Friday, January 27, 2017

The Biscuit Is Cool - An Interview with Steve Ascher

Biscuits pitcher Steve Ascher was drafted in 2014 and since then the Cutchogue, New York native has quickly worked his way up through the Rays affiliates.

Last year the southpaw hurler appeared in 26 games for Montgomery and made three starts - including the historic combined No-Hitter against the Jackson Generals. It was the third No-Hit trick turned in Biscuits history and the first one with multiple pitchers shouldering the load.

Recently Steve was kind enough to answer a few questions on topics both baseball and Biscuits!

Q: You were with the team coming out of spring training last year, how did you learn you were going to be a Biscuit?
A: The last few days of Spring Training, as teams are breaking, the organization puts up the rosters on a bulletin board and that's how we all find out.
Q: How do you feel about "cute" team names? Do players gain or lose morale playing for teams named Biscuits or Jumbo Shrimp or Baby Cakes?
A: You kind of learn to roll with it and enjoy it. I don't think you lose or gain morale from it. Plus the biscuit is cool!

Q: Whats the biggest adjustment for a player coming from Pt.Charlotte to Montgomery?
A: The biggest adjustment from High-A to Double A is mostly you have to work both sides of the plate with your fastball as well as being able to throw any pitch in any count. The hitters are much more patient and are more mature hitters.

Q: When you arrived in Montgomery, what were your impressions of the ballpark, or the city in general? Was it what you expected?
A: I wasn't really sure what to expect. The stadium is very unique and I love how it's worked into downtown. When my parents visited we did some exploring of the city and it was actually pretty fun!

1885 view of what is now Riverwalk Stadium on left

RC Lichtenstein
Q: What is it like working with the Biscuits pitching coach RC Lichtenstein?
A: It's great, working with new pitching coaches and picking their brains to see what little things you can do to be the best pitcher you can be is always an advantage.

Q: You started the No-Hitter game vs the Generals at Jackson on short notice, the first combined NoNo in Skitz history. How did you prepare for that start and how did you celebrate afterwards? 
A: Honestly I tried to keep it the same as a relief appearance. I knew I wasn't going to throw as many pitches as I did the last two starts so it would just be a few innings. And we didn't really celebrate like a normal no hitter, Brady just congratulated us and gave the 4 pitchers each a beer to celebrate with.

Q: On the no hitter, did you change your approach knowing you wouldn't have as many pitches to work with, pitching to contact more?
A: Jackson was a great hitting team, I just made sure to mix my pitches up and I remember throwing a lot of changeups that they just rolled over.

Q: I know you made the best catch of your career this offseason, congratulations on your marriage to Stephanie. Not really a question there but definitely a great moment worth mentioning!
A: Thank you very much! We headed to Negril, Jamaica for a week after! Best vacation ever!

Q: With just a few weeks to go before spring training, how do you prepare for camp? 
A: I've been throwing for the past 3 weeks and I'll start throwing bullpens next week. Been focusing big time on my core and leg strength as well as conditioning.

Q:  Fans are hoping to see you back with the Biscuits this April. What do you expect from the upcoming season, do you set personal goals or just let it happen as it happens?
A: I try to control what I can. Which is working as hard as I can to be the best pitcher and teammate I can be, and wherever the organization places me I will compete to the best of my ability!
But my goals are always high!

Q: Last question, a two part - what was your first MLB game attended and who were your fave players growing up?
Andy Pettitte
A: My first MLB game I couldn't tell you exactly. It was definitely a Yankees game and it was either with my family or with one of my best friends and his dad, 5 rows up from 1st base!

And one of my favorite players was always Andy Pettitte because as a lefty I looked up to how he could work with 88-90 and still dominate.

Q: Thanks so much, Steve, that is awesome! Is there anything you want to say or someone you want to give a shout out to before we wrap up?
A: Nope all set! Thank you Shane. I am really looking forward to getting down to Spring Training and continuing to strive for my goal and dream of being in the big leagues!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Rickwood, Old Skitz pics, Gelks & Minor

is scant and far between.

This just in, ca 1904
Some season ticketholders are being warned of the likelihood of extra netting being installed at some point, affecting sightlines and views from the stands. If you are gonna be irked sitting behind a net that wasn't there last year, you should check with the ticket office about the availability of seats elsewhere. Nothing official. Yet. Just sayin.

