February 2011

Kings in Spring (Feb. 24)

The Mariners have announced the pitching lineups for tomorrow’s intra-squad game at the Peoria Sports Complex and former LumberKings’ right-hander Blake Beavan has been selected to start against right-hander Michael Pineda.

The 22-year-old Beavan is in his first Spring Training with the Mariners after being included as part of the Cliff Lee trade last July.  He and Pineda will each throw an inning.

Team Two, of which Beavan is starting for, will also feature outings from right-handers Josh Lueke (’07-’08), Edward Paredes, Yoervis Medina (’10) and Tom Wilhelmsen (’10).  It’s a “who’s who” of former Kings, aside from the Wisconsin Timber Rattler alum Paredes.

Unfortunately, I will not be attending Spring Training myself this year, so I won’t be able to post the pictures and video as I have the past two seasons.  Still, I’ll be doing my best to keep an eye on former LumberKings in various camps this spring, from Evan Reed and Omar Poveda with the Florida Marlins to John Mayberry Jr. with the Philadelphia Phillies to Jose Vallejo with the Houston Astros and everyone else in between.


Predicting the 2011 Roster (Part 1)

My third-annual educated guess at the next season’s LumberKings’ roster begins today with part one, looking at potential players from the 2010 West Division Champs that could be back for the pennant defense. 

A warning first…these are my own thoughts and predictions and are based on no official reports from the Seattle Mariners.  Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong.  Last year, I correctly named nine players from the 2009 roster that returned in ’10, although not all in the exact roles or timeframes I expected.  Also, in the event I’ve named someone who has been released, signed elsewhere or retired, feel free to correct me in the comments section below.  It’s happened before.

With that out of the way, here we go.

After a season as successful as last year, it’s safe to assume that most of the impact players will not return.  If you enjoyed watching Nick Franklin, James Jones, Vinnie Catricala, Mickey Wiswall, Mario MartinezErasmo Ramirez, Tom Wilhelmsen and Yoervis Medina at Alliant Energy Field last season, you’ll be more likely to see them all out in Adelanto, CA or Jackson, TN this year.  In the case of Wilhelmsen and Medina, you might sooner see them at Safeco Field.  Both are on the 40-man roster.

That’s not to say that there won’t be some experienced players back from last year’s team.  The one that I expect to return with the highest prospect pedigree will be catcher Steven Baron (pictured above).  Seattle’s supplemental first-round pick (after Dustin Ackley and Franklin) in 2009, Baron was in over his head a bit with his Opening Day assignment to the LumberKings’ roster, but as expected, you could never tell by his raw defensive ability.

The Mariners lured Baron away from Duke University because of his surprising skills behind the plate, some of which we saw last season out of the 19-year-old.  Baron nailed 27 of 64 attempting basestealers, a 42% rate.  While his passed balls total was a little concerning (a team-high 11 in 45 games), it was his bat that truly needed work.  Baron hit just .182 as a LumberKing, with just four of his 28 hits going for extra bases.  He struck out over 30% of the time, looking overmatched against older Midwest League pitchers.  At the All-Star Break, Baron was shipped down to short-A Everett to gain offensive confidence and did just that under hitting coach Scott Steinmann, hitting .253 with 12 doubles, three homers and 22 RBI in 53 games.  After earning the Northwest League’s Post-Season All-Star award and a NWL Championship ring with the AquaSox, Baron returned to the LumberKings during the playoffs and looked like a far more confident player.  I believe we’ll see him back as Clinton’s starting catcher in 2011 as he continues to grow as both a hitter and a backstop.

Continuing around the diamond to first base, it’s not likely we’ll see Wiswall back after his strong performance down the stretch (.301, 4 HR, 18 RBI in 33 regular-season games, .273, 2 HR, 5 RBI in 11 playoff games).  Again, citing the logjam situation at that same position, it might be possible that Tim Morris returns to Clinton.  Seattle’s 11th-round pick in 2009 out of St. John’s University, Morris hit .250 with 14 doubles, three triples, five homers and 46 RBI in 83 games last season.  Depending on how he performs during the spring, the Mariners could elect to send him back to Clinton.

