Category: Dailies

D.C.’s State Secrets


Nationals minor leaguers engage in a baserunning drill.

 

The Washington Nationals for the last few years have been considered one of the worst organizations in baseball.

It was a year ago that Nats general manager Jim Bowden resigned amid allegations that scouts had skimmed money off the signing bonuses of Latin American prospects.

In their five years since moving to D.C. from Montreal, the Nationals have gone from 81-81 in 2005 to 59-103 in 2009. Their record over those five years was 342-466, a .423 winning percentage.

About all they have going for them is a progressive new GM in Mike Rizzo and the #1 draft pick overall in the June 2010 draft, Stephen Strasburg.

So you’d think an organization with such a bad reputation, an organization viewed as a joke by much of the baseball world, would go out of its way to nurture better relations with media, wouldn’t you?

Wrong.

I haven’t said anything publicly until now, but for the last couple months I’ve quietly explored every avenue to play by the rules and obtain a credential so I could shoot photos and video at the Nationals’ minor league complex in Viera.

I’m not going to name names, nor will I divulge private conversations with those who tried to get the Nats’ media relations to see reason.

The bottom line is that their media relations don’t seem to know how to handle legitimate media requests from the cyberworld.

Media credentials will only be issued to mainstream newspapers and television stations.

I’ll fully acknowledge that they have the legal right to control who sees their product.

On the other hand, courts ruled long ago that a baseball game is a news story and therefore Major League Baseball is limited in what access they can restrict.

Baseball and the media have courted each other for over a century. A newspaper story is free advertising. In the minor leagues, many teams are desperate to get any news coverage. In the majors, both sides have a common interest — money. A newspaper’s sports section generates revenue, and it gives the ballclub free publicity.

Some organizations fear the cyberworld, though, because individuals and small businesses running web sites and blogs are not part of that common interest. The cyberworld poses a clear and present danger to mainstream journalism. Newspaper subscriptions have plunged in recent years, forcing most papers to cut back on their coverage. One D.C. paper, the Washington Times, closed its sports department in January.

So you’d think the Nationals’ media relations people would welcome cyberworld writers and videographers to fill the gap.

Nope.

I walked into minor league camp today, figuring no one would mind if I’m just shooting photos and video of the morning drills, especially since there was nothing happening on the major league side at Space Coast Stadium.

I was doing my thing for about fifteen minutes when an older gentleman wearing a Nats cap and jacket, with a Bluetooth in his ear as his only apparent badge of authority, rudely tapped me on the shoulder and stuck his finger in my face. He told me that unless I had a credential, I would have to stand behind a chain link fence to observe.

So I left.

I won’t come back for their spring training activities, major or minor league, even as an observer. I’ve no reason to care now.

Some of you may know that I’ve run another web site, FutureAngels.com, since 1998. I’ve gone to minor league spring training camps around Arizona for twelve years.

Never once did I see a guard demanding credentials of someone shooting photos or video, much less a credential being required.

Other organizations are more than happy to find someone actually cares about their minor league operation, because baseball people know the minor leagues is where they develop their future. They’re proud to show off their baseball acumen.

Let’s also note they understand the desire of players’ parents and loved ones to see their sons pursuing a dream thousands of miles away from home. That was one big reason I started FutureAngels.com all those years ago, to allow parents to see their sons playing ball while they were away from home for six months.

The Angels went through this cyber insecurity about six-seven years ago. I remember a media relations person saying to me, “The problem is we can’t control you.” It was explained that because I didn’t work for them, they couldn’t control my message. A baseball executive said he was concerned because all the coaches and players knew me and trusted me, therefore I might see something I shouldn’t.

Implicit in those remarks was the suggestion that they thought they had the mainstream media under control. Newspapers and TV stations had been co-opted into the publicity machine. They understood that if they wanted privileged access, the scoop or the exclusive, they’d have to “play ball,” pun intended.

Some web sites and bloggers might be willing to co-opt themselves, but because they’re excluded from access they have no vested interest and therefore write with impunity. They can howl at the moon if they want.

