A.   WBL Times.  Saturday, January 03, 2004

K-Rod Rebounds as chief of San Juan Tigers

         Jerome Spann was fired as GM of the San Juan Tigers and replaced by one-time and current Great Britain player Fransico Rodriguez, nicknamed K-Rod. K-Rod, who played in the Red Coat uniform for 1 1/2 season since he joined the team 2007 season, has been one of the hottest topics since being hired over the middle of the season by the commissioner, Jeremy Shirley. The Tigers, who missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons with rosters largely assembled by Spann, are 35-69 this season. Recent speculation centered on Catcher J.D. Boom possibly losing his job but, instead, the odd man out was the 23-year-old Spann, who replaced Jason Rhiner in the middle of the season of 2005 with the Tigers when Spann was lost during his absence.
        "This was a very difficult decision for us to make," said Jeremy Shirley, commissioner of the league World Baseball League, WBL.
        "Jerome is a good man who worked tirelessly for the Tigers over the last few seasons."
        K-Rod had his first look at his new team when the Santo Domingo Rush visited San Juan. His first task will be evaluating a roster with the league's lowest payroll and deciding whether any of the player's massive contracts can be moved in a trade.
        "Fransico is one of the most celebrated figures in the history of the WBL and we believe he is the right person to lead this team in the future," Shirley said. "His set of skills and experience will reinvigorate this team to achieve our only goal - delivering a championship-caliber team to all Tigers fans."
        One of Spann's assistants, by the way, is Greg Torlone, who is currently a good friend of K-Rod. Spann's last major move was the two-team deal that sent Brian Lawley Jr. to St. Louis and brought Seedaq Shabazz. The deal has appeared to favor the Tigers during the first 3/4 of the season with Shabazz averaging .228 for Tigers and Lawly ending back in San Juan in numerous amounts of trades that circled Brian Lawly Jr. several recent days. A native New Yorker(guessing) Spann also traded stalwart Brian Lawly Sr. to Santo Domingo, a move that ultimately contributed to the club's current salary cap predicament. The contracts of J.D. Boom, Bucs None, Matt Paterson and Brian Lawly Jr. will take up almost all of the team's salary cap space for the next couple of seasons and the Tigers must decide after this season whether to invest in Daryll Fink, who will be a free agent this off season.

Boss of all he commands

        They can hear his voice through the walls sometimes. Other days, just footsteps. When Mujuri Shipal is around the corner, they snap to attention like children hearing the rattle of their father's keys at front door. But it is in a mound, with room for 5 men, that the Montreal Menace knows they must squeeze Shipal's hand and run through mortar and brick with him.
        "You don't want to fail," Mujuri Shipal, a first-year Menace pitcher, said here this week, "and then have to come back to the mound and look at your leader."
        No other player in the WBL is talked about in this way, because no other player is like Shipal, who at 21 become the soul of Montreal's pitching rotation, a franchise and a city. In first three months in Montreal, Shipal has emerged as one of the most talked about players in the history of WBL, a ferocious starting pitcher who was named this year's rookie of month twice. The roots of the Menace's foray into the post season - they now play Great Britain Red Coats - can be traced directly to Shipal's broad shoulders. Inside his 250-pound frame resides man of electricity and emotion; a player who will yell himself hoarse before a game and gyrate all over the field without losing energy a man who faced murder charges earlier in his career; and after the charges were dropped used the episode to further fuel his combustible play. Shipal, on the one of the oldest team of the 4 in this post-season, has reached such an iconic status that older players, coaches and executive listen intently when he speaks.
        "I know when somebody is just running off at the mouth," Jeremy Shirley, the Menace's general manager, said. "When Mujuri speaks, it's genuine."
        Jeremy Shirley, the future hall-of-famer and third-year Menace coach, said: "If you didn't know him, you'd look at him and go, 'Oh, give me a break.' He's doing this and he's doing that and you're thinking, 'Who has that much energy?' But that's him. His whole game is passion."
        Shipal's bounce leads to production. This season, according to the team's statistics, he amassed a career-high 9 wins - 8 as a Menace and 1 as a Force - and a career high 46 strikeouts, a year after missing the entire season because of a contract problems. His intensity kept the Menace rotation afloat despite roster turnover and an influx of youth. If opponents do not fear him, they still want to know his whereabouts on the field. Other players, before and since, have the pitch faster or just as strong. But when Shipal's pitch goes into the catcher's mitt, it sounds like a car backfiring. Over, around or though, he is going to find the strike zone.
        "Can you imagine being a batting-coach trying to draw up weaknesses against him?" Kip Wesley, the Stallions outfielder, said. "If you can intimidate your opponents, it slows them down. They think twice. He does a great job of that, and teams are intimidated off the bat because they see it on film and then they feel his energy on the field."
        Although the Great Britain has lost 2 consecutive games to the Menace, no Great Britain player this week would admit to being intimidated by Shipal or Montreal. In fact, Vin Distasio, the Great Britain shortstop and Shipal's friendly rival, noted that both he and the Montreal starting pitcher represent equally the hear and soul of their respective teams. Shipal, however, pointed out some slippage in Vin's confrontational game style.
        "By looking on film, he's not playing the same game as he used to play in the minors, he's not the same pounding average man he once was," Shipal said. "Vin Distasio used to just pound the balls and make the pitchers not want to play baseball again."
        Shipal knows he isn't great and understands that his teammates don't gain all the confidence from him. Shipal is also beloved in this suburb and in nearby Montreal, itself a town of underdogs overshadowed by the larger metropolitan points along Canada. For Shipal, who can be seen on commercials for Gatorade and EA Sports, his station as a pitchman is a turnaround for someone who, in August 2007, was charged with murder after a fight broke out at a St. Louis nightclub and two people were killed in the hours after World Series. The charges against Shipal were eventually dropped and he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of obstruction of justice.
        "I think the people of St. Louis believe he didn't have anything to do with that," Kip Wesley, said while standing in the lobby of the Stallions Zone in St. Louis.
        "People see Mujuri around town. He's involved with a lot of public-relations events. He lives nearby and people see his passion for this team and this city. There is nothing like being in the stadium when Mujuri comes out of that tunnel. This place goes psycho." Shirley said.