Shortstop Gabriel Noriega could headline the up-the-middle defense for the LumberKings in 2011 now that he won’t have to shift to second base for Franklin.  Noriega was a sure-handed and strong-armed defender at both middle infield spots, but lacked poise at the plate until a hot month of August.  Even with that surge (.281, 10 RBI in 96 at-bats), the 19-year-old Venezuelan hit .227, scored 47 runs and drove in 28 in 112 games.  If Mariners’ 2010 second-round pick Marcus Littlewood doesn’t take over the position (Baseball America expects him to), Noriega might be sent back.

Versatile infielders Hawkins Gebbers and Carlos Ramirez also look like possible returnees.  Gebbers hit .255 with a pair of homers and five RBI during a 19-game stint with the Kings, but spent most of the year with Everett.  He hit .240 with 16 doubles, three homers and 22 RBI in 49 games.  Ramirez is most famous for his two-out, two-strike, game-tying RBI single in the 12th inning of Game 2 of the MWLCS.  Aside from that, he barely played at all in a Clinton cup-of-coffee.  Ramirez was the VSL Mariners’ MVP in 2009 after hitting .336, but struggled offensively in the AZL last year (.234, 12 RBI in 40 games).  I think we’ll see Gebbers and Ramirez both at some point in the year.

As for the outfield, I’ll mention only two names here from last year’s talented crop.  Kalian Sams had arguably THE hottest start in the Midwest League last year with 12 home runs in his first 44 games, but fell off completely when pitchers stopped throwing him fastballs.  Many folks in the Mariners’ system have called Sams the top power prospect in the organization (a definite honor considering Franklin, Greg Halman, Rich Poythress and Joherymn Chavez), but his .180 average and 132 strikeouts in 266 at-bats in his third Midwest League stint are more than a concern.  We know he can hit the ball a long way, but unless Sams can consistently put the ball in play this Spring, we might see him back in Clinton again.

Ryan Royster, the 13th round pick in the ’08 draft, might also finally settle in with the Kings with Daniel Carroll, Matt Cerione, Jones and Catricala all gone.  Royster was a huge boost to the offense two seasons ago when he hit .333 with two homers and seven RBI in eight games, leading me to bank on him becoming a regular in 2010.  That didn’t happen, as he played in just 10 games (.238, HR, 3 RBI) and was primarily with Everett yet again.  The Mariners have plenty in the outfield pipeline coming up, so we’ll see if that affects Royster again this year.

On the mound, there’s no surefire experienced starter set to come back the way Anthony
did last year.  Sixth-round pick Tyler Blandford (pictured right) has a live fastball and plenty of promise, but the right-hander went 1-2 with a 3.67 ERA in seven erratic starts with Clinton last year before missing the bulk of the season with arm issues.  With all of the fantastic pitching that stepped forward throughout the system in 2010, Blandford now must improve his control (he walked 25 in 27 innings last year) and stay on the mound for a full year just to stay on the radar.  If healthy, I think he’ll get that opportunity in Clinton.

Another starter looking to get back on track from injury will be right-hander Nolan Gallagher.  A fourth-round selection in 2007, Gallagher missed all of 2009 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and was forced to shut it down in 2010 after experiencing soreness again.  His 0-4, 6.32 marks didn’t tell the full story…Gallagher logged five-plus innings in four of his five starts before going on the disabled list in late July and then got hit hard late in the year when he returned.  Maybe he’ll be back, rested and healthy as a veteran contributor in 2011. 

