Rainiers Coaching Reunion

November 29, 2010

The Mariners announced the 2011 Tacoma Rainiers coaching staff today, and its exactly the same as it was in 2009.

Daren Brown returns for his fifth year as manager, Alonzo Powell is back for his fourth year as hitting coach, and Dwight Bernard returns as pitching coach for his fifth season after spending last year elsewhere in the system.

Brown opened last year as Rainiers manager before being promoted to Seattle on August 9. Powell opened last season as Rainiers hitting coach and was promoted to Seattle in May. Bernard was the Rainiers pitching coach from 2006 to 2009, but the Mariners asked him to work with an intriguing group of younger prospects at Class-A Clinton in 2010.

Brown will tie Dan Rohn and Dave Myers as the longest-tenured Tacoma managers, at five seasons each – although Brown missed the final 28 games of the 2010 Pacific Coast League regular season when he served as Mariners interim manager. Brown has a lifetime record of 283-264 in Tacoma – he would need to go a remarkable 92-52 in 2011 to tie Rohn as the winningest manager in Tacoma franchise history.

Brown’s Tacoma winning percentage of .517 ranks 7th among the 24 managers who have piloted Tacoma for at least one full season since the team began in 1960. Here is the complete chart, sorted by winning percentage, which includes managers who worked partial seasons:

                                TACOMA MANAGERS 1960-PRESENT 
1978 Mike Ferraro Yankees 80-57 .584
1960-1962 Red Davis Giants 259-203 .561
1981-1982, 1984 Ed Nottle Tigers 231-191 .547
1971 Jim Marshall Cubs 78-65 .545
2001-2005 Dan Rohn Rainiers 375-340 .524
1974-1976 Cal Ermer Twins 224-204 .523
1977 Tom Kelly Twins 28-26 .519
2007-2010 Daren Brown Rainiers 283-264 .517
1996-2000 Dave Myers Rainiers 366-343 .516
2006 Dave Brundage Rainiers 74-70 .514
1965 Bill Werle Giants 75-72 .510
1985-1987 Keith Leippman Tigers 216-213 .503
1979-1980 Gene Dusan Tugs/Tigers 148-147 .502
1963 Andy Gilbert Giants 79-79 .500
1988-1990 Brad Fischer Tigers 214-215 .499
1995 Steve Smith Rainiers 68-76 .472
1964 Charlie Fox Giants 73-82 .471
2010 Jose Castro Rainiers 13-15 .464
1991 Jeff Newman Tigers 63-73 .463
1967-1970 Whitey Lockman Cubs 269-316 .460
1983 Bob Didier Tigers 65-77 .458
1973 Kerby Ferrell Twins 65-79 .451
1977 Del Wilbur Twins 40-49 .449
1972 Harry Warner Twins 65-83 .439
1992-1993 Bob Boone Tigers 125-161 .437
1994 Casey Parsons Tigers 61-81 .430
1966 Les Peden Cubs 63-85 .426

Tacoma’s 2011 complemental staff will remain the same: trainers Tom Newberg and Jeremy “Mrs. Newberg” Clipperton, performance specialist Charlie Kenyon, and clubhouse manager Eddie Romprey.

We also have a few links today:

  • Larry LaRue has all of the Mariners minor league coaching staffs listed here. Of note, Jose Castro – who managed the Rainiers throughout the playoff run – will return to his original job as minor league hitting coordinator. Other highlights: former Rainiers (and major leaguers, and Pac-10 standouts) Andrew Lorraine and Mike Kinkade team up at Short Season-A Everett, former Cheney Stadium denizens Rich Dorman and Terry Pollreisz are on the Class-A Clinton staff, and the Mariners hired a whole bunch of new guys to run the Class-AA team.
  • Baseball America, in its weekly Minor League Transactions post, reports that the Mariners re-signed 2010 Rainiers relief pitcher Scott Patterson. The Rainiers mid-season pickup of Patterson was one of several key turning points in the Rainiers championship  season, and we would welcome him back on opening day.
  • Also at Baseball America, the magazine moved into the AL West with its Top-10 prospects listings, starting with the Angels. That means the Mariners list is coming soon… you can check the Angels list for potential rivals on the Salt Lake Bees; their top prospect Mike Trout is supposedly one of the best in all of minor league baseball.
  • At the Seattle Times, Geoff Baker has a blog post about the Mariners possibly trading prospects, and what it means.
  • The Mariners Advanced Class-A High Desert affiliate has been sold.
  • This Jerry Crasnick story on San Diego Padres pitcher Kevin Correia serves as a reminder that ballplayers are human beings, too. Correia pitched many times against Tacoma, while with Fresno from 2003 to 2005.
  • Make sure you check out the Cheney Stadium construction video discussed below.

