Tag Archives: The Battered Bastards of Baseball

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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The Portland Mavericks – “The Battered Bastards of Baseball”

In the 1970’s, independent baseball leagues as we know them today were non-existent.  In 1973, there were no independent baseball teams in America, except for one: the newly formed Portland Mavericks.

When Portland, Oregon lost their MLB affiliated team, actor and former professional baseball player, Bing Russell, wanted to create a team of independent players that were capable of playing against the single-A affiliated teams in the Northwest League. These players were all guys who had something to prove. The majority of them had all been rejected or released from a team at some point in their playing careers. Others were just never given a shot in professional baseball. Guys came from all across the country to the open tryouts just for one more shot of living the dream.

The team was full of characters and known as one of the “nuttiest” teams in all of professional baseball, but somehow it all worked.  These “Battered Bastards of Baseball” (taken from a term used in pitcher Jim Bouton’s book “Ball Four”) were a wild and wacky bunch who, in their five year existence, had a winning record in each season while taking the division title four out of five times (1973, 1975, 1976, 1977).

In a phone interview with the Seattle Times, Bouton described the team:  “Guys on the Mavericks were there for the right reasons. We wanted to play ball. We were at the end of the line, trying to scramble, put something together and get on the field, against all odds. That’s how badly the game of baseball grips you.”

The documentary, “The Battered Bastards of Baseball”, was released last year and is currently streaming on Netflix.  It features original footage filmed during the team’s five seasons as well as interviews with former players, employees, and Bing Russell’s son, actor and former Mavericks player Kurt Russell.

It’s just a feel good documentary that gives you an inside look at a truly great group of guys in baseball. The footage shows a team that just wanted to have fun playing ball and the city that welcomes them with open arms.  They were regular guys, and the fans flocked to the stadium in record numbers to watch these personable players. If you were a fan of the Portland Mavericks, you KNEW these guys.  There were no barriers between the players and fans.

This documentary highlights exactly what independent baseball is all about.

These players didn’t have the financial backing, young talent or support of a major league organization, but it never showed.   Even without “big league” money, the players still received $500 a month (more than some independent league players today) and had accommodations in every city until, as legend has it, they were banned from staying everywhere in visiting cities due to different indiscretions.

They were often known for their barroom brawls and reckless behavior because, as one player put it, they “didn’t give a (bleep). We wanted to kick your ass. Other teams tried to intimidate us sometimes, and we’d just laugh at them. We played as hard as we could between the lines. And we played harder outside the lines afterward.”

These “misfits” took their carefree attitudes, their bright red bus with mattresses and “Portland’s Maverick Baseball Team” mistakenly written on the side (note the apostrophe placement), their black Labrador “bat dog”, P.L. Maverick, and ultimately held their own in a competitive league.

Although they started out as the only independent team in the Northwest League in 1973, there were two other teams in the new Independent Division of the league during their last season. Even when the Mavericks were dissolved after 1977, the independent trend continued with four indy teams in place during the 1978 season.

Not only did the Portland Mavericks re-create the idea of independent baseball, they also created a lot of other interesting stories along the way.

Keeping with the independent theme, owner Bing Russell kept all corporate sponsorships outside the gates; something that was never done with affiliated teams and stadiums.

They hired the first female general manager in professional baseball, as well as the first Asian American general manager.

They also invented Big League Chew bubblegum.  One night in the bullpen, relief pitcher Rob Nelson came up with the idea for bubblegum in a pouch that resembled chewing tobacco.  Jim Bouton took the idea to Wrigley, and Big League Chew was born.

The Mavericks also had one of the rarest players in baseball, the left handed catcher.  During tryouts Jim Swanson, a southpaw outfielder, noticed that the other catchers were terrible. He caught growing up, but knew there were little opportunities for left handed catchers to shine in professional baseball. He grabbed his catcher’s glove, continued the tryout as a catcher, and won the starting job.

In 1978, affiliated baseball made its way back to Portland.  After the encouraging fan support for the Mavericks, Portland decided to bring AAA baseball back to the town.  When all was said and done, Bing Russell was paid $206,000 (a record breaking sum) to hand over the territorial rights.

If you have Netflix, I highly recommend checking out this documentary. It’s a baseball story that is much deeper than it appears.  Fall in love with the Mavericks like the citizens of Portland in the 70’s.

“The Battered Bastards of Baseball” is a story about baseball misfits and rejects who did things their own way and did it well.

Bing Russell’s quote sums it up best: “I love the game dearly and wanted it to go back to the straw hat and beer days when 250 towns had minor league teams and most of them were not supported by a major league franchise.”