I liked what I saw out of right-hander Jonathan Arias in his two spot-starts (0-1, 2.25 in 8.0 IP) and gutsy relief performance in the MWLCS Game 2 marathon.  Does that prove he’s worthy of joining the rotation on a full-time basis this year?  The 2011 season will be only his third as a pitcher after he started his career behind the plate.  Either in the rotation or in the pen, I believe he’ll be a LumberKing again.

While the rotation is sure to look much different compared to last year, the bullpen should actually seem familiar.  Right-hander John Housey went 5-4 with a 4.35 ERA in 25 games, including three spot-starts with the Kings until a late-July demotion to Everett.  Aside from the occasional blow-up outing (he allowed four-plus earned runs in four appearances), Housey was a go-to reliever for a decent stretch of the season.  Right-hander Jorden Merry (0-0, 4.91, SV in 13 games) and left-hander Jason Markovitz (0-0, 4.50 in 9 games) both had similar stats in brief stints with Clinton, leaving plenty of room for growth if they’re back.

The star of the pen could very well be Mariners’ 2010 fifth-round pick, right-hander Stephen Pryor. His 97 mph fastball proved effective against Midwest League hitters as he struck out 29 in just 17 innings, but Pryor’s control became a problem come playoff time as he walked five batters in just 1.1 innings.  Baseball America 
has projected him as the 21st-best prospect in the entire system and a candidate for a big-league bullpen spot as soon as 2012, but it’s possible that he returns to hone his curveball.  Maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part, but I’d love to see Pryor saving games in Clinton.

If he’s not, the Kings might still have high-octane heat in right-hander Fray Martinez, who also has an overpowering fastball but struggled through control issues.  Martinez went 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in 12 appearances, walked 11 batters, hit one and issued four wild pitches.  The Santiago, Dominican Republic native was left off the playoff roster, but I think he’ll be back in the bullpen this year.  Right-hander Matt Bischoff could join him for his first full season after coming to Clinton for the playoffs.  Bischoff was dominant in his outings against Cedar Rapids and Kane County, but suffered through two tough relief performances against Lake County in the Championship Series, including a game one blown save and loss.  The Purdue product will get a chance to redeem himself as a go-to arm this year.

In addition to the 2010 returnees, we could also see several players from the ’09 season come back.  All-Star shortstop Terry Serrano (pictured left) hit .307 as a versatile everyday infielder for the AquaSox last year and could give Clinton a lift the same way Luis Nunez did last year.  Infielder-turned-pitcher Ogui Diaz has apparently dropped his arm angle down and went 4-3 with a 5.12 ERA in his first full season on the mound with Everett last year.  Names like Dwight Britton (.216 in 42 games with Everett) and Jetsy Extrano (.230 in 49 games with Pulaski) might pop up from time to time also.

Part two of my predictions on the 2011 roster will be posted next Tuesday.  Then, I’ll be going over some of the players you might expect to see donning the black and green for the first time.


Mariners Sign Four Kings for Spring

From a Seattle Mariners press release issued this morning…

Right-handers Josh Lueke (’07-’08), Yoervis Medina (’10) and Tom Wilhelmsen (’10) and first-baseman Justin Smoak (’08) have all agreed to 2011 contracts with the Mariners and will be in Major League camp, giving Seattle 31 signed players on the 40-man roster.

All four will be interesting stories to follow in Peoria this year.  Smoak is the only one with big league experience and is hoping to show he’s ready to stay and hit consistently, while Lueke will be hoping to secure a bullpen spot based on a solid effort at triple-A Tacoma.  Wilhelmsen will have a shot at the pen as well, but is still relatively inexperienced for his age.  He and Medina might both be longshots to make the club out of Spring Training, but stranger things have happened.

There’s sure to be several other non-roster invitees that are former LumberKings as well this spring.  I’ll keep you up to date on those as I receive releases from the Mariners.


Griffey Returns, Could Visit Clinton?

The buzz around the Seattle Mariners today is all about Ken Griffey Jr., who announced his return to the organization as a special consultant.  As you’ll read in the article posted on Mariners.com, part of Griffey’s responsibilities will include “visiting most of Seattle’s Minor League affiliates”.