Get a job with the Biscuits when they hold their annual job fair in February. However there may be one gig that is possibly unavailable. The vacated position of season ticket concierge is not a lock to be filled, sources say.

Since I don't have a whole lot of fresh info on the team, I thought I would share a couple of things I ran across that may interest Biscuits fans.

Back in 2005 the Biscuits were supposed to face the Barons at the annual throwback game but Mother Nature refused to cooperate. A rain soaked field was deemed unplayable and the Montgomery team has never been invited back. For whatever reason I have found it almost impossible to find any photos of that day, but recently uncovered a couple of gems from that rainout.

Who do we have here? Biscuits relax and wait in vain for the field to dry

The uniforms are classic throwbacks to the original opening day of Birminghams brand new Rickwood Field in 1910. Yes those two teams matched up in the first contest at the now venerable yard. On the hill for the 2005 version of the long standing rivalry was Biscuits ace James Shields.

"Big Game James" Shields at the Rickwood for Montgomery

Rickwood Parking opening day 1910
The date has been announced for this years Barons throwback game, May 31st. Its a wednesday and the guest of honor is Hall of Famer Juan Marichal.

A fantastic day is in store for all those who enjoy baseball the way it should be played and meeting a legend like Marichal makes it even sweeter.

My opinion on Birmingham's Rickwood Classic, the annual throwback game at the oldest minor league park in the nation? It's one day a year, with a special character everyone wants to see and everyone is full of joy for the game - its baseball Christmas!

I enjoy it so much I was interviewed last year, skip to about 4:05 for the weirdo in the House of David uni!

Two passings of local note recently, Harry Minor and Greg Jelks.

Harry Minor
Harry Minor came to Montgomery in 1956 when the integrated double-A team was sent packing mid-season and replaced with a lower level, segregated Little Rock club.

Harry had appeared with the Little Rock Travelers in '55 and was in his second tour with the team when politics, civil rights and baseball collided in Montgomery that summer.

Though he would only reach triple-A as a player, Harry Minor made a name for himself after his playing career as a scout, most notably the NY Mets 1986 Champion squad. Harry was instrumental in the Mets acquiring Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Mookie Williams and Lenny Dykstra and worked with the NY Mets for over 40 years.

Greg Jelks, a Centre Alabama native, had just ten games in the show with the '87 Phillies and garnered just one lone MLB hit. Greg played in eight minor league seasons but enjoyed much more success and popularity as a professional ballplayer in overseas leagues.

Jelks with Perth
Earning dual citizenship during his time playing in Australia during the 1990s, Greg made his home in Perth and coached as well as played for the Australian baseball team that won silver in the 2000 Olympics at Sydney.

Greg Jelks was known as a baseball legend in his adopted country. On receiving the news the Perth Heat, his former Austrailian team, honored him before a recent home game with a pregame ceremony - then the Perth starter tearfully buried a Jelks baseball card in the dirt behind the mound before starting the game.

ca 1926

As part of my unplanned Dr.Miraculous Speaks 2017 lecture tour, I will be offering a presentation on The History of Baseball in Montgomery to the Alabama Parks and Recreation Association's annual conference.

I was honored to be asked to speak and on Monday, January 30th at 1pm I will share my baseball history knowledge for an hour in the Capitol I room at the Renaissance Hotel downtown, just a block from where the Southern League founders held their first organizational meeting in the 1880's.

Its tough to condense a city's baseball history into one hour and cover all the good stuff. I will try to focus on Montgomery's sometimes rocky relationship with baseball, the games connection to the growth of the city and nearly-forgotten stories of players and teams past.

Although this event is for APRA members only, I am always happy to speak for groups on the history of baseball in our area, just hit me up!

Friday, January 13, 2017

An Interview with Montgomerys All Time Strikeout Leader

So here is a trivia question you can probably stump most fans with with... Who is the all-time single season leader in strikeouts by a Montgomery pitcher?

A Biscuit?
Jaime Schultz, Biscuits single season K leader
Twenty Biscuits have tallied over a hundred K's from the mound in a Montgomery uniform, only three have reached 150.

