Comets, Smokies Swap Starters

There’s a trading arms race afoot in the Patriot League.

Recently, the Jackson Hammerheads have pulled off a string of deals, leading to owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler dubbing himself the “Sultan of Swap.”  Apparently, the Hammerheads’ rival and last year’s trading kings, the Knoxville Smokies, aren’t going to give up their title without a fight.

No sooner had the smoke cleared on Jackson’s two-deal day than Knoxville announced a trade with the Carolina Comets.  In the deal, the Smokies acquired right-handed starter Scott Green and C Dustin Hoffman in exchange for southpaw Tom Trane and 2B Danny Kurland.

“We got younger and deeper without giving up any front-line players,” said Smokies owner Jeremy Mills.  “It was a no-brainer from our perspective.”

Scott Green

For the Smokies, the big prize in the deal is Green, a 25-year-old who pitched last season in Korea, posting a 19-11 record with a 3.09 ERA.  The righty immediately becomes one of the harder throwers on the Knoxville staff, having compiled 199 strikeouts in 245 innings last season; however, he also displayed excellent control, yielding only 44 walks.  He is considered a likely candidate for the Smokies’ rotation.

“I got me another live one!” crowed Smokies manager Snuff Wallace.  “This kid’s got a thunderbolt for an arm, and I’ll bet he looks real good in orange.  Them Jackson boys may as well give up now and save themselves the embarrassment of us whuppin’ up on ‘em again.”

Dustin Hoffman

Hoffman, meanwhile, gives Knoxville some extra depth behind the plate, although he is likely to begin the season in the minors.  The 22-year-old batted .255 with 16 homers and 79 RBI in his senior season at Northern Indiana, and displayed above-average skills as a fielder and pitch framer.  He was nicknamed “Rain Man” by his teammates because of his name, although he is no relation to the famous actor.

“Believe me, I heard all the jokes,” said Hoffman.  “Probably my favorite was every time I got a base on balls, my teammates would start yelling, ‘Hey, I’m walkin’ here!’”

Tom Trane

In Trane, the Comets acquire an experienced and versatile pitcher, although one who had a down year in 2015.  The 30-year-old lefty started the year as a starter for the Orlando Calrissians, but after a rough first month found himself exiled to the bullpen.  Shortly thereafter, he landed on the disabled list with a strained oblique.  Once he returned from the DL, Orlando sent him to the minors, where he remained buried until the trading deadline.

At the deadline, Knoxville picked him up from the Calrissians along with fellow ex-starter Rick Tomblin.  While Tomblin seemed reborn in Knoxville orange, Trane continued to struggle in a long relief role for Knoxville.  He finished the year with an 0-2 record and an 8.66 ERA.

“I got bounced around like a ping-pong ball last year,” said Trane.  “I had a couple bad starts, then I got bumped to the pen, then I got hurt, then I got buried in the minors, then I wound up with a new team down the stretch.  I never really found my footing.  I’m hoping that being with an expansion team, I’ll have some stability and a bit longer leash, so I can just relax and do my job without looking over my shoulder.”

Outside observers believe Trane has a decent shot to make Carolina’s rotation, though he said he is willing to start or relieve.  “All I want is a shot, a real shot,” said Trane.

Danny Kurland

Carolina also picked up a second-base prospect in Kurland, a 22-year-old native of Calgary.  Kurland played only sparingly for Knoxville last year, batting .267 in only 8 games, and he does not have a strong reputation with the glove.  But with light-hitting former Salt Lake second sacker Quincy Gaytan the projected starter, Kurland should get a strong shot at the starting job.

“There ain’t no guarantees on this team,” said Comets manager Taylor Ashy.  “Everything’s up for grabs.  If you play hard, drink hard, and do a job, you’re all right by me.  If Danny comes here and does a job, the sky’s the limit.”

Given the past trading history of Mills and the Smokies, it’s unlikely that this is the last deal for the defending division champs.  The owner implied as much at the press conference announcing the trade, saying that he was “just getting warmed up.”  Can the King of Trading regain his throne?  Only time will tell.

PBL Expands By 4 For Season 2

After a rousingly successful debut season, the Patriot League is growing aggressively for its second season.  Commissioner Jeremiah Mills has officially announced that the PBL will be expanding from 8 teams to 12 for the 2017 season.  “Our first season was a tremendous success,” said Commissioner Mills, “and we’ve clearly demonstrated that there’s an appetite and an audience for this.  I know going from 8 to 12 may seem like a big jump, but I see it as a sign of how well we’re doing that we’ve got four new owners who want to join us.”

These are the new teams that will be joining the fold next season:

carolina-cometsCAROLINA COMETS

The Comets, who will be joining the PBL’s Eastern Division, are the brainchild of owner Steven Roseman.  Roseman believes that there is a significant untapped market of baseball fans in the Carolinas, and he expects the Comets to demonstrate it.  Roseman has committed to his vision with money, constructing a retractable-roof stadium in Catawba, NC to house his team.  Catawba is located roughly equidistant from the Charlotte and Winston-Salem/Greensboro metropolitan areas, and he expects to draw fans from both cities.

