Saturday, September 22, 2018

Javier Alvarez, Tough Night - 1

Javier Alvarez and his Eugene Emeralds had a tough night in the field this late-August 1990 game, according to The Eugene Register-Guard.

He fumbled a grounder and then made a bad throw in the third, two of the team's four errors in the loss, according to The Register-Guard.

"The defense," teammate Phil Hiatt told The Register-Guard. "The defense killed us. Those errors..."

Alvarez committed those errors in his second season as a pro and second season with Eugene. That season marked his final season with both Eugene and in the pros.

Alvarez' career began in 1989, taken by the Royals in the 33rd round of the draft out of San Francisco State University. He also played at the College of Marin.

He started with the Royals at short-season Eugene. He got into 24 games and hit .276. He also hit one home run and knocked in seven.

Alvarez then returned to Eugene for 1990. He went 1 for 4, with a run scored and an RBI in a July game. He then went 1 for 3 in an August contest. He walked and scored in another game that month.

Overall in 1990, Alvarez got into 45 games, hit three home runs and turned in a .186 average to end his career.
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,986
Made the Majors:1,097-36.7%
Never Made Majors:1,889-63.3%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 455
10+ Seasons in the Minors:275

Hector De La Cruz, Good Baseball - 7

Originally published Feb. 7, 2011
The Dominican Republic's Licey Tigres won the Caribbean Series championship in 2008. Helping them get there was their manager, Hector De La Cruz.

"We played good baseball and this is what happens when you do that," De La Cruz told MLB.com after his team beat foe the Aguilas Cibaenas. "The Aguilas are a good team but this is baseball. You play hard every night and do things right you can win."

De La Cruz was managing in his native country, part of a managing and coaching career that he began after his days playing in the minor leagues and overseas ended. Stateside, De La Cruz has managed and coached in the Diamondbacks system for a decade, returning to helm the Missoula Osprey for 2011.

De La Cruz' baseball career began in 1984, signed by the Blue Jays. He played that year and part of the next in the rookie Gulf Coast League. He played the other part of 1985 and 1986 at single-A Florence.

In July 1986, De La Cruz amounted for most of Florence's scoring in a 4-3 win. He snuck a single through to score two in the sixth, then stole second and scored the tying run in the ninth, The Charleston News and Courier wrote.

De La Cruz first made AA in 1988 at Knoxville, then hit AAA Syracuse that same year. Between the two stops, he hit only .195.

He returned to Syracuse in 1989 and then in 1990, hitting .179 the first year, then improving that to .234 in 1990.

De La Cruz never made the major leagues, but in 1991, he signed on with the Yomiuri Giants, playing in Japan. He later went on to play in Taiwan and in Korea before his playing days were done.

De La Cruz has coached with the Diamondbacks system for the last decade, serving as hitting coach at Missoula in 2001, moving to the same post in 2002 at South Bend.

De La Cruz returned to Missoula in 2005 as manager. After going through managing jobs in Visalia and Mobile, it was back to Missoula in 2010. He is to remain in Missoula for 2011.

In announcing the Missoula 2011 staff, Osprey Executive VP Matt Ellis called De La Cruz "a top level manager."

"He is one of the most popular managers in team history," Ellis said in the announcement. "His positive attitude and extensive baseball experience are a huge asset to our organization. We couldn't be happier to welcome Hector back to Missoula."

Friday, September 21, 2018

Steve Cummings, Case of Nerves - 6

Originally published Nov. 13, 2010
Making his first major league start on June 29. 1989, Steve Cummings wasn't sure what to expect.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous," Cummings told reporters afterward.

But he came through with seven innings, giving up a single earned run. He also got the win, his Blue Jays backing him up with 19 hits.

It was one of five major league appearances for Cummings in 1989. He would return to Toronto the next year, getting six more appearances, major league appearances that would prove to be his last.

Cummings was drafted by the Blue Jays in the second round of the 1986 draft, out of the University of Houston. He played that year at short-season St. Catharines, going 9-5 with a 2.04 ERA.

