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Ask BA

By James Bailey

If you have a question, send it to askba@baseballamerica.com. (Please include your name and hometown.)

July 27, 2000

We finally had a chance yesterday to update our Top 100 Prospects Update. We originally had intended to do that around the first of each month during the season, but sometimes things don't work out quite like you plan them and we kind of missed the beginning of July.

Anyway, the list is as current as we can make it right now and if you have questions about anyone on the Top 100, I'd advise you to turn there first. And, no, we still don't know when Nick Johnson is coming back. Apparently neither do the Yankees. So just sit tight and he'll play when his wrist feels better.

Speaking of injured Yankees on the top 100, here's a question on Wily Mo Pena.

    Do you have any information on the injury to Yankees' prospect Wily Mo Pena, who was playing at Staten Island? Why is he listed on the Yankees 60-day DL if he was in short-season A-ball?

    Gavin
    Redding, CT

Pena injured his right knee in a collision with right fielder Tommy Winrow on July 12. He is out for the season, though the long-term prognosis looks good. He was sent to the Yankees' minor league camp in Tampa to begin his rehab and arthroscopic surgery is a possibility but they will not have to reconstruct his knee as was originally feared.

Pena went on the major league 60-day DL because he is on the major league 40-man roster. That was part of the deal when he signed last year. Judging by the way he hit this season, I would not be surprised if he is not ready for the big leagues by 2003, when he runs out of options. With 114 strikeouts (and 20 walks) in 322 at-bats this year, he's got some work to do.

Speaking of strikeouts . . .

    Greenville third baseman Michael Hessman is striking out at a rate that would make Preston Wilson blush (2.53 AB/K versus Wilson's 3.02). What is the minor league record for strikeouts in a season, and does Hessman have a legitimate chance of breaking this record?

    Kevin Feasel

Not only does Hessman have no shot at the record, he's also unlikely to finish the season as the minor league leader in whiffs. Hessman's 131 (in 331 at-bats) rank third behind Clinton outfielder Samone Peters (150 in 324 at-bats) and Greensboro outfielder Andy Brown (134/331). Not to be overlooked is Lynchburg outfielder J.J. Davis, (130/347).

None of them are likely to match the all-time mark of 220, set by San Jose's Wes Kent in 1984. Clinton has just 38 games remaining, which means Peters would have to strike out nearly twice a game to get there and I don't think he can do it.

    I was hoping that you could explain the Cubs move to trade Ismael Valdes for Jamie Arnold and Jorge Piedra. Jamie Arnold has never really done anything and has more walks than strikeouts in the minors. Jorge Piedra is in low A and the cubs have had a lot of outfielders with similar stats to his in the past that have never turned out. Maybe you could shed some light on why they wanted Piedra and Arnold.

    Mike

Basically the Cubs' interest in this deal was saving $1.5 million by moving Valdes. He's a free agent at the end of the year and he obviously wasn't helping them in their quest for World Series glory. So they shaved something off the payroll and picked up a couple of players. Arnold is a fringe guy who could see some time on the big league staff, while Piedra has a chance to develop into an everyday player down the road. Check out Jim Callis' trade analysis for more on the deal.

    Please talk me off the ledge. Andy MacPhail recently said he's not looking to rebuild like the White Sox and has also said that one of his biggest goals is to get an extension done with Sammy Sosa. Where have I heard this before. Looks like 2001 will be another season of stopgaps and has-beens in the hopes of backdooring it into the playoffs to serve as warmup for the Braves.

    Is there any hope for this organization? Their Latin development has come a long way, but considering Jose Hernandez is the only name that comes to mind as far recent Latin players developed by the Cubs, they have a lot of ground to make up on the Dodgers, Expos, etc. I understand that Cubs scouting staff is about 33 percent smaller than some of the more successful teams like the Braves, etc. Will anyone in the Trib Towers ever understand what it takes to build a winner? Help! I'm about ready to purchase a Magglio Ordonez jersey!

    Shannon_Jaronik@cch.com

The Cubs have a handful of nice prospects in the pipeline, starting with Corey Patterson, Hee Seop Choi, Ben Christensen, Carlos Zambrano and Mike Meyers. That's not bad, but they are not quite the White Sox.

If I lived in Chicago and winning were an important criteria in the choosing of my favorite hometown team, I'd probably follow the Sox. If winning is what you're concerned about, buy that Magglio jersey today. If you like sitting in the sun at Wrigley, then stick with the Cubs. But please don't jump, whatever you decide.

    Is an electric/laser/computer strike zone feasible? It would make the game much more exciting. Pitchers would have a much easier time with pitches that break down in the zone if the rules were interpreted literally. Currently, an overhand curve has a 6 to 8 inch vertical margin of error, or it is a ball.

    Jim White

No. It's not feasible. And I don't think it would be popular even if it were. I wouldn't want to see the human element taken out of umpiring, even if there is the chance the humans will make a mistake.

July 25, 2000

We're still trying to figure out who'd win in the Celebrity Deathmatch of Bob Feller and Pete Rose. Rose might be younger, but I think Feller is tougher and meaner. One thing's for sure: It would make great television. With any luck their comments won't be what everyone remembers from this weekend. This was Bid McPhee's time to shine and nothing Pete Rose can say or do can take away from that.

    With all that the Yankees are giving up in trades, has their system in your opinion slipped down a few spots?

    Gerald Paradine

The Yankees have now traded four of the players from their Top 10 Prospects list (No. 3 Drew Henson, No. 5 Jackson Melian, No. 6 Ed Yarnall and No. 10 Jake Westbrook) and two others (No. 1Nick Johnson and No. 4 D'Angelo Jimenez) haven't played all season due to injury. That's a significant hit to the system.

The Yankees, however, continued their aggressive approach in the international market, adding Cuban righthander Adrian Hernandez and Taiwanese righthander Chien-Ming Wang to the organization this year. Hernandez has climbed to Triple-A Columbus after starting at Class A Tampa and Wang is pitching at short-season Staten Island. Both are likely to appear on next year's Top 10 for New York.

Shortstop Deivi Mendez, who signed last July, made his pro debut this summer and is hitting .298 with 13 doubles and two homers in 114 at-bats in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He's only 17 and is several years away from New York, but he's got a chance to become a Top 10 guy.

