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Baseball America's Daily Dish
Complete Daily Dish Archive

Compiled by Kevin Goldstein, Chris Kline and Matt Meyers
August 31, 2005

Of all the stories to come out of relievers with too much time on their hands, the Huntsville Stars deserve credit for originality.

Members of the Stars' bullpen started digging a hole. They ended up building a garden behind the right-field wall at Pringles Park in Jackson, Tenn., home of the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx. But not just any garden. It's a Zen garden, a sanctuary for pitchers and a memorial to baseball, says Alec Zumwalt, the Brewers righthander who has acted as the bullpen's de facto spokesman.

"It all started with a hole that Jerome Gamble dug, then we lined it with plastic and filled it up with water," Zumwalt wrote in an email. "One thing led to another and ideas started to fly. The next thing we knew, we had something special on our hands.

The West Tenn grounds crew helped maintain the garden between the Stars' visits, and provided the tools for them to build it in the first place. The pitchers added to the mood by writing quotations from books or movies on the rocks that form the garden's boundary. Perhaps the strangest quote was added by Jeff Winchester quoting Ivan Drago from Rocky IV in a very non-Zen-like moment: "If he dies, he dies."

Soon, the Stars came up with rules for entering, such as taking off your hat inside the ring of rocks; no tobacco or spitting; and show respect for the garden by helping keep and maintain it.

"It became a place to sit down and gather your thoughts before you pitch," Zumwalt said. "We joked around, wrote rules up there, throw a penny in for good luck, get ready and then go."

While Zumwalt refers to it as a Zen garden, he says there's no religious connotation, instead calling the area a shrine to baseball. "It's something not normal that you see at a baseball field," he said. "We thought it was hilarious and we got positive feedback on it and that's why we contacted people."

Sadly, Zumwalt has had to leave the garden behind. He’s been promoted to Triple-A Nashville, where he’s posted a 4.35 ERA in 10 innings. West Tenn has four more home games, against Mobile, for opposing pitchers to enjoy the garden.

The relievers involved have included Gamble, Winchester, Zumwalt, Matt DeWitt, Brett Evert, Andy Pratt, Gerrit Simpson, Keith Stamler, Mitch Stetter and Glenn Woolard, as well as reserve catcher John Vanden Berg.

--JOHN MANUEL and JOSH COOPER

DISH PIECES

• With all the devastation Hurricane Katrina caused throughout the Gulf Coast, initial indications are that there hasn't been significant damage to Triple-A New Orleans' Zephyr Field. While the affects of water damage is not yet known, the stadium sustained roof damage, but the parking lot is currently dry, and the scoreboard and all the light fixtures are intact. "There was peripheral damage to the stadium, but it could have been much worse," Pacific Coast League director of operations George King said. "We don't know the full extent of the damage yet, but all the structures remain intact." The Zephyrs finish out the season on the road, and several front-office employees accompanied the team on the bus trip to Oklahoma to avoid Katrina's path.

• The schedule makers also did an unexpected favor to Double-A Mobile, who also finishes out the season on the road. An eight-game road trip meant that the team rode out Hurricane Katrina safe and sound in Raleigh, N.C., far enough away to avoid even rain showers from the storm. "The eight-game road trip turned into an evacuation," BayBears radio announcer Tim Hagerty said. "You'd turn on the TV and think 'Oh shoot, I recognize all the places they are showing on CNN.' It was definitely an experience." The team extended its stay in Raleigh and cancelled its Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 home games, but returned to Mobile today so that the players could gather up their belongings before heading off to finish the season at West Tenn. While the games were cancelled, Hank Aaron Stadium rode out the storm relatively well. Some awnings were ripped away and the right-field fence has fallen onto the warning track, but the ballpark and the team's offices avoided any flooding and suffered no significant structural damage.

"When the schedule came out, it looked like your average August road trip, but it ended to be the perfect place to be," Hagerty said.

In the first of likely many moves on Arizona Fall League rosters, the Astros have replaced righthander Jason Hirsh on Surprise's roster, opting to send righthander Taylor Buchholz to get more innings under his belt instead. Hirsh is 13-8, 2.98 in 166 innings at Double-A Corpus Christi, while Buchholz is 6-0, 4.95 in 73 innings at Triple-A Round Rock.

• Also, it seems White Sox outfielder Ryan Sweeney's status for the AFL is in question. The 20-year-old has been playing in pain because of a stretched ligament in his wrist. He's hitting for average with Double-A Birmingham but didn't hit his first homer until Aug. 28, in his 395th at-bat. Outfielder Chris Young could be a possible replacement.

