As week are within six weeks of the start of the Northwest League season, I’ve begun to look ahead to things we will see this year – especially new things.
At the top of the list – probably for everyone, is the move of the franchise that was the Yakima Bears and is now the Hillsboro Hops. The new stadium (picture from last week at the right), right along the Sunset Highway just outside Portland, is progressing nicely and am fired up to make the trip to the new digs in July – and also to see their outstanding broadcaster, Rich Burk. This also means a new hotel to stay at – as we’ll be staying at a Comfort Suites – guessing it will be like the one in Salem (which is an outstanding hotel, just a horrible location).
A new hotel also awaits us in Eugene when we make the maiden voyage this season, as the Ems have moved the team hotel from along the Willamette River at the Valley River Inn, to a Holiday Inn Express in the concrete jungle that is Springfield. The one nice thing about the new hotel is the bevy of dining options for the players – especially after the game, while for the staff, the Hop Valley Brewery is next door.
I have also noticed the marketing that the Tri-City Dust Devils have done in the off-season, taking full advantage of the success of Seattle Seahawks quarterback, Russell Wilson. Why? Well, Wilson was a second-baseman for the Dust Devils when he was selected out of North Carolina State a few years ago. Not a bad idea.
Spokane has changed the look of their large concourse outside Avista Stadium, completing remodeling their concession stands, team shop, and offices. Should make it neat to walk into the yard in late June.
FIRST LOOK AT GIVEAWAYS: I always love promotions when we are on the road and I always seem to come home with plenty of things for my son, PJ (who will be accompaning me on a couple trips this year). The season opening series in Eugene is pretty vanilla (magnet schedule night x 3), but on our return visit to PK Park, they will have a Bats and Tats night – I can hear the Harleys now. The trip to Spokane will have one of my favorite promos – Bark in the Park Night, as will our trip to Everett. Everett also has a couple nice giveaways – both an Aquasox scarf and 2013 baseball cards (wish there was a Mike Zunino card). They’ll also have a car show on getaway day before the All-Star Break.
PRE GAME SHOW CONFIRMATIONS: I have confirmed that Business Baseball and Politics will return to Hawkstown Tonight this summer on 1350 KTIK-AM (now part of the CBS Sports Radio Network), along with our weekly chat with Boise Sports Anchors, our Fantasy Focus, and the popular Go Cubs Go. We hope to continue our Bronco Beat with Bob Behler and keep our long-standing chats with Will Hoenike and J Bates going, and toying with the idea of having a Superhero Minute…we’ll see how that goes.
This season, Memorial Stadium turns 25, with the longtime home of the Boise Hawks seeing countless highlights and lowlights over the years – and some phenomenal players and teams along the way. As we get closer to Opening Day for the short-season leagues, we plan to take a look at some of the history of the ball park – starting today with a look at my Top-5 Boise Hawks teams to play at Memorial Stadium.
We opened up the nomination process on Facebook and Twitter, and disappointedly, received only one response – thank you to Aaron England for giving us his thoughts, which were actually aligned with mine.
The big question I felt was how to determine the list. Did a team have to win a Northwest League title? Did a team have to be chock full of MLB talent? Did a team have to break a ton of records? I wouldn’t put the 2008 team on the Top-5 list, but 10 different players have already made their big league debuts from that team alone. Same goes for 2003, a team that won just 27 games (worst record by a team in Memorial Stadium) – but had eight players head to the big leagues (including Rich Hill and Sean Marshall). The 1993 team had a record-setting season by Todd Greene (15 homers, 71 RBI), one-upped by the 2006 and Russ Canzler (16 homers, 61 RBI), and upped again in 2011 by Paul Hoilman (17 homers, 44 RBI) – with all three teams making the postseason (only the 1993 won a title).
