The boys of summer
Local players and life according to baseball
By Shane Cohn 06/14/2012
The undeniable truth about professional baseball is that it’s absolutely exhausting and utterly monotonous. This is true despite everyone’s best attempt to recall and tell the most colorful stories. Anecdotes about hitting other men with baseballs, then swarming mid-game onto the playing surface to grab one another by the jersey and yell unmotivated threats, reveal more about the struggle of the game than the excitement or reward.
Santa Paula native Jim Colborn served as Dodgers’ pitching coach for six seasons.
Jim Colborn takes a sip of his coffee at Downtown Ventura’s Savory Café. A Santa Paula native and Ventura resident, Colborn is a former Major League Baseball all-star pitcher and Los Angeles Dodgers pitching coach, and currently, he is employed by the Texas Rangers as a “baseball guy.” He’s holding back a smile as he recalls drilling Detroit Tigers’ third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez in the back with a fastball more than 30 years ago.
“We were getting killed. I was getting killed. So I just nailed him.”
The benches cleared, and while no punches were thrown between the Tigers and the Milwaukee Brewers that afternoon, Rodriguez and Colborn had some words with each other.
“He told me next time it happens he was going to bring his bat and hit me in the head,” Colborn recalled. “So after the game, when the press asked me about that, I told them I wasn’t worried because I just have to make my head look like a slider and he’d miss.”
Baseball is a game of nuance. It tends to bore casual observers because they’re not in on the jokes. For instance, Colborn’s story is mostly funny not because he hit a guy on purpose and then made fun of him afterward, but because all the bravado never really meant anything in the first place. It mostly just served to break up the monotony and inject a bit of manufactured drama and fun into the drudgery of the season.
You know a game is weird when everyone is allowed to break the rules just to have some fun for 10 minutes.
But the weird game of baseball has so ingrained itself in American culture for the past 150 years precisely because of that monotonous struggle. This carrying on, the acceptance of our chosen or forced-into roles, the slow, single-stepped march to each finish line, only to rest for a bit and repeat the process, is a universal theme. We are attracted to and repulsed by the game because we are attracted to and repulsed by life.
Yet, as fans, we expect to be entertained. We watch in the hope that someone, or some team, will perform physical feats of excellence that will cause us to rise to our feet in applause. As players, they perform to win. They play the game in the hope that the team will come together as one unit and compete for a championship. Even the most odds-against team harbors that secret hope.
Ian Durham of Ventura also harbors that hope. The Ventura High School and Cal Lutheran relief pitcher was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 28th round of the 2011 MLB draft.
Ian Durham of Ventura pitching for the Florence Freedom, a Frontier League team in northern Kentucky.
“It was indescribable,” recalled Durham, 23, about getting the news he had been drafted. “Days before draft, I was anxious. Then it happens and you don’t know what to say. Next thing I know I met with area scout, my mom started crying, and two days later I was off to Clearwater, Florida, to play rookie ball. I had never even been outside of California.”
In the hot and humid Gulf Coast League, Durham put up respectable numbers during his first year of professional ball. He appeared in 18 games, pitching 33.1 innings with a 3.6 ERA (earned run average), along with 24 strikeouts and 10 walks. The Phillies organization liked what they saw and invited him back to 2012 Spring Training.
“The Gulf Coast League is one of the hardest leagues to come out,” says Durham, citing the fatiguing weather and the caliber of play. “They say if you can make it out of the GCL, you can make it out of any league.”
In late March, the last round of cuts in spring training, Durham heard the words no player ever wants to hear.
“As we’re walking in on cut day, the pitching director calls me over and says to go to the office. It’s that Bull Durham scene. You know what’s coming.”
Released from the Phillies organization, Durham spoke with the VCReporter from Crestwood, Ill. He was picked up by the Windy City Thunderbolts in the Frontier League, and living with a host family in a suburb outside of Chicago. He played for two weeks, never giving up a run, but was again released to make room for other players.
“The dream is still alive,” says Durham. “I have opportunities in other leagues, but I want to stay in the Frontier League. Some of the best players are coming out of this league. I just want to get on the field and get back to the place I want to be at.”
Just before deadline, the VCReporter heard from Durham. He was picked up by the Florence Freedom, a Frontier League team in northern Kentucky. The dream is alive and well for Durham. It’s just that it now entails six-hour bus rides between games in the Midwest heat.
But the cliché holds true: baseball is a game of failure.
Persevering through loss, losses reveal more about all of us than we’d ever like to show. The same is true of ball players. It is the unique person, and the ordinary baseball player, who will experience failure eight times in a row but step up to the next challenge with confidence and positivity. But it is also no surprise to watch the established champion wallow and scuffle and become despondent doing the one thing he’s best at.
The struggle of baseball, then, is the norm. There is simply no way around it, and so those who entertain honest hopes of playing at the highest level must subject themselves to the grinding and torturous statement that the game makes to all players, at all times: you’re not good enough anymore.
A graduate of St. Bonaventure High School in Ventura, Bryant Hernandez was a first-team All Big-12 selection in 2009 for the Oklahoma University Sooners, and was a finalist for the Brooks Wallace Award, given to the nation’s top shortstop. That year he was drafted in the ninth round by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He excelled through the organization, eventually reaching AAA, which is the last stop before the big time.
