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July 28-29, 2007 – Part 2: Leaving The A.L. July 29, 2007

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Leaving The A.L.: Part 2: Here’s part two a three-part weekly series investigating why players in the independent Atlantic League are leaving for non- affiliated clubs. It appears in the Hunterdon Democrat newspaper. – Scott Stanchak (Read Part 1)

Several Atlantic League general managers declined to comment regarding players being blacklisted for leaving to play overseas; however, the ones who did echoed the same remarks: They understand players have to support themselves and their families; however, there are sacrifices you must make sometimes to reach an ultimate goal.

“That is what is necessary – when players are in Single-A and Double-A ball – they live with multiple roommates – whatever it takes to save money so they can reach their dream,” Bears G.M. John Brandt said. “It is part of their process, no matter what their signing bonus is or was.”

Former Atlanta Braves pitcher Scott Sobkowiak was in a similar situation in 2005. He was an All-Star and pitched himself to among the league leaders in several categories; then he received an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“The money is king, especially if you get a guaranteed deal for cash,” Sobkowiak, who signed in Taiwan, said. “Even if they cut me the money was still mine.”

When his time ran out in Taiwan, Sobkowiak had interest in returning to the Patriots. Somerset, however, had no interest in having him back. In fact, just days after he left, team officials acknowledged their disappointment in the right-hander saying they weren’t open to a return.

“They just weren’t interested in re-signing me,” Sobkowiak, who retired this year after spending the last two seasons with the Lancaster Barnstormers, said. “They were upset when all I did was make a business decision.”

Sobkowiak’s reason for leaving was that it was August and he started to give up on getting picked up. When the Taiwanese team approached him with an offer several times what he was making in the Atlantic League, he figured, “why not take the money and finish out the season over there.”

Adam Gladstone, was in charge of player transactions when Sobkowiak pitched in Somerset. While he says he would never stand in the way of a guy who has the opportunity to play elsewhere, Gladstone feels there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

“The right way is to involve the team and league so we can make some kind of deal. If you leave the wrong way, no, I’m not going to bring you back,” Gladstone, who is now in charge of BASA, said.

One player the Patriots did welcome back after a stay in Taiwan was outfielder Mike Lockwood. Last season, the former 23rd round draft pick (Oakland Athletics) was batting .336 with six home runs and 15 RBI in 36 games for Somerset. Yet he was still in the league while several others – less worthy – were penning contracts with affiliates.

“Last year I felt it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, especially from a financial aspect,” Lockwood, who turned down a deal to go to Taiwan this year, said. “It was always something I wanted to do and I don’t regret it at all.”

Gladstone was also in charge when Lockwood left. The former Atlantic League umpire turned player-signing guru didn’t want to bring Sobkowiak back. When Lockwood was looking to return; however, Gladstone wasn’t around anymore and it was now former New York Yankees pitcher Brett Jodie’s call.

“Lockwood’s a great guy. There was no doubt in my mind to bring him back,” Jodie, who is a former Patriots pitcher and also serves as the team’s pitching coach, said. “Guys leave here for a ton of different reasons, but I’m not going to fault them for doing so.”

When asked if Sobkowiak and Lockwood left the wrong way, Gladstone had no comment.

Next Week, Part 3: A.L. President Joe Klein comments on these players leaving.


Former Ducks and Pride pitcher Rusty Meacham (All photos: Ashmore)

Catching Up With Rusty Meacham: The Atlantic League is like a shadow, following me everywhere I go, no matter where it is.

I made a trip to Brooklyn on Saturday, working on an “Eastern League Past, Present and Future” feature. I went out to see relatively obscure Washington Nationals prospect Glenn Gibson pitch, and also to speak to one Mets and two other Nats prospects for the piece.

This was my second time covering a Cyclones game, but I hadn’t noticed this before…

That’s Somerset’s Danny Garcia’s old number, recognized (but inexplicably not retired) by the team. Garcia was the first Cyclones alumnus to make it to the major leagues.

After getting my interview with Cyclones pitcher Eric Niesen, I headed back out to the field to seek out Vermont’s Adrian Alaniz and Jordan Zimmermann (whose last name has an extra “n” at the end in comparsion to the former Ducks hurler)

And who do I see on the field but Rusty Meacham, who pitched in the Atlantic League for the Long Island Ducks and Nashua Pride. Meacham is now a pitching coach working his way up the Nationals organization, and before he was unfathomably helpful in getting me the two pitchers I wanted, we sat down and chatted for a few minutes about his Atlantic League days and what he’s up to now…

Lake Monsters pitcher Glenn Gibson gets loose under the watchful eye of former Atlantic Leaguer and big leaguer Rusty Meacham

Mike Ashmore: So, what have you been up to since leaving the Atlantic League?

Rusty Meacham: Well, for the last two years previously to here, I was in the Golden Baseball League. I was there for two years with a good friend of mine, Benny Castillo. He recruited me, we started our careers together. Funny story, Hector Barrios, Brooklyn’s pitching coach, we started our careers together too. So that’s basically how I got my start as a coach.

Meacham pitching in 2003

MA: So what made you want to get into coaching?

RM: I just wanted to be able to give back to these players what I’ve learned in my time, and try to teach them right way of going about being a professional, on and off the field. Just to keep them confident every day and try to help them reach that ultimate dream of the big leagues.

