B Page -- April 16, 2010

Drew Saylor...

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Then came leagues like the Frontier League, the Crushers’ loop. Nearly all the teams are within an hour of a MLB city, including Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago and Pittsburgh. Also, the FL and its Commissioner Bill Lee (not to be confused with Spaceman Bill Lee who pitched for the Red Sox) has torn a page out of the hockey method of development, increasing Student/Athletic spin.

Bill Lee

FL Commissioner Bill Lee

While college hockey also in the early days was not a “minor league” for the pros, it still produces some of the most educated and articulate Student/Athletes and pro athletes. Why? Hockey has always been the sport of choice among Ivy League brass (no sporting spectacle among this type draws greater interest than Harvard playing in the Beanpot tourney each years) partly because said players are required to develop earlier and faster mentally than those in other sports.


Still, it is true, in Canada in the early years, one would begin his pro path with juniors (semipro) at age 16 or 17. Here in the US, most of them who make it to the pros now go to college first and if not at least prep school after high school. Canadians always did go to a 13th grade, a sort of PG situation. Many of these prep schools are on the East Coast, the heart of traditional US education as well.


Back to baseball, the Frontier League is loaded with people like Drew Saylor, who have a degree or at least are only a few units from having one. The age cap is 26 in the FL, giving someone four years to move on as a player and if not gain four more years of baseball knowledge as Saylor is doing so that if advancing as a player finally comes to an end, baseball knowledge can go a long way in terms of coaching, front office and other opportunities.


Look at the Crushers. Last year’s championship team had five guys who played for Kent State on the 2006 MAC championship team. Others played at other MAC schools and some played for East Coast and Southern colleges.

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While the Frontier League is considered a “pro league,” the cash received by the players for the whole summer is typically less than $3,000, and is for all intents and purposes a ‘stipend, much like one a graduate student in college might get as a research or teaching assistant while working on a thesis or dissertation. Frontier League ball is more like a graduate school practicum in baseball. The players are learning more about the game that can be used later in conjunction with their classroom educations.


Saylor moved from Wadsworth into a house with his wife in Medina County closer to the park so that he can get there for CSU and Crusher games. He is on both ends – still learning as a player and in relay imparting his knowledge with the Vikings’ Student/Athletes.


Steve Edelson, the principal partner of the Crushers, is on the same page with Mr. Lee. Mr. Edelson, the Chicago Mercantile trader, runs his team the same way a brokerage firm is to be run. While he, along with Field Manager John Massarelli and General Manager Ryan Gates, wants the most talented on-field players, he places a high premium on the total character of the personnel, which includes education level, which in turn translates into learning from mistakes and correcting mistakes that need to be corrected.



Massarelli, now in his mid-40s, has never had a job outside of baseball including stints as a college coach. When a youth at Canton Central Catholic, Maz spoke highly of how his father had a minor league career and realized he came from the era that the natural progression was high school-minors instead of high school-college-minors. Maz not only obtained his undergraduate degree but also an advanced one and runs a baseball school in Stark County to further keep a pulse on the Student/Athlete aspect of the picture.


“The Frontier League is made up of a later of players like Drew Saylor who love the game so much,” Maz explained. “A lot of guys in the FL want to go into coaching. I tell my guys who want to go into it the same thing – there will not be a rampant promotional schedule for them. Someone is going to be in either college or pro ball in his 20s. He will learn a lot more about the game playing in the summers and coaching in the spring than he will just coaching.”


Maz played 11 years of professional ball.


“It is a lot different than guys who played college and maybe only a year of professional ball,” he explained further. “Experiencing all the ups and downs of playing was the most important part of my having success as a coach and manager.”


Investing in four years of minor league ball between the ages of 22 and 26 is tantamount to investing four years between the ages of 18-22 in college. Time is money. Student/Athlete/Player/Coaches are investing their time with the idea that the dividends will pay back later in their lives. They could all get jobs at 18 or 22 that would pay more than studying/playing does, but they realize in the long run they will not necessarily come out ahead. They realize that there are 15 million Americans with degrees today who are doing jobs that do not require a degree.



