The clock is ticking. Final roster positioning is being done. Bats are ready, stadiums are clean and crisp, the grass is mowed. Only a weekend stands between now and the beginning of the United Rotisserie League and teams are starting to get excited.
“We’re going to go up to Russellville and take care of those Cardinals” says Atkins Alley Cats owner Charles Rector about his first-week matchup with the Arkansas team. “This rivalry, which comes complete with a shiny trophy, is one that I’ve impressed upon my players. We’re going all out to start this season off right.”
Cardinal owner Daniel Shoptaw wasn’t impressed.
“Those Cats talk a good game, sure, and maybe they’ll play one. But I’ve got faith that my team will come out on top this first week as a precursor to an eventual league title. And we are excited to be hosting one of the first URL games ever. There will be lots of great promotions, including an inaugural season baseball to the first 10,000 that come through the gates,” said Shoptaw.
Right down the road in Conway, the Capitols will be hosting the Edwardsville Armada.
“It never rains at Capitols Field,” said owner Mark Scott in a teleconference Thursday. “We are ready to get this thing going under perfect skies, with a winning team. That Armada may come sailing in here thinking they are the bomb, but we’ll show them that political power can trump military power any day. And the first 7,000 fans get a Capitols team set of baseball cards, so how can you beat that?”
The Armada are sure going to try to find a way to beat it, says owner David Reed.
“Mark’s a good guy and all, but when you are looking down the barrel of our cannon, you are going to be singing a different tune. When you can bring a big gun like Johan Santana into battle, well, you just better go run back inside that pretty little dome of yours!”
The only Arkansas team venturing away from the Natural State is the Clarksville Cubs, who head up to Illinois to visit the Brewville Style.
“It’s always tough to start out on the road, but I think we can go up there and show that we are a solid team,” top Cub Jason Hoover said. “The Style are tough, but I think with Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano, Cub blue will prevail like it always does.”
Steve Egge, owner of the Style, was confident in his squad.
“Manny Ramirez. Mark Teixeira. Vladimir Guerrero. Jake Peavy. What is there NOT to be confident about? We’re going to have a very good year here with the Style. And the first 12,000 fans that come through the turnstiles on Opening Day will get a free schedule magnet, so plan to be here early!”
The only matchup of the first week not involving an Arkansas team is in Texas, where the Outlaws welcome in Wendy’s Peffercorns
Outlaws owner Robert Arnwine is impressed with the spring showing of his team.
“A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez) and (Justin) Morneau have especially been stinging the ball, and they may both be in the MVP mix. On the pitching side, you have to like what (Eric) Bedard and Matt (Cain) have been showing. We’re looking forward to our first game and we think we can take those Florida guys down. Our fan base should be out in force, especially with Outlaws key chains being given out to the first 15,000 that come in.”
Mike Salony, owner of the Peffercorns, had a different view.
“I’m not excited about making such a long trip to start the season, but better to do it when we are fresh than when we are worn out with the grind. I’m really not looking forward to the travel come summer time. All that said, this team is primed to kick some Outlaw rear this week, and I am pretty sure we are going to do just that.”
The United Rotisserie League released their 2007 schedule on Tuesday, and a number of early matchups stood out as must-see baseball.
The season starts off with a strong rivalry, matching the Atkins Alley Cats against the Arkansas Cardinals in Russellville.
“We are excited to start off the season with such a bang,” said Cardinals owner Daniel Shoptaw. “This will be a great way for our team to get the buzz going in the community and quickly see how we are going to match up with the rest of the league.”
Week 2 matches up a couple of old high school friends, as the Conway Capitols make the trek to Texas to take on the Outlaws.
“We may not have geography on our side,” Capitols owner Mark Scott was quoted as saying, “but that won’t dimish the intensity of the two teams. Both sides will be playing their top game in this series.”
The third week of the season has the Clarksville Cubs and the Cardinals tangling for what is sure to be a long and protracted season battle.
Cubs owner Jason Hoover stated, “We really want to take the Cardinals down early and show that we are for real when it comes to supremecy in the Arkansas River Valley and the URL.”
The anticipated Battle of Illinois doesn’t kick off until Week 6, when the Brewville Style travel down to Edwardsville and engage the Armada.
“We’d like to be getting this started earlier in the year,” said Armada owner David Reed, “but we hope that we’ll be ready to go by time the Style get here.”
While not a rivalry either team will acknowledge, the Armada visits Wendy’s Peffercorns in the second week of the season. That series should be one to keep an eye on as well.
The Atkins Alley Cats announced last night that they had completed yet another trade, this time sending pitcher John Patterson to the Arkansas Alley Cats for outfielder Jay Gibbons.
“We hated to move Patterson,” said Cats owner Charles Rector from his spring training location. “He’s been looking good so far in workouts. But we wanted to make room for another pitcher, and Patterson was the odd man out.”
The Cats signed pitcher David Bush to take Patterson’s slot.
“Wow, I’m just flattered that such a quality organization took an interest in me,” said Bush. “For them to go to the effort of clearing room for me, well, that just speaks volumes.”
The Cardinals were also considering this a positive move.
“While we weren’t in the market for it, it never hurts to stockpile some pitching,” said owner Daniel Shoptaw. “I mean, you look at what happened to [Clarksville Cubs pitcher] Kris Benson today–out for the season. If you stockpile some arms, it helps you deal with those type of major issues. It doesn’t fix them, but it helps you weather the storm.”
While there have been a number of trades in the United Rotisserie League over the past few months, the Atkins Alley Cats and the Conway Capitols found a way to make a new type of deal, including minor leaguers drafted this week in a deal that sent pitcher Chein-Mein Wang, minor league outfielder Chris B. Young and financial considerations to Conway for pitcher Nate Robertson and minor league outfielder Cameron Maybin.
