Brett Austin is a Charlotte, NC native. Over the past few days, Austin, 22, has had an opportunity to play in front of family and friends at BB&T Ballpark. And, he’s enjoyed every minute of it.
The former Providence High School standout was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the fourth round of last year’s draft out of North Carolina State University. The switch-hitting backstop was drafted just three rounds after his good buddy — number three overall pick Carlos Rodon — the top prospect in Chicago’s system.
On Monday, April 6, Rodon and Austin took part in a scrimmage game as the Charlotte Knights played host to the Davidson College Wildcats. Both Rodon — who started on the hill — and Austin — who started behind the plate — played for Davidson. It was like old times for the two, who were battery mates in college.
I had a chance to catch up with Brett after Monday’s game. We talked about playing in front of family and friends, his experiences at Spring Training, and more.
The White Sox added another Soto to their organization on Monday when they completed a trade with the Cincinnati Reds for infielder Neftali Soto in exchange for cash. The South Siders already have catcher Geovany Soto in camp as a non-roster invitee.
Originally drafted by the Reds in the 3rd round of the 2007 draft, Neftali Soto, 26, has spent parts of eight seasons at the Minor League level. The Puerto Rican native made his Major League debut on May 18, 2013. He appeared in 13 games with the Reds in 2013 and 21 games for the team a year later.
Over the course of his eight-year Minor League career, Soto has compiled a .274 batting average with 179 doubles, 14 triples, 107 home runs, and 439 RBIs. The 6’1″ right-handed hitter spent the past four seasons playing in the International League with the Louisville Bats. In four years with the Bats, he compiled a .270 batting average with 32 home runs and 158 RBIs.
Last season in 75 games with the Bats, he hit .302 with 23 doubles, two home runs, and 34 games.
In eight games against the Knights last season with Louisville, Soto hit .250 (7-for-28) with three runs scored, three doubles, and seven RBIs.
Soto appeared in four games with the Reds this spring and hit .286 (2-for-7).
It’s not every day that you get to be a part of something special. Working in baseball however, provides me with some extra-special opportunities. It’s one of the reasons I love what I do!
About a month or so ago, I received a call from Molly Grantham of WBTV News. Molly does a lot of great work with people who are battling cancer. When we spoke, she filled me in on a story that was near and dear to my heart — and to my co-workers. She told me former Knights player Richie Grayum was recently diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. That hit home for me and our organization.
I met Richie back in 2013 at Knights Stadium. We talked baseball on Father’s Day at Knights Stadium. He threw out a first pitch and I interviewed him for our pre-game show. It was nice to meet someone who played for the Knights and still lived in the community years after his playing days with the Knights came to an end. I didn’t know at that time just how many lives he touched though.
A few months later, I got back in touch with Richie and invited him to Knights Stadium for our final-ever game in Fort Mill. It was a bittersweet moment for many. After 25 years in Fort Mill and 24 at Knights Stadium, the Knights were moving to Uptown Charlotte in 2014. For Richie, Knights Stadium was a place full of memories. He hit the first home run there in 1990 and he was a big part of the first-ever Knights team to play at “The Castle”. He returned to the Knights for the 1992 season and hit 23 home runs for the Knights over two seasons (229 games).
Remembering all of that, I knew I wanted to do what I could to honor Richie. Molly and I talked about the possibilities. She then put me in touch with one of Richie’s co-workers, Kim Wisch, who was the one who was so instrumental in this entire event. Kim and I talked about some of the things we could do. And then it just continued to grow — and grow — and grow.
Kim and I picked a day. We talked frequently. We both had ideas but even with all of the planning, we had no idea what to expect. Kim made and distributed t-shirts with Richie’s baseball card on it. She worked with Richie’s wife Denise to figure out a way to bring Richie to the ballpark as a surprise. They convinced him he was getting a tour of the ballpark. It worked!
Kim contacted family and friends — spreading the word to many people who knew Richie. In all, over 300 of his friends, family members, co-workers, and supporters, came out to BB&T Ballpark on Saturday, March 21 for a pep rally for Richie.
Saturday first started out as a day for season ticket holders to pick up their tickets, take a few swings on the field for a special batting practice session, enjoy complimentary food, and to just enjoy a nice day at the ballpark as the season quickly approaches.
For the Grayum family — especially Richie — the day turned out to be much, much more.
