Hideki Irabu Launches Comeback and Signs with the Long Beach Armada
Ex-Yankee and Japanese Great To Showcase His Return to Top Form in Golden Baseball League
LONG BEACH, Calif. -– The Long Beach Armada of the independent professional Golden Baseball League (GBL) have announced that they have agreed to terms with former Major League pitcher and Japan Professional Baseball (NPB) League superstar Hideki Irabu on a player contract for the 2009 season. Irabu became the greatest power pitcher in professional baseball history in Japan before coming to the U.S. in the mid 90s and winning two World Series titles with the New York Yankees.
"Hideki Irabu is a tremendous addition to our pitching staff," said Long Beach Armada Manager Garry Templeton. "I'm looking forward to the skill, experience, and professionalism that a player of his caliber will bring to the club and believe that this will be a great place for him to demonstrate that he is ready to return to the top levels of the game here or in Japan."
Irabu, 39, broke into professional baseball in Japan with the Lotte Orions in 1988 and became known as the hardest thrower and one of the most dominant pitchers in the league over the next eight seasons. His 98 mph fastball is still the fastest ever by a Japanese pitcher. After the 1996 season, he became one of the early pitchers to move from the NPB to the Major Leagues in the U.S. as he joined the New York Yankees and won World Series rings in 1998 and 1999. He went on to pitch for the Montreal Expos and Texas Rangers during six seasons in the U.S. before returning to Japan where he joined the Hanshin Tigers and helped them to their first pennant in 20 years. Knee surgery finally sidelined him and he has spent the last two years re-habbing and getting back into pitching shape. Now healthy and with a fastball clocked at 92+ already this month he is determined to show that he can once again contribute to the success of an MLB or NPB team.
"What a treat for our fans," said Long Beach Armada General Manager Tony Soares. "Jet balloons, hachimakis, and sushi will all be available at Blair Field this year along with a chance to watch a true baseball superstar perform!"
Monday, April 27, 2009
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Scott Lonergan, RHP
The Armada continues to improve its already strong pitching staff by adding AAA-experienced Scott Lonergan to the staff for 2009. Lonergan spent the last two seasons in the Red Sox organization after being drafted by Boston in 2007.
The right-handed pitcher has been used primarily as a reliever in the Red Sox system. In 2008, he appeared in six games with the California League’s Lancaster Jethawks, allowing 11 hits and 8 earned runs in 12.1 innings of work (5.84 ERA). Lonergan appeared in one game for the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox of the International League in 2007, pitching 4.1 innings giving up 3 hits and 3 earned runs while striking out 3 and walking 2 batters. He played at Rice University in 2007 after playing two seasons for Santa Clara University (2004-05).
Joshua Banda, C
The Armada continued to stock the 2009 roster with home-grown talent, signing catcher Joshua Banda to the roster. The Artesia HS (Lakewood, Calif.) product comes to the Armada after three seasons with the Tri-City Dust Devils, the Single-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies in the Northwest League.
Banda, 23, was drafted by the Rockies three times before signing with them in 2006. In three minor league seasons, he hit .239 with 12 homeruns and 52 RBI. Before signing with the Rockies, Banda played for Cypress College and Orange Coast College before spending two years at California Baptist University where he studied kinesiology with an emphasis on physical therapy.
Casey Garrison, OF
The Armada have signed former Chico Outlaw Casey Garrison to help restock the outfield for the 2009 season. The northern California native comes to the Armada after playing 77 games for the Outlaws in 2008.
Garrison, 26, drove in 54 runs for Chico last season – blasting 11 homeruns – while hitting .302 for the season. The 6’4” 245-pound outfielder has a career batting average of .298 in two professional seasons. Prior to joining the Outlaws, Garrison played for the Macon Music of the independent South Coast League in 2007 where he was named as a league All-Star. He graduated from San Francisco State University in the winter of 2007 with a liberal arts degree. Look for Garrison to use hand-made bats his father Dennis makes during each plate appearance this season.
Keith Ramsey, LHP
The Armada added more firepower to its pitching staff when the team announced the signing of former AAA pitcher Keith Ramsey this week. The 29-year-old lefty returns home to play ball in Southern California after seven years of affiliated and independent ball across the country.
The Cleveland Indians drafted Ramsey in the 10th round in 2002 (304 overall). He spent three seasons in the Indians system, reaching AAA with Buffalo Bisons of the International League in 2004. Ramsey started two games for the Bisons, going 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA. Ramsey also spent time playing for minor league affiliates of the Diamondbacks, Phillies, Rockies and Rangers since 2005. Last season with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the Atlantic League, Ramsey started 20 games, going 7-6 with a 4.01 ERA in 130.1 innings of work.
Ben Fox, LHP
Left handed pitcher Ben Fox has signed with the Long Beach Armada for the 2009 season. A 10th round pick of the San Diego Padres in 2001, Fox is reunited with manager Garry Templeton who managed Fox during two seasons in the GBL with the Flyers.