That scares the bejeezus out of some P.R. people who are so concerned with controlling the spin.

But the Angels outgrew that insecurity. Today they arrange credentials, access and interviews for established Angels fan web sites and blogs. A blogger establishes a working relationship with a media staff person, submits a request for an interview or whatever and the staff person arranges it if appropriate. The Angels media relations have arranged for a couple fan sites to have recurring gigs on local sports talk shows. In 2009, one fan site was even granted credentials to access the Angels clubhouse post-game.

If you go to the Angels’ minor league spring training, you’ll find dozens of fans walking around glimpsing the team’s future, even on an off day for the parent club. Read fan sites and you’ll find that a lot of people know not only the top prospects, but also the guys on the fringe and even the organization players with no meaningful future. The Angels also draw three million fans a year.

Contrast that with the Nats’ minor league camp today. I saw no one other than three or four autograph collectors standing by the clubhouse ambushing players as they walked by.

If media relations doesn’t want anyone to care … mission accomplished.

Click here to watch a Nationals minor league baserunning drill filmed before I left. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.

The Camcorder Memorial

Camcorder, we hardly knew ye.

My Sony camcorder expired this afternoon at about 3:00 PM EDT. It’s been having problems in recent months, death rattles in retrospect, and while editing video highlights today it simply expired.

I don’t often beg for money, but if you’ve enjoyed the SpaceCoastBaseball.com Video Gallery over the last few months I need your help if I’m going to film more video highlights in 2010.

The bottom line is I need to raise $1,920 to buy this new camcorder:


Your donation can help SpaceCoastBaseball.com buy this new camcorder to film professional and amateur video highlights in 2010 — Florida Tech, Brevard Community College, the Brevard County Manatees, the Gulf Coast League Nationals, the Brevard County Adult Baseball Association, and more.

 

The new camcorder is a Sony HDR-FX7 HDv 1080i Camcorder.

The old camcorder bought six years ago cost about $2,500. The new one has more features — technological advancement, of course — so we’ll be able to zoom in closer and get much sharper footage than over the last six years.

As some of you may know, I am unemployed and in this economy there’s little hope for a job in the near future. I really can’t afford to spend $2,000 on a new camcorder.

So if you want to see video highlights this year, you need to step up to the plate.

The best way you can help is by either making a one-time donation, or by signing up for a voluntary $5/month subscription. Click here to help.

Times are tough for everyone, I realize, but the reality is that without financial assistance I won’t be able to afford a new camcorder, and video memories will be lost to history.

Thanks for your time and consideration.

Panthers, Moccasins Ready to Rumble

The surprising Florida Tech Panthers will be on the road next weekend to play a three-game series in Lakeland against top-ranked Florida Southern College.

Before the season began, FSC was ranked #2 nationally in NCAA Division II. FIT was unranked. But the Panthers have proved to be better than believed, and in the latest

February 22 ranking
FSC was ranked #1 while FIT had moved up to #20. Since then, both teams have lost a game, so we’ll have to see how that affects the next rankings.

SpaceCoastBaseball.com will be in Lakeland next weekend to cover the series with photos and video.

Mike Marshall’s Quest


1974 Cy Young Award winner Mike Marshall, who now resides near Tampa, researches the physics of pitching mechanics.

 

Is he right?

I’ve no idea.

Mike Marshall certainly believes he’s right, though, and he’s amassed a large body of evidence on his web site, DrMikeMarshall.com.

I drove over to Dr. Marshall’s home in Zephyrhills, near Tampa, where we recorded a 70-minute interview. Click here to watch the interview. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.

Marshall first became known to the baseball world thanks to Ball Four by Jim Bouton. Marshall was a cerebral pitcher knowledgeable about players’ union issues, and Bouton’s chess-playing buddy. They were two members of the Seattle Pilots, a 1969 American League expansion team that moved next spring to Milwaukee and became today’s Brewers.

