Watching Michael Pineda pitch like a future top-of-the-rotation starter last night made me remember the great power pitching prospects we have seen come through Tacoma in the last ten years.
Ryan Anderson was the first one, of course he blew out and could not come back from multiple shoulder surgeries. Last I heard he was in culinary school, but that was years ago. Be on the lookout for a 7-foot chef.
Our next power pitching prospect was Felix Hernandez. And that reminded me, I once promised to tell…
MY FELIX HERNANDEZ CALL-UP STORY
(Alternate title: how I pissed off the Mariners General Manager without even trying.)
So, back in 2005, the Rainiers had Felix Hernandez. He was up from Class-AA, he opened the season with us, he was a massively hyped prospect – every five days when he pitched, it was something to get excited about.
When he won four straight starts in late April and early May, we started to wonder when he was going to get called up. I had long conversations after his starts, lasting deep into the night, with manager Dan Rohn and pitching coach Rafael Chaves. Sometimes other roving coaches would sit in; even veteran players like Wiki Gonzalez and Andrew Lorraine. They would discuss it until dawn – is Felix ready? Yes or no? What does he need to improve? Can he go up right now? Remember, he was only 19 years old. I used to sit and listen, sucking down Coors Lights, and just soak up the conversation and advanced baseball knowledge. These were off-the-record conversations and I was just happy to get to hear them, and learn more about the game.
Eventually, Felix’s time came. He had come off the disabled list a few weeks earlier, the Rainiers were easing him back – he hadn’t allowed an earned run in ten innings, while striking out 16. We were obviously close.
I got to Cheney Stadium for a Tuesday afternoon game on August 2 against Omaha, parking my car where I always do and walking through the gate where the autograph seekers and the superfans station themselves. These are people I see every day, and one of them immediately turns to me with a big smile and say “Felix is going up!” We speak briefly – “Really? I haven’t heard that, but he seems ready.”
Then, I walk into the stadium and there is a group of ushers and security personnel chatting, getting ready for work. They turn to me and say “Have you heard about Felix? He’s starting in Detroit on Thursday!”
Wow, he’s going up!
I then ask manager Dan Rohn, and he bluntly says “I can’t say anything.” Now, when a manager says this to me, I usually can figure out what’s happening – but it’s understood that I’m not supposed to say it on the air. But this was a different situation: I already had fans and ushers tell me they knew Felix was getting called up, and even which game he was starting.
If I didn’t address this on the air, I would sound stupid.
So, I went and confirmed with one of Felix’s teammates - not Felix, his locker was empty - and then I decided to go with it. So in my pre-game show opening, I announced that Felix was being called up, and he was starting Thursday morning’s game in Detroit*.
Nobody else had the story. So the next thing I know, on KJR sports updates during the afternoon drive they are saying “Tacoma Rainiers broadcaster Mike Curto reports that Felix Hernandez is getting called up and is starting Thursday…”
I call the game, the Rainiers get their butts kicked (Emiliano Fruto got lit up), I pack my radio gear for the road trip to New Orleans, and head downstairs to the locker room – where I run into an absolutely irate Dan Rohn.
“Who the (expletive) told you that Felix was going up? I didn’t (expletive) say that! What the (expletive) are you doing?” screams Rohn. This goes on for a while, I try to explain myself, he doesn’t want to hear it - I felt like an umpire; but I couldn’t eject him from his office.
Two days later, in the Big Easy, I get the real story. Rohn’s not pissed at me – he knows I did what I had to do. But none other than Mariners GM Bill Bavasi had called him immediately after hearing the KJR report, airing him out. Bavasi thought Rohn had leaked the news – which he had not. Bavasi even told Rohn to “Get his radio guy under control!”
This is story serves as an example of the filtering I have to do in my job. I often know of player moves before they become “official” – in fact, I sometimes hear them before the actual player does. I keep my mouth shut in these instances, out of respect for the manager and the player involved – I’m not interested in breaking stories. But the Felix situation was different - he was the top prospect in minor league baseball, and the M’s were trying to sneak him into Detroit when everyone in Tacoma – including the fans and ushers – knew he was on his way? That was insulting to all of us; the news needed to be out.
In this day of Twitter and blogging, there is no way that this situation will repeat itself. But I still love the fact that the M’s GM needed to tell the Tacoma manager to “get his RG under control.” Certainly a career highlight!
Now back to our normal programming:
The Rainiers staked Pineda to an early lead, and won 10-4. Tacoma now leads Salt Lake by three games, with three games left in this series. Tonight’s is at 6:05 PM Pacific time, with LHP Luke French (9-2, 2.39) going for Tacoma against Salt Lake RHP Trevor Bell (1-0, 2.04). The broadcast will be live in the usual spots: 850 AM, and streaming via www.tacomarainiers.com.
Now for the links:
- Michael Pineda absolutely dominated last night, and a perfect game was a distinct possibility – you could feel it in the air. I wrote about it to the best of my ability for The News Tribune.
- Am I the only one wondering if it is purely coincidence that Pineda is starting on the same day as the about-to-be-traded Cliff Lee?
- Just found out that Pineda was named the PCL Pitcher of the Week. As I used to say when I was eight years old, “Duuuuuhhhh.”
- The Mariners all-stars are Lee and Ichiro. Here’s Ryan Divish’s write-up.
- Tim Lincecum had to cancel a trip back to Seattle.
- This ex-Rainiers pitcher was shocked to make the major league all-star team. Better cancel that trip to the zoo, Matt!
- In the PCL, here’s the latest on the Salt Lake Bees from Fox and from MSNBC. Classic Salt Lake City: neither newspaper writer seemed to understand that he was watching a future #1 major league starter.
- In the final Fourth of July baseball game in Portland, the Beavers pulled out an entertaining victory.
- There was a record crowd in Reno, but the Aces still lost.
- Fresno had a huge crowd and defeated Colorado Springs, 5-4. Eric Hacker picked up his ninth win.
- Nothing busts a Triple-A team’s budget like a rain out on the Fourth of July. It was a tough day in Nashville and Oklahoma City.
- Here’s the weekly minor league wrap from USS Mariner. Some good notes on Greg Halman and Pineda in here.
- Seven Class-AA West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx made the all-star team.
Positively Rick Rizzs never ceases to make me happy. I wish he’d record one that says “Need a pick-me-up? Remember, the next Michael Pineda start is just four days away!”
* it was just like Bavasi, the ultimate No-Fun Guy, to have Felix’s MLB debut be in a midweek day game, on the road, that was one of the only games all season that was not televised.