Posts Tagged ‘Connecticut Defenders’

Giants bench coach Ron Wotus argues a call in 2009. Wotus will participate in his second World Series with San Francisco. (Photo credit: San Francisco Chronicle)

When the leaves change color and the air becomes crisp, Ron Wotus thinks of Connecticut.

His mind takes him back to the fields of his youth, vivid memories of soccer matches won and lost on penalty kicks. The Colchester, Conn., native had planned to return Monday for his annual visit home. But that will have to wait at least another week.

Wotus and the San Francisco Giants, for whom he serves as bench coach, begin the World Series tonight (7:57 p.m., FOX) against the Texas Rangers. It’s Wotus’ second Fall Classic after reaching it with the Giants in 2002.

In his 22nd season with the organization, Wotus joined as a player and worked his way up from minor league coach and manager to his current position, which he reached in 1999.

“The biggest thrill is getting back into the postseason,” he said. “I think anybody who is a competitor or in sports, you strive, your motivation is to win. That’s what you plan on doing when you go to spring training.

“There’s a sense of accomplishment when you execute and you perform. Certainly as a coach, that’s what you want the players to do. Getting into the playoffs and having a shot at going to the World Series is what you play for.”

The Giants last won the World Series in 1954.

Wotus was on the staff when the Giants played in their last World Series. He knows the opportunity to play in baseball’s biggest event doesn’t happen every year.

Just ask the Yankees.

“It’s very difficult to get where you are going; it’s one bad pitch, it’s a bloop hit, it’s a matter of inches on a hit or not,” Wotus said. “You really have to be appreciative when you get here and do everything you can to win.”

In 1979, Wotus graduated from Bacon Academy where he was an All-State honoree in baseball, basketball and soccer. He averaged 30 points per game on the hardwood and was the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 16th-round draft choice, but his heart was on the pitch. Wotus was All-New England in soccer and set the state scoring mark.

“I enjoyed them all, but soccer was special to me,” he said. “We enjoyed a lot of success. Not that I didn’t enjoy the other ones, but it was special. I had a lot of great coaches in Frank Aloia, Dave Shea and John McKiernan.

“Maybe it’s something about being outside and playing in the fall. Maybe it’s in my heart. I always come home in the fall. The fresh crisp air and the competition in soccer, I loved it growing up. I loved all the sports. That had a special place. I can’t put my finger on it but it was special to me.”

Wotus’ family still calls Colchester home, and several members were in Philadelphia on Saturday to watch the Giants beat the Phillies for the National League championship. He hopes to be back in Connecticut in January for the World Baseball Coaches Convention at Mohegan Sun.

Wotus’ All-State basketball photo and a basketball with his career point total are still on display at Bacon Academy. School legend Shea coached Wotus in basketball, and remembers him being all the things you want in a student-athlete: Hardworking, dedicated and a good teammate.

“He was a great competitor regardless of the score,” Shea said. “He always played hard and played to win, right up to the final buzzer.”

Joining Wotus on the Giants are eight former Norwich Navigators/Connecticut Defenders — Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Sergio Romo, Brian Wilson, Jonathan Sanchez, Travis Ishikawa, Pablo Sandoval and Nate Schierholtz. That gives this World Series a Connecticut feel.

Wotus said the topics that came up most among the teams’ alumni are the local fishing hot spots and the difficulties playing at Dodd Stadium.

“We talked a little bit,” he said. “The thing that always comes up is it was an extremely tough hitters’ park. It was difficult to hit there in Norwich. I certainly always told the guys I lived up the road in Colchester, and they knew where it was at. I always heard about how crazy it was in our area on the lakes.”

And if the Giants were to win the World Series, it may serve as the perfect send-off for Wotus, who expressed interested in the Pirates’ managerial opening to MLB.com. The Pirates drafted Wotus in 1979 out of Bacon Academy.

“It’s not really the right time for me to speak about it on the record,” he said. “I can’t say I’m definitely interested in managing Pittsburgh or any club that would be interested in me. That’s what I’d like to do and it’s certainly out of my control. That’s up to the people that are doing the hiring. … I’ve been here my whole career as a coach. The personal thing of managing is great, but it’s not at the forefront for me, it’s finishing a job that we set out to do here.

“This is what it’s all about right now.”

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It’s a moment he would probably like to forget, but doing just that — forgetting — led to one of the most unintentionally funny moments in Brock Bond’s young career.

As a member of the Single-A San Jose Giants last season, Bond stepped into the batter’s box just as a newly inserted relief pitcher readied his first warm-up pitch.

Despite the cries of his teammates to move away, Bond was so focused that he forgot it was a new pitcher.

“I don’t know what I was doing,” said Bond, now the Connecticut Defenders’ All-Star second baseman. “I guess I was daydreaming. I just walked up to the plate.”

As a result, he stood before the team’s Kangaroo Court.

Closely guarded, Kangaroo Court is one of the most esoteric — and even ritualistic — aspects of professional baseball.

The term traces its origins to the mid-1800s when mob-run courts determined hearings with the intent of making a fair trial impossible, or that conclusions were made by leaps devoid of logic. It was those leaps that eventually led to the moniker ‘kangaroo’ being attached to the proceedings.

Just how long Kangaroo Court has been part of baseball is unknown. What is known is that these tribunals are a regular part of the game. Every month or so, teams adjourn from the typical poker-playing, music-listening, e-mail-sending normality for organized bonding.