Lefthanders Randy Keisler and Alex Graman have had strong seasons, as has righthander David Walling. That the Indians didn't choose Keisler in the Justice deal speaks to how much they like righthander Zach Day. If it were me picking.

If Johnson and Jimenez are able to come back strong, this is still an organization with a lot of talent. It's not where it was before all of the trades, but the Yankees should still be somewhere near the top when we rank the minor league talent next spring.

    My question involves Mariners prospect Juan Silvestre, currently playing for the Class A Lancaster JetHawks. I knew quite a bit about Pineiro, Chris Snelling, Bloomquist, etc., but had never heard of this guy. How good is he and what do you see in his future?

    Summerland22@aol.com

Silvestre is a 22-year-old Dominican who has always shown good power but was viewed as a defensive liability until this season. Over the winter he worked a lot on his play in the outfield and the Mariners have seen a vast improvement.

He's progressed with the bat as well, and has already surpassed last year's total of 107 RBIs (at Class A Wisconsin). This season at high Class A Lancaster, Silvestre is hitting .325 with 23 homers and 109 RBIs, all in 90 games.

The outfield is a definite weakness for the Mariners and Silvestre should get a shot in Seattle eventually. The organization seems content to let him move at a level per year for now and he'll most likely move to Double-A New Haven next season.

    Where does a player like the Tigers' Adam Bernero come from? Why wasn't he drafted? Can he be considered a prospect?

    Rick Kaufman

Bernero was drafted--twice, in fact. Once out of high school and once out of Sacramento City College, in 1996. But he didn't sign either time and went on to Armstrong Atlantic State (Ga.) College. He missed a season due to injury and was passed on in the draft in 1997 and '98. The righthander then signed before the 1999 draft as a fifth-year senior eligible.

The 23-year-old Bernero is a guy who doesn't throw real hard, which means he doesn't light up the guns for scouts. He reminds you of the adage that stuff can get a guy signed, but it takes performance to move up. He just keeps performing well at every stop because he knows how to pitch.

There are three important components in pitching: location, movement and velocity. Most pitching coaches would probably rank them that way in order of importance. A guy who tops out at 88-89 mph might not seem sexy, but if he gets batters out he's getting the job done. Bernero is getting batters out.

It's not uncommon for an injury to cause a player to slip through the draft. If scouts don't have a chance to see someone in the spring, they're not likely to turn them in as a draft prospect. Naturally, the teams want to see how a player looks when he's healthy before they sign him. Once he is healthy he could be just as much of a prospect as most of the drafted players.

Bernero has proven that he should be considered a prospect at this point. If you're interested in reading more about him, we just happen to have a story on Bernero in the new issue.

    Arizona State had a senior lefthanded pitcher this year named Will Waldrip. He may have been hurt this past season, because he threw a ton more innings last year than this year. He was a great high school player in my hometown of Flagstaff, Ariz., and we always thought he would definitely play pro ball. But I could not find him drafted anywhere this year. Can you tell me if he signed with any team after the draft, or if I missed him on some team's list?

    Dave King

Waldrip has not signed with any pro team. I asked John Manuel about him and he said he thought Waldrip was probably beginning a Mormon mission now that he's done with school, though that was just a hunch.

July 20, 2000

We've got a followup question (more like invitation) today on something I said last week, when I commented about how the Sally League was getting out of control. I didn't really have the time to go into any depth then, but since someone actually wrote in and asked for my grand plan, that's what you get today.

    OK, you are the minor league czar. You stated earlier you would divide the Sally and Midwest leagues into three 10-team leagues. OK, how would you do that? What teams stay in the Sally and MWL? What teams go into the MidEast League or whatever you want to call it?

    David

Since David has put me in charge of minor league realignment, I'm not stopping with the Midwest and Sally Leagues. I'm messing with the whole thing.

Before I get into the details, I tried to stick to a few rules in playing god (or czar) of the minors. One, I tried not to take teams away from cities, no matter how poor their attendance, with the exception of the Florida State League. Two, no new teams in markets already taken by independent league teams, though in reality that won't likely stand in anyone's way. And three, market size and geography were the two big factors in the realignment.

By the way, there's a lot of shuffling here and the teams are on their own to find new affiliates. With most PDCs up this offseason, that shouldn't be too much of a problem. If they need help with that later, I'll see what I can do.

Triple-A

First off, I'd really like to go back to three leagues here. I can't stand the 16-team behemoths like the Pacific Coast League. But since they just broke the American Association up a couple of years ago, I'll leave this be for the most part. The PCL stays the same, with the name changing to the North America League to represent better just how ridiculously spread out the whole thing is. The International League loses Toledo, which drops down a couple of classifications as a punishment for drawing such poor crowds. Akron, the attendance king of the Eastern League, moves in to replace Toledo. Ottawa, which drew a paltry 195,979 fans last year, really should have been dropped down, but there was no logical place to put it, and without a team in Canada the league wouldn't be international any more. I guess they'll have to think about that if someone ever gets around to moving Ottawa, but for now the Lynx stay put.

Double-A

The Texas League is immune from all the change, because none of its markets would fit logically in any other league, except the North America League, which will take anyone.

A new team in Baton Rouge enters the Southern League, replacing Orlando, which is dropped to the Florida State League because the Rays draw just like an FSL club. Otherwise, no changes here.

The new world order hits the Eastern League pretty hard as five of its markets are replaced. Akron, of course, graduated to Triple-A. Erie will move to the new high Class A league to be discussed later. And Binghamton, New Britain and New Haven will move to the New York-Penn League, with Hudson Valley and Lowell, Mass., jumping up to the EL. Springfield, Mass., which has been an expansion candidate for years, finally gets one as the EL just nudges out the Northern League to secure the market. (I know said I wouldn't mess with markets already taken by the indies, but Springfield is open as of now. And if they had a shot at an EL team, they'd probably be willing to back out of any agreement with the other guys.) Also joining the new EL are Lakewood, N.J., which never was intended to fit in the South Atlantic League, and Wilmington, Del., the Carolina League's northernmost member and attendance leader.

New Alignment: EL North: Hudson Valley, Lowell, Norwich, Portland, Springfield, Trenton. EL South: Altoona, Bowie, Harrisburg, Lakewood, Reading, Wilmington.

Advanced Class A

Nothing's sacred here but the California League, which doesn't get messed with because it already makes sense. They get extra points for having all of their teams actually within the state for which the league is named. Minor tinkering is necessary with the troubles in Stockton, etc., but they can figure that out on their own.

