See also: Previous Indy Leagues Notebook
As pitching coach for the Atlantic League’s Long Island Ducks, he helped deliver Bill Pulsipher, Pedro Borbon Jr. and Jason Ryan back to the major leagues. He also had John Rocker on the right track last season before the lefty reliever imploded and left baseball.
Now taking over as manager of the league’s Bridgeport Bluefish, Dave LaPoint is hoping he can resurrect the careers of three more veteran pitchers. Donovan Osborne (37), Brian Boehringer (36) and T.J. Mathews (36)–who, interestingly enough, are all products of Nevada-Las Vegas–have turned to LaPoint for one more chance at either Triple-A or the big leagues.
“I came here (to Bridgeport) because of LaPoint,” said Osborne who pitched for Long Island last summer before signing with Triple-A Albuquerque in the Marlins organization. “He’s helped me tremendously.”
Osborne, who last pitched in the majors in 2004 with the Yankees, was off to a hot start. He led the Atlantic League with 39 strikeouts and opponents were hitting just .205 against him. Overall he was 2-1, 2.64 in 48 innings.
In Osborne’s most impressive start, he carried a no-hitter through six innings against Lancaster. After the game, Barnstormer manager Tommy Herr said, “That was six innings of not even a good swing against him.”
LaPoint’s appraisal of Osborne’s first month is candid and blunt.
“Why he’s not starting for the Mets right now I just don’t understand,” he said. “He’s not a 94 mph guy, but neither is Jamie Moyer. Donovan has an above-average changeup and above-average control.”
LaPoint moved Osborne over to the right side of the mound this season “to make his presentation look different.”
“The object of pitching is to change a hitter’s vision,” he said. “Donovan was standing way off to the left of the rubber, so we moved him way over.”
Osborne has been throwing between 86-89 mph and says he feels stronger than he did last year. He has struggled to stay healthy since 1999, when he made six starts with the Cardinals, the team that selected him in the first round of the 1990 draft with the 13th overall pick. He missed the next two years before signing with the Cubs for the 2002 season, and he lasted just 16 innings before getting hurt again and sitting out until 2004.
Osborne has bounced around a lot since then. The Yankees signed him then and he pitched 18 innings before getting released in May. The Padres signed him for their Triple-A Portland team briefly before releasing him, and the Diamondbacks signed him before the 2005 season but released him at the end of spring training, and that’s when he headed to Long Island.
Osborne had a 1.99 ERA with the Ducks last year, then went 5-3, 4.87 in 14 starts at Albuquerque. When he didn’t find a major league job, he returned to the Atlantic League and LaPoint’s tutelage. He’s also encouraged about being around his former college teammate Boehringer. (Mathews came to UNLV a year after they left.)
“It’s amazing,” Osborne said. “It’s 15 years later and we’re back together. I would accept going to Triple-A. I don’t know what else I have to do. I’ve been pitching as well as anybody, but it’s still early.”
Mathews, who never started a game in his eight-year major league career and has started only occasionally in the minors, has emerged as Bridgeport’s ace. He won four of his first five starts and his ERA was 1.97. In nine of their combined first 12 starts, the trio has pitched at least six innings.
And while Osborne and Boehringer are new to Bridgeport, Mathews is an old hand. He first pitched in Bridgeport in 2003, and he has spent part of the last two seasons there while also pitching in Triple-A with the Dodgers and then the Astros.
“He’s a solid bulldog type,” LaPoint said. “He still throws strikes and he’s got a great will to win.”
Like Osborne, Boehringer hasn’t pitched for a major league team in two years. He missed last season with an arm injury but has been consistently throwing in the low 90s this season. A fourth-round pick of the White Sox in the 1991 draft, Boehringer’s ERA was at 2.05 and he had 24 strikeouts against 12 walks in 31 innings.
