Feeling Kind of Small
After playing most of the previous four years with the Astros, second baseman-outfielder Casey Candaele, 33, has spent this season in the minor leagues with the Triple A Indianapolis Indians. "There are times when you say, 'What in the hell am I doing here?' " says Candaele, who as a free agent last November signed with the Reds' organization but then didn't make the big club. "I mean, we have to carry our own bags!
"In Triple A you're one step away from being the best in the world, and you have to be a fry cook in the off-season. But as long as you can deal with not having hot running water all the time and having to eat greasy food every day, it's a lot of fun."
Candaele is one of scores of former major leaguers, some with as many as 10 years of big league service, who are playing in the minors. He's one of 18 players on the Indianapolis roster who have major league experience, including 34-year-old catcher Barry Lyons. "Every home game we're announced as 'the future stars of the Cincinnati Reds,' " Candaele says. "That cracks me up. Future stars—yeah, right. They should say future star. We have, maybe, one guy."
Here's some more news from the minors, which, if there's a major league strike, may soon be the only game in town.
Ryan's hope. Hudson Valley Renegade pitcher Reid Ryan, son of Nolan, was, at week's end, 2-0 with a 2.04 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 35⅓ innings since being drafted in the 17th round by Texas in June. "At every game, people ask me, 'Why isn't your dad here?' " Reid says. "I tell them, 'He has his own life.' Everyone also asks me, 'Are you going to be as good as your dad?' I usually say, 'No, who is?' "
A new franchise in the Class A New York-Penn League, Hudson Valley has drawn so well that Ryan doesn't even pack in extra fans when he starts. In fact, his pro debut on June 20 attracted only 2,687 spectators, the Renegades' smallest crowd of the season at their park in Fish-kill, N.Y. In Reid's second start, five days later, Nolan showed up in baggy clothes and fake glasses, and stood at the door of the Renegade clubhouse near the right-field line, hoping no one would notice him. Some fans did. Nolan left with a police escort after eight innings.
Back to reality. On Opening Day this year the Blue Jays had a rookie at shortstop (Alex Gonzalez), another in leftfield (Carlos Delgado) and one in the starting rotation (Paul Spoljaric). All three players were back in the minors by June 10. Delgado, who hit eight homers for Toronto in the first 16 days of the season—but who also had more strikeouts than hits by the time he was optioned to the Triple A Syracuse (N.Y.) Chiefs—is back playing catcher, his natural position. With a recent hot streak at the plate, he had raised his average to .351 with five homers and 19 RBIs through Sunday.
Gonzalez, who struggled at bat and in the field in Toronto, was hitting .296 with nine homers for Syracuse, but his defense (21 errors in 62 games at short with the Chiefs) still has the Blue Jays worried. Spoljaric opened the season as Toronto's fifth starter, but after going 0-1 with a 38.57 ERA in two appearances, he was shipped to Syracuse too. A disastrous 1-5 start with the Chiefs caused him to be dropped to the Double A Knoxville (Tenn.) Smokies, where he had won three of his last four starts.
The prospects are good. Count these minor leaguers among the players who should move up to the majors and make significant contributions next season: Russ Davis, the Yankees' third baseman of the future, who was hitting .261 with 13 homers and 42 RBIs for the Triple A Columbus (Ohio) Clippers; Billy Ashley, a talented young outfielder who's on his way to Dodger Stadium, based on his stats—.326, 20 homers, 65 RBIs—for the Triple A Albuquerque Dukes; Scott Ruffcorn, a likely starting pitcher for the White Sox, who was 10-2 with a 2.57 ERA for the Triple A Nashville Sounds; and Charles Johnson, who will probably be the Marlins' starting catcher, even though he was back playing Double A ball with the Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs. Johnson, 23, was hitting .253 with 16 homers and 42 RBIs. When recalled by Florida briefly in May, he went 5 for 11 with a home run, but it was the way he handled himself behind the plate that had everyone raving.