Of the 25 teams that have played in Memorial Stadium, three I felt were honorable mention picks –
1997: The Tom Kotchman led Hawks had a banner season, as future MLB hurlers Scot Shields (7-2, 2.94 ERA) and Matt Wise (9-1, 3.25 ERA) anchored a rotation that won the Southern Division of the NWL with a record of 51-25. Offensively, outfielder Casey Child (.325 11 HR 57 RBI) and catcher Jason Dewey (.324 13 HR 64 RBI) both earned All-Star honors – but Boise lost a hard-fought five game series with the Portland Rockies
2004: Tom Beyers led the Hawks to a magical second half run, including eight-straight wins during the Western Idaho Fair road swing – led by first-round picks Ryan Harvey (.261 14 HR 43 RBI) and Luis Montanez (.297 8 HR 48 RBI). Current Detroit Tigers reliever Darin Downs (5-3, 4.95 ERA) got the win in Game 1 of the LCS against Vancouver, with Oakland A’s set-up man Jerry Blevins (6-1, 1.62 ERA) picking up three saves to sweep the series with the Canadians for the last title by a Boise team.
2012: After a woeful start to the season, Mark Johnson’s squad made a complete turn-around in the second half of the season, leading the NWL with a 24-14 mark after the break. The emergence of slugger Dan Vogelbach (.322 10 HR 31 RBI), and all-stars Gioskar Amaya (.298 8 HR 33 RBI, 12 3B) and Stephen Bruno (.361 3 HR 37 RBI) paced an offense that many longtime NWL broadcasters felt was the most potent lineup they’d seen. Pitchers Tayler Scott (5-1, 2.52 ERA) and Felix Pena (4-2, 3.43 ERA) were stellar down the stretch, rallying the team to beat Yakima in the Divisional Series, before a tough three-game LCS setback to Vancouver.
And now to my Top-5:
#5 – 1990: The very first affiliated season in franchise history was a very memorable one for fans in Boise, as the Hawks won their first ever NWL divisional title, recording a franchise-best 53-23 record. In his first year in his legendary run as manager, Tom Kotchman watched as future MLB outfielder Mark Dalesandro (.335 6 HR 44 RBI) paced an offensive attack, with hurlers Hilly Hathaway (8-2, 1.47 ERA) and Phil Leftwich (8-2, 1.86 ERA – pictured left) helped the squad win a division title – but lost a Best-of-3 series to Spokane in the NWL Championship Series. Future MLB all-stars Garret Anderson and Troy Percival (then a catcher) made their professional debuts on the team.
#4 – 2001: The first Cubs’ affiliated team ran roughshod over the East Division by 13 games, posting a record of 49-27. All-star outfielder Keto Anderson (.376 6 HR 41 RBI) set a franchise record for batting average, while all-star first-baseman Brad Bouras (.349 6 HR 60 RBI) had a big year as the Hawks hit .291 as a team. On the mound, future big league standouts Dontrelle Willis (8-2, 2.98 ERA), Angel Guzman (9-1, 2.23 ERA), and Sergio Mitre (8-4, 3.07 ERA) provided a formidable rotation for Steve McFarland’s squad. However, in the LCS, the Hawks ran into a tough Salem-Keizer squad anchored by Jesse Foppert and Noah Lowry, and were swept in the series, 3-0.
#3 – 1991: The 1991 season marked the first championship for the Boise franchise, as Kotchman led the Hawks to a 50-26, winning the Southern Division by eight games over Eugene. Led by the bats of future MLB players in OF Chris Pritchett (.267 9 HR 50 RBI) and 1B Mark Sweeney (.282 4 HR 34 RBI), with a pitching staff led by hard-throwing Julian Heredia (8-1, 1.05 ERA) and Percival (2-0 1.41 ERA, 12 saves), who was in his first season of pitching, the Hawks rolled swept Yakima in the LCS to win the league title. The season also was the debut season for future MLB players Orlando Palmeiro and Eduardo Perez.
