Revs alum Neil on path to recovery

RHP Matthew Neil. Photo credit: York Revolution

RHP Matthew Neil. Photo credit: York Revolution

Even the diehard York Revolution fans might have trouble remembering Matthew Neil. He’s the pitcher who joined York about a month or so into the 2014 season, making his Atlantic League debut shortly after being released by the Tampa Bay Rays. In only his fourth year as a pro, Neil came to the Revs and went on to toss a complete game gem in early June. He felt pain in his arm the next day and wound up never returning to the mound, eventually undergoing season-ending surgery.

A few short days after he threw the complete game, before I knew anything about his health status, I grabbed Neil at the conclusion of a pre-game batting practice and asked if he had a moment or so to chat. Well, actually the truth is that I waited a good half-hour for Neil and pitcher Chris Cody to wrap up an intense Aerobie session before finally asking Neil if he had some time to talk. Anyway, it was starting to rain, so we headed to the Revs dugout. In a mostly empty stadium hours before the game was to even start, Neil and I hung out in the dugout as rain poured on the field in front of us. We ended up talking for more than an hour. We touched on everything. The psychology of pitching. The last time he had ever thrown a complete game before coming to York. The tough work environment he felt with the Rays’ double-A Montgomery affiliate. His release by the Marlins earlier in the year out of big league spring training. His relatively solid debut a the triple-A level the season before. The difficulties a late-round draft pick faces. How the NCAA took away his senior year of eligibility for a bogus reason. And then we hit on the tough parts. The off-the-field parts. At least I thought they were going to be tough, only for Neil to be open and willing to chat about anything.

Here is the story that resulted. Today the Deseret News in Utah published this story I have been working on since that day in June, as a few more follow-up interviews with Neil ensued over the next couple weeks in addition to interviews with his mother, his coach at Brigham Young University and a Black Hawk helicopter pilot. One of the initial reasons I talked to Neil is because I didn’t think he’d be around in York much longer. Give his complete game he had just thrown, his relatively young age being only a fourth-year pro and only a few months removed from big league spring training, I figured he was bound to get picked up by a major league organization shortly. Plus, doing some background research on Neil before we first talked, I saw in previous interviews he had briefly mentioned something about his sister dying years ago, but no one ever followed up on that topic with him. Surely something like that will have an impact on someone’s life, and yet nobody had bothered to ask Neil what role it played in his. (The moving tribute video for Rachael on Matthew Neil’s Youtube page is below). It wasn’t until after all those interviews, however, when I went back to Neil a third (or fourth?) time for some follow-up questions when he finally revealed his secret (he talks about this in the story, which you should just go read if you haven’t yet). The one about him asking God for a challenge in order to strengthen his faith, an aspect that really tied his last 12 months together considering all he had been through.

You might be wondering why this story was published in the Deseret News and not The York Dispatch. Well, I’ve begun a quest to also dabble into the freelance world in addition to working hard for the Dispatch. As you might recall, there was the story about Revs’ starting pitcher Jorge Martinez back in June. The one where a York College student fluent in Spanish assisted me on the interview with Spanish-speaking Martinez, who had defected from Cuba less than a year before. Granted I only had a couple weeks to shop the story around, which may have contributed to the fact I was unsuccessful in finding a taker to publish it, so I instead put it as a Fan Post on mlbdailydish.com, and the folks over there actually did a fine job promoting it as part of their draft coverage. Anyway, there were a few reasons I decided to try to get this story published outside of the Dispatch. But that’s all beside the point being that Neil is somebody who folks can be inspired by. So please, just go read his story. These are the stories I most enjoy doing. It’s truly when I feel I can take the skills I’ve been blessed with and put them to use as a way of making a difference in this world. But it should be noted this isn’t about me. This is about Neil and his story, I’m just a messenger.

Anyway, below is a collection of quotes gathered over the course of putting this story together. It’s information that was unable to fit in the published story, but is still very interesting nonetheless – I tried my best picking out the good parts to include down below. There’s still a lot here, but it’s worth taking the time to read as there’s really intriguing insight from Neil and his mother on the initial moments of how they handled the news of Neil’s sister, plus thoughts from his college coach on how Neil was first discovered, how “soft” he was and nearly cut from the team, and finally thoughts from a Black Hawk helicopter pilot and how he played a part in saving Neil’s career. I would’ve thrown everything on here but there would be so much information and quotes it’d be like reading a short book, so I tried picking out the best parts.

Thanks again to the folks at the Deseret News on publishing Neil’s story and thanks to Neil for being so genuine, humble, helpful, warm, open, friendly and patient with me.

RHP Matthew Neil

RHP Matthew Neil

RHP Matthew Neil (quotes from interviews done in June, 2014):

Q: ONCE THESE GUYS START HAVING KIDS THEY START THINKING ‘HOW LONG AM I GOING TO DO THIS FOR?’ HAS THAT POPPED INTO YOUR MIND AT ALL?: “Yeah. It’s one of those things, though, where I’ve got the rest of my life to work a 9 to 5 and be settled down somewhere. My body right now will do it (play baseball). And I can travel. It works OK because we only have one OK and we fit everything we need in one car. Everything we need is in there, plus some room.”

Q: HOW DO YOU APPROACH YOUR RELIGION AND ROLE IN BASEBALL?: “If somebody asks a question I’ll answer it and I’ll explain what I believe. If somebody asks why I do something or why I don’t, I’ll explain. But I don’t actively try to necessarily convert my teammates. I’m gonna the live gospel. I’m gonna live my life how I know I should. Without fail there’s normally one or two teammates who will ask questions about it. In that case, I’ll invite them to church if they want to see what it’s all about. But I’m not out to try to convert my team.”

