Chris Kaufman applied to the Big Daddy Baseball League on November 30,
1998, he described himself as a "very dedicated and fun guy to have in
the league." A 34-year-old CPA from North Mankato, Minnesota,
Kaufman was a veteran Diamond Mind player who had been playing the game
(or some version thereof) since 1987.
Kaufman, who named his team the "Mudhens,"
drew the 14th pick in the inaugural draft. Like many GMs in the
draft, Kaufman's team-building philosophy was centered around offense.
And the best hitter remaining on the board, in Kaufman's estimation, was
30-year-old all-star Bernie Williams. Wiliams hit .324/.410/.538
for the Mudhens in 1999, with 119 runs created. Mo Vaughn --
Kaufman's #2 draft pick -- hit .298/.364/.553 on the year, with 41 home
runs, 142 RBIs and 118 runs created. Together, the switch-hitting
Williams and they lefty-slugging Vaughn formed an impressive one-two
punch in the middle of the lineup.
When the draft finally snaked its way
back around to Kaufman in Round Three, he continued to stockpile
his lineup by selecting 30-year-old speedster Jose Offerman
(.305/.398/.406, 16 3B, 116 R, 52 SB, 111.6 RC.) And with the
selection of Jeff Cirillo (.293/.357/.416, 93.2 RC), the Mud Hens
featured one of the most impressive lineups in the BDBL.
The problem was that by this point in
the draft, all of the decent starting pitchers were off the board.
Kaufman didn't begin to turn his attention to pitching until the 7th
round, where he then selected three pitchers in a row: Brian Bohanon
(3-13, 4.85 ERA in 141 IP,) Aaron Sele (10-18, 4.75 ERA in 216+ IP) and
Dave Burba (11-13, 4.57 ERA in 207 IP.) Playing in a ballpark
modeled after Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium (get it?), where the home
run factor was 108 for left-handers and 114 for righties, this pitching
staff faced an uphill battle.
In 1999, the Mudhens played in the same
division as the Stamford Zoots, Madision Fighting Mimes
and Antioch Angels. Although Kaufman may not have realized it at
the time, the competition in the Ozzie League's Butler Division was
fierce. North Mankato's
season began with a disappointing 8-16 record, though they fared little better
(12-16) in Chapter Two. The Mudhens then entered the all-star
break with a record of 22-33 -- 12 games behind the division leaders,
and 13 games behind in the wild card race.
And that's when Kaufman lost interest.
Stating that he "can't find time to play the games," Kaufman
joined what was then a long and growing list of owners in the BDBL who
resigned from the league due to time constraints.
In searching for a replacement owner, BDBL commissioner Mike Glander
looked for someone who would not only be more dedicated and reliable,
but someone who would undoubtedly have the time to play the games.
And that's when he made the bold decision to name an 11-year-old boy as
June 11, 1999
North Mankato Gets New
SALEM, NH - BDBL
commissioner Mike Glander announced today that a new owner
has been selected to take over the North Mankato Mudhens,
whose previous owner resigned earlier this month citing a
lack of free time to devote to his team.
"I had to search high and
low," said Glander, "but I believe I have finally found an
owner who won't resign from this league because of issues
with free time. I am one hundred percent confident this new
owner will have no time demands placed upon him by his his
wife, his children or his job."
The new owner, who just
happens to share the same name as Southern California Slyme
owner Bob Sylvester, lists "Little League pitcher and
shortstop" as his profession on his application to the BDBL.
He is eleven-year-old Bobby "The Boy Wonder" Sylvester from
Rapid City, South Dakota.
"I've been playing three
years of rotisserie baseball," said Junior Sylvester, "and
I've never beat my dad...I love playing DMB baseball and I
like to make trades."
"That's good enough for me,"
chimed in Glander as he welcomed the youngster into the
prestigious BDBL at a recent press conference in Salem. "As
long as his dad promises me he won't ground Bobby if he
doesn't trade him Bernie Williams, I have no problems with
North Mankato is tentatively
scheduled to join the Eck League next year (in place of the
Madison Mimes who were previously tagged as a team on the
move) as realignment plans continue to be drawn up in
preparation for the 2000 season.
Ten years later, Bobby Sylvester
proved himself not only to be a dedicated owner in the BDBL, but a
talented one as well.
Sylvester's first personnel decision at
the helm of his new ballclub came at the season's final trading
deadline, when he sent the lefty-slugging Vaughn to the Los Altos
Undertakers in exchange for Brad Fullmer and Richie Sexson. The
24-year-old Fullmer was signed for only one year the following winter,
and hit just .220/.258/.390 in only 59 at-bats that season. The
25-year-old Sexson was signed to a six-year contract that winter, and
enjoyed several solid years with the franchise.
During that same transaction period,
Sylvester made his first free agent acquisition (with some help from his
father), picking up a young minor league pitcher by the name of Tim
Hudson. Hudson soon became one of the most coveted young pitchers
in the league.
The Mudhens wrapped up the 1999 season
with a 32-48 record in the second half, and finished with a 62-98 record
overall (tied for the third worst record in the league.) That
November, however, Bobby Sylvester unexpectedly found himself managing
against his father in the Eck League Championship Series.
Unfortunately, this was due to the fact that the manager of the Oakville
resigned from the league just prior to the start of the series.
The younger Sylvester was defeated by the older Sylvester in seven
In the winter of 2000, Bobby Sylvester
renamed his franchise the "Kentucky Fox," and was moved into the Eck
League's newly-renamed Person Division, where he would compete against
the Massillon Tigerstrikes, South Carolina Sea Cats and Queensboro Kings
for the division title.
The 2000 ballclub would already begin
earning dividends from Sylvester's acquisition of Hudson the previous
summer. In 19 games in 2000, Hudson went 12-4 with a 2.71 ERA in
136+ innings, with 158 strikeouts. In addition, Sylvester added
lefty Omar Daal (14-7, 3.59 ERA in 193+ IP) in a nine-player trade with
the Salem Cowtippers. In that deal, Kentucky received Daal, Doug
Brocail (7-10, 4.13 ERA in 72 IP), Joe Randa (.327/.364/.455, 98 RC),
Robb Nen (3-4, 2.75 ERA in 85+ IP overall) and two others in exchange
for Eric Milton, Jason Varitek, Jeff Cirillo and two draft picks. Sylvester also
traded Jeffrey Hammonds that winter, and received 25-year-old second baseman Ronnie Belliard (.309/.376/.484, 71.2 RC) in exchange.
In the draft, Sylvester added
24-year-old slugger Paul Konerko (.284/.353/.513, 100.9 RC overall) in
the second round. Konerko, Belliard, Randa and Sexson joined
returning vets Offerman (.261/.362/.375, 82.6 RC), Williams
(.309/.406/.507, 116 RC) and Mike Sweeney (.345/.411/.549, 86.1 RC in
his first full BDBL season) to form an impressive lineup.