#2 – 1995: The last of three-straight league titles for Kotchman in the mid-90s was also the last title won by an Angels affiliated team. The Hawks jumped out to an early lead in the South Division, holding off the Portland Rockies to earn a berth the LCS with a record of 48-27. All-star pitcher Grant Vermillion (12-3, 1.96 ERA) set a franchise record for wins in a season, while all-star third-baseman Ryan Kane (.276 14 HR 59 RBI) and all-star first-baseman Danny Buxbaum (.329 8 HR 51 RBI) led the offensive attack. The Hawks rallied to defeat the Bellingham Giants in three games to win the title. Future MLB hurlers Juan Alvarez and Jarrod Washburn were also a part of the title team.
#1 – 2002: This was my first season affiliated with the team, and this was a fun team to watch. A total of 13 players from McFarland’s squad eventually played in the Big Leagues – including starting pitchers Andy Sisco (7-2, 2.43 ERA), Jae-Kuk Ryu (6-1, 3.57 ERA), and current Miami Marlins ace Ricky Nolasco (7-2, 2.48 ERA). The team had tough outs up and down the line-up, but OF Kevin Collins (.342 13 HR 37 RBI), 1B Micah Hoffpauir (.301 10 HR 41 RBI), and 3B Donnie Hood (.279 12 HR 42 RBI) led the way. Boise met the Everett Aquasox in the LCS, with future San Diego Chargers WR Gary Banks throwing out the tying run at the plate to end Game 1 of the series – helping the Hawks to a three-game sweep and their first title from the Cubs’ system.
Remember – these are my thoughts. Are there any that I missed, would you change the rankings?
When I received the word that former Boise Hawks center fielder Jasha Balcom was playing a stunt double for Chadwick Boseman in the new movie, 42, to say that I was stoked was an understatement. The former University of Georgia standout played for the Hawks the entire 2004 season – the last time that the franchise won a Northwest League title, and I remember that big, bright smile that he wore to the ballpark every day. I remember sitting at what is now Wahooz for the preseason host-family get-together and meeting Jasha for the first time, making sure that I knew his name was Jay-sha and not Jah-sha (as many members of the media have said over the past week). I also recall his first and only home run as a member of a Cubs affiliate (listen to my radio call – yes from nine years ago), a long ball over the manual scoreboard in Everett.
I got the opportunity to spend 30 minutes on the phone with the Georgia native, who hit .279 with a homer and 24 RBI during that memorable 2004 season – and you can hear the entire interview here, talking about his time in Boise, what he is doing now, and his role in the movie, 42.
I did some investigating, and found out that Balcom is the owner of HittersBox Baseball Academy in Duluth, Ga. JB told me he built the facility for HittersBox from the ground up – starting with one batting cage, and today, it is now 60,000-square feet with 10 batting cages and five pitching mounds. A professional swing coach, Balcom worked a few years back with 2012 Hawk, Trey Martin, and the two worked together before Martin made the trek to Boise (focusing on shortening up his swing – the same thing Bill Buckner worked with him during the season) – with JB giving him an inside look at the City of Trees and the Northwest League.
Balcom vividly recalls his time in Boise – enjoying the downtown area and his host family, and remembers how beautiful traveling the Northwest (especially Eugene, Spokane, and Vancouver). He loved the fans in Boise and how passionate they were – and still keeps in touch with teammates Darin Downs and Jerry Blevins, who are currently playing in the Major Leagues.
JB’s story on his introduction to major motion pictures came way of another former Boise Hawk, Brad Bouras (who hit .349 with six homers and 60 RBI in 2001 – helping the Hawks to a NWL East Division pennant. Bouras let him know that they were looking for extras to shoot Negro League scenes in “42”, but after sending photos to those in charge, they saw that Balcom was the same height and build of Boseman – and the stuntman for Jackie Robinson was born.
Balcom has been all over the news in the past two weeks – as word got out that he “played” Jackie Robinson. The following are stories and clips from over the past couple days.
