Lehigh Valley Indians
On Monday afternoon a few of us were outside the Indians team hotel waiting for the shuttle. Before stopping at our hotel, the van stopped across the street and picked up a player for Lehigh Valley. When the van pulled up to pick us up the doors swung open and a familiar face was there to greet me. LHP Juan Perez (played for Indianapolis for parts of three seasons 2006-2008) gave me a big smile and said “Hey papi, how are you?” Juan and I sat together and did our best to catch up during the short 5 minute trip to the stadium. When the ride was over, I wished him the best and we exchanged a solid bro hug.
“Jeez Scotty, why don’t you just take him out to lunch?” Brian Burres is always good for an occasional dig and he was getting on me for being friendly with a guy. I warned Burres that this was just the beginning because including Juan, there are six former Indianapolis Indians players on the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs roster.
It is common to run into a former Indian from time to time. This season INF Nick Green is playing with Norfolk, RHP Chris Bootcheck is pitching for Durham, and C Carlos Maldonado is with Syracuse. What is uncommon is to see SIX former players with one team. Six of the 24 man roster for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate once wore an Indians uniform. The players are OF Rich Thompson (’05-’06 1x All-Star), RHP Brian Bass (’10), OF Brandon Moss (’10 team MVP), C Erik Kratz (’09-’10 2x-IL All-Star), 1B/OF Tagg Bozied (’09), and Perez. All of the players are key reasons why the Pigs have the leagues 2nd best record and are winning for the first time in the franchises short history.
Thompson has been with LHV since their inaugural season in 2008 and can see a different culture. “It is a lot better winning than it is losing and the experience on this team is incredible.” Of the current LHV roster only 6 players have not spent a day in the Major Leagues. Three of the six barley count because they just joined the team from Double-A Reading. “I’m having fun and everyone here knows that they can help the Phillies out. I’m still able to steal a base and one of the reasons I signed back with Philly is my speed may be an asset off their bench late in the season.” Thompson’s 21 stolen bases are the second most in the league and his first year skipper Ryne Sandberg has given Thompson the green light.
Ryne Sandberg? Yup, the Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame 2B is in his first year on the LHV bench. Prior to the two games with the Indians he came out of the clubhouse about 25 minutes before first pitch and signed autographs for the kids who lined up along the Pigs dugout. He signed for about 20 minutes and then took the line-up card to home plate. He still wears #23 and coaches third base. When Sandberg failed to get the Cubs managerial job he left their oganization and signed with is original team. Remember this trade Philly fans?
A year ago Moss was the Indians team MVP and led the league with 96 runs batted in. He was the first Indians player to lead a league in ribbies since 1978 and last year turned out to be an important year for the slugger. “We talked about it all year, but I lost the love for the game and was not having much fun until last year. You know what, I’m having fun again this year and for the first time in a while I am completely healthy.” The Indians learned his shoulder is 100% after testing his arm in the first inning of Mondays game. A year ago Moss had an accurate arm, but it lacked some zip…the zip is back in 2011. His 8th outfield assist of the season erased 2B Brian Friday at home plate who was trying to score on a sac fly. “This is a great clubhouse and maybe I’ll be in the Phillies plan at the end of the year. I doubt it, but as I found out last year, you never know what could happen.”
Last year Moss and several other players were set to drive home after the Indians final game of the year. Instead Moss was stunned with the news he was going to Pittsburgh. The call-up was a surprise to him and Brian Bass. Bass told me an entire line of cars were set to caravan to the south and instead they went to Pittsburgh. “It was great to get the call and it really surprised me. Too bad I was only up for a week, but it still was some validation that I had a good season.” Last year Bass was a reliever with the Tribe and he is a starter this year for LHV. Tuesday night he made his 14th start of the year and lost to the Indians despite holding the Tribe to only 1 run over 7 innings. “I could have signed with a couple of other teams, but liked what the Phillies were offering. The big club is loaded and that means that our team down here is loaded. It’s great to be a starter again and winning never gets old.”
In Tuesday’s start Bass was throwing to C Erik Kratz. The back-stop was a crowd favorite during his two-year stint with the Indians. Kratz was a two-time All-Star and last year at the age of 30 was called to the Bigs for the first time in his career. “Firts of all it is great to see you and the few people who I know. It looks like an entirely new team in Indianapolis.” Kratz was one of many players to move on to another organization and he not only found a home with the Phillies, but he is close to home. “My parents house is about 45 minutes away and that’s been great for the family. I’m having fun, I always do, but this has been fun with Ryne and the older players on the team.” Kratz has moved on to another team, but will always have fond memories with the Tribe. “I had two great years there and my wife and I met a lot of great people. I got a chance to play and of course the chance to live out the dream of getting called to the pros. I’d like to be in Philly in August, but if not I’m looking forward to our trip back to the Vic.”
