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"Rubber Chicken" Circuit Gets Off To A Rousing Start in Baltimore" (corrected version)

This is an unsettling time for pro baseball as well as the USA as a whole. The Houston Astros, losers to the Washington Nats in a thrilling World Series, are being investigated for systematic sign-stealing over the past and prior years.

 

The Astros also had to fire a rising star in their front office Brandon Taubman for his actions in harassing women reporters who had written about Houston's decision to trade for closer Roberto Asuna while he was serving a suspension for domestic abuse.

 
The powers-that-be in MLB also want to contract 42 minor league teams by 2021, shorten the amateur draft to 20 rounds, and postpone the draft until August. They evidently think that a "Dream League" of undrafted players can be established to serve as a substitute for the terminated farm clubs.

 
With all the uncertainly in baseball at a time of declining attendance and interminably long games, I find it always stimulating to be in the company of scouts.  So on November 16th I traveled to Baltimore for the 49th annual dinner of MASA, the Mid-Atlantic Scouts Association. 


The event was held at [Rick] Dempsey's restaurant in Camden Yards and I'm happy to report that it was no "rubber chicken" affair.  Kudos to the Delaware North catering group for an exceptionally fine buffet dinner that preceded the evening's award presentations.

 
MASA's president is veteran Blue Jays scout Tom Burns, a former high school coach at Bishop McDevitt in Harrisburg, Pa. In his opening remarks, Burns noted that four players from the Mid-Atlantic region will receive 2019 World Series championship rings from the Nats.   Their triumph has been widely hailed by veteran baseball people because the Nats are led by GM Mike Rizzo, himself a former scout and son of former scout Phil Rizzo.

 
** 1. First baseman Ryan Zimmerman is from Virginia Beach, VA and University of Virginia. Zimmerman is the longest tenured Nat, playing on its first team in 2005 after the Expos moved from Montreal. He was signed by MASA's secretary Alex Smith, now scouting for Brewers.

 
(BTW One of my all-time favorite player development stories is that Zimmerman, Mark Reynolds, David Wright and the Upton brothers, BJ and Justin, all played for the same youth team, and all started as high school shortstops.)   

 
** 2. Lefty reliever Sean Doolittle - one of the baseball players most concerned about issues of social justice - went to high school in Medford, NJ, then played at the U. of Virginia a little after Zimmerman.  The son of an Air Force veteran and distantly related to the heroic World War II flyer Jimmy Doolittle, Sean's return from injury solidified the Nats' previously maligned bullpen.

 
**3. Daniel Hudson, who closed Game 7 of the Series for the victorious Nats, is also from Virginia Beach and went to Old Dominion in Norfolk VA, alma mater of Game 7 loser Justin Verlander.  His return to effectiveness after TWO Tommy John operations was another heart-warming aspect of the Nats' nearly-miraculous come-from-behind victories in FIVE post-season games.

 
** 4. Reserve first baseman Matt Adams went to high school in Philipsburg, PA, and was a 23rd round draft pick of the Cardinals out of Slippery Rock U. north of Pittsburgh. 


Though none of these players attended the dinner, two other active players were given awards and came to receive them. Lou Trivino was cited for "Outstanding Achievement". The Oakland A's reliever went to Upper Bucks [County] Christian HS and Slippery Rock.

 

Pitcher Jack Kochanowitz won the Amateur Player of the Year award.  The third round pick of the California Angels went to Hamilton HS in Bryn Mawr, Pa. and started his pro career this past summer.

 
The award is given in memory of Nick Adenhart, the Angels pitcher who went to Williamsport HS in Maryland and turned down a baseball scholarship to the University of North Carolina to turn pro.  On the night that Nick won his first game in the majors in Anaheim in early April 2009, he was killed by a drunk driver.

 
Veteran DC broadcaster Phil Wood, the dinner's witty MC, recalled some wise advice he received from Dick Bosman, who he introduced to receive a "Career Achievement" award.
"Get out of the press box and sit with the scouts and you'll learn something," said Bosman.

