Story by Rob Weissman
Every year the NBBA names players to the all-offense and all-defense all star teams. This year, the Renegades placed a player on these teams for the eighth time in the past 14 years. I have always wondered about what else the league could do.
Major League Baseball has a rookie of the year award. This got me thinking about the importance of rookies to the game. They add excitement to the league. Heck, they add excitement to any team. I know on our squad, the coaches and the veteran players love seeing new players succeed. We love to celebrate their first run and their first stop on defense. It’s a huge accomplishment for everyone involved because we all play a part in their development as a player.
In my 14 year tenure of coach of the renegades, I have witnessed plenty of rookies on our team and in the league. One thing is for certain; being a rookie in beep baseball is unlike being a rookie in most leagues. Why? Most players have never even seen or witnessed beepball before they play for the first time. A rookie in the NBBA is truly new to everything from wearing a blindfold to knowing the defensive schemes and strategies to understanding the basic rules. Some rookies have never run full speed before and have no concept of what a baseball swing should look like. This is much harder than even little league. At least little leaguers have seen the game played. They know what to expect to an extent. In the NBBA, many rookies are even dealing with the newness of losing their sight and learning how to cope with that significant loss. Lets face it… Being a rookie in the NBBA is no easy task.
In my 14 years as coach, it has taken a lot of work to get rookies ready to compete. Many rookies pick up one side of the game quicker than the other. A general rule of thumb I discuss is a partial sighted player normally picks up the offensive side of the game quicker while a total picks up the defensive side. The simple reason is most totals have more tuned hearing while many partials can use their limited sight to see what a swing should look like. Of course this does not apply to everyone.
I do a lot of scouting of the league and I like to believe I have a strong feeling for who many of the players are. I also pay attention to rosters and can recognize many of the names. For the 2nd year I decided to try to put together an all rookie team on both sides of the ball and see which teams were making progress developing their young talent. (for the 2014 Rookies of the year see this article) With 8 teams coming to the 2015 World Series that were not at the previous years series it was a bit harder to know who a true rookie was.
My definition of a rookie is simple. I picked names of players whom I have not seen on a World Series roster in the past. Some of these players may have been playing locally for a while. It’s hard for anyone to know for sure what their experience is without asking. I know for example that Scott Hogwood has played for years locally against us as a member of the PA Wolfpack. Since the wolfpack have not been to the World Series since 2007, Scott has not been introduced to the league. But, I can’t pick on Scott as I’m sure many of the players from the Taiwan Lightning have played for years as well. Since there is no way of knowing I’m going to treat these awards like MLB does. Many players come from other countries where they star in their leagues such as Ichiro Suzuki, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Jose Abreu, and Hideo Nomo. But they have all won Rookie of the year awards even though they had played at the highest level of competition in theier respective countries. Its funny to make this comparison because almost half of the names on the lists below are from other countries.
I will also mention that I’m a “homer”. I love teams that are 100% home grown and work to build their team year round. This is no easy task and requires a pipeline of new players to be successful as well as a dedicated group of sighted volunteers and the all important “green stuff” to pay the bills. Though some of the “all-star teams” or combination teams (when two teams combine players because neither has enough to attend a World Series) may have rookies, they usually don’t see a ton of playing time. When I looked at what I felt were the top rooks in this years series, one theme popped out…most of them were on teams that were not in the World Series in 2014. Also, I did not see many of these players play…but I had a front row seat for the player who was the most impactful rookie of the league
Lets check it out:
All Rookie Defense Team
Defensivley all we can use to rank the players is defensive stops…and compare their stops to how many their team made
|Shih Hsiung Yen||Taiwan Lightning||10||36||3.6|
|Jamie Sibson||BCS Outlaws||8||19||2.4|
|Miguel Telo||Indy Thunder||10||20||2.0|
|Cesar Lezcano||AZ Phenom||8||11||1.4|
|Crystal Stark||BCS Outlaws||8||11||1.4|
Kudos to all of these Players.
- Shih Hsung Yen just missed making the actual Defensive all-star team for the whole series at 3.6 stops…as the #6 player was Richie Schultz at 3.625. He made 49% of the stops for the Taiwan Lightning team stopping 8 balls against the Indy Thunder, 7 against the Arizona Phenom and 6 against the Athens Timberwolves. He struggled against the bigger hitting teams as he had goose eggs against Colorado and RHI. He did manage a pair against the Taiwan Home Run.
- Aaron Prevost is one of two Canadians on this list. He made 44% of the stops for team Canada and set team highs for Canada against BCS Outlaws and the NJ Lightning making 6 stops in each of those two games. A true rookie and someone who was not originally on the Canada roster till their captain got knocked out with a concussion the week before World Series.
- Jamie Sibson paced the BCS Outlaws with 19 stops. This was 30% of the team’s totals. Jamie had back-to-back big games against Lodestar and Athens with 6 stops a piece in those games. BCS was appearing in their first World Series but the team had been playing in Texas for a few years.
- Miguel Telo is one of two players on this list we saw play. Indy moved him all over the field as he is a very good fielder (and very young as well) Telo made 6 stops against the Renegades for his best game of the week and his 20 stops were 2nd on the team for the Thunder for almost 27% of the team’s stops.
- Mark Demontis – The second Canadian on this rookie team. Like the rest of the team, he was brand new to the sport. Until Arron Prevost turned it on late in the Dance, Demontis was leading the team in stops. He made 24% of the stops for the team and he and Arron combined for 68% of the stops
- Cesar Lezcano was a new player on the Arizona Phenom. Despite the team being new, much of the roster had experience playing for the Southwest Slammers or the Stockton Stingrays. Not Cesar. He was tied for 2nd on the team in stops with 11 but he had a huge game against Long Island making 4 stops to lead his team to victory in that contest.
