Haunted hotel gives Ogden unusual home-field advantage
See also: Previous Short-Season Report
Traveling and living on the road can be stressful enough without the additional worry of being visited by ghosts.
Having experienced close encounters of the paranormal kind while on the road in Ogden, Utah, baseball players and coaches in the Rookie-level Pioneer League do believe in spooks.
The Ben Lomond Historic Suite Hotel is the temporary residence of the Ogden Raptors' visiting teams. And the hotel, built in the year right fielder Babe Ruth launched 60 home runs, has a reputation for the ghosts that roam its halls and rooms.
It has even been featured on national television for being haunted. The Travel Channel featured the Ben Lomond as Utah's most haunted state in the show, "Donny Osmond's Utah," a part of their Celebrity Tours series.
"This is the first time that I can recall as a minor leaguer and operator in my 20 years in baseball that a team's hotel was haunted," Raptors owner Dave Baggott said. "We're proud of the distinction of being the first.
"It's a fantastic hotel. Every room's a suite. It's a great place, and only a certain amount of floors are haunted."
Baggott said the hotel tries to arrange to put the visiting teams on the non-haunted floors, but their assignment doesn't always guarantee a ghost-free night.
"Ghosts can get around," he said.
But Gene Thissen, general manager of the Ben Lomond, said, "None of us here have ever seen ghosts."Who You Gonna Call?
The Ogden club used to book the hotel for visiting teams years ago before changing to others. The organization went back to using the Ben Lomond hotel last year.
"I didn't recall any of the ghost stories, it had been so long," Baggott said.
But now he's hearing plenty of them.
"It's not just one team, but every team has a story to tell," he said. "We haven't received any complaints about the ghosts, just interesting comments."
Juan Bustabad, now managing in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in the Dodgers organization after skippering the Raptors last season, said, "You think that it's not true, that these things can't happen, but then every team comes in with a different experience."
Baggott said, "Nobody's been hurt so far. It's been good, clean fun."
The Raptors are certainly having fun with it. The "Ghostbusters" theme song is one of tunes often played at games in Ogden. The use of the Ben Lomond hotel is a fun diversion for everyone in the league, said Casper Rockies manager P.J. Carey, because it's a good story to pass along.
Accounts of the encounters the men related are similar to several other ghost stories.
"TVs working when they're unplugged, showers turning on and off, toilets flushing by themselves, players walking by Coke machines and Cokes dispense only for them, perfume smells of the lady who died there--all kinds of freaky stuff," Baggott said.
Legend has it that there are multiple ghosts living in the hotel. One of its more famous spirits is a woman who is mourning for her two sons who were killed in World War I, Baggott said.
"She got so depressed that she never ate and withered away in her room," Baggott said. He added that one of the other more prominent ghosts is a person who committed suicide by diving out of an 11th or 12th story window.
Bustabad said his encounters were mostly in the mirrored elevator during his stay in the Ben Lomond last season. He smelled the perfume of a woman in the elevator--when he was the only person inside--and the elevator floor buttons would light up for his destination, even when he hadn't pressed the floor.
Raptors pitching coach Bob Welch also lived in the hotel for a while last year, but left after one too many encounters, Baggott said.
Carey said the Rockies' approach to the hotel is basically the assessment that outfielder Mauris Loupadiere gave him last year.
"He said, 'I cannot tell you for sure if there are ghosts in the hotel, or for sure there are not ghosts in the hotel. But there is something very strange going on here,' " Carey said.Next Tour Stop
Carey, Bustabad and other Casper Rockies players and coaches took a tour of the hotel last year with one of the hotel's employees. The tour took them from the top of the hotel to its basement, and even into the room of one of the ghosts, Bustabad said.
In both the basement and the room, Bustabad said, the temperature dropped about 15 degrees, adding to the impression of otherworldly presences.
On the tour, many of the visitors took photos and videotapes, which revealed bluish-gray orbs, which are supposed to represent the spirits.
But the ghosts haven't seemed to be as active this year, he added, saying times the Rockies have stayed at the Ben Lomond this year there hasn't been very much paranormal activity.
"Some of my players said, 'I think the ghost have taken a vacation,'" Carey said.
"We have fun with it," he added. "Who knows? We really don't know."
Thissen said, "The ballplayers are happy here, they enjoy it here."
And one of the things they enjoy is having fun with the hotel's reputation. Bustabad said that he used to hear players sneaking around the hotel, knocking on their teammates' doors and going, "Boo!"
Baggott said the ghosts are on the Raptors' side.
"If we ever win a championship while we're using that hotel, we'll put an extra ring in the shadowbox for the ghosts."
He said the working relationship with the hotel has been great so far and that team will continue to use the hotel.
"Anything we can do to keep the opponent up all night is a plus for the Raptors," he joked.
NEW YORK (PENN) STATE OF MIND
• While in State College, Pa., to take on the Spikes, Vermont righthander Ricky Shefka was held up at gunpoint and robbed by three unidentified assailants. According to the Centre Daily Times, Shefka was stopped early Aug. 13 and a gun was held to his face. Shefka was ordered to hand over his money ($60) and a gold necklace before being beaten unconscious. Once he regained consciousness, he managed to make it back to the team hotel before being taken to the hospital.
A 20th-rounder pick in 2005 out of Old Dominion, Shefka began the season at low Class A Savannah before a demotion to Vermont. The 22-year-old threw three scoreless innings in his one appearance for the Lake Monsters. In 55 innings for Savannah, the righthander was 2-5, 6.42.
• Red Sox lefthanders Jeff Farrell and Yulkin German combined for the first no-hitter in short-season Lowell history. Lowell's lefties took advantage of a perfect pitcher's day at Hudson Valley. Farrell, a nondrafted free agent out of Southern Connecticut State, allowed a walk and struck out two over five innings, and German struck out four without issuing a walk over the final four frames.