 

Bosman is the former pitcher with the second Washington Senators/Texas Rangers, Indians, and A's and the recently-retired minor league coordinator for the Tampa Bay Rays. In 1974 he threw a no-hitter for Cleveland against Oakland.  The following year he replaced Catfish Hunter in the A's rotation (as Hunter on a techicality became a free agent and signed with the Yankees). 

 

He went 11-4 in 1975 and 4-2 in part of 1976.  But unfortunately, Bosman's work as a player rep in the pivotal first decade of the Players Association curtailed his active career.  More on Bosman's life and career can be found in his informative book DICK BOSMAN ON PITCHING with Ted Leavengood, published by Rowman and Littlefield.

 
MASA awards also went to Stuart Smothers, back with the Yankees though he won the honor "Crosschecker of the Year" for work for the Phillies.  Smothers provided the vivid detail that growing up in south central LA he would rush home from school to catch Dale Murphy's at-bats on the Braves' superstation TBS.

 
Scout of the Year was Paul Murphy now with the Dodgers after stints with the Orioles and Phillies. MASA also welcomed into its Hall of Fame Shawn Pender and Paul Faulk, both of whom have served the Reds.

 
Well, in this time of uncertainly and unease, it is time to wish one and all a Happy Thanksgiving.  Andas always, please remember to "Take it easy but take it!"

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"I Love Baseball and I Love Baseball Players": Highlights of the Mid-Atlantic Baseball Scouts Association Dinner

The Saturday before Thanksgiving posed a dilemma for yours truly. It was the last game of the season for my Columbia football Lions, a home tussle with state rival the Cornell Big Red.

A win would mean a 6-4 overall record and a second straight winning season under coach Al Bagnoli in his fourth year at the helm. Already Columbia had earned a record number of 13 wins over two seasons, a testimony to good coaching, good recruiting, and good playing.

However, as I get deeply into working on my next book that will be about baseball scouts, a celebration of baseball’s unrecognized talent hunters trumped alma mater football. So I journeyed on Amtrak to Dempsey’s restaurant in Oriole Park at Camden Yards for the 28th annual banquet of the Middle Atlantic (Major League Baseball) Scouts Association (MASA).

The train was thankfully only a little late and I got to the ballpark in plenty of time for cocktail hour. It’s eerie to walk into a shuttered and empty stadium (no cracks please about how similarly it looked during the Orioles’ 115-loss 2018 season - there is a new management team in place and soon a new field manager and more on that before end of the year).

On this Saturday night Nov. 17, it was wonderful to see the restaurant come alive with the arrival of the scouting community and friends and families. Many generations of scouts were represented and I felt immediately the sense of camaraderie.

Scouts may work for many different organizations but for the most part scouts are collegial not just competitive. There were also many college and high school coaches in attendance, adding to the spirit of cooperation.

Steve Fleming of the Rockies, originally signed as a player by Murray Cook of the Pirates, and Billy Swoope of the Cubs were the 126th and 127th scouts to be inducted into MASA’s Hall of Fame - their names next season will be added to the plaque at Camden Yards.

Mike Siani, a left-handed outfielder from Philadelphia’s Penn Charter H.S., was given the Amateur Player of the Year award. He was a fourth round choice of the Reds in 2018 and will be moving up the team’s minor league ladder.
(MASA's amateur award is named for Nick Adenhart, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitcher who was killed in an automobile accident shortly after his MLB debut.)

Tim Adkins, now with the Cubs, delivered the line of the night when he accepted the Crosschecker of the Year award. “I love baseball and I love players,” said the bow-tied scout from West Virginia. Adkins was hailed for his role in signing for Chicago four picks from the Mid-Atlantic area in this past season’s draft.

There are still many cold and barren weeks ahead before the trucks start loading the equipment for the trip to blessed spring training. But nights like this one make me realize again what the continuity of baseball past, present and future is all about.

And before I forget, Columbia did beat Cornell in that game I couldn’t attend. Dramatically too with a 87-yard-kickoff return by first-year wide receiver Michael Roussos. And my graduate alma mater Wisconsin finally showed some winning form with their own come-from-behind triple-overtime victory at Purdue.

That’s all for now. Hope Thanksgiving starts a rewarding season for one and all.
And always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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