With the improvements to the pitching
staff, the Fox were picked not only to win the division, but the Eck
Outlook: I like this
team a lot. In fact, I'm willing to go out on a limb and say you're
looking at the new Eck League champions of 2000. Wouldn't it be
sweet to see the young Sylvester beat up on his dad all year long?
And wouldn't it be even sweeter to see the big bad bully of the BDBL,
Paul Marazita, lose his first championship at the hands of an
11-year-old? Maybe if we all cross our fingers and wish out loud
really hard, it will become true.
The Fox got off to a strong start in
2000, going 15-9 in Chapter One, but the Queensboro Kings were even
better at 17-7. In Chapter Two, the Fox repeated their 15-9
record, while the Kings fell to 11-13. And by the all-star break,
Kentucky's fairytale season appeared to be right on track, as the Fox
owned a 46-29 record -- best in the Eck League -- and an eight game lead
over the Kings in the Person Division.
Just prior to the Chapter Three
deadline, Sylvester once again hooked up with Los Altos GM Jeff Paulson.
In exchange for Konerko and young shortstop Christian Guzman, Sylvester
acquired 25-year-old first baseman Sean Casey. Casey hit a
remarkable .347/.412/.561 down the stretch for Kentucky in the final
year of his contract, while Konerko hit .243/.313/.441 for Los Altos,
and played one more year under contract.
At the final trading deadline of the
season, Sylvester made another deal, sending Sweeney to the South
Carolina Sea Cats in exchange for catcher Chris Widger, pitcher Kent
Bottenfield and closer Billy Koch. Widger hit .310/.344/.638 in
just 58 at-bats down the stretch, and provided improved defense over
Sweeney, who had been the team's de facto backstop. Bottenfield
was supposed to provide innings for the Fox down the stretch, but those
innings were horrendous (6.04 ERA in 61+ IP.) But the focus of the
trade for Sylvester was the 25-year-old Koch. Koch compiled a 1.59
ERA in 17 innings for Kentucky, and was then signed to a four-year deal
at the end of the season.
Despite (or perhaps because of) all the
new additions, Kentucky struggled in the second half. The team
with the best record in the Eck League during the first half of the
season went just 41-44 in the second half. The Kings went 44-41
during that time, but the Fox had built a big enough lead to hold them
at arm's length. Kentucky finished with a record of 87-73 -- five games
ahead of the Kings.
In his first full season in the BDBL,
Bobby Sylvester was heading to the playoffs -- just one year after
finishing the with the third-worst record in the league.
Appropriately enough, his opponents in the 2000 Division Series were the
Southern Cal Slyme, led by Bobby's father, Bob. In his application
to the BDBL, Bobby wrote, "I've been playing rotisserie baseball for
three years, and I've never beat my dad." In 2000, Bobby would get
another chance to do so (this time, managing his own team), and he took
full advantage of the opportunity.
Game One featured a match-up between
Daal and SoCal's ace, Jason Schmidt. Unexpectedly, Daal was
crushed for six runs (five earned) in just 6 1/3 innings. The Fox
then entered the bottom of the seventh inning behind by a score of 6-1.
But in the bottom half of that inning, Kentucky mounted a rally that
seemed as though it would never end. Four singles, two doubles, a
sac fly and a bases-loaded hit batter gave Kentucky SIX runs in the
inning, and a 7-6 lead. Brocail then closed out the final two
innings for the save.
The Fox continued to pummel Slyme
pitching by scoring four runs in the first inning of Game Two.
They built up an 11-0 lead after seven innings, but this time it was
SoCal's turn to mount a late rally. The Slyme scored three runs in
the eighth, and four in the ninth, but it wasn't enough. Kentucky
won by a score of 11-7, and were just one win away from sweeping the
And they did just that in Game Three,
as Kentucky's Dave Burba (7.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 5 BB, 5 K) out-pitched
Bartolo Colon (8.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 6 K), and a fielder's choice
grounder in the fourth inning turned out to be the game- (and series-)
After sweeping the Division Series, the
Fox headed to the ELCS to face the imposing Chicago Black Sox.
Chicago had dominated the regular season with a 106-54 record thanks to
an offense that scored nearly 1,000 runs. But in Game One of the
ELCS, the pitching of Kentucky's rookie, Hudson (6.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 BB,
10 K) proved to be too much for the Chicago lineup, and the Fox eked out
a 4-3 win.
In Game Two, Sexson delivered with a
clutch two-out solo home run in the top of the ninth to force extra
innings. But Brocail was unable to hold the score, as Chicago
catcher Benito Santiago doubled to start the tenth inning, and then
scored on a base hit by Randy Velarde. Chicago then took the
series lead with a 7-3 win in Game Three.
In Game Four, Black Sox starter Andy
Benes and the Chicago bullpen held the Kentucky offense to just two
runs, as Chicago cruised to a 5-2 win and a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Kentucky fought back with another one-run win (5-4) in Game Five, but
Black Sox ace Al Leiter then put the series away by allowing just one
run over six innings in the sixth and final game.
The Fox headed into the winter of 2001
with several good players returning, including staff ace Hudson (12-13,
3.52 ERA in 217+ IP overall.) That winter, Sylvester swapped his
franchise's first player, Bernie Williams, in exchange for 25-year-old
outfielder Ben Grieve. Grieve enjoyed an impressive season,
hitting .301/.392/.550 with 110.8 runs created, and ably filled the hole
in the lineup left by Williams at a salary $4 million less.
Matt Lawton (.308/.402/.465, 120 RC in
2001) was then traded, along with Brocail, to the Slyme in exchange for
reliever Octavio Dotel (5.49 ERA in 77 IP), spot-starter Steve Parris
(7-10, 5.85 ERA in 143+ IP) and top prospect Chad Hermanson.
Unfortunately for Sylvester, filling Lawton's spot in the lineup would
prove to be both more challenging and costly to the franchise.
With Casey gone to free agency,
Offerman released due to poor performance and a costly salary, and Randa
(.274/.328/.415 in BDBL '01) falling back to earth, only Sexson
(.347/.420/.645, 34 HR, 131.1 RC) remained as the sole threat in the
Kentucky lineup. That lineup was further weakened when Sylvester
sent Belliard (.299/.359/.475, 109.1 RC) packing prior to Opening Day in
exchange for more bullpen help.
Picked to finish third in the division,
it was no surprise when the Fox got off to a 10-18 start to the season.
That chapter, Sylvester made another trade to bring yet another big
bullpen arm to the club in Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman (2.14 ERA,
21 SV in 42 IP for Kentucky) joined a very deep bullpen that already
included Koch, Bob Wells, Shigatoshi Hasegawa, Steve Kline and Eddie
Guardado (among numerous others.)
