Dave Lezotte, if you didn't know, is the play-by-play announcer for the Clinton LumberKings. He is easily one of the busiest men in all of minor league baseball, and has one of the best blogs (The LumberBlog) around with interviews (audio!) and insights.
1 - Most favorite moment of the 2010 season
In a season of tons of highlights for both myself and the team, there's one main memory that will stick with me. All playoffs long, we had a fanbase that easily outcheered the likes of Cedar Rapids, Kane County and Lake County. Our fans were loud and into it from the first game against the Kernels through the thrilling 18-inning game against the Captains. The most gratifying of the playoff wins for me was our West Division clincher over Kane County that sent us to the Midwest League Championship Series. Knowing how long some of these fans have waited to see the LumberKings get this far definitely fueled my call of the final out, when Tim Morris bobbled a ground ball at first base and recovered to flip to the covering Forrest Snow. It's the greatest call of my career, the first time I've been able to say anything with the words "Champions" in it. After the game, I took the long walk out to the LumberKings' clubhouse to get Mickey Wiswall to sign my scorecard (he hit the game-winning homer in the seventh, what I refer to as "the shot heard 'round Clinton") and was amazed by how many people stuck around to savor the win. I saw a lot of familiar faces out towards the clubhouse, all just as excited and gratified as I was.
2 - Least favorite moment of the 2010 season
August 31 in Peoria. With a chance to move about two games ahead of Kane County for the West Division's top second-half playoff spot, the Kings took a 9-4 lead into the bottom of the ninth...and the Chiefs responded with their biggest comeback of the year, scoring five in the ninth and the game-winner in the 10th to beat us, 10-9. The roll we had been on came to a sudden stop at the most crucial time, and we'd win just one more game in the regular season. Thankfully, Cedar Rapids took care of Beloit for us as we dropped our final three games to last-place Burlington. A lot of supporters and coworkers came down to Burlington to see us clinch the playoff spot, and we were never able to celebrate it with a win. The feeling at the time was that we had backed in as the Wild Card and that we wouldn't stack up well against a hot Cedar Rapids team in the first round. Fortunately, as manager John Tamargo said, all you have to do is get in. He was right.
3 - Who impressed you the most from the LumberKings in 2010?
This was a team full of impressive players, so it's hard to pinpoint just one. Nick Franklin most certainly had a year at the plate that we won't soon forget here in Clinton. He broke a 49-year-old franchise home run record despite being billed as young and undersized coming into the season. Vinnie Catricala was the most consistent hitter all year -- and when he turned white-hot in August (.432, 7 HR, 27 RBI), there was no pitcher in this league that could get him out. I was impressed by the second-half adjustments made by Matt Cerione and James Jones. After struggling at the plate in the beginning, each was fully capable of taking over games. Jones was our biggest threat during the playoffs. He set the table with singles and walks, stole bases, hit home runs, prevented runs with his speed and arm in right field and kept the rest of the club loose en route to the Midwest League playoff MVP award.
Pitching-wise, Anthony Vasquez threw everything AND the kitchen sink while he was here and was probably the craftiest guy I've seen...that's probably why he was gone by May. Erasmo Ramirez impressed me not only with his ability to pound the strikezone, but also with his mix of mound maturity and childlike excitement. There was nobody on this club happier to be playing baseball than Erasmo, and that showed every time I interviewed him. Towards the end of the season, there's no question that the additions of Tom Wilhelmsen, Yoervis Medina and Forrest Snow put us in the playoffs. Medina's already had a taste of triple-A, Wilhelmsen will get his by next year and Snow deserves to move quickly the way he dominated hitters in this league.
4 - Who from the short-season leagues are you most excited to see play for the LumberKings in 2011?
I'm excited about the potential to see both Anthony Fernandez and Edlando Seco both in the starting rotation next season. I followed those two plenty last year via the Mariners' minor league reports. I'd love to see Ji-Man Choi catching them, but he already leaped us to High Desert last season.
I also like the prospect of seeing Ramon Morla, Kevin Mailloux and Kevin Rivers in the middle of our lineup. Throw Robbie Anston and Jorge Agudelo towards the top and I think we'd have a formidable offense. It'd be great to have '09 MWL All-Star Terry Serrano back as well.
5 - How did if feel to call a championship game?
