As the last player walked into the Lew Wolff Training Center, after the final intrasquad game, spring training was officially over for the Oakland A’s minor league ball players. Whether they were headed for Nashville, Midland, Stockton, Beloit, or staying in Mesa, each had an assignment. Many were unhappy with their assignments. That’s how it is; everyone, to a man, wants to be a level higher, believes he should be above his assignment. Nothing wrong with that; playing with a little something to prove never hurt anyone.
For those who are closest to the farmhands, namely parents, family, girlfriends, friends, two of the biggest questions are: where are they going and how do I stay connected? The “veterans” are familiar with the process, but for the purpose of clarity, I’ve put together this guide to help navigate through Oakland’s minor league affiliates on a very basic level. There are essentially three ways to follow a team (player).
FIRST THINGS FIRST
If you haven’t already done so, download the *free* First Pitch app for Android and iPhone now. Go to “Settings” and personalize your favorite teams and choose the notifications you’d like to receive. This mobile application from Minor League Baseball is indispensable, as long as your interest is with one of the revenue generating teams. You’ll see that I use that term quite often, and with good reason. Never forget that baseball is a business, first and foremost.
The First Pitch app will not, however, update on the Extended Spring Training (EXST) activities in Arizona, which would not have been expected anyway. However, in June, when the OFFICIAL Arizona Summer Rookie League (AZL) or its Florida counterpart Gulf Coast League (GCL) begins, they will not be included either, despite the fact that both are official, stat recording leagues. Hit a home run in the AZL and it goes on the back of your baseball card; give up that home run and your ERA reflects it. But, because they do not produce any revenue (no ticket sales or advertising dollars) it’s as if they do not exist.
From your computer or non-Apple tablet you’ll need to connect like we did in the ‘olden days’. Via the respective team’s website. Archaic, I know.
If you want to listen to a game, most teams have, at the very least, a part time broadcast partner - most have a full time professional broadcaster. If/when a broadcast is available you can either use the TuneIn Radio app on your phone or tablet, or from the team’s website / MiLB audio page. TuneIn Radio: http://www.milb.com/multimedia/audio.jsp?sid=t237
** One advantage to using the TuneIn app on your phone: you can record parts of a broadcast (an inning, an at-bat, whatever) while you’re listening to it and it remains with your TuneIn app. See the red circle to the left? That’s it.
The second option is to watch on MiLB TV– live streamed and recorded/archived games. Mostly higher-level (Triple-A/Double-A) games (due to equipment at the stadiums) but some A level teams / games are available, as well. MiLB TV is not free. According to the site, it’s $50.00 for the entire season or $13.00 per month (double the price in past years) but depending on your priorities, and the ability to watch a game you may have missed so, it’s not an obscene amount, as long as the options and quality prove to be worth the price. At any rate, it is an option. http://www.milb.com/milb/multimedia/
Lastly, my favorite way to stay updated on all the game activity of every active level is using the scores-by-affiliate scoreboard. I would bookmark this link à http://www.milb.com/scoreboard/index.jsp?cid=&lid=&org=133&sc=&sid=milb&t=affiliate&ymd=20160407 but you’ll need to manually update the date by clicking “Today” near the top. I use this link more than anything else.
Now that you know how to stay updated, here are the teams to connect with:
Triple A – Nashville Sounds
April 7th is a big day in Nashville for two reasons. First, it marks the start of Nashville’s 2nd season as the home to Oakland’s AAA team. The beautiful new facility, First Tennessee Park, has received rave reviews, and is frequented by country music stars. What’s not to love? Let’s go!
The date is also important in that it marks the 13th anniversary of a perfect game authored by one of our very own, when he was a member of the Nashville rotation: Midland Rockhounds’ pitching coach, John Wasdin. I asked Waz about the game; the ever humble Florida State Seminole said there were maybe 50 people in the stands that day. Modest as always.
Nashville kicks off the 2016 season at home behind RHP Chris Smith, against the Oklahoma City Dodgers.
Listen to Jeff Hem (@JeffHemPBP) via: ESPN 102.5 Nashville: (and ESPN 94.9) Opening night on 94.9 or watch on MiLB TV http://www.milb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20160304&content_id=166220962&fext=.jsp&vkey=news_t556&sid=t556
Manager: Steve Scarsone - 4th season as AAA manager. Drafted by the Phillies in the 2nd round in 1986.
Hitting Coach: Eric Martins – 1st season at AAA, 2nd season as hitting coach after a successful career in amateur scouting.
Drafted by Oakland in the 17th round in 1994.
Pitching Coach: Rick Rodriguez – veteran pitching coach, 1st season at AAA. Drafted by Oakland in the 2nd round in 1981.
Athletic Trainer: Brad LaRosa
Strength and Conditioning: A.J. Seeliger
Double A – Midland Rockhounds
The two-time Texas League Champions are going for a three-peat! In 2014, led by then-manager Aaron Nieckula, Midland defeated Tulsa (then-Rockies affiliate) for its first Texas League title. In 2015, with a completely different field staff – led by current manager Ryan Christenson, pitching coach John Wasdin, and then hitting coach Eric Martins swept the NW Arkansas Naturals in three games for their second consecutive title.
