Category: Oakland Athletics

Oakland A’s 2016 Minor League Preview

Originally published on OaklandClubhouse.com

Photo by Kimberly Contreras

KIMBERLY CONTRERAS

04/07/2016

Kimberly Contreras pens a guide on the 2016 Oakland A’s minor league season, from Triple-A down to extended spring training.

As the last player walked into the Lew Wolff Training Center, after the final intrasquad game, spring training was officially over for the Oakland A’s minor league ball players. Whether they were headed for Nashville, Midland, Stockton, Beloit, or staying in Mesa, each had an assignment. Many were unhappy with their assignments. That’s how it is; everyone, to a man, wants to be a level higher, believes he should be above his assignment. Nothing wrong with that; playing with a little something to prove never hurt anyone.

For those who are closest to the farmhands, namely parents, family, girlfriends, friends, two of the biggest questions are: where are they going and how do I stay connected? The “veterans” are familiar with the process, but for the purpose of clarity, I’ve put together this guide to help navigate through Oakland’s minor league affiliates on a very basic level. There are essentially three ways to follow a team (player).

FIRST THINGS FIRST

If you haven’t already done so, download the *free* First Pitch app for Android and iPhone now. Go to “Settings” and personalize your favorite teams and choose the notifications you’d like to receive. This mobile application from Minor League Baseball is indispensable, as long as your interest is with one of the revenue generating teams. You’ll see that I use that term quite often, and with good reason. Never forget that baseball is a business, first and foremost.

The First Pitch app will not, however, update on the Extended Spring Training (EXST) activities in Arizona, which would not have been expected anyway. However, in June, when the OFFICIAL Arizona Summer Rookie League (AZL) or its Florida counterpart Gulf Coast League (GCL) begins, they will not be included either, despite the fact that both are official, stat recording leagues. Hit a home run in the AZL and it goes on the back of your baseball card; give up that home run and your ERA reflects it. But, because they do not produce any revenue (no ticket sales or advertising dollars) it’s as if they do not exist.

From your computer or non-Apple tablet you’ll need to connect like we did in the ‘olden days’. Via the respective team’s website. Archaic, I know.

If you want to listen to a game, most teams have, at the very least, a part time broadcast partner – most have a full time professional broadcaster. If/when a broadcast is available you can either use the TuneIn Radio app on your phone or tablet, or from the team’s website / MiLB audio page. TuneIn Radio:  http://www.milb.com/multimedia/audio.jsp?sid=t237

** One advantage to using the TuneIn app on your phone: you can record parts of a broadcast (an inning, an at-bat, whatever) while you’re listening to it and it remains with your TuneIn app. See the red circle to the left? That’s it.

TuneIn App

The second option is to watch on MiLB TV– live streamed and recorded/archived games. Mostly higher-level (Triple-A/Double-A) games (due to equipment at the stadiums) but some A level teams / games are available, as well. MiLB TV is not free. According to the site, it’s $50.00 for the entire season or $13.00 per month (double the price in past years) but depending on your priorities, and the ability to watch a game you may have missed so, it’s not an obscene amount, as long as the options and quality prove to be worth the price. At any rate, it is an option. http://www.milb.com/milb/multimedia/

Lastly, my favorite way to stay updated on all the game activity of every active level is using the scores-by-affiliate scoreboard. I would bookmark this link à http://www.milb.com/scoreboard/index.jsp?cid=&lid=&org=133&sc=&sid=milb&t=affiliate&ymd=20160407 but you’ll need to manually update the date by clicking “Today” near the top. I use this link more than anything else.

Now that you know how to stay updated, here are the teams to connect with:

Triple A – Nashville Sounds

Website:  http://www.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t556

Twitter: @NashvilleSounds

April 7th is a big day in Nashville for two reasons. First, it marks the start of Nashville’s 2ndseason as the home to Oakland’s AAA team. The beautiful new facility, First Tennessee Park, has received rave reviews, and is frequented by country music stars. What’s not to love? Let’s go!

The date is also important in that it marks the 13th anniversary of a perfect game authored by one of our very own, when he was a member of the Nashville rotation: Midland Rockhounds’ pitching coach, John Wasdin. I asked Waz about the game; the ever humble Florida State Seminole said there were maybe 50 people in the stands that day. Modest as always.

Nashville kicks off the 2016 season at home behind RHP Chris Smith, against the Oklahoma City Dodgers.

Nashville Sounds 2016 schedule

Listen to Jeff Hem (@JeffHemPBP) via: ESPN 102.5 Nashville: (and ESPN 94.9) Opening night on 94.9 or watch on MiLB TV http://www.milb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20160304&content_id=166220962&fext=.jsp&vkey=news_t556&sid=t556

FIELD STAFF

Manager: Steve Scarsone – 4th season as AAA manager. Drafted by the Phillies in the 2ndround in 1986.

Hitting Coach: Eric Martins – 1st season at AAA, 2nd season as hitting coach after a successful career in amateur scouting. Drafted by Oakland in the 17th round in 1994.

Pitching Coach: Rick Rodriguez – veteran pitching coach, 1st season at AAA. Drafted by Oakland in the 2nd round in 1981.

Athletic Trainer: Brad LaRosa

Strength and Conditioning: A.J. Seeliger

Double A – Midland Rockhounds

Website:  http://www.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t237

Twitter:  @Rockhounds

The two-time Texas League Champions are going for a three-peat! In 2014, led by then-manager Aaron Nieckula, Midland defeated Tulsa (then-Rockies affiliate) for its first Texas League title. In 2015, with a completely different field staff – led by current manager Ryan Christenson, pitching coach John Wasdin, and then hitting coach Eric Martins swept the NW Arkansas Naturals in three games for their second consecutive title.

On Thursday, April 7th, behind RHP Chris Jensen, and thanks to a schedule modeled after MLB’s, Midland starts the 2016 season right where they ended 2015; in Little Rock, at the home of the Naturals. These two teams recently faced off at Fitch Park last week; the tension was palpable. Ok, not really. The focus was actually on a game between the High-A match-ups in Tempe, where Mikey White and Tyler Marincov each homered off Jered Weaver. I was there for White’s home run. Fun times.

First pitch in Little Rock is scheduled for 7:10pm local time (5:10 in AZ/CA). The Rockhounds full time broadcaster is the wonderful Bob Hards. Listen to the veteran call all but three games on Newstalk 550 AM KCRS newstalkkcrs.com, and on each of the options listed above.

