Sons of Liberty Video Clip

Monday, August 9, 2010

CLARK THRIVES IN ROLE AS FREEDOM ACE

Freedom Report: A profile of Andy Clark

Nick Dobreff / Florence Freedom


FLORENCE, KY – To pitch is to know that your next pitch could mean the difference between winning and losing.

To pitch is to feel the weight of the game hanging on each delivery and the meticulous nature with which each subsequent throw must be dissected and selected to produce the most anticipated of results.

To pitch is to create art in the midst of chaos, to safely navigate a nine inch sphere from the tips of your fingers into the waiting embrace of your battery mate, all while avoiding the relentless pursuit of the opposition.

To pitch is to live pressure each and every time you step onto the mound.

For many, it’s a role where the physical and mental demands are too great to overcome.

For Freedom pitcher Andy Clark, it’s a role he relishes.

“I love to compete”, says Clark, a native of nearby Louisville. “As a pitcher, each at bat is a battle in the midst of larger competition. My job is to go out and win as many of those little battles as I can to give my team the best chance to win.”

Coming into his third season with the Freedom, Clark was expected to help carry the rotation with the help of fellow third year pitcher Everett Saul. But an injury sustained in June has limited Saul to only 6 starts this season.

As a result, Clark was thrust into the role of team ace, and he hasn’t disappointed. He’s compiled a record of 7-3 with a 3.03 ERA in 13 starts. He leads the team in wins, starters ERA, and strikeouts (64).

And he’s been fantastic of late, going 4-1 in his last 6 starts and allowing 1 earned run or fewer in 6 of his last 7 appearances.

Clark, who went 10-2 in 2008 with a 3.36 ERA in his rookie season with the Freedom, saw his numbers dip last season as he struggled with injuries and compiled a record of 3-4 with a 5.20 ERA.

This season has seen him avoid injuries and he’s on pace to set a career high in wins and ERA.

“Coming into the season I wanted to get back to where my numbers were my rookie year. I’ve always set my goals high and I feel like I have the stuff to be one of the better pitchers in the league.”

Clark says watching and learning from the veterans when he was a rookie has helped him in his role as staff ace and clubhouse leader.

“I’ve always tried to lead by example. I want the [young] guys behind me to watch how I pitch, and set a good example for them”, says Clark. “That’s how I learned when I was a rookie. I watched how the older guys prepared for each start and how they studied hitters. But it’s also important to communicate and be as open you can be. When you’re a younger guy and the veterans go out of their way to talk to you and help you out, it really makes a difference.”

So while you’ll often see Clark chatting and joking with teammates in the clubhouse, he’s all business once he steps onto the field.

“I like to work quick and pound the zone early. I don’t like to throw balls. Working quickly not only helps me and keeps me in a good groove but it also keeps my teammates into it, keeps everybody into it, even the umpires.”

But he’s quick to acknowledge that he needs to work even harder to reach his lofty goals.

“Each year I learn more about pitching. Pitching coach [Pedro] Flores has really helped me a lot with how I attack and work hitters. But I’ve still never played in affiliated ball before so that’s something I’m striving for. I’d love to experience the challenge of facing hitters at that level.”

But pitching for the Freedom has meant a lot to the right-hander from Louisville.

“I love pitching in Florence and for the Freedom. Being born and raised in Louisville, it’s great being close to friends and family who can watch me anytime I pitch.”

And watching their homegrown ace excel is something Freedom fans have come to expect.

“I love pitching with expectations. I expect a lot of myself and I hold myself accountable for everything that happens on that field when I pitch. It feels good to know that your teammates and fans expect to win every time you pitch. I think pressure brings out the best in me.”

Spoken like a true ace.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Are You Ready For Some Football?

There's a lot going on at the ballpark tonight (Aug. 2). It's "Are You Ready For Some Football Night" which quite frankly, for the first time in I don't know how long, I'm not. We've got the beloved Florence Freedom still clinging to life in the race for the last playoff spot. We've got the Cincinnati Reds just a half game out. I've never been more ready for baseball to keep going.



As it is, however, it's still Football Night, and there's actually a whole lot of cool stuff going on. The Freedom will be dawning Tiger Stripe Jerseys during the game. These jerseys will then be auctioned off following the game, with the money going to benefit the American Red Cross. A good fundraiser for a very good cause. You can also be entered for a chance to win some Bengals tickets.



Also, we'll have the CIFL Champions, the Cincinnati Commandos in the house. I actually had a chance to go watch these guys play this year and it was a lot of fun. There are a lot of former UC Bearcats on the squad, and they have by far the best team in the league. Accompanying the Commandos will be their cheerleaders, the Commando Cuties. I also got to see them this year and it was definitely worth the price of admission.