On Thursday, April 7th, behind RHP Chris Jensen, and thanks to a schedule modeled after MLB’s, Midland starts the 2016 season right where they ended 2015; in Little Rock, at the home of the Naturals. These two teams recently faced off at Fitch Park last week; the tension was palpable. Ok, not really. The focus was actually on a game between the High-A match-ups in Tempe, where Mikey White and Tyler Marincov each homered off Jered Weaver. I was there for White’s home run. Fun times.
First pitch in Little Rock is scheduled for 7:10pm local time (5:10 in AZ/CA). The Rockhounds full time broadcaster is the wonderful Bob Hards. Listen to the veteran call all but three games on Newstalk 550 AM KCRS , and on each of the options listed above.
The three daytime games when there will not be a Rockhounds broadcast include:
April 19 vs NW Arkansas
May 17 vs Frisco
June 14 Frisco
2016 Midland RockHounds schedule
Manager: Ryan Christenson: 2nd year at AA, led every team to the post-season. Drafted by Oakland in the 10th round in 1995.
Pitching Coach: John Wasdin – 2nd year at AA, Christenson’s pitching coach from 2011. Drafted by Oakland in the 1st round in 1993.
Hitting Coach: Brian McArn: 2nd assignment at AA (2013 & 2014) Drafted by Oakland in the 26th round in 1991.
Athletic Trainer: Justin Whitehouse
Strength and Conditioning: Henry Torres
High A – Stockton Ports
The thin, dry air and gale force winds of the High-A, California League is known for inflating both hitters’ power numbers and pitchers ERAs. That’s ok. It’s California. No rain, no bad weather. Just a little warm sometimes.
Banner Island Ballpark (BiB) is home to the Stockton affiliate; the closest to Oakland of any in the farm system. It’s also close enough for some loyal fans to drive down and see the stars of the not-too-distant-future.
Thursday, April 7th, the Ports behind RHP Daniel Gossett, open the 2016 campaign at 7:10pm against the Rockies’ affiliate, the Modesto Nuts. The teams faced each other just a week ago in spring training.
The not-so-hidden-jewel of the Stockton Ports is play-by-play announcer Zack Bayrouty (@zackbayrouty.) The Worcester, Massachusetts, native is smart, articulate, and a true seasoned professional. Listening to him broadcast games – both home and away - on KWSX 1280AM is a delight. However, home games are a little more fun, because if you listen carefully, you can hear the Ports long-time PA announcer Mike Conway (@ironmike1959) in the background.
One item to note; Sunday games at BiB in the first half of the season have a first pitch time of 2:09pm to coincide with the (209) area code. By mid-July, when the forecast high has triple digits, day games become a thing of the past.
2016 Stockton Ports schedule
Manager: Rick Magnante: Long time scout credited with signing Barry Zito and Eric Byrnes. Drafted by Cleveland Indians in the 13th round in 1969.
Pitching Coach: Steve Connelly: 3rd year as pitching coach; moved his way up each year, served as pitching coach in the 2015 Arizona Fall League. Drafted by Oakland in the 24th round in 1995.
Hitting Coach: Tommy Everidge – also 3rd year coach. A fan favorite from his playing days. Drafted by Oakland in the 10th round in 2004
Athletic Trainer: Travis Tims
Strength and Conditioning: Sean Doran
Low-A – Beloit Snappers
Beloit, Wisconsin is just north of the Illinois border, off I-90. The fan base mainly belongs to Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs. But as they begin their 4th season as an Oakland affiliate begins, the green and gold is adding Beloit-area supporters to its fan base. Top prospects including Daniel Robertson, Matt Olson, Renato Nunez, and Bruce Maxwell were Snappers in 2013; Matt Chapman, B.J. Boyd, and Boog Powell in 2014 – when RHP Kyle Finnegan was MVP of Midwest League All-Star Game representing Beloit. The 2015 team included Mikey White, Sandber Pimentel, Dustin Driver, and a pitching staff that, if they had another six weeks added to the season would have sort of been the Midwest League version of the NY Mets.
On Thursday, April 7th, hosting the Brewers’ Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, RHP Kyle Friedrichs and the Snappers will start the 2016 season with a roster of prospects that will prove to be trouble for every opponent in the Midwest League. If you have the opportunity to attend a Snappers game and you don’t go, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself. Pitchers who can pitch, hitters who hit, and defenders who…. well, you get my drift. If I could spend the season following one team, I would head to Beloit.
Given the long and storied broadcast woes of the Beloit affiliate, that decision would assure that I never miss a Snappers game. Especially since only a handful of Snappers games will be streamed online this season, despite recently adding a new broadcast partner. In 2015, Janesville Community Radio partnered with the Beloit Snappers. The sporadic broadcasts by well-meaning volunteer game callers led to most parents/ friends / me mastering the list of who’s’ who of opposing broadcasters, and learning when to give up trying to listen, and just rely on an online scoreboard.