For Marshall, baseball was just a way to pay for his graduate school studies at Michigan State. He earned a Masters of Science in 1967 in physical education, and a Doctorate in 1978 in Exercise Physiology. He used baseball as his research tool, to test how his body performed and apply that to his growing knowledge of biomechanics. According to his web site, his doctorate dissertation was, “A Comparison of an Estimate of Skeletal Age With Chronological Age When Classifying Adolescent Males for Motor Proficiency Norms.”

Mike applied what he was learning to his pitching mechanics. He began his minor league career as a shortstop in 1961 — he hit .304 with 14 HR for Magic Valley in the Pioneer League in 1963 — but switched to the mound in 1965. His career was unremarkable until 1972, when at age 29 he posted a 1.78 ERA in 56 relief appearances (116.0 IP) for the Montreal Expos. In 1973, he posted a 2.66 ERA in 92 games (179.0 IP).

The Expos traded Marshall that winter to the Dodgers for veteran outfielder Willie Davis. Mike appeared in 106 games (208.1 IP), all in relief, helped the Dodgers to the World Series, and was named the National League’s Cy Young Award winner.

Marshall credits a total overhaul of his pitching mechanics, applying what he’d learned at Michigan State. During this time, as he blossomed into perhaps the league’s best reliever, he was an adjunct professor at MSU.

Much has been written over the years about Mike’s theories. The baseball establishment seems to have rejected his proposal to totally change pitching mechanics. Major League Baseball is hidebound on its best days, so it’s unrealistic to expect them to abandon the way pitchers currently throw for a radically different approach.

Mike is fiercely passionate, but also fiercely logical, about the subject. He approaches the issue as a researcher, as a scientist. He argues quite rightly that a lot of money is wasted on creating a major league pitcher only to have him break down. We’ve all seen plenty of free-agent pitchers hit the jackpot only to break down before their contract ends.

The Nationals signed #1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg to a four-year $15.1 million contract. I showed Marshall a clip I filmed last October of Strasburg’s pro debut in fall instructional league. Strasburg hadn’t pitched in game competition for four months, so this wasn’t Stephen at his best, and I told Mike that. In the interview, Mike comments briefly on what he saw, although he acknowledged off-camera he would like to observe Strasburg from multiple angles with a super-slow motion camera to make a more informed judgment.

In any case, Strasburg is an example of a massive investment by a major league organization, which carries with it a massive risk. But I can’t imagine the Nationals sending Strasburg to Zephyrhills to have Marshall overhaul his mechanics. How would GM Mike Rizzo explain to the press that he’d invested $15 million in a guy whose mechanics were so bad he had to be rebuilt from scratch? The end result, of course, is unforeseen. And there are hundreds of pitching coaches and scouts around organized baseball who, trained to teach the traditional mechanics, would strenuously disagree with Marshall’s theories — not because he’s wrong, but it’s all they know.

I’m certainly no expert when it comes to pitching mechanics, much less kinesiology and biomechanics. Marshall is right when he says baseball needs to find a way to reduce pitcher injuries, given the millions and millions of dollars invested in their development. Are Mike’s theories the answer? I can’t tell you. More knowledgeable people than me have tried. But it’s certainly a debate worth having, and if MLB was more visionary they would finance research towards reducing pitcher injuries.

It’s just a lot easier to shovel millions of dollars to an ace pitcher and leave the egghead stuff for someone else.

This article also appears on FutureAngels.com, our affiliated blog.

BCABA Tryouts

UPDATE January 17, 2009 — Click on these links to watch videos from the January 17 BCABA tryout at Cocoa Beach High School:

BCABA tryout excepts

Interview with BCABA president Jeremy Hart

Interview with BCABA vice-president Evan Proctor


The Brevard County Adult Baseball Association held its first tryout today. Since everyone will be assigned a roster regardless of talent, it’s less of a tryout than an assessment, but in baseball parlance it was a tryout.

The BCABA is one of two adult amateur leagues in the Space Coast. The Brevard County Baseball League is run by the Brevard County Parks and Recreation. It’s been around since 1980, when it was known as the Florida Space Coast Baseball League. The BCABA is a private circuit affiliated with the National Adult Baseball Association. It formed in 2009, and is about to begin its second season.

