Wednesday, August 28, 2013

July 7- Midland RockHounds

Looking back on my blog posts, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve written anything Oakland Athletics-related. I suppose I’ll have to make up for that over the next few days. This cap plays a particular importance in my life despite the fact that I’ve actually never seen the team play live, but I’ll get into that in a moment. First, a little bit of history… before some more history. I really need to stop saying that, it’s all relatively redundant.

For those of you who have become avid fans of my blog here is one thing that I should probably share with all of you that a few people have brought up in passing. All of my research is conducted independently, only in a few cases have I needed to rely upon outside sources to help me out; however, I suppose I could still say it’s part of an independent investigation because no one is necessarily volunteering any of this information for me. One thing that I have been incredibly skeptical about since February is whether or not I should use any information I come across in Wikipedia. In some cases I have found a few snippets which have helped aid a direction I may want to take with my posts, but in every case I still need to dig a bit further as opposed to just taking what’s written as gospel. I’d say roughly 85% of the time that I have used Wikipedia I’ve gone through and changed anything that I know is wrong. And no, I’m not just talking about for 85% of my posts; I’m talking anytime I’ve used it over the last decade or so. In most cases we’re talking about minor issues, but every now-and-then I find something egregious. Take today for example. Click on the Midland RockHounds link and you’ll find a mistake within the first paragraph, “The RockHounds are the current champions of the Texas League South Division.” This is not the case. The RockHounds were last division champions in 2010. Like I said, small stuff in most cases, but rather bothersome to keep noticing and changing. Obviously I elected to leave this one be to prove a point. All right, enough of this tomfoolery…

The AA RockHounds have been affiliated with the Texas League and Midland since they first played ball back in 1972 as the Midland Cubs until the end of the 1984 season. After that they became the Angels from 1985-1998 when they changed parent clubs until making their final name change when the Athletics took over in 1999. One thing to be noted from this time period is that the Athletics were clearly a bit cleverer in the name-changing category. The RockHounds played most of the history in Christensen Stadium (awesome name, no relation) as the park had been erected 22 years before the organization was founded until the end of the 2001 season. From 2002 through the present the RockHounds have been calling Citibank Ballpark (formerly First American Bank Ballpark until 2005) their home. This cap was introduced in 2003 and has been used for home games since. In their history the RockHounds have won four division titles (1975, 2005, 2009 and 2010) and three Texas League titles: 1975 (which they split with former Lafayette Drillers, 2005 and 2009.One of the interesting tidbits about this cap is that it took me going to New Era's headquarters in Buffalo, New York to track it down in their flagship location. Weird.

Other awards have followed the RockHounds throughout their history. The Midland franchise under the Angels won the Texas League Organization of the year in 1990 and 1994 and as the RockHounds in 2002. In 1995 Midland won AA's highest award, the Bob Frietas Award. General Manager Monty Hoppel has been named Executive of the Year with the franchise three times: in 1991, 1995, and 2002. In 2007, the RockHounds won the John H. Johnson President's Award, Minor League baseball highest award for a franchise, making them the third Texas League franchise to do so after the El Paso Diablos and the Tulsa Drillers.

I’ve only know, personally, two players who have spent time with the RockHounds and both came at interesting point in my life.

#25- Unless you really followed the Athletics at the end of the 1990s/early 2000s you probably have never heard of Jacques Landry. Landry grew up in Bryan, Texas which is about six hour east of Midland. He attended San Jacinto College, a community college in Pasadena, Texas, which is a suburb of sorts in the Houston area. Other notable players to play ball at SJC include San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt, 11-year pitching veteran Mike Gonzalez, Seattle Mariners pitcher Lucas Luetge and some borderline Hall of Famer named Roger Clemens. During Landry’s tenure with SJC he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 36th round of the 1993 amateur draft. Landry declined and later transferred to Rice University where he played under current coach Wayne Graham during the first years of Rice’s dominant presence within college baseball. After making the tournament in back-to-back seasons Landry was taken in the 12th round of the 1996 draft by the Detroit Tigers and ended up playing in Fayetteville with the Class-A Generals and later the advanced-A Lakeland Tigers. From 1996 until today the Rice Owls have since won the regular season or tournament title every single year in three different conferences, including the 2003 National Championship.

At the end of the 1998 season Landry was signed to a minor league deal by the Athletics and played all of 1999 in Modesto with the then-Modesto Athletics. This is the point in time where I step in. 1999 was my first year as the bat boy for the Bakersfield Blaze and at that time I was only 16-years-old, Landry was the second-oldest player on the team at 25. Now, due to the fact that there are so few teams (10) and it’s broken up into two divisions with a first-half and second-half champions, the Athletics made a few visits to Bakersfield which gave Landry and his accomplice, Eric Byrnes, more than enough opportunities to play practical jokes on me and get me into as much trouble as they possibly could. Some of the highlights included black widow spider scares and the thievery of a teammate’s Little Caesars pizza. But, no matter what happened it was all for jokes, and when the games started we were all in the zone.

