up being his last season in professional baseball.

Class of 2008:

Andrew Brown: Brown spent 34 games in the Quad Cities before quickly working him way up the Cardinals minor league system to get to Double-A by the end of the season. He made his big league debut with St Louis in 2011 and pitched in 11 games. Since then, he has moved around the majors with stints with the Colorado Rockies and New York Mets. He’s currently out of professional baseball in the US but is currently playing with the SK Wyverns in the Korean Baseball Organization.

Eduardo Sanchez: After spending 24 games with the River Bandits in 2008, Sanchez spent the next few seasons working his way up to the Cards putting in a 26-game campaign with the RedBirds in 2011 and a 17-game campaign in 2012. The Chicago Cubs picked him up in 2013 but was cut from the organization before he played three games in the Detroit Tigers organization. In an effort to stay in pro ball, Sanchez played in the Mexican League and the Venezuelan Winter League in 2014 but is currently out of baseball.

Class of 2007:

Steven Hill: Hill played 62 games with the River Bandits back in 2007. He worked his way up to the big league club to make his debut with St Louis in 2010. However, 2012 was his last season playing professional baseball.

Brandon Dickson: Dickson played 31 games for Swing of the Quad Cities and steadily worked his way up the minor league ladder to make his MLB debut on July 2, 2011. However, he only pitched four games during the 2012 season with the Cardinals which ended up being his last season in pro ball.

P.J. Walters: Walters spent 17 games with the Quad Cites and also made it up to the big league club to make his debut during the 2009 season with St Louis. He had MLB stints with the Toronto Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins. After the 2013 season in the  majors with the Twins, he was sent to Buffalo. Midway through 2014, the Royals picked him up and assigned him to the Triple-A Omaha Stormchasers. He was let go after 2014 and is currently out of affiliated baseball. Walters is spending the 2015 season with the independent league team, the Lancaster Barnstormers.

Class of 2006:

Tyler Greene: Greene played 59 games in Davenport and was promoted to Palm Beach halfway through the 2006 season. He made his debut with the Redbirds in 2009 and stayed with St Louis until mid-2012. He was then traded to the Houston Astros for a player to be named later and cash considerations. Greene signed with the Chicago White Sox for the 2013 season before being designated for assignment in June. After clearing waivers, he was assigned to Triple-A Charlotte and was released on August 13th. The Atlanta Braves signed him to a minor league deal on August 17th and was assigned to Gwinnett.  In 2014, he was invited to Braves spring training but was picked up by the San Diego Padres and spent the season with the El-Paso Chihuahuas. Coming into 2015, he was signed to a minor league deal with the Philadelphia Philles but he was released on April 4th without ever playing a game.

Mark Mulder: Mulder came down to the Quad Cities in 2006 as part of a one-game rehab program during his time with the St Louis Cardinals. He played his first full major league season in 2001 with the Oakland Athletics and stayed with the club until a trade after the 2004 season sent him to St Louis in exchange for Dan Haren, Kiko Calero, and Deric Barton. Mulder retired from baseball in 2010. He did announce a comeback attempt in 2014 with the Los Angeles Angels. However, he was released that March.

Class of 2005:

Rick Ankiel: Ankiel was drafted by the Cardinals in the 1997 MLB draft and spent the next 12 seasons bouncing around the minor league system and the big leagues. He made his debut with the Cardinals in 1999 and played for them up until 2009. For the 2010 season, Ankiel signed a one-year deal with the Kansas City Royals but he was traded to the Atlanta Braves halfway through the season. After the Braves declined to pick up his option, Ankiel was signed to a one-year deal with the Washington Nationals which turned into two years spent in our nation’s capital. In 2013, the Houston Astros signed him to a one-year contract but was designated for assignment that May. However, the New York Mets picked him up less than a week after but he was DFA’ed in June. He announced his retirement from baseball in 2014.