The Carolina League will have a new look. We're talking expansion here, boosting the circuit from eight teams all the way up to 12. With the loss of Wilmington, Del., we need five new markets and they are: Charleston, S.C., Delmarva, Hagerstown, Hickory and Wilmington, N.C. Hagerstown doesn't meet the expected attendance criteria, but it doesn't really fit too well in the Sally League with the new "no two-day long bus rides" policy. So it's moving to the Carolina League and will be encouraged to boost attendance by inviting the Chicken to town at least once a month.

New Alignment: CL North: Delmarva, Frederick, Hagerstown, Lynchburg, Potomac, Salem. CL South: Charleston, Hickory, Kinston, Myrtle Beach, Wilmington (N.C.), Winston-Salem.

You were expecting the Florida State League next? Well, you'll have to wait until we get to the low Class A leagues. Yes, the FSL has been reclassified. Its replacement in the high A world is the all-new, eight-team Ohio Central League. Dayton, Kane County, Lansing and West Michigan have proven they deserve to move up by dominating the Midwest League in attendance, so they will move here. Erie and Toledo, as mentioned before, both drop down from higher classifications, while Mahoning Valley moves up from the New York-Penn League, where it dominated attendance last year. The eighth team will be the new SAL club in Lexington, Ky., a city that is neither Southern nor Atlantic.

Alignment: OCL East: Erie, Lansing, Mahoning Valley, Toledo. OCL West: Dayton, Kane County, Lexington, West Michigan.

Low Class A

In addition to losing four teams, the Florida State League has been dropped to low Class A. Kissimmee and St. Petersburg have been rumored to be on the chopping block anyway, so say goodbye to them. So long as well to Charlotte, Lakeland and Vero Beach. The arrival of Orlando from the Southern League puts the new league at 10 teams.

New Alignment: FSL East: Brevard County, Daytona, Jupiter, Orlando, St. Lucie. FSL West: Clearwater, Dunedin, Fort Myers, Sarasota, Tampa.

The Midwest League has also dropped to 10 teams. This was a simple procedure, with the four teams previously mentioned (Dayton, Kane County, Lansing, West Michigan) defecting to the Ohio Central League.

New Alignment: MWL East: Beloit, Fort Wayne, Michigan, South Bend, Wisconsin. MWL West: Burlington, Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Peoria, Quad City.

Finally, we've reached the league that started it all. The one league that doesn't seem to understand the concept of regional geography. Oh, South Atlantic League, look what you've caused. As punishment for getting so out of control, the Sally League has lost six teams, cutting it back to a reasonable 10. Gone are Charleston, S.C., Charleston, W.Va., Delmarva, Hagerstown, Hickory, Lakewood, Lexington and Wilmington, N.C. Two new markets, Montgomery, Ala., and Tallahassee, Fla., join the fray. All of the above movers have been mentioned already except for Charleston, W.Va., which is just too darned far away from the rest of the league. And as the league's worst existing draw (Cape Fear doesn't count since it's moving to Lakewood next year), it doesn't warrant any leniency. Charleston moves to the newly expanded 12-team Appalachian League.

New Alignment: SAL North: Asheville, Augusta, Capital City, Greensboro, Piedmont. SAL South: Columbus, Macon, Montgomery, Savannah, Tallahassee.

Short-season Leagues

As discussed earlier, the New York-Penn League made a few swaps with the Eastern League and lost Mahoning Valley to the Ohio Central League. Binghamton, New Britain and New Haven might find more success here, relative to their lower gate expectations.

New Alignment: McNamara: New Britain, New Haven, New Jersey, Pittsfield, Queens, Staten Island, Vermont. Pinckney-Stedler: Auburn, Batavia, Binghamton, Jamestown, Oneonta, Utica, Williamsport.

The Northwest and Pioneer leagues are fine just the way they are. Which leaves us only the Appalachian League to tinker with. Charleston, W.Va., hasn't done so well in the Sally League, but it would be a fine Appy League city. Blacksburg, Va., joins as an expansion city, boosting the league to 12 teams.

New Alignment: Appy East: Blacksburg, Burlington, Charleston, Danville, Martinsville, Pulaski. Appy West: Bluefield, Bristol, Elizabethton, Johnson City, Kingsport, Princeton.

July 19, 2000

We have a special Wednesday update to Ask BA this week, giving John Manuel a forum to present his view of the college ball vs. Rookie ball argument. Here it is:

    Comparing the level of pro ball to college baseball is extremely difficult, starting with the difference and bats and the difference in money. The first thing I'll say is college baseball, to me, is a lot more interesting because it matters who wins the games. Does anyone have a vested interest in Martinsville vs. Pulaski, or Ogden vs. Helena (where both teams are in the same organization)? That to me makes the intensity and quality of play--not necessarily the caliber--infinitely better in college baseball. Players dream of playing for LSU or USC. They don't dream of playing for Burlington, N.C.

    I'll also agree with James that any comparison of college ball to Double-A is a joke. There might be four or five players in the country who could step into Double-A in a good year, but not usually. Pat Burrell didn't play Double-A in his first pro year, and neither did Eric Munson, the first two college players picked in the draft in 1998 and 1999. The first picks in 2000, righthanders Adam Johnson and Justin Wayne, have both been sent to the Class A Florida State League.

    Pro teams aren't limited by anyone in how they acquire players, which college teams have to shoe-horn in a lot of lesser players onto teams (i.e., walk-ons and players who don't even want to play pro ball) onto their rosters. That said, I think you have to base any comparison on what college teams put out there for their weekend series, because that's what they are built for. If college coaches had to build their teams for six-seven games a week (and some do, in leagues in colder climates such as the Big 10, Big East and Missouri Valley), their clubs would look very different, with all of their scholarship money likely going to pitchers, instead of current rates of about 70 percent.

    Anyway, I think NCAA tournament teams at the Division I level would fare well in a three-game series against a low Class A team, and I think your top-echelon teams, such as LSU, Stanford, etc., will put up a fight in the Carolina League, Cal League and FSL. I think those teams would beat most of your Appy and Pioneer League teams. (Of course a manager in the Appy League would think it's better than college ball! He probably got turned down for a college job that would have paid a lot more and involved a lot less travel.)

    But over a full season of 50 games in the Appy League, with wood bats, the level of talent in Rookie ball is generally going to be higher than it is on a college team.