The three daytime games when there will not be a Rockhounds broadcast include:

April 19 vs NW Arkansas

May 17 vs Frisco

June 14 Frisco

2016 Midland RockHounds schedule

FIELD STAFF

Manager: Ryan Christenson: 2nd year at AA, led every team to the post-season. Drafted by Oakland in the 10th round in 1995.

Pitching Coach: John Wasdin – 2nd year at AA, Christenson’s pitching coach from 2011. Drafted by Oakland in the 1st round in 1993.

Hitting Coach: Brian McArn: 2nd assignment at AA (2013 & 2014) Drafted by Oakland in the 26th round in 1991.

Athletic Trainer: Justin Whitehouse

Strength and Conditioning: Henry Torres

High A – Stockton Ports

Website:  http://www.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t524

Twitter:  @StocktonPorts

The thin, dry air and gale force winds of the High-A, California League is known for inflating both hitters’ power numbers and pitchers ERAs. That’s ok. It’s California. No rain, no bad weather. Just a little warm sometimes.

Banner Island Ballpark (BiB) is home to the Stockton affiliate; the closest to Oakland of any in the farm system. It’s also close enough for some loyal fans to drive down and see the stars of the not-too-distant-future.

Thursday, April 7th, the Ports behind RHP Daniel Gossett, open the 2016 campaign at 7:10pm against the Rockies’ affiliate, the Modesto Nuts. The teams faced each other just a week ago in spring training.

The not-so-hidden-jewel of the Stockton Ports is play-by-play announcer Zack Bayrouty(@zackbayrouty.) The Worcester, Massachusetts, native is smart, articulate, and a true seasoned professional. Listening to him broadcast games – both home and away – on KWSX 1280AM is a delight. However, home games are a little more fun, because if you listen carefully, you can hear the Ports long-time PA announcer Mike Conway(@ironmike1959) in the background.

One item to note; Sunday games at BiB in the first half of the season have a first pitch time of 2:09pm to coincide with the (209) area code. By mid-July, when the forecast high has triple digits, day games become a thing of the past. 

2016 Stockton Ports schedule

FIELD STAFF

Manager: Rick Magnante: Long time scout credited with signing Barry Zito and Eric Byrnes. Drafted by Cleveland Indians in the 13th round in 1969.

Pitching Coach: Steve Connelly: 3rd year as pitching coach; moved his way up each year, served as pitching coach in the 2015 Arizona Fall League. Drafted by Oakland in the 24thround in 1995.

Hitting Coach: Tommy Everidge – also 3rd year coach. A fan favorite from his playing days. Drafted by Oakland in the 10th round in 2004

Athletic Trainer: Travis Tims

Strength and Conditioning: Sean Doran

Low-A – Beloit Snappers

Website:  http://www.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t554

Twitter:   @BeloitSnappers

Beloit, Wisconsin is just north of the Illinois border, off I-90. The fan base mainly belongs to Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs. But as they begin their 4th season as an Oakland affiliate begins, the green and gold is adding Beloit-area supporters to its fan base. Top prospects including Daniel Robertson, Matt Olson, Renato Nunez, and Bruce Maxwell were Snappers in 2013; Matt Chapman, B.J. Boyd, and Boog Powell in 2014 – when RHP Kyle Finnegan was MVP of Midwest League All-Star Game representing Beloit. The 2015 team included Mikey White, Sandber Pimentel, Dustin Driver, and a pitching staff that, if they had another six weeks added to the season would have sort of been the Midwest League version of the NY Mets.

On Thursday, April 7th, hosting the Brewers’ Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, RHP Kyle Friedrichs and the Snappers will start the 2016 season with a roster of prospects that will prove to be trouble for every opponent in the Midwest League. If you have the opportunity to attend a Snappers game and you don’t go, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself. Pitchers who can pitch, hitters who hit, and defenders who…. well, you get my drift. If I could spend the season following one team, I would head to Beloit.

Given the long and storied broadcast woes of the Beloit affiliate, that decision would assure that I never miss a Snappers game. Especially since only a handful of Snappers games will be streamed online this season, despite recently adding a new broadcast partner. In 2015, Janesville Community Radio partnered with the Beloit Snappers. The sporadic broadcasts by well-meaning volunteer game callers led to most parents/ friends / me mastering the list of who’s’ who of opposing broadcasters, and learning when to give up trying to listen, and just rely on an online scoreboard.

Toward the end of the season, Josh Keener took over the play-by-play duties. He is smart, professional, and a delight to listen to. Coach Keener (@CoachKeener23) will broadcast Snappers games, once his Rockford University baseball season is over. Until then, we will rely on opposing teams’ broadcasts. There are some that are quite good, including: Wisconsin’s Chris Mehring and Lansing’s Jesse Goldberg Strassler. 

In sharp contrast to the Snappers’ broadcast predicament, and as another another example of how lopsided the business of minor league baseball really is, some Midwest League opponents provide a television broadcast for their fan base on MiLB.tv along with a full time, professional radio broadcast team. The Snappers travel to Dayton, Ohio, home of the Reds’ affiliate in mid-July. It won’t be easy to return to Beloit after seeing how the other half lives. The Dayton Dragons are the rich kids on the block.

SNAPPERS GAMES BROADCAST SCHEDULE – ALL HOME GAMES:

Thursday, April 7 & Friday, April 8

Friday April 29, – Sunday May 1

Thursday, May 12 – Sunday, May 15

Friday, June 3 – Sunday, June 5

Thursday, June 16 – Sunday, June 19

Friday, July 1 – Sunday, July 3

Friday, July 8 – Monday, July 11

Friday, July 22 – Monday, July 25

Saturday, July 30 – Friday, August 5

Thursday, August 11 – Sunday, August 14

Saturday, September 3 – Monday, September 5 (final series of the season)

2016 Beloit Snappers schedule

FIELD STAFF

Manager: Fran Riordan: 2nd year manager with Beloit. Voted into the Frontier League HOF as both a player and a manager

Pitching Coach: Don Schulze – 1st year with Beloit. Drafted by the Cubs in the 1st round in 1980  

Hitting Coach: Juan Dilone – 1st year with Beloit, coach with Oakland since 2002. Signed with Oakland as an International Free Agent in 1990

Athletic Trainer: Brian Thorson

Strength and Conditioning: Matt Rutledge

Extended Spring Training (EXST) – Mesa

Each of the 15 Cactus League teams has an Extended Spring Training squad. Just like spring training games, there are no official records, so unfortunately, home runs hit here will not be counted, but neither will giving up five runs in one inning. When you read that a rehabbing major leaguer will play in a game in Arizona, this is where it happens.

