Democrat and Chronicle from Rochester, New York on July 12, 1992 · Page 60
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Democrat and Chronicle from Rochester, New York · Page 60

Rochester, New York
Issue Date:
Sunday, July 12, 1992
Page 60
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DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE. ROCHESTER. N.Y.. SUNDAY. JULY 12. 1992 QE A travel log The bus trip begins in Batavia with the grinding of gears on a Wednesday morning. It ends with the same grating sound some 40 hours later. In between, there is a trip to Watertown for two baseball games and who knows how many Big Macs. This is life in the New York-Penn League, near the bottom of the professional baseball ladder. You play 78 games in 81 days and become intimately familiar with bus rides and every bump along the New York State Thruway. Here's a travel log from the Batavia Clippers' recent journey to Watertown for their first overnighter of the season. 10 a.m Wednesday A bus filled with bleary-eyed Clippers pulls out of the Dwyer Stadium parking lot. Within minutes, many of the players are asleep. i 11 :45 a.m. Wednesday j The driver pulls into a rest: area to go to the bathroorri, Some players wake up, thinking they are in Watertown. They are not happy. 2:20 p.m Wednesday The bus pulls into the parking lot at the Watertown Ramada Inn. 4:05 p.m Wednesday The bus stalls on the way to the ballpark at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds. One player wonders out loud if the driver got his license at Kmart, i Guys are thrilled that there is a mall across the street.! Next stopi Watertown, in NY-P FROM PAGE 7E ' open a deck of cards and begin discussing everything from H. Ross Perot to the raunchy sexual escapades of one promiscuous pitcher. The movie Bull Durham is mentioned, and the players talk about how life imitates art. Their assessment: There are no Susan Saran-dons in the New York-Penn League, but there are groupies. They occasionally can be seen flashing signals from the stands. Sex sometimes is just a foul ball away. Zuber says he hasn't received any sexual overtures at the ballpark, but he has had to remove a curse from his baseball equipment, using a ritual similar to the one performed in Bull Durham. After his 15-game hitting streak was snapped, Zuber placed a Gatorade cup on the end of his bat and made some strange noises in an attempt to exorcise the; evil spirit. j "I learned it at Cal-Berkeley," he' says. "Sometimes it works. Some- times it doesn't When it doesn't, I . do one of two things. I either break 1 the bat in two or give it to one of my teammates." "Zube, you're nuts," says Hopp, laughing lustily. Clipping costs At 20 past two, the bus pulls into the Ramada Inn parking lot. "Thank you for flying Trailways," says trainer Brent Leiby as the weary passengers trudge off. After checking into their rooms, several of the players head across Arsenal Street to the Salmon Run Mall. Others attempt to catch up on their sleep or watch soap operas or movies. Joe Mclntyre and Gary Bennett use the time to cut each other's hair, proving they are Clippers on and off the field. i "Hey," says Mclntyre, moving the electric shears through Bennett's blond hair, "you've got to save money any way you can. Eight-hundred-fifty dollars (the standard monthly salary for NY-P players) doesn't stretch real far." Neither does $15-a-day meal money for road trips. "Some guys pack sandwiches just to cut comers," he says. "It's a far cry from The Show." Further proof that this world is light years removed from the majors comes when the players, already in uniform, arrive at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds and cram into a dingy, smelly locker room the size of a one-car garage. Before infield practice, Clippers General Manager Brad Rogers shows up with two new players the Phillies have assigned to Batavia. Manager Ramon Aviles greets them, and they head to the clubhouse to get fitted with uniforms. "I'd much rather welcome them HOCKEY To save money, expect Sabres to sign rookies By Kevin Oklobzija Democrat and Chronicle , The Buffalo Sabres' fiscal belt-tightening will have a major impact on the Rochester Americans. Sabres General Manager Gerry Meehan said the balance-sheet dream is to cut $500,000 from the Amerks'budget, most of which will come in player salaries. The organization no longer will sign older veterans in order to make the Amerks one of the American Hockey League's strongest teams. Instead of paying $70,000 to players with no National Hockey League future, they will invest $25,000 to $30,000 on late-round draft picks and free agents out of college and juniors. "We are pursuing a development program the days of signing American Hockey League free agents are over," Meehan said. "The 1 Batavia l) VVtJ Watertown if ym I t:" ! f 4 '"' A. 10:20 p.m Wednesday The players are bused back to the hotel. After about 20 minutes, the driver takes a bunch of the Clippers to a nearby Denny's. Hi xiuifffr f "iff j J I : 'j :! - - I . tl 5 r I j: i i - -- - - y-Sa.. Z flW!'