Juan Perez came to the Indians at the end of the 2006 season and was full-time in 2007 and 2008. “I really liked Indy. The stadium was unbelievable and I got my first call-up when I was there.” Juan is now 32 years old and the 160 pound lefty is still making life miserable for left-handed hitters. Tuesday night he struck out John Bowker and Alex Presley in a LOOGY situation.
There was a lot of catching up on Monday and there will be a lot of good-byes when the series is all said and done on Thursday. It has been fun to catch up with so many players who played so well in and Indians uni.
ANDY MARTE ESTA ARDIENDO:
Over a month ago the Indianapolis Indians were playing at Norfolk. John Bowker was all set to join the team and the Indians needed to create some roster space. I’m sure most of the fans look at the players when they are at the park and evaluate them based on the numbers they see on the scoreboard. Which to some extent is fair, but inside the clubhouse everyone is vulnerable, even a player who spent the entire 2010 season in the Major Leagues. While in Norfolk the Indians were deciding what to do with Andy Marte. He was going to be the odd man out and May 8th he was removed from the Indians roster and added to the extended spring training roster. Marte was still with the team and working out, but in the background is agent was trying to find a better situation than the one with the Indians because he was not going to find playing time in Indy.
Then on May 14 Corey Wimberly injured a lower leg muscle and went onto the Indians DL. The only move the Indians could make was to activate Marte. On May 14 the 27-year-old was batting .147 with 2 home runs and had produced a total of 14 runs in 25 games. “It was bad, really bad and I’ve started out slow in the past, but was given a chance to work through it. It got to the point where I was trying to do too much and I was desperate.” On the day Marte was added back to the roster he went 1-3 with an RBI 2B. He would go hitless in his next four games and again was worried he may be out of a job. Then on May 20th something clicked and Andy Marte not only saved his spot on the roster, but is helping save the Indians season.
The Indians are 26-16 since John Bowker joined the team on May 8th and his presence has changed the dynamic of the team. Another factor has been the rise of Marte. Since May 20th Marte is hitting .333 with a .386 on-base-percentage. Manager Dean Treanor knows that Marte has been a reason for the teams turnaround. “He has proven that he can hit at this level and he is a run producer at this level. There was never a time when we wanted to get rid of him, but you do look out for his best interest. Thankfully he is still here and he not only gets hits, but big hits for us.” In the past 21 starts Marte has 26 hits with 11 extra-base hits and he has produced 36 runs. “Believe me it’s great to be playing and contributing. It’s a long season and I’m still not hitting like I want, but it’s better than where I was.”
NEWS AND NOTES:
Marte is not the only Indians player who is on a role. 1B Matt Hauge, SS Chase d’Arnaud, and CF Gorkys Hernandez are killing the ball on this road trip. Hague is hitting .647 in his last four games (11-17) with four doubles and a HR. His .313 average is the 8th best in the league and his 83 hits are the 4th most in the IL. “Scotty, don’t talk to me and screw this up. I’m good right now.” And superstitous
It didn’t seem like an important hit when Chase d’Arnaud doubled in the 9th inning Friday night against Rochester. The Indians were on their way to losing, but d’Arnaud didn’t give away his at-bat and the hit snapped an 0-18 slide. Turns out the hit was the spring-board to a great road trip. d’Arnaud (remember it’s pronounced dar-no) is batting .346 on the trip with 5 runs batted in. Very quietly d’Arnaud’s 33 RBI is only one-off the team lead. He’s had importnat hits with 19 of his 33 RBI coming on two out hits. “I’m only getting those because guys are on base and it’s great to deliver in those spots. It’s important to be able to drive in runs, but my main goal is to get on base and create runs.”
Finally, we are seeing the promise and abilities from 23-year-old CF Gorkys Hernandez. He has a season high 8 game hitting streak and Tuesday night scored the winning run by using his speed and saved a run with his glove. In the 3rd inning Gorkys was at first base when P Sean Gallagher put down a sac bunt. The third baseman charged the bunt and Gallagher was out at first base, but the play left third base open and Gorkys rounded second and sprinted for third. Two batters later he scored on an RBI single by Friday and the Indians never trailed the rest of the night. Of course it could have been a different story if he Gorkys didn’t make a 4th inning diving back-handed catch on the warning track in left-center field. “I had a pretty good jump and ran as fast as I could. When I got near the ball I just reached my glove out and I couldn’t believe I caught it. I was as surprised as everyone else.” Gallagher was the winning pitcher and knew that Gorkys was the star. “I’m going to owe him a pretty serious lunch. Unbelievable catch.”
As for the offense, Gorkys is batting .464 during his hit streak and in June is batting .333 with a season best .472 slugging percentage. “When I’m not hitting I have to play defense, but it does feel good to get hits and help the team win.” Because Gorkys has been a prospect for three different teams (Tigers, Braves, Pirates) you forget he is still only 23 years old.
Hope you can join the broadcast for tonight’s game. It is game three of this four games series with Lehigh Valley and game 7 of the 8 game trip. Pre-game coverage is at 6:45 with the first pitch at 7:05.