Kim and her crew arrived around 12:30 PM and we set up a spot inside the ballpark to greet all of Richie’s supporters as they arrived. One-by-one, family and friends made their way to the ballpark. They picked up a Richie shirt, put it on, and then went to section 103 and 104 to wait for their hero. After a pep talk from Knights GM Scotty Brown, Richie’s supporters stayed in their seats in anticipation.
Right on cue — around 1:30 PM — the Grayum family arrived at BB&T Ballpark. Richie still had no idea.
We immediately ushered Richie to sections 103 and 104 and what he saw next was certainly a shock! Over 300 of his friends were on hand to support him. This #Rally4Richie was like no other.
Richie made his way down to the field. He addressed the crowd, thanked them, and spoke from the heart. I then walked over and presented him with a replica jersey from his 1990 season. It was a perfect fit!
We then walked him over to home plate where he stepped into the batter’s box. He took some swings at home plate behind hundreds of cheers and did extremely well. There were many ooohs and ahhs after he lined balls into the outfield. He made it look easy.
After he was done, he was embraced by his family. There was still one more surprise though.
Throughout the week, Kim emailed us video messages from some of his former teammates and friends. He watched them as they played on the videoboard. Each one was touching and heartfelt.
Media members from WBTV and NBC Charlotte then interviewed Richie. He talked about the overwhelming support and much more. One thing he said really stuck with me, “Love your family, love your friends and appreciate life as it comes. You’re never promised another day.”
Great words from a great man.
Thanks to all who came out on Saturday in support of Richie. Thank you Molly Grantham, Kim Wisch, and of course Richie, Denise, and the Grayum family. We’re all here for you Richie. We support you every step of the way!
I’ll be talking to Richie on ESPN 730 AM on Sunday morning from 7 AM to 8 AM. Hope you can tune in here: http://espn730.com/
Michael Taylor quietly retired from baseball.
The five-time Minor League Player of the Week, two-time Oakland A’s organizational All-Star (2012 & 2013), two-time Mid-Season All-Star (2008 & 2009), 2009 Topps Double-A All-Star, and 2009 Eastern League Rookie of the Year, hung up his cleats on Monday, March 9, 2015.
I first met Taylor in the summer of 2009. At that point, Taylor was an up-and-coming prospect — one of the game’s brightest stars.
I knew a lot about him by the time he made his way to the Lehigh Valley on July 16, 2009. I worked for the IronPigs in 2008 and 2009 — and he had a terrific 2008 season — combining to hit .346 with 19 home runs and 88 RBIs in 132 games between Lakewood and Clearwater.
When he made his way to East Allentown in 2009, Taylor was tearing up the Eastern League as a member of the Reading Philies — a team I would actually go on to work for in 2010 and 2011.
I’ll never forget the day he was called up to Lehigh Valley. There were a TON of media members interested in talking to Michael. He couldn’t be nicer! And, throughout the season, he handled all of the attention very well. There was a lot of attention on him too.
At the time of his promotion, he was hitting .333 with 15 home runs and 65 RBIs for the R-Phils and deserved that promotion. He didn’t slow down with the ‘Pigs either.
That season with the IronPigs, Taylor appeared in 30 games and hit .282 with five home runs and 19 RBIs. He hit-for-the-cycle on August 12, 2009 (The “Michael Cycle”). He went 5-for-5 with two doubles, a triple, a home run, four RBIs, and two runs scored that day. Taylor hit a remarkable .320 with 20 home runs, 84 RBIs, and 21 stolen bases combined with Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2009. At the end of the year, he was named the Eastern League’s Rookie of the Year.
Originally drafted by the Phillies in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, Taylor hit a remarkable .320 with 20 home runs, 84 RBIs, and 21 stolen bases combined with Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2009. A season, later, Taylor was traded — twice.
On December 16, 2009, he was traded by the Phillies with Travis d’Arnaud and Kyle Drabek to the Toronto Blue Jays for Roy Halladay and cash. He was then traded by the Blue Jays to the Oakland A’s for Brett Wallace on the same day.
He spent parts of five seasons in the A’s system — mostly playing for Triple-A Sacramento. He put together some solid numbers with Sacramento — and earned a promotion to Oakland in 2011, 2012 and 2013. He appeared in 11 games for the A’s in 2011 — the most at the Major League level before a trade brought him to the White Sox system in June (2014).
At the time of the trade, Taylor was playing for Triple-A Sacramento and was hitting .243 (53-for-218) with five home runs and 31 RBIs over 59 games. He was immediately assigned to Charlotte and joined the Knights at a familiar spot — Coca-Cola Park in the Lehigh Valley. It was a great story — and I couldn’t pass up the chance to take the trip.
