Division Leaders Suddenly Being Challenged

It looked for a time like Southern Maryland and Somerset might waltz to first half divisional titles, but Sugar Land has won eight of its last 10 and Long Island has been even better with a 10-game winning streak that was very much alive as the Ducks headed into a weekend series in Bridgeport so the last 24 or 25 games before the half ends appears to be very much of a free-for-all among at least those four franchises.

Veteran Long Island manager Kevin Baez had equal praise for the Ducks' pitching and hitting when he was about to step off the Ferry that brings the Ducks across Long Island Sound to Bridgeport.  "Everybody has been stepping up, and they are playing with confidence," said, Baez, whose team won only five of its first 13 games, but has gone 24-8 since.

Statistics back him up with the Ducks hitting a league-leading .278 to the .260 of Somerset, who they trail by two games in the Liberty Division.  The Patriots dominate in pitching with a brilliant 2.17 to second place Long Island's own respectable 3.11. 

Long Island has used 19 pitchers so far with one of the most pleasant surprises being Mickey Jannis, whose role when pre-season camp opened was uncertain between starting and relieving.  He throws knuckleballs about 60 per cent of the time, Baez said, calling it "a hard knuckleball", and his 1.49 earned run average (3-2 record) ranks second in the league.  Baez also has called on the 27-year-old for four short relief stints, and Jannis has allowed only 35 hits in 54.1 innings.

The Original Ambidextrous Battle

With all of the attention to Oakland's ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte in recent days, I wonder how many people realize how the rule regarding a decision of which arm to use is made when such a pitcher faces a switch hitter?

Venditte was about to pitch to Ralph Henriquez one day in 2008 when both players were in the New York-Penn League.  There was a seven-minute delay with the two players continuously switching throwing hands and batters boxes before the home-plate umpire finally ordered Henriquez to bat right-handed for the rest of his at-bat.  After that event, baseball's rules committee decided in the future--rule 5.07(f)--the pitcher would make the decision whether he would pitch left or right-handed.

Henriquez, now a catcher in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system, turned up in the Atlantic League two years ago when he hit .242-7-28 in 79 games for Long Island.

From Atlantic League to NBA Finals

The Cleveland Cavaliers are an easy choice for three onetime Atlantic League businessmen when it comes to choosing a favorite in the NBA Championship Series.  They work for the Cavs.

Brad Sims spent time with Opening Day Partners, which has owned multiple Atlantic League franchises, and he is senior vice president and chief revenue officer for the Cavaliers.  Former York general manager Matt O'Brien is senior director for corporate partnerships, and longtime Revolution executive Neil Fortier (he was primarily assistant general manager) is director of partnership development. 

Fortier told The York Daily Record's Jim Seip he believes working for York gave him a nice advantage when the lifestyle change opportunity came along.  "It's a huge advantage because you're forced to learn all types of business," Fortier explained.  "If you looked in the background of our top-level leadership (in Cleveland), they all have backgrounds with minor league sports."

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,

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