Stan Cliburn sounded like a happy and contented man when I caught up with him this week, even though he had been up for a very early morning flight back home to Southern Maryland from Sugar Land and he has to face a home stand without two of the Blue Crabs' top players.
He was less than 24 hours removed from getting his 1,500th career win in 25 years of managing (1,500-1,479) despite the Crabs being no-hit for eight and two-thirds inning before they rallied for a 3-2 win over the Skeeters which kept their Freedom Division lead at seven games. They are 23-15 just past the midway point in the first half of the split season thanks to a 17-3 thumping of division opponents.
"Baseball is a game of adjustments", the 58-year-old first-year Southern Maryland manager said, and "we've been making adjustments. We have gotten some breaks and have had great pitching; great defense; we haven't really pounded the ball", and adjustments have been essential since he is mindful six important players have been out at least a week already with injuries.
More will be necessary, too, with the league's leading hitter, outfielder Cyle Hankerd (.354-9-20), who broke up the no-hitter with a game-winning two-run clout in what turned out to be his final at-bat for the Blue Crabs, off to play in Mexico and starting pitcher Shaun Garceau (3-2, 2.09) leaving for Taiwan. Cliburn called them "big time" losses.
"We're coming back a lot (in games)," Cliburn continued. "I tell them to play all nine innings, and that is their attitude."
The team has made one other adjustment since Owner Peter Kirk and General Manager Patrick Day wanted to try fireworks after the seventh inning of every home game especially to benefit young families who may not be able to stay around for a long game or possible extra innings.
"It's usually six to eight minutes (of fireworks, sort of) like a miniature rain delay," said Cliburn, explaining both his players and visiting teams seem to have adapted. It especially works if the home team is planning to make a pitching change anyway for the eighth inning.
Climbing the Ladder
Jorge Marban thought his career was over after last season despite finishing with a sparkling 1.13 earned run average and two saves in 10 appearances for Southern Maryland. He went to Australia, to a great extent to enjoy a new country, but his manager in Perth, Steve Fish, also scouts for the Red Sox, who offered a minor league contract. The 26-year-old was even promoted recently to his highest career level of Class AA.
“I preached a good work ethic to myself, and I told myself to keep working hard throughout all those years (three) in Independent ball,” he told The Roanoke (VA) Times as he was posting a 1-2 record with two saves and a 1.69 ERA for the Salem (VA) Red Sox. It has been even better so far at Portland, ME, where the right-hander, who has a low-90s fastball, late-breaking slider and splitter, has not allowed any runs in nine innings spread over five appearances including a pair of saves and his first Eastern League victory Wednesday.
It Is So Very Difficult to Retire
Anyone who underestimates the trauma that can occur when a playing career ends needs to know Derell McCall's story.
The 15-year veteran finished his career last season with a 101-97 record and a 4.36 earned run average.
“I flew up here (from Pensacola, FL to Somerset) because I need to start healing again,” the 33-year-old told MyCentralJersey.com. “I haven’t been able to watch any baseball, I can’t even watch Baseball Tonight. We’ve got a Double-A affiliate in Pensacola, and I can get free tickets to that all the time, but I can’t even go to the games. I had a good talk with my dad, and he wanted me to come up here and take it all in, and I think being here the last few nights has really helped the healing process to get started.
“I don’t miss the physical drain, I don’t miss the emotional drain or the mental agony that you have to go through every day. What I miss is the clubhouse, and that’s how you kind of know that while you’ll always be a competitor, it’s time. I would love to (come back), but my body is just so decrepit, to put it in layman’s terms."
McCall, who was 29-20 in four seasons at Somerset and also pitched for Camden and York, told writer Mike Ashmore he wants to stay in the game. “I have been in contact with some affiliated organizations, and it looks like I’m going to be a pitching coach somewhere.”
Previously the chief spokesman for Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth, Bob Wirz has been writing extensively about the Atlantic League and Independent Baseball since 2003. He will be a frequent contributor to this site as well as writing his blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com.