• Marlins outfielder Jeremy Hermida is still nursing a bone bruise in his left wrist, but could make his major league debut soon, according to the Miami Herald. Hermida was at Dolphins Stadium to have the wrist examined Tuesday by team doctors and later took batting practice. But there was no official indication whether Hermida would stay in South Florida when the rosters expand tomorrow. ''Your guess is as good as mine,'' Hermida told the paper. ''They just told me to come here and take it day by day.''

• Just when Gavin Floyd appeared to be righting the ship, things fell apart for the Phillies righthander Tuesday against Syracuse. Floyd allowed a first-inning, two-run homer to John-Ford Griffin en route to giving up eight earned runs on nine hits over just 4 1/3 innings in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's 8-2 loss to the Sky Chiefs. Griffin added two doubles--both against Floyd--going 3-for-4 with four RBIs in the game. Floyd is now 6-9, 6.16 in 137 innings. Over his last three starts, the 2001 first-rounder is 0-2, 9.60 with a 10-9 strikeout-walk ratio.

• Double-A Portland righthander Craig Hansen would have been called up to Boston tomorrow, except the club has shut him down until later this week with what GM Theo Epstein called a ''mild case" of dead arm, according to the Boston Globe. Hansen went nearly two months between pitching for St. John's and debuting with the Sox' Gulf Coast team in early August. ''We think it might be similar to the dead arm a lot of pitchers experience in spring training," Epstein told the paper.

Hansen hasn't pitched since Friday and is scheduled to begin throwing again sometime before the end of the week. ''If it was just dead arm, then we'll proceed as originally planned with him," Epstein said. ''But if it's something that lingers, then we'll be conservative and shut him down for the year."

• Twins lefthander Francisco Liriano was given the news yesterday that he will not be called up to Minnesota until possibly next week, but that didn't stop him from striking out 10 in a 3-2 loss to Buffalo. Still, Liriano allowed solo homers to outfielder Jason Dubois and catcher Dusty Wathan in the fifth inning as he fell to 9-2, 1.78 since being called up from Double-A New Britain.

• Double-A Jacksonville catcher Russ Martin had quite the night as the Suns swept a doubleheader from Carolina, and it was a night that Mudcats righthander Kevin Cave would like to soon forget. Martin hit a walk-off homer off Cave in the ninth inning of the opener in the Suns' 2-1 win, then Cave gave up a bases-loaded walk to Martin to end the nightcap, 3-2.

• High Class A Winston-Salem righthander Lance Broadway has his worst pro start Tuesday against Kinston, as the White Sox first-rounder this year allowed eight earned runs on eight hits over four innings. Broadway is now 1-2, 2.83 with 57 strikeouts in 50 innings. The White Sox have tried to limit his outings, throwing him every nine days since he finished his college season with a school-record 117 innings at Texas Christian.

"There are not too many 22 year olds out there that have ever thrown that many innings in a year," Warthogs manager Chris Cron told the Winston-Salem Journal. "At this point, we're looking out for his health, so we're throwing him every nine days instead of every four. We're skipping him every time for that reason."

• In the same game, Kinston righthander Nick Pesco won his third straight start, allowing two runs on nine hits over 5 1/3 innings with Indians farm director John Farrell looking on. It was Pesco's fourth win this season against Winston Salem, as he improved to 11-10, 3.88 in 148 innings overall. "He beat us again, and we'll face him again if we make the playoffs," Cron said. "The kid's got some real good stuff; we talk about it all the time about how we're going to approach him, but he seems to get that big pitch at crucial times."

• There is not much to be excited about if you are a Royals fan, but Justin Huber gives you something to look forward to. The Australian first baseman went 2-for-5 Tuesday with two home runs. The MVP of the 2005 Futures Game is now hitting .270/.370/.545 for Triple-A Omaha.

• The race for the minor league stolen-base title is heating up. The Mets' Carlos Gomez went 2-for-4 last night with three stolen bases to bring his season total to 62 in 84 attempts for low Class A Hagerstown. The 19-year-old trails the Dodgers’ Todd Donovan, who has 63 in 79 attempts, 60 of which came for Double-A Jacksonville.

