As longtime readers know, I have a soft spot for the independent brand of the game. That’s in part because I was a season-ticket holder to an indy team for the three years prior to my moving to Northern Virginia, but also because it’s a throwback to the way the minors were nearly a hundred years ago. In the days before radio and TV, conservative estimates had more than 400 pro and semipro teams across the U.S., each built to win but also willing to sell its best players to the major leagues to stay afloat, which of course created bidding wars. Thus, the NAPBL was formed to
kill the competition and save the owners from themselves organize and professionalize the minors.
Today, the independent teams are still built to win, but the players are no longer sold — though organizations have been known to send (badly needed) equipment as a thank-you. In many ways, the indys have become a thing of chance. For the younger and/or undrafted guys (typically, collegiate ballplayers), it’s a last chance to get noticed. For the older guys, it’s a second chance to get back into the minors. And for the rest, it’s simply a chance to keep playing for the love of the game (Hagerstown folks might remember a MI named Vic Davilla who became the Albert Pujols of the Can-Am League, retiring in 2008 at the age of 35 after 12 seasons in indy ball with a line of .313/.373/.502).
On Friday night, the Atlantic League started up. It’s widely considered the best of the bunch because it has the highest payroll and operates in the larger markets on the East Coast. It’s also the only one without any rules regarding age or service time. Consequently, it attracts AA/AAA talent and sends players back and forth to the majors with the greatest frequency (which it touts) though it’s commonly as a stopgap (which it doesn’t) to keep prospects at the desired level.
Unfortunately, it requires eyeballing the rosters of each and every team to see familiar names, so this feature will be sporadic and will undoubtedly be a bit incomplete. But here’s the players I spotted today, answering for some “Hey, where’d _____ end up?”