Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Skeeters

How different would baseball be, if baseball were different?

We’re about to find out.

Baseball’s potential future will be showcased in the independent Atlantic League this year, and it includes robot umpires, a 62-foot, 6-inch distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate, and no infield shifting.

Those three rule changes are among a wide variety of experiments that the Atlantic League will run this season as part of its new partnership with Major League Baseball. The changes, announced Friday, include:

• Using a TrackMan radar system to help umpires call balls and strikes
• Extending the distance between the pitching rubber from 60 feet, 6 inches to 62 feet, 6 inches in the second half of the season
• Mandating that two infielders are on each side of the second-base bag when a pitch is released, with the penalty being a ball
• A three-batter minimum for pitchers — a rule MLB and the MLB Players Association are considering for the 2020 season as they near an agreement on a smaller set of changes
• No mound visits, other than for pitching changes or injuries
• Increasing the size of first, second and third base from 15 inches to 18 inches
• Reducing the time between innings and pitching changes from 2 minutes, 5 seconds to 1 minute, 45 seconds

While MLB has long tested potential rule changes in the minor leagues, its three-year partnership with the Atlantic League — an eight-team league that features former major leaguers trying to return to affiliated ball — offers the ability to try more radical rules.

“This first group of experimental changes is designed to create more balls in play, defensive action, baserunning, and improve player safety,” Morgan Sword, MLB senior vice president, league economics and operations, said in a statement. “We look forward to seeing them in action in the Atlantic League.”

This story goes into more detail and analyzes how likely it is that MLB could adopt these changes, and how much effect they would have. Most of the proposals have been at least talked about for some time, with the possible exception of the base sizes, which are presumably to encourage more steal attempts. Like many people, I dislike the idea of restricting the ability of teams to field players wherever they want – bring on the weird defensive alignments, I say – but otherwise I am intrigued. And hey, one member of the Atlantic League is the Sugar Land Skeeters, so if I want to see what these changes look like with my own eyes, I can do that. What do you think? Craig Calcaterra and the Effectively Wild guys have more.

Mills and Clemens

Enjoy your paid time off, Brad Mills.

General manager Jeff Luhnow and owner Jim Crane see no reason to wait until the season ends to begin the search for the next Astros manager after Brad Mills was fired and replaced by interim skipper Tony DeFrancesco.

Some candidates might not become available until after Oct. 3 — or after the World Series should their employers advance far enough — but the search begins now and interviews will likely start during the season for those unattached.

“Right now, we’re at the very first stage, which is gathering information,” Luhnow said Sunday. “Once we get past that stage and determine which candidates we want to speak to, there’s going to be a lot of factors involved in that.

“There’s no reason to wait, so we’re going to move as fast as we can.

“We’re going to be working diligently on that for the remainder of the season and into the offseason or however long it takes.”

Crane said the Astros have four or five candidates in mind but have not compiled a list, which is expected to be larger than that once phone calls start today.

That Mills was fired isn’t a surprise. Changes in ownership almost always mean changes in management, and it’s not like Mills has a long record of managerial success to mitigate against that. Of course, it’s hard to imagine any manager from John McGraw to Casey Stengel to Bobby Cox getting a whole lot more out of the talent on hand. Still, I am curious what the actual case against Mills was, since no one is saying anything bad about him and I don’t recall seeing anyone argue that he’s been a failure. When a club is in complete tear down and rebuild mode, you need a manager that’s good at teaching and who won’t unnecessarily risk the health of his players to win a game that in the long run doesn’t mean much. I don’t know if Luhnow and Crane didn’t like what they saw with Mills or if they just wanted to get their own guy in there. Not that it really matters, as whoever they bring in is unlikely to still be there when the team finally turns it around. That’s usually the way these things go in the process, and with the Astros years away from being competitive, I’m pretty sure that’s how it will go here. Best of luck to whoever will be nurturing them in the interim.

Then there’s Roger Clemens.

Roger Clemens, whose remarkable 30-year baseball travelogue has taken him from Houston to Austin, Boston, Toronto, New York and points in between, will make his next stop in Sugar Land.

Clemens, 50, the seven-time Cy Young Award winner who last pitched in 2007 and was last in the public eye for his acquittal on federal perjury charges earlier this year, will return to the mound on Saturday night to pitch for the minor league Sugar Land Skeeters.

Clemens threw for about 90 minutes Monday morning at Sugar Land’s Constellation Field and pronounced himself ready for his comeback against the Bridgeport Bluefish, which along with the Skeeters plays in the independent Atlantic League.

[…]

“It is a fun, local, one-time kind of thing,” said Clemens’ longtime agent, Randy Hendricks. “The hitters will let him know Saturday if he should pitch another game.”

Whether it is indeed a one-time curtain call or a return to action that could at some point lead to Clemens’ return to the major leagues, it is an unexpected swerve in the career of one of baseball’s most charismatic yet polarizing athletes.

“We’re going to take things one game at a time and see where they lead us,” said Michael Kirk, operations manager for the Skeeters. “I am fascinated to see what happens this weekend, and we’ll take it from there.”

I think a little Pete Townshend is appropriate here:

“After the fire, the fire still burns
The heart grows older, but never ever learns
The memories smolder, but the soul always yearns
After the fire, the fire still burns.”

