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Big Daddy Baseball League

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slant.gif (102 bytes) BDBL: 10 Years in the Making

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June, 2009

Franchise History: St. Louis Apostles

Apostles in a box:

Franchise wins: 812 (11th all-time)
Playoff appearances: 4
Division titles: 3
League titles: 0
Championship titles: 0
100-win seasons: 0
100-loss seasons: 0
Franchise RC leader: Albert Pujols
Franchise wins leader: Aaron Sele

When 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 Kaufman's replacement:

June 11, 1999
North Mankato Gets New Owner

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 the arrangement."

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 Marauders resigned from the league just prior to the start of the series.  The younger Sylvester was defeated by the older Sylvester in seven games.

 

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 League title:

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 best-of-five series.

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-) deciding run.

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 using."

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 contract.

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 season.

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 hippo.)

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:

Outlook: 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 the season.

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 Wapakoneta's season.

 

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) for $5M.

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 picks.

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 roster.

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 67-93.

 

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 few years.

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 following season.

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 the division:

March 1, 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 167 innings.

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 Funkadelic.

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 -- would end.

 

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 80-80.

 

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 Wellemeyer.

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 runs created.

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 sacrifice.

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:

Weaknesses: 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 season.

Outlook: 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 "under."

Prediction: 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, hitting .303/.339/.581.

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 Three.

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.  Coincidence?

  Season ERA Rank Wins rank
1999 11 11
2000 3 2
2001 6 6
2002 6 6
2003 9 4
2004 11 8
2005 4 5
2006 6 6
2007 9 6
2008 4 3

As their pitching goes, so go the Apostles.

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.