Basically, the biggest difference in the way John and I view the question is in defining it. I think in order to make a valid comparison the college team should come over and play a 68- or 76-game schedule like the Appy and Pioneer Leagues, with almost no days off. John wanted to bring the Rookie teams into the college environment, where they would play a big weekend series and maybe a meaningless midweek game or two. The college schedule obviously helps the thinner college teams, which don't have the pitching depth to play every day.

We both agree that we don't disagree by much, because we can see the other one's point. But what fun would things be if everyone agreed on everything all the time. This episode has hatched the idea for future point-counterpoint debates on Baseball America Online. So be on the lookout for more in-fighting, er, reasoned debate.

July 18, 2000

This could be a record for longest Ask BA, and there are just three questions today. If you happen to be interested in the topics, you like it because there's plenty for you to read. If you're not, well, see you Thursday.

    How would you judge the quality of play in a good college conference compared to professional rookie leagues?

    Dan Jensen
    Claremore, OK

I actually had this same conversation a couple of weeks ago with a manager in the Appalachian League. We seemed to be in agreement that the advanced rookie leagues (Appalachian and Pioneer--not the complex leagues) are on the whole probably slightly ahead of the top college conferences. It's possible that I could hear about this from a colleague or two down the hall, but I'll stick with my answer no matter what John Manuel says.

I've heard the argument that most college players who sign pro contracts debut in low Class A or short-season Class A leagues, so college ball must be the equivalent of A ball. (I've also heard that stretched to Double-A, but that's a complete joke.) It's not that simple. You have to factor in more than just the college juniors and seniors who sign contracts every year if you're going to make a valid comparison. Every college program includes freshmen and sophomores who are not as polished as the upper classmen, as well as a lot of players who will never play pro ball.

Of course, there are a lot of young talented players in advanced Rookie leagues that might not play every day in a top college program. They would likely be sitting the bench their first season or two in college, but they're in the lineup in the Rookie leagues and they're likely to make a few errors and have their share of struggles at the plate.

The raw rookies aren't the only ones out there, however, because many players in the Rookie leagues are actually college products, some from top programs that regularly reach Omaha. Each team in the Appy League is allowed twelve 21-year-olds, while each Pioneer League team is entitled to 17. So you have several teams out there, especially in organizations that have a complex league in addition to an advanced Rookie club, that field lineups that regularly include 4-5 college players. There are a lot of juco players on the rosters as well.

One concession to make in favor of the colleges is there are no Jason Youngs or Justin Waynes in the Rookie leagues. Those guys skip right past. But there aren't really too many pitchers like that in college, either.

Most colleges are lucky to have one guy like that, typically their Friday starter. College teams generally play three big games a week, plus one or two nonconference games. Their pitching staffs are set up for a three-man rotation, with each starter throwing once a week. For the purpose of this argument try to adapt an imaginary college team to the world of everyday play and you'll see that their pitching staffs thin out in a hurry. The starters would no longer be throwing 130 pitches a game, so they'd need to get into that vulnerable bullpen.

Outside of slipping a couple of college teams into the Pioneer League there's really no way to settle the debate for sure, but that's what makes it a fun theoretical argument. Thanks for the question, Dan.

    I was curious as to why your publication does not cover junior college baseball. I play junior college baseball in Tampa. The pitchers that we faced this year threw harder than most of the pitchers in the College World Series. I throw 94 mph, but due to the chance to sign as a freshman or sophomore, I opted for junior college.

    Many people think junior colleges are for players with a lower skill level. In fact, junior college is a haven for draftees who don't sign. I was just wondering if there was a reason that you choose not to cover junior college. Even if you didn't cover it regularly, a list of top Juco players or some articles would definitely give people the right idea about it. Just because I don't attend a big school, which I will after my two years of Juco, I don't think that I should be slighted attention when I am as good as or better than many of the players named in your magazine.

    ThrowHeat2020@aol.com

The reason we don't cover junior college ball in any depth boils down to resources. We simply don't have the manpower to do it. We have two college writers who focus primarily on Division I schools, because that's where the majority of our reader interest seems to lie.

With our relatively small staff, we rely heavily on correspondents to cover different levels of baseball for us. For example, we have a correspondent for each minor league, each major league team, each foreign league, etc. But we can't set up a similar operation with the small colleges, because there's just no one out there who covers them in any detail.

It would be nice to see that change in the coming years, because there's a lot of good baseball being played at non-DI schools and there are a lot of pro prospects out there. Don't take it as a personal slight that we don't give you or your school any coverage. We know you're out there. We just don't have the resources to cover everything.

    My son played baseball for our recreation dept. in our small town. He sat on the bench more than he played. He's 9, in his first year of playing. He attended all scheduled practices. Most of the boys on his team have played for years, with the exception of my son and another little boy. These two boys sat on the bench most of all games.

    My problem is it's recreation where all children should be treated fairly and be able to play. They didn't have to try out or meet certain requirements to make the team. It isn't a private team. I think it should be more about child development, than winning. Baseball in my little town is politics, on the Who's Who of baseball. You would think it's the professionals playing out there.

    I am a lover of baseball myself, but not with playing for the recreation dept. My rec dept says they agree, so we'll see if they do anything, or make any changes for next year. I would love to hear your comments or suggestions.

    Connie Pitts
    Eatonton, Ga.

I guess I can answer this with perspective of both the kid who rode the bench in Little League and a coach who occasionally had a semi-regular bench squad.

It's disappointing to see kids as young as 9 being stuck on the bench consistently. It's easy to understand why so many kids give up on team sports at an early age. It is supposed to be about fun, especially in the early years, and it's not much fun for a kid to be the designated bench warmer at 9 years old.

Like many other rabid baseball fans out there, I was not the most gifted player in cleats in my Little League days. I only played organized baseball for two years, when I was 12-13. I was well behind most of the other boys having started so late, but my first year I didn't do too badly because the league I played in dropped me down a level to play with mostly younger kids. I did pretty well that year, pitching and playing just about everywhere, including shortstop--as a lefty. Not that there were many 6-4-3 double plays turned on a regular basis.

My second year, was a different story. Little League is set up so 13-year-olds move to the big diamond and I had to jump basically two levels, because I was behind the year before. I generally got my two innings and one at-bat and felt lucky if I could coach first base after that.

