At the business level, Organized Baseball and independent baseball are much like Bobby Cox and umpires—they just don’t mix.
But when you move down to the level of the players and coaches, it’s a different story. Baseball is baseball, and as a pair of North American League teams found during spring training, teams like competition, even if it’s spanning the gulf between affiliated and indy ball.
As the Calgary Vipers and Edmonton Capitals geared up for the start of their North American League season with a weeklong spring training schedule, they managed to mix in competition against extended spring training teams from several organizations.
When the Vipers and Capitals started to plan their spring training, they had a couple of options: They could stay home or hit the road. If you’ve ever spent May in Canada, it’s pretty clear that heading south is the more appealing option. If you’re not dodging raindrops in Calgary, you might be digging out from a May snowfall. And considering the location, the two teams would have spent the entire spring training playing each other.
“If we tried to do the same thing at home, we wouldn’t have gotten in as many games, and we play Edmonton enough during the regular season,” Calgary general manager Patrick Haas said. “You’re not going to get your pitchers up in pitches and ready. Health-wise, (coming to Arizona) is a big help to get into game shape.”
Heading to a spring training park in Arizona made a lot of sense for both teams, and as a bonus, the trip to Scottsdale allowed them to be tested by talented, if much younger players.
Looking For A Game
The Capitals coaching staff of Gord Gerlach and manager Orv Franchuck started making calls to friends from their years in baseball. They quickly found that farm directors were receptive to finding different competition for their players.
“The Cubs have a lot of kids in extended spring; they may have had 50 players,” said Gorlach, Edomonton’s director of baseball operations and hitting coach. “They have two teams and not enough games to play. There were a couple of clubs who had an off day who were willing to play us as well. Extended spring is a long haul.”
The two teams acquitted themselves well against affiliated teams. The Capitals split a pair of games with the Cubs’ extended spring team, lost to the Mariners and beat the Giants. Calgary shut out the Mariners, outslugged the Reds 17-14 and tied the Giants 4-4.
That’s not surprising, considering that the Vipers and Capitals were fielding former big league veterans (like Wily Aybar and Bartolome Fortunato) against talented, but much younger players. Considering the age differences, the independent players were more likely to know the opposing teams’ managers and coaches than the players.
“Most of the guys in affiliated ball can definitely bring it. There was a big age difference between our teams and their teams,” Haas said. “We have a lot of guys who have been around a long time. The big difference is the kids in extended spring have been playing for several months, they’ve been in game shape for a long time. It was a good challenge for us.”
In addition to facing young players waiting to head to short-season and Rookie leagues, the clubs did get to face a few veterans as well. Calgary’s 5-0 win against the Mariners came when facing rehabbing former big leaguer Charlie Haeger.
The two teams were quite happy with how their trip to Arizona turned out. In fact, the Cubs have already talked to the Capitals about playing again next May.