Alex Torres had exactly that many in 2010. The Biscuit franchise leader was Andy Sonnanstine with 153 in 2006 until Jamie Schultz punched out 168 in 2015.

Yet none of the three match the top "All Time" single season leader for Montgomery.

Only nine players have notched 150 K's in a single season for Montgomery, putting the three aforementioned Biscuits are in a very small fraternity, but even they are a few dozen K's behind the top spot.

The answer to the question is "Dick Egan" with 201 strikeouts in 1959.


Egan with Dodgers 1967
As a major league player, Egan was a lefthanded hurler for the Tigers, he would spend parts of four seasons in the bigs for Detroit and later the Angels and Dodgers.

Last year Dick was honored with the Legends in Scouting Award from the Professional Baseball Scouting Foundation. Among the many players he scouted and signed is five time All-Star pitcher Kenny Rogers.

Dick Egan has been in baseball for over 55 years as a player, scout and coach. Simply put, hes a lifer. Currently he is the special assistant to the Detroit Tigers General Managers office.

But before the big lefty made it to Tiger Stadium he pitched in the minors and a tour with Montgomery was his third assignment in just his second pro season.

Egan with Angels in 1966
That 1959 was a fine year for the Rebels and a great one for the 22 year old Egan, who emerged as a leader on the pitching staff. Dick won 14 games, tossed a pair of shutouts, had a stellar 2.70 ERA and struck out 201 batters to lead the Alabama-Florida League.

Egan's 15 complete games constitute one of the most dominating seasons in Montgomery baseball history and helped the team to bring home a league flag.

Dick Egan would earn 200 strikeouts again, pitching in Hawaii in 1962 he again struck out exactly 201 PCL hitters and won 17 games for the Islanders.

I contacted Mr.Egan about his season in Montgomery, specifically I wanted to know if he was aware of being the All Time Single Season Strikeout Leader for Montgomery, Alabama. He was kind enough to respond and share a little info on his time with the Rebels.

You can read the interview below....

Dick Egan with Tigers '63-64
Q: I wondered if you knew that you were the Montgomery All-Time Single season strikeout leader, and how you might view your accomplishments with the Rebels?

Egan: Nope - I knew I'd had a good year. My second full year - we were all clueless!

Q: The 1959 Rebels were one of the great teams in our history at 77w-44L. What can you tell me about the other players on the team that year, or about that winning season?

Egan: Cant remember many. We had catcher Pat Duke from Auburn and LeGrant Scott from the University of Alabama at second base. They argued constantly!

We had an old bus with room for 3-4 guys to sleep in back, just a flat area for a bed but the starting pitcher the next day got a spot!

Frank Carwsell
Q: How was it pitching for manager Frank Carswell?

Egan: Frank was an old "pro" but he could still hit - he took BP at times. In those days pitchers threw BP between starts occasionally!

Q: Do you have any specific memories of the city of Montgomery, the ballpark or games played that you would like to share?

Egan: The ballpark was ok - but left field sloped downwards. We were in the 1B dugout.

Paterson Field in 2015

Steve Dalkowski
Pitcher Steve Dalkowski of Pensacola threw a bullpen in LF corner, unreal velocity, the catcher missed a few. One fastball busted a board in the fence behind him! Hardest thrower of all time!

(Egan remembers details correctly, though he is not the only one to call Dalkowski the hardest thrower as seen in the following article)

Q: Im very curious how you felt about the Alabama-Florida League, the other teams their ballparks, if anything stood out or was unusual?

Egan: I think the league was a good Class D. Selma was who we beat to get to the playoffs, I think. Panama City had a small clubhouse that leaked badly.

Ft.Walton Beach had a family style All-You-Can-Eat restaurant. We would stop to eat and wipe em out of food!

Q: I have a hard time finding descriptions of the Rebels uniforms around that time, can you describe what the team wore? 

Egan: I can remember the heavy wool and in summer I soaked them badly in sweat, couldnt find a dry area to wipe my hands off.
1950s era Rebels team

Q: It looks like you really developed as a pitcher in 1959. What pitches were you using to strike out over two hundred hitters that year?

Egan: I threw lefthanded and had plus velocity and a sweepy curveball. Probably exceeded todays pitch counts often. Never hurt - we threw a lot- no weights no drugs just baseball!