Rosters are comprised of those who were not assigned to a full season team to start the season – maybe in need of more at bats, more playing time, rehabbing players from higher levels. Free agents newly signed, those who are working on something (pitch etc.)

Make no mistake: no one wants to be left behind while everyone else heads off for crowds and promotions and a “real team.” And it does get a little warm toward the end of the Extended Spring time, but there’s never a weather delay, and you don’t need coats or rain gear as is the case for many teams east of Arizona.

The field staff is like one mega coaching team: the combined staffs from short season Vermont and the AZL A’s, along with the hands-on coordinators and higher-ups. We will cover these teams as their seasons near, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the benefit of having Aaron Nieckula (Nuke) lead the short season Vermont Lake Monsters. As manager of the Double A Midland Rockhounds in 2014, he led his team to its first title with an approach that parallels preparing 7th graders for college rather than high school. He brings that same methodology to the lower levels.

There are no broadcasts, nor are lineups officially posted in EXST.  When I am at Fitch or at any of the games – which is a few times a week – I will post the good news and fun info, and that will be it.

For convenience and saving of time and travel, the farthest west the A’s squad will travel is to the Brewers in Maryvale, only once in the first week. Other than that, it’s all east valley match-ups – including 4 at the Giants minor league facility (the worst place for games. Period.)

Periodically, games at either of the Salt River Fields teams (Diamondbacks or Rockies) will be played IN the Stadium. But there is no notice and usually no one around to help.

SCHEDULE

First game played on Monday, April 11 at Fitch against the Giants. Final game played Tuesday, June 7 at the Giants facility.

EXST games are played on the backfields early in the day:  Monday – Friday at 10:30 and on Saturdays at 10am. Sundays are OFF days.

2016 Oakland A’s extended spring training schedule

 

Field Staff

Vermont Manager: Aaron Niecklula 1998 22nd round, Oakland

AZL Manager:  Webster Garrison – 2nd round 1983 – Toronto

Vermont Pitching Coach: Carlos Chavez 1992 17th round Baltimore

AZL Pitching Coach: Gabriel Ozuna – DR pitching coach, 2015 AZL

Vermont Hitting Coach: Lloyd Turner 2002 16th round Oakland (Billy O)

AZL Hitting Coach: Ruben Escalera – played with Brewers and Reds – coach w/Oakland since 2002

Vermont Athletic Trainer: Toshi Nagahara

AZL Athletic Trainer: Chris Lessner

Vermont Strength and Conditioning: Omar Aguilar

AZL Strength and Conditioning: Terence Brannic

Video Guru: Mark Smith

Coordinators

Pitching: Gil Patterson – returns from Yankees – was with Oakland 2008 – 2012

Hitting: Jim Eppard – from Angels = Oakland 13th round 1982

Field / Catching Coord: Aaron Nieckula

Defensive Coord: Juan Navarette

Rehab pitching: Craig Lefferts

The Definitive Guide to Oakland A’s Minor League Spring Training

Originally published 03/06/16 on OaklandClubhouse.com

03/06/2016

Everything you need to know about the Oakland A’s minor league spring training schedule — from times and game locations to maps of the facilities and tips for maximizing your experience

To even the most casual baseball fan, spring training is a fun experience. You don’t have to be able to name the 1981 World Series MVPs to enjoy sitting in the warm sun with a cool beverage in hand watching a split squad game between the Oakland A’s and the LA Dodgers at Camelback Ranch in Glendale. Just enjoy the environment and watch out for fly balls. However, if your son, brother, boyfriend, or husband is one of those players on the field and in uniform, then the entirety of spring training means something different to you. Especially if his games aren’t played in the stadium, but on the back fields.

It’s for this group of Arizona-bound travelers that I offer this quick guide to spring training. Maneuvering around the backfields of various facilities isn’t as easy as it could be, especially when no two facilities operate the same way. Especially if this is your first, with a vested interest. In addition to these tips, you’ll also find a comprehensive schedule of minor league games and their locations, as well as maps to each team scheduled to play this spring.

First: If you traveled to Mesa this summer or fall to see him in the Arizona Rookie League (AZL) or perhaps during the Fall Instructional League, don’t expect much to be the same. Spring training is run by the big league clubs. Unlike the non-revenue-generating AZL and Instructional Leagues, spring training is big money for the teams, for local businesses, and for the state of Arizona. Security is very tight, too.

The good news is that admission to minor league spring training games are still free – that’s one thing they have in common. Parking, however, may set you back, depending on the facility. First, let’s review some essentials:

The Basic Information

Minor League spring training games, just like those during Instructs, are not official games. There are no official stats nor any media coverage. Since these are exhibition games, the opponents are local to save on travel and time (in other words, not all Cactus League teams will square off during minor league spring training).

Games start at 1pm local time on the minor league fields.

There are four teams divided into two squads – Triple-A, & Double-A /  High-A & Low-A.

Two games are played at each location. They play the same opposing team on the same day, but one squad will travel to the opponents fields while the other squad will play at home.

  • For instance: Wednesday, March 23rd: the Athletics and Cubs face each other.
  • Oakland’s AAA/AA squad travel the four miles to Sloan Park
  • Oakland’s A+/A squads host the Cubs at Fitch Park
  • Then, on Tuesday, March 28th, the two organizations face off again. This time the AAA/AA squads stay at Fitch and host the Cubs, while the A+/A clubs travel to Sloan.

Anything and everything can be changed without notice. The players go where they’re told; don’t rely on them to update you with changes. No one informs me either, but if I do learn of changes, I will tweet it out, but I am not informed ahead of time of changes.

Always bring with you to games:

  • 2 WATER BOTTLES per person {1 frozen} and some easy snacks such as grapes, crackers, nothing that melts.
  • Concession stands are not open during the games. Restrooms are open.
  • Remember to always clean up after yourself.
  • Sunscreen
  • Comfortable shoes (there will be some walking, no matter where)
  • Optional, but one that I strongly suggest is a towel to sit on. There are usually metal bleachers to sit on, but cannot guarantee their cleanliness.