Bryant Hernandez of Camarillo playing cards in the locker room during a rain delay with his former team’s mascot, Louie of the Great Lakes Loons.
But during spring training this year, the Dodgers released Hernandez. He was one of 227 players released from major league clubs this past spring, and while most seek opportunities elsewhere in baseball, Hernandez, 24, retired. He is returning to Oklahoma University to get a degree in accounting.
“Personally, it was about figuring out at what point to go back to school and what point to continue,” says Hernandez, speaking from his home in Camarillo. “For me, 25 years old was the point to figure out what I was doing, and I definitely didn’t want to stay in the minors for the rest of my career.”
Hernandez says it was gut-wrenching being released from the Dodgers, but, he remembers a sense of relief because it meant the next step in life was about to open up.
“I have always had aspirations of this for as long as I could ever think about it,” he explained. “I still love the game. Once you’ve got so far into it and you have loved it, it’s never going away. But you don’t miss long bus rides and not being able to do certain things because you’re away from home…. It is still something you’ll always love.”
San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic produces more professional baseball players per capita than any other place on earth. It’s known otherwise as “The Cradle of Shortstops.” About 80 MLB players — past and present — and countless minor leaguers come from the Dominican city.
Ventura County is a hotbed of its own. The Ventura Baseball Club formed and played at Seaside Park (Ventura County Fairgrounds) in 1873, as local writer and baseball nut Jeffrey Wayne Mauhardt chronicled in his book Baseball in Ventura County. Since then, the area has been littered with baseball talent, producing some of the game’s greatest, including 1991 Most Valuable Player Terry Pendleton, No. 1 overall draft pick Delmon Young and all stars Brook Jacoby, Jered Weaver, Jack Wilson, Mike Lieberthal and Dmitri Young.
And the most recent county native to reach the big-time is St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Chuckie Fick.
On May 26, county native Chuckie Fick got the call and made his MLB debut that night for the defending world champion Cardinals and pitched a scoreless top of the ninth against the Phillies.
Three weeks ago, the VCReporter talked with Fick while he was still in AAA with the Memphis Redbirds. He was in a motel in Tucson, Ariz., relaxing for the next road game. Next to him was his fiancé. It was the first time they had seen each other in months, due to the exhausting travel schedule. Fick, 26, has been in the minors since 2007. He has spent the past three seasons in AAA, which means that, for three long years, Fick was one phone call away from living his dream.
“It’s tough,” Fick admitted. “Not being able to be home for six months, making $1,500 a month, being on the road, living out of a suitcase and being in small towns. It’s a struggle because, with no signing bonus, you live on every nickel, dime and quarter. You work in the offseason and live at home. People think we live a great life, but you don’t unless you’re one of the few who have a signing bonus worth a good chunk of change.”
Baseball has a way of pushing you out when it’s time, but Fick remained confident that this was his year. He said if he didn’t make it to the pros this season, it meant something had gone terribly wrong.
On May 26, Fick got the call. He made his MLB debut for the defending world champion Cardinals that night and pitched a scoreless top of the ninth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies. He told the press “it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done.”
In the game of baseball, love and pride redeem. Pride makes ballplayers either refuse to give up or makes them understand the game must go on without them. And love? That mad, indelible thing called love allows them to enjoy doing the same thing, over and over and over, that they’ve all done since they were five years old: play the horrible, wonderful game of baseball.
East county’s punk rocker pitching coach
I was watching a Cleveland Indians/Kansas City Royals game a few weeks ago.
Clearly, I didn’t have anything better to do.
In the fifth inning, Indians pitcher Justin Masterson was getting into some trouble.
The announcer then said that Indians pitching coach Scott Radinsky was walking to the mound to visit Masterson.
Scott Radinsky? As in the lead singer for the punk bands Ten Foot Pole and Pulley? That Scott Radinsky is the pitching coach for the Cleveland Indians?
Yup, he sure is
In his 11-year baseball career as a player, Radinsky, a Simi Valley High School grad, was a tenacious, left-handed relief pitcher known for getting the big outs late in the game. It should also be noted that he ranks as one of the greatest Jewish pitchers of all time.
But what makes Radinsky such an interesting baseball character is that during the off season he still cuts records and tours with his band Pulley, and is the co-owner of Skatelab, a skate park and museum in Simi Valley.
“We played a gig in central California at an indoor skate park a long time ago and thought it was the coolest thing in the world,” said Radinsky, who opened Skatelab in 1997 and tries to be at the business every day in the off season. “So I asked some questions, did some research and found a guy with the same passion and found a place for kids to be able to skate.”
During the 1980s and ’90s, Radinsky was a fixture in the local punk scene as the frontman for the Simi Valley band Scared Straight, which eventually became the iconic band Ten Foot Pole. After departing from Ten Foot Pole, due to baseball obligations, Radinsky formed Pulley in the mid-’90s, releasing its first album on Epitaph Records, and the band is still going strong.
“We released a record last August,” said Radinsky, who lives in Thousand Oaks during the off season. “We’ve been writing some songs and got a couple gigs in the works in November.”
I asked Radinsky what is worse, playing a bad set or having a bad outing as a pitcher.
“They both kind of suck,” he said. “I guess it depends what happens the next day. A bad show sucks, but usually there are some people there that liked it. If you have a bad day pitching, you only hear the boos for a few minutes.”