Tag Archives: Spring Training

Two Days with the Black Sox

There’s the minor league grind.

Then there’s the indy ball grind.

And then… on a whole other level… you have the Black Sox grind.

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I was fortunate enough to experience this first hand when I was invited to spend two days with the “Road Warrior” Black Sox.

The team, who is currently in the middle of their spring training schedule, played two exhibition games in Washington, PA (practically my “hometown”) this week.

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I’ve known Joe Torre, the Black Sox owner/manager, for many years thanks to this website and the fact that we generally run around with the same circles in baseball. He told me that he would love for me to come out, support the guys, and get the full Black Sox experience. The full experience, as it turns out, allowed me to be in the clubhouse and in the dugout during the games.

And what an experience it was.

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As we said our “see you laters” after the game yesterday, Joe turned to me and said, “Are you finally sold yet?”

I was always sold on the Black Sox idea. Their “change the culture” mentality is something that I want to see happen in indy ball. But I’ll admit that before the past two days, I had bought the product but still kept the tag and receipt. Now, I’m completely in. The tag and receipt have been thrown in the trash, and I’m not looking back now.

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If you’ve never read my previous post(s) or heard of the Black Sox, let me try to sum up who they are…

When you think of the Black Sox, think of a good old fashion barnstorming baseball team. The  team is made up of unsigned players who travel around the country playing various indy ball teams during their spring trainings.  Their hopes are that a manager somewhere along the way will like what they see and want to sign them for the upcoming season.

The Black Sox like to say “we are not for everyone” and that is absolutely true. The barnstorming life is brutal. Some times they are given a hotel to stay at when they’re in town, but other times they have to find their own place to stay, whether it’s with a host family, a friend they know, or paying out-of-pocket for a hotel room. The guys then drive themselves from city to city with their cars filled to the max with people and bags.

The guys played two morning games in Washington, PA (May 3rd and 4th) and then, when their game ended after 1 PM on Friday, they drove straight to Florence, KY (over a 4 hour drive) to play ANOTHER game starting at 7.

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They are the true definition of baseball grinders, but of course, it’s been that way for most of them their entire careers.

I could tell you their stories, everyone in indy ball has one, but they know that’s not important.  Failed draft picks, injuries, small town colleges, scammed indy leagues, near meaningless stats from low-level indy leagues… every guy has had something lead them to this team. No one is going to care about your story here.

The players all play with a chip on their shoulder and have an “us against the world” mentality. When you realize just how cutthroat indy ball is,  you can’t blame them. The Black Sox have an “NWO” wrestling theme. They want to come in, be the renegade group, take over, and succeed. They want to “change the culture” of what independent baseball is all about.

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In the highly competitive world that they’re in, it would be easy for the guys to care more about themselves than the team.  Essentially they ARE competing against each other for a job. But the guys know that they can’t think like that. You have to be a TEAM and put the team first before your own individual stats. Playing as a team will eventually bring the individual notoriety if you deserve it.

After spending the last two days with the team, I can honestly say that the majority of the guys understand that. They’re sold and have already thrown away the tag and receipt.  There are still a few that bought in, but aren’t completely sold yet. And the truth is, they’ll either figure it out, or they’ll eventually fail… at least in this system.

 

These past days have been an eye-opening experience to say the least. I’m sure on the first day, most guys had no idea why I was in the clubhouse and dugout. The few guys that I’ve known over the years welcomed me in with open arms, but the others were apprehensive. I was a bit apprehensive on that first day too. I layed low in the manager’s office in the clubhouse pregame and was more a fly on the wall in the dugout than a part of the team.

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But by the second day, I definitely felt like I belonged just a bit more. I started talking to the guys and got to know a little bit more of their stories. I could see the passion in their eyes when they talked about the game. I was standing on the railing with them and cheering for their victories, however small they were, during the game.

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Over the last three years, I’ve watched this team from the other side of the wall. The last two years were rough to say the least. They couldn’t compete, and they knew it. This year, however, I was able to see a team that was very much improved from the last few years. They came in and were competitive. They lost both games, 6-5 and 5-3, but they competed and really, that was a win itself. Players proved that they belonged on that field. They put themselves in a position to be seen, and that’s all they can ask for at this point.

Seeing them leave it all out on the field, coming in the dugout and the clubhouse giving each other advice, putting in extra work after games, watching video… that’s what sold me.

Guys, thank you for letting me into your world for the last few days, even though I know some of you probably didn’t think I should be there.

Please know that you guys have my utmost respect. It may have only been two days, but I want you guys to succeed more than most people ever will. You give it everything you have just for that chance to keep playing.

I see that. I believe in you.

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Guest Bloggers – The Black Sox Series

Recently, Indy Ball Island introduced our readers to the Black Sox after they participated in an Education Day game.

