Just in the last few days, I've seen three short-season Class A games: one in Brooklyn, and two in Hillsboro, Oregon (home of the Hops, not to mention Barley). And I've come to the conclusion that my two favorite levels are baseball are
1. Major League Baseball
2. short-season Class A baseball
Major League Baseball offers the best baseball on the whole planet, which is what I've spent most of my life studying. Baseball's my favorite thing, so it's natural that I enjoy watching the game in its highest form.
But short-season Class A baseball offers just about everything else. Short-season Class A players were the biggest stars on their high-school and college and complex teams ... and yet just a small minority will ever reach the major leagues, let alone become stars there. And despite all their previous training, many of them seem to just now be learning the game, which leads to all sorts of interesting situations.
Oh, and the names! You already know about Sicnarf Loopstok. Monday night in Hillsboro, we saw J.R. Bradley, a right-hander the Diamondbacks drafted in the second round three years ago. Looking him up, I noticed he went to high school in Nitro, West Virginia. Which rung a bell ... yes, that's right: Lew Burdette, who starred for the Braves in the late 1950s, grew up in Nitro and was actually nicknamed "Nitro Lew".
Alas, baseball's latest Nitro native hasn't fared so well, with a 5.73 ERA in his pro career. Still, shouldn't we send him off with a good nickname? I'm thinking "Nitro Jr." might be as good as any other.
When it comes to names, though, it's hard to beat Spokane Indians catcher Joe Jackson.
I figured he couldn't be related to the Joe Jackson, right? Well, he is:
“Yeah, it’s kinda funny,” he says. “The first time I’m with a team, they’re like, ‘Oh, Shoeless,’ just joking around. Sometimes I let them go on with it and then tell them, ‘Hey, man, I really am related to him.’ Really, they can’t believe it."
Joe Jackson is the great-great-great-nephew of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, and he’s not about to say it ain’t so.
Since young Joe Jackson began playing baseball as a kid, he’s known about the connection with his famous uncle and wanted to learn more. He’s read the books, seen the movies, and talked to his family. Both sets of his great-grandparents, who knew Shoeless Joe, are still living, and his grandfather, Joseph Ray Jackson -- for whom he is named -- also has told him stories about going over to Old Joe’s house as a youngster.
This Joe Jackson was drafted by the Royals three years ago, but went to school at The Citadel instead of signing. And last month, the Rangers took him in the fifth round. Unlike his famous forebear, this Joe's a catcher.
You know how when you're watching a baseball game, the catcher fires the ball back to the pitcher the same way every time? And when finishing the between-inning warmups, he throws a perfect strike down to second base?
Well, not so much. It seems that Joe Jackson, Monday night at least, was suffering a severe bout of Mackey Sasser Disease. First he bounced a throw back to the pitcher. Later he did it again, and so the next one was a high lob. In the middle of the sixth, his warmup throw down to second base was 15 feet off the bag. In the middle of the seventh, he took a few steps into the infield, double-clutched a few times ... and the second baseman still had to jump to make the catch.
I know it's mean, but I couldn't help thinking of a nickname: Throwless Joe.
I told you it's mean.
This Joe Jackson's got a pretty quick bat, but he's not really built like a catcher and he's not really able to throw the baseball to the pitcher, or to second base. So far this season, he's caught in five games and DH'd in five games. I'll bet you a greenback I never see him catch again. I hope to see him hit again, though. It would be a hell of a story.