Q: BYU RECRUITED YOU FOR SWIMMING: “BYU actually recruited me for swimming. They said my times were good enough I could be on the team. It was one of those ‘Yeah, you’re fast enough you can join the team.’ But I preferred to play baseball. My sister did BYU swim team and she said the practices just killed her.” Michelle. “She just did it for a year and it wore her out. My other sister was on the dive team.”

Q: WAS THAT A DREAM OF YOURS AT ANY POINT? GO TO THE OLYMPICS IN SWIMMING?: “The thought probably entered my head at one point. That senior year in high school when I was basically the best in the city. I won city and I won regionals. I got to state and there were some really fast people. I got ninth in the state (in the 100 backstroke) but the people who got first, second and third were way ahead of me.”

Photo submitted by the York Revolution

Photo submitted by the York Revolution

Q: IF YOU’RE A HIGHER-ROUND DRAFT PICK THEY WOULD’VE KEPT YOU THERE AND LET YOU GO THROUGH THOSE TRIALS?: “So this year at spring training it was a big numbers game. I was fairly confident I would be starting at triple-A. The last two outings of spring training were horrendous. Here’s what happened in one inning. In the second to last game I gave up two runs. Chopper over my head hits second base: base hit. Chopper down the third base line hits third base: base hit. Next guy hits a ball over the first baseman, didn’t hit the base this time, but it was down the line: two runs score. I didn’t give up any other runs and I think I pitched four innings that day.”

Q: ANY CHANCE YOU’RE DONE WITH BASEBALL SOON?: “I’d have to go for two year thing depending on what I end up doing. All through spring training I was going and shadowing a physical therapist and learning from him. That thought of ‘When do I hang it up?’ does enter my mind. I took two or three years off and a lot of people say ‘Oh, you’re almost 28. You’re getting old.’ I say ‘I got a 24-year-old arm.’”

Q: WHEN DID YOU FIND OUT YOUR SISTER HAD DROWN?: “I was hanging out with a friend and my mom called me. My mom had come up to Utah for some classes. Education week. She just said to come home and when I get home they said ‘Rachael went over a waterfall and they can’t find her.’ I said ‘How long ago?’ And they said ‘It’s been about an hour.’ Because where they were they had no cell service. It took a half hour before anyone got down the mountain to even tell a ranger. We were in Utah that night. I threw some clothes in a duffel bag and a backpack. We got in a car and within a half-hour…just me and my mom. My younger sister stayed home and watched the four little boys while my dad drove from Arizona and my mom and I drove came from Utah. My oldest sister (Michelle) was on the trip.”

Q: YOU TALK ABOUT RIGHT NOW HAVING FAITH YOU’LL SEE YOUR SISTER AGAIN. BUT AT THE MOMENT THIS ALL WENT DOWN, DID YOU FEEL THAT WAY THEN?: “Yeah. And it came quick. It came quick. And that realization came quick as well. Yeah, there’s that grief and sadness. I laid into the rangers and all the rescue guys up there at the end of the second day when they said they had to call it off until the water went down I laid into them. I was mad. I said ‘I’ll call a few of my friends and we’ll be down here in four hours and we’ll have results.’ I went off on them and I was disrespectful. And they understood. They were very polite back. They understood it was grief driven.”

Q: HAVE YOU EVER APOLOGIZED TO THOSE GUYS?: “I never got an opportunity to do that.” “They understood it was one of those I was just mad. I was mad at the situation. I wasn’t mad at them. There was nothing they could do. They broke ropes. They had two or three ropes just snap on them. They tried to build a dam to divert the water. The boards broke and washed out.”

Q: IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU STAYED STRONG THROUGH IT ALL?: “Between that and just all sorts of things that happened in my life now with baseball and all the moves, I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I adjust to situations really well. Like this year being on three different teams already, a lot of people would…’I wanna take some time off and get my mind right.’ To me, it’s like my mind is right now. I made mistakes and games didn’t go well. I said some things that I shouldn’t have said and whatever. Learn from it and go on. Taking some time to get your mind right is just saying you don’t have control of your emotions. You don’t have control of yourself. That’s one of the things working with Tannahill is to control your emotions. When a guy hits a bomb and you get mad and frustrated trying to throw harder you get in more trouble. But when a guy hits a bomb and you say ‘Whatever. This next guy I’m going to focus so much right now right here it’s going to impossible for this guy to get a hit.’ That’s where you have to react and change and adapt to a situation on the fly. Baseball is a perfect example of how in an instant everything can change. Every time you throw a ball, the count changes. The approach changes. Every inning there’s different runners. Different hitters. Every team is a different lineup.”

Q: I ALMOST WISH YOU GUYS WITH THESE INTERVIEWS, YOU COULD SIT DOWN WITH A TEAM OR A COACH AND HAVE THESE CONVERSATIONS, IT WOULD CHANGE THEIR WHOLE PERSPECTIVE: “They don’t want to listen. I had a coach that told me ‘If somebody cuts you off and asks a question not related to what you were talking about, they’re not interested in hearing what you have to say, they just want you to hear what they have to say.’ That’s how a lot of it works in organizations. They get set on what’s good in their minds. They’re not open to any ideas.”