Jarett Hoffpeuir: The Cardinals drafted Hoffpeuir in 2004 and he joined the Quad Cities the next season playing in 61 games. He worked him way up to a MLB debut with St Louis in 2009 and he was claimed off of waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays that November. He was recalled in 2010 and played in 13 games for Toronto. However, he was claimed off of waivers again that off-season, this time by the San Diego Padres. Hoffpeuir spent the season with the Triple-A Tucson Padres and signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals heading into 2012. He was a free agent at the conclusion of the season and was briefly signed to a minor league contract with the Blue Jays before being released for the last time.

Joe Mather: Mather was drafted by the Cardinals in 2001 and played 54 games in the Quad Cities. He made his MLB debut with St Louis in 2008. He was also with the big league club in 2010 before being claimed on waivers by the Atlanta Braves in November. He played 36 games for the Braves in 2011 and was DFA’ed  in June only to be picked up by the Rockies in July but he was sent back to the minors. The Chicago Cubs signed Mather in 2012 and he made the opening day roster playing in 103 games for them over the course of the season. He bounced from minor league ball to independent league ball and back over the next two seasons. Coming into 2015, he is no longer playing ball but will be the manager of the Missoula Osprey, the rookie-advanced affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

River Bandits In The Majors: Present

The Quad Cities area has a long baseball history with professional baseball teams playing there since 1879. The stadium is no exception as games have been played at Modern Woodman park since it was built in 1931 although it has also been previously known as Municipal Stadium and John O’Donnell Stadium. In that long and storied history, many players started and continued their careers playing in the Quad Cities. Over the past 10 years, approximately 415 players have taken the field for the River Bandits and Swing of the Quad Cities. Of the 415, 41 saw action in the Majors. Here’s a quick look at the 25 Quad Cities alumni who are currently still active in MLB. (We’ll look at the other former 16 players in a future post.)

Class of 2014:

George Springer and Anthony Bass: Both rehabbed with the River Bandits for three games during the 2014 season before being called back up to the Astros. Springer is still with the Astros organization while Bass is now part of the Texas Rangers pitching staff.

Class of 2011:

Oscar Taveras: Taveras played in 78 games over the course of the 2011 season. He was promoted to the Springfield Cardinals in 2012 where he was named the MVP of the Texas League All-Star game, played in the MLB Futures game, won the Texas League championship with the Cardinals and was named the Texas League Player Of The Year. In 2013, he was promoted to Memphis before making the St Louis Cardinals major league roster in 2014. After a standout rookie season, he was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic on October, 24, 2014. Many teams have continued to honor Taveras in the off-season and so far in 2015 including the River Bandits who played a tribute video in Taveras’ honor before the home opener on April 12th.

Kolten Wong: Wong played in 47 games for the River Bandits in 2011 before spending the 2012 season with the Springfield Cardinals. In 2013 he split time with Memphis and the St Louis Cardinals. He made his MLB debut on August 16, 2013. He has been a mainstay of the Cardinals roster ever since 2014.

Seth Maness: Maness only pitched in two games for Quad Cities because he worked his way up through three levels of baseball in the Cardinals system during 2011. He was part of Springfield’s championship team in 2012 before being promoted to the St Louis Cardinals as one of their relievers.

Carlos Martinez: Martinez pitched in eight games before being promoted. He has steadily worked his way up the minor league system to join the Cardinals in a combined 78 games throughout the 2013-2014 seasons.

Trevor Rosenthal: Rosenthal spent the 2011 season with the River Bandits pitching in 22 games. He quickly worked his way up the minor league ladder to make his MLB debut with the Cardinals on July 18, 2012. (Just 12 days after I interviewed him in Frisco.) He has been a deadly addition to the Cardinals bullpen and has become their go-to closer for the past three seasons.

Kevin Siegrist: Siegrist pitched in nine games in the Quad Cities before steadily moving his way up before being promoted to St Louis on June 6, 2013. He pitched in a combined 20 games for the Cards throughout 2013 and 2014 and looks to add to those numbers for the 2015 season.

