Tagged: Zooperstars

BEYOND THE BOXSCORE; GETTING TO KNOW OAKLAND CATCHER/FIRST BASEMAN JOSH DONALDSON

  Can you call it a dynasty when a team wins FIVE league championships in a row without having any of the same personnel? Isn’t “dynasty” supposed to imply continuity?
 
  I’d love to find another word to give credit to the remarkable run that the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League have enjoyed, winning the championship game in the six-team league every year since 2004.

  And “enjoyed” is the operative word here. Over the course of their six-plus-week stint in Arizona, several members of the team volunteered to me that they had never played on any team with such amazing chemistry. So for anyone who pooh-poohs such intangibles as “chemistry” and “makeup” in favor of strictly looking at the numbers, may I introduce to you the Phoenix Desert Dogs, 2008 champions of the Arizona Fall League.

Donaldson Pileon.jpg  In his excellent game story from Phoenix’s 10-4 win over the Mesa Solar Sox, my colleague Jonathan Mayo called it a “coincidental dynasty” which I think is brilliant.

  Because in those five seasons, the only constant has been that at least a half-dozen members of the Dogs have worn the uniform of the Oakland Athletics, because Oakland automatically gets one of the five affiliation assignments to the team by virtue of Phoenix Municipal Stadium being their spring training home. The only Oakland player who is a holdover from 2007 was pitcher Jeff Gray.

  Other than that, the league has mixed up the makeup each year. This year’s model featured the Toronto Blue Jays, Colorado Rockies, Minnesota Twins (the only other holdover from 2007) and Arizona Diamondbacks, who normally play for the Scottsdale Scorpions but moved to Phoenix this year because the Dogs’ openings for specific positions better matched the players the Diamondbacks wanted to send to the AFL.

  But that said, unlike in the Majors, it’s not like teams can try to sign players who “fit” the stadiums themselves. Not only do all the teams have prospects, but the lineups are continually shifted to allow everyone playing time and all of the pitchers are on limits. So truly, with all 30 organizations sending top prospects, you could look at the Opening Day rosters and scratch your head trying to figure out who will win it all.

  In fact, if Las Vegas were to have put down odds on the AFL championship game (and for all I know they did), I would have to imagine that Mesa would have been the favorite. An outstanding team that might rival Phoenix for makeup and chemistry, they tied at 26-12 for the best record in the league with the Peoria Saguaros (who they beat in a tiebreaker by virtue of having beaten them in the next-to-last game of the regular season on a clutch pinch-hit eighth-inning grand slam by Phillies outfielder Jeremy Slayden), they led the league in average by 23 ponts with a .328 and in ERA by .8 of a run at 4.42. Plus they were sending to the mound Braves ace prospect Tommy Hanson whose 5-0 record, 0.63 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 29 innings combined for what I think anyone would attest was the best AFL pitching performance in the 17-year history of the league.

  But Phoenix waited out Hanson for his five innings of work, trailing 3-1 when he reached his pitch limit, and then simply went nuts on the Solar Sox bullpen.

  And it’s somehow fitting that the biggest offensive outburst did indeed come from one of Oakland’s own, even if he’s one of their newest “own.”

  Catcher/first baseman Josh Donaldson went 3-for-4 on the day with a three-run homer in the seventh inning (which Mayo tells me is still going), an RBI single in the sixth and three hits.

 
Little Donaldson home run trot.jpgDonaldson, who will celebrate his 23rd birthday next week, came over to Oakland in early July from the Chicago Cubs in the deal which sent pitcher Rich Harden to the Windy City. A supplemental first-round pick out of Auburn in 2007, he was hitting just .217 at Class A Peoria before the deal, but refound his stroke at Advanced A Stockton, batting .330 with nine home runs and 39 RBIs and then hitting .413 with four more homers in the Ports’ upset to capture of the California League championship (I say upset because they were the wild card entry.)

  GotMiLB had the chance to sit down with Donaldson in the Phoenix dugout a few days before the end of the AFL season and get to know the Daphne, Alabama, native a little bit better.

  And helping the fans to get to see Donaldson as well, I have to give huge props to two of my best friends and “partners in crime,” baseball photographer to the stars Barbara Jean Germano, who took the shots of Donaldson in his seventh-inning home trot as well as when he got “pied” during his post-game interview, and Erica Brooks, who has arranged Arizona housing for players for the last decade, who took the “post-game pile-on” picture that shows that yes, Virginia, players really DO care about winning this thing.
 
GotMiLB: Everyone has a “hidden talent.” What’s yours?
Donaldson: I’m not really sure that I have one. Sports is my talent. I like to goof around but I don’t know for sure.