Photo submitted by the York Revolution

Photo submitted by the York Revolution

Q: YOUR MOM SAID YOU BARELY MADE THE FRESHMAN OR JV TEAM IN HIGH SCHOOL?: “Freshman team I didn’t really make it. They had a spot. They had two spots available. Four of us in the running for it. Coach said you guys can come and practice with us and we’ll see what happens after a week or two. After a week two of the kids quit so I made the team out of default. It turned out well for them because I ended up being one of the main pitchers that year. I got an award for hardest working player or something like that.”

Q: CHATTING WITH JEREMY TANNAHILL AND FORMER BYU COACH LAW, IT REALLY SOUNDS LIKE YOU WERE SOFT YOUR FIRST FEW YEARS IN COLLEGE?: “I was soft. I was a pansy. I had just come off a service mission with the church where you show compassion with everyone you encounter. It’s hard to transition into competitve mindset of beating this person into the ground. I’m gonna throw the ball there and if you hit it, oh well.” “I was soft on the field and in the clubhouse. The team saw me as someone they could play jokes on.” “I was on thin ice because even though all year I had the most innings and strikeouts on the team, they were bringing in other recruits, they told me unless we see dramatic change we’re not gonna need you next year.”

Janelle Neil, Matthew’s mom:

Q: WHAT WAS THAT DRIVE LIKE WITH MATTHEW ON THE WAY TO YOSEMITE?: “The day Rachael died he and I were together. It was really hard that drive to Yosemite. But as you process all that as a young person and you realize your faith in eternity and what our religion teaches about forever families and resurrection and all that kind of stuff. He misses her but he knows where she is and he will see her again. We all go through a grieving process but his faith in God can help with that. His mission he learned to be a leader there. He helped other people a lot. He helped other missionaries when they were having problems. Rachael’s death was a growing process but it solidified his faith.”

Q: MATTHEW HAD MENTIONED WHEN YOU GOT TO YOSEMITE AND TALKED TO THE RANGERS, THEY JUST SAID THEY HAVEN’T LOCATED HER BODY. THEY DIDN’T SAY SHE HAD DIED. BUT MATTHEW SAID ‘MY PARENTS KIND OF KNEW AT THAT POINT’ BUT DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING?: “Yeah your feelings go back and forth and your brain tells you different things. Matthew came over to the house in Provo. I told him and he was really angry. We were sitting there at night. I got this feeling I thought ‘She’s OK.’ I don’t know how you explain it the feeling, knowledge, pure intelligence that just came to me as a comfort. Maybe Rachael was talkinG. I didn’t see an angel. I didn’t hear a voice. I’m OK. That was the word. I’m OK. The whole drive, we packed up and drove that night, you keep double-guessing. I know she’s OK but I hope she’s OK on the side of the river. Hopefully she’s ok on the side of the river.”

Q: THAT DRIVE FROM UTAH TO YOSEMITE, I CAN IMAGINE EIGHT MILLION THOUGHTS ARE GOING THROUGH YOUR HEAD.  IS RACHAEL ALIVE? WHAT DO I TELL MY KIDS? SHOULD I BE STRONG FOR  OUR FAMILY? WHAT’S GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND?: “Every scenario possible was going through my mind. She could be here. She could be there. No idea. I didn’t know what the river was like. I had been to Yosemite a long time before but I had forgot about it. We got there and it was so far. I kept thinking ‘How come we’re not there yet She’s my little girl I need to take care of her.’ And yet I already knew she was OK. I didn’t want to raise hope in Matthew’s mind as we drove. But I didn’t want to be depressing.”

Vance Law

Vance Law

Former BYU baseball coach Vance Law, now the Chicago White Sox minor league hitting coordinator:

Q: WHAT DO YOU RECALL OF THE FIRST TIME YOU SAW MATTHEW NEIL PITCH?: “The first I actually saw him, I saw him pitch in a city league game. I was down watching one of my sons, Rex, and I saw a kid that looked pretty interesting. I didn’t know anything about him. I put it out of my mind. The same kid shows up at a tryout. When you see somebody throwing 90 miles-per-hour, those are guys who could be on your team. I kept him around for a couple more days and wanted to see how he was going to progress. He was throwing as hard as one of my scholarship guys. He was a very inexperienced guy at the time. I found out later he was home-schooled so he was not used to being around competitive guys quite as much. There was one time where he knew he wasn’t going to be pitching. He asked to sit with his family in the stands. I asked him ‘Are you a part of this team or do you want to be with the fans?’ That was a learning process because he didn’t have a feel of what baseball was. Over the next two years I coached him at the university he is probably the most improved pitcher we ever had in our program. He came in with such a lack of experience, with no knowledge of how to play the game let alone pitch. I think our pitching coach did a wodnerful job with him. To Matthew’s credit he was open. He became the ace of our staff.”

 Q: TOO BAD YOU COULDN’T HAVE HAD NEIL FOR ONE MORE YEAR?: “Losing that year of eligibility not only hurt him but our baseball team. We no longer had the ace of our team that could’ve came back. When he was drafted he lost any leverage (with major league organizations) he might’ve had coming back for another year. He has defied so many people’s expectations by being a regular pitcher on a double-A club and getting to triple-A. That’s saying something for a kid who came in (to BYU) and was not a tough guy. I remember a scout asked him ‘Are you gonna be a BYU kid who signs and after a year or two give it up?’ He said ‘No. You’re gonna have the tear this jersey off my back.’ I would’ve never heard that his first year. The love he developed for the game, the work he has put in has made him very successful for baseball. If he doesn’t reach the majors, he’s still had an amazing ride.”

