Friday, September 3, 2010

Stars’ play-off hopes on life support after loss to Montgomery

By Aaron Morse

The Huntsville Stars (32-33, 65-70) rallied from two runs down to tie the game in the seventh, but some bad defense and some bad luck cost them in the eighth as they fell to the Montgomery Biscuits (33-33, 71-63) by a final score of 6-3 Thursday night.

With the defeat, Huntsville finds themselves four games out of the Wild Card race with only five games remaining in the regular season. They must win the remainder of their games and the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx must lose the remainder of their games in order for Huntsville to make the play-offs.

The Stars jumped out to the early lead in the second inning, but it would not last long. Drew T. Anderson lined a single into right field to start things off. After Chris Nowak was hit by a pitch, Taylor Green crushed a ball to deep right field. Unfortunately it was not quite deep enough as John Matulia reeled it in on the warning track. On the play Anderson advanced to third. That’s when Andy Machado delivered a clutch single up the middle to make the score 1-0. Huntsville nearly got another run when Lee Haydel hit a liner to right; Nowak tried to score on the play and Matulia threw him out to end the inning.

The Biscuits came roaring back in the bottom of the frame. Matulia led-off with a triple to right. One out later, Matt Fields delivered a sacrifice fly to center. Caleb Gindl’s throw barely was not in time as Matulia slid around the tag of Anderson De La Rosa. Stars’ starter Amaury Rivas had some uncharacteristic control problems in the game, and they were on full display in the second as he hit Matt Spring and Shawn O’Malley to put runners on first and second with two outs. Rashad Eldridge singled up the middle to drive in the second run of the inning.

Huntsville trailed 3-1 until the seventh inning when Nowak was hit by yet another pitch. Green found a hole on the right side as he singled. But it appeared the rally might be stunted when a sacrifice bunt attempt ended up getting Nowak thrown out at third base. De La Rosa made sure that was not the case as he singled to left to drive in Green and cut the Biscuits’ lead to one. Brett Lawrie beat out an infield single to drive in the second run of the inning and knot the game at three.

Reliever Robert Hinton ran into some bad luck in the eighth. After Matt Spring singled to start the inning, the Biscuits tried to bunt him over. The ball went to first baseman Chris Nowak who fired to Machado covering second. It deflected off his glove and into shallow right field, putting runners at first and second with nobody out. An intentional walk loaded the bases, and one out later things got interesting. Hinton and the Stars clearly felt he was getting squeezed with Jose Ruiz at the plate. Ruiz eventually walked to drive in the go-ahead run. Then Henry Wrigley hit a grounder to Green who threw home to try and get the lead runner. But the home plate umpire ruled that De La Rosa’s foot came off the plate and another run was in. Once again the Stars were displeased with the call. Yet another walk drove in the third run of the inning. Hinton was visibly upset as he shouted at the home plate umpire. Chris Nowak must have said something wrong over at first because the first base umpire ejected him from the game. A ground-out ended the inning but the damage was done as the Stars found themselves down 6-3.

They were unable to push across any runs in the ninth despite a Brett Lawrie two-out triple as they dropped the rubber match in the series.

Huntsville returns to “The Joe” for five must-win games against Mobile starting Friday night at 7:00 p.m. central time. Wily Peralta (1-3, 4.10 ERA) will be on the mound. You can catch all the action on

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Tools of Ignorance

By Aaron Morse

Anderson De La Rosa squats behind the plate as he awaits a 98 mph fast ball from former first round draft pick Mark Rogers. The ball will arrive at home plate in about four tenths of a second. That’s literally in a blink of an eye. It doesn’t go straight into De La Rosa’s glove. Instead the batter fouls the ball off the 26-year old catcher’s foot. Catchers wear lots of protective gear. A mask, a chest protector, and shin guards make up what’s known in baseball parlance as the “tools of ignorance.” Unfortunately, those protective measures don’t include one’s foot. All De La Rosa has there are his shoes. He hops up and down in pain and bends at the waist to try to will the pain away.