Kentucky turned it around in Chapter
Two, and went 16-10 -- the best record in the division. But they
followed that performance with a 10-16 performance in Chapter Three, and
went into the all-star break with the third-best record in the division
at 36-44 -- 10 games behind the first-place Sea Cats.
After a 14-12 start to the second half,
Sylvester made the decision to shake up his roster by dealing his best
starting (Hudson) and relief (Hoffman) pitchers in exchange for two
young players with considerable upside: Jeff Weaver and Adam Dunn.
"When Hudson's name came up as being
available, we had to inquire about him, though we felt that it would
be a longshot to be able to pry him free", said [Akron GM D.J.]
Shepard. "We were almost afraid to hear what the asking price would
be, and mentioned just about anyone but Adam to the Fox, but that
was the key to the deal for them. Unfortunately for us, we had to
outbid another team for Hudson and the price of that cost us Jeff
instead of another pitcher. This deal hurt to make. Jeff was our
first ever farm pick, and we got Adam in our second farm draft. We
just couldn't pass up the opportunity to pair Hudson with Pedro over
the next five years. Getting Hoffman is just gravy. We know have one
of the top closers in the league instead of the committee we've been
For Sylvester, it seemed to be a
low-risk trade. The team not only acquired a "replacement" for
Hudson in the 24-year-old Weaver, but they were also adding one of the
top young hitters in baseball in the 23-year-old Dunn.
It was the final trade of the season
for Sylvester, as he simply rode out the remainder of the year with a
38-42 record. Kentucky finished in second place with a 74-86
record -- 18 games behind the Sea Cats. But Sylvester had
succeeded in building the foundation of his franchise for years to come.
2001 was an incredible year for
Sylvester in terms of farm club development. The 2001 BDBL farm
draft was an historic draft due to the vast amount of talent available,
and no GM collected more of that talent than Sylvester. With his
first pick in the draft, he selected a relatively unknown
20-year-old hitter who had posted impressive numbers (.324/.383/.565 in
395 AB) in Single-A ball during the 2000 season, but had played just 24
games above Single-A. This player, selected with the 18th overall
pick in the first round, was ranked as the 42nd-best prospect in
baseball by Baseball America in 2001. Little did anyone realize at
that time that that player -- Albert Pujols -- would very quickly become
the best hitter in baseball.
Pujols began hitting right out of the
gate, and never stopped. Just one year after he was selected with
the 18th overall pick of the farm draft, Pujols hit .316/.390/.617 for
the Fox, with 42 doubles, 39 home runs, 105 RBIs and 139.2 runs created.
It is a feat that will likely never be duplicated again. Pujols
hit .324/.408/.601 in his first seven seasons in the BDBL, and is signed
through the 2013 season -- all while playing with a salary well
below market value.
As if that weren't enough, Sylvester
also acquired a future Cy Young contender (John Lackey) in the fourth
round of that draft, and then picked up a future MVP candidate (Joe
Mauer) as a farm free agent out of high school.
In addition to Pujols, the 2002 Fox also
returned Dunn, who enjoyed an extraordinary rookie season at age 22.
In just 193 at-bats, Dunn cranked out 21 doubles and 32 home runs, drove
in 61 runs, and created 94.9 runs. He hit .373, with an OBP of
.476 and a mind-boggling slugging percentage of 1.000.
That winter, Sylvester made another
move to beef up his lineup, adding Moises Alou (.299/.365/.460 overall)
as part of a seven-player trade with the New York Knights. Alou
joined Pujols, Dunn and the returning Sexson (.264/.325/.519 overall,
with 43 HR and 98.3 RC) in a lineup that returned the franchise to the
power-hitting ways of old.
On the mound, Sylvester added
23-year-old ace Ben Sheets (11-6, 5.12 ERA in 146 IP overall in 2002) in
a trade with the Undertakers. Sheets joined Weaver (15-9, 3.88 ERA
in 232 IP) and Daal (11-13, 5.84 in 171.2 IP) in the Kentucky rotation.
And prior to Opening Day, Sylvester added Jeff Suppan (6-11, 5.90 ERA in
160+ IP) in another trade with his father -- a trade that cost the Fox
both Koch and Randa.
With a powerful lineup and a starting
rotation that was called "serviceable" by the BDBL press, the Fox were
predicted to finish in second place in the Person Division behind the
New York Knights. To the surprise of many, however, it was the Villanova
Mustangs who bolted out of the gate with a 20-8 record
to start the season. By the end of three chapters, Kentucky owned
a 42-38 record, which was only good for third place in the division --
eight games behind the Knights.
On April 26th, Sylvester made the
decision to "go for it," and traded his team's top young pitchers,
Sheets and Bud Smith, to the Marlboro Hammerheads. In exchange, he
received ace starter Javier Vazquez (19-6, 3.32 ERA in 233+ IP, with 236
K's overall in 2002) and mid-rotation starter Jason Johnson (8-11, 3.92
ERA in 204+ IP overall.) It was a bold gamble for a team riding
the fine line between contention and also-ran status.
Prior to the all-star break, Sylvester
made another big trade, flipping Vazquez to the division-leading
Knights, along with Joe McEwing and Sexson. In exchange, the Fox
received closer Mariano Rivera and slugger Shawn Green.
"We thought Sexson was expendable
because we can play Pujols or Dunn at first and this opens up third
for the surprising Shea Hillenbrand," said the younger Sylvester.
"We didn't really like dealing Vazquez, but in acquiring Shawn Green
we feel we have one of the best left-handed sluggers in the game -
and he is a great guy!"
At the end of the press conference, Bobby Sylvester made it clear
that Mariano Rivera wouldn't be staying in Kentucky long. "We think
he is a big city guy and we'd like to move him on for a solid
starting pitcher," said Sylvester.
Green hit .344/.423/.653 in 311 at-bats
for the Fox down the stretch, and had one more year under contract,
while Rivera compiled a 4.05 ERA in 22+ innings in his final year under
In Chapter Four, the Fox lost ground in
the division race, as they went 13-13 against the Knights' 19-7 record.
They also fell to six games behind in the EL wild card race.
Sylvester then made three more trades at the final deadline of the
First, he traded three players he once
considered to be the foundation of his franchise's youth movement:
Grieve, Travis Lee and Shane Hillenbrand. All three went to his
father's team, the Slyme, and in exchange he received Jason Simontacchi
and Jason Tyner. A 28-year-old MLB rookie, Simontacchi posted good
numbers in MLB, but was a major disappointment (6.51 ERA in 58+ IP) for
the Kentucky franchise in 2003. The 25-year-old Tyner wasn't much
of a pick-up, either. But with this deal, the younger Sylvester
was able to shed several million in salary.