Jeremy Tannahill (the Black Hawk helicopter pilot who trained Neil in mental toughness before Neil’s last year pitching at BYU):

Q: FIRST OFF, HOW DID YOU FIRST COME ACROSS WORKING WITH THE BYU BASEBALL PROGRAM?: “My full-time job I fly a Black Hawk for the Army National Guard in Utah. One of his (Law’s) assistants was out on an orientation flight. I was telling him (the assistant coach) about a small business I had. Leadership and mental toughenss training business. So I took the coaching staff on the training and then did a team training event. We were sitting in Vance’s office and we were talking about some of the players. Then I asked if there was a player you wanted me to take a look at? He (Law) said Matt Neil. We started taking about Matt. Law said ‘He’s very soft. He’s talented but he’s really weak.’ They were gonna cut him. They weren’t sure if they were gonna cut him or give him a scholarship. I asked them ‘Did you try anything on his mental attitude?’ I said ‘What did you try?’ He (Law) said ‘I tried being nice to him, yelling at him, going out to the mound to talk to him.’ I said  ‘No, no, no. Have you ever trained him to be mentally tough?’ I got blank stares. I said lets try this: give me six weeks with him. If at the end of that six weeks if he’s the same guy, by all means cut him. But you can’t give up on this athlete that has all this talent because you can’t get him to be who he should be.” “I like to say I change the way my athletes look at the street lights. The first couple training sessions he (Neil) was soft. There’s not one athlete I’ve worked with that has been more receptive and has wokred harder at becoming mentally tough than Matt Neil. At the end of six weeks I called Vance up and said ‘This kid is gonna win you games next year. He’s gonna be your best.’ He said ‘We’ll see.’ Sure enough, he (Neil) ended up being his ace. They (BYU) didn’t have bats (offense). Without his (Neil’s) efforts they wouldn’t have done as well as they did.”

Q: OUTSIDE OF THE ARMY NATIONAL GUARD, IS THIS SOMETHING YOU’RE TRYING TO DO FOR A LIVING?: “Through all the training I’ve done with Matt I haven’t made a dime with him. Not one cent. And I’ll never ask a penny off the kid. Part of it is I love him like a brother. He’s family to me. Other part he’s so relentless in his pursuit that how could I possibly let him flounder? As long as he’s wanting help I’m always there with him. That’s the thing the training that I provide isn’t to make money. It’s to help people realize their dreams, as long as they’re willing to work and believe in themselves and listen.” Tannahill also works with Blue Jays’ pitching prospect Taylor Cole (former teammate of Neil’s at BYU, was drafted six spots after Neil in 29th round of 2011 draft, currently in the Jays’ minor league system as of June 2014)and Diamondbacks’ pitching prospect Adam Miller (out of BYU in 2013, currently in the D’Backs’ minor league system as of June 2014). He’s most recently been working with former Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke and his prep football team at the private IMG Academy in Florida.

“I’ll just tell you he’s just one in a million. The guy wants it so bad. He wants it as bad as anyone else. He’s willing to do whatever he has to work at it. Any kid that goes out there and plays baseball wants to put the work in a little bit. But Matt eats, breathes, sleeps his profession and it shows. It’s just who he is and what he does. From my perspective, the wilingness he had to go through my training and stay with it and still try to improve himself mentally is just paramount. So many atheltes at his level they say ‘I’ve got everything I need, I just need to put it together. I don’t need any self-assessment. I just need to keep throwing or lift more weights or turn to performance-enhancing drugs.’ But not Matt. When Matt struggles he knows where he needs to go and that’s self-assessment. Not come to me, but look inward and say ‘What do I have to adjust to get back on track?’ That’s pretty awesome.”

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Revs announce 2015 schedule

Click here to check out the article on the York Revolution releasing the 2015 schedule. Among the highlights is the introduction of a new, unbalanced schedule, whereas instead of playing 20 games against the other seven Atlantic League franchises, each team will play more games against teams in their geographic area. Also, the All-Star break, which has usually been held a week after the middle point of the season, will now actually be held where it should be, right in the middle of the season between the first half and second half of games! So no more playing a handful of second-half games and then having the All-Star break.

I took a quick moment to break down the numbers on games against some of the better opponents for 2015. In York’s press release, it mentioned the following: against Lancaster (28 games), Southern Maryland (24 games), Somerset (21), Sugar Land (20), Camden (17), Long Island (16) and Bridgeport (14) are the breakdown of how often the Revolution will play the rest of the league.

So, if we look at that closely, you can add up the fact York will play a combined 69 games against Lancaster, Somerset and Sugar Land. Excluding York, those three franchises had the best records in the Atlantic League this past season. By comparison, Lancaster will play Somerset, Sugar Land York a combined 66 times; Somerset will play Lancaster, Sugar Land and York a combined 63 times; and Sugar Land will play Lancaster, Somerset and York a combined 55 times.

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Revs attendance up 5.3 percent

Click here to check out the article featured in Monday’s York Dispatch morning newspaper about the 2014 attendance figures for the York Revolution. It’s complete with a pair of graphics (one focusing on attendance numbers for the Revolution going back to its first year of inception, and another focusing on attendance numbers for every Atlantic League franchise going back to 2011). Revs’ president, general manager and part-owner Eric Menzer also shares his thoughts on why the organization saw a jump in attendance this season.