The reality of youth sports is that in most cases the children who are not as talented are not going to play as much. That's not really fair, but it's the way life works, especially as kids get older. It's a shame that it would already be the case with 9-year-old kids, because I'd have to guess that in most cases there isn't that much difference between the talent level of the boys out there.

Two things are likely to happen when kids become the designated bench warmer at that age: one, they won't improve as much as the other boys and fall further behind, or two, they'll quit playing. And the shame of that is, that since some kids are just late bloomers, perhaps they'll give up on a sport before they might have otherwise caught up to their peers.

Perhaps what youth sports needs is a level for kids who just aren't quite as good as the others. It might seem like a stigma to be in the lesser league, but if the tradeoff is a comfortable environment for kids to learn and have fun, I think I wouldn't mind my child playing there. I should have been in a league like that myself. Not all kids are going to make the varsity team in high school, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't enjoy playing.

I don't want to make this sound like I think every coach out there who doesn't split the playing time up evenly is a bad person. There are surely some that play favorites, but there can be more to it than that. I have to confess there were certain kids on our teams that got more bench time than others. We were coaching 13- and 14-year-olds, and by that age there is a bigger difference in ability level. We tried not to base our decisions strictly on that, however.

Attitude and enthusiasm were more important than ability in deciding playing time for us. A big part of a kid's attitude is desire, and there were a couple of kids I can remember that didn't have much of that. They were really not very good ballplayers, but they didn't really seem to want to improve, either. After three months of practice they'd still prefer to let a fly ball drop in front of them and pick it up and throw it in then try to catch it. They'd still prefer not to swing the bat when it was their turn to hit. And it's hard to feel like a child that's not making much effort during the game deserves to take playing time away from a child that plays like he really loves to play.

Sometimes I wondered when I was coaching if some of the kids who were out there even wanted to be there. Or if they went out for baseball because their parents thought it would be a good way for them to make friends or just interact with other kids. There were definitely a few that seemed to have no interest in playing the game.

So before you get upset that your child is not playing much, ask him if he really wants to. It's possible he doesn't like playing at all and is just doing it because you suggested it.

It's also possible that he loves to play, and he's just as disappointed as you are that he's not getting his fair share of playing time. If that's the case, I'd strongly suggest seeking out a new team for him. If you're in a small town it might be difficult to find other options. But if you know other parents who are disappointed with their children's opportunities, perhaps you can help organize a couple of teams for kids who just want to play and haven't been getting the chance in the existing leagues. Then you can create an environment where participation and fun are stressed over winning, and in the end your child is likely to improve his skills more that way.

July 14, 2000

Once again we got off schedule with Ask BA this week. I was busy up north, first attending my cousin's wedding, then the Triple-A all-star game in Rochester. It was nice to get away for a few days, but nice to be back as well.

I was the natural choice to cover the all-star game for us because my father lives up in Rochester and that meant I could visit my family and get some work done at the same time. My father has lived up there for 20 years now and I've been there nearly a hundred times, but I think I gained a new appreciation for the city of Rochester this week. They did a first-class job hosting the game and I can't imagine how much better things could be at a major league event.

Tuesday, the day before the game, they held the skills competitions at Frontier Field and allowed fans a great opportunity to get autographs and allow the media access to the players and coaches. As nice as that was, however, the most impressive part of the whole trip for me was the All-Star Gala held that evening at the George Eastman House. For those not familiar with Eastman, he was the founder of Kodak and a renowned philanthropist for whom several things in Rochester are named. I had never been to the Eastman House before, but I am quite sure I will go back. It's huge, it's stocked with early 1900s furnishings to be authentic to the era in which it was built, and it's surrounded by beautiful gardens. Throughout the house are numerous museum displays on photography as well as Eastman and the early days of the Kodak company. The next time you visit Rochester for that hot Red Wings-Mudhens matchup, make time to go check it out some afternoon.

The other big highlight for me as far as the game went, was just meeting various people up there. That's always one of the best things about these kind of events, especially when you can put a face with a name that you've been dealing with already.

In the spirit of the all-star game, let's start off our questions today with one on an International League all-star.

    What do you think about Danny Peoples? He has had a good first half putting up some pretty good numbers. Do you think the Indians will bring him up for the pennant chase? Is there a place for him in Cleveland?

    Thanks,
    Matt Jahn
    Milwaukee, WI

Peoples is looking this year like the kind of prospect the Indians envisioned when they drafted him in 1996. And he's probably better than many others envisioned when the Indians took him. At the time Peoples was regarded as a signability pick. The Tribe had had difficulty signing its previous two first-rounders (David Miller and Jaret Wright) and worked out a predraft deal with Peoples for $400,000 as the No. 28 pick in the draft.

The Indians immediately moved Peoples from first to third base, the opposite direction that most young position-switchers move. They later tried him in the outfield for a couple of seasons before returning him to first base, which is where he has played all year this year.

There are two signs that to me indicate Peoples will get a shot in the big leagues, most likely next spring. One is the fact that he's found consistency and cut down on his strikeouts. He's batting .296 with 15 homers and 52 RBIs for Buffalo and has drawn 39 walks against 66 strikeouts. The other sign was the Dave Justice trade. Obviously that didn't impact Peoples' situation immediately, but I think it will prove to be the first of a chain of moves that will result in some younger players landing in Jacobs Field.

I think Peoples with either be one of the young players to get a shot there, or he'll be included in one of the upcoming deals. Will his name be added to the list of Indians trade regrets that includes Jeromy Burnitz, Sean Casey and Brian Giles? It's possible, but if Cleveland decides it needs to deal to make a postseason run, that might be a chance they take.

I had the opportunity to talk with Peoples up in Rochester and he said he was surprised when Justice was traded, but it's not really his nature to pay too much attention to what's going on in Cleveland when he needs to focus on what's happening in Buffalo. He's got the maturity a team would hope for in a younger player (25) and a great attitude about baseball. I expect he will become the next solid young hitter to emerge from the Indians system. If you want to read more about him, check out the Triple-A All-Star Notebook.

    I keep hearing the high Class A Florida State League will go from 14 to 12 teams, and two teams will be added to the South Atlantic League in an attempt to keep a balance of High A and Low A teams. I understand it's supposed to happen after the 2000 season. So who's moving? I hear Vero Beach, but they have so much tradition at Dodgertown. And I keep hearing Kissimmee, the Houston affiliate--but they took the league title in '99. I also hear rumblings that one of the two may entice St. Pete to leave because two teams must go to keep things even. Everything's still up in the air, but can you shed any light on what's going on?