Next, Sylvester traded Alou to the
surging Villanova Mustangs in exchange for prospect Carl Crawford and
slugger Jeromy Burnitz. The 20-year-old Crawford would soon become
a perennial all-star, while Burnitz was then immediately flipped (along
with Suppan) to the Hammerheads in exchange for Mark Grudzielanek.
Kentucky closed out the 2002 season
with a respectable 81-79 record -- 19 games behind the division leaders
and 18 games behind in the EL wild card race.
But things were
looking very bright for the 2003 season. With the new outlook came
a new name for the franchise, as Sylvester renamed his team the
"Wapakoneta Hippos" (named in honor of a childhood pet who resembled a
Returning to the '03 squad were the
young dynamic duo of Pujols and Dunn. Pujols once again enjoyed an
MVP-caliber season (.372/.436/.691, 45 2B, 46 HR, 151 RBIs, 178.2 RC),
while Dunn hit a respectable .250/.377/.452 overall, with 96 runs
created. Combined, the two superstars consumed just $200,000 in
salary cap space.
Joining those two in the lineup was
Green, who enjoyed his best season ever in 2003, hitting .318/.393/.667
with 58 home runs, 150 RBIs and 145 runs created. On the mound,
the team returned #1 starter Weaver (12-9, 3.75 ERA in 211+ IP overall.)
Rookie John Lackey (80+ IP, 4.61 ERA) also got his first taste of the
BDBL. And in the first-ever BDBL auction that winter, Sylvester
signed Jon Lieber to a $3.5 million salary.
Lieber was not expected to be a huge
impact signing for the Hippos, as he was coming off an MLB season in
which he posted a 3.70 ERA in just 141 innings, with 153 hits allowed
and only 87 strikeouts. But in 2003, Lieber enjoyed perhaps the
most shocking surprise season in league history, going a perfect 18-0
for the Hippos, with a 2.16 ERA in 150 innings. He finished in
second place in the year-end EL Cy Young award balloting, and was
narrowly beaten by Allentown's Randy Johnson.
Also in that auction, Sylvester added
Tony Batista (.253/.321/.516, 24 HR, 65.7 RC) at $3.5M and Steve
Trachsel (12-7, 4.28 ERA in 162+ IP) at $6M.
That winter, Sylvester made two trades
with the Stamford organization. First, Mike Lieberthal
(.298/.374/.492 for the Zoots in '03) was exchanged for Brian Daubach
(.306/.359/.601 in 363 AB.) Then, Sylvester traded Daal, Andy Fox
and his top prospect, Mauer, in exchange for Trot Nixon and Juan Cruz.
Nixon hit just .232/.331/.411 for the Hippos in his final year under
contract, and Cruz compiled an ugly 6.80 ERA in 74+ innings in 2003.
But the key to the deal was Mauer, who went on to enjoy a long career as
an annual all-star catcher and MVP candidate. Cruz was considered
to be a top prospect at the time of the trade as well, but never came
close to touching Mauer's overall career value.
Despite all the new additions, the BDBL
press was skeptical of Wapakoneta's chances to compete in the tough
Person Division. The Hippos were picked to finish the season in
third place in the division, and the outlook proved prophetic:
Hippos GM Bobby Sylvester has done a good job keeping this
team competitive through the years, and this year should be
no exception. However, the two trades Wapakoneta made with
the Zoots this past winter have hurt the Hippos both this
year and in future years. After trading Mike Lieberthal,
Wapakoneta is left with an uninspiring platoon behind the
plate that cost just as much as Lieberthal did. After
picking up Tino Martinez in the draft for $1 million (half
the price of Brian Daubach), Daubach has become disposable.
And unless Juan Cruz turns into the next Pedro Martinez, the
loss of Joe Mauer may be felt for many years to come.
Wapakoneta started the season with a
15-13 showing in Chapter One, and followed that performance with a 16-10
record in Chapter Two. Prior to the start of Chapter Three,
Sylvester made a deal with the Cowtippers, sending Weaver to Salem in
exchange for pitchers Al Leiter (6-9, 5.16 ERA in 122+ IP for
Wapakoneta) and Orlando Hernandez (6-2, 5.45 ERA in 71 IP.) The
Hippos went 17-9 in Chapter Three, and headed into the all-star break
with a 48-32 record -- six games ahead in their division.
At the break, Sylvester made several
trades to beef up his squad in the second half. First, he sent his
closer, Mariano Rivera, to the Marlboro Hammerheads in exchange for Mike
Timlin and two prospects. It was a curious, backwards move for a
first-place team, but with one year remaining on Timlin's contract at
only $1.1 million, it was a move designed to stay competitive in 2003
while beefing up the 2004 roster at the same time.
Sylvester made three other trades that
chapter, with two being of little consequence. The third, however,
involved the exodus of yet another top prospect and future franchise
player, Prince Fielder. In a three-team deal with the SoCal Slyme
and Black Sox, the Hippos traded Fielder and two other players, and
received Eli Marrero, Luis Castillo and Brent Abernathy in exchange.
In retrospect, the trade was a disaster, as Fielder soon became a
low-cost franchise player, while neither Marrero (.277/.315/.555 in 119
AB), Castillo (.324/.391/.415 in 275 AB) nor Abernathy (.264/.328/.377
in 53 AB) provided much impact value to the team down the stretch.
Making matters worse, all three players were free agents at the end of
Sylvester made another fatal error that
chapter by releasing young pitching prospect Francisco Liriano.
His replacement, Stephen Head, failed to provide nearly as much value
over his career.
On June 22nd, Sylvester took advantage
of another white-flag-waving Ozzie League team, adding Brian Giles,
Rafael Palmeiro and Elmer Dessens from the Madison Fighting Mimes.
All three players played huge roles in the team's success down the
stretch, as Giles hit .357/.496/.959, Palmeiro hit .314/.429/.705 and
Dessens went 4-2 with a 3.79 ERA in 64+ innings. In exchange,
Sylvester parted with fill-in vet Tino Martinez and two of his young
hitting stars, Dunn and prospect James Loney.
The Hippos went 42-38 in the second
half of the season, and easily captured their second division title in
four seasons. Their 90-70 record was a franchise-best, and they
won the division by eight games.
That November, the Hippos were matched
up against the #1-seeded Akron Ryche in the EL Division Series.
Led by their unstoppable ace, Pedro Martinez, Akron cruised to a 4-3 win
in Game One, backed by Martinez's brilliant pitching (6.1 IP, 8 H, 1 R,
1 BB, 9 K.) The Hippos then took Game Two by a score of 5-2 to
even the series.