. a 2.1zj?te&t4z ,C-.tA.d..i i At 2:45 a.m., the trip isn't complete. Players wait outside the Batavia clubhouse for pitching coach John Martin to return. He has left to drop off the first carload of players at their apartments. than have to say goodbye," Aviles says. The night before, the third-year Clippers skipper had to inform pitcher Pat Bojcun and catcher J.J. Cruz they were being released. " Tears welled in the players' eyes. ' Aviles felt sick. 'I . "I was told by Philadelphia in the '.afternoon that I would be releasing them after the game," he recalls. "That was tough. I kept looking at their faces. They didn't realize that this would be their last game. You i try to find the right words, but there's no easy way to tell a kid that his dream is over. ' "It's the worst part of the job." The easiest part is the managing. The emphasis at this level is on development first, winning second. Aviles, and his coaches, Floyd Ray-ford and John Martin, spend much of the game pulling players aside, telling them what they did wrong 'and what they did right. "You can teach kids on this level," says Aviles, a former utility in-fielder with the Boston Red Sox and the Phillies. "They haven't gotten to that stage where they think they know it all." The game that night is sloppy, but interesting. The Clippers score three in the top of the 10th and win, 8-5. They board the bus without showering and return to the hoteL It is 10:45. Curfew is 1 o'clock. sentiment at the American Hockey League meetings (that concluded last week in Hilton Head, S.C.) is that this is a development league, let's develop players. "We've probably spent too much money over the last several years securing, retaining and chasing American League free agents. I hope ithe message was clear last year iwhen I told Don Biggs to go away if you don't want to play for what we Ibelieve is a good AHL salary." , The Sabres, and other NHL iteams, believe that the more kids playing on minor-league teams, the ,better chance there is to develop more NHL players. "Probably because of this philosophy of signing players strictly for the American League, we hurt development of younger players," Meehan said. ; The Sabres won't bring back ; players year after year, either. ; "We'll give them three years 'two years, plus an option year to , prove they're NHL players," Meehan said. "But in order to prove it, they have to play." i The average age of the Amerks will be quite low, with as many as seven rookies expected to play. Three)f the rookies were drafted in 4 p.m Thursday It's back to the ballpark again. 10:45 p.m Thursday The bus arrives at a McDonald's on Arsenal Street following the game. There is an Arby's and a Taco Bell across the street. Players have 30 minutes to wolf down their dinner. 11:15 p.m Thursday The journey home begins. 2:20 a.m Friday The busload of groggy Clippers arrives at the Dwyer Stadium parking lot in Batavia. "Hallelujah," shouts one player. Some venture out in search of the Watertown nightlife. Most either board the bus to Denny's or call Domino's from their rooms. Hopp forgoes the food and spends an hour working out with two 35-pound dumb bells he brought on the trip. The 22-year-old catcher is upset with himself for failing to block two pitches in the dirt. One of the wild tosses allowed the tying run to score in the bottom of the ninth. He is told that the errant throws weren't his fault, that he had played a solid game behind the plate, but he remains disconsolate. "Hey, I get paid to stop those balls," he says. He hoists the dumb bells over his head 10 times. "It's a good thing I lift weights because otherwise I'd be tearing this hotel room to shreds," he says. "A night like this gets you to thinking about career alternatives." A man of many hats At 8:30, the following morning, Leiby loads the dirty uniforms and $15 worth of quarters into Rogers' car and heads for the Arsenal Street Laundromat. His official title is trainer, but that is only a small part of Leiby's job. He also is laundry man, equipment manager, traveling secretary, accountant and June by the Sabres: center Todd Simon (ninth round), right winger Rick Kowalsky (10th round), and left winger Chris Clancy (11th round). Simon led the Ontario Hockey League in scoring