MA: You were in the big leagues for a while (Tigers, Royals, Mariners, Astros, Devil Rays). How much do you think that helps you as a coach, in that players will have confidence in you knowing what it takes to get to where they want to go…

RM: Definitely. It’s good, because I know that any time I see a Major League player, even though I played up there, I still step back and go wow. Even the guys that I get to work with over here, (hitting coach) Tony Tarasco and (manager) Darnell Coles, both of whom I played against. It definitely has to be a plus to have those guys and myself who had a lot of time up there, and they can look at us and say, ‘That guy does know what he’s talking about.’

I don’t try to be hard on these guys, I work on just the little things. The main thing is just keeping them confident. I don’t even look at the numbers, but I think we’re number two in pitching and to me, that’s gratifying for it being my first year in organizational ball.

MA: How much of what you get to work with your pitchers on is dictated by the Nationals front office?

RM: A lot of what I’m working on is a lot of what we worked on in extended spring training. We basically started working on a lot of things way back early, and I’ve just got to keep fine-tuning them. If they get out of whack a little bit, my job is to fine-tune them and get them back on the right track. But we’ve had a consistent pitching staff, we’re doing well. Our guys, I teach them to go out there and work fast, throw strikes, attack the strike zone from the kneecap below. Work fast, keep the ball down and let your defense play a big part. We teach these guys four pitches or less to get a hitter out, and you’ll be around longer.

MA: So in the Atlantic League, you pitched for Long Island and Nashua towards the end of your professional career…

RM: I did. The hardest part for me was getting away from the game, but I’m happy now being a coach. My ultimate goal is to get these guys better and to get them at the next level, and I’d love to be a coach in the big leagues someday.

MA: Being a veteran guy in the Atlantic League, do you feel like your coaching career already started while you were there, in that some of the younger guys would come up to you and ask for advice…

RM: Definitely, that helped me. I was the type of guy, that when I was a younger guy and I’d be with veterans, I’d always go up to them and pick their brain and see what they’re doing. How are you holding this changeup? What are you doing? What are you thinking out there? So that was definitely a plus.

So, how’s Meacham doing? Alaniz and Gibson are 1-2 in the New-York Penn League in ERA. As for Gibson, he carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning.

Seems like Rusty Meacham’s doing just fine…

Kinkade Is Coming, Elder Isn’t: Before Somerset left to head out to Bridgeport, Patriots director of player procurement Brett Jodie told a small gathering of reporters (OK, it was two of us) that INF/OF Mike Kinkade is set to join the Patriots, but that P Dave Elder is scheduled to have surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, and will not return.

Kinkade, who has big league time with the Mets, Orioles and Dodgers, will likely be used as a corner outfielder.

Additionally, Ryan Dunleavy of The Courier News reports that P Casey Cahill will be returning from the Road Warriors. Perhaps he can be used as a spare outfielder, since Brandon Knight ridiculously found his way into the outfield once again last night.

It’s All About The Franklins, Baby: Whatcha wanna do? Wanna be a…yup, there’s a reference nobody will get. Anyway, Jim Seip writes that the York Revolution are expecting the return of P Wayne Franklin. Seems to me that the Revs have a somewhat legitimate chance to win this division, and who knows if Ryan Baerlocher and/or Adam Thomas come back after their seasons are over.

Stormers Sign New Pitcher: Jason Guarente writes that the Lancaster Barnstormers have signed former Rockies farmhand P Zach Parker.

Parker, a southpaw, had two seasons of double-digit wins in the minor leagues, and led the South Atlantic League with 16 victories five seasons ago. Entering this season, all but 16 of his 126 appearances were starts.

Hirsh Posts New Journal Entry: I’m sure that former York P Matt Hirsh made a lot of fans through his “Ask The New Guy” segment, so I’m sure you guys will want to know that Matt has posted a new journal entry at his website, hirshbrothers.com – Mike Ashmore

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Comments»

1. PlayerPCCollector - July 29, 2007

Last year, I had a chance to speak with Frank Klebe before a Bears game. He was very nice, and I couldn’t help notice as we spoke about the Phillies that he seemed to have an old-fashioned approach to coaching and relating to players. I wonder if that was part of what happened in Lancaster.

2. Dave - July 29, 2007

According to the box score, on both the Patriots and Atlantic League web sites, “Jim” Goelz was in the lineup in left field for the Pats?

3. chuckerd58 - July 29, 2007

Not surprised to see the league website make a mistake. I am surprised the Pats site made the same mistake. I wonder if they just used the league’s box.

4. BoosterBabe - July 30, 2007

About players leaving: years ago, I wanna say it was 2000, there was a guy who played for Bpt named Kapano. He left to go play somewhere else, forget if it was Mexico, Taiwan, Japan….point is, he left without involving the team, he just packed up his gear after a game, didn’t come back and called the GM from wherever he was the next day and told him “I’m playing here now. Bye”

I believe Brian Cornelius did something similar. GM at the time “Blacklisted” them. They were never welcome to come back to the team. Charlie went on record in the media saying something to the effect of there’s a right way and a wrong way to leave. You have the new team buy out the contract, do it the right way, he’s not gonna stand in your way. You sneak out in the middle of night, no, that’s not the right way and no, if someone doesn’t respect the league enough to do it the right way, then they don’t get the opportunity to come back when it suits them.

I have to say I agree with that philosophy. Above all, this is a job, and hell, the first thing you learn in business is not to burn your bridges behind you. Always leave with as much grace and dignity as you had when you arrived.

Interesting article, Mike.

5. AtlanticLeagueBaseball.com - July 30, 2007

Scott wrote it, actually. No big deal, just want to make sure he gets the credit he deserves. It’s a good piece, he did a lot of work on it as I think you can tell.


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