SIOUX CITY -- If you’re Steve Montgomery or Bobby Post, nothing but the unlimited minutes package will do on your cell phone agreement.
That would have been true even before the Sioux City Explorers tumbled into their greatest siege of injuries in 25 seasons of independent professional baseball.
Montgomery, the manager, and Post, his pitching coach, are constantly working those phones, searching for talent that might improve their roster.
Now, though, having seen eight of their original 11 position players sustain injuries since this silver anniversary campaign got under way, it would astound you to learn how much time these two guys have spent pinging cell towers.
In the days before mobile phones or computers or all the other technology we have at our disposal these days, there may have been no way to have kept this baseball team competitive the last few weeks.
Guess what? After playing their last 17 games against either Kansas City or St. Paul, two of American Association baseball’s three division leaders, the Explorers have managed to go 9-8. After a three-game series Tuesday through Thursday in Winnipeg, they’ll have played 23 games in a row -- 17 of those on the road, no less -- against four of the other six teams in the league with winning records.
Somehow, thanks to the intrepid pursuit of replacement parts by Montgomery and Post, the X’s are 26-21, just 1.5 games out of first place in their quest for a third consecutive Central Division championship.
In a league that limits teams to 23 active players, Montgomery has been carrying either 11 or 12 pitchers and, as mentioned, he began the schedule with 11 position players. He’ll still have 11 position players in Winnipeg, but six of them are all pretty much newcomers.
Teams are allowed to place one player on the disabled list, which requires a minimum seven-day hiatus. Another three can remain under team control, contract-wise, by sitting on an inactive list that involves at least 30 days without playing. By way of clarification, incidentally, these no-play minimums can be (and usually are) retroactive to the day after a player’s most recent game appearance.
Until a few days ago, two of three on that inactive list for Sioux City were pitchers Rob Wort and Bryan Radziewski, neither of whom is likely to get healthy enough to contribute this season. The third man listed was second baseman Nick Flair, who sustained a season-ending elbow injury on June 10.
Then came the four errant pitches that left four Explorers with serious hand injuries.
On June 13, three days after Flair went down, catcher Tyler Ogle, batting .344 with a 10-game hitting streak, took a pitch off his left hand, which was fractured. Ogle was assigned to the lone disabled list slot.
On June 25, it was utility infielder Brandon Alvarez, a versatile rookie, suffering a deep hand bruise that left him unable to take a decent swing at the ball. Alvarez could run and he could play defense, but the one night his team was forced to put him in the lineup, he was limited to bunt attempts.
Worst of all, last Friday in Kansas City, reigning league MVP Nate Samson, the X’s phenomenal shortstop, took a pitch off his left hand, which was broken, much like Ogle’s. In the same game, catcher Dylan Kelly, who’d been on a14-game, 22-for-48 rampage, tried to stop a wild pitch with his throwing hand. And, X-rays on Monday showed yet another fracture.
With all of that, Montgomery had to assign his DL spot to Alvarez and move Ogle and Kelly to the IL. That forced the release of both Wort, the best reliever in franchise history, and also Radziewski, a former Miami of Florida All-American who had projected as a very good starter.
Now, it looks like Alvarez won’t be available any time soon, so he has been released, as well.
The rare bit of good news is that Ogle, who has already missed 24 games, may be able to return for the next homestand, which starts on Friday, beginning the final 50 games on the slate.
Back to the cell phones and the unfortunate schedule this team has been assigned and it’s worth pointing out that actually nine of the 11 contracted hitters at season’s outset have either been lost for keeps or at least for some period of time. That’s because first baseman John Nogowski, a former Florida State standout who was leading the league in batting, had his contract purchased two weeks ago today (June 27) by the (ugghh) St. Louis Cardinals. He is batting .289 after 11 games with the Cardinals’ No. 2 farm club, the Class AA Springfield (Mo.) Cardinals.
Obviously, Ogle and now Samson and Kelly have sustained long-term injuries. And, I’ve yet to mention outfielders Tony Campana and Nate Lang or third baseman Josh Vitters, who are all currently available for duty but have missed some games due to injuries.
Meanwhile, Montgomery and Post have picked up six of the 11 position players they’ll suit up in Winnipeg. Infielders Joe Bennie and Tanner Vavra, whose dad, Joe, is a Minnesota Twins bench coach, both have professional experience. First baseman Dre Gleason (Austin Peay), infielder Joel Davis (Texas A&M) and catcher Jonathan Gonzalez (East Stroudsburg State) are all straight out of college.
The same goes for another newcomer expected to meet the team in Canada and sign his contract before the series opener tonight. Stay tuned.