Monday, April 8, 2013

April 7- Lake Elsinore Storm

I’ve found myself matched up against a bit of a road block. I had tried to do research on this particular Lake Elsinore Storm hat about a month ago, but found myself in a very similar place when trying to do research on two of the players that I knew from the 2000 season, but I’ll get to that later in the post.

The Storm have been an advanced-A club since 1994 when they were an affiliate of the California/Los Angeles Angels from then until the end of the 2000 season. The original ballclub went through a series of relocations and team name changes from 1979-1994, but had no actual affiliation with a Major League club until the Angels took over in ‘81. At first they were the Santa Clara Padres in 1979, then they became the Redwood Pioneers from 1980-1985 and then the Palm Springs Angels from 1986-1993. The team moved to Lake Elsinore in 1994 as their new stadium, Lake Elsinore Diamond (Pete Lehr Field) opened that same year. The park has a capacity of 7,866 fans and is the largest capacity stadium in the California League. On July 4, 1998 the Storm broke the single game attendance record by housing 12, 876 fans for their Independence Day game a fireworks celebration; which only goes to show, the combination of baseball and explosions is too hard to resist.

This cap was one of the first hats I ever purchased during the 1999 season, my first as bat boy for the Bakersfield Blaze. It was kind of an unusual purchase, especially when considering that not only did I work for one of their rival teams, but their Major League affiliate is the divisional rival for my favorite Major League team the Oakland Athletics. However, this hat was way too cool to pass up. It made its debut, along with me, at the start of the 1999 season and has been one of three consistent hats the team has worn including throughout their recent four-game series against the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. It's also a 7 1/8, which is two sizes smaller than I currently wear, but I definitely made sure to wear it anytime I played summer league ball. It certainly has some mileage on it.

During my two-year run with the Blaze I never really got to know any of the players on the Storm. It wasn’t that I really tried; it had more to do with the fact that all of the players kept to themselves. Only one member of the 1999-2000 teams ever really talked to me, Nathan Haynes. Haynes was a former A’s first round draft pick in 1997 and grew up in the city of Oakland. He and I chatted every now-and-then about how we were both longtime A’s fans and how he and my brothers Matt and Adam practically grew up next door to one another as we lived in the neighboring town of San Leandro. I don’t recall if my brothers and he played in the same youth baseball leagues or not, but for all I know they could have since they were all the same age.

The Storm always played the Blaze the toughest for both years, but neither could really compete with the San Bernardino Stampede who won back-to-back Cal League championships those years. Looking back on those years it was the 2000 Storm squad that turned out to be the most vicious despite the fact that it would be the 2001 team that would win the second of their three total Cal League titles. At the time I didn’t realize how many players would end up playing in the Majors, but I can still recall how talented they were back in the start of their professional careers. Guys like Gary Johnson, Robb Quinlan, Alfredo Amezaga, Steve Green and Scot Shields. But it was these two guys that carried most potential in their pockets.

#?- After quite a bit of research and a phone call to the team’s front office, I still haven’t been able to track down this jersey number; however, I should get a call back in the next few days with that information so I can update and mark up my cap.

John Lackey was a second round draft pick by the Angels in the 1999 amateur draft out of Abilene, Texas. Lackey started out in Boise with the Hawks, the low level-A affiliate, in ’99 and finished the season with a 6-2 record and an ERA of 4.98. In 2000 Lackey started the season out with a higher level-A club, the Cedar Rapids Kernels and pitched in five games with a 3-4 record and an ERA of 2.08 before moving on to Lake Elsinore.

Due to scheduling and pitching rotations I was only able to catch Lackey for one game when the Storm arrived at Sam Lynn Ballpark in late May. The first thing I can recall about Lackey is that he was much skinnier, kind of like Troy Glaus when he first made it to the Show. The second thing I recall is that he was deadly accurate with his pitches. Lackey in his youth was able to blast knee-high pitches that barely painted the black by batters with little-to-no effort. His curve ball had a solid break and his changeup always left people guessing. In the 15 games that Lackey started he went 6-6 with a 3.40 ERA and 74 strikeouts, six of which came against the Blaze. Lackey moved on to AA Erie to play with the Sea Wolves (awesome name) before the season wrapped up and by the middle of 2002 he up at the Major League level winning a World Series ring with the Angels, finishing the season in fourth place for the Rookie of the Year award.

While most people don’t like him as a person, it’s still a damn shame that he blew his arm out again in is first start with the Boston Red Sox a few days ago.

#?- Yet another mystery for the moment, Francisco (K-Rod) Rodriguez was a free agent signing by the Angles in 1998 out of Caracas, Venezuela. In 1999 he made his Minor League debut with the Butte Copper Kings at the Rookie level where he played in 12 games, nine as a starter, before moving on to the Hawks for the remainder of the season. In 2000 he found himself reporting to Lake Elsinore where he started in 12 games and coming out of the bullpen for one extra inning effort. It was interesting to watch him pitch back in the day because he was physically not the same player as today. The key difference: glasses. In his early years he was a little wild. With the amount of force he was able to propel his pitches it wasn’t much of a surprise that a few pitches would go wayward. He was only able to strike out 74 batters that season behind a 4-4 record and a 2.81 ERA in 64 innings pitched. For a guy who would be converted into a closer role by 2004 that’s actually quite impressive.

One thing I can definitely say is that there was no way I could have ever imagined that he would end up breaking and setting the record for the most saves in a season in 2008 with 62. While he has fallen on harder times since signing a huge contract with the New York Mets, there is no doubt that his talent is unquestionable. The kid can throw smoke.

Now, I’m hoping to get these numbers on my hat soon and I will definitely update the photos and article when I’m able to find them. If you know anyone who might know the answers, please feel free to send me a tweet. Thanks!

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