Tag Archives: American Association

Gary SouthShore RailCats embrace independent baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Outside the lines, professional baseball in Gary, Indiana, is very much like it is in many places.

Affordable family-friendly entertainment is the goal. Fans are invited to have a good time at the ballpark. The experience at U.S. Steel Yard includes food, giveaways and other forms of fun.

As a member of the independent American Association, the Gary SouthShore RailCats operate differently than Major League Baseball-affiliated clubs.

“It is not a developmental league, but it is an opportunity league — an opportunity for everyone from the radio broadcasters looking to break into professional baseball to groundkeepers to general managers and managers,” says 13th-year Gary manager Greg Tagert. “And, most importantly, it’s an opportunity for players who may have never gotten the opportunity to continue their careers or extend their careers.

“What it’s done for the industry cannot be underrated.”

But the emphasis is on the pennant race (Gary went into play Monday, Aug. 7, at 40-33 and seven games behind first-place Lincoln in the AA Central Division; the RailCats were two games out of the wild card lead in a 100-game season) and not getting a player ready for the next level.

“We make no apology to the players,” says Tagert. “We tell them from the beginning, we are all about winning.

“When a player steps through the door, it’s not about: Is he going to get his at-bats? Is he going to bat third? Is he going to pitch the sixth inning every night?

“Sometimes the players find that out the hard way. They’re used to a different type of format. They are surprised at the level of competition and the emphasis put on winning … It’s not for every player, just like it’s not for every manager.”

Tagert is a native of Vacaville, Calif. He a pitcher at San Francisco State University. He served as pitching coach at the University of New Mexico in 1988 and an associate scout for the Detroit Tigers in 1993-94.

A manager in independent baseball since 1995, Tagert enjoys the challenge of having the ability and the responsibility of building a team.

Unlike affiliated ball where players and coaching staff are assigned to a franchise and are told how to develop the talent with hopes of one day seeing them in the big leagues, Tagert makes all on-field personnel decisions.

“Player procurement and all the player decisions sit at this desk,” says Tagert. “That’s something I would not give up.

“It is the lure of the job for many of us (independent baseball managers) … The challenge is great. But it’s like anything else in life. If it was that easy, it wouldn’t be any fun.”

League rules limit rosters to 23. An additional one player may be on the disabled list during the regular season. Of those 23 players, a maximum of five may be veterans and minimum of five must be rookies. The remaining players will be designated limited service players and of those LS players only six (6) may be LS-4.

Tagert says the classifications create a unique kind of parity in the league and also creates opportunity.

The American Association is full of players with MLB experience and others who played at the Triple-A or Double-A level.

Right-handed pitcher Jorge DeLeon, a reliever for Gary, played for the Houston Astros in 2013 and 2014.

MLB scouts regularly cover the independent leagues.

Notable Gary alums include outfielders Jermaine Allenworth and Nathan Haynes and left-handed pitcher Tim Byrdak.

Allensworth, who played at Madison Heights High School and Purdue University, was a first round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1993 and played in the big leagues with Pittsburgh, the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets. He was with the RailCats in 2006 and 2007.

Haynes was a first round pick of the Oakland Athletics in 1997. He played in Gary in 2006 and then with the Los Angeles Angels in 2007 and Tampa Bay Rays in 2008.

Byrdak made his MLB debut with Kansas City in 1998. He played in Gary in 2003 and became the first former RailCats player to play in the big leagues with the 2005 Baltimore Orioles.

Wes Chamberlain, who played six MLB seasons including in the 1993 World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies, was a RailCat in 2003.

Some players to see at least a little MLB time that also wore a Gary jersey include first baseman Randall Simon (2010), third basemen Howard Battle (2003) and Jarrod Patterson (2008), outfielders Trey Beamon (2004), and Bubba Carpenter (2002, left-handed pitchers Tony Cogan (2007-09), Jim Crowell (2007), Brad Halsey (2010), Onan Masaoka (2009), right-handed pitchers Zach McClellan (2010) and Brad Voyles (2008).

Crowell played at Valparaiso High School and the University of Indianapolis. McClellan played at Indiana University.

There’s were Australian first baseman Ben Risinger (2005) and Japanese outfielder Masato Fukae (2016).

Texas Rangers hitting coach Anthony Iapoce was a former RailCats outfielder (2004-05).

The team has retired No. 23 for right-handed pitcher Willie Glen (2005-07, 2010) and No. 45 for Gary native and coach Joe Gates. Glen played at Plainfield High School and the University of Evansville. Gates played at Gary Roosevelt High School and briefly with the Chicago White Sox.

The RailCats were part of former Northern League and began as a road team in 2002 while 6,139-seat U.S. Steel Yard was being constructed along U.S. 20, South Shore rail lines and I-90 (Indiana Toll Road) and very close to the steel mills.

The first RailCats game at U.S. Steel Yard was May 26, 2003.

Chicagoans Pat and Lindy Salvi bought the team in 2008.

Gary was a member of the Northern League through 2010 and won league titles in 2005 and 2007. In 2010, the RailCats joined the American Association and reigned over it in 2013.

The current AA lineup includes Fargo-Moorhead (N.D.), St. Paul (Minn.), Sioux Falls (S.D.) and Winnipeg (Manitoba) in the North Division, Gary, Kansas City (Kan.), Lincoln (Neb.) and Sioux City (Iowa) in the Central Division and Cleburne (Texas), Salina (Kan.), Texas (Grand Prairie) and Wichita (Kan.) in the South Division. Salina is a partial road team in 2017.