Toward the end of the season, Josh Keener took over the play-by-play duties. He is smart, professional, and a delight to listen to. Coach Keener (@CoachKeener23) will broadcast Snappers games, once his Rockford University baseball season is over. Until then, we will rely on opposing teams’ broadcasts. There are some that are quite good, including: Wisconsin’s Chris Mehring and Lansing’s Jesse Goldberg Strassler.
In sharp contrast to the Snappers’ broadcast predicament, and as another another example of how lopsided the business of minor league baseball really is, some Midwest League opponents provide a television broadcast for their fan base on MiLB.tv along with a full time, professional radio broadcast team. The Snappers travel to Dayton, Ohio, home of the Reds’ affiliate in mid-July. It won’t be easy to return to Beloit after seeing how the other half lives. The Dayton Dragons are the rich kids on the block.
SNAPPERS GAMES BROADCAST SCHEDULE – ALL HOME GAMES:
Thursday, April 7 & Friday, April 8
Friday April 29, - Sunday May 1
Thursday, May 12 – Sunday, May 15
Friday, June 3 – Sunday, June 5
Thursday, June 16 – Sunday, June 19
Friday, July 1 – Sunday, July 3
Friday, July 8 – Monday, July 11
Friday, July 22 – Monday, July 25
Saturday, July 30 – Friday, August 5
Thursday, August 11 – Sunday, August 14
Saturday, September 3 – Monday, September 5 (final series of the season)
2016 Beloit Snappers schedule
Manager: Fran Riordan: 2nd year manager with Beloit. Voted into the Frontier League HOF as both a player and a manager
Pitching Coach: Don Schulze – 1st year with Beloit. Drafted by the Cubs in the 1st round in 1980
Hitting Coach: Juan Dilone – 1st year with Beloit, coach with Oakland since 2002. Signed with Oakland as an International Free Agent in 1990
Athletic Trainer: Brian Thorson
Strength and Conditioning: Matt Rutledge
Extended Spring Training (EXST) - Mesa
Each of the 15 Cactus League teams has an Extended Spring Training squad. Just like spring training games, there are no official records, so unfortunately, home runs hit here will not be counted, but neither will giving up five runs in one inning. When you read that a rehabbing major leaguer will play in a game in Arizona, this is where it happens.
Rosters are comprised of those who were not assigned to a full season team to start the season – maybe in need of more at bats, more playing time, rehabbing players from higher levels. Free agents newly signed, those who are working on something (pitch etc.)
Make no mistake: no one wants to be left behind while everyone else heads off for crowds and promotions and a “real team.” And it does get a little warm toward the end of the Extended Spring time, but there’s never a weather delay, and you don’t need coats or rain gear as is the case for many teams east of Arizona.
The field staff is like one mega coaching team: the combined staffs from short season Vermont and the AZL A’s, along with the hands-on coordinators and higher-ups. We will cover these teams as their seasons near, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the benefit of having Aaron Nieckula (Nuke) lead the short season Vermont Lake Monsters. As manager of the Double A Midland Rockhounds in 2014, he led his team to its first title with an approach that parallels preparing 7th graders for college rather than high school. He brings that same methodology to the lower levels.
There are no broadcasts, nor are lineups officially posted in EXST. When I am at Fitch or at any of the games – which is a few times a week - I will post the good news and fun info, and that will be it.
For convenience and saving of time and travel, the farthest west the A’s squad will travel is to the Brewers in Maryvale, only once in the first week. Other than that, it’s all east valley match-ups – including 4 at the Giants minor league facility (the worst place for games. Period.)
Periodically, games at either of the Salt River Fields teams (Diamondbacks or Rockies) will be played IN the Stadium. But there is no notice and usually no one around to help.
First game played on Monday, April 11 at Fitch against the Giants. Final game played Tuesday, June 7 at the Giants facility.
EXST games are played on the backfields early in the day: Monday – Friday at 10:30 and on Saturdays at 10am. Sundays are OFF days.
Vermont Manager: Aaron Niecklula 1998 22nd round, Oakland
AZL Manager: Webster Garrison – 2nd round 1983 - Toronto
Vermont Pitching Coach: Carlos Chavez 1992 17th round Baltimore
AZL Pitching Coach: Gabriel Ozuna – DR pitching coach, 2015 AZL
Vermont Hitting Coach: Lloyd Turner 2002 16th round Oakland (Billy O)
AZL Hitting Coach: Ruben Escalera – played with Brewers and Reds – coach w/Oakland since 2002
Vermont Athletic Trainer: Toshi Nagahara
AZL Athletic Trainer: Chris Lessner
Vermont Strength and Conditioning: Omar Aguilar
AZL Strength and Conditioning: Terence Brannic
Video Guru: Mark Smith
Pitching: Gil Patterson – returns from Yankees – was with Oakland 2008 - 2012
Hitting: Jim Eppard – from Angels = Oakland 13th round 1982
Field / Catching Coord: Aaron Nieckula
Defensive Coord: Juan Navarette
Rehab pitching: Craig Lefferts