(While he’s being modest, GotMiLB can confirm that he is a great Rock Band singer).

GotMiLB: Complete this sentence: It would surprise people to know that I …
Donaldson: I first started playing golf when I was 3 years old.

GotMiLB: Do you have other hobbies or creative outlets aside from baseball?
Donaldson: I like to play golf. When I’m playing regularly my handicap is around a 7. I’m fairly decent but if I could ever just figure out the short game and the putting I’d be a lot better.

GotMiLB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest?
Donaldson: Being named the Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year (in 2004).

Donaldson Pie.jpgGotMiLB: What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done?
Donaldson: I played summer baseball in Alaska which was very interesting.

GotMiLB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball?
Donaldson: I probably would have finished my degree in Exercise Science at Auburn and would be starting my internship. I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to go to PT (physical therapy) school yet or go to medical school.

GotMiLB: What one item have you found you cannot live without on the road?
Donaldson: Either my laptop or my cel phone.

GotMiLB: Which aspect of life in the minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why?
Donaldson: It’s probably the same with everybody but my first year I was in the Northwest League and there was lots of traveling, taking 15-hour bus trips. Our air-conditioning went out one time going to Canada and didn’t get fixed the whole time. So we were stuck without AC during 95-degree days and it dropped down to about 50 degrees at night but we had to keep the vents open so we’d be hot in the day and freezing at night.


Donaldson cleaned up.jpgGotMiLB
: Which aspect of life in the minors has surprised you the most, in comparison to what you might have imagined before you turned pro?
Donaldson: I think the diversity of guys you have. I’ve played with guys from Korea, Taiwan, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Australia and New Zealand now (the latter two with Phoenix), you name it, there are people from everywhere.

GotMiLB: What is the biggest misperception that people outside of baseball have about life in the minors?
Donaldson: The whole aspect of moving up. You see guys get drafted in the NFL and NBA and they assume in baseball it’s the same way where you move right up to the big leagues. Whereas in baseball it’s a little bit tougher. You have all these steps to travel and it’s a difficult process to actually make it to the big leagues. All the guys that are there are really special.

GotMiLB: Who is the most unusual character you’ve met in your pro baseball career?
Donaldson: I would have to say the unusual and best is my (AFL) roommate Shane Lindsay from Australia. He’s always keeping me on my toes and making everybody laugh. I wouldn’t go as far as saying unusual is a bad thing. I think unusual is something you can get a lot out of people who are a little bit different and show you a different aspect of life. 

GotMiLB: Which coach/manager have you had that you think should be in the big leagues?
Donaldson: My manager at Stockton, Darren Bush. I think he’s probably the best manager I’ve had.

GotMiLB: What is the one question you hope you never hear again?
Donaldson: I’m pretty open to questions but maybe, when you’re struggling, people asking you why. It can be tough to talk about it but it’s also part of the game and everyone knows that.

GotMiLB: If you were commissioner for a day, which one rule would you change?
Donaldson: I think the NL should add the DH. I’m a hitter. I think there should be more opportunities for hitters whereas in the NL you always have that one out you can get through unless you’re facing, say, CC Sabathia or Brett Myers who’s going to foul off everything and then get a dink in there.

GotMiLB: Where have you played in the Minors?
Donaldson: Boise, Idaho; Peoria, Ill.; Stockton, Cal.

GotMiLB: On your current or most recent club (Stockton), what was your favorite thing about playing there? And is there anything you would change?
Donaldson: I just think the organization in general, I like how laidback things are. You get your work in but if you really want to get better it’s up to you. I liked California in general, I liked the weather, the same every day so you can’t complain.

GotMiLB: What was your favorite restaurant there?
Donaldson: BJ’s. They had a little cookie ice cream that was something with a P that was awesome, probably the best dessert I’ve ever had. (GotMiLB got hungry listening to this so she looked it up and it’s called a Pizookie).

GotMiLB: If family or friends were coming in to visit, where would you take them on a day off?
Donaldson: We were kind of close to Sacramento so that would be nice.

GotMiLB: In your career, what has been your favorite road trip and why?
Donaldson: Lansing had a pretty good set up there. They had a good turn out. I also liked playing at San Jose this year. The field was a little tough but they had a great atmosphere and a lot of people came to games.

GotMiLB: What’s your favorite road restaurant?
Donaldson: It would have to be Olive Garden. That’s my favorite restaurant in general so if I could find one on the road it was always a good night.

