With Rickey among the front-office players, it would be unwise to bet against the series's long-term success. He was crucial in brokering the realignment that created the event. "With 10-team leagues playing 142 games, there was simply too much repetition," says Rickey, who spent seven years as president of the American Association. "The players were seeing the same guys over and over, and so were the fans." One result of realignment is the hilariously sprawling new 16-team PCL, stretching from Alberta, home of the Calgary Cannons, to the New Orleans bayou and the Arizona desert, where the Tucson Sidewinders play. Given the penny-pinching that goes on in the minors, this can make for some hair-raising travel tales. After a night game in Edmonton this year, the team took a four-hour bus ride to catch a plane in Calgary. The Zephyrs' flight was to leave at 6 a.m., so club officials saved hotel money by renting a large conference room, where the Z's caught a few Z's before dawn. After a multiconnection odyssey they reached New Orleans at 5 p.m., an hour before that evening's game, which was followed in turn by two consecutive days of doubleheaders. "The obvious question was, What the hell am I doing here?" says Candaele.
On Friday night Candaele was standing amid the sloppy on-field celebration that followed Game 4. A few of his frisky young teammates were chasing one another with erupting champagne bottles, while series MVP Lance Berkman casually held court with a pack of reporters. Berkman, a 22-year-old outfielder, had smashed three towering home runs that night, including a three-run job in the ninth that easily cleared the 24-foot-high fence in dead center, 433 feet from home plate. That blast was so majestic that it prompted a quick recount in the press box over the MVP award, with Berkman stealing the trophy from Ronan, who had been voted in only 15 minutes earlier. Not that the award meant much to the winner. After the game Berkman, a former Rice slugger who hit a combined .302 with 30 homers and 102 RBIs at Double A Jackson and New Orleans this year, said that while all this Triple A series business was O.K., the event wasn't as much fun as the College World Series. Hardly anyone else admits preferring Omaha to Vegas, but as a can't-miss prospect making a cameo in the minors, Berkman can do no wrong.
Candaele, meanwhile, looked ecstatic despite his two-day growth of beard and the hobble he had acquired running the bases and making a diving catch in center—a lot of exertion for a 37-year-old fighting to keep a place in the game. Candaele's mother, Helen, was one of the female pro ballplayers whose story inspired A League of Their Own, and her less-than-mighty Casey, who homers roughly twice a year, had just spent a night in Berkman's league. In the final game of his 16th pro season, Candaele had a homer, a triple and two RBIs.
So, old man, how does it feel to be a major cog on the 31st-best team in baseball? "It feels," said Candaele, "like the next best thing to the big leagues."