Toward the end of the season Landry and I swapped email addresses and kept in contact as best as we could. Every so often I’d here from him, but most of his emails were usually just part of a mass send which was comprised of funny video. When the 2000 season rolled around and the Athletics came to town Landry wasn’t there. Landry had been promoted to Midland where he spent 2000-2003, batting .251 during his time as an outfielder, as opposed to the third or first base he had been playing in Modesto. Of the three seasons his best came in 2001 when he went .241/36/95, which ended up being the second-best year of his career behind his 1999 campaign which got him promoted (.311/27/111). In 2002 Landry was promoted again to AAA Sacramento to play for the River Cats for a total of 57 games. At the end of the season Landry was no longer on the Athletics.

Landry was picked up originally by the Seattle Mariners and played with the AAA Tacoma Rainiers for a brief stint before getting released and then picked up by the Houston Astros where he played the rest of the season with the Round Rock Express while they were still affiliated with the Texas League. After the 2003 season, Landry was out of baseball. I never heard from him after his second year in Midland, which was right around the time I had graduated from high school in Vancouver, Washington. If anyone knows him or knows where he might be at, tell him I said hi.

#29- Another three-year veteran (2 ¼) of the RockHounds is someone I wrote about back on April 15th during my Jackie Robinson post. Jeremy (@Baseclogger) Barfield and I became acquainted and then friends within the two hours that we met. For the more risqué bit of the conversation that kicked it off I suggest clicking the Robinson link above. As for everything that I didn’t all ready mention, Barfield and I mostly hit it off so well because we’re both pretty much the same type of person intellectually. We don’t take things at face value and we always do what we can to better ourselves and our education. Like Landry and so many others above, Barfield played his little bit of college ball at San Jacinto College, but after he played high school ball at Klein High School in Klein, Texas where he was originally drafted by the New York Mets in the ninth round of the 2006 amateur draft. I was the only one at the pool at the hotel in Phoenix for the final audition of the MLB Fan Cave who knew this off the top of their head. This particular bit of knowledge was not known by then-reject and current Mets Fan Cave representative Travis Miller, which ultimately demoted him to Barfield’s shit list. Actually, thinking about it now, almost anyone who knows of Barfield should know that bit about him, especially if you’ve seen the infamous bat flip video that has become a hit on YouTube. But alas, Barfield went one to SJC for two years where he was then drafted by the Athletics in the eighth round of the 2008 amateur draft. The move then and especially last year was an odd choice for the Athletics due to the fact that the A’s have been outfielder heavy since 2005 and Barfield would have been better suited, if not moved up the rankings a little bit quicker. This of course is the way that I see it, and I’m sure others might feel the same way. In any case, Barfield’s first three seasons took him from the short season-A Vancouver Canadians to the Class-A Kane County Cougars to the advanced-A Stockton Ports before starting the 2011 season in Midland.

Barfield’s first year in Midland was pretty solid. He hit .257 with 11 home runs and 72 RBI as he shared the field with the likes of Grant Green, Sonny Grey and AJ Griffin (who ruins the color scheme). When we met near the end of February it was right at the beginning of Spring Training. Players were just arriving to Arizona just as we were and Barfield paid us a visit at the end of the second and final night. Most of our conversation didn’t actually revolve around baseball. In fact, most conversations I’ve ever had with professional athletes don’t, unless I’m on the job. The Fan Cave hopefuls, Barfield and I sitting around the pool didn’t qualify as work. So, anytime baseball was mentioned it was always after he initiated it. For the entire duration of the night I was wearing my Fan Cave campaign shirt that I had made for a few people in Eugene, Oregon to help spread the word. As the night came to a close Jeremy had grown a fondness for it and asked if he could have it. Knowing that I could easily make more back home, I gave it to him right then and there. It was a very humbling and prideful feeling. I’ve always been creative and put together very solid ideas; however, very few people ever took notice prior to the first shirts I made for the University of Oregon versus Auburn University National Championship in NCAA football. These…

But when anyone, pro athlete or not, says, “I want that thing you created because I like it,” it makes for a great feeling.

To add to that, Jeremy did an interview with Baseball Prospectus not too long after our meeting and had some additional nice words to say about our encounter and me. Here’s the link. Jeremy kicks on around the 1 hour and 13 minute mark.

2012 went on to be an even better season for Jeremy. He hit .272 with 13 home runs and 64 RBI, but he remained with the Midland for the rest of the season, making sweet catch-and-throw plays like this.

Jeremy had a pretty decent Spring Training this year, and it was all capped off by this photo taken after he crushed a dinger during one of their games against the Colorado Rockies. In fact, it was the earliest known photo of the new home run celebration the Athletics players orchestrated.

One of the more positive things that came from this time is that Jeremy decided to finish up his degree which we talked not too long after I finished up my school in the middle of March. No matter the age, current job, etc. I will always be supportive of anyone who decides to continue their education. I think it’s pretty awesome that at his age and what he does for a living he sees the importance of it. As Spring Training came and went Jeremy was headed back to Midland, but fortunately his time didn’t last very long as he was promoted to the River Cats after his game on May 7th against the Frisco RoughRiders.

Remember what I said about the Athletics having too many outfielders? Well, they felt the same way, on today’s post date, and gave Jeremy the option to convert to become a pitcher; which would make him a very valuable commodity if it’s successful. As for now, the conversion seems to be going well according to his updates on Twitter. Until the first moment in the spotlight comes and every day after, I wish you luck dude. I hope it works out.

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