Does that mean a Junior sighting in Clinton this summer?  I for sure hope so.  An interview with Griffey on this blog would rival my Paul Molitor conversation from 2009.  If he does in fact come to Alliant Energy Field sometime this season, expect to hear about it on this blog and on LumberKings.com. 

Unfortunately, we know if he does come here, it won’t be for a reunion with his father.  Ken Griffey Sr. was the hitting coach for Dayton last year, but will not be back with them this year.


The Interview Vault: Tim Smith

tim smith interview vault.jpgMy six-month journey through all of my old interview tapes culminates today in the final edition of The Interview Vault, at least for this offseason.

Most seasons in the Midwest League, a player who hits .300, belts 25 doubles and 13 home runs and drives in 70 runs would be one of the centerpieces of a lineup.  Those numbers would have led all of those offensive categories for the 2009 LumberKings.  However, the year prior in which they occured, they were largely overshadowed by the seasons of Ian Gac, Mitch Moreland and Jonathan Greene.

That statline belonged to LumberKings’ outfielder Tim Smith, the biggest overlooked piece to the offensive puzzle during the ’08 season.  He was tasked with moving over Engel Beltre and Renny Osuna while batting in the three spot early on in the season, setting the table for Gac.  After Gac’s promotion, he was asked to protect Moreland in the five spot and handled himself there as well.  Smith hit above .276 in every situational category, including .352 when leading off an inning and .311 with runners on base.  He committed just two errors in 81 games in the outfield, yet also took to the DH role, hitting .335 with five homers and 30 RBI when he didn’t have to play defense.  Simply put, Smith did everything manager Mike Micucci could ask for and more without much accolades.

The lack of a spotlight was probably nothing new to Smith, who after winning the High School Player of the Year award in his native Toronto in 2004 and setting numerous school records in two seasons at Midland Junior College (Midland, TX) had been just another solid player at Arizona State.  His .333 average and .446 slugging percentage would be overshadowed during that 2007 season by the likes of current Houston Astro Brett Wallace (.404, 16 HR, 78 RBI, Pac 10 Player of the Year), current Oakland Athletic Eric Sogard (.400, 11 HR, 62 RBI), Colorado Rockies prospect Kiel Roling (.356, 15 HR, 63 RBI), current New York Met Ike Davis (.349, 8 HR, 61 RBI) and current LA Angel Andrew Romine (.300, 41 RBI).

While he wasn’t a first-round selection like Wallace and Davis, Smith found his way to the Texas Rangers as a seventh-round pick in the 2007 draft.  He went on to Spokane that season and didn’t make a huge splash, hitting .284 with a home run and nine RBI in 23 games.

His start with Clinton was steady but unremarkable.  He hit .293 with 39 RBI in the first half, yet had slugged only two home runs.  Still, he was one of the franchise record nine LumberKings named to the 2008 Midwest League All-Star Game, joining Gac, Greene, Moreland, Osuna, Jose Felix, Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland and Kennil Gomez.  By the end of the two-day event, Smith would finally emerge from that group of budding stars to get his share of the attention.

The All-Star Game stood deadlocked at 4-4 from the fifth inning on and looked bound for the first tie since the North and South battled to a 6-6 draw in 1991.  Smith, the only non-starter amongst six Kings’ position players on the West roster, stepped to the plate to lead off the top of the 10th against a hometown pitcher in Great Lakes’ right-hander Miguel Ramirez.  Upon the 1-2 delivery, Smith lifted a towering drive down the right-field line that wrapped around the foul pole, giving the West a 5-4 advantage.  That lead would stand as the West snapped a three-game All-Star losing streak.  For his efforts, Smith was awarded the “Star of Stars” award for the game, becoming the first Clinton player to win it since Roger Miller in 1990.