PLAN TO ARRIVE EARLY, ESPECIALLY AT AWAY GAMES, ESPECIALLY THOSE NEXT TO A STADIUM WITH A GAME ALSO BEING PLAYED AT 1PM.

Be patient arriving and departing; traffic can be bad with all games starting at the same time. Most parking attendants, etc. are only focused on the big league (revenue generating) game. Often, especially at the start of games, the “security” or parking staffers don’t even know there are games being played. This can be very confusing – not to mention frustrating.

MINOR LEAGUE GAME PARKING:

Is a pain at the Giants Minor League Facility on the south east quadrant of Hayden and Camelback Rd (not Scottsdale Stadium)

Limited parking lot that is shared with a city run fitness facility. Parking down the street is most likely an option – this is where the comfy shoes come into play.

  • Bring cash for parking at: Angels (Tempe Diablo) and possibly Cubs

The Cubs sell out almost every game, and traffic on Rio Salado & Dobson (the main artery to Sloan Park) is designed for one thing only: the revenue generating game in the stadium.

As you’ll see on the maps I created for this purpose, you’ll see the less-traditional way to get into the minor league fields at Sloan Park.

Salt River Fields is home to the Rockies and Diamondbacks

  • Rockies fields and entrance are on the SOUTH side of the complex
  • Dbacks fields and entrance are on the NORTH side (off Via de Ventura)

Camelback Ranch Glendale is home to the White Sox and Dodgers. For only one day, the AAA / AA A’s travel west to play the Dodgers. There is a game in the stadium, but it’s a 7pm start. Parking should not be a challenge. There should be signs directing where to go for Minor League games. Just be sure you’re going to the right set of games.

And then there’s the home facility – Fitch Park.

The only restrictions are: 

  • Please park in the general lot – just off to the right, past the entrance to the fields – and walk back to the field entrance.
  • As at all facilities, the Tower is for team staff (as in “decision makers”) only.

It’s good to be home.

STADIUM PARKING

In the even that you choose to attend a stadium game while you’re here, bring cash to park when seeing the following teams: Angels, Cubs, A’s, Padres, & Mariners. They all charge for parking at stadium games. Reason being there are volunteer groups that help out throughout the stadiums, and the parking fees generally support the volunteer group.

Keep in mind: Triple A and Double A games begin Wednesday, March 16th at the Cubs. There is no game at the stadium that day, so it will be much easier getting in and out. The lower level games – A+ and A – begin Monday, March 21st AT THE GIANTS facility. Sorry.

The Game Schedule

Oakland A’s 2016 Minor League spring training schedule

The Maps

Map to Tempe Diablo Stadium

Baby A’s Are Locked and Loaded!

Originally published 2/18/16 on OaklandClubhouse.com

The Oakland A’s don’t officially open spring training until Saturday, but there are already several players at Fitch Park preparing for the new season. Kimberly Contreras has a report from the early days of spring 2016.

LOCKED AND LOADED!

With a nod of respect to the few big leaguers I SAW in action before camp officially starts, here’s a quick update – a teaser, if you will – of the all the good stuff happening on Athletics Way!

Locked and loaded should be the theme for the A’s system in 2016. Each and every hitter I saw in my three days at early camp was exactly that. Maximum effort on fielding drills; extra grounders, extra plays with a specific improvement and requested by the fielder.

Fielding drills were fun to watch with the third base trio involved: Matt ChapmanMax Muncy and Renato Nunez. Chapman looks great, but you don’t need to ask him how he feels, just watch his defensive skills on display. Muncy is taking his experiences in 2015 and putting them to good use already. Locked and loaded. Nunez, whose off-season was shorter than that of the others, is coming off a successful Arizona Fall League performance.

At first base, receiving the throws from Chapman – and his pin point cannon – is Matt Olson. The resident “Walk King”, who has a better sense of the strike zone than most who call balls and strikes, is ready to put into practice the lessons last season. Matt traveled to Europe this offseason before serving as a groomsman, along with Daniel Robertson andBilly McKinney, in the January wedding of their dear friend Addison Russell.

Joey Wendle, who spent 2015 with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds, was the lone man at second base for these drills. Just as shortstop Marcus Semien was the lone man at the six position until Chad Pinder arrived. Pinder, the reigning Texas League Player of the Year, had a shorter off-season, as well, playing in the Arizona Fall League.

During live batting practice, the players in camp early absorbed the wisdom and insight of big league assistant hitting coach Marcus Jensen. Whether he was talking shop behind the shell while bullpen catcher Phil Pohl was throwing his first rounds of the season, or if Marcus was on the mound himself, the early bird hitters hung on his every word. Watching, as Marcus gave immediate feedback, you could see the body language change when his message “clicked”, was processed, and then put into action. 

Beau Taylor, who split the 2015 season between High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland,B.J. Boyd, the real Pride of Palo Alto, who had a really good season in High-A Stockton, and Chapman are in the right place, mentally and physically, everything to come together in 2016.

In the batting cages, just like on the field, it was extra-this and extra-that.  Swings, buckets, time, and live pitches and feedback from 2015 Beloit and 2016 Vermont hitting coach Lloyd Turner; they wanted more of everything and executed accordingly. No one looking to impress or out-perform his abilities, just focused on being the best he can be.

 

 

 

I passed or peeked my head in the cages several times each day. They were always busy, lots of hitting off the tee – highly underrated exercise. I believe Bruce Maxwell was in there every time I looked. Bruce will leave Mesa and report to Team Germany on March 14th and work out with the team prior to the WBC Qualifiers in Mexicali on March 17—20.

I watched their body language and how they’d react when they didn’t feel they executed as they should have – not the result, the execution. To a man, they are locked and loaded. And camp hasn’t even officially opened for pitchers and catchers yet, let alone for the position players. 

In addition to those mentioned above, the hitters and fielders I saw this week include Josh Phegley, Billy Butler, Jake Smolinski, and Andrew Lambo. I know other players reported early, I just didn’t see them.

Day 3 of my visit to early camp was focused more on seeing pitchers for the first time. To my delight, in addition to the non-roster-invitees throwing bullpens, I saw several pitchers who have reported even earlier; some will participate in the minor league mini-camp, which begins one week from today – February 25th – and others aren’t due until March 5th.  I usually stay quiet to observe and not distract from work being done, especially at times like this, but when I saw these boys, I wasn’t quiet. Dustin Driver, Heath Fillmyer, Dakota Chalmers, Heath Bowers, and Jordan Schwartz are present and accounted for.