I know none of us are ready for the baseball season to be over yet, but there's no point in not gearing up for football at the same time. So wear your football gear and I'll see ya at the ballpark.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Rubbing Mud: A Secret Society

Anyone who has ever played the game of baseball knows that you can't just pull a new ball out of its wrapper and start to use it. They are pearly white but also extremely slippery. You have to darken them up just a little, and give them some grip. How do you do this? You rub them down with a secret mud concoction. I got a chance to talk to the Freedom's Clubhouse Manager, Randy, who gave me some insight into how he likes his balls to be rubbed.

Just so everyone knows a little history behind rubbing mud on baseballs, I'm going to take us back in time. In 1938, umpires began complaining that balls were too white, too slick, and open to tampering. A man named Lena Blackburn, an old Philadelphia Athletics coach, found a spot in the Delaware River, where he discovered the miracle mud. It didn't blacken the ball, but it added grip and kept pitchers from being able to doctor it as easily. The spot on that river in New Jersey is still a secret to this day. The secret was passed down after Blackburn's passing, but the MLB still uses the very same mud for every single game ball.

As for Randy, he has his own secret recipe. He has a few jars of Blackburn's rubbing mud in his office, but they are pricey, and he feels his recipe does the job just as well. Check out the video below as Randy walks us through the making of his own rubbing mud.

video


After Randy walked me through the steps he uses to make his own rubbing mud, he showed me a finished product. It's visibly darker, but not by much. It's also far less slick. The pitchers are singing his praises. I want to thank Randy for letting us in on one of the biggest secret societies baseball has in it's amazing history.

(Mud rubbed ball on left / New, unrubbed ball on right)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

FREEDOM’S GROGAN, OHLMANN, AND SHULTS FLOURISH IN ALL-STAR DEBUTS

Freedom Report: A recap of the 2010 Frontier League All-Star Game

Nick Dobreff / Florence Freedom

FLORENCE, KY - Success in the All-Star Game is quickly becoming a Florence Freedom tradition.

For the fourth consecutive year, a Freedom player took home MVP honors in the Frontier League's mid-summer showcase. This time around, it was veteran infielder Tim Grogan.

Grogan hit a 2-run home run in the first inning to give the Western Division All-Stars a lead they would never relinquish. He finished the night 2-3 with the home run and 2 RBI.

"After I hit the home run, I thought (winning MVP) was a possibility, but it was certainly something I didn't think about going in", said Grogan. "It felt good to be recognized personally and as a representative for the Freedom."

Grogan wasn't the only Freedom player to excel, however.

Fellow all-star teammates Stephen Shults and Liam Ohlmann also played large roles in the win. Shults hit a solo home run and finished 2-3 with 2 RBI, while Ohlmann struck out the side in a scoreless inning of relief.

"It made us all proud to play well and represent the Freedom", said Ohlmann. "It gives us some legitimacy that we went out there and performed in front of some of the best players in the league."

Grogan echoed those sentiments.

"It felt good to represent the team so well. And the biggest thing would be if we were able to carry that performance into the second half and make a playoff push."

The game itself was only half of the experience though. The three-day festivities included a country music concert, golf outing, wine tasting, and an all-star luncheon.

Of course no all-star celebration would be complete without the home run derby. Both Grogan and Shults participated in the long ball challenge, which was eventually won by Southern Illinois' Jereme Milons.

Overall, it was a rewarding experience for everyone involved.

"It was fun going to Southern Illinois. They really put on a good show and we were able to play in front of a packed house", said Grogan. "I was also able to spend a few days with my mom and fiancé and being able to share the experience with them made it even more rewarding.

Said Ohlmann, "It was fun to go there and hang out with the guys from the other teams. Obviously everybody who was there is having a great season. It was one of the best baseball experiences I've ever had."

Unofficial Team Photo

Your 2010 Florence Freedom!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Freedom take series against rival Miners

Finally, a win for the Freedom to savor.

Down 4-1 after 2 innings tonight, the Freedom scored 6 runs in the final 3 innings to win 7-4 against their hated rivals, the Southern Illinois Miners.

The Miners have been the bullies of the Frontier League this season, posting a 39-9 record before the All Star break and earning their share of enemies along the way. But after consecutive losses to the Freedom, their post break record stands at 2-4.

After losing game one of the series, Andy Clark returned to the starting rotation and delivered 7+ innings of shutout ball. The Freedom led 1-0 going into the 9th but allowed the Miners to push a run across and send the game to extras.

It was reminiscent of their June 28th game when the Freedom led 6-5 going into the 9th but surrendered a game tying home run and eventually lost in extras. This time however, the Freedom withstood the Miners efforts and won 2-1 in extra innings on an RBI hit from resurgent catcher Justin Pickett.

Tonight, they again refused to go quietly into the night. They scratched and clawed their way to 2 runs in the 7th on a 2 run, two out single by Michael Campbell to make it 4-3. In the 8th, Jimmy Baker delivered a huge two out 3 run home run to put the Freedom up for good.

