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January 22, 2007 January 22, 2007

Posted by atlanticleaguenews in Uncategorized.
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Mikkelsen Speaks: Jason Guarente has some interesting quotes from former Surf P Lincoln Mikkelsen in his blog that you should check out.

I found the note at the end particularly interesting, that Mikkelsen had some preliminary talks to become Camden’s pitching coach.

Q&A: Ask Ashmore Day is the 25th. Adam Lorber will be here on the 30th at 4, and John Evans will be here on the 31st at 2.

Keep sending your great questions to mashmore@patriotsbaseball.com for the latter two.

For Ask Ashmore Day, leave me a question in the comments on the 25th.

Almonte To Rockies: INF Erick Almonte, who spent all of 2006 with the Ducks, has agreed to a minor league deal with the Colorado Rockies.

Here’s a looooong story I did on Almonte last year. I had been asked by (insert big NY paper here) to do a feature on him, and they never had space for it, even when I edited it down substantially from what you see here.

This is an early edit, and there might be a few issues with it, but I figured I’d let it out to see the light of day. Basically, it isn’t what it would be or eventually ended up as through the editing process…

Earlier today Almonte was traded to the Newark Bears for pitcher Travis Wade. – Scott Stanchak

Almonte’s Last Chance in Long Island
by Mike Ashmore

If you wanted to know the whereabouts of Erick Almonte on April 2, 2003, there was only one place you needed to look.

On top of the world.

One day earlier, he had received the call-up to become the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees. With Derek Jeter having owned the position for years, you wouldn’t blame him for thinking this was someone’s idea of an April Fools’ Day joke.

But Jeter was nowhere to be found, having separated his shoulder on Opening Day against the Blue Jays, and Almonte got the call.

Hitting ninth in manager Joe Torre’s batting order, the then-25-year-old turned SkyDome into the house that Almonte built, if only for a day, going 2-for-5 with a single and a two-run home run off of Toronto relief pitcher Pete Walker.

“It was a relief,” said Almonte of his initial performance as Jeter’s replacement. “I knew all the people in
New York wanted to see the new kid coming up.”

Rounding the bases during what turned out to be the only home run he’s hit in the big leagues, Derek Jeter couldn’t be further from his mind.

“I was thinking about my family in the Dominican,” Almonte recalled. “I knew they were watching the game.”

But just three years after that storybook arrival, Erick Almonte now plays for the Long Island Ducks, a minor-league team in the unaffiliated Atlantic League that often serves as the final chapter in what can hardly be described as a storybook ending. In its seventh year of existence, Long Island has seen players such as Bill Pulsipher, John Rocker and Carlos Baerga wear its colors.

Citibank Park, the 6,000-seat stadium Almonte now calls home, is roughly 50 miles from Yankee Stadium, but light years away for a once-promising infielder struggling in what may be his last chance to get back to the bigs.

Almonte, who says a lot of those Ducks fans remember him from his time with the Yankees, also said that the level of play in his current surroundings isn’t much different from what he experienced in the show.

“It’s pretty good baseball,” Almonte said. “It’s between Double-A and Triple-A.”

Triple-A was exactly where Almonte was when Jeter’s injury opened the door for his stint at baseball’s highest level.

Amid the Yankees’ 8-4 Opening Day win in Toronto, Jason Giambi grounded out weakly to Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay. With the infield shifted to the right for dead-pull hitter Giambi, third base was left unmanned and Jeter tried to take advantage by hustling from second to third on the play.

Blue Jays catcher Ken Huckaby, with a hunch that Jeter might go for the extra base, sprinted up the third base line to prevent him from doing so. Jeter slid headfirst into third, with Huckaby’s shin guards not far behind him. The irresistible force met the immovable object, and Jeter was not only out at third but out of commission for six weeks with a separated shoulder that had him writhing in pain for nearly 10 minutes on the SkyDome infield.