Comedy actor Leslie Nielson passed away last night. His starring role in The Naked Gun includes a segment that ESPN’s Rob Neyer called “the second most famous Mariners-Angels game of all-time.” I still crack up at that movie’s “baseball bloopers” – especially the one with the tiger; it kills me every time. But my all-time favorite baseball movie character is, predictably, Harry Doyle.

Cheney Stadium Construction Video

November 29, 2010

I wanted to put up a quick link on a Cheney Stadium renovation video that is now available. Several members of the Rainiers front office have become amateur filmmakers and this is their first release. I hope you like it!

Link to Cheney Stadium video.

Personally, I’m expecting an Oscar nomination for Best Voiceover Recorded In A Tacoma Condominium Masquerading As A Sound Studio. Despite the fierce competition, I anticipate a win and am working on my speech right now.

We should have some news later today – I think that the Rainiers coaching staff will be announced this afternoon.

2011 Rainiers Begin To Take Shape

November 24, 2010

The Mariners signed seven minor league free agents this week, giving us a better idea what this coming season’s Tacoma Rainiers are going to look like.

The team announced the re-signing of three players who spent 2010 with the Pacific Coast League champions: pitchers Chris Seddon and Yusmeiro Petit, and outfielder Mike Wilson.

Seddon was one of the anchors of the Rainiers starting rotation, going 10-4 with a 3.39 ERA and being named a PCL All-Star before his promotion to Seattle in mid-July. Seddon was used sparingly in a long relief role by the Mariners for the remainder of the season. Seddon will have a chance to win a bullpen spot with the Mariners in spring training, but if he’s in Tacoma it will likely be as a starter.

Petit was injured for much of the first half of the 2010 season, but he stepped into the Rainiers rotation after Seddon and Luke French were promoted to Seattle. Petit’s crowning moment came in the second-to-last game of the regular season on September 5, when he tossed seven shutout innings and earned the victory over Fresno as Tacoma clinched the division title.

Wilson is a long-time Mariners organizational outfielder who went on a home run tear in the PCL championship series at Memphis. Wilson homered in all three games and was named Most Valuable Player of the series.

Additionally, it was announced today that the Mariners have signed four minor league free agents from outside of the organization: left-handed pitcher Fabio Castro, right-handers Charlie Haeger and Chris Smith, and infielder Luis Rodriguez. We’ve seen all four players before on opposing teams.

Castro is a diminutive lefty who pitched for Las Vegas in 2009 – you may remember this dominating start he had at Cheney Stadium, when he struck out ten Rainiers over seven shutout innings. Castro, 25, has good stuff; it’s his inconsistent control that has kept him in Triple-A. Last year he went 7-9, 4.93 for Pawtucket – he had 102 strikeouts in 104 innings, but he also walked 50.

Luis Rodriguez is a 29-year-old middle infielder who has spent a lot of time in the majors with the Padres and Twins as a utility infielder. We saw him with Portland in 2008, although he spent most of that season in the majors. Last year Rodriguez had an excellent season in Triple-A with Charlotte, hitting .293 with 16 home runs. Rodriguez will certainly pressure Josh Wilson for a spot on the Mariners opening day roster. For more on Rodriguez, check out the link below.

Haeger, 27, is a knuckleballer who has had the career ups-and-downs of virtually all non-Wakefield knuckleballers since the Niekro era. Surely the M’s are hoping that Haeger goes all RA Dickey on the league. Haeger has had some really good seasons in Triple-A – most notably an 11-6, 3.55 mark for Albuquerque in 2009.

Chris Smith has an everyman’s name, but he has been one of the top closers in Triple-A baseball the last three years, leading the PCL with 26 saves for Nashville in 2010. Smith converted 21 straight saves for Nashville until the Rainiers ended that streak in May last season – it was Tacoma’s first shocking win of the season. The 29-year-old got a long major league look from the Brewers in 2009.