On the other side, St. Ignatius alum Chris Rigo pitched for the Crushers last summer. Rigo has his degree from OU and just announced his retirement still in his mid 20s so that he could take an opportunity in banking.


“I told Chris he made the right decision because if he wants to advance in that industry, he needed to move now,” Maz said. “Now someone who wants to go into coaching, I would tell him to keep wearing that uniform until they tear it off. If he is going to be in it for the long run, he has to look down the road.”


Still the pro and college game are coached and played differently.


“Drew is learning that right now,” said Maz. “I can always tell the difference between a college program in which the coach played professionally and one in which the coach did not play professionally. In college every game is looked more at as the most important game of the season. In the pro game it is more of a grind. We look more at the end instead of tonight.”


There are cases of those who have given up big bucks with high-profile titles to get back into the Frontier League because of its learning and development friendly nature. More of Maz’s players have gone into coaching from his five years as an FL manager than did in his five years as a manager in affiliate ball.

Pat O'Brien



“That’s what I like about the league; it gravitates toward players who want to become coaches,” Maz said. “One guy, Pat O’Brien out of Kent, was released by the Astros, turned down my offer to play for me at the Washington Wild Things and went to work as a salesman. After one year of that he gave up a great salary and went to work for me for $800 a month. He played one year, went into coaching and is now the top assistant at George Washington University. He made a career change, saying, ‘Sales is not for me. I love baseball.’”








Horizon League race...

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Butler also leads the men’s all-sports standings with 26 points.  The Bulldogs earned the maximum seven points in basketball, cross country and soccer and picked up five points in indoor track and field.  Milwaukee is second with 19 points, and Green Bay is third with nine.


Milwaukee tops the women’s standings with 27 points, earning seven points in soccer and track, five points in volleyball and swimming, and three in cross country.  Butler ranks second with 20 points, followed by Green Bay (14 points), Cleveland State (11) and Loyola (10.5).


Points will be awarded this spring in baseball, softball, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s tennis, and men’s and women’s outdoor track and field.


Last year, Milwaukee claimed the McCafferty Trophy as the Horizon League’s all-sports champion for the fifth time in the last nine years and fourth in the last six.   UWM also took home the women’s all-sports award for the fourth consecutive year, while UIC captured the men’s all-sports award for the second time in three years.

Horizon League


The McCafferty Trophy is awarded annually by the Horizon League to a member institution compiling the greatest number of performance points, based on finishes in the League’s 19 championship sports.  For the sports of men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball, softball and baseball, points are awarded based on combined regular-season (60 percent) and championship (40 percent) finishes.  For all other sports, points are based on performance in the League championships.  The award is named in honor of James J. McCafferty, who served as the conference’s first commissioner from 1979-80.


The Horizon League’s spring sport championships begin next week with men’s and women’s tennis at North Central High School in Indianapolis April 23-25.  The women’s golf championships are scheduled for April 24-25, followed by men’s golf April 26-27.  Both golf events will be held at Kearney Hill Golf Links in Lexington, Ky.

Continental Cup ...

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In its four years, the AC Milan Continental Cup has seen the number of tournament teams escalate from 32 teams in its inaugural year in 2006 to 130 teams in 2009. This included 38 international teams in 2009 from Antigua Barbuda, Canada, Cayman Islands, Colombia and India . Last year, the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission partnered with the Cleveland Indians Charities and added baseball to the tournament. In its inaugural year in 2009, ten teams participated in the U14 baseball tournament, including teams from Lithuania and theDominican Republic .


This summer the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission will host the fifth annual Continental Cup now under the name of the Cleveland Clinic Sports Health International Youth Sports Festival. The Festival is scheduled for July 1-4 and will comprise of three sports including the AC Milan Continental Cup (soccer), Cleveland Indians Charities Continental Cup (baseball) and the newly added Cleveland Cavaliers Continental Cup (basketball). Over 4,000 athletes from 20 different countries are expected to participate this summer and pump over $4 million into the region due to tourism dollars.