Boom forced to quit

        The disappointment was clear in JD Boom's voice when he broke the news to Francisco Rodriguez: He was calling it quite because his desperation to focus on his personal life had been increased. The catcher wasn't worried about himself, though. His biggest concern was letting the team down, just couple of weeks after joining the Tigers.
        "The big person that he is, he was very soft-spoken," K-Rod said 2 days ago, recalling his telephone conversation with Boom the night before. "He felt that he was maybe letting me down in the sense that he came here to try and win a championship and he came here be cause of me."
        Boom, 25, will need to move out of San Juan soon and the team said a nationwide search to where he's moving is underway for a prospective. A player who epitomized work ethic, Boom lasted quite a lot in his return to the WBL after sitting out couple of days.
        "For him to come out and almost kill himself to just play the game that he loves, it just shows the kind of person Boom is," Rodriguez said.
        Boom was not at last practice of the season. It was not immediately clear whether the Tigers will have to pay the two- time all-star the remainder of the $12 million (U.S.) contract. WBL commissioner Jeremy Shirley refused to discuss the topic. Coach Rodriguez said he had stared at Boom's chiseled body in recent days with a fear he kept to himself.
        "I would get updates on his numbers every day and it scared me to death," Rodriguez said yesterday of recent reports. "When I started cutting him minutes, it was because I was getting a little nervous. I thought he would quit if he gets that breakout season that he wanted." "I kept hearing about how his numbers were going up. Again, it had nothing to do with his performance. To me it was more of a life and death situation of the player's career."
        Former Great Britain Red Coats player Dustin Parmele contracted same problem and became inactive for a while. He returned briefly then became inactive again. The problem was detected by Boom in 2007, while he was with San Juan Tigers. Team psychologist said yesterday that Boom's problem has deteriorated rapidly in recent weeks and became desperate.
        "It is no longer physically and mentally safe for him to play baseball," he said. "Al thought he still feels well and loves the game, he made a somewhat arguably good decision."
        It was not immediately clear if Boom might be able to return to the field once he feels he is ready to and get rid of all his stress.
        "I told him the game of baseball is just a game and I want you able to see your son play the game, or your daughter, your beautiful wife," Rodriguez said of his conversation with Boom. "Don't be upset that you feel you let me down because I want to be able to still call my friend."
        News of Boom's retirement came just 3 days after he was fed up with new young guys into the league. He thought that the guys were not doing what the league has been doing so far since the league's first season in 2007. Lot of the new guys acknowledged yesterday that they made a big mistake.
        "In the heat of the moment you say things you wished you hadn't," one of the guys said.

With playoff almost over, Menace hit the beach

        Life's a beach, especially for the Western Hemisphere winner Montreal Menace. So yesterday they swapped turf for sand. No playoffs - that's over; Montreal won - but lots of calisthenics on the shore under the tutelage of conditioning leader Sam Baig. Followed by beach volleyball, beach soccer, and beach touch football. Even, for some, a dip in the ocean. Not a care in the world looked like. While many had expected Jeremy to exact some atonement from his squad in the wake of Wednesday's limp 11-4 loss on England - a punishing back-to-basics practice seemed a good bet - the coach opted instead for a day outdoors, far from the field. The players jogged from their hotel to the seaside - Shirley ambled - then set about playing more recreational games than those to which they are accustomed.
        "It's not a treat, exactly," Shirley said. "We had a team workout downstairs first. But we thought, after Wednesday's game, that we might not get out of them what we needed in an on-field practice. Maybe this will be a refresher for them. I think they enjoyed it."
        "We ran a bit, played a bit."
        Actually, this fun-in-the-sun, though it was cloudy, had been long-planned by Shirley. He stuck to the agenda despite his displeasure over what he saw on the field against Red Coats and in other recent playoff games, where the Menace toyed with their streak, earning some ill-merited fun along the way.
        "We've been drifting lately, coasting on the field," Shirley said. "Not playing at the exertion level that's necessary to win."
        The coach had one specific warning for his crew: "We've been trying to win with the big play. And we should know that doesn't work for us." The players certainly seemed pleased by the change of pace.
        "It's nice to stay off the field for a change and have a bit of fun," said Dice Jackson. "We divided up into teams and played some football, some soccer - Americans against the world."
        Mujuri Shipal welcomed the beach excursion. "It's good to get away from the field for a couple of hours and spend some time together. After a loss like that on Wednesday, it's a day for reflection." Or just hanging around the pool.
        The Menace might have first baseman Cool Mo D Simpson tonight, out since the trade that sent Dice Jackson to Montreal from Frankfurt. "There's a chance but there's no certainty at this point," Shirley said. "We'd like to try new things and see him back in there but you don't want to put anybody at risk."

Final Say

        Well I am so sorry people to those who read this far, but we have run out of time. Next week on WBL Weekly…………..well, I don't know what I'm going to write and to be honest, I haven't even thought about it since I don't know if I will become one of the WBL Weekly crews. We'll see you next time, hopefully. Thank you very much everyone. Best of luck to all the teams in the off-season. I am your writer, Mujuri Shipal, from the WBL Times.