Looking Back At 2007: The Year In Quotes
In so many ways, 2007 was a much better, cleaner and healthier year than 2006 across the minors. One reason that can't be discounted was that there were actual umpires; not high school or college umps filling in for the professional men in blue. And no one threw a bat at anyone.
Still, this season had its streaks of ugliness—the brawl at low Class A Greensboro with Kannapolis that ended in the teams being sequestered in their clubhouses was a lowlight—and humor mixed with ugliness as well. We thought all minor league managers had learned their lesson after Joe Mikulik's tirade hit YouTube last year, but apparently Double-A Mississippi manager Philip Wellman wasn't paying attention.
But enough of the sideshow. This was the year of the streak. Triple-A Columbus outfielder Brandon Watson broke the International League's 95-year-old record with a 43-game hit streak, the longest minor league streak in 53 years and tied for the eighth-longest in minor league history. But Watson wasn't the only one. Low Class A Charleston third baseman Mitch Hilligoss rode a 38-game hit streak through the South Atlantic League, while Rangers third baseman Chris Davis strung together a 28-game streak in the California League at high Class A Bakersfield.
Off the field, the minor leagues also face a lot of changes as we look ahead to 2008. Minor League Baseball president Mike Moore will step down after 16 years at his post when his current term ends in December.
Moore, 66, helped guide Minor League Baseball through a tremendous growth period during his four terms, including a dramatic rise in franchise values and the setting of all-time marks in attendance in each of the last three seasons—including 41.7 million in 2006 and 42.6 million in 2007.
In addition to losing Moore, South Atlantic League president John Henry Moss' announcement that 2007 would mark his final year certainly signaled the end of an era in minor league baseball. After all, Moss oversaw several generations of players during his 50 years at the post. The league introduced Minor League Baseball executive Eric Krupa as its new president at its all-star game in June.
By far the worst headline from the minor leagues came in July, when Double-A Tulsa hitting coach Mike Coolbaugh was killed by a line drive while coaching first base during a game at Arkansas after being on the job just three weeks with the Drillers. It was Coolbaugh's first coaching job after 17 years as a player. Coolbaugh spent the majority of his career in Triple-A, but he did have 44 games in the majors as well.
But to look back over the season properly, we look at quotes from the players and managers who play the game, with some of the highlights from the 2007 season.
“One of our themes this spring is to educate our players on the history of the Royals. They need to know there is a tradition here.”—New Royals farm director J.J. Picollo
“That guy is a beast. A very physical player with some kind of bat speed and natural raw power . . . power that plays everywhere.”—Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell on BA’s Minor League Player of the Year Jay Bruce
“Brian’s such a young catcher and he’s now signed the deal and now here’s a guy a couple years behind him . . . I think we continue to do that same things we’ve done and that’s help Jarrod become the best catcher he can be.”—Braves farm director Kurt Kemp on Jarrod Saltalamacchia, three months before they traded him to Texas
“I’m sure this is what everybody on the team says, but for me the goal just has to be to just do something better every year. If we can put together quality year after quality year I think we’re going to be OK. There are plenty of teams out there with 80 years of history or more. We have 10. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we definitely have the right guys to do what we need to do.”—Devil Rays third baseman Evan Longoria on the future in Tampa Bay
“I think we’re still trying to get a feel for exactly what level his secondary stuff is at. That’s based on the fact that we haven’t seen him versus professional competition except for instructional league and a couple games again in spring training. Where’s the development of the changeup? How much work does it need? . . . You know, we’ve encouraged him what percentage we’d like to see him use it. And then there’s the development of his breaking ball. Everybody in the world knows this guy throws 97 (mph). We’re just trying to get beyond that right now.”—Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen on righthander Daniel Bard, who finished the season with a 7.08 ERA and walked more than a batter an inning in his first season
“As the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, we have to be accountable. It’s our responsibility to eliminate injuries as much as we can–one (pitcher getting hurt) is too many, and it’s the high-profile ones that get a lot of attention. By no means do I deem this acceptable whatsoever. We’re certainly not happy about it, and as I oversee baseball operations, I take full responsibility. We need to do anything and everything we can to help us avoid these types of things in the future.”—Pirates GM Dave Littlefield on Pittsburgh’s oft-injured first-round picks, a few months before he was fired