Today’s feature interview is all about that magical June evening.  Smith weighed in on the home run, the “Star of Stars” selection and more on his All-Star experience. 

Tim Smith (2008 ASG Star of Stars).mp3

So what’s happened to Smith since then?  Plenty.  He finished the ’08 season even better than his All-Star-worthy start, hitting .307 with 11 home runs and 31 RBI in the second half.  His ’09 season was split between high-A Bakersfield and double-A Frisco, and he combined to hit .320 with seven blasts and 51 RBI in those two stops. 

At the end of that year, the prospect-heavy Rangers decided to move Smith to another team building through the draft and Minor League acquisition.  He and catcher Manny Pina joined the Kansas City Royals in exchange for the talented yet troubled right-hander Danny Gutierrez.

Now in a Royals’ system that Baseball America considers the best in all of baseball, Smith is again putting up great numbers while standing in the shadow of bigger-name prospects like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer.  In 95 games with the double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals last season, Smith hit .306 with 18 doubles, nine home runs and 50 RBI.  Assuming he stays healthy and has a solid spring, 2011 should be his first shot at triple-A Omaha.

He may never be the biggest name in baseball, but Smith has shown that he has the ability to hit consistently and could soon make his mark with the rest of the young Royals crop.  Until that time, he’ll continue to be remembered around here as Clinton’s last “Star of Stars.” 


52 Days Remaining…

…until the 2011 home opener against the Burlington Bees.  Seattle Mariners’ pitchers and catchers reported to the Peoria Sports Complex to begin spring training yesterday.  Check out the story from Mariners.com, featuring some quotes from former LumberKings first-baseman Justin Smoak.

The final edition of “The Interview Vault” for this offseason will hit the blog tomorrow.  After that, I plan to once again publish my two-part look at potential LumberKings for next season.  Plus, there’s several more versions of “The History File” ready to go on LumberKings.com.



The Interview Vault: Mike Micucci

micucci interview vault.jpgOf all the interview subjects I’ve had over the years, nobody has joined me on the pregame show more times than Mike Micucci.  The one-time Chicago Cubs minor-league catcher managed the LumberKings during the 2007 and 2008 seasons and always offered me great insight into his prospect-laden team and his own approach to the game.  As the wildly successful 2008 campaign winded down, Micucci himself became known a hot coaching prospect.

It was late August, and the first-half West champs were molding a new identity as the playoffs closed in.  All-Star pitchers Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz were already long gone to double-A Frisco.  The table-setting abilities of Renny Osuna and RBI production of Ian Gac were now aiding the high-A club in Bakersfield.  Mitch Moreland, Jonathan Greene and Tim Smith were more than shouldering the offensive load, while Blake Beavan and Michael Main were establishing themselves as front-line starting pitchers.  Roleplayers like Matt Lawson, Davis Stoneburner, Ryan Tatusko and Michael Kirkman were stepping up in new ways as well. 

Then, along came the switch-hitting first-baseman Justin Smoak, the Rangers’ first-round pick in the recent June draft and the new centerpiece to the who-do-you-pitch-to LumberKings’ lineup.  All of Texas and much of Minor League Baseball turned their attention to Peoria when Smoak made his professional debut against the Chiefs on August 18, a 1-for-3 performance in Clinton’s slim 6-5 loss.

Shortly after Smoak’s arrival, Micucci was able to steal back some of the spotlight. 

Baseball America named Micucci the top managerial prospect in the entire Midwest League in their annual “Best Tools” issue.  Maybe it was the league-best 70-54 record at that point in the year, maybe it was back-to-back first-half playoff berths, maybe it was the fast rise of core prospects like Holland and Feliz.  Whatever the reason, Micucci found himself outshining both established veterans (Great Lakes’ Juan Bustabad, Dayton’s Donnie Scott, South Bend’s Mark Haley) and the league’s biggest coaching name, Peoria’s Ryne Sandberg.

