Archive for Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Chinstraps and mouthpieces:

League offers fans different kind of baseball

June 25, 2003

If only you could have been in the stands Tuesday night at U.S. Steel Field in Gary, Ind.

It was, after all, Michael Jackson Night for the hometown Gary-Southshore Railcats.

Whether that requires wearing a single shimmering glove, lighting your hair on fire while holding a Pepsi or bringing a horde of kids and exotic animals to the game, I'm unsure.

But it is evident that the Kansas City T-Bones are in some sort of minor league. The Northern League is independent from any farm system, be it Class A, double-A or triple-A. But, it's still that minor league mentality -- invite fans in for a game and, just in case they grow tired of the baseball, send in the clowns and provide comic relief in between innings.

If you attend a Kansas City T-Bones baseball game, you probably won't snag a glimpse of the next Pedro Martinez, Alex Rodriguez or Jim Edmonds.

Without farm club affiliation, it's more difficult for these players to catch a scout's eye. I certainly hadn't heard of any big names or hot prospects playing in the league.

But after speaking with Tonganoxie teen and T-Bone bat boy Erick Lowe last week, that changed.

Lowe passionately spoke about baseball at CommunityAmerica Ballpark and why the independent brand of baseball held its own -- even with the majors.

Then came a name from Erick's mouth that warranted a background check. Erick mentioned a major trade involving four T-Bones for -- drum roll, please -- Pete Rose Jr.

Obviously some research was in order. I'd heard that Pete Rose Sr. had a son playing baseball, but surely that wasn't the same son of the Cincinnati Reds great.

It was.

At the age of 34, baseball nomad Pete Rose Jr. made his way to Kansas City, but then quickly headed to Illinois earlier this season to play for the Joliet Jackhammers.

Finding big name kept the mouse busy surfing from team Web site to team Web site for more recognizable names. It turns out Garry Templeton is managing at Gary-Southshore. After a strong major league career with St. Louis and San Diego, Templeton is in the Northern League. Gary Templeton II also is in a Railcat uniform.

The Internet hunt offered so much other information.

Gary-Southshore Railcats -- There's more than corn in Indiana, such as the aforementioned Michael Jackson Night. The team Web site, www.railcats.com, on Monday had a great picture of Jackson holding a Gary-Southshore uniform with an unidentified person.

Joliet Jackhammers -- The Illinois franchise plays at Silver Cross Field where the newest attraction is a 19-foot construction worker beyond the left-field fence. It's too bad KDOT can't sign him for the busy road construction season. Fans actually can submit suggestions for the construction worker's name. Whoever submits the top name wins suite tickets for an upcoming game.

Hank Thoms also plays for the Jackhammers, not to be confused with Tom Hanks.

Kansas City T-Bones -- Although Joliet and Gary-Southshore have impressive Web sites, Kansas City's is sufficient. It is, however, packed with plenty of information and an update on upcoming events. Tuesday, for instance, was Mullet Night. It's scary, but the hairstyle likely could have been in full force.

Lincoln Salt Dogs -- The fairly new Haymarket Field houses both the Salt Dogs and the Nebraska baseball team. The beautiful facility is next door to the Husker football shrine known as Memorial Stadium. This information, however, only can be obtained by heading to Lincoln. The site doesn't provide much.

Schaumburg Flyers -- Another Illinois organization, The Flyers, started in 1998 under former Chicago White Sox slugger Ron Kittle's direction. Since then, the team has made its way into the baseball record book. In 1999, former Negro Leagues star Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe pitched for the Flyers against Fargo-Moorhead designated hitter Matt Faulken. Radcliffe came into the game only to pitch to Faulken, but at 96, he became the oldest person in history to pitch in a game.

Sioux City Explorers -- Not much to report from Iowa. No Northern League players hail from Kansas, but the Explorers sport three Missouri players on their roster.

Sioux Falls Canaries -- Not much to report from South Dakota, either. Joplin, Mo., native Danny Pinkerton provides local talent.

St. Paul Saints -- The Saints Web site didn't have any dazzling information about their own club, but did provide a great history of the league. Players such as Jim Palmer, Roger Maris, Orlando Cepeda, Lou Brock and Joe Torre all played at some point. Even Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Carl Yastrzemski had some affiliation with the league.

Winnipeg Goldeyes -- The Canadian franchise has existed for 10 years and claims former Houston Astros manager Hal Lanier as its skipper.

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