    Jaxen11@aol.com

The strongest contenders still appear to be Kissimmee and either Vero Beach or St. Petersburg. There might be a lot of tradition in Vero Beach, but it's for the major league spring training much moreso than the FSL club. And if the Dodgers can look past that and consider moving their spring training facility west then their FSL affiliate is hardly sacred. And I hate to break it to you, but Kissimmee's league title means nothing as far as all of this is concerned. They may have finished first on the field, but they were dead last at the gate, drawing 33,789 fans in 1999. Of course, if you added all of those fans to the gate count up the road in Orlando, the Rays would just have edged out Knoxville, playing in its final season at Smokies Park last year to escape the attendance cellar in the Double-A Southern League. That's not much of a market for minor league baseball and title or no title, that's one of the easier choices the leagues face.

Of course, I'm not a fan of the 16-team look in the South Atlantic League. Had John Henry Moss asked me (maybe he did during his speech at the Sally League all-star game, but like everyone else I fell asleep) I'd have strongly suggested dividing the Midwest and South Atlantic leagues into three 10 team circuits. What is the point of having a league so large that you don't play half of the teams? That's what they are likely to do next year in the Sally League, with teams only playing against others in their division.

We did a big story a few years ago on how the minor leagues would stack up if it were up to us, and it's almost time to dust that off and tinker around with it a little. There's just no way that it makes sense to have teams from New Jersey and Kentucky joining what is no longer the "South Atlantic" League. Their answer to the Savannah to Lakewood, N.J., road trip is to save it for the playoffs, if necessary. Mine would be more along the lines of reclassifying teams from certain leagues to create better geographical fits. Ever notice how every minor league--with the exception of the International and Pioneer leagues--is named for a geographical region? There's are a couple of reasons for that, the chief ones being time and money. Next time you see a minor leaguer, ask him if he prefers a four-hour bus ride or a 12-hour bus ride. His answer should coincide with that of any minor league GM, because the longer trips cost more money.

I'm not one to call for a shakeup just for the sake of change, but it's time for Minor League Baseball to take a good hard look at the way their leagues are set up and think about a reorg. And if it's tradition some people are trying to hold onto, I think you could make a strong argument that traditional minor league baseball would involve less sprawl and more evenly matched markets. That seems to be precisely what we are getting away from.

    I'm a longtime Pirate fan but I was asleep at the switch for this one. I seem to recall that in the early-90s Pittsburgh lost two top prospects (Wes Chamberlain and someone else) because they were accidentally put on waivers and claimed by the Phillies. If one of the players was Chamberlain, who was the other ? And what exactly happened ? I haven't been able to find out the specifics anywhere. I hope you can help.

    Sincerely,
    D.Harrel

At the end of August in 1990, the Pirates made a mistake that looked at the time like it would prove costly for a long while. General manager Larry Doughty asked waivers on outfielder Wes Chamberlain and Julio Peguero, intending to withdraw them if the players were claimed. As you may know, after the July 31 trading deadline, any player who is dealt must first clear waivers. It is common for teams to place nearly their entire roster on waivers, simply pulling back the players who are claimed by other teams.

The problem for Doughty was that the waivers he asked on his top two outfield prospects happened to be irrevocable, meaning he was unable to pull them back. Once the Pirates realized their mistake, they tried to make the best of it. Doughty worked out a deal with the Phillies, where Chamberlain and Peguero were sent to Philadelphia for outfielder Carmelo Martinez. The Pirates were in first place at the time, and Martinez was a handy bat to add to their roster. Still, it wasn't a deal Doughty would have made under normal circumstances.

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, one now would wonder why all the fuss over two outfielders who never did much in the big leagues, but at the time they were highly rated young players.

    In Baseball America's [Early] Draft Preview, James Jurries is listed as ranked 47th among the possible college draft picks. He was drafted in 1998 by the Cleveland Indians in the 34th round. He played second base for Tulane and was a second-team All-American [in 1999]. How come he did not get drafted or did I just overlook him in the draft?

    tmack76@hotmail.com

That preview was done before the season started, and Jurries had such a struggle this year that his stock dropped significantly this spring. He didn't get his offense going until the tail end of the season, and he had enough troubles defensively that he was moved to the outfield. With him draft-eligible as a sophomore I think most teams probably figured he was likely to return to school for a third season and just didn't bother spending a pick on him. One would have to expect he will be a different player next spring, because he's certainly capable of more than he showed this year.

By the way, we now have available a search feature for this year's draft list, so you can look up anyone you're curious about if you didn't see where they went. (And don't ask about the search feature for the stats. That's still a sore subject. We hope to someday bring that back, but no promises on how soon that will happen.)

July 6, 2000

With the release of the All-Star Game rosters yesterday I half expected to be flooded with e-mail from people wondering why one of their local favorites was left off the team. But you know what, we didn't get a single question about the reserves. I guess that must mean they actually did a pretty fair job picking the teams this year.

The only e-mail I can even remember on the subject came in about a week ago from someone upset that Cal Ripken was voted in ahead of a more deserving Troy Glaus. I agree there. If the sentiment exists to honor some longtime all-stars like Ripken, it would be more appropriate to do so as a reserve. But I have to hand it to the fans this year, other than Ripken, there can be a strong case made for every player voted into the starting lineup. And hats off for the Jermaine Dye selection. Not that I'm a big Jermaine Dye fan, but it just shows someone is paying a little attention when a player from Kansas City gets voted in. Next year everyone get together and try to work on a Twin. That would be something.

Don't forget about the other all-star game this weekend, the Futures Game. We'll have coverage of that right here on Sunday, and it will be shown live on ESPN2 at 3 p.m. Here's a Futures Game question to get us started today.

    I noticed that the original roster from last year's Futures Game had to be retooled a few times because players like Octavio Dotel were called up to the majors. Is that the reason that more Class A and Double-A talent is on this years roster or is it that the bulk of minor league talent is at the lower levels right now.