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Revs season comes to end

Below are some highlights from Game 5 of Sunday’s Atlantic League Freedom Division series (first the Chad Tracy two-run double, then the Bryant Nelson fielder’s choice RBI and third Sean Smith’s return to the field on crutches), followed by the the post-game Q&A with Revs’ manager Mark Mason. If you haven’t by now, you can check out the game story by clicking here.


Mark Mason

Mark Mason

York Revolution manager Mark Mason:

Q: On defensive play in bottom of the fourth inning with runner Bryant Nelson at first when Travis Garcia grounded to short stop Dominic Ramos, who flipped the ball to second baseman Michael Rockett to get the force-out at second base, who appeared to drop the ball, but umpires instead called Nelson out, arguing that Rocket was transferring the ball from his glove to his throwing hand when he dropped it, although Mason felt Rockett never had full possession of the ball to begin with:

A: “There was no catch. I thought that was a big call there. We had a 3-1 lead and we would’ve had first and second with nobody out. We had momentum at that point. Then the next inning we lost the momentum with the error.”

Q: That error in the top of the fifth inning on Battle in center field, did it appear to rattle Quijano?

A: “That’s a question you would have to ask him (Quijano). I can’t answer that. If your players make errors behind you, you still have to pitch. That can’t take you out of your game. I think that inning started off with a fly ball to center then a base-hit, then the fly ball to center that resulted in the error. And then Langerhans had the triple, and I think there was a hit before that, too. That’s just one of those things where we started off good. We got three runs in the first inning. And then we just kind of bottomed out trying to hit the ball.”

Q: After Friday night it felt you guys had all the momentum and it felt like this was your series. Is that fair to say?

A: “I would think so. We had a 2-1 (series) lead and we needed to win one out of two games. Yesterday (Saturday) we threw nine scoreless innings. If somebody would tell you before the game you’re gonna throw nine scoreless innings you would assume you were gonna win the game. By they threw nine scoreless innings and then threw a 10th.”

Q: Once again, pitching and defense appeared to be the difference in the playoffs?

A: “It always does. If you look at the playoffs in 2010. An error on Shanks’s bunt. When we played Butch (in 2011) we had a wild pitch to tie the game and then they made an error and we scored four runs in the 10th inning. Usually it’s errors. It’s an error here and an error there. Against Bridgeport when we won that game three they had an error on a double-play and we ended up tying the game. You gotta play great defense. You have to pitch. I thought we did both of those things for the most part. I just thought we didn’t do enough. We scored eight runs in the past four nights. We had two hits in the first inning (today) and what did we end up with five (for the game)? The series was pretty even. We won 5-0. Then they beat us 9-2. So we beat them by five, they beat us by seven. And then we beat them by one and they beat us by one. So the series was close. It was gonna be close. Both teams pitched really well. They played good defense.”

Q: On Sugar Land starter David Pauley…

A: “He’s a good pitcher. We got to him early. I thought he left some balls up in the zone. The ball we threw to Tracy that Tracy hit down the left-fied line is one of the higher pitches I’ve seen from him. He’s usually down or in the dirt. To his credit he stayed in there and kept making pitches. And their bullpen is really good, too. With them, if you don’t get to their starter it’s going to be tough to score runs. Kind of like us. I thought our bullpen did a good job again today. We matched it up a little bit more than I thought we would. We were just trying to keep it there to give ourselves a chance. I guess the biggest thing for me in the series is we had a tough time getting the lead-off guy on every inning. We didn’t get a lot of lead-off guys on to start the innings.”

Q: Well, Saturday you guys had a bunch of guys on but couldn’t score….

A: “We did but it’s a lot different with one out or two outs to try to get something that usually the innings that you score you get the lead-off guy on. You look at the first inning today (Sunday) Greene gets a base hit and scores. It seemed like a lot of one out, nobody on or two out, nobody on.”

Q: It seemed you had the momentum when Sean Smith came down to the dugout at the start of the fourth inning. And then Battle makes the error in the fifth inning…

A: “That was a tough play. He doesn’t play center field on a regular basis. And nobody else we have has played center field. Last night (Saturday) the ball that Tosoni hit is probably an out.”

Q: It’s tough. I know every team has injuries. Sean Smith goes down. You could’ve had Jason Repko there (Repko had season-ending injury earlier in the season)?

A: “Smitty played as good a center field as anyone in the league this eyar and defensively that’s a big hole out there. Infield-wise I thought we played great. Turned a lot of plays. Made a lot of plays.”

Q: So the obligatory end-of-season question…I really felt like this team had the best team chemistry since the 2011 squad…

A: “I would agree. We had a great clubhouse all year. And the guys we brought in (during the season) meshed really well. We didn’t have a lot of turnover position-player wise, which I think when that happens you have a chance to be successful. We lost a lot of pitching but we were able to replace it. The guys that we had did a good job all year. Quijano, Martinez, Williamson, Corey (Thurman) had a bounce-back year. When you lose Cody, Lerew and McClendon…

Q: I thought this is the best pitching job you guys (coaches) have done, and that’s saying a lot…

A: “If you look at the pedigree of the guys, yeah. If you look at the stats we were one or two all year, for the most part.”

Q: So what’s next then?

A: “It’ll be up to them when they want to go. Some guys will hang around for a day or two. Some guys might take off tonight. I have a lot of things I gotta do. One of the things I gotta do I gotta see my dad. So definitely gonna do that. Then just play October by ear. Then sometime in November I’ll get a hold of these guys. See what their thoughts are for next year. You start doing that until you get to the holidays. And then once you get to the holidays you start getting commitments from guys if they’re gonna come back.”