These players will provide depth for the Mariners and a core veteran group in Tacoma. Look for more players to sign leading all the way up to spring training.

Now for a few links:

  • Dave Cameron thinks that Luis Rodriguez is an excellent under-the-radar signing.
  • The Mariners website has an interesting article on Greg Halman’s trip home to Holland, and a clinic he participated in with former Rainiers star Adam Jones.
  • At The News Tribune, Larry LaRue writes that Russell Branyan would like to re-sign with the Mariners.
  • All 30 major league manager jobs have been filled, so LaRue asks the obvious question
  • Geoff Baker points out that the previous winners of the Arizona Fall League MVP award haven’t exactly become superstars.
  • At Baseball America, Matt Eddy provides too much information about things I have recently written about: minor league free agents, and protecting players on the 40-man roster.
  • The story surrounding former Rainiers outfielder Shin Soo Choo has been remarkable. He led South Korea to a gold medal in the Asian Games, thus earning an exemption on his required two-year military duty. Get this: if South Korea had lost a game, Choo would have been forced to join the military immediately, and miss the next two major league seasons – not to mention over $10 million in expected salary. Or, Choo could have taken residence in the USA and skipped his military duty – but then he would never be able to return to his home country and visit family and friends. Cleary it was a big win for Choo.
  • This was close – we just barely escaped. Tucson is indeed playing a “home” series in Fort Wayne, Indiana this year – and the Rainiers missed it by one day! Instead, the Las Vegas 51s will have the honor. Colorado Springs-based historian Chris Moyer believes these will be the first Pacific Coast League games played in the Eastern Time Zone since Indianapolis was in the league from 1964-66.*

Everyone here at Mike… Off-Mic – well, that’s just me – would like to wish you a happy Thanksgiving holiday. Eat the bird!

* I actually think this series would be fun to work – once you get there and get set up. The travel, the potential for an A-ball motel, and the unlikelihood that the broadcast booth is wired for a PCL-quality radio transmission would be the sticking points from my perspective.

Weekend Baseball News Update

November 22, 2010

Catching up on the news from the weekend:

Ackley Wins MVP

Dustin Ackley won the Most Valuable Player award in the Arizona Fall League. You always have to take the AFL stats with a big rock of salt, because it’s a pure hitter’s league, but the numbers are fun (courtesy of the Mariners): Ackley won the AFL batting title with a .424 average and also topped the league in on-base percentage (.581), slugging (.758), OPS (1.338) and runs scored (28), all while also going a perfect 5-for-5 in stolen-base attempts.

A lot of us – myself included – have gone along with the theory that Ackley will start 2011 in Tacoma, and play his way into the Seattle lineup mid-season. However, after that showing in the AFL, Ackley seems better positioned to earn an Opening Day spot on the Mariners if he has a good spring training. This will be one of the most compelling stories of the Mariners spring training camp.

40-Man Roster

The Mariners added 10 players to their 40-man Major League Roster, raising the total number of protected players to 39. The complete list of players added is here, and Jay at USS Mariner wrote about them here. Players on the 40-man roster cannot be drafted away by other teams in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft, but the Mariners will have to use the first (of three) option years in order to send these players to the minor leagues in April.

There were a couple of surprises – most notably former Rainiers lefty Cesar Jimenez, who has been out of action for essentially two years. It turns out that he had labrum surgery and spent all of 2010 rehabilitating in Arizona. Jimenez is now pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he is having some early success. We could once again see the change-up artist in Tacoma this year.*

Rainiers players from 2010 who were added to the 40-man roster were all pitchers: Josh Lueke, Michael Pineda, and Mauricio Robles. Also Yoervis Medina, who started and won one game for Tacoma.

PCL Managers

Teams are announcing their 2011 coaching staffs. The weekend provided some more news:

  • Albuquerque manager Tim Wallach was named the Dodgers third base coach, so the ‘Topes are hiring a new skipper.
  • Memphis manager Chris “Hammer” Maloney returns to the reins of the Redbirds – much to the dismay of reporters and broadcasters throughout the PCL.
  • After an affiliation switch, the Round Rock Express inherited the Oklahoma City coaching staff, led by manager Bobby Jones.

