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Editor Jim Lockwood

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Monday, July 4, 2022
CRAZY LIKE A FOX, OR JUST PLAIN NUTS?
Story by Ad Costa
 

SYDNEY (AP) - There aren’t too many people who can claim to really understand the transactions and decisions of sophomore owner Adam Costa (who prefers to be called “Ad”). Most people in Sydney either really like the new owner for his willingness to make unusual moves or think that he’s completely out of his mind for exactly the same reason. After an inaugural season where the Sydney Rebels sat back and basically watched the league pass them by they have been far different in this one.

Is the league still passing them by? Statistically it is. The team is 29-52 and is nearly the worst team in the league again. Most people wouldn’t consider that effective management under normal circumstances, and yet one can’t help but get the feeling that there is actually a plan in place for this team. While that plan may not be obvious at the moment, what is obvious is that the second year owner knows what he wants to do with his team and he’s showing that he’s obviously not afraid to do it however he sees fit. Not all of the fans like it, and some of his fellow owners might think that he’s nuts… but there’s clearly a plan being followed.

The recent flurry of trades that brought in fifteen players and four 1st Round picks in the Amateur Draft while sending out veterans like Ron Guidry, Hank Greenberg, James Cardoza, Jessie Powell, Eric Gomez and Randy Sullivan is evidence that the team plans on getting younger and building through their farm system. That doesn’t mean that they won’t acquire other players here and there or promote from within if they think those players will help somehow. Players like current First Baseman Jim Keating and Outfielders Tim White and Rip Reninger and Catcher Dean Houk are examples of all of these.

According to Manager Will VanLandingham, “We saw a lot of potential in Keating last season when he was called up to get some at bats as our every day DH. Although he didn’t hit for average he did show some nice power and when he played first base so that we could rest Hank his defense was very good. Seeing all of those things in Jim was what allowed us as an organization to move an All Time talent like Hank Greenberg. Mr. Costa, I and all of our Coaches and Scouts who watched him felt that Jim was ready to step up and play every day and he’s proven us correct.”

Keating has stepped up well for Sydney this season. In his first full season playing for the team as an every day on field player (he became the every day First Baseman when the team traded Hank Greenberg to Long Beach a couple of months ago) he’s hit ..287 for them with his average hitting .300 a couple of times. He’s absolutely deadly against lefties, hitting them to the tune of a .330 batting average while batting .269 against right handed Pitchers. Keating has 18 Home Runs to go with 45 RBI and 17 Stolen Bases this season. On the field he’s been brilliant, having not committed a single error all season long. The team looks to him to be a future on field leader, a roll he looks forward to greatly.

“This team took a big chance on me last season and an even bigger one by trading Hank in favor of me this season and I really want to prove to them that they made a smart decision there,” said Keating from the batting cage at the team’s home field in Sydney. The team recently confirmed that he had been a highly sought after talent with requests that went all the way back to last season. GM Costa has staunchly refused to trade him and firmly believes that he’s going to be a huge part of the team for many years to come.

“Look at Jimmy Keating, that kid has amazing talent and wants to be a leader for our team. The fact that so many teams have inquired as to his availability going back to last season is just further proof of this. Jim is a special player and we plan on holding onto him for a long time to come."

Keating isn’t the only unlikely starter that this team has, or its only unlikely success story. Both corner Outfielders were ones who were acquired without a second thought by the owner, but plenty of head scratching by other people, both those from within the organization and those outside of it. With neither Rip Reninger nor Tim White sport heavy batting averages both are players who Costa says fill a need for the team.

“We needed to get younger in out outfield and get a little more power out of it. We didn’t originally intend to deal for a left fielder, but the injury to Kid Bella sort of forced our hand. We were in talks with a couple of different teams at the time and had a few different players tossed our way. I really liked what Rip had to offer, as well as the fact that he’s fairly young and a solid outfielder defensively. I honestly think that his average and power will come. You have to keep in mind that this is his rookie season. He’s barely had 250 professional at bats so to me the fact that he’s only hitting a little over two hundred doesn’t hold a lot of weight. He’ll get better with experience, that much I’m sure of.”