Game Three was an 11-0 slaughter, as
Akron's Woody Williams pitched a complete-game six-hit shutout, while
Dessens was pounded for seven runs in just four-plus innings. In
Game Four, the Hippos battled from behind to cut Akron's lead to just
one run in the seventh inning. But they failed to get anything
going against Akron relievers Scot Shields and Latroy Hawkins in the
eighth and ninth, and the Ryche held on for a 9-8 win.
Finally, Game Five was a classic
pitcher's duel between Martinez and Lieber. Both pitchers carried
a shutout into the seventh inning. Bernie Williams then led off
the seventh with a double for Akron, and he came around to score two
batters later on a double by Jason Giambi. Martinez (7.1 IP, 5 H,
0 R, 4 BB, 10 K) and Arthur Rhodes (1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K) then
slammed the door and closed out the series with a 1-0 victory, ending
In 2004, the league voted to adopt a
radical realignment of divisions. Part of that realignment was
moving father and son Sylvester into the same division. The Hippos
would now be competing head-to-head for the division title with Bob
Sylvester Sr.'s Southern Cal Slyme, the South Carolina Sea Cats and the
Nashville Funkadelic in the Person Division.
It was an uphill battle for the younger
Sylvester that winter. The team's ace, Lieber, missed the entire
2003 MLB season with an injury, as did Orlando Hernandez. Palmeiro,
Giles, Leiter, Green, Daubach and Castillo all exited via free agency,
leaving the cupboard completely bare. The team's greatest asset
that winter was Pujols, who enjoyed yet another monster year,
batting .396/.481/.733 with 55 2B, 48 HR and 211.7 RC. Another
asset was a free agent
spending budget of more than $42 million.
Sylvester put that money to use in the
auction by re-signing Green for $7 million, and adding Jason Giambi
(.292/.433/.629, 42 HR, 137.2 RC) for $6M, Ben Weber (4.99 ERA in 74 IP
overall) for $3M and Placido Polanco (.286/.353/.468, 91.1 RC overall)
At the trade table, Sylvester added
prospects Manny Parra, James Loney, Joel Zumaya and Kaz Matsui at the
expense of several role players (including Juan Cruz.) And in the
draft, he continued to spend money on veteran free agents, signing Eddie
Guardado, Felix Heredia, Tony Armas and Kris Benson with his first four
Between the draft and Opening Day,
Sylvester made three more trades. He re-acquired Castillo at the
cost of three young players (Armas, Tommy Phelps and Derrick Turnbow),
and then flipped him to his father for catcher Mike Matheny and
replacement second baseman Todd Walker.
Instead of spending his fortune on one
or two superstars, Sylvester spread the money around in an effort to
strike gold with one of his slumping veterans. With Trachsel
serving as the de facto ace of the starting rotation, and a lineup that
included few threats beyond Pujols and Giambi, the Hippos were picked to
finish in last place in the division.
They began the season just as
predicted, going 11-17 -- tied for the worst record in the division --
but then followed that performance by going 14-14 in Chapter Two.
By then, however, Sylvester was resigned to his fate, and was fully committed
to building a winning team for 2005. So, at the Chapter Three
trading deadline, he made a pair of trades designed to do just that.
First, he traded Polanco and Guardado to the Salem Cowtippers in
exchange for young pitchers Cliff Lee and John Patterson, and prospect
Brent Clevlen. Then, he swapped Timlin to the New Milford Blazers
in exchange for prospects Dustin Nippert and Mike MacDougal.
The Lee trade would prove to be an
important trade for the Hippos franchise -- not because of the Lee's
value to the team, but because of his trade value. That same
chapter, Sylvester released another future star in Dustin Pedroia, in
order to make room for Nippert and Clevlen on the Wapakoneta farm
At the halfway mark of the 2004 season,
the Hippos owned a 31-49 record -- 18 games behind in the division.
For all intents and purposes, the season was over, and it would be a
long four months playing out the string while looking for ways to
improve the '05 team.
But Sylvester found no opportunities
for trade the remainder of the season, and simply played out the string,
going 27-29 down the stretch to finish in third place with a record of
Neither of Sylvester's big-money free
agent signings from 2004 helped the team in 2005. Giambi missed nearly
the entire 2004 MLB season, and as a Type H free agent, he would take up
$6 million in cap space in 2005 without adding much value to the team.
And while Green hit a respectable .273/.366/.469 with 102.7 RC for the
'05 Hippos, his performance didn't match his $7 million salary.
But several factors led to increased
optimism heading into the '05 season. Early in the 2003 season,
Sylvester made yet another important mid-season farm acquisition by
signing Jason Bay at the Chapter Two deadline. Bay came to bat 80
times for the '04 Hippos, but in 2005, he became a full-time star,
hitting .269/.335/.550 with 28 home runs and 77.8 runs created overall.
The 26-year-old Bay would enjoy several all-star seasons over the next
Mark Bellhorn -- a late-round draft
pick by Sylvester in 2004 -- also made an impact on the 2005 team,
hitting .240/.347/.420 with 37 doubles, 13 home runs and 77.1 runs
created. And, as always, Pujols enjoyed another phenomenal season,
hitting .305/.398/.580 in 2005, with 42 doubles, 40 homers, 139 ribbies
and 136 runs created.
But the biggest addition to the lineup
came during the free agent auction. Heading into that auction, the
league buzzed with anticipation, excitement and speculation as to how
much money Barry Bonds would fetch. The 40-year-old Bonds had set
a BDBL record in 2003 when he signed for $16.5 million. In 2005,
Bonds was coming off an MLB season in which he'd hit .362/.609/.812.
His .609 on-base percentage far eclipsed the old MLB record, and was
fueled by another MLB record 232 walks.
With roughly $28 million to spend on
free agents, the Hippos weren't expected to be major players in the
bidding war that was certain to ensue over Bonds. But on January
3rd, when the results of the first lot were announced, Sylvester shocked
the league by winning the bidding at $20.5 million.
Batting back-to-back with Pujols, Bonds
hit .354/.532/.780 for the Hippos, with 54 home runs, 134 RBIs, 176
walks and 216.5 runs created. And making the deal even sweeter for
Sylvester, Bonds missed most of the 2005 MLB season, which took his
$20.5 million salary off the books for the 2006 BDBL season.
Prior to the auction, Sylvester made
two trades to shore up his pitching staff. And in both deals, he
sacrificed young players who would develop into annual all-stars.
In the first deal, Sylvester sacrificed Lackey, along with BDBL legend
Felix Diaz, getting free-agent-to-be John Thomson in exchange. The
trade was a disaster for Wapakoneta, as Thomson posted a 5.35 ERA
overall in 2005 (6.60 for Wapakoneta), while Lackey became an ace the
In the second trade, Sylvester
sacrificed Carl Crawford, along with two others, in exchange for Jake
Westbrook, Joe Kennedy and three others. While Crawford has
enjoyed several all-star seasons since the trade, Westbrook pitched just
one season for the Hippos before becoming a free agent, going 10-11 with
a 3.35 ERA in 215+ innings. Kennedy (also a free agent at the end
of '05) went 6-10 for the Hippos, with a 4.50 ERA in 166+ innings.