There’s no more physically demanding position in the game of baseball than catcher. No one knows that better than the Stars’ oldest player, nine-year veteran Patrick Arlis. At 29 years of age, Arlis has spent most of his career with the Florida Marlins’ organization. He’s had two stints in independent ball and came to the Brewers’ organization in 2009.

“The main thing people don’t realize is you can’t take a great hitter and turn him in to a catcher just because of the fact that the grind on your legs is unbelievable,” Arlis said. “You can catch nine innings and be not gassed one night. And the next night you catch three innings and you don’t have anything left in the tank.”

That makes hitting rather difficult.

“You’re supposed to go up there and try to turn on a pitch in a situation; it’s tough to do because you don’t have any legs,” Arlis said. “So you have to take care of yourself day in and day out. During the day, at night, during the game, everything, your legs are your most important asset.”

Arlis is the Crash Davis of the Huntsville Stars. He’s been around the game for many years and loves it with a passion. But he realizes that nothing lasts forever.

“Baseball, you want it to be life,” Arlis said. “In the end it’s not always that way. A plan is something not a lot of these guys have. I’ve been released, not like a lot of these guys that I’m playing with now.”

Arlis has a plan. He’s been working the past two years to earn his Master’s Degree in Elementary Education through the University of Phoenix, an online school. He wants to be a middle school Physical Education teacher when his playing days end. When speaking of his younger colleagues in the game of baseball, he emphasizes the need to have a plan of action if baseball does not work out.

“They don’t understand that it’s not that easy to get another job,” Arlis said. “When the game is over, you know, it’s over. If you don’t have anything to do, you’re in trouble. I had a coach my first year tell me, baseball is a suspended state of adolescence. And when it’s over, you wake up, you’re 25 years old, and you don’t have anything.”

Dayton Buller, 29, describes Arlis as the hardest working player on the team. Buller started playing professional ball the same year as his fellow catcher and has also had a stint where he was out of affiliated baseball. The Brewers purchased his contract from Camden of the Atlantic League this year after Martin Maldonado earned a promotion to Triple-A Nashville. He came to the Stars and smashed a home run in only his second game. But hitting is not the primary focus when you’re serving as the captain of the infield.

“Calling a game and handling a staff and just controlling the game; you get so many good things out of it,” Buller said. “When you win you really feel like you did something even if you go 0-4.”

Every detail matters. Fans tend to notice the big events in a game. The 450-foot grand slam, the dominating pitching performance, the spectacular catch, those are the things that make Sports Center. Buller even had a “big moment” this year when he hit a walk-off home run against the Carolina Mudcats. However the catcher is responsible for the stuff that does not necessarily show up in the box score.

“Controlling everything, making sure the infielders know when a bunt situation is on and who bunts, who’s fast, and stuff like that [is important],” Buller said. “Making sure the pitcher knows exactly what the situation is; and who’s on deck and everything. You’ve got to know every single thing that’s going on in the game; you cannot take any pitches off or that one pitch could be the game.”

Not only that, but you have to also manage some pretty interesting personalities when it comes to working with the pitchers. Arlis says the key for the men wearing the tools of ignorance is…knowledge.

“You just learn about everybody,” Arlis said. “You get thrown into the fire; you start talking to a lot of guys, you learn their personality. What they can take, what they can’t. You’ve got to know what guys you have to go out [to the mound] and talk nice to and what guys you go out and be a real jerk to. What’s going to fire them up and make them more successful? The more successful they are the less work you have to do in the end.”

Work is not something the Stars’ catchers are afraid of, that’s for sure. They don’t really get days off. If one guy is not catching a certain day, he’s down in the bullpen helping the relievers warm-up. There’s no such thing as a designated “bullpen catcher” at the Double-A level.

However the Stars are lucky they have three catchers (Buller is currently on the DL, but all three have been active at the same time in previous weeks), instead of the normal two. That brings us to the aforementioned De La Rosa. The 26-year old out of Venezuela has a cannon for an arm. He has thrown out 41 percent of would-be base-runners during his six years as a backstop in the Brewers’ organization.