Now, members of the Black Sox are jumping on board as guest bloggers.  The players who travel all across the country just hoping for a chance are ready to share their stories with you… every step of the way.

Black Sox members, Bobby Orozco and Alex Fishberg, sent in a part of their stories to start the Black Sox series.

Battered Bastards are Back

Black Sox Professional Baseball

Road Warriors

A guy walks into a bar and the rest is history. Baseball is the game of life – It is the only sport you will fail in; but will you respond. For a professional baseball player, there is only one life; baseball. Growing up, every boy in America wants to be in the limelight. They want to be seen at 7:05 pm every night. They want to sign the baseballs and take pictures with the fans. They want the opportunity most well never get.

Being a professional, not just a professional baseball player goes deeper than what is seen at 7:05. Most never see, Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, Derek Jeter, guys who know to arrive at the ballpark at 9 in the morning for a game that starts at 7:05, after a three hour game. Maybe five if they go into extras. It is ambition, grit, and finding a way to stay humble when they are making thousands of dollars per pitch and the guy in the locker next to him has to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because he is happy to be in the clubhouse.

Professional baseball, that most folks see on television is a long bumpy road, filled with pot-holes that you can drown in, then dry off, climb Mt. Everest, twice, and still not see the sun. MLB is the throne, but players must first prove themselves in: A (single-A), AA (double –AA), and then finally AAA (triple-A). There are a select few who get to jump levels because our Father blessed us with attributes they embraced. They spent the long days and late nights perfecting their craft. Then there are the guys who get wrote off before they were even given a chance.

That’s us. Blacksox. The quiet storm that rolls into your town and beats the guys who were given an opportunity. We’re here to take your job and we have no problem doing it. We take pride in it.

Sadly, the Blacksox do not even get the opportunity to play against MLB affiliate teams. We play against the Independent leagues across America. The Atlantic League, The Can-Am League, The American Association, The Frontier League, The Pacific Association, and the Pecos League.  These leagues are funded on their own money to build cathedrals for fans to come watch no name players who are given the opportunity to become the next Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, and Derek Jeter. Players in these leagues can make anywhere from thousand dollars a month to fifty-six dollars a week. How can a human-being survive off fifty-six dollars a week? Ambition.

Players in Independent baseball know what they are getting into. They know they are leaving they’re family, friends, girlfriends, wives, kids, and life back home. There is no more comfort zone. There is sleeping in a hotel with eight guys and two beds. Believe me its possible. Arriving to the next town at ten in the morning, after traveling sixteen hours with those comrades; to be on the field at two in the afternoon to be ready for a game at 7:05. They are doing this all on less than a teacher’s salary. But that’s what it takes for the guys who were written off – and we the Blacksox make it happen.

It is a very low standard of living – a very humble journey. It is not the driving, the traveling, or taking care of business on the field – that we do, and we do it well. Because we are not associated with any of these Independent leagues. We are Independent. We are baseball. These battered bastards save up money in the off-season to drive themselves on their own dime, across the country to win in these Independent leagues and earn a job.

For instance, this year the Blacksox began their spring-training trip April 14th against the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League managed by Ross Peeples. They then stayed in the Atlantic League to face-off against the New Britain Bees on April 17th , managed by Stan Clibrun. Directly after that they embarked on an eleven hour drive to Florence, Kentucky, where out of the kindness of his heart, Manager Dennis Pelfrey of the Florence Freedom (Frontier League) allowed the Blacksox, managed by their fearless leader Joe Torre, to spend two weeks to stop, rest their heads, get on his field, to prepare before the real grind begins.

Joe Torre will take these misfits from across the country, which most have never met before in their lives, and find a way to win with men he has sometimes never met as well. He might hear about you from someone else who heard about you from someone else, but he is willing to invest in you if you are willing to invest in yourself. Baseball is a business and if anyone knows this, The Godfather of Indy Ball, Joe Torre, knows it like your grandma’s sauce. Joe is from New Jersey, a true Brooklyn Brawler. He is in your face, not to scare you, well maybe a little bit, but it is because he knows what it takes to achieve your goals. Joe is the Owner, General Manager, Skipper, player and clubbie. He is our Jackie Moon. It is a good thing we do not have a washing machine because he would trade it for a player. This guy could sell sand to a camel. He took over the Blacksox name 15 years ago, which started as a Men’s league team in New Jersey with a group of guys who still loved the game. They loved it. The Blacksox name is legendary in The Garden State, and Joe has been able to take the pride and soul of the Blacksox across our country and pass it on to the youth, because, Wu-tang is for the Children.