Q: Same coaching staff coming back?

A: “I’d love to have these guys back. It depends if they get another opportunity.”

Q: Any players that you know of possibly retiring?

A: “Chad Tracy may. He has a baby on the way. Quijano might. He’s getting married next week.”

Q: Do you know anyting on Mark Hendrickson?

A: “He hasn’t told me anything. I’d say he’s on the bubble being 41-years-old.”

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Division series comes back to York, attendance up

The York Revolution and Sugar Land Skeeters were scheduled to fly back to the northeast from Texas early Thursday. With the best-of-five Freedom Division series tied, 1-1, Game Three is slated for a 6:30 p.m. start Friday at Santander Stadium. To check out the results from the first two games, click here.

I chatted with Revolution president, general manager and part-owner Eric Menzer on Thursday afternoon in regards to an article about attendance being up for the 2014 season, which will likely run sometime next week in The York Dispatch morning newspaper, complete with attendance figures for all eight Atlantic League franchises and will focus on the up-and-down trend of year-to-year attendance for York and across the league. I’ll make sure to post a link to that article here when it’s up online. Until then, below is a taste from that conversation with Menzer. Also, we chatted about how playoff ticket sales are going thus far, including how the Revolution sales staff handles selling tickets for the “if necessary” playoff games that might not actually be played. That conversation, in Q&A format, is below.

As far as the remainder of this playoff series, game wraps from Games Three and Four on Friday and Saturday will be posted online here. If the series goes to Game Five on Sunday, I will be covering that contest. Also, this isn’t a sure bet just yet but it sounds like, if York makes it to next week, I’ll be covering the championship series, regardless if the opponent is Lancaster or Somerset. So if the Revs are still playing beyond this weekend, look for plenty of blog posts coming your way next week!

York Revolution president and general Eric Menzer has been a cheering for the team since before a team was even started. Here he watches as the Revs score against Bridgeport in a game on Friday, August 20, 2010. Randy Flaum photo

York Revolution president and general Eric Menzer has been a cheering for the team since before a team was even started. Here he watches as the Revs score against Bridgeport in a game back in 2010. Randy Flaum file photo.

York Revolution president, general and part-owner Eric Menzer:

Q: How are things going on the playoff sales, how many tickets have you sold so far for Friday?

A: “Around 4,500 to 5,000. Traditionally in the playoffs we’ll get a big, last minute walk-up. I’m sure we’ll get a strong walk-up. It’s definitely going to be a good night.”

Q: How do you approach selling tickets for the “if necessary” playoff games that might not actually be played?

“What we do is we offer a plan where you give us a credit card number and only get charged for games that do happen. The season-ticket holders and plan holders go for that. We offered that plan back when we clinched (the first-half division title and playoff berth). People who signed up got a stadium blanket as a premium. And then if somebody  who isn’t a season-ticket or plan holder wants to buy tickets to all the playoff games then they just five us a credit card number and we handle it the same way.”

Q: So we last talked about attendance back in late June, when you guys were averaging more than 4,100 fans through 24 openings. At the end of the year you guys finished a couple hundred fans less. Why is that?

A: “You gotta remember after that we played 15 home games in 18 days (and 16 games in 22 days).”

Q: Yeah, but the summer months is the time you want to play those stretches. Wasn’t it last year you had stretches like that in the months of April or September?

A: “I’m not saying that facetiously. We had a really good schedule this year. The bottom line is schedule maker maketh. You always have to pay the piper at some point. I’d rather pay the piper in June or August. Having said that I’m very pleased with where we ended up.”

Q: How much of a role did the new Diamond Deck play in attendance figures this year?

A: “When we built it we did it knowing or having heard from our customers specifically that they would like for us to have a smaller picnic-type area for those 25-50 person groups that can get lost if they’re by themselfves in a 500-people picnic area (in right field). In the hospitality business you have to continally re-invest in the product, specifically to meet the needs of what we’re hearing from customers. It worked. We had strong sales there.”

Q: Plus the schedule moving back a week helped…

A: “No doubt last year moving up a week hurt us in attendance. Moving back a week helped us but it wasn’t the only thing. If it had rained three out of 10 Saturdays, we may have been down in attendance. We’re like farmers. If mother nature is against us, no matter how much work we put in, we’ll be down in attendance. Say if we would’ve been rained out on softball night or a Saturday night game was rained out, that would’ve been huge. It has absolutely proved if you do everything right mother nature can hurt you. Losing two or three Saturday nights can put you down in attendance. We had the same number of openings last year as this year but this year every time we turned around the weather was beautiful.”

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Revs prep for post-season

Whoa! Finally, a new blog post. I know this your reaction to me finally reporting something about the York Revolution after weeks of silence as I have instead been busy covering high school football. So go ahead and get the shock and bewilderment out of you.

Done yet? Good. Now lets get down to business. As you likely know, York this week is in Sugar Land, where the Skeeters took four of the final six regular season games last week. The Revs stayed in Texas, as both clubs are set to begin the best-of-five Freedom Division Championship Series on Tuesday night at 8:05 p.m. (7:05 p.m. central time in Texas). I chatted by phone early Monday with Revs’ skipper Mark Mason about his preparations for the post-season. Click here to check out the article that resulted, which will be printed in Tuesday morning’s York Dispatch newspaper previewing the upcoming series.