He played 1987 at single-A Dunedin, going an impressive 18-8 with a 2.94 ERA. Cummings helped Dunedin to a 7-0 win down the stretch with what The St. Petersburg Times described as an excellent performance.

That season earned him a promotion to AA Knoxville for 1988. There, Cummings went 14-11 with another sub-3 ERA. One of his losses came in an early May double header, after he gave up only one hit in the first game, according to The Orlando Sentinel.

''Our pitching was good enough to win both games, but you've still got to score some runs,'' Knoxville Manager Barry Foote told The Sentinel. ''In the first game we made two mistakes that were very costly. Baseball is not a very forgiving game.''

In 1989, Cummings made AAA Syracuse, then made it to Toronto. He was called up in June. Cummings got into five games for Toronto, two of them starts. He went 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA before being sent back down in July.

Cummings returned to Toronto by early May 1990, called up after the Blue Jays released veteran pitcher Mike Flanagan. He got into six games, starting two. Overall, he had a 5.11 ERA with no decisions. His final game came at Oakland May 30, giving up one run in one inning of work.

Sent back to Syracuse, Cummings finished out the year 5-3 with a 3.11 ERA. But shoulder surgery had dimmed his prospects. At season's end, Cummings was sent to the Indians. He started 1991 at at the Indians' AAA team in Colorado Springs before being traded in May to the Tigers.

In spring training 1992, Cummings made his bid to return to the majors, with the Tigers and manager Sparky Anderson was eager to get a look at the right hander, according to The AP.

In one early March game, Cummings pitched two scoreless innings. The Tigers were looking at Cummings for a bullpen spot. Despite the two years since his last look at the majors, those early nerves from 1989 were gone, he told The AP after that early March outing.

"I wasn't nervous. I didn't have any pressure on me," Cummings told The AP. "But, at the same time, I wanted to do well. I wanted to give the manager something to remember."

Cummings, however, didn't impress enough to get that bullpen slot. On March 10, Cummings gave up a grand slam. On March 25, he was better, giving up two hits over two innings. But, by season's start, Cummings was sent back down. He pitched in just five games at Toledo that year and he was done.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Mark Whiten, Hard Hitting - 29

Originally published May 13, 2010
Mark Whiten had just hit four home runs in a single game, Sept. 7, 1993, and he was at a loss to explain it. He settled on a basketball reference.

"It's like when Michael Jordan gets 'in the zone,'" Whiten said in an Associated Press story on the feat. "He's going to score 50 points. That's kind of the way it felt. It didn't matter."

It was a game to remember, one befitting his naturally rhyming moniker, "Hard-Hittin.'" But, his basketball reference notwithstanding, the Hard-Hittin' name might have just has easily been a completely different sports reference.

Whiten began his career with Toronto, taken in the fifth round of the 1986 January draft. He had only taken up baseball at the age of 17. It was a means to stay in shape for football, he told the New York Times in 1997.

"My coach wanted me to," Whiten told The Times. "I didn't like running track. It was track or baseball, and I wasn't going to run."

The Blue Jays drafted him out of junior college. In 1987, at Myrtle Beach, Whiten made the South Atlantic League All-Star team. He also got a spot in the movie Bull Durham, albeit fleeting. A newspaper with a headline referencing Whiten was used during the 1987 filming, according to IMDB.com. It's visible during the bus scene.

Whiten made AA Knoxville in 1988 then AAA Syracuse and Toronto in 1990. He was in the majors for good in 1991. That's the same year the Blue Jays traded him to Cleveland, the first of many team changes Whiten underwent during his career.

He was traded to the Cardinals in 1993, having two of his best seasons. He hit 25 home runs for the Cardinals in 1993, four coming on that one day in September.

His first home run that day came in the first, a grand slam. When it was over, four home runs and 12 RBIs later, Whiten was one of now 15 players with that many home runs in a single contest. He was also one of only two with that many RBIs in a single game.

"Well, it really hasn't dawned on me yet," Whiten told Sports Illustrated two days after the game. "I hit four home runs and drove in 12 - that's all I know."