It was at this moment in time, with all these plotlines intersecting, that I recorded today’s feature interview.  In it, Micucci speaks about hype well deserved in Smoak, Moreland’s path to an MVP-like season (he calls him the “backbone” of the club), Holland and Feliz’s fast rise, the honor of the BA award (which he credits to the team’s success and his coaching staff) and more.

Manager Mike Micucci (2008).mp3

So what’s happened with Mike since the interview?  The LumberKings bowed out in just two games to Cedar Rapids in the first round of the playoffs, but his coaching stock didn’t drop one bit.  The Rangers gave him the Holland/Feliz treatment, sending him straight to the double-A Frisco bench where he managed to RoughRiders in 2009. 

Micucci would again manage 22 of his former players from the previous two years in Clinton, helping Moreland and Smoak repeat their ’08 success, guiding Craig Gentry and Chad Tracy into breakout offensive seasons and teaming with pitching coach Joe Slusarski to develop the arms of Beavan, Kirkman, Kasey Kiker and Omar Poveda.  The ‘Riders were competitive all season long — finishing second in the Texas League South division with a 72-68 record — but missed the postseason.

Micucci’s ability to groom prospects did not go unnoticed by Nolan RyanJon Daniels and the Rangers.  Prior to the 2010 season, he was promoted to the Minor League Field Coordinator position, where he joined former Clinton pitching coach and newly-named Pitching Coordinator Danny Clark as the men in charge of the entire system.

While he would probably again defer the credit to his players and support staff, there’s no doubt that Micucci’s own success aided the Rangers in their rise to relevance.  His outstanding two-year run as the LumberKings’ manager should not only be remembered by the fans here in Clinton, but should also be looked at as a vital component of the Rangers’ ascension to the 2010 American League pennant. 


Franklin at FanFest, Leyland Feature

A couple odds and ends for you on the second birthday of The LumberBlog

Nick Franklin participated in Seattle Mariners’ Fan Fest last weekend, and video of Franklin’s Q&A session along with fellow first-rounder Dustin Ackley is now online.  Check it out at Mariners.com.

Part five of “The History File” is up at LumberKings.com.  This week’s recovered article is from 1991 and features legendary manager Jim Leyland.  His path to the Majors and the 1997 World Series began here in Clinton, when at just 27 years of age he helmed the 1972 Clinton Pilots.  Leyland went 189-189 in three seasons as the Pilots’ skipper.

Oh yeah, and Green Bay 27, Pittsburgh 14.


The Interview Vault: Kyle Murphy

murphy interview vault.jpgMy original goal with The Interview Vault was to dig up recent interviews I’ve done with notable former LumberKings that were only heard once during a pregame show because they were on cassette tape (archaic, I’m aware). 

I had a few specific names in mind when I went searching back through my archives — guys like Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Mitch Moreland, Derek Holland, Engel Beltre, etc. who have either reached the Major Leagues already or are poised to do just that.  But as you’ve seen with the last two editions, the stories of guys like K.C. Herren and Ian Gac can be just as compelling — if not more interesting — than the guys who shot right up to the Show.

Today’s story, that of former LumberKings’ outfielder Kyle Murphy, isn’t based on a high round draft selection or a rapid rise up the system.  It’s about a unique story, one that captured the interest of nearly an entire town and even prompted a bobblehead.  We’ll get to that part later.

Murphy was the Texas Rangers’ 19th-round selection in the 2007 June draft following his best collegiate season at the University of Kansas.  The 22-year-old junior college transfer hit .332 with 50 runs scored and 28 RBI in just 56 games for the Jayhawks, also exibiting a knack for base stealing (16-for-17 in attempts).  His first pro assignment came shortly after his June signing, and he’d go on to hit a combined .165 with five doubles, two triples, 20 runs scored and 10 RBI in 39 games between short-A Spokane and the Arizona League.