“[This year] I am focusing more on my defense and blocking everything, working for the pitcher, throwing guys out at the bases,” De La Rosa said. “I feel really good when I throw guys out at second base.”

De La Rosa smiles as he talks about his ability to play a bunch of positions. He says before he signed with the Brewers in 2003 he played a lot of outfield and some corner infield as well. In 2005, Milwaukee asked him if he’d want to try out catcher. De La Rosa had played the position as a young kid so he was very receptive to the idea. But he says it hasn’t been a cakewalk.

“Everything’s hard, when you play catcher, everything’s hard,” De La Rosa said. “You want to be focused on the game so you can call good pitches. You need to study every hitter. Every at bat is different. The pitchers are top prospects so you have to work really hard to help them do well.”

Talking to De La Rosa, one gets the sense that he takes more pride in helping the pitching staff succeed than his own personal accomplishments. This self-less attitude is a quality Arlis and Buller have as well. None of these men are considered prospects to play in “the show”, nor do they put up big offensive numbers at the Double-A level.

But the Stars would be a lesser team without them.

“Too many guys in pro ball are just here because they think they’re going to make it to the big leagues,” Arlis said. “They don’t want to play the game and they don’t play the game properly. Personally, I’ve had a great time.”

De La Rosa shakes off the pain of the foul ball. He gets back behind home plate and gets ready for some more Rogers heat. There are still seven more innings to catch.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Stars Hit Double Digits To Even Series

Connor Shreve

The Huntsville Stars turned in a dominating performance on Wednesday night to get back to within striking distance of the wild card race. The 10-4 win at Montgomery placed Huntsville 3.5 games back of the Diamond Jaxx in the battle to determine the final playoff team that will represent the Northern Division in the 2010 Southern League post season.

Huntsville started early with five second inning hits, four doubles, all of which came with two outs in the inning. The Stars led by four runs after two innings, tacked on one in the fifth and put the contest out of reach with a five spot in the sixth inning. Zelous Wheeler and Chris Nowak teamed up to knock back to back blasts in the sixth. Nowak’s shot was the first against his former squad, sailing out of the ballpark beyond left field and disappearing in to the forest backdrop beyond the train tracks that skirt the state Capitals downtown stadium.

Mark Rogers turned in his second strong outing against the biscuits in as many tries. The only run Rogers allowed came in the fifth thanks to Shawn O’Malley. O’Malley picked up an RBI on his single but the Biscuits stumbled with men on and nobody out. O’Malley was joined by Emeel Salem on base when Rogers struck out Rashaad Eldridge and induced an inning ending double play ball from Jose Ruiz.

With a chance to make Huntsville’s playoff chances slim to none, West Tenn came up short against Mississippi, 10-1. The Diamond Jaxx have led the wildcard chase most of the way but left the door open for the Stars having lost six of the last ten games. West Tennessee finishes the season with four games against Chattanooga in a series running from Sep 3-6.

Huntsville tries for a series victory in the finale Thursday night at 7:05 (CDT).

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Stars Playoff Hopes Waning

Connor Shreve

Huntsville failed to rally in Montgomery Tuesday evening and came out on the bottom end of a 3-2 final score.

The loss, with a West Tennessee victory, moved the Stars to four games back in the wild card chase with Huntsville's elimination number now at three games.

The low scoring affair didn't start that way with both squads combining for four of the five total runs in the first two innings. Zelous Wheeler scored Huntsville's first run in the second inning on a play that handcuffed the Stars chances of adding to the total. Wheeler doubled to leadoff the inning and advanced on a wild pitch. He scored on a grounder off the bat of Chris Nowak that wiped the bases clean and accounted for the first two outs of the frame.

Michael Fiers kept Huntsville in the game with four shutout innings of relief. Stars starter Mike Bowman lost his 12th game of the season, allowing three earned runs in four innings.