Whiten's stay in St. Louis only lasted two seasons, one of the longest stays in his career. He would go on to make six more stops, for Boston, Philadelphia, the Yankees, Seattle and Cleveland again.

Whiten's last major league game came in 2000, with the Indians. He made stops in Mexico and the independent circuit through 2003 and his playing days were done.

The Times noted frequent change of address in its 1997 article. Whiten told the paper he just went out and played.

''It's nice to have stability, but it's no big deal,'' Whiten told the paper. ''Baseball is baseball wherever you go. I don't worry about it anymore."

Monday, September 17, 2018

David Rolls, Fit In - 25

David Rolls started the 1990 season for short-season Eugene slow. He'd gotten into only 11 games by mid-July, but in his 11th appearance, the catcher seemed to finally fit in, according to The Eugene Register-Guard.

He did so with two hits, one a double, and he drove in a run, The Register-Guard wrote. He also threw out four runners trying to steal.

"It felt good to contribute," Rolls told The Register-Guard. "It was a long time coming."

Rolls went on to a career that fit into seven seasons. He briefly saw AAA, but he never got to attempt to fit in in the majors.

Since his baseball time, though, Rolls has found a way to fit into a different kind of career, essentially allowing others to do so. Rolls founded his own jigsaw puzzle business that he continues in 2018.

Rolls' baseball career began in 1988, taken by the Royals in the 13th round of the draft out of the University of San Diego.

At San Diego, Rolls hit 18 home runs and knocked in 70, both single-season records. To The Los Angeles Times after being drafted, Rolls indicated he looked forward to turning pro.

"I was told by some scouts that I would be drafted, so I was expecting it," Rolls told The Times. "I think most little kids dream of playing pro baseball, and now the opportunity is in my hands."

Rolls played his first season at Eugene in 1988, arriving in a downpour. He got into 35 games that year and hit .171. He then underwent back surgery and lost all of 1989.

He returned to the field and to Eugene in 1990. He hit .281 over 45 games. He moved to co-op Salt Lake City in 1991, then high-A Port Charlotte with the Rangers for 1992. He hit .294 in 77 games there.

Rolls made AA Tulsa in 1993 and returned there in 1994. He knocked a ninth-inning, game-winning single in a June 1994 game and a two-run single in an August win. He hit .240 his first year there and .242 his second.

Rolls then returned briefly in 1995 and got his only time at AAA, two games at Oklahoma City to end his career.

That same year, Rolls founded the puzzle company MasterPieces, Inc., based in Arizona. The company has since expanded into other areas, including games and wood toys.

In July 2018, the company announced a new line of MLB and NHL shaped puzzles.

"All puzzle enthusiasts and sports fans can find the enjoyment and challenge of our new shaped puzzles," Rolls said in a statement announcing the lines. "We're pleased to be able to offer these high quality selections to our ever-growing sports licensed product offerings. We expect them to be among our best sellers this year."
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,985
Made the Majors:1,097-36.8%
Never Made Majors:1,888-63.2/%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 455
10+ Seasons in the Minors:275

Steve Wapnick, Real Aggressive - 28

Originally published May 15, 2011
After two-plus seasons at single-A, Steve Wapnick made a rapid ascent in the Blue Jays system, first hitting AA Knoxville, then AAA Syracuse.

And his new Syracuse manager Bob Bailor told The Los Angeles Times he'd heard nothing but good things about his new relief pitcher.

"He goes after hitters," Bailor told The Times. "He's real aggressive and that's what you want out of a relief pitcher. Personally, I want to get him into a game as soon as possible to get that triple-A tension out. I don't want to put him in a position to lose a game and mess up his confidence."

Wapnick would make the next step, but not with the Blue Jays. He took that next step the next April, with the Tigers. He got into four games for Detroit that April, and six more with the White Sox in 1991, marking the extent of his major league career.

Wapnick's professional career began in 1987, taken by the Blue Jays in the 30th round of the draft, out of Cal State Fresno. He played that year at short-season St. Catharines, going 3-4 with a 3.02 ERA.