The Freedom will need to build on this series victory if they still hold out hope for making the playoffs. They currently sit 9.5 games behind second place River City for the last playoff spot in the Western Division, but they still have 9 games remaining with the Rascals, so anything is possible. Their upcoming 4 games series with last place Evansville could set the table for a huge second half, or stick the final nail in the coffin of their season.

But after stuffing a seasons worth of heartbreaking losses into one half of baseball, the Freedom earned the right to celebrate this win.

And doing it against the New York Ya....er....Miners, makes it all the sweeter.


Styx Live at Champion Window Field!


Styx will be playing at Champion Window Field on Saturday September 4th. You won't want to miss out on this special concert event! Join the Florence Freedom and the Sons of Liberty in welcoming Styx to Northern Kentucky!

Click this Link to buy tickets and for more information. Hope to see everybody there!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Freedom All-Stars Shine

For the 4th consecutive year, a Freedom player won the Frontier League All-Star Game MVP. Tim Grogan hit a first inning 2-run home run as part of a 7 run inning for the west squad. He would add another hit and finished 2-3.

Stephen Shults also game up big with a solo home run of his own and finished 2-3 with 2 RBI.

Freedom relief pitcher Liam Ohlmann pitched a scoreless inning for the West squad.

The West ended up winning the game 9-2.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Wiener Dog Race a Photo Finish

The last game before the All-Star break was a victory for the Florence Freedom. It was also the setting of the 3rd Annual Wiener Dog Race.

Big, small, long, and stumpy wiener dogs were there. Awards were given out in various categories for the pups. The main event though, was the race. There were 4 preliminary races on the right field lawn, with the 4 winners advancing to the championship race, which was on the field immediately following the game.

It was a literal photo finish, with the favorite, Little Richard Long, being edged out by newcomer Aloe.


Watch video by clicking play below.
video

However, if you look closely at Aloe in the far lane, you will notice one of her owners, reaching out. The arm extends, with Aloe's favorite toy in hand, over the finish line.


Is this a call for disqualification? I read the Wiener Dog Racing By-Laws, but could find nothing about a situation like this. If you ask me, the results should be recorded with an asterisk by Aloe's name. She also tested positive for steroids before the race. Little Richard Long did it the right way, which is something I think we can all aspire to do.

Regardless of who won, it was a great race. I think it goes without saying, that when it comes to wiener dog racing, no one beats the Freedom's wieners.

Monday, July 12, 2010

First Half In Review

We have officially reached the halfway point of the Frontier League season, and that means it's time to take a look at where the Florence Freedom stand.

West DivisionWLPCTGBSTREAKLAST 10
Southern Illinois Miners3990.813-3L6-4
River City Rascals27210.563125W7-3
Gateway Grizzlies26220.542135W7-3
Normal CornBelters21270.438181W4-6
Florence Freedom19290.396201W4-6
Evansville Otters17300.36221.51W3-7
The standings don't tell the whole story, but they tell you enough. Southern Illinois, despite going into the break on a season high 3 game losing streak, can start printing Western Division Championship shirts today. The final playoff spot is still up for grabs, but a 1-4 stretch to end the first half has left the Freedom with a tough road to reach it.

One things the Freedom have done well is hit. They rank first in the Frontier league in slugging percentage and doubles, second in home runs. However, they only rank sixth in batting average and on-base percentage and fourth in runs. This may be a case of picking nits, but the issue is that the Freedom are getting big hits with few if any people on base. Like I said, this is a small complaint and the offense is scoring more than enough runs for this team to win on any given night, as they are averaging just under 5 runs scored a game (4.9).

Therefore the fault has to fall on the pitching and defense for the Freedom's first half shortcomings. They rank 9th in ERA and next to last in hits allowed. Meanwhile, the defense has committed 60 errors in 46 games allowing 43 unearned runs to score...clearly not doing the pitching staff any favors.

When one problem seems to get solved, another springs up in it's place. If the starting pitcher has a good performance, the bullpen struggless, and vice-versa.

And while they are getting considerable contributions from Steven Shults, Tim Grogan, Johnny Welch, Michael Campbell, and pitcher Liam Ohlmann, two players they were counting on to lead the team have scuffled. Justin Pickett and Billy Mottram, both all stars during the 2009 season, have struggled to put it together offensively. Mottram is hitting .275 with 5 home runs and 20 RBI, not terrible, but he's well off his last years pace when he hit 23 home runs and knocked in 79. The same goes for Pickett who is hitting only .217 with 3 home runs and 24 RBI while committing a team high 11 errors. Last year he hit .277 with 26 home runs and 78 RBI. If those two players can regain their form from 2009, the Freedom's chances improve dramatically.

But will the pitching staff contribute enough quality outings to give the offense a chance? The loss of starters Everett Saul and Andy Clark for a significant amount of time due to injury certainly crippled the starting rotation and their return in the second half would provide a much needed boost.

Right now there are a lot of questions, but will the Freedom find the answers?