Class of 2010:

Matt Adams: Adams played in 121 games for the River Bandits. He made his Major League debut with the Cards on May 20, 2012 and has been their primary first baseman for the past three seasons.

Michael Blazek: The pitcher tossed in 32 games back in 2010 and worked his way up to his MLB debut with the Cards in 2013. He was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers in the off-season in a trade for John Axford. He spent the 2014 season with the Nashville Sounds, the then-AAA affiliate of the Brewers, and is spending the 2015 season up with the parent club having already made five appearances for Milwaukee. (As of 4/20/15).

Ryan Jackson: Jackson played in 84 games for the River Bandits before being promoted to Advanced-A Palm Beach. He made his MLB debut on the tail-end of the 2012 season and pitched in seven games with the St Louis Cardinals during 2013 but was released after the season. He was picked up by the Padres and played in their farm system for one year before the Kansas City Royals picked him up and assigned him to the Omaha Stormchasers for 2015.

Joe Kelly: The starting pitcher had 26 appearances with Quad Cities. He made his MLB debut in 2012. The Cards traded Kelly to Boston during the 2014 season in exchange for John Lackey. (Note: Allen Craig was also sent over in the Kelly trade). Kelly is one of the starting pitchers in Boston’s rotation.

Shelby Miller: Miller spent part of the 2009 and 2010 campaigns with the River Bandits pitching in two games and 24 games respectively. He debuted with the Cardinals in 2012. During this past off-season Miller and prospect Tyrell Jenkins were sent to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden. As of 4/20/15, Miller has a 2-0 record in three appearances on the season.

Class of 2009:

Matt Carpenter: Carpenter played in 29 games before being promoted to Palm Beach. He worked his way up the system and the Cardinals held onto him since his MLB debut in 2011. Carpenter only missed two games for St Louis last season and looks to be a solid force again in 2015.

Jon Edwards: Edwards pitched for Quad Cities in 2008 and 2009 as he has navigated the minor league systems of both the Cardinals and the Texas Rangers to finally make his MLB debut in 2014. Edwards will be part of the Rangers bullpen in 2015.

David Carpenter: Carpenter played in 52 games for the River Bandits in 2009. But he didn’t stay in the Cardinals system long. After spending six games in Palm Beach, he was traded to the Houston Astros for Pedro Feliz. He spent a few years in the Astros system before a 2012 trade sent him over to the Blue Jays system with J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon. He played in 16 games for the Las Vegas 51s, the Blue Jays AAA affiliate, before Toronto sent him to Boston. However, Boston waived him before Atlanta picked him up for two seasons. Coming into 2015, Carpenter was traded to the Yankees in exchange for Manny Banuelos.

Class of 2008:

Pete Kozma: Kozma played in 99 games during the 2008 season and has worked him way up the ladder to debut with the Cards in 2011. Since then he has gone back and forth between St Louis and Memphis, spending the majority of the 2014 with the latter.

Lance Lynn: Lynn played for two games with the River Bandits in 2008. He shot up the ladder to Memphis for 2009 and 2010 before his MLB debut in 2011. He has since been part of the St Louis pitching staff with over 30 appearances in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Class of 2007:

Donovan Solano: Solano spent 82 games with Quad Cities in 2007. He made it as far as Triple-A Memphis before being cut at the end of the 2011 season. The Miami Marlins invited him to be a spring training non-roster invitee and made it onto the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs where he stayed until he was called up on May 21, 2012. He has been a utility infielder for the Marlins since then.

Tony Cruz: Cruz played for four teams during the 2007 season before spending the last 49 games of the year with the River Bandits, also known as Swing of the Quad Cities. He made his major league debut with the Cardinals in 2011 and has been used as a utility man at third base and catcher for the past four seasons.

Class of 2006:

Jaime Garcia: After playing 13 games with the River Bandits, Garcia ascended the minor league ladder quickly making his big league debut in 2008. He has been a vital part of the St Louis Cardinals roster ever since. He had surgery on his left shoulder midway through the 2014 season due to thoracic outlet syndrome and is still focusing on rehabbing and recovering from that surgery.