- Crystal Stark – Another player from BCS is on the list. Crystal and Jamie represented 48% of the team’s stops. Crystal led the team in stops in 2 of their 8 contests with a high of 4 against the Indy Thunder.
All Rookie Offense Team
Offensively, we can look at batting average and strike outs to get a feel of how well the rooks are doing
|Name||Team||Runs||At bats||Strike outs||Average|
|Ho Cheng Chi||Taiwan Lightning||15||32||16||.469|
|Shao Hao Huang||Taiwan Home Run||17||37||6||.459|
|Jun Qin Chen||Taiwan Lightning||11||28||7||.393|
- Our own Christian Thaxton is on top of the list. This makes sense as he placed 4th in the league with this average. More on him later
- Scott Hogwood finished second. Again, I use him as the Ichiro example. He has been leading the Philly attack for years with a mighty swing. We knew what he was capable of and the rest of the league found out who he was on the field. Though not a rookie for sure, this was his first World Series and he did it playing for a team he had never played with before (a team from Arizona).
- Ho Cheng Chi is one of two players from the Taiwan Lightning. Its unclear how experienced he was but this was the team’s first appearance at the World Series. He may not have made this list if not for a huge performance in his last game of the series against the Indy Knights where he went 5-5. Scoring 5 runs in a game is a pretty big feat and is not a common occurrence. Its important to note he also struck out 50% of the time…or you could say when he put the ball in play he scored 94% of the time!
- Shao Hao Huang helped get the Taiwan Home Run to the Championship game. This batting average would have led many teams but for Taiwan five of his teammates had higher batting averages. He was part of a platoon as the Home Run gave the bulk of their at-bats to 7 players. He started both games of the Championship games vs Austin. Though he was new to the World Series, we think he played a lot of ball in Taiwan locally
- Martin Dufour helped Team Canada make the chart and this was his first year playing. He actually represented 38% of the Canada runs scored and had the lowest strike out percentage on the team.
- Jun Qin Chen is the third player from Taiwan and the 2nd Lightning player on this list. He was 2nd on his team in average
For the 2nd year in a row, a Boston Renegade rookie has led all Rookies in hitting. in 2014, our very own Rob Dias led the rookies in hitting
The Renegades started off the season with two rookies in 2015 but come June they had both left the team for great reasons (an internship out of state and health reasons). Both of these players plan to play for us in the future and will be back. We caught lightning in a bottle in May when we met Christian Thaxton. In Late May, Joe Quintanilla came to us and wanted to put a booth at the Carroll Center of the Blind which was having an event while we were practcing. At that event, he was talking to people about the game and getting people excited about it. One of the people he met there was Christian. When the event was over, Q had about 5 people interested in trying the game out, I joked with him that we did not want anyone from Oklahoma because we had arranged for try outs in the past for people who lived out of state. How funny was it that Joe Quniatnilla came back with…”well one of them is from Oklahoma!”
When we found out Thaxton played Junior College baseball and that he was excited to be able to play ball again it was a match made in heaven. He quickly committed to the team which was already 10 practices into the season. Though he had this experience in baseball he still had a lot to learn about beep baseball and adjustments to make. Some of those adjustments included running to third base but most importantly hitting without his sight. He also had a giant team of people to get to know to make sure living them for a week would be something he would want to do. It was not all cake and ice cream for him at first. In his first tournament in New Jersey, Thaxton hit just .300 scoring three times against 4 strike outs. His potential was so high but he had to learn how to track the ball and stop thinking so much. At our 2nd tournament of the year you could see him stop thinking and start to really swing hard as he improved to .455 going 5-11 with just 2 strike outs. He credits coach Mike Marciello with helping him get comfortable tracking the ball with his blind fold off in practice before putting it back on and taking more reps. We were poised to surprise the league with this weapon at the series when the day before we were to leave he was limping badly with a hip injury.
With the help of our amazing medical team and the fact we sat him out for the first three games of the series, Thaxton was able to perform and perform at the highest of levels. He did not see action until our 4th game of the dance against Tyler. At that point Boston was up 8-2 in the bottom of the first and he entered as a pinch hitter to replace injured Rob Dias. With three strikes on him, he mauled a shot into deep left that may have come inches to the 170 foot line. Welcome to the World Series, Mr. Thaxton! From there he caught fire and for just the 6th time in team history he scored 5 runs in a game (against the Indy Thunder).
Without out truly knowing all of the players we list above and their beep baseball experience prior to this event..we know for sure that Christuian Thaxton was the true rookie of the year in the NBBA. Though the Renegades did not teach him that sweet swing, we did teach him a lot about the game and we got him ready to play in a half of a season despite an injury that had him playing hurt the whole week.
Introducing rookies to the game is one of the most exciting parts of being a coach. Each year some of the most memorable moments for the Renegade coaching staff involves watching a new player succeed at the game. We celebrate their first runs and first defensive outs. Developing new talent is hard. Its not only hard to teach them, its even harder to recruit players because the blind community is a small population.
Rookies are imperative to the long term success of the team. As we write this in early 2016, the Renegade roster is starting to take shape. At this post we have 18 players on our roster. What is critical to understand is that eight (or 44%) of that figure are players we have brought on to our team in the past three seasons. Three of those players played a ton of innings for us last season (Christian Thaxton, Rob Dias an Joe Yee). Who will be the impact rookies in the league in 2016? We will find out soon…and there is a chance some new names from the Renegades will pop up as the team has three new 20 – somethings eager to get their first hit!