The Stars and Biscuits play game two on Wednesday evening beginning at 7:05 CDT.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Stars split twin bill with Mobile

By Aaron Morse

Caleb Gindl enjoyed a 5-6 double header and the Huntsville Stars (31-31, 64-68) won game two by a final score of 2-1 after dropping game one 5-3 in Sunday’s twin bill with the Mobile BayBears (35-26, 71-58).

Game one did not go the Stars’ way from the beginning. With one out in the first, Huntsville starter Wily Peralta (1-3) issued back-to-back walks. Konrad Schmidt made him pay as he unleashed a three-run home run to give Mobile a 3-0 lead. Ryan Wheeler followed with a homer of his own to extend the advantage to 4-0.

The Stars clawed back against Mobile starter Joshua Collmenter in the fourth. With two gone, Zelous Wheeler singled to left. Collmenter got a bit wild at that point as he walked the next two hitters. That set up Gindl who crushed a two-RBI double to cut the BayBears’ lead in half.

Mobile chased Peralta from the game in the fifth. Collin Cowgill led-off with an infield single. Peralta walked two batters in a row to load the bases with nobody out. In came Robert Hinton, who got Ryan Wheeler to fly out to shallow center. Then Taylor Harbin hit a tailor-made double play ball to Zelous Wheeler at short. But Wheeler bobbled the ball and his only play was to first. Cowgill scored on the play to make it 5-2 in favor of the BayBears.

Huntsville appeared to be in business in the sixth against new pitcher Josh Ellis. With one away, Chris Nowak and Gindl smacked back-to-back singles. Then with two down, pinch hitter Andy Machado came up big with a RBI single, putting runners at the corners and bringing Lee Haydel to the plate with the score 5-3. The BayBears brought in Daniel Strange to pitch and he immediately picked-off Machado at first to end the threat.

The Stars went down harmlessly in the seventh to dip to under .500 in the second half.

They weren’t under .500 for long as game two was a nail biter, but it was Gindl who once again provided the clutch offense.

With runners on second and third and two outs in the third inning, Gindl doubled to deep center field. The two runs that scored on the play were enough for starter Andre Lamontagne (4-3) and reliever Jeremy Jeffress to hold the lead.

Lamontagne bounced back from his previous start with a strong outing, going 5.2 innings, giving up three hits, one run (earned), while walking two and striking out an impressive nine batters. The sixth inning chased him from the game as with two outs Chris Rahl singled and was driven in by a Bryan Byrne double. Enter Jeffress, who got Sean Coughlin to ground out to third to end the frame with the Stars still up 2-1.

He’d nail down his third save of the year with a 1-2-3 ninth inning to get the Stars to within three games of the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, who lost Sunday.

The Stars open a four game series at Montgomery Tuesday night. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. and all the action can be heard on the Stars Radio Network and

Friday, August 27, 2010

Stars edged by BayBears

By Aaron Morse

Collin Cowgill drove in all three Mobile runs including a go-ahead two-run home run in the seventh inning as the BayBears (34-25, 70-57) came from behind to knock off the Huntsville Stars (30-30, 63-67) by a final score of 3-2 Thursday night.

Huntsville took the early lead in the first inning against Mobile starter Ryan Cook. With one out, Brett Lawrie drew a walk. He proceeded to swipe his 30th base of the year and Drew Anderson, the franchise’s all-time leader in career doubles, doubled him home.

The put Cook on the ropes again in the second as the Stars got runners on second and third with one out. A pop-out and a strike-out ended the threat though.

Anderson got things going in the third with his second double of the night. Zelous Wheeler followed with a RBI single and it was 2-0 Stars.

The bottom of the fourth was noteworthy due to a spectacular over the shoulder catch from Caleb Gindl in deep center field to rob Taylor Harbin of an extra base hit.

Mobile finally got to Huntsville starter Amaury Rivas in the fifth as Ryan Cook smacked a one-out single to left. Then with two away, Cowgill doubled to center and advanced to third on the throw to the plate as Cook scored. Rivas walked the next batter but struck-out Konrad Schmidt to end the inning.

That ended up being his last frame of work as the right-hander went five innings, giving up one run on four hits. He walked four, matching his season high in that category and struck-out six in the no-decision.