With the best one-two punch in the
league filling the middle of the lineup, and a pitching staff led by
Westbrook, the Hippos were picked to win the Person Division:
Outlook: You have to
give Bobby Sylvester a lot of credit. Last year, I predicted it
would take the Hippos five or six years to contend. But this
winter, Bobby went for broke and snagged the biggest pitcher
available on the trade market (Westbrook) and the biggest fish
in the free agent pond (Bonds.) And with the Baseball Gods
continuing to shine down upon the Hippos farm club, this team
was magically transformed into an overnight contender. Mad
props to Bobby for a job well done.
In pre-season polling by the members of
the BDBL, the Hippos were picked as the favorites to win the BDBL
championship. Yet despite the lofty predictions, the Hippos
slipped out of the gate. Fortunately for them, so did the rest of
2005 Missing Person
SALEM, NH -- The Person Division appears to be a tight race between
four teams that can't decide who wants to win it. Just one game
separates all four teams in the standings, with the Wapakoneta
Hippos (8-8) and South Carolina Sea Cats (10-10) tied at the top of
the division, and the Nashville Funkadelic (13-15) and Southern Cal
Slyme (13-15) tied at the bottom.
Despite the presence of Barry Bonds
and Albert Pujols in their lineup, the Hippos -- who are favored to
win this division -- are hitting just .246/.344/.414 as a team, and
three-fifths of their starting rotation is sporting an ERA of 6.33
over eight starts.
One of the main scapegoats of that
first chapter freefall was Thomson, who went just 1-4 in Chapter One,
with a 6.60 ERA. But on March 8th, Sylvester rectified that
situation by shocking the league once again. In an unexpected
trade with the Cleveland Rocks, the Hippos sent Cliff Lee (one of
Sylvester's acquisitions from the '04 trade of Placido Polanco) to the
Rocks in exchange for dominant ace starter Jason Schmidt. At the
time, Schmidt (also in the final year of his contract) was considered to
be among the top five pitchers in baseball. For the Hippos, he
went 14-6 down the stretch, with a somewhat disappointing 4.20 ERA in
That same chapter, Thomson was dumped
onto the Marlboro Hammerheads in exchange for relievers Steve Kline and
Justin Duchscherer, and utility infielder Keith Ginter. The Hippos
wrapped up the first chapter with a division-best 16-12 record.
And with Schmidt leading the way, they followed that performance with an
18-10 Chapter Two. By the all-star break, the division race was
over, as Wapakoneta owned a 15-game lead over the second-place Nashville
Far from content, however, Sylvester
instead was looking for ways to boost his lineup even more in
anticipation of the post-season. Once again, he found himself
trading away a young player with tremendous future value to the
franchise in exchange for a short-term solution. On July 18th,
Sylvester traded Bay and Duchscherer to the perpetually-rebuilding New
Milford Blazers, getting Melvin Mora, Brad Lidge, Juan Pierre and Duaner
Sanchez. Mora hit .297/.403/.471 over the final two chapters of
the season, Lidge went 1-3 with a 4.01 ERA in 20+ innings, Pierre hit
.321/.382/.398, and Sanchez tossed just 6.2 innings for the Hippos.
Mora and Pierre then became free agents at the end of the season.
Incredibly, despite all of their
big-impact acquisitions, the Hippos went just 38-42 in the second half.
But they had built such a big lead in the first half, they still were
able to cruise to another division crown, winning by nine games with an
87-73 overall record.
Wapakoneta's opponents in the Division
Series were the Chicago Black Sox. During the regular season,
Chicago had dominated the league by going 102-58 overall, including a
league-best 54-26 record in the second half. They were led by an
offense that scored an EL-best 945 runs, and featured a star-studded
lineup that included Gary Sheffield, Vladimir Guerrero, Aramis Ramirez,
Victor Martinez and Aubrey Huff.
In the first game of the series, that
high-powered offense clobbered Schmidt for seven runs (six earned) in
just 2.2 innings, en route to a convincing 8-5 win. But the Hippos
showed Chicago that their lineup was equally good, and they pummeled
Chicago starter Kevin Brown for eight runs in 2.1 innings in Game Two,
eventually winning by a score of 8-6.
When the series shifted to Wapakoneta,
the Hippos kept hitting and hitting. They scored eight more runs
in Game Three, while Schmidt bounced back from his poor start to toss
seven shutout innings on just two days of rest. Wapakoneta then
scored eight runs for the third game in a row, winning Game Four by a
score of 8-5 behind the hitting of Bonds and Mora -- both of whom
homered. With a commanding 3-1 series lead, Sylvester gave the
ball to Westbrook in Game Five, and he tossed seven shutout innings
himself. The Hippos walked away with an easy 5-0 win, and an
underdog series victory over a stunned Chicago team.
Next, the Hippos faced the Allentown
Ridgebacks in the ELCS. The Ridgebacks were nearly swept out of
the Division Series by the Atlanta Fire Ants, which would have been the
upset of the decade. Instead, they overcame a 3-0 series deficit
and swept the final four games of the series to earn a pass to the LCS.
Like the Black Sox, Allentown also went 102-58 during the regular
season, and were considered to be heavy favorites to win the EL
championship now that Chicago was out of the way.
Once again, the Hippos turned to
Schmidt in Game One. Back-to-back home runs by Allentown sluggers
Larry Walker and Corey Koskie made it a 3-0 game in the third inning,
and Allentown cruised to a 6-4 win behind the pitching of their Cy Young
ace Randy Johnson. In Game Two, the Hippos led by a score of 2-1
heading into the bottom of the seventh inning. Sylvester turned to
the bullpen to hold the score, but instead, Allentown leadoff batter
Gary Matthews clubbed a three-run homer off of Travis Harper, and the
Ridgebacks took the game by a score of 4-2.
In Game Three, the Hippos accomplished
the rare feat of defeating Allentown's Roy Oswalt in the playoffs.
Wapakoneta touched Oswalt for three runs in the first inning and held on
for a narrow 3-2 win. But the Hippos couldn't touch Allentown
pitcher Orlando Hernandez in Game Four, as he and four other pitchers
combined for a two-hit shutout, putting Allentown just one win away from
the World Series.