Left-hander Alain Quijano will get the Game One start for York on Tuesday night. John Pavoncello file photo.

Left-hander Alain Quijano will get the Game One start for York on Tuesday night. John Pavoncello file photo.

Below, in Q&A format, is the rest of that conversation with Mason. You might be wondering what the plans are from me as far as covering the Revs in the playoffs. Well, I’ll be flying to Texas tonight. JUST KIDDING! I know your heart probably stopped for a second reading that. No. I’ll be staying right here in York, listening to and watching the first two games Tuesday and Wednesday night, then posting game wraps of the results you can read here. Ditto for Friday’s Game Three in York (yes, high school football is taking the priority this Friday). Should the series go to a Game Five on Sunday in York, I will be covering that. Should York advance to the league championship series next week (probably just jinxed them by writing that, sorry), the Revs will face either Lancaster or Somerset, with Games One and Two being played in York on Wednesday and Thursday, which I would cover if that happens. If the opponent is the Barnstormers, I would then cover the remainder of the series over the river in Lancaster. And if it’s Somerset? Well, I’m not really sure yet what would happen. But lets not get ahead of ourselves just yet. York has to make it through Sugar Land first….

(By the way, Lancaster Newspapers’ Barnstormers beat writer Burt Wilson chatted with Atlantic League president Rick White recently. His Q&A with White is definitely worth a read, touches on several topics, including future of league involving expansion locations and possible name change to the league)

Mark Mason

Mark Mason

York Revolution manager Mark Mason:

Q: Starting pitching staff, going with what got you here, and it’s been solid all year, sure guys have ups and downs but it seems like most starters have been doing pretty well coming into the playoffs. Still, has there been a part of you that has been looking around to improve the starting pitching staff but just haven’t found much available?

A: “The only chance to do anything with starting pitching basically maybe if (Chris) Cody or (Anthony) Lerew would come back. There really wasn’t a whole lot of starting pitching out there. Even the American Association there weren’t a lot of starting pitchers. And Mexico, a lot of those guys go home to get ready for winter ball. Our playoffs run into start of winter ball in other places.”

Q: What is it about Sugar Land that has presented troubles for you guys?

A: “I just think they’re a team that especially down here yesterday we lost a 3-2 game with three unearned runs. I think what you have to do you have play a clean game. Yesterday we gave up three unearned runs, the other night was another unearned run. Two of the four we lost here were on unearned runs. Was I playing my regular lineup? No, I wasn’t. But no matter who’s out there you can’t walk them and you gotta play clean. They play clean and their pitching is solid. It’s one of those things you made an error and you walked a guy before the error or whatever it is. It’s a little thing here and there. The other thing down here, we left eight or nine guys on base every game. That’s just kind of the way the week went for us.”

Q: Because, for the most part, your team didn’t go in the tank after winning the first-half title. They still kept coming and showing up, until this past week in Sugar Land. Do you think it is because Sugar Land has your number this year or was it the lineups you were throwing out there so you weren’t at full strength?

A: “It’s hard to say. We were resting a lot of guys this week. I’m not gonna make excuses for that. We had good enough lineups out there to win games. When you lose 2-1 or 3-2 without your best lineup out there…it’s just one of those things for us against Sugar Land it’s the same thing it was against Southern Maryland. For whatever reason it was for those particular games we made an error or a walk or didn’t get productive hit.” “I think it’ll be a fun series. The fact we’ve already been here for six or seven days it’s not a factor. It actually gives us a chance to get more acclimated and settled into here. If we would’ve finished the season up north then that would’ve meant we would’ve flown here today. We’re gonna go over and have a little workout today and get the party started tomorrow.”

Q: What exactly will you guys be working on at practice today?

A: “Some pitchers will go out and get their regular throwing program in. It’s 95 degrees today with the field 101 (degrees). We took batting practice on the field like two days ago. We did have batting practice Saturday. I may just hit in cages today. Tomorrow it’ll be a little cooler. Today is basically treatments. Bunch of guys that need treatments.”

Q: I saw Ricardo Gomez came back recently. Is he your closer now or are you sticking with Mark Hendrickson?

A: “Hendrickson is still gonna close.”

Q: What is it about Hendrickson you like as being a closer (Hendrickson took over the role when Rommie Lewis left to pitch overseas last month and has since converted on all nine save opportunities. Since Aug. 4, Hendrickson has allowed just two earned runs over 18.2 innings, a 0.98 ERA. For the year, he has a 1.53 ERA in 55 games)

A: “One thing he does is he throws strikes on both sides of the plate, keeps the ball down and has good movement. He has a lot of experience. That role, he’s been terrific all year. Home or away, right or left.”

Q: What’s the plan for the eighth inning pitching? Will you have a designated set-up guy or will it vary depending on who is at the plate?

A: “Eighth inning will depend on where other team is in the lineup, either Beau Vaughan or Mike DeMark (will likely pitch the eighth inning). Probably Joe Harris, Edward Paredes, Ricardo Gomez and Ian Durham, those guys are gonna be more matching up in sixth, seventh innings somewhere in there. The starters obviously will have a little shorter leash, especially when you’re playing teams with really good pitching. I think three of the four playoff teams are the best pitching teams in the league

Q: What happened to Stephen Penney (inactive since Aug. 30)?

A: “He’s just been dealing with a little of an arm thing. He’s sore, for lack of a better word. He’s gonna be inactive for this series but could pitch for us next week if we make it that far.”