Mobile burned reliever Jim Henderson (4-5) in the seventh. With one out, Sean Coughlin singled to right. After Henderson struck-out Evan Frey, Cowgill struck again, this time with a two-run home run to give Mobile the 3-2 lead.

On the bright side for the Stars, reliever Jeremy Jeffress followed Henderson in to the game and struck-out all four batters he faced.

The Stars nearly rallied to tie the game in the ninth as Andy Machado got things going with a single to right. After Lee Haydel bunted him to second, Lawrie hit a hot smash to short. Harbin made a nice leaping grab and threw back to second to double off Machado and end the game.

Huntsville left nine men stranded in the contest and was 2-9 with men in scoring position. Anderson and catcher Anderson De La Rosa tallied multi-hit games.
With the loss, the Stars remain 4.5 back of the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx in the Wild Card race with 10 games to play. Huntsville looks to bounce back Friday night as they send Wily Peralta to the hill in game two of the four game set with Mobile. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. central time and all the action can be heard only on

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Stars salvage series finale with Biscuits

By Aaron Morse

Chuckie Caufield doubled in Drew Anderson in the sixth to break a 3-3 tie and the Huntsville Stars (30-29, 63-66) won on get away day Wednesday afternoon by a final score of 5-3 over the Montgomery Biscuits.

The Stars jumped out to the early lead in the bottom of the first. With one away, Brett Lawrie drew a walk. He showed off his trademark aggressiveness with a stolen base, his 29th of the year. Zelous Wheeler singled to left to move Lawrie to third and put runners at the corners with one out. That’s when Drew Anderson nearly smacked a three-run homer as the ball went off the top of the right field wall. He settled for a two-RBI triple to give the Stars a 2-0 lead. Andy Machado hit a ball hard to center to score Anderson. Taylor Green struck-out to end the inning, a sign of things to come for the Stars.

In fact, between the first and sixth innings, Montgomery starter Alex Cobb (6-5) could not have been more dominating. He struck-out two in the second inning and sent the side down in order via the K in the third and fourth innings respectively.

Meanwhile, the Biscuits came back to tie the game. With one out in the third, Rashad Eldridge singled to left off Stars’ starter Mark Rogers. The hard throwing right-hander was able to get John Matulia to hit a tailor-made double play ball to second baseman Brett Lawrie. Lawrie’s feed to Wheeler was true, but Wheeler dropped the ball and everyone was safe. With two away, more bad luck hit Rogers as a shattered bat caused him to have to try field a slow roller while avoiding the sharp barrel. He successfully did the latter, but the ball squeaked past him for an infield single. At that point, Rogers walked in two runs and the Biscuits cut the score to 3-2 in favor of the Stars.

They got one more run in the fifth. With one out, Jose Ruiz singled to center. After a walk, Rogers struck-out Matt Spring for the second out of the inning. But Mike Folli delivered a clutch RBI single to center.

Rogers got a ground-out to end the inning and his night. The former first round pick went five innings, giving up three runs (one earned), on six hits. He walked four and struck-out eight.

Speaking of strike-outs Cobb sent down 13 Stars’ hitters via the K. However Huntsville got to him for the eventual winning run in the sixth. With one away, Drew Anderson doubled to left field. Cobb struck-out the next batter and then the Biscuits decided to intentionally walk Taylor Green to get to Caufield.

Big mistake. The Biscuit-killer laced a double to right center field to drive in Anderson and give the Stars a 4-3 lead.
The Stars tacked on an insurance run in the eighth thanks to a RBI double off the bat of Taylor Green.

Chris Cody (7-7) tossed two scoreless innings out of the bullpen to get the win. Michael Fiers finished things off for his first save of the year with two scoreless frames of his own.

Despite the win, the Stars remain 4.5 games back of the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx in the wild card race with 11 games to play. They head to Mobile to open a four game series Thursday. Amaury Rivas (11-6) will be on the mound. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. central time and all the action can be heard on the Stars Radio Network.