So I got back on late Thursday night after a three-week trip back to Australia to introduce my folks to their grandson, only to find (after a 14-hour flight to LA, and five hours battling bodysearches, paperwork, turbulence and Alaska Airlines’ utter lack of committment to customer service on my way up from there), that Lady Vancouver had decided to welcome me home by breaking into my car.
Cheers, Van City crackheads.
You got precisely nothing out of my vehicle, and I got a $250 window replacement bill that ICBC won’t pay. No place like home, eh?
Of course, while I was sitting on a beach (in winter), the C’s were stumbling, bumbling and lumbering to an awful slump, punctuated by the loss of everyone in good form to Kane County or injury, leading to a fall from near-1st to way-3rd.
We do get spoiled in Vancouver, by virtue of our affiliation with the great-drafting Oakland Athletics, so these third place finishes are hard to swallow (though the C’s could still, technically, streak to 2nd place if the planets aligned).
It’s been a season that threatened early to be yet another great one, but you simply can’t lost an entire team of prospects to promotion and injury and still expect to take the pennant.
Here’s who we’ve lost this year:Chad Boyd (promotion)Toddric Johnson (promotion)Matt Sulentic (promotion)Jermaine Mitchell (just returned from injury, thanks Spokane)Casey Myers (promotion)Don Sutton (injury rehab)Ben Jukich (promotion)Branden Dewing (promotion)TJ Franco (promotion)Pascual Manzueta (demotion)Fernando Acosta (demotion)Francisco Pena (demotion)Eric Sheridan (demotion)
Begins to get a little tough to win when your squad gets kicked around like that, and though, over the years, Oakland has been content to leave their starring players in Vancouver for the full year (like Jeff Baisley last season, or Javier Herrera the season before), this year’s A’s minors system is an entirely different beast.
When I asked A’s farm director Keith Lieppman what he thought of the A’s AAA team a few weeks ago, he stuck his thumb down, stuck his tongue out, blew a raspberry and said, "Lot of ooooooold guys running around in that team."
At the time, Lieppman stated to me that he had no intention of shifting guys like Matt Sulentic up to Kane County this season. "Why take him away from where he’s doing good and have him start all over again? He’s still learning, and he’s got plenty to learn, so I’m inclined to leave him be."
Ten days later, Sulentic was called up to Kane County.
Now, Lieppman is no liar. He honestly had no intention of pushing Sulentic forward, just as he had no real intention of pushing Toddric Johnson forward before him. But the fact is, he’s right - the Triple-A team in Sacramento is filled with projects, AAAA players, cheap filler and resting major leaguers - the prospect cupboard is bare.
In AA ball, there’s a few players to watch, some of whom might be a shot at making the majors next season (2004 Canadians catcher Kurt Suzuki hit the game-winning homerun for Team USA this week in extra innings, for example), and in high-A and low-A, you can’t move for genuine prospects, but at the top levels, it’s dire.
The great white hope (for want of a less politically incorrect term) of Oakland’s Triple-A team is Daric Barton, but he’s rehabbing in Arizona right now. Jason Windsor, who pitched for Vancouver in 2004 after piggybacking Cal. State Fullerton to the College World Series that year, has been unstoppable in Triple-A ball and even started a couple of games in the bigs for Oakland, but he recently hit a rough patch, earning his first loss of the season.
Dan Johson (Vancouver Canadians, 2002) is stuck in AAA after sucking in the bigs this season, Javier Herrera looks set to light it up before getting injured and undergoing Tommy John surgery, ‘Grapes’ Putnam got himself injured for most of the year, Cliff Pennington slumped so bad he looked like a high school player…It’s been rough.
And for each one of those guys who hits the DL, or slumps so bad they have to be demoted, or cut, someone moves up from every level of the Oakland Athletics minor league system.
Outfielder needed in Stockton? Kane County loses Nick Blasi and we lose Matt Sulentic.
It sucks, but it’s life in the minors, and this year Oakland’s fortunes have hurt and hurt and hurt as player after player hit the DL.On top of that, the A’s lost a 1st round draft pick when they grabbed Esteban Loaiza off the free agent’s list, and a host of lesser draft picks refused to sign (Leake, Hamblin, Ambort, Odom, and anyone after the 30th round).
To make matters worse, the A’s top draft pick, Trevor Cahill, opted to go on a trip to Italy rather than start his pro career, while Oakland’s 16th round pick (Branden Dewing) broke the thumb of the 10th round draft pick (Christian Vitters) while they were finishing up the college season.
So, in the face of all that, the 2006 Vancouver Canadians tried hard, they played out every inning, every fly ball, every blowout, and they just couldn’t pull off the miracle. In light of the above, you really can’t be that disappointed.Baseball is a funny sport, in that the fans of most teams will be frustrated and annoyed every single year, yet we come back for more. Ask a Royals fan, or a Pirates fan (or a Yakima fan) why they do it, and how they avoid suiciding as fortune continues to hide from them with all the skill of a 17th century ninja, and they’ll point to the games they won and say "those were fun nights."
And that’s what we have to take away from this year’s Vancouver Canadians season. Not the ‘what might have been’ notions, not the hard losses and bad ump calls and moronic Spokane pitchers throwing at ankles…. but the fun nights.
Watching Larry Cobb bust a gut to turn a Texas Leaguer into a sprawling, face-first pop-out. Watching Greg Dowling foul off a half dozen pitches to earn a walk. Watching Inoel Deaza blow smoke past hitter after hitter, or ‘Exxon’ Valdez swing for the fences when we’re down by 7 in the 6th. The pure hitting ability of Matt Sulentic, or the outrageous speed of Toddric ‘Hot Toddy’ Johnson, or the multi-tool class of the J-Train, Jermaine Mitchell, or the close ‘em out/shut em’ out routine of Scott Moore.
Did it suck seeing Lorenzo Macias struggle to stay above a half Mendoza? Sure. Was it tooth-grindingly annoying to see the undeniably talented Kevin Bunch get smashed around the ballpark? No doubt.But we got to see baseball for $8 a time. We drank beer and watched the hawkers mock people with cellphones. We listened to old Bud tell us about the time Satchel threw off that mound, right there. We saw fireworks explode against the outfield wall. We saw a ballplayer who, despite horrendous luck with injury over the years, ask his girlfriend to marry him (on the pitcher’s mound, no less!). And we saw Benny The Jet come home as a coach.
Yeah, we’re sitting in third place and have no chance of taking the pennant. But we had fun. We had loads of fun.Thanks, 2006 Canadians. You gave it your best shot, and I’ve no doubt you’ll redouble your efforts for the remaining games of the year.Roll on, 2007.
Note: A huge thanks to Hawker Rob and Matty Mac Daddy for covering my hiney while I was out of country for a few weeks. I figured maybe they’d post an entry a week or so, but they really threw themselves into the fray and kept up the tradition this blog has set as standard, of dishing the inside info on as many games as possible. Cheers, guys - I owe you a brew. In fact: Anza Club - you name the night and the brand, I’ll be there to pour it.