Broadcasting the entire MWLCS was an amazing experience for me as it was the first time I've been that far in the postseason. I was nervous before each game of the series and was about as on-edge as one can get during the 18-inning marathon in game two (which we won, 8-7), but nothing stacks up to the jittery feeling I had prior to game five. As friend and colleague Brad Seward told me that day, "no matter what happens, you'll never forget this day for the rest of your life." That turned out to be true, but not in the best way possible. Watching the Captains pile on one another in front of their home crowd after beating us did not make me sad or angry, it was more surreal than anything. To see them celebrate and hoist the trophy was something I had never seen in person before. Over the weeks that followed, it finally set in how close we were to being that team to dive on the pile. I'm still very proud to have been part of the team playing on that final day of the playoffs, despite the fact that we didn't get that final win. The experience motivates me to stay in this business long enough to get there a few more times and maybe win a ring or two.
6 - What are your off-season plans?
So far this offseason, I've been steadily working with the LumberKings to wrap up the 2010 season and make plans towards 2011. We've got a few things up our sleeves to make next season even better than the last. Away from the office, I've also been able to do some traveling. Most notably, I went down to Arlington, TX to see game 3 of the World Series. Five of our former players (including four since I've been with the club) were with the Texas Rangers during their championship run. I hope to take some time off around the holidays to return home to Milwaukee and I'll also be heading to Orlando for the 2010 Baseball Winter Meetings in early December. Aside from all that, I'm also freelance broadcasting for a local high school.
7 - Nick Franklin's 2010 season was a heck of a story! If you were to guess, how far can he go?
I believe what we saw from Franklin this past season is just the beginning. His fluid swing and timing were the reasons for the 23 home runs...imagine what power he'll have once he gets a bit stronger. Overall, Franklin was still pretty raw at the plate at times (especially as a right-handed hitter), and he's only going to continue to mature offensively as he works more in the instructional league and at higher levels in the system. Defensively, he made special plays at both short and second but still needs to keep working to be more consistent defensively. He stressed speed and defense in the second half this past season and improved at both, so there's no reason he won't get better on defense and on the basepaths next year as long as his work ethic stays strong.
Everyone I've talked to with the Mariners believes that he's a rare talent, and he's done nothing but prove them right so far. Those talents along with his confidence should lead him to a very productive career in Seattle. It's not going to be next season, but it's not far off.
8 - After two years of calling games by the Seattle farmhands are you beginning to be a Mariner fan, or are you a fan of the players rather than the organization?
While Seattle isn't the only team I follow, I do follow and support the Mariners. I've been down to the Peoria Sports Complex for the beginning of Spring Training two years running and also made it to a Mariners game against the White Sox when we had an off-day this summer. For me, it's not really about being a fan and more about being a part of the organization. I do my best to supplement the Mariners' media staff with information on our players and they return the favor when I need help. I assist our coaches with statistics and information about opponents. I like to feel that I'm contributing in some small way to the development of the players that come through Clinton and in turn our Major League affiliate. In that same sense, I did take some pride in what the Texas Rangers and five of our former players accomplished this season. I want to be around when the Mariners do the same thing.
Also, I enjoy helping Mariners fans get closer to our team and their future players through what I do with the LumberBlog, our website and the broadcasts. I've received great feedback from Seattle folks and I appreciate it.
9 - How enjoyable was it to work the 2010 season? Was there one better?
Short of winning it all, there's not much more we could have achieved. Not only did the team play well, but we also enjoyed our second-best attendance in franchise history. Our General Manager took home the Midwest League's Executive of the Year award. I would have liked to have won the MWL Broadcaster of the Year award, but they don't have one in this league.
This team was a fun group to be around, no question about it. The season was never short on interesting storylines. The 2008 season was my favorite heading into 2010, but I think it's been surpassed.
10 - Who was the best opponent player you saw in 2010?
Mike Trout of the Cedar Rapids Kernels was the real deal. In the games I saw him, it seemed like there was nothing he couldn't do. His speed would force your defense to make perfect plays, and even then, he'd beat throws. He had good power. He got to every ball in center. He was an oustanding battler at the plate and was the toughest out in the league when he was here.
While I agree with the league that Trout was the prospect of the year, I would have given my MVP vote to Quad Cities first-baseman Matt Adams. While Trout was the catalyst of the Cedar Rapids offense, Adams WAS the offense for the River Bandits many of the times we saw him. No question, his loss to injury hurt Quad Cities far more than Trout's promotion hurt the Kernels.