Taylor was once again a story in Phillies country as he appeared on the IronPigs TV pre-game show and talked to some of the local media. When I re-introduced myself to Michael on June 16, 2014, it was nearly five years to the day we first met. His attitude, his demeanor, his smile — never changed.
When Taylor was added to the Knights, he brought a new energy to a team that was going through its struggles. He immediately hit — and the Knights began to win games. He had 14 hits over his first 13 games and hit safely in 10 of those 13 games. More importantly, Charlotte won 17 of their next 30 games and had a .500 month of June (15-15) and an 18-11 month of July. The Knights went 10-15 in April and 8-22 in May.
Taylor finished the year by hitting .306 for the Knights in 64 games and the White Sox awarded him with a promotion to the majors in September. He went on to appear in 11 games for the South Siders.
Re-signed by the White Sox this offseason, Taylor received an invite to Spring Training. On Monday, however, he decided it was time to call it a career.
While Taylor will ultimately walk away from the game at just 29 years old, his impact on fans, coaches, teammates, and anyone he ever came across throughout his career, will never be forgotten. Good luck Michael in your future endeavors.
It was a beautiful sunny day in Uptown Charlotte on Sunday. It felt like baseball weather. With less than a month to go before the Knights open BB&T Ballpark with an exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox, it was nice to get the feeling that baseball season is near.
It was also nice to finally sit down and watch a White Sox Spring Training game, which I took advantage of on Sunday.
The White Sox traveled to Mesa, Arizona to take on the Oakland A’s. As I have been following the White Sox this spring, I have also been keeping my eyes on the A’s, who have a number of former Charlotte Knights on their team — Josh Phegley, Marcus Semien, Bryan Anderson, and Chris Bassitt (who was on the Knights roster last season but never appeared in a game for the team).
While the only former Knights player on the A’s to get into the game was Anderson, the real focus of the day was to watch the White Sox and a number of former Charlotte Knights in action.
Let’s take a look a some notable names from Sunday’s White Sox vs. A’s Spring Training game:
Tyler Saladino — (2-for-3, 1 R, 1 RBI)
Saladino was back in action for the White Sox and had two hits in his three at-bats. A seventh round pick of the White Sox in the 2010 draft out of Oral Roberts University, Saladino was in the midst of a career year with the Knights last season before a season-ending injury in July.
Named to the International League All-Star Team to represent Charlotte in Durham, it was an injury to his throwing arm — which put an end to his impressive season. He never got a chance to play in the All-Star Game.
Overall, Saladino hit .310 with 16 doubles, four triples, nine home runs, and 43 RBIs in 82 games for the Knights before having Tommy John surgery.
Trayce Thompson — (2-for-2)
There has been a ton of talk lately about Thompson — much of it coming about his brother Klay — who has put together an impressive season in the NBA. Still, Thompson has surely made his own headlines in the White Sox system since being drafted by the club in second round of the 2009 draft.
In six Minor League seasons, Thompson has slugged 88 home runs in 630 games. He hit 31 home runs for the Double-A Barons over the past two years and will look to continue his offensive output as he works his way through the system.
He got a brief taste of Triple-A Baseball in 2012 with the Knights (six games). Thompson enters the 2015 season ranked as the 18th best prospect in the White Sox system by Baseball America. He entered last year ranked as the seventh-best prospect. He turns 24 years old later this month and could be on the verge of a true breakout campaign this year.
Others of note on Sunday:
Micah Johnson (0-for-3, R, BB)
Carlos Sanchez (1-for-2, 2 RBI)
Jared Mitchell (0-1, R, BB)
Courtney Hawkins (1-for-3, R, RBI)
Chris Beck (2.0 IP, 4 H, ER, SO)
Jake Petricka (1.0 IP, 2 H, 2 SO)
Dan Jennings (1.0 IP, H, R)
Just a few days before pitchers and catchers are set to report to Spring Training in Arizona, the Chicago White Sox were busy yet again. In perhaps the busiest offseason of any team in the Majors this year — the South Siders added another reliever to their bullpen mix — Matt Albers.
A native of Houston, TX, Albers has appeared at the Major League level in parts of nine seasons since 2006. Originally drafted by his hometown Houston Astros in the 23rd round of the 2001 draft, Albers has a career Major League record of 25-31 with a 4.42 ERA in 364 games.