LaPoint has several other reclamation projects on his pitching staff this season, including several former Cardinals prospects including Jimmy Journell and Scott Layfield. Journell was the Cardinals’ top prospect before injuries derailed his career. He was off to a 1-0, 0.61 start in his first 15 innings this season. LaPoint already seen one of his starters, Will Cunnane, sign with the Cardinals this season and get assigned to Triple-A Memphis. He said he can’t understand why Osborne, Matthews and Boehringer are still in the Atlantic League.
“I always tell my guys that their here for a reason,” LaPoint said. “A lot of scouting today is done by radars, and I always tell my guys to throw changeups because that’s a harder pitch to hit. If I was pitching today, I wouldn’t get looked at.”
• The Frontier League saw the debut of two new ballparks as its season opened. The Rockford RiverHawks opened RiverHawks Stadium, a 4,000-seat ballpark more than two years in the making. Fans jammed the first game at the park and said it was more accessible than the old Marinelli Stadium, and they gave it positive reviews both for its design and atmosphere.
The other new ballpark was for the league’s new Traverse City Beach Bums franchise. The team was overwhelmed by crowds in the first few games as it worked out the bugs, but Wuerfel Park also got positive reviews, and team officials said they expected everyone to adjust to the new park within a week or two. The Beach Bums averaged better than 4,500 fans a game in their first three home dates.
• The Golden League continued its publicity stunt involving righthander Nigel Thatch by suspending him for failing to report to spring training. Thatch, better known as the actor who played “Leon” in a recent run of beer commercials, had been traded to the league’s Fullerton franchise from the Schaumburg Flyers of the Northern League for 60 cases of Budweiser beer.
“We have had many conversations with Nigel and his agent and hope that they end this holdout soon,” Fullerton general manager Ed Hart said. “He’s really jeopardizing his chances of making this ball club.”
Thatch went 0-3, 10.22 in seven games last season with Schaumburg. In addition to suspending Thatch, the league said it may seek to void the trade and request that Schaumburg return the beer.
The league was scheduled to open its season at the beginning of June, and league co-owner Pat Sajak was set to throw out the first pitch at the league’s first game in Chico, Calif.
• Even before the Golden League season opened, however, the league sold a several player to Organized Baseball. In two of the most significant deals, San Diego Surf Dawgs first baseman Graham Koonce was signed by the Brewers for their Triple-A Nashville club, and Long Beach Armada righthander Jeff Heaverlo was signed by the Angels for their Triple-A Salt Lake roster.
Koonce, 31, signed with the Yankees this spring but requested his release in order to find a team that would offer him more playing time. He signed with the Surf Dawgs to be closer to his family, but his strong spring training performance caught the attention of the Brewers. Koonce’s best season came in 2003, when he hit 34 home runs for the Athletics’ Triple-A Sacramento affiliate and was the Pacific Coast League MVP.
Heaverlo, 28, was a first-round pick of the Mariners in 1999 and became one of their top pitching prospects before injuries knocked him off track. He spent the last three seasons at their Triple-A Tacoma affiliate before becoming a minor league free agent after the season. “This comes as no surprise,” Long Beach manager Darrell Evans said. “Jeff is a big league pitcher and I’m looking forward to watching him pitch in Anaheim soon. He was outstanding in spring training as we had him sharp and ready to be our Opening Day starter.”
• The American Association’s Sioux Falls Canaries continue the team’s tradition of honoring famous South Dakotans this season with a Mount Rushmore bobblehead series. The team will have four giveaways, and each will feature a bobblehead of one of the four presidents featured on the monument, beginning with Abe Lincoln.
“There’s no question that Mount Rushmore is not only a South Dakota icon, but an American icon as well,” team president John Kuhn said. “To not honor the faces in some shape or form would be a major mistake.”
In 2005, the Canaries honored famous South Dakotans Bob Barker, Pat O’Brien and Mary Hart with bobbleheads. In addition to the Mount Rushmore series this season, the Canaries will honor South Dakotan Catharine Bach with a bobblehead on Dukes of Hazzard Night in August.