The Blacksox grind starts in Pennsylvania, then to Kentucky, to Illinois, where the team splits into two. Some will head south to Texas, then to North Dakota while the rest will travel back to Kentucky and continue to New York, until they all meet back up in the beautiful California sunshine. Joe guides these lost souls to where he knows they have an opportunity to gleam in the limelight.

Alex Fishberg, RHP, whom just signed with the 2017 Normal Cornbelters, Normal, Illinois, is one of the hundreds of players Joe has showcased and moved on to the next level. This is just a small part that goes into what it takes to be signed. These are his words.

 

Alex Fishberg
RHP
BlackSox Spring Training Trip 2017

Goals:

-Sign a contract in 1 of 4 main Indy leagues (quickest way to Affiliated ball)

-Maintain velocity while filling up k zone

-Improve with sliders for strikes, already know I can throw it where I want in 0-2, 1-2 counts

-Throw splitter where I can show for 3rd pitch

-Get ahead, get lead off out

 

 

April 14th
(3 1/2 hour drive)
Lancaster Barnstormers-Atlantic league
Manager- Ross Peeples
Pitching coach- Scott Patterson
1 inning, 1k, lineout, groundout, 0 bb, 0 h
Velocity – 91 – 95 mph

Threw strikes while rearing back, got ahead, stayed ahead. Strikeout was on 1-2 slider. They took my name and number.

April 17th
(1 hour 45 min)
New Britain Bees- Atlantic league
Manager- Stan Cliburn

1inning, 3 k, 0 bb, 0 h
Velocity – 90 – 93 mph
Came back in full count against 1st batter with strikeout on fastball. Got ahead of 2nd batter and struck him out on high fastball, 3rd batter had 11 pitch at bat, kept fouling off fastball and slider, struck him out with fastball chest high.

April 18-22
(11 hour drive)
Travelodge $60/night 5 nights
Florence Freedom workout – Frontier League
Manager – Dennis Pelfrey
Pitching coach – Brian White

Day 1 – 19th
Faced mix of Freedom hitters and our guys
2 k’s, 1bb, broken bat – groundout
Velo – 91

Day 2 – 20th
2 k’s, 2 bbs, groundball, hit to right field off shortstop
Velo- 88-90
-not as sharp as first day, but have thrown 4 to7 days now
-Pelfrey would like to see front leg more direct to plate, make adjustment to throw inside to righties

Day 3 – 4 – light toss, flat grounds, bands, running

April 24 – 25
(4 1/2 hour drive)
Doubletree $100/night 3 nights (4 guys)
Frontier League Draft

Day 1
8 pitch pen, hit spots with fastball and slider
Velo- 91

Day 2
Game-time – start with a 1-1 count
Walked first batter and was all over, came back with 2 strikeouts, error on fly ball to rightfielder, then another strikeout
Velo – 93, 77
-not drafted but content with how I threw and came back after 1st batter. Out of my hands. Time to shove in BlackSox spring training games

April 27
(2 hour drive)
Motel 8 $67/night 1 night (3 guys)
Normal Cornbelters workout – Frontier League
Manager- Brooks Carey
– 40 degrees/windy and throwing against normal in games on Tuesday.
– Brooks wants to see 2-3 innings of consistency

-later in day offered contract to united shore professional baseball league by Shane Mccatty
-could be development I need to move to higher league, waiting it out
-offered $650/month
-had Joe talk to coach

April 28
(2 hour drive)
Mansion $25/night 2 nights
Windy City Thunderbolts – Frontier League
Manager- Ron Biga

.2 ip, 2k in a row
Velo- 91-93, 78

-first batter got into 3-1 count, came back and struck him out with fastball. 2nd batter I got ahead 0-2, threw best slider I’ve thrown on trip. Hard low slider that batter swung over. Remember that feel- grip and rip mentality. Focal point was batters hip.

Game 2- rainout
April 30 – 31
Travelodge $60/night 2 nights
Florence Freedom

Game 1
1ip, 2 bb, 1 k
Velo- 87-92

-worst I have felt on spring training trip. Rushed in bullpen to get loose and carried it out to the mound with me. Need to find a way to slow down even if I have to get hot fast. Move on and learn from it.

Game 2 – down

May 2
(4.5 hour drive)
Motel 8 $67/night 4 nights
Normal Cornbelters

Game 1
1 ip, 3 k, 1h, 0bb, 0r
Velo- 91-94, 78

-shoved. Consistently threw to glove, slider was nasty. Normal scoreboard was amped up and had me 95-96, hit 97. Awesome feeling
Game 2
1 ip, 2 h, 0 bb, 0k, 0r
Velo- 88-91

-not as sharp but got it done

SIGNED by Normal Cornbelters Wednesday May 3, 2017.

For more information on the Black Sox, please check out their official website HERE.

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