with 53 goals, 93 assists and 146 points, but his size (5-foot-10, 188 pounds) was his biggest knock. Kowalsky (6-foot, 184) scored 25-44-69 for Sault Ste. Marie of the OHL. Clancy (6-2, 198) scored 28-38-66 for Cornwall of the OHL. Two 1991 draft picks, Peter Am-broziak (fourth round) and Tony lob (ninth round) should be on the roster. Both rejected contract offers from the Sabres last season and returned for another year of junior. Forward Doug MacDonald, a fourth-round pick in 1989, is expected to sign. He played at the University of Wisconsin. Some veterans needed The youth movement doesn't mean there won't be veteran players in Rochester. Right winger Jody Gage has one year remaining on his contract, so he'll be back for his 14th pro season, eighth as an Amerk. Meehan said he wants to re-sign defenseman Don McSween, who is The league The New York-Penn League includes 14 teams in three states and Canada. The Batavia Clippers are in the Pinckney : Division, along with clubs in Geneva, Auburn and Elmira. Stedler Division Q Hamilton. Ontario (Cardinals) Q St Catharines, Ontario (Jays) Q Welland, Ontario (Pirates) - Pinckney Division Q Niagara Falls, N Y ? (Tigers) 0 Erie, Pa. (Marlins) Q Jamestown (Expos) McNamara Division ; Q -Batavia (Phillies) ' fJQ Watertown (Indians) ; Q Geneva (Cub3) Utlca' (White Sox) - ; EJ Auburn (Astros) fJQ Oneonta (Yankees) . H3 : Elmira (Red Sox) ED Pittsfleld, Mass. (Mets) ONTARIO PENNSYLVANIA ' climb to Jima Grmno Democrat ana inromcie father-confessor. "I went to college for athletic training, but treating players takes up only about 20-25 percent of my time," he says. "I'm helping them with their banking. They tefl me if they are having problems with their families or their girlfriends or with homesickness. They'll tell me things they might be reluctant to discuss with Ramon or the coaches. In some respects I'm like their surrogate mother." Leiby finishes the laundry and heads back to the hotel. The players must check out by noon, then find something to do for the next four hours before leaving for the park. Some watch television in the three rooms the team has held over, but the situation is claustrophobic. Most opt to walk the malls or take in a movie at the theater. At the ballpark, they go through the same routine they went through the previous day. And the day before that. And the day before that. They stretch. They run. They play catch. They bat They field. After infield practice, Hopp, obviously in better spirits than the night before, tries to convince an attractive usher named Amy that she should visit him in Batavia. She blushes and tells him she has never heard of the place. He plugs away determindedly, but his sales pitch is a free agent without compensation. McSween is hoping to get an NHL opportunity from another team. Meehan also wants to re-sign defenseman Bill Houlder, who is a free agent with compensation. "He's the kind of veteran you want, a guy who can come up and play in the NHL and fit in," Meehan said. "We're going to aggressively pursue his return." Meehan said he would not stand in Houlder's way if the fifth-year veteran has a chance to play for another NHL team, as long as he gets at least a third-round draft pick or a comparable player in return. A contract offer has been made to goalie Dave Littman, who is a free agent in limbo. Littman and other non-NHL goalies who are at least 25 Exercise Equipment Treadmills Slairclimbers Exercise Bikes Ski Machines Rowers Vertical Climbers Home - Gyms Freeweighl Equip. Accessories FITNESS OUTFITTERS RkJge Dewey Square CCOA 482 Ridge Rd. W. ODOODjU n& Y'JJ NEW YORK S rraBuwSo UU Syracuse j hJP fjn Albany ffj ELD IE Cr The New York J The standard meal money rate is $15-per-day. This is paid only when the team is on the road. It is $34 less than what the big-leaguers receive and about $6 less than what the Rochester Red Wings of the International League are given. Many of the players in the NY-P live with "host" families or in apartments or college dorms. Teams play 78 games in 81 days during a season that begins in mid-June and concludes the first week in September. the major in vain. "I guess that was kind of stupid," he says afterward of his pick-up attempt. "I mean, she's probably heard the same lines from every ballplayer who's come to town. I'd probably have a better chance of hitting four home runs than convincing her to visit me." In the dugout, Jamie Sepeda sits nervously. The rookie pitcher from Stanford University can't wait to take the mound and make his first professional start. The Clippers fail to score in the top of the first, and Sepeda makes the sign of the cross and trots onto the diamond. His