I have never heard a man laying on his death bed with seconds to live mumbling how he just didn't spend enough time in the office. What's wrong with us Dad's? Why do we keep telling ourselves that this year is going to be different? This year I will lose 20 pounds. This year I will read my Bible cover to cover. This year I will be a better father! Well, this year I will be a better father.

When you close your eyes and vision that perfect childhood memory, what do you see? For me, it was the smell of Wrigley Field (for better or worse). It was the sound of the organ, the roar of the crowd, and the electric energy that follows the game that I loved best...Baseball! I wanted those same memories for my kids. We live just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina which puts us right in the middle of some of the best minor league baseball in the country. I figure I have a good 12 years left with my kids in the house and time is flying by. I cancelled a few meetings and took them to our local ballpark.

I have 3 kids ages 6, 12, & 14. They are great kids and I love every minute that I get to spend with them. I want to start creating a legacy of memories that continue for many generations. Baseball will live long past me and will continue to provide those memories in my absence. The purpose of this blog is to not only document the moments I get to spend with my kids, but analyze every minor league ballpark in the United States. My kids will be doing the analysis as well as many of the blog posts. What ballparks are family friendly? What parks give your family the most for their money? What do the players have to say about their team and the park they play in? Who has the coolest uniforms? Right from the mouth (or fingers) of babes. That's 240 teams in 12 years, an average of 20 games per year. We might not reach our goal...but man is it going to be fun trying!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Arizona Fall League

Arizona Fall League by Ethan Maricle

     For those of you that thought that baseball was over after the last pitch of the World Series is thrown, then this blog is for you.  Years ago the major league owners needed to deal with a problem.  Many professional ball players in the minor leagues would leave the States in order to play baseball and improve over the offseason.  Teams had no control over where they went or the conditions in which they played.  Many players would get hurt and return that next year worse off than when they left.  The answer to this problem was the creation of an Arizona Fall League or the AFL.  The AFL was founded in 1992 and is made up of six teams: Glendale Desert Dogs, Mesa Solar Sox, Peoria Javelinas, Salt River Rafters, Scottsdale Scorpions, and Surprise Saguaros.  (Click on the AFL logo to  see which organizations are with each team)
     The AFL has hosted a lot of great talent over the years.  Some of these players include recent ROY Kris Bryant, Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter, Mike Piazza, Jason Giambi, and Andrew McCutchen to name a few.  Each team selects six players from their minor league organization for the honor of playing in Arizona in the months of October & November.  Teams will usually send class Triple A or Double A division standouts, but as you will see in this article there are a few A and A Advanced players that are worth noticing (only 1 player below AA is allowed from each team).  I may only be 14 years old, but I follow this sport daily and love the opportunity to share with you my passion for America's greatest game.  I have briefly covered the history of the league.  In the remainder of the article I will discuss the rules of the game and talk about what makes the AFL unique.  I will also review 3 standouts that I feel are not getting the attention that they deserve.  You will see big things from these guys.  Buckle up and enjoy the ride!
     Let's first talk about the rules.  The AFL has some great restrictions all centered around the pace of play.  That has always been the biggest complaint by most "on the fence" fans.  "It just takes so much time to watch a game!"  The AFL regularly play 3 games a day all of them in about 2 hours 30 minutes.
Rule #1: The pitcher has to deliver the ball within 12 seconds or it is automatically called a ball.
Rule #2: There are no intentional walks.  The manager simply shows 4 fingers to the umpire and the batter takes the base.
Rule #3: You only get 2 minutes 30 seconds of break between innings.  If you are not in the batter's box at 2:15 then it is a strike.  If the pitcher is not throwing the ball by 2:30 then it is a ball.  Interesting right?
Rule #4: You have 2 minutes 30 seconds to change pitchers.
Rule #5: The catcher can only walk to the mound to talk to the pitcher 3 times during a game.
Rule #6: A batter must always have 1 foot in the batter's box at all times.
I had a long conversation over these rules with my dad and how they might apply to the Major Leagues.  Do you think more people would watch or attend games if they knew what to expect regarding time?  I guess that is another issue to debate along side the automatic strike zone.
     Standout #1 - John Simms (Nationals)
     John Simms is a prospect for the Washington Nationals and currently playing for the Harrisburg Senators, although he spent most of the year with the Potomac Nationals but was brought up late to prepare for the AFL.  He may not be high on the MLB prospect watch, but he has certainly put on a show in the AFL.  He has a 1.88 ERA and is 4 wins and 0 losses.  While with Potomac he pitched 15 games with a 2.74 ERA.  This is a Single A Advanced team that plays the Carolina Mudcats close to where I live.  In the AFL, he plays for the Salt River Rafters who are right now second in their division at 15-12.  He may not be as hot as Adam Engel (who is affiliated with the Chicago White Sox and played for the Winston-Salem Dash...which I got to watch with my dad this year and also reviewed on this blog), but John Simms is a very good prospect.  The Nationals are lucky to have him as he is having a very good season in the AFL.  Look for him to be a part of their future soon.
Standout #2 - Sam Travis (Red Sox)
   Sam Travis is a long time friend of Chicago Cub Kyle Schwarber who he himself is a pretty good bat.  Travis is a prospect for the Boston Red Sox and played this year with the Double A Portland Sea Dogs batting a very nice .300.  Sam, drafted in the second round (Kyle 4th overall), grew up in Chicago and played college baseball for Indiana University.  In the AFL, Travis plays for the Scottsdale Scorpions which are tied for the number one spot in the AFL.  There is no doubt that their success is due to his .330 batting average and 12 RBI's.  He is considered more of an on-base guy as he has only hit 1 home run this season. In the 21 games, he has struck out 20 times, stolen 3 bases, and walked 9 times.  He appears to be a smart baserunner and a go to in situations where you need someone on base.  His defense is about what you would expect from a typical minor league 1st baseman.  It will be interesting to see what the Red Sox do at first base with the retirement announcement of "Big Papi" David Ortiz after next year.  He could also be a good lead off man for a struggling club.  Sam Travis is another prospect to look out for.
Standout #3 - Roemon Fields (Blue Jays)
    As the AFL season starts to end you begin noticing players and their unique qualities.  Another player that I like is Roemon Fields.  His speed is elite even compared to major league players.  He may only be in the middle of the pack getting on base with a .253 average, but he can run!  Roemon can turn your average groundout to a quick single.  He has stolen 15 bags leading the league for the Salt River Rafter, but has also been caught 15 times also leading the league.  He is a predictable runner that pretty much steals every time he is on the bag.  Fields is a sharp talent and quite a threat on the base path.  His defense is not bad, tracking down balls in the outfield making difficult catches look routine.  Roemon Fields signed with the Blue Jays in 2013 and has played most of the 2015 season for the Double A New Hampshire Fisher Cats.  He is 24 years old and has 94 career stolen bases.  I see a bright future for this prospect as he continues in the Toronto minor league organization.  
     Imagine an all star game every day!  That is what you experience during the Arizona Fall League.  All 6 teams are within driving distance, making it easy to see multiple games over a few days.  This is the cream of the crop that you will see setting next year's records, winning the 2016 awards, and being the role models for tomorrow's players.  All of this for only $8 a ticket.  Are you kidding me? We are definitely planning an Arizona trip in the near future.  See you in the batter's box.

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