He didn’t begin the 2008 season with the LumberKings, but arrived in late June to replace struggling outfielder David Paisano.  Murphy made an immediate impact, hitting .316 (6-for-19) in his first five games.

Then, he headed home.  Not to Spokane on demotion, not to Arizona upon release, but to his actual home of Beloit, Wisconsin.  Clinton headed north to Beloit for a four-game series on July 1, and only Murphy could have known what a spectacle he’d cause.

Despite the presence of top prospects like Beltre, Moreland and Neftali Feliz, Murphy was the man with top billing when the team arrived at Pohlman Field.  Several local TV crews showed up for batting practice to get a look at him.  Sportswriters from Beloit and Milwaukee lined up to get an interview.  The Beloit Snappers’ front office was already predicting a capacity crowd.  All for essentially a stand-in outfielder.

An outfielder who just happened to be a local legend, having achieved statewide accolades as a senior at nearby F.J. Turner High School.  Murphy hit .483 with five home runs, 24 RBI and 14 steals in just 20 games as he earned All-State honors.  His ties to the Snappers franchise ran even deeper — he spent several seasons as a batboy for the team in the mid-90’s.

Everything seemed to fall into place to allow Murphy that rare opportunity to play in front of friends and family.  Had Paisano not hit .130 in 18 games, he wouldn’t have been with the club.  Had Miguel Alfonzo avoided a slump, he might not have been in the lineup.  But those factors, included with the awareness of manager Mike Micucci, allowed Murphy to play in three of the four games that series.

The Pohlman Field crowd was dense with transplanted LumberKings fans that July 1 evening, and Murphy was in the starting lineup.  He’d go 1-for-4 with a single batting out of the #9 spot, but would provide a much bigger highlight with his arm.  With the Kings leading 4-2 in the fourth inning, Snappers’ right-fielder Mark Dolenc slapped a one-out single to right-center field.  Murphy came on from right field to cut the ball off and noticed Ozzie Lewis hustling around third.  He delivered a perfect strike to catcher Jose Felix, nailing Lewis at the plate and preserving the two-run lead.  Ultimately, Beloit would surge in the next three innings to win, 7-5.

My interview with Kyle, the subject of today’s post, followed the next day.  We talked about his opportunity to play in front of friends and family, literally sleeping in his own bed just minutes from the ballpark, his experiences as a Snappers batboy including memories of Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Jose Valentin’s rehab stint, his early time with the Kings and more.

Kyle Murphy Returns to Beloit (2008).mp3 

Murphy started in center field the next day and went 0-for-3 in a 2-1 loss, but would bounce back for the third game of the series.  Batting eighth, he singled twice in four at-bats and drove home Cristian Santana during a five-run ninth inning, giving the Kings a much-needed 7-2 victory. 

Micucci would rest Murphy for the final game, giving the start to Alfonzo.  He’d go on to seal a series split, hitting a solo home run in the second inning to support Beavan’s seven-inning gem in a 4-0 win.

So what’s happened to Murphy since that series?  Unfortunately, those three games were likely the highlight for him as he stepped back into a reserve role.  He hit .229 with four extra-base hits, eight runs scored, seven RBI and five steals in nine attempts over 42 total games during the regular season, then went 0-for-1 in one playoff game.  Following the year, the Rangers released him.

Murphy didn’t catch on elsewhere, but didn’t leave the game either.  In fact, he was present at Pohlman Field a year later to watch the LumberKings battle the Snappers during his own commemorative bobblehead night.

He joined me in the booth that day to talk about his new bobblehead immortality, what he’s been up to since leaving the Rangers system, his plans for the future and plenty more.

Listen to the interview for the first time since it aired live:
Kyle Murphy In-Game Interview 6.14.09.mp3 

As far as I’ve seen, Kyle hasn’t resurfaced in professional baseball since his time in Clinton.  Even if his pro career is over, his return to his hometown of Beloit will be remembered as one of the most unique and interesting stories in a 2008 season filled with them.