Last season, Albers returned to the Astros and appeared in eight games out of the club’s ‘pen. In 10 innings pitched, he posted a 0.90 ERA along with eight strikeouts.
Going back to the previous two seasons (2012 and 2013), Albers has been sharp out of the bullpen for four different teams. The San Jacinto College product went 2-0 with a 2.29 ERA in 40 games for the Boston Red Sox in 2012. He also posted a 1-1 record with a 2.57 ERA in 23 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks that season.
A year later, the right-hander went 3-1 with a 3.14 ERA in 56 games for the Cleveland Indians. He finished a season-high 21 games for the Tribe that season.
Albers, 32, is one of 34 pitchers in White Sox camp this spring vying for a spot on the club’s 25-man roster.
All good things must come to an end.
Sunday was my last day in Chicago and it was the last day of SoxFest. I had a flight to catch at 3:59 PM CT — and with snow in the forecast — I made the arrangements to get to the airport early. My shuttle was set to pick me up at 12:30 PM, so I didn’t have too much time on Sunday — but I made the most of it.
I started out early on Sunday and made my way down to the lobby by 9 AM just in time for the SoxFest festivities to get going. With over three hours left of SoxFest for me, I made sure to hit as much as I could. It was also the first day I set up shop in the media room. I set up my laptop and then went on my way.
I made my way over to the #SoxSocial Lounge and finally took a photo with Aaron Rowand — the Sox Racer — not the real Aaron Rowand. After posting the photo I took with Joe Crede on Friday, I had many people tell me that I needed to take a photo with Rowand since we “looked alike”. I guess the facial hair had something to do with that comment, but still, I happily took the photo.
I spent most of the day in the #SoxSocial Lounge and just took it all in. Being that I handle all of the social media platforms for the Knights, I have to admit that I felt right at home in the lounge where Twitter was a big topic! Don’t forget, you can follow me on Twitter @Tommy_the_V.
After leaving the #SoxSocial Lounge, I made my way around the Hilton. There were tons of fans on hand already and waiting for autographs.
At 9:00 AM on stage, fans had their pick of Zach Duke, Tim Anderson, Courtney Hawkins, David Robertson, Avisail Garcia, and Alexei Ramirez. Although I didn’t get a chance to talk to Tim or Courtney, it was nice to see fans so interested in them. Both are highly touted prospects in the system and both could make their way through Charlotte in the future.
Hawkins was Chicago’s first round pick (13th overall) in the 2012 draft. The Texas native, who recently earned an invite to White Sox Spring Training, has spent the last two full seasons with the Winston-Salem Dash. The 6’3″, 220 pound outfielder hit 19 home runs in back-to-back seasons for the Dash (2013-14). Hawkins is just 21 years old.
Anderson, also 21, was the first round pick of the White Sox out of the 2013 draft. A native of Alabama, Anderson made his way through the White Sox system last year and ended up in Double-A Birmingham. In 10 games with the Barons, he hit .364 (16-for-44). Before that, he hit .297 (85-for-286) with seven triples, six home runs, 31 RBIs, and 10 stolen bases in 68 games with Winston-Salem.
I continued walking around the Hilton and that was fun in itself. There were so many White Sox photos and banners hanging around. I noticed a large banner of former Charlotte Knights catcher and current White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers hanging, so I made sure to snap a photo of that. That banner was among a number of current White Sox players and I thought overall they were really well done.
I then began hearing some loud cheers and noticed a familiar face taking photos with fans. His name was not listed on the schedule, so it was a bit of a surprise to me to see him. It was none other than Charlotte Knights legend, 1993 IL MVP and MLB all-time great, Jim Thome.
I had an opportunity to meet Jim last year as he made two appearances at BB&T Ballpark and one at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown when the Knights played the IronPigs. He threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Knight, April 11, 2014 and came back to Uptown Charlotte later in the year to work with some Knights hitters.
I snapped a few photos of Jim on Sunday and moved on to the next stage. I’ll keep an eye out for Jim around BB&T Ballpark in 2015.
After seeing Jim interact with fans, I then saw another familiar face one more time before leaving SoxFest — Carlos Rodon. I interviewed Carlos on Friday during the media session and we spoke about the 2014 season, his expectations for 2015 and more. You can hear that interview and read more about him in my Knight Fever blog here: Carlos Rodon Interview. There is a big year in store for Carlos in 2015. Stay tuned.