Dillon Overton, Sean Manaea, Ryan Dull, Sonny Gray, Sean Doolittle, Dylan Covey, Seth Frankoff, Daniel Coulombre, and Chalmers all threw bullpens. I saw some of each, but a group who saw all included manager Bob Melvin, bullpen coach Scott Emerson, and rehab pitching coordinator, Craig Lefferts, to name a few.

Manaea was nice enough to talk with me a bit after his bullpen session. The 6’5” lefty has an equally big and illuminating smile. When I first met him prior to the start of the Arizona Fall League, before I ever saw him throw a pitch, his kind, genuine personality, and warm welcoming smile endeared him to me. I wondered what his disposition would be like on the mound. I knew he threw fire but he just seemed too nice. Ha! As I quickly learned, “Game Day Sean” is all business, and I don’t believe batters would ever use the term “kind” to describe him. Ever.

Thankfully, today was not a game day. The Indiana State University product, who came to Oakland in the mid-season trade with Kansas City for Ben Zobrist, put on a show in front of the big league skipper. I asked if he felt any pressure throwing in front of Melvin et.al, given the speculation and projection that he could very well pitch his way on to the opening day roster.

His response: “No, it’s great. Fun, exciting. This whole experience is just…awesome!”

Sean attended the MLB Rookie Development Program in Washington, D.C. earlier this year, and has been working out at the facility in Mesa since early January. He, too, is locked and loaded.

On Saturday, pitchers and catchers will officially report to camp and they’ll take physicals and such. Then, on Sunday, the first public workout of pitchers and catchers will open camp with morning workouts (9:30-ish til 12 or so) at Fitch Park – 160 E. Athletics Way, Mesa, Arizona 85201. 

City of Mesa Honors Athletics Way

Originally published 2/16/16 on OaklandClubhouse.com

       Photo by Bill Mitchell

City of Mesa honors the ‘Athletics Way’ in street name-change ceremony

KIMBERLY CONTRERAS

02/16/2016

MESA, AZ – The City of Mesa honored the Oakland Athletics franchise as they begin their second season with their Arizona facilities at Fitch Park.

It’s here. Baseball is back. Camps don’t officially open until later this week, but at every facility in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues, big leaguers and non-roster invitees are already getting to work. The fields at Fitch Park, spring and player development home to the Oakland Athletics, are no exception. Earlier today, close to 60 players were on the fields taking batting practice, throwing bullpens and working on fielding drills. Players and staff will continue to arrive each day as the A’s second season at Fitch Park officially begins.

Inside the facility, everything looks great in the Lew Wolff Training Center. The walls, lined with photos from great moments in Oakland’s history, welcome those who enter as if to say, “All is well with the world because you are here and there is baseball to be played.”

Stepping outside, the fields, of course, look spectacular; head grounds keeper Chad Husswould have it no other way. The almost-90-degree temps, with no relief in sight, can be intimidating this early in the year, but stand in the shade and cool off quickly. It really is a dry heat. Then you hear the familiar sounds of players calling out to one another, bats hitting balls that are caught and thrown; you can see the play in your mind just by the sounds. Yes, baseball is back. Everything just as it was when we left last fall.

Well, there is one change.

And it’s pretty cool.

Fitch Park is little-over half a mile south of Hohokam Stadium on Center Street. To enter the fields and watch workouts or minor league games, you turn off Center and head down to the public parking area off to the right. This is a short private road that houses a building belonging to the City of Mesa on one side, and the Arizona offices of the Oakland A’s on the other. Only two buildings on the street, only two buildings with the street address of 6th Place. Same address the previous inhabitants, the Chicago Cubs, used for the many years they called Fitch Park home.

City of Mesa Mayor John Giles and OaklandClubhouse correspondent Kimberly Contreras / Photo by Bill Mitchell

Sixth place, huh? You’re in a five-team league and you’re on 6th Place. Your address, that is. Well, that’s ok, that didn’t hurt the Cubs any did it??? Wait… So it may not have been the name of the street that did in the Northsiders, but why take any chances?On February 2, 2015, while doing one of my photo updates of the new facilities, I took 100 photos, and didn’t really look at details until I got home. That’s when I read the sign: “Welcome to the Lew Wolff Training Complex. Public Parking on 6th Place.” Ugh. This needed to changed. I had to say something.

I’ve said it a thousand times; Oakland A’s fans are smart, loyal, and tough. They know, and I mean *know*, baseball. They stay through the down times – though they may be vocal, they pack a football stadium during the decent times, and they celebrate like nothing I’ve ever seen during the great times. They know, and can identify front office personnel, the players and coaches in the minor league system, and they even know some of the scouts.

They know all the details of the latest issue preventing them from buying season tickets at a stadium with brand new plumbing. They want their team(s) to stay IN OAKLAND and not move to San Jose or LA. They’ve been through a lot, but they take nothing for granted. They know it’s not going to be easy and they put almost every other fan base to shame.

Many travel to spring training and stay for more than a day or two. They know their team’s spring training home, and it was safe to say most were sad to be leaving the majestic setting of Papago Park, and the institution known as Phoenix Municipal Stadium. This is a tight fan base, steeped in its tradition.

Oakland A’s President Michael Crowley / Photo by Bill Mitchell

So, while it may not seem like much to most, leaving Papago, where you entered on Walter Haas Hwy, to fields named after beloved managers like Mack and LaRussa, for the new digs on 6th Place, it just didn’t sit well with me.

I approached the mayor of Mesa, Arizona – John Giles. I had never met him before last spring. I don’t live in Mesa, never have. Matter of fact I live about 45 minutes northwest of Fitch. There was nothing in it for him to even entertain my idea of changing the name of the road to anything but what it was. But he listened anyway.

At one point he reminded me that the Cubs had the same address for all their years at Fitch. I asked him how many championships the Cubs won during that time. We briefly discussed name options, including my first suggestion “Bob Welch Way”. Bottom line, it was clear that the mayor thought this could work. He said it would. But I’ve worked with enough elected officials to know that I don’t write in ink.