Additional links of interest (to me, at least!):

  • Here is an update on broadcaster extraordinaire Jon Miller, who is leaning towards not accepting a radio-only role with ESPN. I agree that the travel he did for 21 years was crazy.
  • Brock and Salk posted the audio of their interview with Felix Hernandez after he won the Cy Young Award.
  • Former Rainiers and Mariners reliever JJ Putz is a free agent – and the Diamondbacks are interested.
  • Ever wonder about all of those crazy minor league team names? Me, too. Friend of the blog Tim Hagerty has written a book about them. Biscuits to Casketmakers – Stories Behind The Most Unique Minor League Baseball Team Names is out now.
  • Speaking of books, someone wrote one about Ron Necciai – the only player in professional baseball history to record 27 strikeouts in a nine-inning game.
  • Stan Musial turned 90, and here are 90 things to love about one of the greatest living Hall of Famers.
  • Sad news from Ohio, where Toledo Mud Hens broadcasting legend Frank Gilhooley passed away.

 That’s today’s round-up. We’ll see if there is much news this week – some years baseball goes quiet during Thanksgiving week, other years all kinds of big moves go down.

* this reminded me of the year Jimenez pitched in the starting rotation for Tacoma, when he was a rather unlikely candidate to pitch one of the best games I have ever seen – eight perfect innings at Cashman Field in Las Vegas, broken up by a just-barely-fair double down the left field line to lead off the ninth. He finished with a 28-batter one-hit shutout.

When King Felix Ruled Tacoma

November 18, 2010

Felix Hernandez became the second former Tacoma pitcher to ever win a Cy Young Award when he was announced as the American League winner earlier today.

Felix joins Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry as the only two players to pitch for Tacoma on their way to the majors, and then win a Cy Young.*

Two other pitchers won the Cy Young award first, and then pitched for Tacoma later: Mike McCormick won the award for San Francisco in 1967, and then tried to revive his career with the Tacoma Twins in 1973. Cliff Lee won the award in 2008, and then had the one injury rehabilitation start for Tacoma in 2010.

Perry pitched for the Tacoma Giants from 1960 to 1963, and then he won two Cy Youngs – one with the Cleveland Indians in 1972, and another with the San Diego Padres in 1978.

Felix was with Tacoma in 2005, and he was the highlight of the Rainiers roster – he was the young phenom, he had a lot of hype, and he had overpowering stuff. Everybody looked forward to his starts that year – and he had six of them at home. Let’s go back in time five years…

Hernandez made the Rainiers opening day roster, but Tacoma fans didn’t get a look at Felix for a while – four of his first five starts were on the road.

He made his Triple-A debut on his 19th birthday, working six innings without allowing an earned run but taking a 3-0 loss in Fresno on April 8.

Felix made his Cheney Stadium debut on April 19 and lost to Sacramento, allowing three runs over six innings, but striking out eight. Dan Johnson hit a two-run double off him in the first inning, giving Felix an ERA for the first time – he had tossed 11 innings without allowing an earned run in his first two starts, both on the road. The attendance was 3,328 – an excellent total at the time for a Tuesday night game in April.

Felix won two more road starts before making his second home start on May 6, against Salt Lake. This was kind of a confounding outing – Felix allowed just two hits in seven innings, but they both were home runs. Jeff Mathis took him deep after a Curtis Pride walk, and Adam Pavkovich (remember him?) hit a solo shot later. Still, Felix picked up the win, improving to 4-2, 2.75. There was a very nice crowd on a clear day – 6,191.

The Rainiers hit the road again, and I got to see my first real Felix Hernandez masterpiece. It came on May 12 in Round Rock, and the Express had future Orioles slugger Luke Scott hitting third, and former Rainier and Mariner Charles Gipson in the leadoff spot. Felix dominated for seven shutout innings, giving up just two hits and one walk while striking out eight. He whiffed Scott twice. Masao Kida and George Sherrill finished off the combined 3-0 shutout. 

The road trip continued, and Felix got Albuquerqued in his worst Triple-A start – knocked out during a laborious five-run second inning; I remember staying up late into the night in the lobby of the dreaded MCM Elegante, listening in while Dan Rohn and Rafael Chaves dissected this game.