Fox, 27, has played professionally for six seasons. In 2007 with Templeton’s Flyers, Fox joined the team mid-season and became the de facto ace of the staff, starting 10 games and going 5-3 with a 2.99 ERA and 3 complete games to earn a GBL All-Star selection. The 6’0” 190-pound pitcher attended Dixie State College of Utah, the home field of the Golden League’s St. George Roadrunners.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Tacker, 25, was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 2007 after a steller season with Rice University. In 2007, he went 9-1 for Rice with a 3.01 ERA in 71.2 innings of work en route to being named Conference USA Pitcher of the Year. During his collegiate career, he struck out 107 batters while walking only 56.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Root, Root, Root for the Start-Up
IT was the sixth inning of a one-run game between the Chico Outlaws and the Fullerton Flyers when the commissioner of baseball, on his third or fourth beer, stepped into a darkened skybox to explain how he and his partners planned to grow very rich by employing rejects from major-league farm teams.
Several hundred fans had gathered here on a Tuesday night earlier this summer to cheer on the Outlaws, one of six teams in the recently birthed Golden Baseball League, but its commissioner, Kevin Outcalt, was distracted. A former Silicon Valley executive who secured this post two years ago after giving the league its first $1 million, Mr. Outcalt was deep into his tale of how he met two Stanford graduate students, David Kaval and Amit Patel, who dreamed up a baseball franchise that all three men describe as an "alternative entertainment platform."
On the field below, Todd Gossage, the 23-year-old son of Goose Gossage, who pitched for the New York Yankees and other teams, scratched out a base hit. The crowd cheered, but the commissioner barely noticed. The next batter was one of the Golden League's bona fide stars, Desi Wilson, a 37-year-old whose claim to fame is the 41 games he played for the San Francisco Giants in 1996. He began fouling off pitch after pitch, and that got Mr. Outcalt's attention.
"There goes $3," Mr. Outcalt said as he ruefully watched one of the foul balls sail into the stands. Wilson eventually flew out, but the next batter, a 25-year-old who had washed out of the Chicago Cubs farm system, cracked a two-run homer — and cost the league another three bucks. This time Mr. Outcalt put a more positive spin on his expenses.
Last year, he pointed out, his league had to pay $4 for each baseball it bought. "This year I was able to negotiate much more favorable terms," he said, beaming. Such small victories, he said, aid his quest "to streamline the cost factors that can otherwise make running a professional baseball league an expensive proposition."
Baseball leagues that operate independently from Major League Baseball and its extensive minor league system are not new, but Mr. Outcalt and the Golden League's other founders bring an unusual set of expectations to their two-year-old gambit: the venture capitalists and other lords of Silicon Valley who have so far poured roughly $15 million into the Golden League view their investments no differently from the ones they have in other start-ups. They expect the six-team league to expand to at least 40 teams in the coming years, or maybe even 80, and then to provide them all with a rich payout — if not through a public stock offering, then through a high-priced sale to a large entertainment conglomerate like Viacom or Disney.
Golden League investors offer a baseball philosophy that probably would have never passed the lips of a Yogi Berra or Casey Stengel, let alone more money-minded owners like Branch Rickey or Bill Veeck. Today's boys of summer have dollar signs in their eyes.
"We're not afraid to put advertising on a helmet," said James C. Peters, who became the league's chief operating officer after investing $1.5 million last year.
NOR have Mr. Peters and his colleagues shown themselves to be afraid of selling the league's very name. Technically, teams are part of the Golden Baseball League Presented by Safeway Inc., an honor secured after Safeway, the supermarket chain based in California, bought three years' worth of naming rights for $3 million.
So aggressively has the Golden League sold itself that every player in it wears a shoulder patch promoting a fish-oil product called AlphaFlex Omega5 that its manufacturer, Sierra Life Sciences of Reno, Nev., says helps to ease joint pain. The league's team in Yuma, Ariz., constructed a second, taller outfield wall behind the original just to accommodate extra advertisers.
The league is also willing to stretch when it comes to recruitment. Several days ago, it announced that the San Diego Surf Dawgs signed Jose Canseco, a 42-year-old who once ranked among the most feared hitters in Major League Baseball. He struck out three times in his Golden League debut and the Surf Dawgs traded him after that game to another California team, the Long Beach Armada. But other cheap thrills are in store. The league promises that Canseco, who pitched but one inning in the majors back in 1993, "will showcase his knuckleball" this summer.
Elsewhere in the country, local business leaders generally buy pieces of sports franchises to fulfill childhood dreams or to live life as mini-sports moguls. But the Golden League was christened in Silicon Valley, an area that in recent years has shown as great a devotion to start-ups that provide a potentially rich payoff for investors as it has to wow-inspiring new technologies.
"I put in enough where I very much expect to see a return on my investment," said Terry Garnett, a venture capitalist who wrote a $1 million check to help get the Golden League started.
Other investors in the league whistle a similar tune. "I made this investment because I think I'm going to make a lot of money on this thing," said the venture capitalist William Del Biaggio III, who has earned a tidy fortune by providing loans to technology start-ups that had fallen on hard times.
To be sure, some of the league's sponsors are in it for more than the money. Pat Sajak, the host of the TV game show "Wheel of Fortune," paid an amount he declined to disclose for a stake in the league, but he said he was motivated "more out of a love of the game" than any expectation that he would realize a handsome return.
"Although I make a good living, it's not like I can buy the L.A. Dodgers anytime soon, so this seemed a nice way to get involved," Mr. Sajak said by telephone.
THE modern independent baseball era began in 1993 with the resurrection of the long-defunct Northern League, which now fields teams in Fargo, N.D., Schaumburg, Ill., and elsewhere. That league's founder, Miles Wolff Jr., years ago owned the Durham Bulls, the team made famous by the movie "Bull Durham," and his résumé includes a stint as a general manager for a Class AA minor league team.