Jon Jay: Jay played in 60 games during his first professional baseball season. He continued on through the minor league system to join the Cardinals on April 26, 2010. He has been a big part of their lineup ever since.

Colby Rasmus: Rasmus spent 78 games in Davenport during the  2006 season. He made his MLB debut with the Cardinals in 2009. In 2011, he was traded to Toronto in a seven-player trade that also included River Bandits alum Brian Tallet. Rasmus’ contract was up after the 2014 season and the Blue Jays chose not to re-sign him. However, the Houston Astros picked him up for the 2015 season signing him to a one-year, $8 million contract.

Shane Robinson: Robinson played in 63 games during the 2006 season. The right fielder had major league time with the Cardinals in 2009 and from 2011-2014. St Louis gave him his release after the season concluded and he was picked up by the Minnesota Twins for the 2015 season.

Jason Motte: Mott had eight games in the Quad Cities and made his MLB debut in 2008 with the Cardinals. He was with the organization until the end of the 2014 season. In 2015, he signed with the Chicago Cubs.

Adam Ottavino: Ottavino also had eight appearances with the River Bandits. He debuted with the Cardinals in 2010. In 2012, he was claimed off of waivers by the Colorado Rockies and has been a relief pitcher for them for the past three seasons.

Next time we’ll take a look at River Bandits In The Majors: Past…..

Opening Day Weather Woes

Opening Day is always a celebration of the return of baseball. Ballparks around the country are usually packed with fans anticipating that this is the year their team will go all the way. However, Mother Nature doesn’t always agree. My last two Opening Days have both been threatened with crazy weather. Last year, I was in Frisco to see Matt Harrison rehab. I was in the photo well taking pictures whenever I saw this forming beyond left field.

(Courtesy: Texas Monthly)

(Courtesy: Texas Monthly)

I could have been a brave photojournalist and stayed in the well to take pictures like this but I’m not one to take chances in this kind of weather so I got out as soon as I could. The tornado touched down about 20 miles away from the ballpark and brought with it a torrential downpour so I stayed in the press box and waited it out before I went home. Last night, I drove the 90 miles or so to Peoria, Illinois to watch the Quad Cities River Bandits take on the Peoria Chiefs in its home opener. In a crazy twist of fate, a huge storm blew through the area that spurred several tornadoes throughout the area. None were close to Dozer Park so the game went on. However, several other Midwest League teams weren’t so lucky. Three games were postponed due to weather including snow for the West Michigan Whitecaps and rain for the Great Lakes Loons.

Back in Peoria, the River Bandits topped the Chiefs 7-3 as the two battled high winds throughout the contest.

Jack Flaherty got the ball for Peoria in its first game of the season. (Jarah Wright)

Jack Flaherty got the ball for Peoria in its first game of the season. (Jarah Wright)

Derek Fisher takes a big swing in the first inning. (Jarah Wright)

Derek Fisher takes a big swing in the first inning. (Jarah Wright)

Got heem (Jarah Wright)

Got heem (Jarah Wright)

Jacob Nottingham throws down to second. (Jarah Wright)

Jacob Nottingham throws down to second. (Jarah Wright)

So with a successful first night, the season continues. But then again who really knows if Mother Nature will intervene again. The River Bandits just might become an island again. Play ball!

No team is an island….except the River Bandits. (Courtesy: QCTimes.com)

No team is an island….except the River Bandits. (Courtesy: QCTimes.com)

Fellowship Of The Diamond

What happens when you mix a sports fan with a pop culture geek? Dreams that evidently lead to creative blog posts. The other night I watched part of Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring before going to bed and I was starting to think about how Opening Day is quickly approaching. What resulted were some strange dreams about what would happen if characters from the Fellowship played baseball. Well wonder no more! (Note: I have put way too much thought into this. Feel free to disagree and move characters around.)