Idaho Sports Talk (KTIK-FM) – http://www.ktik.com/common/page.php?feed=11&pt=Jasha+Balcom&id=1493&is_corp=0
Daytona Beach News-Journal – http://www.news-journalonline.com/article/20130410/SPORTS/130409760
With the first week of Minor League Baseball in the books, we’ve taken the time to see where former Boise Hawks are at – or not at.
A bunch of former Hawks are currently in Mesa on the disabled list – Michael Jensen, Matt Loosen, Jose Rosario, Kyler Burke, Andrew McKirahan, Carlos Escobar, Greg Rohan, Brad Zapenas, and Albert Almora; however, others saw the end of the road for now – including Jay Jackson, Hayden Simpson, Joe Zeller, Marquez Smith, Robinson Chirinos, Dustin Harrington, and Paul Hoilman.
What is interesting about the 89 former Hawks that are currently on affiliated Minor League rosters – 11 are in coaching. Two former Boise managers are still active and both in Kane County – as Mark Johnson is the Cougars skipper and Tom Beyers is the hitting coach. 1995 Hawks catcher Jamie Burke (pictured left) is managing in the Midwest League with the Burlington Bees (L.A. Angels). Former Hawks hitting coaches are still in the game – Orv Franchuk in AA Chattanooga (L.A. Dodgers) and Desi Wilson with the Cubs’ AA affiliate, the Tennessee Smokies. 1990 Hawks pitcher Darryl Scott is the pitching coach for AA Tulsa (Colorado); 1992 pitcher Bill Simas is the pitching coach for Class-A Great Lakes (L.A. Dodgers); 1993 pitcher Andrew Lorraine is the pitching coach for Class-A Clinton (Seattle); and 2002 pitcher Ryan O’Malley is the pitching coach for Class-A Hickory (Texas). 2010 pitching coach Jeff Fassero is in the same capacity with AA Tennessee and 2011 infielder Kenny Socorro is a bench coach for Class-A Kane County.
Of the players active, two players are with Texas’ AAA affiliate in Round Rock (Randy Wells, Jeff Beliveau), two are with Tampa Bay’s AAA affiliate in Durham (Hak-Ju Lee, Brandon Guyer), and two are with Boston’s AA affiliate in Portland (Aaron Kurcz, Tony Thomas). Only one former Hawk is still active at the Class-A level and not with the Cubs system – Robert Whitenack, who is with Cleveland’s Advanced-A Carolina Mudcats.
AAA (22) – Alfredo Amezaga (Albuquerque); Tyler Colvin (Colorado Springs); Yoanner Negrin, Chris Rusin, Brooks Raley, Casey Coleman, Blake Parker, Luis Flores, Josh Vitters, Logan Watkins, Ty Wright, Brett Jackson (Iowa); Blake Lalli (Nashville); Tony Campana (Reno) (pictured right); Jeff Beliveau, Randy Wells (Round Rock); Ramon Ortiz (Buffalo); Hak-Ju Lee, Brandon Guyer (Durham); Felix Pie (Indianapolis); Russ Canzler (Norfolk); Chris Carpenter (Pawtucket).
AA (22) – Mark Reed (Mobile); Aaron Kurcz, Tony Thomas (Portland); Ryan Acosta (Chattanooga); Dae-Eun Rhee, Tony Zych, Erik Jokisch, Alberto Cabrera, Marcus Hatley, Dallas Beeler, Trey McNutt, Rafael Lopez, Justin Bour, Elliot Soto, Arismendy Alcantara, Jonathan Mota, Jae-Hoon Ha, Matt Szczur (Tennessee); Darryl Scott (Tulsa Pitching Coach); Orv Franchuk (Chattanooga Hitting Coach); Desi Wilson (Tennessee Hitting Coach); Jeff Fassero (Tennessee Pitching Coach).
Advanced-A (14) – Robert Whitenack (Carolina); Eduardo Figueroa, Sheldon McDonald, Yao-Lin Wang, Austin Kirk, Luis Liria, Austin Reed, Ben Wells, Ryan Searle, Micah Gibbs, Chad Noble, Javier Baez, Zeke DeVoss, Stephen Bruno (Daytona).