Bang, bang

It’s called the Bang Box.

True to its ominous sounding name, the Bang Box can be a ball player’s nightmare. That’s where all charges, or bangs, are submitted. The last thing you want is your name in the box. It usually means losing your McDonald’s money.

One player files a charge against another with the penalty being a monetary fine. Most fines range from $5 to $50, with some reaching $100 in the majors.

Players can be fined for leaving a base early or speaking out of turn, etc. But much like the system it’s built upon, the charges in Kangaroo Court are mostly fluff.

Reliever Dan Griffin recently “banged” himself for overthrowing. That may appear a noble gesture, but Griffin, according to fellow reliever Matt Yourkin, broke an important rule: You can’t fine yourself. As a result, Griffin was charged … for charging himself.

At the end of the season, the money is used for either a team party or is donated to charity, depending upon the team.

Deciding if the accused is guilty or not and how much the fine will be is determined by a judge.

Usually the oldest member of the team serves in that capacity and oversees proceedings. For the Defenders, it is Yourkin, who speaks of his role with reverence.

Those who come before him with charges aren’t without options. Should a player want to challenge the bang, he must produce evidence to support his case. Should he be found not guilty, the player who brought up the bang is subjected to the fine.

Manager Steve Decker said while with the San Francisco Giants he saw a player facing a $100 penalty buy the judge $30 in gifts, leading to a not guilty verdict.

“There’s none of that,” Yourkin said. “I don’t stand for that. I’m a straight-forward guy; there’s no bribing me.”

Get it in writing

An important aspect in dealing with any bang is how it’s written. Toss in a dose of creativity, and something that might otherwise go unnoticed leads to big laughs.

Almost unanimously, the Defenders said ex-teammate Andy D’Alessio had the funniest bang to answer for — his car.

D’Alessio, who drove a bright orange sports car with a spoiler, was charged with staying out late street racing. Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, stars of the movie “The Fast and the Furious,” were named witnesses.

Decker has also been subjected to the whims of the court during his playing days.

His former Florida Marlins teammate Andre Dawson kept a row of 12 bats in his locker that he signed and gave away. On one occasion, Decker picked up a bat and liked how it felt. He asked Dawson, who was in the adjacent locker, if he could use it. With Dawson’s blessing, Decker trotted out to the plate for his first at-bat with the new lumber.

“Boom! I hit the ball and the bat just breaks in half,” Decker said. “I come to find out that the autographed bats are really like a bad lumber pile.”

As much as Kangaroo Court is about having fun, it also serves a greater purpose within the team dynamic, representing a team-building exercise custom-made for baseball. The leaps made in presuming guilt is only outdone by the leaps in bonding the team can accomplish.

“I think it helps a lot,” pitcher Ben Snyder said. “It’s fun. The way I’ve been accustomed to baseball is that baseball players just rip on each other. This is sarcasm thrown out left and right.”

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NORWICH, Conn. — Deep inside the halls of Dodd Stadium, a strapping 6-foot-4 slugger launches a pitch upward taking the netting of the batting cage with it until the ball smacks into an overhead lighting fixture.

He continues to hit the ball with authority for the remainder of his session. With a .458 average in high school and a game-winning walk-off homer to clinch the state title his senior year, this prospect is an accomplished hitter. However, this not one of the Connecticut Defenders you would typically see with a bat in his hand. Then again, nothing is typical about Madison Bumgarner.

Courtesy of Ron Waite/Photosportacular

Courtesy of Ron Waite/Photosportacular

“I like hitting,” he said. “I was a hitter in high school. It’s definitely tougher at this level, but it’s a lot of fun to get up there and take your hacks.”

Bumgarner, who is built like a prototypical third baseman, is one of the most talked about pitchers in the minors. No one doubts his future in the majors; it’s just a matter of time before he’s throwing for the San Francisco Giants alongside Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Bumgarner is what you would call a can’t-miss prospect.

The big lefty (he bats right-handed) hasn’t been with the team the entire season, yet he leads the team in victories with six and is third in ERA (first among starting pitchers with a microscopic 1.70). He’s second in strikeouts and was selected to the Eastern League All-Star Game as well as the Futures Game as part of the Major League Baseball All-Star festivities in St. Louis.

Last season, Bumgarner put the baseball world on notice with a minor league-best 1.46 ERA with Single-A Augusta. He won the league’s pitching triple crown with a 15-3 record and 164 strikeouts and was named the minors Most Outstanding Pitcher.

All of this and he’s not yet 20 years old.

His secret?

“I just try to get ahead, probably start off with a fastball away,” he said. “Mix in some off-speed stuff, just like I do here.”

There’s no settle in Bumgarner. Instead of acknowledging a particular weakness or an area of concern, he’s committed to improving each pitch in his arsenal as well as his location.

Despite the constant attention on his every pitch and the speculation as to when he’ll reach San Francisco, Bumgarner manages to stay even-keeled. He credits his faith and the upbringing provided by his parents in North Carolina.

He doesn’t want to get ahead of himself and assume his spot in the Giants’ rotation later this season or in any future season. Bumgarner also won’t admit to having a dream match up in his mind; he’d be happy to face anyone in the majors.

“I try to take it one day at a time, just not worry about it” he said. “Just go out there and get my work in and do the things I have to do. I don’t really read anything or listen to the talk that’s going around. I’m just any other guy.”

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