GotMiLB: What is the best minor league promotion or visiting act you’ve seen?
Donaldson: What is the thing with the guys who are in blow-up things? The Zooperstars are always fun to watch.

GotMiLB: What has been your least favorite visiting act or promotion?
Donaldson: I don’t know if I really have a least favorite. But I heard guys talking about a team that wanted to set a record for having the least number of fans so they didn’t let anyone in before the game started and I think that would be kind of boring to play in front of.

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BEYOND THE BOXSCORE: GETTING TO KNOW ROCKIES PITCHER SHANE LINDSAY

  Thursday was one of the biggest days of the year for a handful of Minor Leaguers who, eligible for their respective clubs’ 40-man rosters for the first time, found out if they’d made the cut. Among the ones celebrating wildly that night was Colorado Rockies right-hander Shane Lindsay. Except that he probably wasn’t celebrating THAT wildly because despite his reputation as one of the wildest and craziest guys in the Arizona Fall League this year, the 23-year-old Aussie does not drink.
  He can pitch, though. Back in 2005 he had his breakthrough campaign at short-season Tri-Cities in the Northwest League, going 6-1 with a 1.89 ERA and striking out 107 batters in 66 2/3 innings while limiting hitters to a .162 average to earn Short-Season Pitcher of the Year honors in the Minors.
  The next summer he was having similar success between Tri-Cities and Class A Asheville before shoulder surgery sidelined him for all of 2007.
  This year was supposed to be his comeback year and he had a more-than-respectable 3.99 ERA at Advanced A Modesto in late May before a broken hand sidelined him until August. He came to Arizona to make up for lost time and was one of the key hurlers on the Desert Dogs team that will try for its fifth consecutive AFL title on Saturday.
  On Tuesday, prior to his last start for the Phoenix Desert Dogs, I sat down with Lindsay to conduct this now-legendary Beyond the Boxscore interview. Okay, so it’s not legendary. Yet. I’m working on it.
  We knew we only had five minutes before it was time for him to start loosening up but that seemed like plenty of time.
  My one regret here is that I don’t have audio on this. That Aussie accent of his is killer.

Little Shane Lindsay 2.jpgGotMiLB: Everyone has a “hidden talent.” What’s yours?

Prior to the interview, two of Lindsay’s Phoenix Desert Dogs teammates, Rockies infielder Chris Nelson and Twins infielder Steven Tolleson, were teaching Rockies catcher Mike McKenry how to make the “crickets” sound with his tongue. This sound effect would have been handy right here for approximately 20 seconds as he sits there, pondering the question but unable to come up with anything.

Lindsay: I don’t know. I don’t have one. Nothing extraordinary, anyway.

GotMiLB: Complete this sentence: It would surprise people to know that I …

Insert 27 more seconds of crickets chirping here.

Lindsay: I’m pretty much out there. No surprises.

The day after the interview, we revisited Lindsay in the stands where he was charting the game and giving out Tootsie Pops. No longer on the spot, his answer was “That I don’t drink.”

GotMiLB: Do you have other hobbies or creative outlets aside from baseball?
Lindsay: No.

At this point, 1:22 of our allotted five minutes have elapsed and I am starting to wonder if I am going to have five minutes of dead air. Seeing as how Lindsay has a reputation for being one of the funniest guys in the league, I am wondering if it’s just me. But I have another 3:38 so I forge ahead.

GotMiLB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest?
Lindsay: I ran my own business back home, a trucking business and I was pretty proud of that. I started it when I was 19 and it was pretty successful until I put a driver on and he rolled (wrecked) my truck and ruined my company. No legal proceedings because it was a friend of the scout who signed me so it was a bit of a sticky situation.

GotMiLB: What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done?
Lindsay: I’ve done a lot of cool stuff, I’ve been pretty fortunate. I went to Europe to play baseball with the Australian team which was pretty fantastic.

GotMiLB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball?
Lindsay: Either running my own business or if I had taken a completely different route probably playing Australian Rules football.

GotMiLB: What one item have you found you cannot live without on the road?
Lindsay: My computer.

GotMiLB: Which aspect of life in the minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why?
Lindsay: At the beginning it was probably the massive bus trips in the Pioneer League, they were brutal. But I conquered that with camping mattresses on the floor and have pretty much stuck with that.

GotMiLB: Which aspect of life in the minors has surprised you the most, in comparison to what you might have imagined before you turned pro?
Lindsay: I figured it would be a little more glamorous, I suppose.

GotMiLB: What is the biggest misperception that people outside of baseball have about life in the minors?
Lindsay: The glamour. It’s a pretty rough life.