Other than the potential scheduling conflict, there’s no reason why a person can’t play in both leagues.

Below are some photos I shot at today’s tryout, held at Cocoa Beach High School. A second tryout is scheduled for tomorrow at the same location at 9 AM, weather permitting. Even if you can’t make a tryout, you can still sign up for the league through their web site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirates of the Florida State League

On November 10, 2009, the Pittsburgh Pirates purchased the Sarasota Reds franchise in the Florida State League and moved it north to Bradenton.

The Reds were no longer interested in Florida because they’ve moved their spring training/minor league complex to Arizona for 2010. The Lynchburg franchise in the Carolina League, which was the Pirates’ Advanced Class-A affiliate, will now be a Reds’ affiliate.

As more baseball organizations relocate from Florida to Arizona, it’s led some to question the continued viability of the Grapefruit League, the spring training circuit for teams based here in the Sunshine State. The Dodgers and Indians preceded the Reds in recent years, leaving fifteen clubs in Florida. Arizona’s advantage is that its fifteen clubs are all located around Phoenix, while Florida’s clubs are scattered about the state.

One rumor persists that the Chicago Cubs might relocate from Mesa, Arizona to Naples, Florida. This probably has more to do with the Cubs’ lease on Hohokam Stadium, which allows them to opt out in 2010. Major league organizations often seek “opt out” clauses in long-term leases as a means of squeezing their municipal landlords for improvements, financed (of course) by the taxpayers. Hohokam is rather antiquated by modern major league baseball complex standards. It has only two practice fields, limited parking and little room for expansion. The minor league complex is about three blocks south at Fitch Park. These days, clubs prefer an integrated complex to seamlessly move players from one facility to another. Naples, presumably, would be a clean slate.

Most Florida State League clubs operate out of their parent club’s spring training complex. The twelve FSL teams and their parent clubs are (those in the parent club’s park are in bold):

Bradenton Marauders Pittsburgh Pirates
Brevard County Manatees  Milwaukee Brewers
Charlotte Stone Crabs Tampa Bay Rays
Clearwater Threshers Philadelphia Phillies
Daytona Cubs Chicago Cubs
Dunedin Blue Jays Toronto Blue Jays
Ft. Myers Miracle Minnesota Twins
Jupiter Hammerheads Florida Marlins
Lakeland Flying Tigers Detroit Tigers
Palm Beach Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals
St. Lucie Mets New York Mets
Tampa Yankees New York Yankees

 

If the Chicago Cubs move to Naples, it creates a scenario where they might want to move their FSL affiliation to Naples too. To do that, they’d have to acquire an FSL franchise. The Pirates bought Sarasota from the Reds and moved it to Bradenton, but none of the other organizations based in their own complex seem inclined any time soon to leave as Cincinnati did.

That would leave the two teams not playing in their parent club’s park — the Daytona Cubs and the Brevard County Manatees.

The straightforward solution is to move the Daytona franchise to Naples, but Daytona is one of the historic franchises in the league. Daytona has been in and out of the FSL since 1920. Since 1993, it’s been a Cubs affiliate. Jackie Robinson Ballpark is historic because of its namesake; according to their web site, “The park was renamed Jackie Robinson Ballpark in 1989 as the stadium served as host to the first racially integrated game in baseball history,” although that’s not quite true as their were many semi-pro, independent and barnstorming games in the early 20th Century that were more or less integrated. Daytona Beach was the first Florida town to permit Robinson to play with his white Dodgers teammates, during 1946 spring training.

In any case, should the Daytona franchise’s owner choose not to sell, that leaves only the Manatees. The Brevard franchise could relocate to Naples, then switch affiliations to the Cubs. An affiliation switch couldn’t happen, though, until the Manatees’ Player Development Contract (PDC) with Milwaukee expires after the 2010 season.

Daytona drew an average 2,425 fans per game in 2009, while Brevard drew only 1,183. That’s a slight improvement from 1,035 in 2008, but it’s still down significantly from 2,151, the last year the Marlins were in town before swapping with Montreal in Jupiter. The best average attendance since then was 1,822 in 2004, the year before the Expos left and the Brewers replaced them.