Q: What happened to Ofilio Castro (inactive since Aug. 18)?

A: “We lost Ofilio to the knee surgery. That’s why his season ended. Four or five weeks ago he had knee surgery. So when he went down we had to get another infielder (Omar Luna) so that way we’d be able to rest some guys. He (Luna) was in the American Association playing.”

Here’s a look at what York has done to the roster since mid-August:

Added:

RHP Mike DeMark

RHP Mike DeMark

–Reliever Ricardo Gomez (four scoreless outings since being added Sept. 13)

–Reliever Mike DeMark (six scoreless outing since being added early September)

–Reliever Joe Harris (2.84 ERA, seven relief appearances)

–First baseman/DH/OF Johan Limonta (18-for-63, .286 in 17 games since return in late August)

–Infielder Omar Luna (.265 in 17 games, 1 SB)

RHP Stephen Penney

RHP Stephen Penney

Put on inactive list:

–Reliever Greg Miler (5.72 ERA in seven relief appearances)

–Reliever Dan Cortes (13.50 ERA in eight relief appearances)

–Reliever Stephen Penney (2.31 ERA, 45 relief appearances)

–Catcher Steve Sulcoski (batted .176 in six games, was cut once Salvador Paniagua returned to the roster after injury)

–Infielder Ofilio Castro (.247 in 95 games, 1 SB)

Sold: Closer Rommie Lewis (3-1, 2.15 ERA, 28 saves, 45 games) to EDA Rhinos (Taiwan) in mid-August

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Limonta, Gomez return to Revs

1B/3B/OF Johan Limonta

1B/3B/OF Johan Limonta

In case you missed it, Johan Limonta and relief pitcher Ricardo Gomez returned to the York Revolution in recent days. Limonta, who can play first base, third base and outfield, began this season with the Revs, batting .295 in 71 games, before leaving the club in mid-July to play in Mexico.

Gomez pitched for York in 2011 and 2012 and has since been pitching in the Mexican League. The Revs put him on the inactive list immediately after signing him.

In other moves, catcher Salvador Paniagua was activated after going on the inactive list about a month ago with a separated shoulder. With Paniagua back, York released catcher Steve Sulcoski.

Other notables:

- Starting pitcher Matt DeSalvo returned for one game a couple weeks ago to give York six innings of work in a start at Camden on Aug. 24. He held the Riversharks to four runs on four hits with three strikeouts and three walks. The Revs released him the next day.

- Reliever Mark Hendrickson has turned into quite a closer for York with six saves through Sunday night for York. He took over the role when closer Rommie Lewis left Aug. 17 to play overseas. The five saves thus far for Hendrickson are already a single-season career high and surpassed the total of four saves he’s recorded over his entire career stretching back to 1998. He previously recorded two saves last season with the Baltimore Orioles’ triple-A Norfolk affiliate, one save for the O’s big league club in 2009 and one save in his first year as a pro back in 1998 playing for the Toronto Blue Jays’ High Class A Dunedin affiliate.

- Infield Omar Luna, added to the York roster a couple weeks ago, has been good thus far. Through Sunday, batting .333 in seven games.

-York lead-off man Justin Greene is hitting .366 through Sunday. So he has some work to do if he hopes to break the Atlantic League batting average record of .371, set by Vic Rodriguez of Someret in 2004. Through Sunday, Greene is on a seven-game hitting streak, with multiple hits in four of the games, batting .429 (12-for-28) on the stretch.

Personal note: As you may have noticed, I stopped covering the Revolution a few weeks ago, thus being unable to provide much on this blog in the way of news related to the current team. This is a result of The York Dispatch suffering layoffs of eight staffers back in May. One of them was longtime sports reporter Dick VanO’Linda, who retired. However, the Dispatch did not replace VanO’Linda, leaving me as the only full-time sports reporter. Since about the second week of August, I’ve had to focus all of my efforts on the high school football beat. Where does that leave this blog moving forward? Well, for now I’ll attempt to put up blog posts whenever news comes about with Revs alumni in the minors or majors. And I’m not sure yet how we’re going to go about covering the team come playoff time at the end of this month. I’ll continue in this way through the baseball off-season, as I’ll then be tasked with covering high school boys’ basketball in the winter and high school baseball in the spring. Hopefully when spring training rolls around next April, I can return to covering the team from the start of the year through mid-August. As much as it pains me to say all of this since I love covering the Revs, this is just how things are working now due to the layoffs and cutbacks. If you have any questions or concerns with how the York Dispatch is covering the York Revolution, contact management at York Newspaper Company at 717-767-4663 or email at customerservice@ync.com

In the meantime, game wraps from every York Revolution game will always be posted here: http://www.yorkdispatch.com/yorkrev

Also, I will always continue to track players signed out of the Atlantic League by major league organizations or foreign ball clubs. Click here to check out that list, as there have been a few players signed in recent weeks.

Finally, sometime in the next week or two, check back here as I will post links to a longform feature story I wrote on former York Revolution pitcher Matthew Neil, who tossed a complete game gem for York in early June, has since undergone season-ending surgery on his arm. Neil is recovering and plans to be back next season. He has one heck of a back story and, as I’ve come to find while working on this story in the last couple months, is one of those people that will make you a better person the more you come to know him. For several reasons, I’ve been working on this story on my own free time outside of my responsibilities at the Dispatch since early June, with the goal of getting it published as a freelance piece somewhere outside of York. This goal appears to have finally come to fruition.

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