The men who built that league would understand what the Summer League is all about.
To say that I was worried about the 1999 Summer League Season is an understatement. Drafting in the last third of the order was only the least of my problems. My real job wasn't lending me any favors to spend any time drafting, and my ongoing job search consumed most of my free time. Sure, I was scouting, but it was job boards, not relief pitching. To make matters worse, Chris Klein questioned my commitment to the league.
Still, I was determined that I would be competitive. My game plan was simple. I was going to take the best pitcher available and look for non-spectacular hitters to over achieve against lesser pitching. In thought, and on paper, I liked the plan. I didn't go wrong leading off with Pedro J. Martinez, but Kenny Rogers in the second round proved to be disastrous. Albeit hindsight is twenty-twenty, and when the draft ended I was happy with my picks and still looking for a new job.
I won my first game, and my first series. It took me two or three games to realize that the last player I drafted, Quilvio Veras wasn't on my roster yet.
Then I got it handed to me. They say if you sit in a poker game for more than half an hour and can't spot the fish, then you are the fish. Owners were lining up to play me, and I was only too happy to oblige. I'll never forget Joe Hauser talking trash as Manny, and the Hibbing Hurricanes smashed the Organization to pieces. Against Ken, Frank Thomas seemed to lead off every inning in that first series, and the Tearers run production thoroughly embarrassed me.
Steve Swinea, owner and GM of the Chicago Shazam was anxious to make a trade after the forty game mark. Truth be told, I didn't want to pull the trigger and give up my number one pick. Things picked up before the All-Star (real-time) break, but not to a level of recovery. My pitching was terrible, but guys like Ray Durham, Jason Kendall, and Jay Bell were having monster years offensively. I was stealing some bases and although Kendall couldn't throw most people out, every once in awhile he would gun down a 32 or 34. I was happy going to the Club and drinking a beer or two and playing the game. I was still, without a new job.
The internet/phone games were memorable. I waited a good three minutes after pitching with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to find that I lost a game to Greg. I had to work the Shakespeare Festival at school, and I played Greg and Graham after the shows started. Two thousand people were sweating on the lawn of Barat College, and I was sitting in an air-conditioned office playing phone games.
Graham made me laugh, whether I won or lost. I didn't laugh when I lost to Greg, which was most of our games, but the best moment of playing Greg was on the night he got his dog. He couldn't stop playing with the dog or laughing at it during the games. It was the coolest thing. I've never seen (sic) him happier.
Somewhere during this stretch I lost ten in a row to Steve and got swept by Ken, and had a game canceled due to rain while I was up, all on the same night. Throw in my series with Doug where Tony Gwynn hit three homers to win two games in the ninth, and that pretty much sums up my season. It was no surprise to anyone, except myself, that Ray Durham, Jay Bell, and Jason Kendall cooled off considerably. I hated my job and was at the point of tempting just to get away from it all.
Keith Klein characterized my team as not having an effect on the outcome of the league. That call is pretty much dead on. While I coined the phrase "Jay Bell Factor", I had the dubious distinction of being called "Obviously, a Misunderstood Genius" by Keith during the 1999 SL. While this has no historical effect on the outcome of league, I am certain to take that nickname to the grave.
Early in the draft, I thought Rob Nenn was the next best available pitcher. Chris Klein ended up selecting him, and I wound up with Francisco Cordova or Denny Neagle. Chris wound up winning it all. I don't even want to think about my record against the Red Rangers. I will think about sipping beer and talking and having some good laughs during the summer of 1999. I tied Chris in that one.
Summer league competition is , as it should be, unforgiving. Forget to pitch from the stretch, and an unlikely player will likely steal home. Control pitchers will issue walk after walk. "Yes folks, that is a fair ball." While the nuances of the game are lost on me again and again, I can't help it, I still think I will succeed. Ken Klein doesn't care that I don't always know who bats left handed and who is a switch hitter. He understands that I enjoy the game, the rivalries, and the spirit of the competition. Perhaps that is why he brought me into the game. Perhaps that is why he enjoyed beating me so much this year.
One last rally cry: LONG LIVE THE PLO...long live the Summer League
If no one else, those guys sitting around the filling station would understand.
I started a new job in September of 1999. So far so good.