Gary takes a bus to all its games. It’s about 16 hours to both Grand Prairie and Winnipeg. There’s usually days off built into he schedule to allow for that kind of travel.

A commuter trip will be added in 2018 when the Rosemont, Ill.-based Chicago Dogs join the league.

RailCats general manager Brian Lyter is in his fifth year on the job after working four seasons in affiliated baseball with the Double-A Arkansas Travelers.

With Tagert handling most of the baseball side of things, Lyter tends mostly to the business side.

Lyter has watched the community embrace the independent baseball model while embracing the amenities at the park.

In a competitive Chicagoland market that offers the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox and many other entertainment options, the RailCats draw well with most fans come from northwest Indiana.

Through it’s first 37 openings, Gary was averaging 3,573. That ranked fourth in the league behind St. Paul (8.293), Winnipeg (4,336) and Kansas City (3,984).

Some of the things Lyter appreciates about the American Association is that players have a “little more staying power” and that the product is top notch.

“Some people underestimate the quality of baseball,” says Lyter, who compares the overall level of play to Double-A.

GARYSOUTHSHORERAILCATS

More than 6,000 games in, Kellman still pursuing excellence as ‘Voice of Indians’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Like raindrops, no two baseball games are exactly the same.

That’s kept things fresh for Howard Kellman, who has called more than 6,000 games for the Indianapolis Indians since that first one on April 17, 1974.

“Everyday at the ballpark is wonderful,” says Kellman. “It never gets old at all. Everyday is unique.”

The “Voice of the Indians” for all but two seasons (1975 and 1980) since 1974, Kellman likes to see the Tribe emerge victorious. But his main job is to keep the radio or TV audience informed and entertained.

“The most important thing is to pursue excellence – not fame,” says Kellman. “Calling the game is the most important thing. It’s about doing the job, enjoying the moment.

“I want the Indians to win, however I maintain professionalism and paint an accurate word picture. I will certainly display more enthusiasm when the Indians win.”

Kellman is now in his 42nd season with the Indians and serves as one of minor league baseball’s broadcast deans along with Jim Weber (who called his first Toledo Mud Hens game in 1975).

A 2016  heart attack caused Kellman to miss 10 games, but he plans to keep on painting those word pictures.

“I feel great and I would like to go for a long while if I still can,” says Kellman, who majored in radio and television at Brooklyn College receiving his B.A. degree with Cum Laude honors in 1975.

When he started the gig in Indianapolis, the Indians played at Bush Stadium (opened in 1931).

Since the middle of the 1996 season, the Triple-A club has called Victory Field home and Kellman has let folks know that “The lights are on in this beautiful downtown ballpark, located on the corner of West and Maryland.”

Fueled by his devotion to preparation, including pre-game research and chats with those around the game, Kellman is able to share information and stories.

“I can tell things that people don’t know because of my access to players, coaches and managers,” says Kellman. “On radio, it’s about painting a word picture. On TV, it’s about adding captions.”

For more than 20 seasons, he has had a broadcast partner. The past three seasons it’s been Andrew Kappes.

From Vern Rapp in 1974 to Andy Barkett in 2017, Indianapolis has employed 23 different men as managers since Kellman first went behind the mike for the team.

Former big league catcher Buck Rodgers impressed Kellman with his knowledge of moundsmen.

“I saw the way our pitchers improved that (1984) season,” says Kellman.

The Indians were in the American Association through 1997 and have been in the International League since 1998.

Kellman says the IL was very much a pitcher’s league in those early years, but that changed with the addition of newer ballparks. In the 14-team circuit, the oldest stadium is Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium (opened in 1946). All the others debuted since 1988.

A change that Kellman has appreciated is the addition of a pitch clock installed at Triple-A and Double-A parks in 2015. The idea is the speed up the pace of play.

After each pitch during an at-bat (except for those following foul balls), the pitcher has 20 seconds to start his windup or come set if there are baserunners. If he does not comply, a ball is to be called.

“That’s a good thing,” says Kellman. “You don’t need hitters to step out of the box after every pitch. After two years, it has become habit and has shaved 15 minutes off the average times of games.

“You want the ball in play. You want action. It’s important. You want a batter to be up there ready to hit and for a pitcher to throw strikes.”

During Kellman’s tenure, the Indians have been affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds (twice), Montreal Expos, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates. A Bucs’ AAA affiliate since 2005, Indianapolis signed a Player Development Contract extension with Pittsburgh that carries through 2020.

Many honors have come Kellman’s way, including induction to the Indiana Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame in 2009 and Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame in 2015.

Kellman is also an author and professional speaker. He produced “61 Humorous & Inspiring Lessons I Learned From Baseball” and belongs to the National Speakers Association.

His speeches cover Becoming a Champion, Leadership and Teamwork and more. He recently addressed the Indiana Sheriffs’ Association.

Indians games can be caught on several broadcast platforms, including cable TV, over-the-air radio and online streaming.

HOWARDKELLMAN

Howard Kellman broadcast his first Indianapolis Indians game in 1974. He is able to inform and entertain his radio and TV audience through his access to players, coaches and managers. (Indianapolis Indians Photo)