At the same time, the phone rang in the Yankees’ Columbus , Ohio , farm club, where Almonte was set to start another rigorous year in the minor leagues.

“Turn on the TV and watch the game,” said the voice on the other end, a Yankees scout.

One minute, Almonte was unpacking his clothes, putting them in the closet of his apartment. The next, he was on the next flight to Toronto , on his way to replace one of the most beloved players in Yankees history.

It wasn’t Almonte’s first time in pinstripes. Signed out of the Dominican Republic 11 days after his 18th birthday, he made his Yankee debut in 2001 as a September call-up. He appeared in eight games – none of them starts – and got just four at-bats. In the four games where he played in the field, he replaced Jeter only once, playing the final inning of a Sept. 29 contest against the Orioles.

After spending all of 2002 in the minor leagues, Almonte had to readjust to the New York media and fans keeping an eye on his every move. Those eight games from two seasons ago simply couldn’t prepare him for the challenges of being the everyday Yankee shortstop, but some of the veterans on the team tried to make his stay an easy one.

“There was a lot of pressure,” Almonte said, “but being with guys like Mariano (Rivera), Bernie Williams, even Jeter…they’d pull me aside in the clubhouse and tell me just to go out there and have fun.”

Jeter had been “in his way” for years, the one man he knew he’d have to somehow get past to be a regular player for the 26-time World Champions. But though Jeter represented a roadblock, he also served as his mentor.

“Everybody wants to be like him,” Almonte said of the Yankees captain. “He never has a problem with anybody off the field. He’s a good guy.”

Almonte was, if nothing else, steady during his stay in the Bronx, hitting .272 with that lone home run and 11 RBI as Jeter’s replacement. If the Yankee faithful had a qualm with Almonte, it was the alarming rate he was making errors in the big leagues, a sign that the pressure might be getting to him. He made 10 errors during the 28 games in which he subbed for Jeter, while his predecessor committed only 14 in 90 more games.

Just as quickly as that door opened for Almonte, however, it closed when the all-star’s shoulder healed and his fill-in was shipped back to Triple-A Columbus. Just four days into his stay in Columbus, Almonte injured his knee, taking him out of the lineup for nearly two months. He was called up to the Yanks for one day in July, then for the month of September, but that was the last playing time Almonte would see in a Yankees uniform.

Left off the roster for the ALDS against Minnesota , he took the spot of pitcher Chris Hammond for the ALCS against Boston. But Torre didn’t play Almonte in the series, and his spot on the World Series roster was taken back by Hammond.

On the playoff roster the previous fall, the organization suddenly had no room for the man they trusted to replace their golden boy and released him on March 25, 2004, unable to find room for him in their minor league system. Almonte said he was never given a reason for his release, although you might look to the Yankees taking on the final seven years of Alex Rodriguez’s $252 million contract one month earlier
in a trade with Texas as a factor.

“I never asked and they never told me,” said Almonte of his release. “I was with the Yankees for eight or nine years. When I found out, it was pretty hard. I had to just put it behind me and continue to play.”

With that opportunity behind him, Almonte was offered a chance by the Colorado Rockies organization, signing a deal to be their everyday shortstop…in Triple-A.

His 2004 season with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox of the Pacific Coast League was his best as a professional, and he established career highs in hits, doubles, home runs and batting average. But it was also where he lingered for an entire season, unable to earn the courtesy of a September call-up that the Yankees had afforded him twice.

“When you’re in the minor leagues,” Almonte said, “that’s what you’re playing for. That was my best season, and they didn’t even tell me why I wasn’t getting called up.”

After what amounted to a wasted season, Almonte signed a contract with the Cleveland Indians with the promise of a spring-training invite. Several months before pitchers and catchers were to report to camp, however, the Indians sold Almonte’s contract to the Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan’s Pacific League.

Almonte struggled there, hitting just .193 with three home runs and eight RBI in only 34 games in Japan ‘s equivalent of the big leagues before being released by the team.