    Jonathan
    Virginia Beach

You can chalk it up to coincidence this year if there seem to be more younger players in the Futures Game than there were last year. Even still, we didn't get off easy with the moves. There were four roster changes made today. White Sox righthander Jon Garland and Diamondbacks righthander Geraldo Guzman had to be replaced because they were promoted to the big leagues, while Twins second baseman Luis Rivas (cut hand) and Cardinals outfielder William Ortega (sprained ankle) were both injured. White Sox lefthander Mark Buehrle, Astros lefthander Wilfredo Rodriguez, Twins second baseman Ruben Salazar and Cardinals outfielder Luis Saturria were named as replacements.

    I noticed that the Braves have two relievers having outstanding seasons in Class A Myrtle Beach: Brad Voyles and Billy Sylvester. Sylvester has given up a combined 29 hits and walks this year in 42 innings pitched while striking out 43, and Voyles has given up 26 hits and walks combined in 34 innings pitched while striking out 36. Are these guys for real? Their stats sure do make it seem like it. Whats up?

    Atlanta Jim

Sylvester and Voyles teamed up last year at low Class A Macon and pitched well, but that was nothing compared to what they're doing this year. Sylvester is now 3-0 with a 0.64 ERA and 15 saves and Voyles is 3-2, 0.53 with 12 saves. They've given up a combined 25 hits in 76 innings. That's just sick.

Both are 23-year-old righthanders. The 6-foot-5, 218-pound Sylvester signed as a nondrafted free agent in 1997 out of Spartanburg Methodist (S.C.) JC. Voyles was drafted in the 45th round in 1998 out of Lincoln Memorial (Tenn.) University.

Relief pitchers in the minor leagues play an interesting role. They are nearly always overlooked as prospects because most organizations keep their top young arms in the rotation. Even pitchers who are being groomed as future closers often spend at least a season or two in the rotation, just to get their innings in.

For a pitcher, especially a late-round draftee or nondrafted player, to advance to the big leagues he needs to keep getting hitters out at every stop. So far, Sylvester and Voyles have done that--and a little more this year.

    What are the chances some big league team picks Ryan Halla up? He's currently dominating in a closer role for the Elmira Pioneers of the independent Northern League. He's a big kid (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) and his numbers are awesome. He was a starter in college (Auburn) and for the Pirates farm system before they let him go. Any chance he'll get a nod from a team in need of closer prospects?

    Thanks,
    John

Halla was actually a reliever in the Pirates organization, making 118 appearances in three minor league seasons at the Class A level. He had a strong debut in 1997, going 1-1 with a 1.75 ERA in 32 games at Augusta, but he wasn't quite as successful in two seasons at Lynchburg and the Pirates released him in spring training.

At Elmira this year, Halla is 0-2 with a 0.92 ERA and 15 saves in 19 appearances. He's struck out 29 and walked seven in 19 2/3 innings. If he keeps this up all summer, he will almost certainly get signed by some major league organization and given another shot next spring at winning a job.

The thing is, most teams aren't going to give Halla a serious look as a potential major league closer, because he doesn't throw very hard. When you talk about him getting a shot as a closer prospect understand that someone might sign him to close for one of their farm clubs, but if he gets the job done there and advances, he'd be much more likely to be a set-up guy in the big leagues. Most teams want someone who throws smoke coming out for the ninth inning. They also like to have guys in the minor leagues who can close games out. But there is often very little correlation between what a team looks for in a closer in the minors and what they are looking for in the big leagues.

    I see the red and white emblem "HA-LO" in the dugouts of many stadia. I have no idea what it means and it's always been one of those little things that bother me. Any help? Advertisement for a company I've never heard of? Some kind of bizarre, inside baseball cult thing?

    Thanks.
    Mike Koblish

I, too, have wondered about this mysterious HA-LO. I figured it was more than just the Angels fan club, but I really had no idea what it was. Fortunately, every company in America now has a Website, and most of them you can find just by typing in the company's name. I tried www.ha-lo.com and lo and behold, there it was.

HA-LO is, as near as I can tell, a big-time consulting company that works with businesses to organize events, sponsorships, retail operations and a lot of other stuff. If you want to know more you can try to figure it out for yourself by checking out their site.

The bigger question for me is, does that kind of advertising work? If all anyone sees is your logo, and they have no idea what you do or what you're selling, how effective can that be? Heck, it's not cheap to advertise in a major league stadium, let alone all 30 of them. I'm not really a business shark (though I was briefly--very briefly--enrolled as a business major in college before thankfully switching to communication), but advertising sometimes fascinates me in a way. Just trying to figure out exactly how it works and why some people would think certain types of ads would work makes an interesting study. We're so inundated with ads of every type that it's second nature to tune most of them out. Do they really seep through? Are you likely to even act upon your curiosity and try to figure out what some mysterious company is selling as in the case of HA-LO, or will you just ignore their omnipresent ads? If not for this question, I'd have continued to simply ignore them as I'd guess most of the rest of you would. At least until they started slapping their logo across the front of the jerseys.

July 5, 2000

I hope everyone enjoyed a safe and entertaining Independence Day yesterday. There was plenty of baseball on TV, and I caught some of that, but my baseball highlight was a trip to my summertime haunt over in Burlington. Saw some first-round picks, some fireworks, some rain. What more could you ask for?

Rocco Baldelli, the Devil Rays' first-round pick, looked good, showing off a strong arm and running the bases well. The first thing that strikes you when you see him is how thin he is, his legs especially. Corey Smith, on the other hand, is pretty well built. The Indians' first-rounder has shown flashes of great athleticism, but for now his range at third base is not too impressive. With his natural ability, though, I'm sure that will improve over time.

We had a nice conversation with a parent of one of the other Indians players during the last few innings of the game. Tim Finnerty, the father of Burlington third baseman Francis Finnerty, had driven up from Florida just to watch last night's game. He was planning to get back on the interstate after spending a little bit of time visiting with his son after the game. That's a lot of car time for one ballgame. And the bummer is if he had gotten there a night earlier he'd have seen his son go 4-for-4 with a couple of home runs.

I guess that's one of the things I like the best about the lower levels of the minor leagues. It's still a big family thing for a lot of the players. The parents come out as frequently as they can to see their boys in action and you know for most of those kids it probably means a lot, too. No young man out on his own for the first time really wants to admit it too much, but it's nice to have your folks around occasionally to cheer you on.

And in most cases the parents are great people to talk with. We get the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people at games: scouts, players, reporters, etc., but in many cases the parents are the most fun to talk to. Most of them love to talk about their son for some reason, too.