About a month ago I heard from the mayor and he said I would soon receive an invitation to the renaming of 6th Place. That was the first contact I’d had with him since the end of spring training – 10 months ago.

This afternoon, Tuesday, February 16, 2016, the unveiling of “Athletics Way” took place at the north east corner of Center Street and – what use to be – 6th Place.

It was a lovely ceremony with speakers including: Mesa’s City Manager Chris Brady, Oakland A’s president Michael Crowley, Mayor John Giles and District 4 CouncilmemberChris Glover, who represents the area of Fitch Park. Also in attendance were Vice MayorDennis Kavanaugh, Councilmember David Luna, and Councilmember Kevin Thompson.

Crowley spoke about the fact that coming to Mesa has always felt like “coming home” even before the record-breaking spring in 2015, and he is happy and proud to have Athletics Way on the map.

Mayor Giles began his speech admitting that he has been an Oakland A’s fan from when he was a little boy watching games in Rendezvous Stadium. Named all the greats he saw:Rollie Fingers, Reggie Jackson, etc. who were his heroes growing up. Very cool. He then shared some far-too-generous words about me. (However, if you come to my house, you may find that snippet playing on a loop for the foreseeable future.)  Wonder if I can make a ring tone from it? But I digress…

Lily King-Cisneros and the crew with Mesa Channel 11 covered the ceremony, and famed photographer Bill Mitchell took some beautiful photos, as always. Among those in the small crowd were members of the Mayor’s exceptional staff, including Melissa Randazzo andJessica Stone; and from the Athletics, Brad Huss, Steve Vucinich and Ted Polakowski.

If you see Mayor Giles around during spring training, be sure to thank him for his efforts. Remember, he’s an Oakland Athletics fan, too.

Bruce Maxwell to Suit Up for Team Germany – WBC

Originally published 02/09/16 on OaklandClubhouse.com 

2016-03-06 12.33.15

KIMBERLY CONTRERAS

02/09/2016

Oakland A’s catching prospect Bruce Maxwell will participate in the World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament with Team Germany.

MESA, AZ — The Oakland A’s pitchers and catchers officially report to big league camp on February 20th. Catcher Bruce Maxwell — a non-roster invitee to the A’s big league camp — is already in the Phoenix area getting ready for the season. His energy is high, his focus is unwavering, and his mindset is void of all things counterproductive. His time with the big league club will be paused for a week in mid-March, but it’s for a very good reason.

On March 14th, Maxwell will leave Mesa, Arizona, and join Team Germany as they head to Mexicali, Mexico, to compete in a qualifying round for the 2017 World Baseball Classic. The four-day, six-game double elimination tournament begins on March 17 when Maxwell and Team Germany take on Nicaragua at 12:30 pm PST. Mexico will host the Czech Republic in the night cap of Day 1 at Mexicali’s Estadio B Air.

Maxwell learned of Team Germany’s interest in adding him to their roster from A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman.

“It is a great honor to be able to suit up and do what I can to help Germany win the qualifier and advance to the World Baseball Classic,” Maxwell said.

Lieppman says the honor is well deserved.

“Bruce has become a top flight receiver after making huge progress in his receiving and throwing skills,” Lieppman said. “He has a good grasp of pitch sequencing and building good relationships with his pitching staff.”

And, though it is the oft-mocked statement made by players as they report to spring training, Lieppman’s concluding statement is, in fact, true: “Bruce is in the best shape of his career.”

The Alabama native was born in Weisbaden, Germany, while his father, a career Army officer, was stationed there. In 2012, Oakland drafted Maxwell in the 2nd round out of Birmingham Southern College, where he was named the Division III National Player of the Year. His power bat from the left side and natural leadership ability led the 6’2”, 230lb Maxwell to the backstop position, where his defensive and game-calling skills have strengthened each season.

A member of the back-to-back Texas League Champion Midland RockHounds in 2014 and 2015, Maxwell’s past two seasons have been about growth and development. Maxwell’s first focus as a pro was improving defensively — catching was relatively new to him when he turned pro. Since arriving in Midland midway through the 2014 season, he has had to adjust to Double-A pitching while playing in a home ballpark tough on left-handed power-hitters. That adjustment was made a little more challenging for the Army kid, who only knew to try harder and do more in order to improve. A true blessing, according to Maxwell, has been the trust and guidance of A’s minor league pitching coach John Wasdin, and the recent addition of minor league hitting coach Eric Martins.

Martins, a former A’s farmhand himself, joined the RockHounds in 2015 after spending the past several years as a highly respected A’s area scout, says that Maxwell has been finding his identity at the plate.

“Bruce learned a lot about himself as a hitter,” Martins said. “The last few years he was caught up in trying to hit for power and he forgot that he can hit and that the power will come. The numbers don’t show it, but Bruce has as much raw power as anyone we have in the organization. He focused on solidifying his approach and pick and choose when he wants to try and hit a ball out. Defensively, he did an outstanding job in handling the pitching staff and having a good, solid game plan against opposing hitters.

“He’s really cleaned it up behind the plate and has turned himself into a really good defender. He’s a hard worker who is always one of the first guys to the field; working out and getting in his routine. He’s really hard on himself and wants to do well so much that sometimes it’s to his demise. Left-handed hitting catchers with power are an enticing commodity and Bruce fits that mold well. This is a big year for him; he knows it and he’s spent the off-season getting after it. I think the organization will be pleased by what they see on him in spring training.”

Prior to the last WBC, Team Canada — which included Joey Votto, Justin Morneau andMichael Saunders — put an end to Germany’s journey.  Though Maxwell doesn’t yet know who his teammates will be, as anyone who knows, or has ever even met the charismatic catcher, there are no strangers in this world, as far as Maxwell is concerned; just friends he hasn’t yet met. He’s a man of the people, a true fan favorite, and an incredible teammate. On March 21st, regardless of which country advances to play in 2017, one thing is for sure, there will be a spike in the international fan base of the Oakland A’s by way of Bruce Maxwell.

White Sox hire Greg Sparks as Assistant Hitting Coach

Originally published 10/30/15  FutureSox.com

By Kim Contreras, October 30, 2015 at 7:51 am

White Sox hire Greg Sparks as Assistant Hitting Coach - Athletic theme, Sox roots
Hitting coach Greg Sparks, shown here in the AFL (Kim Contreras / Future Sox)

We got word on Thursday (from Susan Slusser) that the White Sox had hired Greg Sparks as the team’s new Assistant Hitting Coach. We may not normally dive much into that level of hire, but in this case, it has significance in team and theme.