When asked about Tim White his response was just as calm and assured;

“Tim is most likely never going to be a great hitter for average; he’s just not that type. Would we like to see him get his average up more towards the two fifty range? Yes, but we didn’t get him because of his prolific batting eye… we got him to add a little pop to our lineup and I think he’s done so. He’s already hit 13 home runs this season and most of them have come since we traded for him. He’s already had a multi-home run game or two for us and we think that he’ll end up with twenty or thirty by the time the season is over. If he does that we won’t care if he hits two hundred or two fifty. He’ll have done what we acquired him for.”

In the process of turning the team over the team also rebuilt part of the starting rotation. While the team shipped out future Hall of Famer Ron Guidry and solid veteran Starter Randy Sullivan they got two strong young Starting Pitchers in return in 29 year old Horace Scherbarth and 27 year old Rookie John Murphy. Scherbarth is now in his 7th season in the league and has a career record of 71-94 with an ERA of 3.06 and 617 career strikeouts. This season Scherbarth is 4-5 with an ERA of 3.42. Two of those losses have come with Sydney due to the staggering lack of run support. Scherbarth, while frustrated by losing does understand the situation.

“I prefer to win, any Weaver League pitcher or player does. You have to understand the situation that you’re playing in though and take into account that the team traded an all time great like Ron Guidry in order to get you. That’s a hell of a compliment in one’s ability to be acquired in exchange for a legend like Mr. Guidry. The Rebels acquired me to be backbone of their future starting rotation and I plan on living up to that expectation. The wins, the run support and the rest will come in time. This team won’t be where it is forever, I’m positive of that”.

Rookie Righty John Murphy has a slightly different view of things but says that he’s willing to see where the team is going before making any demands of it.

“I hate losing and this team is going to do a lot of it over the next few seasons. If I don’t see signs that things are going to get better I’ll demand a trade. It’s that simple. I want to win. Period”.

Thus far the reactions from some of his team mates, especially Scherbarth and veteran Shortstop Lew Main have been understanding yet not at all forgiving. When told of the comments by XM Radio’s Ronnie “Night Train” Lane earlier in the week, Lew Main responded very sternly, replying;

“You know something Ronnie, I was happy when I found out that the team had acquired Horace and John from Stockholm in the Guidry deal, who wouldn’t be happy to hear that we got two solid and fairly young arms back in that trade? It really ticks me off though to hear from John that he’s willing to criticize the team already. First of all he’s a rookie. The kid should shut his mouth and try to learn a few things before shooting it off. Secondly, it’s not his place to make demands of anyone except himself, let alone the team. The kid has amazing talent, but with a record of 2-7 and an ERA of 4.45 he should be worrying about himself right now, not smack talking the rest of the team. Believe me when I say that he’ll be hearing from me about this very soon."

Scherbarth’s reaction was strong, but a little more understanding;

“Johnnie is a good kid, he’s just inexperienced. Should he go around calling out the team within his first month, or even year of being here… of course not. I for one don’t believe in calling the team out in public. Some things are better off left in the clubhouse where they belong. John is young though and I think he spoke before he thought. He’s really a good kid who just really wants to win. Lew and I will have a talk with him and I’m sure he’ll get the idea. If not he could see himself benched for a couple of games. We’ll see what happens."

When asked for a comment about it, GM Costa just shrugged his shoulders and replied calmly, “Well, that’s not how I’d prefer he’d do it, but I’ve never been like that so perhaps I just don’t get it. I’ll speak to John soon and see if we can’t get this straightened out."

When asked if he’d suspend Murphy for his comments, he replied that he’d prefer to avoid such a move because in the long run it would do nothing but hurt the team and make him look like a tyrant to the other players. While he made it clear that he wouldn’t accept that sort of talk from Murphy, or anyone else for that matter, he was also quick to point out that he admired Murphy’s will to win… just not his diplomatic aplomb.

If nothing else, Sydney stands to come out of all of these trades with a much improved farm system. In the course of his dealings GM Costa acquired four draft picks in the 1st round of this year’s Amateur Draft. In addition to have the 5th overall pick as a result of last season’s record he acquired #22 and 24 in their trade with Long Beach and the 12th and 15th overall picks from their recent trade with Vancouver. The team is holding what it’s seeking close to the vest at this point, but is expected that they feel that they can get a stud talent with the #5 pick and pick up some strong future talent with the other four. GM Costa made it very clear that he was interested in acquiring other picks if the right deals came along.

Is it madness or a less than clear strategy for the future? You decide that for yourself because Mr. Costa isn’t saying. “My plan is what it is and that’s all that I can say about things right now."

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