Low-A (31) – Jeff Antigua, Justin Amlung, Jose Arias, Ian Dickson, Nathan Dorris, Mike Heesch, Pierce Johnson, Eddie Orozco, Felix Pena, Tayler Scott, Brian Smith, Yaniel Cabezas, Chadd Krist, Willson Contreras, Gioskar Amaya, Jeimer Candelario, Marco Hernandez, Rock Shoulders, Dan Vogelbach, Wes Darvill, Pin-Chieh Chen, Bijan Rademacher, Oliver Zapata, Trey Martin (Kane County); Ryan O’Malley (Hickory Pitching Coach); Jamie Burke (Burlington Manager); Andrew Lorraine (Clinton Pitching Coach); Bill Simas (Great Lakes Pitching Coach); Mark Johnson (Kane County Manager) (pictured left); Tom Beyers (Kane County Hitting Coach); Kenny Socorro (Kane County Bench Coach).
It was a great unveiling of the updated Boise Hawks uniforms and I would think President/GM Todd Rahr has to be pleased with the reviews. Typically in social media, more often than not, the nays overwhelming speak out, those who like something are more likely to not make their voices heard – but the fact that many more people have said they like the new hats/logo/uniforms is a credit to Brandiose (the designer), for “spicing” up the Hawks.
Home Uniform – Manager Gary Van Tol was the first to put on the uniform and he really liked the feel of the Wilson threads – much lighter than the previous uniform. They are still the same color scheme as the uniforms unveiled in 2007 (Cornsilk, Desert Red, Tennessee Orange, and Tampa Bay Green) – but feature a green sleeve with the new Hawks “scratch” on it, while the talon clutching a ball “alternate logo” is on the opposite sleeve. The Cubs logo is now on the pants, along with the “scratch” utilized as piping. The numerals are 10 inches (larger than before) and utilize metallic thread – which will shimmer in the sun and lights (a first in baseball)
Road Uniform – Former OF Drew Rundle wore the new graphite colored jersey and pants, as the Hawks will be the first team ever to wear graphite. The color scheme remains the same as the previous road uniform – Boise across the chest in the metallic threads, with a green sleeve with the “scratch” mark and the talon logo. It will be interesting to see the number on the back of the jersey with the green and graphite combination – luckily the Tennessee Orange outline should make that possible.
BP Top – I love the BP top – a huge distinctive B on the front in the Tennessee Orange with no numerals or other lettering, becoming the first team to have a single letter dominating a BP jersey. Clubhouse manager and former Dutch Olympian, Michiel Van Kampien paraded the new jersey, which looks completely fresh. The jersey is green with red sleeves – with the Cubs logo on the sleeve. It is bold and brash and love it.
New Hat – The team will continue to wear their home hat (Green-Green B-Bird) and road hat (Green-Red B-Bird) that they introduced in 2007, but will add an alternate hat to the mix – a Green-Green hat with the stratch mark down the middle of the hat. It is a great branding tool and I think that the fans will be flocking for a hat – joining a long line of new lids throughout the minors this season.
Our friends at the Idaho Press Tribune have a full gallery of images from the event at Big Al’s yesterday – check it out at http://www.idahopress.com/gallery/sports/boise-hawks-new-uniforms/collection_1688b084-9b16-11e2-a77f-0019bb2963f4.html.
On Monday, the Hawks will be unveiling a new set of uniforms at a noon-time event at Big Al’s in Meridian. Many think that the timing is a bit odd (April Fools Day), but it just so happens that Major League Baseball Opening Day is also April 1 – if Opening Day would have been April 2,3,4, the event would have been that day.
I have seen the mock-ups of the uniforms…they are unique and pretty slick. But before we post the pictures of the new uniforms/hats/logos, let’s take a look back to yesteryear…(1988, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 2004, 2009, 2011)