He played 1988 at single-A Myrtle Beach, posting a 2.24 ERA in 54 relief appearances. He also picked up 12 saves, and spent one rain-out sliding in the mud.

For 1989, Wapnick made that rush to AAA. He started at single-A Dunedin, moved to AA Knoxville and then AAA Syracuse. He got into 12 games for Knoxville and six for Syracuse, posting sub 0.70 ERAs at both.

That off-season, the Blue Jays left Wapnick unprotected, and the Tigers took him in the minor league draft.

"Toronto's a great organization with a lot of numbers," Wapnick told The Associated Press early that next April. "I just fell between the cracks."

In four outings, seven innings for the Tigers that April, Wapnick gave up five earned runs. The Tigers then offered him back to the Blue Jays. He spent the rest of the year back at AAA Syracuse.

Wapnick spent 1991 again at Syracuse, without getting a call-up to Toronto. In September, the Blue Jays sent him to the White Sox. He got into six games for Chicago, giving up one earned run in five innings.

Going into 1992, Wapnick was hoping to make the big club again, having a good enough spring to be in the conversation.

"I thought if I pitched well, I thought I'd make the club," Wapnick told The Chicago Tribune late that March. "If I didn't pitch well, I knew I wouldn't make the club."

Wapnick didn't make the club. He played the year at AAA Vancouver. Closing out the year, though, he tried to finished strong. He told The Times with two weeks left, he'd been over-thinking his mechanics. He finally decided to do it his own way.

"Whether or not I'll make it to the big leagues again is something I really can't worry about right now," Wapnick told The Times. "For the next two weeks, I just have to concentrate on being a good pitcher, which is something I haven't been for most of this year."
Wapnick ended up with an ERA on the season of 4.42, in 39 outings. He played one more season, with the Mariners at AAA Calgary, finishing out his pro career without returning to the majors.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Ed Sprague, Strong and Healthy - 25

Originally published July 10, 2010
The Stockton Record asked Ed Sprague directly in 2008 about steroids. He responded that he couldn't condemn all steroid users, because he'd used Andro and amphetamines.

"I took Andro, and they banned that," Sprague told The Record. "So, am I the cleanest guy? No, but I tried to be as strong and as healthy as I could as long as I could for my career."

However he got healthy, Sprague's career was one that lasted for parts of 11 seasons, one where he hit a game-winning World Series home run and one where he hit 36 home runs in one season.

It began in 1988, taken by the Blue Jays in the first round of the draft. He had done well in college, but almost made Toronto question why they'd drafted him. In one College World Series inning, the infielder booted three balls, leading to a Stanford loss.

"All I wanted was some redemption for me," Sprague told reporters. "They just kept hitting it to me and I just kept kicking it."

But once in the Toronto system, Sprague moved up quickly. He spent 1989 at single-A Dunedin then jumped to AAA Syracuse. He returned to Syracuse for 1990, then got his call-up to Toronto in 1991.

His major league debut came in May 1991.

"I was catching at Syracuse, but I was swinging a good bat," Sprague said in the Los Angeles Times. "Maybe that's why they brought me up."

Sprague played in 61 games for Toronto in 1991 and 22 in 1992. But he also made the post-season roster for the Blue Jays. It was a good choice.

In game 2 of the World Series, Sprague came to bat as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning. He hit one out to win the game. He was also able to retrieve the ball from the fan who caught it.

"Only cost me an autographed bat and autographed ball," Sprague told Sports Illustrated. "I would have given the lady a thousand bats and balls. I got off cheap."

Sprague stayed with Toronto into 1998, when he was traded to Oakland for a minor leaguer. Arguably his best year came in 1996, when he hit 36 home runs. Otherwise, he never hit more than 22 home runs in one year.

Speaking to The Record, Sprague said he didn't recall, but he could have taken Andro in 1996.

Sprague went through four more organizations from 1999 to 2001, ending his major league career. He signed with Texas for 2002, but never got called back up.

Sprague has moved on to coach college baseball. He finished his eighth season in 2010 as head coach for the University of the Pacific.

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