"Not to take anything away from the pitchers, but it was a really tough hitting day," Lowell manager Bruce Crabbe said. "It was very bright out, the glare was very bad from the wall in center field where there were a couple of white billboards where the ball was coming out of. Both pitchers were lefthanded--it was a real tough day."
Crabbe said there were only two or three well-hit balls all day for either team (the Spinners managed just two runs on four hits themselves). But he said Farrell and German did a nice job mixing speeds and locations.
German, a 22-year-old Dominican who spent the last three years in rookie ball, picked up the win to improve to 4-1, 1.56 on the season. He is old for the New York-Penn League, and his mid-80s fastball is not overpowering, but he has made progress with his offspeed stuff this year.
"Coming into this year his priority was to work on his command," Crabbe said. "He's been solid for me from day one, among the league leaders in ERA and innings pitched--one of best lefthanded pitchers in the league. He has an outstanding changeup, a good curveball, and he's effective to both lefties and righties."NORTH BY NORTHWEST
• Righthander Josh Sullivan was starting to show his 2005 form at short-season Tri-City. The Rockies drafted him that year in the fifth round out of Auburn, and the former Tigers quarterback recruit pitched one inning last season before being shut down with shoulder pain that required surgery to repair a torn labrum. Sullivan has been brought along slowly this season, returning to the Northwest League, and had one outing with eight strikeouts in just 3 1/3 innings. His fastball has touched 97 mph, according to roving field coordinator Ron Gideon, who managed the Dust Devils last season and saw Sullivan throw that hard in extended spring training. "I remember we were all thinking, 'We really have something special here,'" he told the Tri-City (Wash.) Herald. "If we would have had him last year, there's no telling how much better we would have been." Sullivan picked up his first pro win in mid-August against Eugene and had 50 strikeouts with just 11 walks in 48 innings while allowing 35 hits, including only one home run.APPALACHIAN TRAILS
• Two of the Rookie-level Appalachian League's finest batting prospects put on a show as Bluefield played Pulaski for six straight games in back-to-back home-and-home series.
Bluefield's Bill Rowell, the ninth overall pick in the draft by the Orioles out of a New Jersey high school, entered the series hitting .276, and with his 9-for-22 performance the 17-year-old third baseman upped his season line to .300/.394/.450. For the series, Rowell homered, hit three doubles, drove in three, scored six times and collected three walks, though he did strike out nine times.
Pulaski's Travis Snider was equally impressive. The Blue Jays drafted the right fielder 14th overall out of a Washington high school, and he's delivered in his debut by hitting .333/.420/.582 and ranking among the league leaders in home runs, RBIs, slugging and extra-base hits. In his games against Bluefield, the 18-year-old upped his average six points by going 8-for-21 with a home run, five RBIs and eight runs to go with his eight walks and just two strikeouts. He was also 2-for-3 on the basepaths.
• With his fourth straight win, it appeared Tyler Herron's rough orientation to the pros has abated. The Cardinals' supplemental first-round pick in 2005, Herron struggled to 0-3, 5.61 record for Rookie-level Johnson City in his debut before losing his first five decisions this year in a return engagement to the Appalachian League. Herron, 20, had shined in August, going 3-0, 0.46 with 17 strikeouts in 20 innings with no home runs allowed. Last season he surrendered 11 bombs in 50 innings of work. Overall, the righthander was 4-5, 3.66.PIONEER SPIRIT
• Cuban defector Osbek Castillo continued to be too good for the Pioneer League, and considering he's 25, it's not a huge surprise. Castillo had back-to-back monster starts for Missoula, combining with Hector Ambriz on a no-hitter of Casper in the second start. In consecutive starts, Castillo--the 987th overall pick in the 2006 draft, in the 33rd round--had given up one hit in 12 innings, striking out 23 and walking one. Overall, he was 4-0, 1.46 with 52 strikeouts and nine walks in 37 innings, allowing just 23 hits.
"I know we're happy to have him (Castillo) here," Osprey pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. told the Casper Star-Tribune. "He should be in (high Class A) Lancaster or at least our Double-A club. But those teams all have plenty of pitching and are leading their divisions, so we're fortunate enough to have him here. He never gives in to a hitter, never."
• Diamondbacks righthander Jason Neighborgall was having a very bad August. How bad? A third-round pick out of Georgia Tech in 2005 who signed for $500,000, Neighborgall gave up three more runs without getting an out in the Osprey's 11-8 victory against Idaho Falls, giving him a streak of 16 consecutive batters faced without recording an out. In five appearances this month, Neighborgall, one of baseball's hardest throwers, had recorded just two outs. He's walked 16 without a strikeout. His ERA for the month was 175.50, and for the year it stood at 21.09 in just 10 2/3 innings over 17 outings. His 20 wild pitches (including three more in his latest outing) were tied for fourth in the minors; the pitchers ahead of him had all thrown at least 68 innings this season.COMPLEX ISSUES
• The Athletics sent their top prospect, first baseman Daric Barton, to the Rookie-level Arizona League as he recovers from a separated shoulder. Barton injured his left elbow in a collision at first base while playing for Triple-A Sacramento and missed more than two months while recovering.
• The Nationals have their top two position players drafted in 2006--first-rounder Chris Marrero and second-rounder Stephen Englund--learning to play the outfield in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Marrero was a third baseman at Miami area Monsignor Pace High, but with Ryan Zimmerman manning third base in Washington, the Nationals promptly moved him to left field. Marrero was sidelined in early August, however, with viral meningitis. Englund, a high school shortstop, has moved to center field, the more demanding position, and was struggling at the plate, batting just .188.Contributing: Matt Eddy, Aaron FittCompiled by John Manuel