There’s two ways for an athletic career to end: For the athlete to accept that it’s over and move on, and for the athlete’s performance to make it clear to anyone who might think of hiring said athlete that it’s over. Neither has happened yet with Roger Clemens. As long as he’s got the fire, and until the objective evidence says otherwise, I say what the heck. For all we know he may still be a viable option for the Astros a few years down the line when they’ve finally put together a team that can win again. Or perhaps sooner than that, as Campos speculates.

So here’s the deal. If he does OK in a couple of outings, the ‘Stros will pick him up for three games in September when they can expand the roster. The ‘Stros will let him start against three non-contending clubs at The Yard – Cubbies, Phillies, and San Luis (soon to be non-contenders) – and they will let him pitch four or five innings and sell out The Yard. It is gate money the team wasn’t counting on. They will pay The Rocket the minimum but since he’ll be an MLBer, he’ll be knocked off the Hall of Fame ballot for the next five years and won’t have to face the humiliation of not getting the votes next January to join the Hall of Fame. By 2018, some of the old school BBWOA members won’t be around to leave The Rocket off of their ballot and the most recent Rocket memory will be of the 2012 Comeback at The Yard. That’s not a bad strategy if you ask me. Plus, at least it would be something to look forward to at The Yard this September.

That actually makes a lot of sense, for all involved. We’ll see how it goes.

Skeeter mascots

Meet Swatson and Moe, the mascots of the Sugar Land Skeeters. I guess when your franchise is named for a winged pest, your options for cuddly anthropomorphic representations are somewhat constrained. Be that as it may, the Phillies Phanatic comparison works pretty well for them. What do you think?

A night with the Skeeters

I learned a couple of interesting things from this Richard Justice column about the forthcoming Sugar Land Skeeters minor league baseball team. Among them: You may think you know what a Skeeter is, but you don’t.

If you’re wondering what a Skeeter is, don’t.

“It’s not a mosquito,” [team president Matt] O’Brien said.

He will unveil a mascot later this year, and then we’ll all know.

Why wait that long? Leave your guesses as to what a Sugar Land Skeeter is if it’s not a mosquito in the comments. Bonus points for links to a representative image.

Houston hasn’t had a minor league baseball team in 50 years, and the gamble for the Skeeters is trying to survive in the shadow of a major league franchise.

And then O’Brien starts rattling off reasons people will enjoy the ballpark experience.

“At times, we’ll feel like dinner theater,” he said. “It’s a place to eat, have fun and socialize with your neighbors.”

If the Skeeters are a success, there likely will be more teams added within two or three years. Baytown has been mentioned for a franchise. So have The Woodlands, Conroe and Waco.

These would be Atlantic League teams – the league is looking at expanding into Texas, if only to make future Skeeter scheduling easier. There’s also supposed to be a Montgomery County team coming online in 2012, but I have not heard anything more about that recently. I don’t know if they’ve officially landed a team, and if so what league it’s in. I’m not sure there’s room for two minor league teams out that way.

The description of the minor league experience as being a bit like dinner theater is apt. I’ve been to minor league games all over the country, and they do work hard to keep you entertained. A common factor now seems to be having a play area for kids. Speaking from recent personal experience, you can spend the better part of the game there with the kiddos if they’re not as into watching the action on the field as you might be. Minor league games are very different than their major league counterparts, but they’re a lot of fun. I plan to make the trek out there once or twice a summer.

One more thing:

There will be all the bells and whistles of minor league baseball. One section of the outfield will be a playground, another an old-fashioned Texas icehouse.

Tickets will go for $8, and $1.75 will get you a hot dog. Depending on your taste in beer, a cold one will cost between $4 and $6.

Again, speaking from personal experience, let me implore President O’Brien and the entire Skeeters staff to ensure there are microbrews available at the games. If you don’t have Saint Arnold, No Label, and Southern Star on tap, you’re doing it wrong. Trust me on this.

The Skeeters have a stadium name

We now know the name of the stadium that will someday house the Sugar Land Skeeters.

Fun at the ol’ ballpark will now officially take place at….StarTex Power Field.

It’s named, as you already know if you work for this particular obscure company, for an energy retailer.

“There was great interest from a variety of businesses, but StarTex Power was the best choice,” said Skeeters president Matt O’Brien. “Their reputation for high ethical standards, award-winning customer service, and commitment to the community makes them an ideal partner.”

Financial details of the 10-year naming rights deal were not disclosed and the deal still has to be approved by the Sugar Land city council, which presumably will get those details.

Um, yeah. Am I the only one who thinks they should take the next logical step and call the team the StarTex Power Skeeters? Because that actually sounds kind of awesome. Like something out of “Starship Troopers”, maybe. Who’s with me on this?

Will their first fan giveaway be flyswatters?

The Sugar Land Skeeters? For serious?

Sugar Land’s minor league baseball team has yet to be formed, but planners have begun selling tickets for its 2012 inaugural season Wednesday after unveiling the team’s name, the Skeeters.

Hair Balls has a rendering of the team’s logo. Am I the only one who thinks that “Sugar Land Imperials” was a no-brainer for the team’s name? For some reason, that didn’t even make the finals. Well, what’s done is done. Maybe former exterminator Tom DeLay can be their spokesperson. Or better yet, he can wear the mascot costume at the games. Yeah, now it makes sense. Around the Loop has more.