Today’s lineup against the Uruk-Hai from Mordor. They made the trip because One does not simply walk into Mordor.

(Courtesy: Youtube)

(Courtesy: Youtube)

The Fellowship Lineup

  1. 3B Legolas Greenleaf
  2. LF Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck
  3. RF Peregrin “Pippin” Took
  4. 1B Gimli
  5. C Gandalf the White
  6. SS Samwise Gamgee
  7. 2B Boromir
  8. CF Aragorn
  9. P Frodo Baggins

Manager: Elrond of Rivendell

Assistant Coach: Gollum

Officials: 1B umpire Saruman

Home plate umpire Sauron

Now to explain the reasons behind these particular position choices…Legolas is my third baseman because he is very quick with his hands which is evidenced by his skill in shooting arrows fast with deadly accuracy. He is also light on his feet, a vital skill for third basemen aiming to get to balls all over the hot corner. Third basemen have to have extremely fast reflexes paired with good eyesight to get to balls quickly as well.

(Courtesy: Tumblr)

(Courtesy: Tumblr)

Next are Merry in left field and Pippin in right field. These two tend to get paired together because their jobs are similar just in different spots on the field. It’s kind of like Return of the King where Merry fights for Rohan and Pippin fights for Minis Tirith. They represent two sides united to fight against the enemy in battle which is really what a baseball game could be seen as: a sports battle for a winning season.

In the cleanup spot is Gimli, son of Gloin aka baseball royalty as he took part in the great battle with Isildur who is related to our centerfielder Aragorn. Back to Gimli…he’s not as quick as Legolas over at third but is still solid at his position. He has comical quips with third base over who is better at their position like many infielders do. An example would be diving plays at third which could elicit this reaction…

(Courtesy: Tumblr)

(Courtesy: Tumblr)

Gandalf is behind the plate because like a catcher tries to guide his pitcher through the game, Gandalf guides Frodo with important decisions that affect the quest. He also has a game plan and seeks out the advice of others in certain situations like a catcher does when talking to a pitching coach.

Sam is the shortstop because he backs up the pitcher as much as possible and makes hard/incredible plays kind of like Sam’s decision making in the films to take the ring and carry it for Frodo. A shortstop also has an extensive range much like Sam’s emotions.

Boromir is next and he’s at second because he’s the last line of defense when it comes to plays like bunts. Most second baseman are willing to sacrifice their bodies to keep the ball in front of them on wild bunt plays and we all know Sean Bean aka Boromir is willing to do that.

(Courtesy: FunnyJunk.com)

(Courtesy: FunnyJunk.com)

Center fielders have priority over every player on the diamond when it comes to fly balls much like a king has authority over his subjects. So of course the center fielder in our scenario has to be Aragorn, son of Arathorn and Isildur’s heir. (Isildur had the winning hit in his ballgame but was soon released after being put on the ultimate DL with an arrow in his back).

Finally, Frodo is on the mound and batting last. The weight of the ring can equal the weight of a start on a pitcher’s mind. They all have an intense focus when it comes to their turn in the rotation. You can’t have a game without a pitcher because they set the action in motion just like Frodo sets our story in motion.

The Fellowship is managed by Elrond because he knows the answers to most every question he’s asked and of course, he put the Fellowship together like a manager fills out a lineup card. The pitching coach would be Gollum because let’s be honest, they are obsessed with called strikes just like Gollum is with the ring.

Umpires for today’s game include Saruman at first and Sauron behind home plate. Games can’t be played without umpires and stories can’t always be written without bad guys. Plus Sauron is always looking for the ring and the home plate umpire is always looking to call a strike.

(Courtesy: Tumblr)

(Courtesy: Tumblr)

So there you have it. The Fellowship Of The Diamond. And I don’t think any of this is too far-fetched because after all, all baseball players are truly in search of The One Ring.

(Courtesy: sfgiants.mlblogs.com)

(Courtesy: sfgiants.mlblogs.com)