“Maybin had been high on my target list,” said Alley Cats owner Charles Rector, taking time from managing other issues with his unique style to comment to a local reporter. “When Conway drafted him, plus were holding Robertson, I knew I need to make a deal. Losing Wang reduces our publicity department’s juvenile urges as well, so there is a benefit there as well.”
For their part, the Capitols seemed equally excited.
“We’ve been pretty quiet on the trade front, but this is one that we really felt we need to make,” said owner Mark Scott. “Getting a guy like Wang, while providing many marketing opportunities, was nice but having Chris Young in our stable was a real key. We think he may challenge some of our projected starters and be in the majors by the end of the year.”
The minor league draft, on the whole, has gone well according to Commissioner Daniel Shoptaw.
“We’re into the fifth round and only ten days have passed since we started this phase of the URL,” he said in a press conference on Thursday. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see us wrap this up early in February in time to open camps up and get ready for the start of the season.”
Looking to deepen their roster of arms, the Texas Outlaws selected pitcher Homer Bailey as the first pick in the only scheduled United Rotisserie League draft.
“Bailey brings a lot to the table,” said Outlaw owner Robert Arnwine. “He has shown he is very close to being ready for the majors, which gives us insurance in case of injury and motivation in case of lack of performance. Plus, anyone that allows for numerous Simpsons references will keep our promotions department happy and busy.”
Taken second was third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff by the Edwardsville Armada.
“Kevin may see time in the URL sooner rather than later,” said Edwardsville top official David Reed. “We’re anxious to send him to our minor league complex and start working with him.”
Grady Sizemore tested the market twice, but kept coming back to Atkins. Todd Helton, given the same chance, went elsewhere.
Sizemore and Helton were two of the final players to sign on the last day of the United Rotisserie League’s first free agent period. Sizemore, who had been granted his release from the Atkins Alley Cats earlier, resigned with the team for $175 over five years.
“The money is less, that is the most notable thing,” laughed Sizemore at the press conference. “I probably made a mistake in giving up that much cash, but it helped this team get stronger, and the more I looked at it, the more I wanted to be a part of that, even at a lower price.”
The Cats filled out their pitching rotation by signing Rich Hill and Phillip Hughes, young guys who can “make an impact,” according to owner Charles Rector.
Helton, who had been let go from the Brewville Style, hooked on at a reduced rate with Wendy’s Peffercorns.
“Todd is going to be a great addition for us,” said owner Mike Salony. “I think he can really kick start this offense and push us up the standings.”
Also finalizing rosters were the Arkansas Cardinals, who grabbed two low-priced hitters in James Loney and Hideki Matsui, and the Texas Outlaws, who signed Chris Burke to play second base.
The Brewville Style today announced three signings, headlined by the five-year, $140 year deal handed out to second baseman Rickie Weeks.
“We had some cap room, and I don’t know of anyone better to spend it on,” said owner Steve Egge. “Rickie is going to be a cornerstone at the keystone for years to come. It’s exciting to see him in Style orange.”
Also signing on Tuesday were catcher Brian Schnider and closer Mariano Rivera.
“Getting Rivera is great as well,” stated Egge. “Having that presence in our bullpen, not only for the on-the-field benefits but for the leadership he can provide to our pitching staff is amazing. We were lucky to be able to lock him up.”
The final group of free agents has closed, but an almost eerie silence reigns as decisions about where those players will go are being made. With a large number of players signing and few slots to be had, a number of decisions were to be made by the teams throughout the day.
One team that didn’t have to sweat out the decision making process was the Clarksville Cubs. With only two catchers slots available and only leading on two catchers, the Cubs were able to announce the signings of Jason Kendall and A.J. Pieryznski early on Tuesday.
“We’re glad to have the roster complete and have these great guys behind the plate,” said Cubs owner Jason Hoover. “Now we can really turn our attention to the minor league draft and then toward opening day.”
Numerous players were up in the air at press time, including Grady Sizemore, Jim Thome, Justin Verlander, and Rickie Weeks.
A day after dealing with his most familiar trading partner, Charles Rector and the Atkins Alley Cats mixed it up a little, dealing outfielder Chone Figgins and Trevor Hoffman for Mark Redman of the Edwardsville Armada.
“Mix it up a little, that’s my motto,” said Rector about the deal. “Redman should be a strong part of our winning rotation. Hated to see those guys go, but them’s the breaks.”
The Armada seem to be stocking up on closers, having previously dealt for Chad Cordero earlier in the week.
“Having a strong presence at the end of games is going to be big for us,” said Armada owner David Reed. “We think this way we can win some close games late and maybe more than our share of one-run ballgames.”
Late Edit: After consultation with the rules, the commissioner was forced to deem the above trade illegal. However, the teams modified the deal, with the Armada sending cash with Redman for Hoffman and Raul Ibanez.
It’s become a tradition of sorts in the United Rotisserie League. The Atkins Alley Cats put out the trade light and Wendy’s Peffercorns answer the call.
The teams hooked up for their league-leading seventh trade on Thursday night, with the Cats sending out young pitcher Chad Billingsley and financial considerations for outfielder Andre Ethier.
“I am extremely pumped to have Ethier join the Cats,” said owner Charles Rector. “Andre is going to be a star in this league for a long time to come and I’m glad we’ll be the beneficiaries. While we were looking forward to having Billingsley in our rotation, it was a deal we just couldn’t pass up.”
Wendy’s owner Mike Salony was asked about the frequency of the trades with the Cats.
“I’m not sure what it is. Charles and I seem to have trading philosophies that mesh well, we are both very available for communications and thoughts, so the trades seem to have come out of that. I wouldn’t be surprised if we aren’t announcing a deal again next week as well.”