GotMiLB: Who is the most unusual character you’ve met in your pro baseball career?
Lindsay: My team here (Phoenix), definitely, a bunch of clowns but a lot of fun. Kyle Ginley would be the most entertaining, he’s definitely the funniest man alive.

GotMiLB: Which coach/manager have you had that you think should be in the big leagues?
Lindsay: P.J. Carey. He’s a legend.

GotMiLB: What is the one question you hope you never hear again?
Lindsay: How did you break your hand? (And GotMiLB did not ask).

GotMiLB: If you were commissioner for a day, which one rule would you change?
Lindsay: Pay levels. Everyone should be paid a lot more.

GotMiLB: Where have you played in the Minors?
Lindsay: Casper, Wy., Tri-Cities, Wash., Asheville, N.C. and Modesto, Calif.

GotMiLB: On your current or most recent club, what was your favorite thing about playing there? And is there anything you would change?
Lindsay: (Preferred to talk about Asheville, which technically was his recent club since he rehabbed his broken hand there the final month of the 2008 season). Asheville was really nice. It was hot though. The whole Sally League is hot.

GotMiLB: What was your favorite restaurant there?
Lindsay: The Mellow Mushroom.

GotMiLB: If family or friends were coming in to visit, where would you take them on a day off?
Lindsay: To the Biltmore Mansion.

GotMiLB: In your career, what has been your favorite road trip?
Lindsay: Charleston, S.C. was legit.

GotMiLB: What’s your favorite road restaurant?
Lindsay: I like to eat. But Hooters is always good, pretty reliable.

GotMiLB: What is the best minor league promotion or visiting act you’ve seen?
Lindsay: The Famous Chicken is pretty cool and the Zooperstars are legit.

GotMiLB: What has been your least favorite visiting act or promotion?
Lindsay: This cop, I don’t know what he’s meant to be but he’s this old TV show cop and it was terrible. (Translation for the Americans: “The Mayberry Deputy,” a traveling act spun off of “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Mayberry RFD” that is, not surprisingly, pretty much only big in the area around North Carolina).

And 6:54 later we had finished and he trotted down to the bullpen to loosen up for his game.

 

AMERICA’S GOT ZOOPY TALENT

I confess I do not watch “America’s Got Talent,” which airs on Tuesdays and Wednesdays on NBC TV … but I may have to start now.

That’s because the Top 40 finalist that is taking the country by storm is a longtime favorite of Gotmilb? and hundreds of thousands of Minor League Baseball fans across the country …

THE ZOOPERSTARS have not only made it to the Top 40, they are the FEATURED finalist on the the show’s website … and it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of guys!

I had the supreme pleasure, back in 2002, of spending a few days with the brothers Latkovski (Dom and Brennan) in Philadephia, where they were part of the Phillie Phanatic’s Cinco de Mayo’s Birthday Celebration, and a few days later in Reading, Pa., where I had the amazing experience of being a ZOOPERSTAR for a day (I was Tiger Woodschuck, who is front and center in the AGT act).

Blog Dana and Brennan prepping for Zoops.jpgIn fact, my daughter Dana got into the act as well, as the annoying kid who gets eaten by one of the Zoops in the “Eat It” routine (usually it’s Clammy Sosa, but that night it was Mackerel Jordan). In these pictures Brennan is giving Dana the rundown on how quickly she needs to climb into Mackerel mouth, pull off the oversized sneakers and throw them out onto the field, and Dana and her friend Sarah pose with the oversized glasses of the original ZOOPERSTAR figure, Harry Blog Dana and Sarah in Harry Canary's glasses Reading 2002.jpgCanary (the brainchild of Dom and Brennan’s dad). I realize that these reality TV shows have all sorts of non-disclosure rules but DAMN, I wish Brennan had told me about this when I saw him in Chicago last month at the Road to Wrigley game. In the meantime, all I can do is ask everyone to vote vote vote early and often for the ZOOPERSTARS!!!

Oh, and as long as I am urging people to turn on the TV and watch awesome and amazing talent being discovered on a national basis, I HAVE to give a plug here for one of my new favorite bands, THE SPRING STANDARDS who will be on Conan O’Brien FRIDAY NIGHT/SATURDAY MORNING Aug. 29-30. We saw them open for longtime favorite Squeeze last week at the 930 Club here in DC and they were the best act I’d never seen before (if that doesn’t make sense, what I mean is of all the bands I’ve seen in concert as openers or co-headliners or whatevers to the bands I was there to see, The Spring Standards are absolutely my favorite new discovery). They’re going to be huge so get in on the love train early.