The Rainiers came home and nobody showed up for Felix’s third Cheney Stadium start – well, only you diehards did. The 2,111 of you who attended on May 23 got to see Felix’s best Triple-A start: seven scoreless innings against Memphis, nine strikeouts, just four hits allowed. Jeff Heaverlo and Sherrill finished off a 4-0 shutout. Felix was now 6-3, 2.63.

Felix then made two more road starts, at Fresno and Sacramento, and he was wild in both of them – walking eight batters in 11 innings – but nobody was hitting him hard, he allowed only seven hits total in the two games. This prompted more late nights with Rohny and Chavy. Their discussions became heated: was Felix ready? What can he improve? Will he throw strikes in the majors? Should we tell Hargrove he’s ready? Can we really send up this child – he’s only 19!

The kid didn’t answer any questions with his next outing – a home start on June 9, against Las Vegas. Felix walked five batters in 5.1 innings – but he struck out eight, gave up just five hits, and didn’t allow a run. Chris Buglovsky, Sean Green, and Kida polished off another Felix-started shutout.

Five days later, Felix tossed six scoreless innings at Cheney Stadium against Portland, striking out seven but walking four. Only three hits were allowed this time – and Green and Kida closed out yet another combined shutout. Felix was 8-4 with a 2.32 ERA and the youngest player in Triple-A baseball.

Three days later, throwing a standard between-starts bullpen session, Felix said he was a little stiff. The Mariners immediately shut him down for a month. The M’s had been trying to slow him down all season, often starting him on five days rest, trying to decrease injury risk. I think the organization wanted him to take a month off and was looking for any reason to do it – Felix wasn’t happy about it.

Hernandez returned in a relief role on July 10 in Tucson, pitching one inning. The team wanted him to rebuild arm strength out of the bullpen.

Felix had four more relief outings, all at home, in late July before returning to the rotation with a July 30 start against Omaha in front of 7,521 fans on a gorgeous, 86-degree Saturday evening in Tacoma. In what turned out to be Felix’s final minor league start, he tossed four no-hit innings, striking out seven and walking two.

Felix’s next start was in the major leagues, and now here we are five years later, and King Felix has a Cy Young Award. Congratulations, Felix – it was fun watching you on your way to the big leagues.

Now for the links:

  • Here is an early story on Felix’s award win, with reaction, from Kirby Arnold.
  • Geoff Baker posted a nice summary of the Cy Young award voting details.
  • The Mariners announced the signing of two minor league free agents late yesterday: infielder Sean Kazmar, and relief pitcher Justin Miller. Kazmar, 26, plays SS and 2B, he hit .275 with eight home runs and 53 RBI for Portland last year, and he will likely be on Tacoma’s opening day roster. Miller is a 33-year-old right-handed reliever who split his time between Albuquerque and the Dodgers last year. Miller has quite a bit of major league experience and may have a decent chance to make the Mariners roster in spring training – if not, we’ll happily take him.
  • Additionally, I have learned that the Mariners have either signed, or are very close to signing, two of their own minor league free agents: outfielder Mike Wilson, and pitcher Yusmeiro Petit.
  • Larry Stone says that the Hot Stove League is heating up earlier than usual.
  • Normally this would be the lead item – Tony DeFrancesco, the winningest active Triple-A manager, has left Sacramento and will manage the Houston Astros affiliate in Oklahoma City. Tony D won three PCL championships in seven years as Sacramento manager.
  • Padres officials toured the facility in Tucson. In this story, we learn that Tucson will play “four games in July” in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. The Rainiers have a July series in Tucson. Uh-oh…

Big week here in the Curto household, as we gear up for the rivalry game. Did you know that for decades – and perhaps still to this day, I’m not sure – John Elway refused to talk about this game? “Only a miracle can save the Bears now…”

*Former Tacoma Giant Juan Marichal never won a Cy Young award. There was only one award for both leagues until 1967, and he was always up against Koufax and Gibson.

Wednesday Notes

November 17, 2010

We have a few news items to pass along today, so let’s get to it.

But before the links, I want to make sure that you checked out the Dave Niehaus remembrance packages at both the Seattle Times and The News Tribune. There are so many great stories and clips on these pages, you can get lost in them for hours. Dave’s impact on sports fans in the Pacific Northwest will last decades into the future.