Sparks worked closely with current Hitting Coach Todd Steverson in the Oakland organization, with Sparks eventually taking Steverson’s previous job. That’s the theme aspect – the White Sox now have both top hitting minds lifted from the same organization. An organization that has tended to deploy hitters more focused on getting on base than perhaps we’d seen from the club before. This should trickle down to the minors as well, in a change of philosophy.

The team aspect? Turns out Sparks has a pretty deep history with the White Sox too.

Sparky’s roots go through the South Side of Chicago thanks to his father Joe. The elder Sparks was an infielder in the White Sox organization for five years (1966 – 1969, 1973), a minor league manager for eight (1970-1974, 1977 – part of 1979), and one year as the third base coach in Chicago. In 1979, Greg served as a batboy for the Chicago White Sox, where he was on hand for a double-header against Detroit on July 12th. The 15-year old was indirectly part of the most notorious promotion in Major League Baseball history: Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park.

The Arizona native returned to Phoenix with his love of baseball intact, and his place in White Sox history solidified. The Shadow Mountain High School and Mesa Community College product was signed by the San Diego Padres following the January 1984 draft and enjoyed a twelve year minor league playing career. The young left hander played 90% of his games at first base – the remaining as a corner outfielder, and, of course, being a lefty, took the mound once or twice each season.

A quick look at his career playing numbers:
As a batter, Sparks accumulated 1,010 hits – including 120 home runs – along with 456 walks, 1,050 strike outs, and even 22 stolen bases in 1,270 career games. He boasts a career OPS of .699. In nine games as a pitcher, the lefty owns a career ERA and WHIP of 4.50 and 1.90 respectively. He averaged one inning pitched per season, gave up only one home run, walked seven and struck out two.

As a minor league manager, all with Oakland affiliates, Sparks began his career in 1998 with Single-A Southern Oregon of the Northwest League, where he was named co-manager of the year in 1999. From 2000 – 2002, he led the Modesto, California team, then on to Double-A Midland, Texas for a year.

After the 2003 season, Sparks served as Oakland’s Minor league hitting coordinator for eight seasons. In 2011, Sparks returned to a specific team as the hitting coach for Double-A Midland. Sparks’ successor as hitting coordinator was Todd Steverson, who enjoyed great success before joining the White Sox as the big league hitting coach.

In 2012 Sparks was promoted to Triple A Sacramento’s hitting coach, where he worked with Grant Green, Daric Barton and (former A’s and White Sox 1B) Chris Carter.

This time last year, it was Sparks who was the hitting coach for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League. He worked with prospects such as Blue Jays’ Dalton Pompey, Cubs’ Addison Russell, & Rays’ Daniel Robertson to name a few before once again becoming Oakland’s minor league hitting coordinator for the 2015 season – the job Steverson vacated.

Greg Sparks is a great guy, with great insight and results. As he is reunited with old pal Todd Steverson, it brings to mind a balancing of the universe (Yin and Yang); blending of opposite strengths; Steverson’s gregarious and Sparks’ lower-keyed personalities. Sure to be a winning combination for the Chicago White Sox Major League team.

2015 AZL White Sox – A Championship Season in Review

Originally published 9/8/15 on FutureSox.com

Wednesday, September 2nd; Mariners Practice Field #2

It’s the bottom of the 9th in the Arizona League Championship Game. The visiting White Sox lead 3-1. Just three more outs and the title will belong to the South Siders. Righty Jack Charleston, who came on in the 8th and retired the minimum on infield ground-outs, returns to close out the 9th. Even with one of the league’s best catchers, Seby Zavala, behind the plate, things get a little tense.

A couple singles and a wild pitch lead to a Mariner run before the first out is recorded. Fly ball to center fielder Tyler Sullivan; 1 out. Foul pop-up caught by first baseman Corey Zangari; 2 outs. Some of us, including Courtney Hawkins and Micker Adolfo who came to support the team, start breathing again. For a moment.

A wild pitch sends the lone runner to 3rd. The next pitch hits the batter, who’s down for a bit. Charleston is done. He’s replaced by Richie McWilliams, who entered the game in the same situation the night before – bases loaded, two outs – and faced one batter who grounded out to end the game.

McWilliams’ first batter walks to load the bases. I’m standing on the fence directly behind home plate recording the final out. Next to me is Chris Gwynn, Mariners Director of Player Development, who sees that I’m recording and is almost silent. He’s not breathing much at this point, either.

Then, after working his at bat, Juan Camacho pops up to the first base side, where Zangari is waiting and makes the catch for the 3rd and final out.

Ball game, championship, season!

On opening night (June 20th) the White Sox roster resembled the league standard. Names included those selected and signed from the 1st Year Player Draft, international signees promoted from the Dominican Summer League, a few rehabbing players, and a few domestic non-drafted free agents.

Of the 2015 draft picks signed by the White Sox, only two selected in the top ten rounds were assigned to the AZL: RHP Jordan Stephens (5th round) and 1B/DH Corey Zangari (6th round). This doesn’t include first round pick Carson Fulmer, who debuted in AZL, but was only here for one inning before moving up to Winston-Salem. 7th rounder Blake Hickman signed and learned he had to have Tommy John surgery; he’s listed on the AZL roster but will not see any activity until the 2016 season.

The rest of the many 2015 draftees that made up the bulk of the roster when the team opened play: C Seby Zavala (12th), LHP Ryan Riga (13th), OF Tyler Sullivan (14th), RHP Chris Comito (15th), RHP Brandon Quintero(16th), C Jacob Cooper (20th), SS Danny Mendick (22nd), RHP Richard McWilliams (25th), LHP Alex Katz (27th), INF Bradley Strong (28th), OFJake Fincher (29th), RHP Jack Charleston (30th), OF David Walker (31st), RHP Taylore Cherry (32nd) and LHP Johnathan Frebis (33rd)

International players made up a larger contingent than previously, as new investments in Latin American begin to pay dividends: RHP Yosmer Solorzano, OF Micker Adolfo, C Jhoandro Alfaro, RHP Andres Sanchez, RHP Victor Done, LHP Kevin Escorcia, 3B Maiker Feliz, RHP Yelmison Peralta, LF Hanleth Otano, SS Amado Nunez, SS Felix Mercedes, RHPYeuris Guerrero and LHP Jaider Rocha. NOTE: Rocha is listed everywhere (MiLB, Baseball America, etc.) as a right-handed pitcher, but he is LEFT-HANDED. Cross my heart and Girl Scouts’ honor.