first professional pitch is a called strike. He proceeds to strike out two of the first three hitters he faces and throws five scoreless innings before heading for the showers. Unfortunately, his teammates provide no offensive support and the Clippers lose, 4-0. Bennett, angry at himself and the outcome, smashes his bat against the cement floor of the dugout and swears at the top of his lungs. After a quick shower, the players board the bus. "Let's get the hell out of this bleeping town," one of them shouts. At 10:45, the charter pulls into a McDonald's on Arsenal Street. There's an Arby's and a Taco Bell nearby. Fast-food heaven, which, in this case, is good, considering the players have all of 30 minutes to wolf down their burgers, tacos and roast beef sandwiches. Turbulence on 1-81 The bus leaves at 11:15 sharp, and heads south on Interstate 81. Cards are again being dealt in the back of the bus. A few seats from the front, Alan Burke, a white third baseman, and Shawn Wills, a black outfielder, discuss the L.A. riots and race relations before dozing off. For the most part, the bus is dark and relatively quiet, with only two or three overhead lights turned on. By this point, the players are really dragging. Sleep is the highest priority, but not easy to come by. Stretches of 1-81 have been torn ' to pieces by construction workers. Just north of Syracuse, the bus feels as if it is riding over a mountain range. "What the hell's going on here," grumbles one of the players, awakened by the turbulence. "Great roads, y'all got here in New York," shouts another. "Whaddaya do, build your highways with speed bumps?" The Thruway provides a smoother track, but there is still the monotonous thump, thump, thump that numbs the brain. At about 2:20 in the morning, the bus roars into the Dwyer Stadium parking lot Players walk zombielike down the steps and drag their with three years ot minor pro experience could be granted total free agency. Line shifts Meehan offered a termination contract to right winger Rick Vaive. If Vaive returns the contract signed by July 20, expect the Sabres make a settlement buyout offer. Winger Lou Franceschetti is a free agent without compensation and the Sabres have no interest Amerk broadcaster Don Stevens is one of many candidates for the TV or radio job with the NHL's expansion Tampa Bay Lightning. The 'TASTE OF ROCHESTER" joins the best local Sounds, plus the Jumpin' Jack 3-on3 Basketball Tourney: Sat. & Sun., July 18-1 9 on Main St., Downtown! Be There! Cyol Rochtttr, New ttrk - Penn player The average New York- Penn League player is 21 or 22 years old. Odds are he has played college baseball and was drafted by a major-league team. Some have received six-figure signing bonuses, but in most cases the money paid is relatively nominal, in the $2,000-$3,000 range. The base pay for all NY-P players is $850 a month, about what most major-leaguers make in an hour. leagues r.lOE!JG UP There is a hierarchy in the minors leagues, based, in large part, on talent and experience: Rookie leagues: The bottom rung of the ladder is for first-year players, many of them just out of high school. NY-Penn: The league is a notch above the rookie leagues. Most players have college experience and are in their early 20s. Because its schedule covers just 78 games, it is regarded as a short Class A league. Single-A: The next level includes the long-season Class As. Their schedules are about twice as long as the NY-P's. Double-A: The next level with teams such as Albany and Binghamton. Tripte-A: The top minor-league level includes the Rochester Red Wings of the International League. Major leagues: Many players follow the progression up the minor-league ladder, although there have been cases of players jumping directly from high school and college. California's Jim Abbot and Dave Winfield and John Olerud of Toronto are players who jumped from the college campus to the big leagues. gear into the clubhouse. Some hop into cars and trucks. At least four mount the bicycles they rode to the park 40 hours earlier. The driver of the Trailways changes the destination sign on the front of the bus from Batavia to Buffalo. He drives his rig out of the parking lot again grinding the gears. The bus disappears into the distance as Leiby begins loading the soiled uniforms into the clubhouse washing machine. Scott Pitoniak's 'More than a Game' column appears regularly in the Democrat and Chronicle. Call him at (716) 258-2455 or write him at 55 Exchange Blvd., Rochester, N.Y. 14614. ALL STAR $169! INSTALLED TITRircrEQUiPPrRINC.J l"rr mcoLmsT. (1-490 AMES, CHILD) 2354500 HE

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