Finally, in the fifth game of the
series, Craig Wilson belted an RBI double with two outs in the fourth to
give Allentown a 4-3 lead. And thanks to the pitching of Johnson
and the Allentown bullpen, that's how the game -- and the series --
After spending the entire season
trading for players in the final years of their contracts, the Hippos'
2006 roster had been decimated. Gone were Bonds (to injury),
Schmidt, Westbrook, Kennedy, Mora and Green. Also gone were
several building blocks of the future, including Mauer, Crawford,
Lackey, Bay, Dunn and Lee -- all sacrificed for immediate benefit.
Once again, Wapakoneta's greatest
assets heading into the winter of 2006 were Pujols (.310/.415/.546, 32
HR, 135.4 RC) and a boatload of spending money ($52.5 million, to be
exact.) Sylvester laid low that winter, and didn't make a single
trade. He then spread his money around on free agents, similar to
the way he did in 2004, spending $10.5M on Michael Young
(.334/.390/.501, 120.9 RC), $6.5M on Josh Towers (11-10, 3.72 ERA in
215+ IP), $5.5M on Bill Mueller (.326/.398/.434, 97.7 RC overall), $5.5M
on Shawn Green (.285/.361/.426, 83.6 RC), $3.5M on Craig Counsell
(.247/.341/.333) and $6.5M on Livan Hernandez (12-15, 4.87 ERA in 233
IP) in the auction.
Sylvester also took a $5 million flier
on veteran Magglio Ordonez in the second round of the free agent draft,
and then immediately flipped him for closer Todd Jones. With Jones
(2.75 ERA in 72+ IP) and Lidge (3.04 ERA in 71+ IP) heading the
Wapakoneta bullpen, Pujols and Young manning the heart of the lineup,
and a relatively weak starting rotation led by John Patterson, Hernandez
and Towers, the Hippos were picked to finish in third place.
Wapakoneta went just 11-17 in Chapter
One, but bounced back with a surprising 16-12 record in Chapter Two.
At the halfway point of the season, the Hippos owned a respectable 41-39
record, eight games out of first place. And with Sylvester making
no trades throughout the season to either push his team into contention
or scrap the season for future considerations, the Hippos maintained
that pace, going 39-41 in the second half to finish with a record of
That winter, Sylvester made several
trades in an effort to construct a winner in 2007. First, he dealt
Young to the Los Altos Undertakers in a deal that was essentially a
salary dump. Then, after clearing that salary cap space,
Sylvester filled it by acquiring Vladimir Guerrero from the Corona
Confederates in exchange for Green, Livan Hernandez and a couple of
throw-ins. Guerrero hit .337/.358/.588 for the Hippos in 2007,
with 40 home runs, 118 RBIs and 137.1 RC, at a salary of $16 million.
Rookie flamethrower Joel Zumaya was
then dealt to the Great Lakes Sphinx in exchange for Mark Teahen and
Wily Taveras. Teahen rose to the occasion by batting
.314/.385/.536 for Wapakoneta, with 16 homers and 83.1 runs created at a
salary of only $100,000. And rookie slugger Chris Duncan was
traded to Los Altos in exchange for young hurler David Bush and Todd
In the '07 auction, Sylvester added
Geoff Geary (2-3, 5.53 ERA in 78+ IP) for $2M, Miguel Tejada
(.314/.360/.493, 117.2 RC) at $8M, Brad Radke (15-8, 4.60 ERA in 176 IP)
at $4M and A.J. Pierzynski (.304/.343/.457, 75.7 RC) at $4.5M.
In addition to those veteran
acquisitions, the 2007 Hippos also benefited from the debuts of two
BDBL rookies. In Chapter Four of the 2004 season, Sylvester signed
yet another important mid-season farm free agent in Matt Holliday.
At the time, Holliday was a 24-year-old MLB rookie who had hit just
.242/.306/.444 in the month of May, and .266/.318/.405 in June.
But Sylvester saw something in this player that no one else noticed.
By the 2007 season, Holliday had become an all-star. At the age of
27, he hit .290/.344/.484 with 59 doubles, 22 homers, 95 RBIs and 108.7
In the third round of the 2005 farm
draft, Sylvester selected a young starting pitcher in the Boston Red Sox
organization named Jonathan Papelbon. And by the 2007 BDBL season,
Papelbon had become the top closer in the league, posting a mind-numbing
0.84 ERA in 75+ innings, with only 30 hits allowed overall.
Between the draft and Opening Day,
Sylvester made two more trades in a desperate attempt to add innings to
his starting rotation. In those two trades, he sacrificed top
prospects Trevor Crowe and Erick Aybar, adding Mark Buehrle and Mark
Hendrickson. Neither Buehrle (8-9, 5.08 ERA in 154+ IP overall)
nor Hendrickson (9-9, 4.73 ERA in 177+ IP) would prove worthy of the
The 2007 Hippos undoubtedly had the
best lineup in the league with Pujols, Guerrero, Tejada, Holliday and
Teahen comprising the heart of the order. And they also owned the
league's best closer in Papelbon. But the starting rotation of
Bush, Radke, Hendrickson, Buehrle and Mike O'Connor was considered weak,
and the Hippos were predicted to finish in third place in the division.
The Hippos began the 2007 season with a
14-14 record, and followed that with an impressive 16-12 Chapter Two.
On June 7th, the Hippos unexpectedly captured first place in the EL wild
card race by beginning Chapter Three with a 10-2 record. This,
despite the fact that their biggest star, Pujols, was hitting just
.260/.350/.489 on the season.
Wapakoneta finished the third chapter
with an astounding record of 19-5, and went into the all-star break tied
with the Nashville Funkadelic atop the Person Division. At the
deadline, Sylvester added speedster Dave Roberts to his lineup at the
expense of Taveras.
But the Hippos stumbled out to a 10-14
start to the second half of the season, and they continued the freefall
by going 13-15 in Chapter Five. In the end, they fell 11 games
behind the Funkadelic and finished with a record of 86-74 -- good for
third place in the division.
At the final trading deadline of the
season, Sylvester made four more trades in a last-ditch effort to
salvage his 2007 season. Four players, including Shawn Hill, were
dealt the Corona Confederates in exchange for Aaron Cook and Scott
Linebrink. Papelbon was dealt to Kansas in exchange for Brett
Myers, Chad Cordero and prospect Jose Tabata. Bush was traded to
Southern Cal for Jose Contreras and a prospect. And four players
were traded to Marlboro in exchange for Juan Cruz, Todd Walker and
Damien Miller. But none of the new additions helped pull
Wapakoneta into contention.
The Hippos wrapped up the season with
an 86-74 record -- 11 games behind the division leaders.
In 2008, Sylvester made the decision to
adopt a new ballpark for the second time in franchise history. In
2006, Sylvester switched to a Fenway Park model, which drastically
decreased the home run factor for left-handed batters. In 2008,
Sylvester took advantage of a new BDBL rule to create his own ballpark,
where the left-handed home runs factor (99) was much friendlier, while
the right-handed homer factor shot up from 95 (Fenway) to 126.