UDFA: RHP Ryan Powers, OF Jordan Yallen, and 3B/1B Cody Daily

Most who were on the early roster stayed with the team throughout the season. There were a few rehabbers along the way, including 34 year old RHP Jesse Crain (who took the loss on opening night), as well as 2B Micah Johnson and OF Jacob May. The only player promoted away from the team before the end of the regular season were Daily, Frebis, Riga and Katz.

That’s relatively minimal movement, allowing the boys to develop chemistry and learn how to play and win together. That’s a solid approach.

A Quick Look at some highlights from each month…

Important to note at this point that the AZL has a nickname – the “Fire League” – because where else do you start a game at 7pm with a temperature of 100+ degrees? We’ll revisit this shortly. The 2015 season began June 20th, with a loss to the Dodgers, their facility-mates, and the temperature at first pitch was 109 degrees. They finished the month of June with a record of 5-4.

July was one of the hottest months Central Arizona has seen in decades. It was also a hot month for these White Sox, who won 14 and lost 9, due largely to the bats, especially the one belonging to undrafted free agent Cody Daily. The Southern Illinois alum was signed to a minor league contract in February and did nothing but rake for the month he played with the Glendale team. The 3rd baseman was a wall for balls hit to the left side, and his precise throwing action was a show stopper. At the plate, in 20 games he was very productive. His slash line: AVG .390/ OBP .440/ SLG .695/ OPS 1.135, 3 HR, 5 BB vs 15 K in 82 PA. Daily was deservedly promoted to Kannapolis on July 22nd.

July also welcomed first round pick Carson Fulmer. He signed after his Vanderbilt teammates lost to Virginia in the NCAA College World Series. The professional debut of the bespectacled Fulmer was better than advertised! As a bonus, listening to the 1st round pick converse with his teammates, as well as with fans who approached him throughout the remainder of the game, showed the kind of quality person he is.

As hot as July was, August was even hotter. According to the National Weather Service, August 2015 was the hottest month on record in Arizona; and it was also the month when many double headers were played, to make up for storm-shortened and/or cancelled games from July or early August. Game 1 of the DHs would begin at 5pm. On August 17th, at Game 1 for the White Sox, the first pitch temp was 118 degrees. Game 2 started with a cooler 109 degrees at first pitch.

August 5th, hosting the Indians, brought the unfortunate end to Micker Adolfo’s season. In the 2nd inning, as he was mere steps away from home and about to score, Adolfo let out the most gut-wrenching cry as he fell to the ground. We did not know the reason or the extent of any damage, at the time. We just held our collective breath until Adolfo was carried off the field and was no longer writhing in pain. We were later told that as he was going to score, his spike stuck in the dirt causing him to fracture his fibula and do serious ligament damage. He underwent surgery and is recovering nicely. His presence at the championship game was a big boost to his teammates and to the team’s supporters, as well.

When the regular season ended on August 28th, the White Sox record for the month was 12 – 11, but they had already clinched a post-season berth from their first half run (and some labyrinthine playoff rules). The AZL All Star Team was announced at this point as well. Those named to the team (no game is played) are selected by the 14 league managers. The results – 4 spots occupied by members of the AZL White Sox – were no surprise to those of us who follow the team.

Well… I take that back… there was one surprise: Corey Zangari, who played 1st base and ONLY 1st base for the season, was named as the league’s All Star 3rd baseman. Even better, Zangari was also named as the league’s All Star DH – he was so good he made the roster twice. Additional White Sox players named to the All Star Team (just once each): SS Bradley Strong and C Seby Zavala. I’m happy to report that each is representing the position he, in fact did play, throughout the season.

Offensive production: the AZL White Sox as a team were among the league leaders in nearly every offensive category, including (out of 14 teams):

  • 1st in: AVG, OPS, H, 2B
  • 2nd in: OBP, SLG, HR, R
  • 5th in walks and 2nd FEWEST in Strikeouts (followers of the Sox minor league system may rejoice at that one)
  • 6th in 3B and 7th in stolen bases (while 5th fewest in CS)

Pitching production: Not as spectacular, though there were a lot of teenage arms on the club:

  • Where you want to rank high: 9th in WHIP, 10th in ERA, 14th in Strikeouts
  • Where you want to rank low: 1st in HRA, 5th in BB, 8th in Hits (maybe they got BABIP’d to death?)

Corey  Zangari and Seby  Zavala, or the "Killer Z's," led the AZL Sox to a championship (Kim Contreras/FutureSox)

Some individual performances that stood out league-wide:

  • Corey Zangari was tied for 4th with 6 HR, 5th in SLG (.492), t-6th in 2B (13), 7th in AVG (.323), 9th in OPS (.848)
  • Seby Zavala was 2nd in 2B (17), t-7th in 3B (5), t-10th in HR (4), despite playing about a dozen fewer games than most of his cohorts (would have been among Top 10 in AVG, OBP and SLG if he had another handful of AB’s to qualify)
  • Bradley Strong was 3rd in OPS (.873), t-3rd in 2B (15), 5th in AVG (.326), 6th in SLG (.484), 7th in OBP (.389)
  • Jake Fincher was tied for 3rd in 3B (6), 6th in SB (17, with 6 CS)
  • Danny Mendick was tied for 6th in HR (5)
  • Tyler Sullivan was 8th in OBP (.372)
  • Not many league leaders on the pitching side, but a couple notes (for minimum 10 IP)…
  • Johnathan Frebis was in the Top 15 in ERA (1.25), WHIP (0.92) and H9 (5.8)
  • Can’t find league leaders on this, but Yosmer Solorzano’s 2.07 GO:AO ratio has to be near the top (and he popped up as a legitimate prospect overall)

This is definitely a developmental league, and the fact that these young men have had the season to play together and get to know what it’s like to be professionals together, can only help them in the long run. It certainly helped them this season.

There’s no way to end this season in review without including the loss of AZL scorekeeper and die-hard White Sox fan, Jim Richards. The Chicago native passed away August 17th. He is missed by all of his AZL friends and family.