“I didn’t get to play that much,” Almonte said, “but it was a good experience.”

Essentially discarded by Major League Baseball and now shunned overseas, Almonte was one of the biggest names to sign with the Atlantic League this off-season, a league that serves as the last option for many players in the same predicament as the former Yankee.

The eight-team league has quickly become the best independent league in the country, having attracted big name players like Jose Canseco, Rickey Henderson and Jose Lima throughout its nine-year history.

Former Mets shortstop and coach Bud Harrelson co-owns the Ducks and also served as their manager during the first few years of the team’s existence. A two-time All-Star shortstop for the Mets and 1971 Gold Glove winner, Harrelson, now the team’s first-base coach during home games, knows a good middle infielder when he sees one, and he jumped at the chance to have Almonte on his team.

“I was looking for middle infielders,” Harrelson said, “and when his name popped up, I remembered him from when he came up when Derek got hurt a few years back.”

In an interesting twist of fate, the shortstop position had already been filled after a work visa issue delayed Almonte’s arrival in Long Island, so he’d have to try his hand at third base in order to be a regular in the lineup.

Anyone want to ask A-Rod if that sounds familiar?

“I signed as a third baseman,” Almonte said, “but in my second year, they moved me to short. But it’s really the same, I’m just trying to play good defense and give the pitchers confidence in me.”

As for Harrelson, he also has confidence that Almonte can pick up his play, with the now third baseman hitting .273 with one home run and nine RBI. He also has a team-high five errors.

“He didn’t go to spring training,” Harrelson said, “but I think he’s doing a marvelous job. I really like his attitude. He’s wonderful in the clubhouse. He’s a real pro, I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”

Almonte’s older brother Hector, formerly a pitcher on the Boston Red Sox, also finds himself in the Atlantic League. Playing for the Somerset Patriots, Hector looks forward to the day when he can face his little brother again.

“I’ve faced him before in Triple-A,” said the elder Almonte, “when I played for Nashville and he was with Colorado Springs. If it happens again, I’ll try to do my best, and he’ll try to do his best for his team.”

So how did the student do against the teacher?

“Not good,” Erick said through a smile, looking forward to the chance to face his brother again in June.

The two have never been teammates professionally, with the 30-year-old pitcher being unaware of the possibility to play with Erick, three years his junior.

“I talked to him when he signed with Long Island,” the pitcher said, “but I never knew about Long Island and any opportunity to play there.”

Having followed in the footsteps of his big brother everywhere he’s went – from being the last one born to the last one to get to the big leagues, Erick looks to finally do something before his brother – get picked up by a Major League organization out of the Atlantic League.

“Hopefully somebody’s watching,” Erick Almonte said. “If not, I’ll try to put up good numbers and get ready for next year.” – Mike Ashmore, mashmore@patriotsbaseball.com

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Comments»

1. qwackedup - January 23, 2007

Mike, good story but way too long. Word of advice from someone in the business for 29 years: With space at a premium at daily newspapers these days, you have to learn to make the most of your words. Aim for 450-500 words maximum. As I discovered late in life, by editing yourself, you become a much better writer. We get excited by a subject with a good storyline and get rolling but then have to figure what is news and what isn’t. It isn’t easy but that’s what makes the job fun. Keep up the good work.

2. AtlanticLeagueBaseball.com - January 23, 2007

That’s a version that I would run here, never in the paper. I always write long, then cut it down to get to the best stuff.

When I write for the paper (Hunterdon County Democrat) my word count is at around 700, which I occasionally struggle with but have more or less gotten used to.

What actually ended up getting sent to the aforementioned publication was this (sorry if the format is a little off):

Almonte’s Last Chance In Long Island
by Mike Ashmore

If you wanted to know the whereabouts of Erick Almonte on April 2, 2003, there was only one place you needed to look.