The Manatees sublease Space Coast Stadium from the Washington Nationals, formerly the Expos. They changed their Advanced Class-A affiliation to Potomac in the Carolina League in 2005 when the Expos moved to D.C., so there’s no chance the Nats would put an FSL team in Brevard if the Manatees leave.

Just speculating, but another scenario might be the transfer of two franchises to the FSL from the California League. Minor League Baseball considered transferring two Cal League franchises, Bakersfield and High Desert, to the Carolina League after the 2008 season. That idea fell through, apparently because new ballparks weren’t available.

If Daytona or Brevard moved to Naples, that franchise could be replaced by one from the Cal League, although to keep schedules balanced in both leagues two franchises would have to move to Florida. East Coast teams such as the Rays and Red Sox had to play in the Cal League in recent years because no Florida or Carolina option was available.

Should the Cubs move to Naples, it could trigger a cascade of events in the Florida State League perhaps unanticipated so far by the public. But it would reverse the slow migration west of major league clubs heading for Arizona.


UPDATE January 10, 2010Click here to read an article on MLB.com about the history and movement between the Grapefruit League and Cactus League.

The article describes the Reds’ new start-of-the-art complex in Goodyear:

The Reds’ $23 million complex features six full practice fields plus two half-fields for infield work, and space for agility drills. There are multiple bullpens and covered batting cages. The facility also features a 43,000 square foot, two-story building for offices, clubhouses and rehabilitation.

Contrast that with what I wrote above about the Cubs’ limited facility in Mesa, and you can understand why they’re looking around.

Pro Baseball Begins in Cocoa



The front page of the January 23, 1941 Cocoa Tribune declared that Cocoa was ready for a franchise in the Florida East Coast League. Click the above image to view an Adobe Acrobat version of the front page.

 

1941.

War was on the horizon in Cocoa. Literally.

Nazi Germany occupied most of Europe. U-Boats would soon prowl the waters off Florida. Locals were organizing citizen defense organizations.

The 1940 census declared Cocoa’s official population to be 3,098. Contracts were issued to build causeways linking Cocoa to Merritt Island, and Merritt Island to Cocoa Beach. Lots were being auctioned off in what would become today’s downtown Cocoa Beach. A Congressman wrote home to report that the federal government would spend $1.7 million to build a 27-foot deep harbor at Canaveral.

It was the beginning of perhaps the most important decade in Brevard County history, until the Space Age 20 years later.

The 1940s also brought professional baseball.

The short life of the Cocoa Fliers, the area’s first minor league baseball team, was chronicled in the Cocoa Tribune. The paper was published once a week, on Thursdays. Typically eight pages in length, a subscription was $2.00. A year.

Tribune editions survive on microfilm reels at the

Central Brevard Public Library
in Cocoa. I spent a couple hours looking through the first four months of 1941 to resurrect Fliers history.

The first mention was the front page of the January 23, 1941 edition. “Cocoa Ready to Enter Team in League,” the headline declared.

Cocoa is ready to become one of those cities enjoying organized baseball, it was announced this week following a meeting of baseball fans held at the city hall Friday night, when a temporary set of officials was selected to supervise the negotiations for securing a franchise in the league.

The decision to organize a baseball club corporation here came following the invitation extended by the Florida East Coast League to become a member.

At the present time the City of Cocoa is building a regulation baseball park and athletic field in Virginia Park. Trees have been cut from the plot and stumps of the trees will be pulled out this week, so that the area may be plowed and leveled. A fence will be placed around the park and suitable grandstand and bleacher accommodations built for the fans.

Local businessman M.B. Provost was elected President of the group. The article noted that enough “stock subscriptions” had been secured to acquire the franchise.

The February 6 edition of the Tribune reported that the group’s application had been accepted. The article noted that shares of stock in the team were worth $10 each, and that a total of about $3,000 had been raised.

