Try, Try Again

Isaac Hess will pick up his glove and head to the mound for the Victoria Seals, just as he has 11 times before.

It’s everything that had gone on since his last start that may make everything feel a little different.

Before pitching this time, Hess had to unpack all of his stuff. Because between starts, Hess had pitched in the all-star game, been signed by the Red Sox and eventually sent back to Victoria.

It all began when Hess headed to the Golden League all-star game in St George, Utah, on the heels of a 100-pitch outing just two days before. Because he had thrown so recently, he wasn’t supposed to pitch in the all-star game at all, but decided that it would be a way to show that he’s not slowed down by his artificial hip. Three quick outs later, having hit 91 mph on the radar gun, his contract was being purchased by the Red Sox.

But while everyone around him might have been celebrating, Hess wasn’t. He’d signed with the Padres during spring training, only to get a call later that day explaining that concerns about his hip had led the team to void his contract. The minute he threw his first pitch for a Red Sox farm team, Hess would celebrate, but until then, he was going to remain skeptical.

It was a smart decision. Hess’ contract was pending a physical. Red Sox flew him to Boston for a medical examination that Hess felt went well, but in the end the result was the same—concerns about potential long-term liability if his artificial hip gave out outweighed the potential of adding a lefty with very solid stuff. A day later he was sent back to Victoria, B.C., to resume his indy ball career. The Red Sox have not ruled out signing Hess later, and an attorney working pro bono for Hess is trying to figure out a way to ease any liability concerns, but problem is that the laws don’t seem to allow any wiggle room. Even if Hess wants to sign away any liability the team would have for a future hip injury, every team that has approached Hess is concerned that such a waiver wouldn’t hold up in court.

So he’s back where he was before, even if he once again has been told that his stuff is good enough for affiliated ball.

“I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. Everyone is so sorry for me. But I’m not sorry for me,” Hess said.

So Hess was back to being the ace of the Seals’ four-man rotation. At the time of his signing, Hess led the Golden League in wins (8), ERA (2.47), strikeouts (65) and opponents batting average (.209).

“I’m having fun day-to-day, and with every year of experience, all the people I’m meeting that’s what’s overshadowed any of the negativity. It’s all out of my control,” Hess said.

So Hess says he’s focusing on trying to get Victoria a Golden League title. Pitching for Windy City, Hess won two straight Frontier League titles in his first two pro seasons.

Quite A Streak

Jason James has always been able to hit. He hit .341 as a 21-year-old Frontier League rookie and had a .347 career average in three seasons in the league. So when James went through an 0-for-19 stretch early this season, he was understandably perplexed.

“I was wondering what was going on,” James said.

He didn’t have to wonder for long. James went 2-for-3 the next night to stop the slide, then 2-for-3 again the next night, 3-for-4 in each of the two nights after that and 4-for-5 on the following night. It was the start of a 40-game hitting streak that set a Frontier League record and also put him in prime shape to take a swing at Pichi Balet’s league’s record for batting average (.405).

While James did have a couple of final at-bat hits to keep the streak alive, he was generally eliminating any drama with his first or second at-bat—he hit .509 in June. After the streak finally ended with an 0-for-4 against Kalamazoo on July 19, he was still hitting a robust .425/.482/.605 to lead the lead in batting average and on-base percentage.

“Jason has great hands, a simple swing, and (his bat) stays in the strike zone forever,” Kalamazoo manager Fran Riordan said. “He has worked very hard at eliminating holes in his swing. He’s not real pitchable right now and if you throw it near the zone, there’s a real good chance he’s going to smash it somewhere. His swing reminds me a lot of Ted Williams’.  I’m obviously not putting them in the same category, but just the simplicity and the bat path are similar and let’s face it, he is the Ted Williams of our league.”

James finished second in the league in batting in each of the past two seasons and even showed some versatility last year by making seven starts as a lefty with a fastball that touched 90 mph. But the knock on James has been that scouts were concerned about his makeup—he would sometimes blow up after a bad at-bat or carry that one bad plate appearance through the rest of the game.

“That’s probably the bigger reason why (he’s still in Rockford),” Rockford manager Bob Koopman said. “He plays hard, but sometimes he takes it too personal. He has controlled his emotions much better this year. It’s a 180 degrees from last year. He’s controlled his emotions and has a lot more positive energy.”

James’ tools would seem to be enough to get him a ticket out of the league. He’s been timed at 4.3 seconds from home to first and is playing center field, although his spot in affiliated ball would more likely be left field.