• Royals center fielder Ethien Santana went off in Rookie-level Idaho Falls' 14-6 win against Ogden. Santana, a 22nd-round pick in 2004 out of Laredo (Texas) Community College, went 5-for-5 with a triple, a grand slam, five RBIs and five runs scored. The outburst raised Santana's batting average 17 points, from .293 to .310. He now has three homers, five triples and 23 RBIs in 210 at-bats in the Pioneer League this season. Santana also stole his 16th base of the year and was caught stealing for the 14th time.

• Rangers third baseman Johnny Whittleman, a second-rounder in June out of Kingwood (Texas) High, is still looking for his first professional home run, but he has shown some ability to hit for extra bases. Whittleman went 2-for-4 with a double, a triple and two RBIs in the Rookie-level Arizona League, giving him 12 doubles and eight triples in 190 at-bats. After hitting .360 in July, Whittleman has slumped in August, hitting just .198.

• While Rangers righthander Edison Volquez was making his major league debut yesterday, fellow righthander Thomas Diamond was delivering one of his best starts since earning a promotion to Double-A Frisco. The 2004 first-round pick allowing two runs on five hits over seven innings, striking out 10 in the RoughRiders’ 13-2 pounding of San Antonio on Tuesday. He’s 5-4, 4.96 in 13 Texas League starts, with 63 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings.

• Athletics catcher Kurt Suzuki went 2-for-4 with a double, his 11th home run and three RBIs in high Class A Stockton's 7-6 win over Modesto last night, continuing his hot streak. Suzuki has gone deep in three straight games while going 7-for-13 with six runs and seven RBIs, raising his season averages to .280/.385/.444 in 414 at-bats.

• Also hot in the California League is Rangers outfielder Anthony Webster. The 22-year-old, who is spending his second year in the Cal League, went 3-for-6 with a pair of doubles in high Class A Bakersfield's 5-4 win over Visalia on Wednesday--his sixth straight multi-hit game during which is batting .613 (19-for-31) to go with season totals of .300/.346/.465 in 480 at-bats.

• On the day he was named Florida State League MVP, Tigers outfielder Brent Clevlen proved why--hitting his 18th home run in high Class A Lakeland’s 5-4 win over Clearwater. The 2002 second-round pick, who hit just .223 for Lakeland last year, is batting .302/.388/.486 in 477 at-bats and leads the Florida State League in on-base percentage and RBIs (101).

• The A’s top two picks in 2005 continue to play big roles in low Class A Kane County's push for a playoff spot. Supplemental first-round pick Travis Buck was 3-for-5, while first-rounder Cliff Pennington was 1-for-1 with four walks and three runs in the Cougars 8-1 win over Southwest Michigan on Friday. Buck is now batting .366/.444/.515 in 101 Midwest League at-bats, while Pennington is batting .280/.372/.371 with 22 stolen bases in 63 games.

• Rangers righthander Michael Schlact fired seven shutout innings for the second consecutive start, allowing just two hits in low Class A Clinton's 7-0 whitewash of Burlington on Wednesday. A third-round pick in 2004 out of Wheeler High in Georgia, Schlact has allowed just three earned runs over his last 27 innings and is 10-7, 4.05 on the season.

• A 12th-round pick out of Florida Southern, Tigers outfielder Matt Joyce enjoyed a career game Tuesday night, going 6-for-6 with a home run, four runs scored and a pair of RBIs in short-season Oneonta’s 20-4 thrashing of Tri-City. The 21-year-old, who was 11-for-19 in the five games before last night’s outburst, is batting .336/.406/.453 in 57 games.

• The Giants' top two draft picks, outfielder Ben Copeland (fourth round) and righthander Daniel Griffin (fifth), each enjoyed strong performances as short-season Salem-Keizer thrashed Boise 16-3. Copeland put up three hits--including his fifth double and fourth home run--and totaled five RBIs. The multi-tooled athlete is batting .308/.364/.538, but is 0-for-1 on steals despite holding the season stolen base record at Pittsburgh. "He's a gap hitter now that looks like he'll have power later on," Boise manager Trey Forkerway said. "He's a good outfielder, a good runner, a good player." The 6-foot-7 Griffin, who led all NCAA pitchers with 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings at Niagara, recorded eight strikeouts for the third time in four starts. He allowed all three runs (two earned) over six innings while relying on two plus pitches: a low-90s fastball and a late-breaking 12-to-6 curveball. "When he's on, you just watch him--it doesn’t matter if it's a righthanded hitter or lefthanded, he just blows them away," Salem-Keizer manager Steve Decker said.

Contributing: J.J. Cooper, Aaron Fitt, Will Kimmey, Phil Rogers.

 
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