Thursday, May 28, 2009

Play ball

Not sure how many of you know this, but for the past few summers I have spent several nights a week pilfering through the happenings of the American Association and Can-Am League, two independent minor-league baseball leagues spread throughout the Midwest, Northeast and, you guessed it, Canada. If you have ever heard of the St. Paul Saints, and you probably haven't, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. It's generally the final resting place for former big leaguers like Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, Darryl Strawberry and even, it appears, Eric Gagne, who has signed with the Quebec Capitales of the Can-Am League, and will fill a spot in their starting rotation of all places.

Sometimes the leagues can serve as a stop for players like Luke Hochevar, and their agents (Scott Boras, shocker), who feel that $2.98 million just isn't quite enough. Hochevar was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round (No. 40 overall) of the 2005 draft, but couldn't come to terms on a contract, hence opting for a stint with the Fort Worth Cats of the American Association before re-entering in 2006 where he was selected No. 1 overall by the Kansas City Royals. The move turned out to be a good one for Hochevar and friends. His signing bonus increased to $5.3 million and incentives made his deal worth as much as $7 million.But both examples aside, these leagues, and all independent leagues, are places where people find themselves if they just plain love baseball. The money is scarce, the glory is absent and the travel accommodations are a nightmare. But tucked away in random cities and towns are teams who play baseball, plain and simple, and fans who love to watch. Each year, a few teams come and a few teams go. So it wasn't until the Can-Am opened its season tonight that I heard about this interesting team in Nashua, New Hampshire, a small liberal town about 40 miles north of Boston. Though the team is largely unknown, it has a rich history. In the late 1940s, the Nashua Dodgers' lineup card featured the likes of Roy Campanella behind the plate, and Don Newcombe on the mound - a far cry from the likes of the aforementioned, if you ask me.

Yet, even that isn't what has impressed me the most; what has given me hope for baseball. No, it's just their name: The American Defenders of New Hampshire. Complete with camouflage uniforms, they look like a cross between the USA baseball team and the San Diego Padres during spring training. But don't be fooled. This isn't some military stunt to draw sympathy. There is history behind this team - and plenty of it. It's just nice to know that baseball still exists. Real baseball. And the whole military theme just gives one the impression, if playing for nothing didn't already, that these guys are just happy to have the chance - and appreciative of those who have enable them to have one.