Early in the season I was married and needed more money. The Tigers offered me some small raise if I would hang in and work hard, I got $50 a month bonus I think! haha

Baseball all I know - still love it - still with Detroit!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Predicting the Skitz 2017

Wow, this gets tougher every year. The annual team prediction is a challenge for many reasons, not only are we three months ahead of the roster being set, the Rays usually manage to swing a trade before heading to spring training. Then of course there are injuries, which can never be predicted.

Still, its always fun to peer into the crystal ball and work a bit of prognostication!

Nick Ciuffo
Mac James

1B Grant Kay

2B Riley Unroe

SS Alec Sole
Andrew Velazquez

3B Christian Toribio

Granden Goetzman
Cade Gotta
Brax Lee
Justin Williams
Jace Conrad

Chris Kirsch*
Brent Honeywell
Hunter Wood
Greg Harris
Jonny Chirinos
Grayson Garvin*?

Steve Ascher*
Kyle Bird*
Mark Sappington
Mike Franco
Brad Schrieber
Ian Gibaut
Brian Miller
Nick Sawyer

The Rays have a well stocked system, resulting in a crowded starting rotation in Durham to start next year.

 This could push a couple guys who are ready to advance back into Skitz raiment to start 2017 - players like Chris Kirsch or Brent Honeywell, however if the Rays finally trade a MLB starter it could open the door for one or both.

The catcher situation is always up in the air - much depends on how free agent acquisition Wilson Ramos comes along. Maile and Casali will handle the catching for the Rays, at least in the first half of the year. Mike McKenry was also signed and could split time at Durham and Tampa, leaving the bulk of triple-A catching to Mike Marjama and Arencibia.

At double-A Montgomery, Justin O'Conner had his back worked on, he will miss the start of the season, likely leaving the Biscuits catching first chair duties open to Nick Ciuffo. Mac James should share time wearing the tools of ignorance.  Thats a lot of dominoes to line up, but thats how I see it shaking out!

Third base is a bit of a mystery, Toribio's defense wasn't overwhelming at Charlotte, but there isn't much depth in the Rays system so he could easily get the nod. It was also suggested that the Biscuits third baseman could be Kean Wong, who played there 40 games last year. Perhaps this is a spot that could be filled by a trade.

The field staff was announced, Brady will return to skipper the club with RC Lichtenstein as pitching coach and Dan Dement in the hitting coaches roles. Its a nice return for the staff that has taken the Biscuits to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

Added to the coaching staff this year is former big-leaguer Gary Redus.


Redus brings a hefty resume of major league accomplishments, playing for five MLB teams over his 13 year career. A native of Tanner, Alabama, Gary was chosen by the Red Sox in 1977 but turned them down, then again in the 15th round of the 1978 draft by the Cincinnati Reds. Redus made his debut in 1982 for the Reds and appeared in over 350 games for them before being dealt to the Phillies in '85.

Two season later the Phils sent Redus to the WhiteSox, who dealt him to the Pirates where he would spend four seasons.

In 1993 he signed with Texas and played for them for two years. The Strike of '94 spelled the end his playing career, Redus hung up his spikes to spend time with his family.

Known as a talented outfielder with speed and pop, Gary Redus tallied over 300 career stolen bases. Eight times he swiped 25 or more and with the WhiteSox in '85 he stole a whopping 52 bags, good for third in the circuit. Known for speed, Redus was also an excellent defender in left field, leading the league in outfield assists in 1986.

Gary was in the postseason three times with the Pirates, batting .279 with three steals and three RBI while playing mostly first base. While with the Pirates, Redus let his former team know what they had let go - he hit for the cycle on August 25th, 1989 against the Reds.

The last time Gary Redus was in the Southern League was 1979, where he appeared with Nashville in 36 games.

In 1978 Gary hit a stellar .462 while with the Billings Mustangs, a professional record that sent his bat to Cooperstown.

Former Biscuits 1B Cameron Seitzer signed a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox.

Adam Kolarek and Armando Araiza signed with the Braves - have I mentioned that already? There are so many offseason move I have a hard time keeping up with them!

Parker Markel signed to play in Korea.