On top of the world.

On that date, Almonte became the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees, called up from Columbus after Derek Jeter separated his shoulder on Opening Day against the Blue Jays.

Hitting ninth in the order, the then-25-year-old briefly turned SkyDome into the house that Almonte built, going 2-for-5 with a single and a homer.

“It was a relief,” said Almonte of his debut as Jeter’s replacement. “I knew all the people in New York wanted to see the new kid coming up.”

Rounding the bases for what turned out to be the only home run he has hit in the big leagues, Almonte recalled, “I was thinking about my family in the Dominican. I knew they were watching the game.”

Just three years after that storybook arrival, however, Erick Almonte now plays for the Long Island Ducks, a minor-league team in the unaffiliated Atlantic League that often serves as an epilogue to major league careers. In its seventh year, Long Island has seen players such as Bill Pulsipher, John Rocker and Carlos Baerga wear its colors.

“It’s pretty good baseball,” Almonte observed. “It’s between Double A and Triple A.”
Almonte was, if nothing else, steady at the plate during his stay in the Bronx, hitting .272 with that lone home run and 11 RBI as Jeter’s replacement. If the Yankee faithful had a qualm with Almonte, it was the alarming rate at which he was making errors in the big leagues. He made 10 errors in 28 games, while his predecessor committed only 14 in 90 more games.

“There was a lot of pressure,” he said, “but being with guys like Mariano [Rivera], Bernie Williams, even Jeter … they’d pull me aside in the clubhouse and tell me to go out there and have fun.”
Jeter, his long-time roadblock, wound up also serving as a role model. “Everybody wants to be like him,” Almonte said. “He never has a problem with anybody off the field. He’s a good guy.”

As quickly as the door opened for Almonte, it closed when the all-star’s shoulder healed. The newcomer was shipped back to Triple-A Columbus, where he soon injured his knee, sidelining him for nearly two months. He was called up for one day in July and for the month of September, but that was the last playing time Almonte would see in a Yankee uniform.

Left off the roster for the ALDS against Minnesota, he took the spot of pitcher Chris Hammond for the ALCS against Boston. But manager Joe Torre didn’t play Almonte in that series, and his spot on the World Series roster was taken back by Hammond.

The man the Yankees had trusted to replace its captain was let go on March 25, 2004. He said he was never given a reason for his release, though the team’s acquisition of Alex Rodriguez the month before couldn’t have helped.

“I was with the Yankees for eight or nine years,” Almonte said. “When I found out, it was pretty hard. I had to just put it behind me and continue to play.”

He did so in 2004 with Colorado’s Triple-A team, establishing career highs in several batting categories but never receiving a call-up to the Rockies. Almonte then signed with the Cleveland Indians, who promptly sold his contract to the Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan’s Pacific League. He struggled in Japan, hitting just .193 with three home runs and eight RBI in only 34 games before being released.

This season, Almonte joined the Atlantic League, where his older brother Hector, once a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, also plays.

Erick has impressed Ducks co-owner Bud Harrelson, the former Mets shortstop. “I really like his attitude,” commented Harrelson. “He’s a real pro. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”

After a rocky start, Almonte is shooting for another shot at the bigs, hitting .300 with one home run and nine RBI in his first 16 games with the team.

“Hopefully, somebody’s watching,” Almonte said. “If not, I’ll try to put up good numbers and get ready for next year.”

3. AtlanticLeagueBaseball.com - January 23, 2007

As I said, the format is a little off. The spacing is a little screwy when I cut and paste it in here…

-M-

4. AtlanticLeagueBaseball.com - January 23, 2007

Apparently, I can’t put all my thoughts into one post today.

Anyway, the reason I ended up posting this here was I found it ridiculous that I had nowhere to put quotes from guys like Almonte and Bud Harrelson. Both Buddy and Erick couldn’t have been nicer during our conversations, and I hated having nowhere to put this story.


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