The Tribune reported on February 27 that “Business Manager I.W. Brant has contacted several fine player prospects who have signifiied their intentions of coming here to try for regular places on the Cocoa nine during the two week spring training period, which begins on April first. He also said that at an early date a player-manager would be employed to assist in interesting them to try for berths on the Cocoa team.”

Another front page article was titled, “Baseball Park Takes Shape — Grandstand Commodious.”

A system of drainage has been placed underneath the playing field, which will eliminate danger of the diamond or field becoming soggy because of heavy rains. Hundreds of tile have been placed underneath the field, leading to drainage ditches, which will prove avantageous (sic) in draining the area of water following heavy rainfall.

The grandstand, which is being built of cement blocks, will have a seating capacity of one thousand. Underneath the grandstand will be several rooms, two of which will be used as locker rooms, equipped with showers and toilets for players, one as a room for concessions and another as a store room for the baseball club. The grandstand will be one of the finest to be found in Florida when completed.

The team needed a name. The owners wanted to use the local traditional name “Indians” but that was taken by the West Palm Beach team in the league, so they decided to hold an open contest. The person with the winning entry would receive a season’s pass to all 1941 home games. “All suggestions must be legibly written on one side of a sheet of paper,” the Tribune reported, “and mailed to E.P. Collins” at the team’s post office box, “or handed to Mr. Collins at his office on the second floor of the Aviles Building on or before Monday, March 17.”

The owners, meanwhile, secured the services of Jesse Cleveland “Alabama” Smith as player-manager. Smith had played the last four years with the Orlando Nationals. “Smith can play any position on the team,” it was reported, “but will serve as a catcher.”

“A number of excellent prospects have been assigned to contracts,” the Tribune assured its readers on March 6. They came from near and far. The “near” category included Kermit C. Miller, who was not just an infielder but also of the Cocoa public schools faculty. A semi-pro player from Mims named Kenneth Duff was signed, as was catcher-outfielder Walter “Cooter” Edge of Melbourne.


The City of Cocoa renamed Virginia Park after pioneer resident Charles D. Provost.

 

The Cocoa City Council voted on March 11 to rename Virginia Park after 79-year old Charles D. Provost, described as a “pioneer resident of Central Brevard.” According to a family web site on GenealogyForYou.org, he was the father of team president Marshall Breese Provost. The March 13 Tribune reported:

Mr. Provost is known as one of the foremost baseball fans of the community and during the past quarter of a century has contributed his share for the promotion of baseball in the city. As a baseball fan, Mr. Provost has no peer in the city. There have been few games that he has missed seeing played in the local park in many years, unless illness caused him to be absent. When the call has come for funds with which to keep the baseball sport going in Cocoa during the summer months, he has always been in the front ranks of contributors, and many times sought solicitations from others in aiding the city to keep a baseball team on the field in advertising the city and to give the people entertainment.

The paper also reported the uniform design.

Uniforms for the Cocoa baseball team have been ordered, Secretary E.P. Collins reports. The uniforms the players will wear for the home games will be white with black letters across the shirts. The stocking will be black with three narrow orange stripes, while the caps will be black with a large white “C” in orange on them.

Uniforms to be worn by the players at games played in other parks will be gray, with black lettering edged in burnt orange.

The Tribune announced on March 20 that the name “Fliers” had been chosen for the team. The winning entry was submitted by W.J. Murdock, a grocery store operator. Two women also submitted Fliers, but Murdock was given the award, according to the paper, because judges “deemed Mr. Murdock’s reason for his suggestion as the best.”

I suggest the Cocoa team in the East Coast League be named “The Fliers”.

“Whereever the Cocoa team plays, people will ask why it is called ‘The Fliers.’ The answer will Associate Cocoa with the Banana River Naval Air Base.” 

The two women were given free passes to the opening game.

A new column appeared in the Tribune titled “Bunts and Homers,” written by “The Bat Boy.” Enthused by their new ballpark, the columnist wrote:

The advent of a completely enclosed baseball playing field in Cocoa will appeal to the big leagues, and we wouldn’t be surprised at all if one of the teams in the Majors will seek to train in this city, where the climate is excellent for spring training … We’ll betchya our last penny that Cocoa will be in the limelight with the big league managers before many years have passed.

