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Bad Turns to Worse for Fired Skeels

You have a grand total of 13 balls for batting practice, some with the covers falling off.

You’re taping up cracked bats and using them in games.

You fire a trainer who in a fit of rage left welts on one of your pitchers.

Moments into a 14-hour bus trip you wonder what smells so bad and realize the chemicals in the toilet haven’t been changed.

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Everything about the Texas-Louisiana League stinks, you tell yourself, but you keep plugging as a player-manager because it’s baseball and baseball has been your life since you played catch with your dad in Thousand Oaks more than 25 years ago.

It could be worse. And soon enough it is for Andy Skeels, 32, a veteran of 11 minor league seasons.

Skeels was fired Friday, he said, simply because he pointed out the dearth of balls, the cracked bats, the angry trainer and the smelly bus.

“They said I was embarrassing the league by complaining,” Skeels said. “I told them the league is embarrassing enough without my help.”

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Skeels managed the Bayou Bullfrogs in Lafayette, La., until Friday when he was replaced by former major league player Steve Dillard.

The team is 13-20, but Skeels said league officials told him the firing had nothing to do with the won-loss record. League Vice President Travis Hartgraves did not return calls.

“The problems spring from the premise that baseball is not the product they are selling,” Skeels said. “From the front office view, it’s the sumo wrestling, the dizzy bat race and pizza night that bring in fans.

“That’s why there is so much contempt for the players at this level. The front office doesn’t think they are important.”

The team stood by Skeels and planned to boycott Tuesday’s game until Skeels and pitching coach Ron Guidry (yes, that Ron Guidry) advised against it because players might be blackballed as a result.

“As a manager, Andy has gone to bat for the players all year,” said Scott Bethea, the Bullfrogs’ second baseman and captain. “We have stood united behind him and were prepared to walk.

“He was fired for sticking up for his players on equipment issues. He’s not a yes man.”

Skeels, a Thousand Oaks High and Oxnard College product who made it to triple-A in the New York Yankees’ organization after setting the career home run record at the University of Arkansas, doesn’t know what he’s going to do next.

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But Bethea and his teammates--including outfielders Andy Wilson (Thousand Oaks High, Cal State Northridge) and Ed Campaniello (Agoura High)--plan to air their grievances through the Louisiana and Texas media.

“Folks need to know how bad players are treated in this league,” Bethea said. “Nothing against Steve Dillard, he’s a good guy. But it’s like our dog was killed and they are bringing us another one. We miss our manager.”

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Forty-seven came, 45 had no chance. The two who do might be considered upon further review.

Nearly every player who attended the St. Louis Cardinals’ open tryout at Newbury Park High last week left realizing more work needs to be done before they approach prospect status.

Cardinal scout Chuck Fick ran the tryout, and he was more interested in the 16- and 17-year-old high school players than the 20-somethings making a last-gasp attempt at gaining attention.

Every player was timed running 60 yards, threw from deep right field to the plate and from deep shortstop to first base. Fick then excused about half the players before batting practice began.

He allowed most of the high school players to stick around and swing wood bats.

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“Why are you only keeping the young guys for batting?” Fick was asked by a slightly paunchy player who looked about 24.

Fick replied, “You expect me to keep the old guys? If you have big league skills at 24 years old, you should already be in the big leagues.”

Only two players have immediate professional potential in Fick’s estimation, although he offered neither a contract. He would not identify them and said only that one recent college graduate showed average major-league speed and that a left-handed hitting outfielder showed an average major-league arm.

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Andy Shibilo, a 6-foot-5 right-handed pitcher, signed as a free agent with St. Louis last week, becoming the fifth Pepperdine player to recently sign a contract.

Shibilo was considered a middle-round prospect a year ago, but his stock dropped despite going 7-4 with a 4.65 earned-run average this spring. He has been assigned to New Jersey in the New York-Penn League.

Also in the league are two more former Waves who signed recently. David Matranga is playing shortstop and batting leadoff for Auburn, N.Y., a Houston Astros affiliate, and leads the league with seven stolen bases and a .600 on-base percentage. Will Ohman, a left-handed pitcher, has reported to Williamsport, Pa., a Chicago Cubs affiliate.

Paul Avery, a left-handed pitcher who was 2-3 in 16 starts for Pepperdine, signed last week with the Dodgers and has reported to Yakima, Wash., of the Northwest League.

Chris Cosbey, an outfielder who batted .359 at Pepperdine, signed as a free agent with Oakland and is batting .417 for Southern Oregon.


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