Apr 08, 2009 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
Crazy Horse and Big Country will lead Syracuse ballclub this season
The 2009 Syracuse Chiefs lay claim to two of the most colorful nicknames in baseball.
Owing to his legendary temper over 19 years as one of the game’s best shortstops, new manager Tim Foli is called “Crazy Horse.”
Due to his physical prowess, first baseman Brad Eldred has been dubbed “Big Country.”
While Crazy Horse will determine the lineups and do battle with the umpires, Big Country will slug the long balls that’ll put runs on the board for the Chiefs in their first year as the top farm club of the Washington Nationals.
As the Chiefs open their 2009 International League baseball season at 2 p.m. Thursday April 9, at Alliance Bank Stadium, everyone hopes for a victory over Thruway rivals the Rochester Red Wings, the Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. Syracuse Area Music Awards hall-pf Famer Joe Whiting will sing the National Anthem, and the ceremonial first pitch will be tossed by Congressman Dan Maffei.
The Chiefs and the Red Wings meet here again at 4 p.m. Friday April 10. After a week-long roadtrip, the Chieftains return to ride herd on the Buffalo Bisons at ABS April 17-20. Ticket prices have risen slightly and now range between $4 and $10; plus there’s a charge for parking; 474-7833.
First year with Nats
After 31 tiresome years with the Toronto Blue Jays, 2009 marks the Chiefs’ first year affiliated with the Washington Nationals, so it’s tougher than usual to deduce the team’s chances. Almost all the names and faces are new, including Crazy Horse and Big Country.
Old-time Syracuse fans may vaguely recall that Foli played at MacArthur Stadium in 1970 when he was a 19-year-old shortstop for the Tidewater Tides. A couple of new Chiefs’ previously played here: pitcher Gary Glover went 4-6 in 1999, while outfielder Mike Vento hit seven home runs in 2007.
The rest of the squad is comprised mostly of strangers, including hitting coach Darnell Coles and pitching coach Steve McCatty. It’ll take time for fans to familiarize themselves with the players, but it appears as though the Nats have crafted a Triple-A ballclub with a potent combination of pitching and hitting, novices and journeymen.
On the mound, we’ll see talented right-handed rookies such as Jordan Zimmermann, Collin Balester and Jason Bergmann. Zimmermann, 22, was named the Nationals’ best prospect by Baseball America. Nats manager Manny Acta calls the kid “a warrior” who throws 93 mph fastballs.
Another righty, former Yankee hurler Tyler Clippard, will start for the Chiefs as will 2008 International League All-Star pitcher, Garrett Lee Mock.
This year’s batsmen look even better.
Slugging first-baseman Brad Eldred, called “Big Country” by his teammates because the Floridian stands 6-foot-5 and tips the scales at 275, led the IL in home runs last year. Eldred smacked 35 dingers and drove in 100 runs while batting .244 for the Charlotte Knights.
Outfielders like 25-year-old prospect Justin Maxwell and veteran Vento can be expected to drive the ball consistently as will catcher Luke Montz who has hit 75 round-trippers over six seasons.
Third baseman Joel Guzman hit 20 HRs for the Durham Bulls last year, and Puerto Rican League 2007 MVP Jorge Padilla has knocked out 86 homers over 11 seasons. Utility infielder Freddie Bynum is a consistent .275 hitter.
Switch-hitting infielder Alex Cintron has played more than 600 games in the major leagues and hit .316 in spring training this year for the Nats, so he’s ready to rock for Syracuse. Cintron had his best season in 2003 with the Diamondbacks batting .317 with 13 HR.
With his years of experience, his hustling attitude and an elbow recently repaired by surgery, the 30-year-old Cintron could easily emerge as a Syracuse sparkplug that is if the Nats stay healthy enough to leave him down here on the farm. And that’s the whole story of minor-league baseball, player transactions will inevitably effect on-field performance. Fans can do little but sit back and watch as players develop and finally make their move to The Show.