“When I started to understand failure—everybody strikes out, everybody looks bad, no one’s exempt from slumps—when I understood failure, that’s when I think you finally can let it go and just battle and find a way to enjoy it. If you can let all the mental stuff some place else, your talent’s going to take over and you’re going to do what you need to do. That’s also when you’ll find the ability to sleep. That was the big turnaround for me in ’96, and it’s been that outlook that’s been keeping me in the game.”—Veteran Alan Zinter, while in spring training with Cleveland. He was later released and played independent ball
“It’s different than looking at a college player for three years and making an investment there. In Latin America, a guy’s 16 years old, he’s got an above-average arm, shows a good BP, he’s an average runner . . . How much is that worth? When you start talking the numbers about how much that guy’s going to get, some of the coaches get really nervous.”—Cardinals vice president of scouting and player development Jeff Luhnow on the differences of scouting in the U.S. versus Latin America
“Braun has had trouble throwing the ball in the area code of first base, but the bat is lethal. He’s still prone to above-average stuff in, but if you miss your spot, it’s not coming back. I still think he’s going to be a destructive middle-of-the-order guy as a corner outfielder—and not a third baseman.”—A National League scout on Ryan Braun, before he went up to Milwaukee and put up amazing numbers
“Jeff’s played (football) in front of more than 80,000 people, so he’s probably heard a lot more than he heard tonight. I think he’s pretty well-seasoned to handle that kind of stuff. If anything, I think that kind of stuff plays in our favor.”—Cubs farm director Oneri Fleita on righthander and former Notre Dame receiver Jeff Samardjiza
“Gio’s going to pitch up in the zone. That’s his style. He’ll challenge up, and we’re not going to change that. We’d just like to see more of a mix of all his pitches and I think through the maturing process he’s learned that.”—White Sox farm director Alan Regier on lefthander Gio Gonzalez
“Any righthanded hitter can get jammed and hit the ball over the fence (to right field). Any team that is a high on-base percentage team is going to score a ton of runs there. This week, if you put the ball in the air to right field it’s going to be a double or a home run.”—Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen on the playing conditions in high Class A Lancaster, where the Red Sox moved their affiliation this season
“We have many current and former gameday staff and interns that either go to Tech, went to Tech or have family at Tech. This is our way to quietly show our support for them as they work through this difficult time.”—Salem Avalanche general manager John Katz on the club’s decision to wear Virginia Tech logos on their batting helmets
“It was a sad sight to see when I arrived this morning. Mother Nature did what some pretty strong ballplayers never could. I hope she doesn’t expect her free steak, though.”—Durham Bulls GM Mike Birling, after wind blew down the top of the famous bull’s head
“Maybin? I don’t know. We never raced . . . I mean, we played with each other, but if you go by the best times, I’d probably say me. I believe the 60 times are over now. 90 feet is all that matters. That and getting from first to third and stealing bags. The 60 is ancient history.”—Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen on who would win a race between him and Tigers outfielder Cameron Maybin
“He’s now .500 in games where he throws a no-hitter. I told him we needed to get another one to get over the hump and have a winning record.”—High Class A Vero Beach pitching coach R.C. Lichtenstein on Wade Davis’ second career no-hitter
“There was an older gentleman who was a Korean War veteran that came over and said, ‘Thanks for doing that.’ I know people that serve and that song means a heck of a lot more to them than it does to a lot of people. I have the greatest respect in the world for the men and women who put their lives on the line for our country every day.”—Former big leaguer Tim Belcher, after leading the crowd in a spontaneous version of the national anthem when the PA system at high Class A Kinston failed
“Nothing fazes this kid. Absolutely nothing. He’s on a mission.”— Mobile manager Brett Butler on outfielder Justin Upton in May
“The whole history aspect of it definitely didn’t hit me until afterward. It’s such a huge honor and certainly something that I’ll always remember. But I wasn’t trying to hit home runs. I was just trying to have good at-bats and drive balls into the gaps. After losing like we lost, we needed to do something as an offense just to get us going again.”—Lancaster first baseman Aaron Bates, after slugging four homers in a game the night after the Jethawks lost 30-0 to Lake Elsinore
“He’s got the stuff, the mound presence and the poise to be successful. He’s just an exceptional arm. There are things in his delivery that will allow him to throw strikes for a long time.”—National League scout on Clay Buchholz at the Futures Game in July