Now for a few items:

  • The News Tribune ran a story updating the Cheney Stadium construction status. The completion date has been adjusted to April 1 – still two weeks before the home opener on April 15. Meanwhile, the new steel beams are going up. I’ll swing by and take some pictures when it stops raining.*
  • Larry LaRue has an update on unsigned 4th round draft pick James Paxton, who is still eligible to sign because he is done playing college baseball. LaRue also answered a bazillion Mariners questions in his live chat yesterday – here is the transcript.
  • As noted in the comments yesterday, there are reports that 2009-10 Rainiers pitcher Steven Shell signed a minor league free agent contract with the Kansas City Royals. I have also heard that the Mariners re-signed one of their own minor league free agents: reliever Mumba Rivera.
  • The Omaha Royals changed their name to the Omaha Storm Chasers. Due to my personal interest in keeping my job, I will not be commenting on the name change. However, the previous link includes information on the new mascots (yes, plural), a video, and reader comments. Not everyone is impressed. Some, like Rob Neyer of ESPN.com, think its embarrassing.
  • If you are a fan of the movie Pulp Fiction, you gotta check this out. Former Rainiers Felix Hernandez and Garrett Olson participated in a photo session for ESPN The Magazine’s “Movie Issue,” and there are some great shots.
  • For ESPN Insiders, here is a feature on Dustin Ackley and the improvements he has made while playing in the Arizona Fall League.
  • This is fun: Dave Cameron ponders the possibility of the Mariners trading for Justin Upton.
  • When the Chicago Cubs decided against promoting Iowa skipper Ryne Sandberg to major league manager, the Hall of Famer elected to leave the organization. Now, he has been named manager of the Phillies Triple-A team in Allentown, PA.
  • More PCL manager news: Stu Cole is staying in Colorado Springs, and the Padres are keeping Terry Kennedy in charge of their Triple-A team – now located in Tucson.

Big day Thursday – the American League Cy Young Award winner will be announced. Here we go, Felix, here we go (clap clap clap).

* Look for the photos in June.

Remembering A Legend

November 10, 2010

We were all shocked to hear about the passing of Dave Niehaus on Wednesday evening. I was absolutely stunned, and had that empty feeling in the gut – you know, that hollow feeling that you never want.

The outstanding coverage  by Matt Pitman and Shannon Drayer on ESPN 710 AM assisted with the healing, and got me remembering the first time I really met Dave.

It was 2003 or 2004 – I think, I probably have the year wrong. I had met Dave before, but only in passing – we hadn’t really talked. But on this date, it was Dave Niehaus Night at Cheney Stadium. He was obligated to do a promotional appearance on behalf of Budweiser, and the company elected to do it at a packed Rainiers game.

The Mariners had played a day game, and of course we were playing at night.

Before the game, Dave was introduced by our PA announcer to thunderous applause, and he waved to the Tacoma crowd and threw out the first pitch. Then, he came up to the booth on the roof to do an inning on the radio with me.

Now, this wasn’t Dave and Mike, calling the Rainiers game – this was me interviewing Dave, between pitches during the first inning. I was pretty nervous about it, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to go – I wasn’t interviewing some ballplayer; instead I was interviewing one of the legends in my own profession, a person I really looked up to.

The Mariners had gotten creamed in their game earlier in the day – for some reason 9-2 sticks in my memory as the final score  – and, well… here’s how it went:

Mike: “And joining me in the booth today, the Voice of the Seattle Mariners, Dave Niehaus. Dave, it’s an honor to have you here, but what are you doing here tonight? You already called nine innings today!”

Dave: “And nine miserable innings they were, Mike.”

And we were off and running – he put me at ease, just like that. It was fun – I asked him about his background, what he likes about the job, etc. He gave the listeners a peek into what his working life was like, which was a real treat.

This year, when the Rainiers played PCL playoff games at Safeco Field, I was given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to broadcast the games from Dave’s booth. Dave worked every home game surrounded by pictures of his friends and family – the photos cover every square inch of wall space.

Condolences to everyone in the Niehaus family, and the Mariners family. Dave Niehaus was one of the greatest broadcasters in the history of the sport, and he is a true Hall of Famer.