Anyway, that's how I spent my Fourth of July. I hope Tim made it back to Florida safely and I'm sure I'll see him again in Burlington before the season's over.

Now, here's today's column that would have run yesterday if it hadn't been a national holiday.

    I'm a big White Sox fan and recently they demoted Kip Wells after he struggled in his first full major league season. What usually happens when guys with talent like that aren't successful in their first major league season and what do you think will happen with Kip?

    Thanks,
    Andrew

It's not unusual for a good major league pitcher to struggle in his first big league shot. In fact, it's almost more uncommon for them not to. Wells had 25 minor league starts under his belt when he made his major league debut last year. He's been up and down a couple of times this year, and he still has a few things to learn. But he can take solace with the company he's keeping.

Greg Maddux went 2-4 with a 5.52 ERA for the Cubs in a late-season callup in 1986. The following season he was 6-14 with a 5.61 ERA and earned not one, but two return tickets to Triple-A Iowa that August. He's rebounded nicely.

After going 3-0, 2.42 in a four-start trial at the end of the 1988 season, Randy Johnson began 1989 in the Expos rotation. After an 0-4, 6.67 start he was sent to Triple-A Indianapolis. Less than a month later he went to the Mariners in what was then known as the Mark Langston trade.

Yankees relief ace Mariano Rivera was sent back to Triple-A Columbus after a 1-2, 10.20 showing in a one-month trial in New York in 1995. He returned later in the season and posted a 5-3, 5.51 record overall in 19 appearances for the Yankees.

Astros righthander Shane Reynolds was brutalized in eight major league appearances in 1992, going 1-3 with a 7.11 ERA. He looked so bad the Astros let him spend nearly the entire 1993 season in the minors, as he made just five big league appearances that year. In 1994 he was back in Houston for good.

Jose Lima, who lest we forget was good only last year, had a difficult time breaking into the big leagues. He made 15 starts with the Tigers in 1995, going 3-9 with a 6.11 ERA. He started the following season at Triple-A Toledo, then bombed in another big league trial early in the season, going 0-4, 8.02 in five games. He came back to the major leagues in July and pitched in the bullpen for the rest of the season, finishing with a 5-6, 5.70 record.

So don't worry too much about Wells. He seems like he's got good enough makeup to handle the temporary disappointment of getting shipped out once or twice. And he's got the ability to put things together for the White Sox before too much longer. But they're just not in a position to be too patient with a struggling pitcher right now, because they're concentrating on winning their division.

    Greg Wooten of New Haven has been unbelievable this year, with six walks in 103 innings, to go along with a 10-2 record, 2.61 ERA, and three shutouts. Has his control always been that good? Given that he's in his mid-20s, does he figure into the Mariners' long-term plans? Any word on when he'll get promoted to Tacoma? It seems like he has nothing more to prove at Double-A ball, and I'd love to see a guy who can throw strikes that well trotting out of the M's bullpen some day soon.

    Thanks,
    Lior

Wooten has generally shown good control throughout his career, but he's been ridiculous this season. Last year he walked 30 batters in 114 innings, which is on the slightly stingy side for a minor league pitcher. This year, however, he's gone to another level.

A third-round pick out of Portland State in 1995, Wooten underwent Tommy John surgery in 1998 and returned to action less than a year later. He's 26 now, and plenty ready for a jump to Tacoma. The problem is, the Rainiers already have more solid starters than they can fit in their rotation. Right now they are starting Ryan Anderson, Joel Pineiro, Kevin Hodges, Pat Ahearne and Ryan Franklin. Tom Davey has made 10 starts there as well, though he's now in the bullpen. Freddy Garcia is there on a rehab assignment, but is scheduled to start for Seattle on Friday. But his promotion likely means Robert Ramsay goes back to Tacoma. He could start or relieve. So there's not really room for Wooten right now, and he's likely to stay at New Haven until that changes.

Someone else sent in a question asking whether I thought the Mariners would try to deal someone like Pineiro, since they had too much pitching. I certainly don't think they would go out of their way to eliminate whatever pitching backlog they may have on the horizon, because you can never have too much pitching (ask the Indians or Yankees right now). But they might be willing to part with an arm at the end of the month if they feel like they need to do so to improve the major league team for the stretch drive.

    What do you think of Charleston first baseman Josh Pressley? I was pretty impressed looking at his numbers there; good average, almost a 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, only three homers but a huge number of doubles (which presumably will turn into homers as he matures). It's his second year there but he's just 20, so that doesn't seem like a big deal, although maybe it is. As I recall he was considered a first- or second-round talent when he was drafted but fell because of a college commitment. Anyway, is he a prospect?

    Alan
    St. Pete

Pressley is having an impressive year at Charleston, batting .312 with 31 doubles, three homers and 40 RBIs in 298 at-bats. Throw in 31 walks and 34 strikeouts and you have a kid who is driving the ball on a regular basis while showing some knowledge of the strike zone. Yeah, he's a prospect.

Pressley hit .243 with 22 doubles and nine homers at Charleston last year. Though he's repeating the league, he's still only 20, so that's not old for the competition he's facing by any means.

Coming out of Fort Lauderdale's Westminster Academy in 1998, Pressley was considered an early-round talent, but his commitment to Florida frightened some teams a little. The Devil Rays, however, didn't have a first-, second- or third-round pick because of free agent signings. So when Pressley was still on the board in the fourth round, they grabbed him, figuring he was the closest they could come to getting their own first-rounder. They were willing to take the gamble on his signability and less than a month later he signed for $750,000 and made his pro debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

    I've heard about the Diamondbacks Jerry Gil but I haven't seen him on any roster yet. I know he is very young and was the eleventh ranked prospect on the Diamondbacks but what is his potential and who would you most compare him to in the majors?

    Jon Mendez
    Secaucus, NJ

Gil is playing at Rookie-level Missoula, where he is hitting .174 with seven RBIs and 10 errors through 13 games. Gil, who signed for $767,500 last November, has drawn comparisons to the best shortstops in baseball, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. I haven't seen him play and I'm not sure I'd stick a tag like that on a 17-year-old kid anyway, so I don't have a comparison of my own for you.

The Diamondbacks think he will become quite a player, with a strong arm, good power and some speed. They had originally talked about starting him at Class A South Bend to open the season, but apparently thought better of it. It's probably just as well that he begins his career at Missoula.


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