The Bat Boy was right, sort of.

The Houston Colt .45s came to Cocoa in 1964, but not at Provost Park. They camped at a new complex known today as Cocoa Expo. But that’s a different story.

In a chilling reminder of the times, The Bat Boy had this segregationist observation:

The colored population of Cocoa are great ball fans. Last summer, when Cocoa was playing as a member of the semi-pro loop in the Central East Coast several times the bleachers in right field were filled with the colored men, who like their baseball. We hope provisions will be made in one of the corners of Provost Park, where they can enjoy the sport to themselves.

Yikes.

Spring training began in late March. The team trained at Forrest Park as Provost Park wasn’t ready yet. Players came from across the nation to try out. The Tribune reported on March 27 that even team president Breese Provost got into the action:

President Provost got into his uniform this week and went to Forrest Park along with the other rookies and has been getting into shape with the lads. Friends of Provost have been urging him to try for a position with the Fliers.

An exhibition game was scheduled for Sunday April 6 at 3 PM in Forrest Park, against Smith’s old team the Orlando Senators. The April 3 Tribune reported that ticket prices were “15 cents for children, 20 cents for colored people and 35 cents for white adults.” The Fliers lost 7-4 to the Nationals. The Tribune described the game as “a free hitting contest, during which both outfits cracked out thirteeen hits each.”

The season opener was April 11 at Provost Park. Game time was 8:15 PM, making it the first night game in city history. The Fliers would host the Ft. Pierce Bombers.

In my next article on this subject, we’ll return to Opening Night and look at the 1941 season.

Finding the Space Coast’s Baseball History


Rusty Staub scores ahead of Jim Wynn, who just homered for the Houston Colt .45s, April 4, 1964.

 

I visited the Central Brevard Library in Cocoa earlier this week in search of our baseball history.

The library has on microfilm editions of Florida Today from its inception in 1966, along with the Cocoa Tribune and other local papers.

If you want to print a copy of a microfilmed page, the old-fashioned way is to send it to a printer. That option is still available (for 10ยข a page), but new technology allows you to save an image digitally. That image can be enhanced using an application such as Adobe Photoshop, although there’s only so much you can do. Microfilms are usually fairly poor copies of original pages.

If your objective is to reproduce a photo from a microfilmed page, the much preferable option is to obtain the original print or its negative, but good luck with that.

The original photo is most likely the copyrighted property of the newspaper. Some papers are good about preserving their photo archives, others don’t. If the paper has gone out of existence, or merged into another publication, the archives are probably lost to history. If it still exists, you will be charged a significant amount for a print, and lots more if you intend to use it in a publication or for some commercial purpose.

The original negatives might be with the photographer, but if the image you seek is 40-50 years old that person is most likely no longer an employee, and may not be alive.

I reviewed two periods in 1964 to see how closely the Cocoa Tribune covered baseball back then.

Why 1964?

That was probably the most important baseball year in Space Coast history.

The Houston Astros, then called the Colt .45s, moved their spring training camp from Apache Junction, Arizona to Cocoa. The city built a new baseball complex for the team. We know it today as Cocoa Expo, but its given name was Cocoa Colt Stadium.

The Cocoa Tribune archives for April 1964 show the camp was covered daily by the paper. The Colts were treated like a hometown team, with extensive reports on every game, both home and away.

The image at the top of this article was scanned from a printout of an April 5, 1964 article about a spring training game at Cocoa Colt Stadium. Houston outfielder Jimmy Wynn just hit a three-run homer. That’s Rusty Staub ahead of him about to score.

As you can see, the image is — well, crummy.

I hope to use the digital microfilm reader on my next trip to the library, to see if I can get better results by capturing the page to a JPEG file. (Someone else was using it when I was there.)

The photo credit on all images was, “Tribune Sportsphoto,” so there was no clue who was the original photographer. The articles had no byline for their authors.

If you’re familiar with Cocoa Expo today, the images show it hasn’t changed much since 1964.