Another change that winter was the
renaming of the franchise (for the third time under Sylvester's regime)
to the St. Louis Apostles. Pujols (.314/.401/.539, 127.5 RC) and
Holliday (.321/.378/.575, 136.2 RC) once again comprised the meat of St.
Louis' lineup. And Pedroia (.291/.363/.447, 85.3 RC) made his
rookie debut after being reacquired from Chicago that winter in exchange
for Guerrero and Polanco.
Sylvester made a total of nine trades
in the winter of '08. He then signed Adrian Beltre ($5.5M), Miguel
Batista ($5M), Tim Wakefield ($5.5M) and Rafael Furcal ($5M) in the
auction. That season, Sylvester adopted a strategy of filling his
starting rotation with #3 or #4 starters, filling his lineup with power
hitters, and filling his infield with above-average gloves. In the
pre-season preview, that strategy was vilified:
The starting rotation may be the worst
in the Eck League. Gorzelanny is the de facto ace of the staff,
despite pedestrian numbers that make him look more like a #3/#4
starter. This team was so desperate for starting pitching, they
went "Type H" on a 41-year-old Wakefield, who posted a 4.76 ERA last
Last year, I wrote in this same exact
space, "It is tough to win without starting pitching." Well, a year
later the same sentiment applies. The Apostles tried to win without
starting pitching last year, and finished 12 games over .500. That
is probably the high mark for this team, although I would bet the
3rd place. The only thing keeping this team out of last place is the
presence of the Sea Cats.
Despite those dire predictions, the
Apostles got off to a surprising 16-12 start. Incredibly, they
allowed just 99 runs during the first chapter, which was the
third-lowest total in the Eck League. Unfortunately, despite their
hot start, they were looking at an eight-game deficit in their division
thanks to the historic 24-4 chapter by the Southern Cal Slyme.
St. Louis continued to win in Chapter
Two, going 14-14 despite allowing 146 runs (third-most in the EL.)
By the end of three chapters, the Apostles owned a 43-37 record and
trailed in the EL wild card race by only two games. St. Louis
captured first place on July 11th, as their 10-2 start to Chapter Four
put them one game ahead of the Allentown Ridgebacks.
At the final trading deadline of the
season, Sylvester made his big move, sending Andrew Miller and three
others to the San Antonio Broncs in exchange for MVP shortstop Jimmy
Rollins. While Rollins was a severe disappointment for the Broncs
(.239/.282/.380), he enjoyed a phenomenal two chapters with St. Louis,
On the final day of the season, the
Apostles owned a 92-60 record with eight games remaining, while the
Kansas Law Dogs owned a 92-62 record with six games left. Just
hours before the final deadline, St. Louis clinched the EL wild card,
and a date with the Ridgebacks in the EL Division Series.
The Apostles defeated the
heavily-favored Ridgebacks in Game One by a score of 12-3, behind a
two-homer effort by Pujols. St. Louis then took Game Two with a
thrilling extra-innings victory. Incredibly, the Apostles then
took a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 series lead with a 7-4 win in Game
In the history of Major League
Baseball, only one team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit in a
best-of-seven playoff series. In the BDBL's first ten years,
however, that "impossible" feat had been accomplished twice -- most
recently by the Ridgebacks in 2005. In 2008, Allentown achieved
the "impossible" for the second time in three years.
The Apostles headed into the ninth
inning of Game Four with a 2-1 lead, and were one out away from sweeping
the series when Allentown pinch hitter Moises Alou singled off of St.
Louis reliever Juan Salas, plating Cody Ross from second.
The game went into extra inning once
again, and St. Louis failed to score a runner from third in the top half
of the tenth. Ryan Braun then hit a walk-off triple in the bottom
half of the inning, plating Justin Morneau all the way from first.
The stage was set for yet another Allentown comeback.
The Ridgebacks took Game Five by a
score of 9-4 behind the pitching of EL Cy Young Jake Peavy. They
then tied the series with a 7-3 win in Game Six behind the pitching of
rookie Tim Lincecum. In Game Seven, Barry Bonds and Morneau
connected for home runs in the first inning off of St. Louis starter Tim
Wakefield, giving Allentown a 3-0 lead. Allentown starter Ian
Snell was then pulled in the middle of the fifth inning, with one run
scored for St. Louis, and a runner at second. Yovani Gallardo took
over and escaped further damage. He, Heath Bell and Jeremy Accardo
then closed it out with four shutout innings the rest of the way.
The Ridgebacks -- who then went on to win the BDBL championship -- had
done it again.
Today, it is difficult to imagine an
11-year-old boy surviving in the brutally-competitive environment of the
BDBL. But Bobby Sylvester not only survived, but thrived.
Original GM Chris Kaufman's strategy was to build a stellar lineup and
support it with mid-rotation inning eaters and a decent bullpen. That
strategy was seemingly adopted by Sylvester, who has proudly stated on the BDBL forum that pitching is overrated.
The Apostles franchise scored 8,090
runs over the first ten seasons (ranked #4 in the BDBL) and their
pitching staff and defense surrendered 8,159 runs (ranked 18th in the
BDBL), which is reflective of this philosophy. And not surprisingly, this
philosophy placed this franchise in the middle of the pack (ranked #11
out of 24 teams in wins) through the league's first ten seasons.
The Apostles franchise has benefited
from playing against weak competition, as they averaged just 88 wins in
their three division-championship seasons. Their best season came
in 2008, when the Apostles won 98 games and ranked fourth in the EL in
ERA at 3.82 -- the best team ERA in franchise history.
As their pitching goes, so go the
Sylvester did an extraordinary job
with his farm system through the league's first decade, hitting the jackpot on several stars with major
long-term impact, including Albert Pujols, Jason Bay, Joe Mauer, Prince
Fielder, Tim Hudson, Dustin Pedroia, Francisco Liriano, John Lackey and
Matt Holliday. Incredibly, however, most of those players were
traded for temporary fixes (or released outright) before they had a
chance to contribute to the franchise.
Of the nine players listed above, only
Mauer, Fielder and Liriano posted stellar minor league numbers and were
considered to be among the best prospects in baseball. Incredibly,
neither Pujols (who reached a high of #42), Bay (#74) nor Pedroia (#77)
ever ranked among Baseball America's top 40 prospects. And
Hudson, Lackey and Holliday never made BA's Top 100 list.
Bobby Sylvester now has nine years of
BDBL experience under his belt, and he'll have ten full seasons before
he has reached legal drinking age. That in itself is an incredibly
impressive feat. The fact that he also has four playoffs
appearances in ten seasons makes it all the more impressive.