Despite being housed in an up-to-date modern facility, Roseman expects his team to play with old-fashioned flair.  The Comets certainly won’t lack for color under the direction of manager Taylor “Two-Buck” Ashy, a protege of Knoxville Smokies skipper Snuff Wallace.  “Ol’ Taylor reminds me a lot of myself,” said Wallace, “only meaner, drunker, and crazier.”  The Comets will also get a healthy dose of flair from their hometown stars. Left fielder Stargell Jackson‘s father is a diehard Pittsburgh Pirates fan who named his son after his hero, Hall of Famer Willie Stargell.  Southpaw starter Randy “Satchel” Flats earned his nickname due to his multi-pitch arsenal and quippy nature, both reminiscent of Negro League great Satchel Paige.

kalamazoo-kazoosKALAMAZOO KAZOOS

The Kazoos will be competing in the league’s Western Division.  Owner Will Norman selected his team name to honor “America’s greatest musical instrument.”  He doubled down on the kazoo motif by naming his stadium Kazoobie Kazoo Field, securing the sponsorship of America’s oldest and most venerable kazoo manufacturer.

Norman’s unorthodox choices extend to his choice of managers.  Jacques “Zippie” DeFlute has no background in baseball.  The Montreal native played several years of minor-league hockey.  More recently, he has been a traveling musician.  Despite his lack of baseball experience, DeFlute’s upbeat, effervescent personality is sure to make him a hit with the fans of western Michigan.

The fans are also sure to love the Kazoos’ pair of hometown stars.  CF Damian Mash was a star at Kalamazoo College, and SS Johnny Shorts is a native of neighboring Portage.

The Kazoos hope to establish a regional rivalry with the PBL champion Milwaukee Bear Claws.  It seems likely that rivalry will be fairly one-sided at the outset, but as DeFlute said, “It gives us a goal to shoot for.”

 

 

las-vegas-narwhalsLAS VEGAS NARWHALS

The Narwhals are prepared to make a big splash in the Western Division.  Win or lose, the squad from Vegas is certain to attract attention.  From their striking violet-and-gold uniforms to their stadium, MGM Jackpot Field, which will be the second Patriot League stadium (along with Orlando) to have a built-in casino, the Narwhals are sure to be noticed.  The team is going to have the glitz and glamour of Sin City, which is the way owner Tricia Butler wants it.  Bright lights, big flies, and high scores… that’s what Narwhals baseball is going to be about.

The Narwhals’ style and flair starts at the top with manager Benjamin Banks Mahoney, who prefers to go by “B. Money.”  Mahoney’s goals for the season are to “win a lot of games and raise a lot of hell, and not in that order.”  Mahoney’s quest will be aided by the Narwhals’ local stars.  LF Andrew Zocken figures to bring a lot of pop to the heart of the Vegas order.  And ace pitcher Jose Oro has the golden fastball to blow it by visiting hitters.

Traditionalists are likely to hate the Narwhals, finding the uniforms gaudy and the stadium more like an amusement park than a ballpark.  But the team will fit well with its city.  The fans of Las Vegas can look forward to a summer of high scores and high stakes both on and off the field.

new-orleans-sazeracsNEW ORLEANS SAZERACS

While it’s far from clear how well the Sazeracs will fare in the PBL’s Eastern Division this season, the team is going to have a lot of fun along the way.  According to owner Jeff Wiggins, that’s by design.  Wiggins said he loves the Big Easy because it’s “a fun location [where you’re] able to bring your drinks wherever you want.”  He’s made it his goal to assemble a team that reflect the fun-loving spirit of the city.  He said that the team’s motto will be “Work Hard, Play Hard.”

The team’s outlook is also reflected in its name.  Wiggins named the team after the Sazerac, “a strong all-alcohol drink invented in New Orleans.”  Te Sazerac (made with 1/4 oz Absinthe, one sugar cube, 1 1/2 oz Rye whiskey or Cognac, and three dashes Peychaud’s Bitters) is one of the most famous products of New Orleans, and the name gives the team a true local flavor.  Continuing the alcohol theme, the Sazeracs will play at Abita Field, named after a local brewery.

The team will take the field under the veteran leadership of former Angels manager George Knox, who is known for having a “magic touch” with his players.  New Orleans will also be led by a pair of hometown heroes, outfielder Ben Williams and shortstop Al Angel. Wiggins believes that Williams and Angels will be wildly popular, because the fans “are just as likely to see them hitting a home run or making a game-saving play, as they are to see them out on Bourbon Street with everyone else.”

 

Along with the PBL’s expansion, Commissioner Mills announced that the playoffs will be expanding next season as well.  Going forward, the top two teams in each division will make the playoffs.  The winners of the two division series will face each other in the Patriot Series.

“We are confident that the expanded playoffs will only increase fan interest in our league,” said Commissioner Mills.  “This year, the action is going to be hotter than Snuff’s temper!”