The Colts greet Cocoa Little Leaguers, April 5, 1964.

 

This image was in the April 6, 1964 paper. Cocoa Little Leaguers took the field to meet the Colt .45 players. You can clearly see the stands in the background, looking virtually the same as today.

The other period I searched was July 1964. Statistical references from the period included a Cocoa Rookie League, a minor league circuit that existed only that one year. It was Rookie-A, the equivalent of today’s Gulf Coast League Nationals in Viera.

What made this league unique is that all four teams played out of Cocoa Colt. In addition to the Colts, the Mets, Tigers and Twins also fielded teams. It appears that doubleheaders were played every day, weather permitting, with two of the teams playing in the first game and the other two teams in the second. Minor league doubleheader games are seven innings each, although it appears that Sunday games may have been nine innings. Game #1 started at 5:00 PM, Game #2 scheduled for 7:30 PM.

The Tribune did provide some basic coverage of the league. I found stories every day about the two games played, along with a basic line score. No attendance was reported, if anyone actually did attend. A few photos appeared with articles published in the league’s early days, but photographic interest seems to have waned after that.


Mets southpaw Tug McGraw threw a no-hitter at Cocoa Colt on July 3, 1964.

 

Three days into the season, Mets’ left-hander Tug McGraw threw a seven-inning no-hitter against the Colts rookies, which appears to have been his first professional start. The next day, Twins pitchers Jerry Lysico and Gene Melton combined to no-hit the Tigers.

McGraw went on to fame as the ace closer for first the Mets and then the Phillies. He passed away in 2004 from a brain tumor. His son is the famous Country-Western singer Tim McGraw.

Pro ball was in Cocoa long before the Colts arrived.

According to Professional Baseball Franchises From the Abbeville Athletics to the Zanesville Indians, a team called the Cocoa Indians played in the Florida State League from 1951 through 1958. Before that, the Cocoa Fliers played in the Florida East Coast League from 1941 until the league disbanded during the opening days of World War II, as did many minor leagues.

I’ve no idea where they played, since Cocoa Expo wasn’t built until 1964.

Hopefully the Tribune microfilms will help us to resurrect that early Space Coast baseball history.

Rule 5 Results

The 2009 Rule 5 draft took about a half hour Thursday.

No Manatees were claimed by other organizations. The Brewers claimed LHP Chuck Lofgren from the Indians in the major league phase, but you won’t see him playing for the Manatees as he has to be on the Brewers’ parent club roster all of 2010 or else he must be offered back to Cleveland.

The Nationals lost some players and claimed some players.

In the major league phase, the Nats lost RHP reliever Zech Zinicola to the Blue Jays. Zinicola split 2009 between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse.

The Nationals had the #1 pick overall in the major league phase, but bargained that away earlier in the week when they acquired reliever Brian Bruney from the Yankees. The Yankees used the Nats’ pick to select Dodgers’ Triple-A outfielder Jamie Hoffman.

In the Triple-A phase, the Blue Jays selected RHP Ruben de la Rosa, who pitched for the Nationals’ 2009 Gulf Coast League team in Viera. The Mariners claimed RHP Terry Engles, who split the year between Hagerstown and Potomac. He pitched for the GCL Nats in 2005. The Nationals claimed Arismendy Mota from the White Sox; he’s pitched only in Chicago’s Dominican academy, so you might see him at Viera in 2010 although he turns 23 in February.

In the second round of the Triple-A phase, DC claimed 27-year old lefty reliever Mike Wlodarczyk from Tampa Bay Rays. He had a 5.40 ERA in 47 games with Double-A Montgomery in 2009. In the third round, the Nats selected CF Nick Moresi from the Astros. He hit .208 for Double-A Corpus Christi this year.

In the Double-A phase, the Mets selected RHP Johan Figuereo from the Nationals. Figuereo was on the Vermont roster the last two years; in 2007 he pitched one inning for Viera in the GCL.

As we discussed on December 9, most Rule 5 picks amount to nothing, although once in a while a player will blossom with another organization.