Before I left, I spent some more time in the #SoxSocial Lounge. White Sox manager Robin Ventura was on stage for a fun interactive game with a fan. There was a huge crowd on hand to watch that.
After spending some time between the lounge and the media room, it was time to pack up and head back home. I finished my day 2 blog at 12:28 PM and ran to catch my 12:30 PM shuttle to the airport. In case you missed it, you can view that blog here.
When I got into the shuttle (and braved the snowy conditions on my way to the airport), I took a moment to reflect on the weekend. I learned so much about the White Sox organization and their diehard fans.
Thank you to the White Sox staff for the hospitality and making me feel at home on the South Side. It was so great to see first and hear all of the buzz of the 2015 Chicago White Sox. Baseball season seems closer than ever. Pitchers and catchers report in less than a month, and Opening Knight will be here before you know it.
If ever there was a year to attend SoxFest, this was the year. Rick Hahn, Robin Ventura, and the White Sox have a very talented team on their hands. This team should be able to compete for a playoff spot. With a solid rotation, bullpen, and offensive and defensive lineup, the White Sox could be contenders for a long time.
As for me, I’m back in Uptown Charlotte preparing for the 2015 season. It’s going to be a busy, but amazing year. I can’t wait to start year two at BB&T Ballpark. It all begins on April 3rd when the White Sox come to Uptown. I hope to see you at the Knights Leadoff Luncheon and the game later that night.
As Hawk Harrelson says… “You can put it on the board… YEEEEESSSSS!”
The 2014 season will be one that Carlos Rodon will never forget. Pitching — and excelling for NC State University — Rodon made a huge name for himself around the baseball world. He was highly touted, highly scouted, and highly regarded as one of the top pitching prospects at the collegiate level. And rightly so.
In his final season at NC State, Rodon broke the school record for strikeouts. He finished the season with 117 in 98.2 IP and the overall record with 436.
When draft day came around, the White Sox selected Rodon with the third overall pick in the first round of the 2014 draft. A native of Holly Springs, NC, Rodon made his way through the White Sox system after being drafted at the age of 21. He made his professional debut with the Arizona White Sox, before heading home to North Carolina to pitch for the Winston-Salem Dash.
In four games with the Dash — two starts — the 6’3″ left-hander pitched to a 1.93 ERA over 9.1 innings pitched. He fanned 15 batters over that span and earned a promotion to Charlotte, where he continued to excel.
With the Knights, Rodon made three starts — the first two coming at BB&T Ballpark in Uptown Charlotte. In his first Triple-A appearance on August 19 in front of a sold-out crowd, Rodon allowed one run on one hit over three innings. He threw 55 pitches, 35 for strikes.
In his second start with the Knights, Rodon went four innings and struck-out eight batters. He allowed one run on one hit and two walks and tossed 73 pitches. In his final start of the year, Rodon pitched against the Gwinnett Braves in Lawrenceville, GA and threw a season-high five innings, allowing two runs on seven hits and three walks. Rodon also struck-out seven batters — giving him 18 over his 12 Triple-A innings.
Rodon was a big hit at SoxFest. Fans couldn’t wait to meet him. Media couldn’t wait to talk to him. He certainly has a very bright future ahead.
I caught up with Rodon and we talked about the 2014 season, expectations for the 2015 season, and we joked a bit about which side he sees himself on at the April 3rd exhibition game.
The game of baseball lost an icon on Friday night. Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, passed away at the age of 83. Banks was a true ambassador of the game. White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, along with White Sox legend Minnie Minoso, and White Sox television analyst Steve Stone, all spoke about Banks to the media on Saturday. I’m glad I attended.
Jerry Reinsdorf; “When you talk about Ernie, you have to smile,” Reinsdorf said. “He was always in a great mood. I never heard him complain about anything. He was always upbeat. He always had a wisecrack. I know he was Mr. Cub, but he was really Mr. Baseball. He was really a great, great ambassador for the game.”
Steve Stone: “I’ve never heard anybody say, ‘I don’t like Ernie Banks,'” Stone said. “It’s like saying you don’t like Santa Claus. How can you not like Ernie Banks? He was one of the most lovable human beings that our game has ever produced, and he never lost that childlike enthusiasm that we see from the youngsters but we tend to lose as adults.”
Minnie Minoso: “The city belonged to him,” Minoso said. “Everywhere you move, they just not talk about him like a ballplayer. They talk about him like a person. That’s the more important thing. I don’t think I’ll be able to explain to you what I think about him. I don’t have the words to put together to express what I feel about him.”