Daddy, Where Do Hounds Come From?
Ah, spring. It’s that time of year again, when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love, desire, and how to keep the hands back on an off-speed delivery, slug it oppo and impress a cagy old curmudgeon of a scouting director into thinking he’s got what it takes to achieve the next level.
Spring means baseball. Baseball implies baseball players. In roughly 12 months the Loudoun Hounds will actually have some, just about the time we’ll actually have a baseball park for them to play in.
Grown men participate in a game invented for little boys because there’s still some little boy in all of them. Baseball is fun: Running, diving, playing in the dirt, one guy with a stick, another guy with a ball, I bet I can get this past you no you can’t. There’s a reason why grown men sometimes cry when they get cut from the team — it’s the exact opposite of the same reason they shout for joy when they win a championship with their team. They took something totally fun, and made the most out of it. There’s a reason why nearly all the best sports movies are baseball movies.
Baseball is also a business. The Loudoun Hounds are a business. That business includes ensuring our fans experience the maximum amount of fun in the BarkPark day after night after night — but just as importantly, that business drives us to quest success on the field, to get a collection of professional ballplayers who together form a team which competes day after night after night, winning as often as they conceivably can. The Loudoun Hounds are about wins (and we believe we’re about to win).
We anticipate joining an established, esteemed league called the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball; the Hounds have been granted a franchise in that circuit conditional upon approval of the BarkPark by the Board of Supervisors, which we very much wish to happen soon. We’re ready to play ball.
Our main man with the master plan for winning all we can is Adam Gladstone, a veteran baseball executive with more contacts than a spider with astigmatism. He’s won championships in professional baseball — three of them, to be precise — and he was in charge of player procurement for a franchise that won two straight titles right after he moved elsewhere.
Dig more about AdGlad in this previous DogDish blogpost: http://www.loudounhounds.com/dogdish/2011/04/glad-to-be-a-hound. We’re lucky and proud to have him as our player-picker.
With spring training going on, the World Baseball Classic coming up and Opening Day around the corner, we thought the time was ripe to catch up with Adam and pick up what he was putting down about how he’ll bring the men who would be Hounds to town.
DogDish: We are the Loudoun Hounds Professional Baseball Club. What does that mean in baseball terms?
Adam Gladstone: The guys who will be playing for us, their full-time job is to play baseball. They are professional athletes. They are not semi-pro. They’re not college players. These are not guys who work a 9-to-5 job and then go put on a uniform and play for the Loudoun Hounds. These are guys who are professionals. They will have played baseball professionally on average for five years already.
DD: Where are the Hounds of 2014 playing right now?
AG: For the most part they’re currently playing in the upper levels of Major League organizations. Professional players who have at least five years of experience fall under the term “six-year minor league free agents” and their contracts are year-to-year. Therefore a lot of our players will be around 24, 25, 26, and they’ve performed at the highest levels, the Major League level, Triple-A, to a lesser extent Double-A. A lot of those guys are currently in spring training hoping to catch on. MLB teams bring more players to camp than they will need to outfit their teams, so at the end of spring training, there’s a surplus of players who are right on the cusp, who are looking for an opportunity to play. First and foremost, those are the guys that we will go after.
DD: When will the Hounds roster begin to form?
AG: After the first of the year, there will be guys who expect invites to spring training who won’t get them. So that may result in one wave of signings. Once in spring training, there are guys who get released, so that could be another wave. There might be an expansion draft too. By the time the season starts in April, we’ll have the best 23 professional baseball players we can get to compete right away.
DD: What will be a typical day for a Hounds ballplayer?
AG: Let’s start after the game. By the time they finish any workout they have after the game, eat dinner in the clubhouse, they go home. They wind down from the ballgame, get to sleep around 2 am and probably sleep until late morning. They get up, eat, go to the gym for a workout, then head to the ballpark. Most times for a 7 pm game they need to be at the park by 3 pm at the latest. It is a full-time job.
DD: What is the status of the League we may join in the pantheon of professional baseball?
AG: The League is made up of professional baseball clubs not under the hierarchy of Major League teams and their minor league teams. It is a league where players who have played at the highest levels who have the ability to return to those levels but at the moment do not have a job, because there are only X amount of spots available. Over the course of 15 years or so, MLB organizations have looked to the League to help fill spots when they have an opening, because of the quality of player the League attracts. On average when a player from the League signs back to an MLB organization, they are going to Double-A or Triple-A.
DD: What is expected of Hounds players off the field?
AG: We want guys who first and foremost will use this opportunity to go back to MLB organizations, so we want to bring good baseball players in. But it’s also imperative to have guys who understand their role within the Loudoun Hounds. They’re being paid to play baseball, but they’re also being paid to represent our organization within the community as we provide affordable family entertainment. One thing our fans will realize is our players will be accessible. They’ll be obligated to perform on the field, but they’ll also be obligated to present our organization, our directives, our programming in the best way possible. When the Hounds players see kids asking for autographs along the dugout, our players are going to stop and sign whenever they can, because that’s as much a reason to wear our uniform as it is to get back to an MLB organization.
Our first-year players will have as important a role as anybody, because it will be up to them to expose Loudoun County and Northern Virginia to the quality of baseball they play but also the quality of individuals they are.
DD: Why would a ballplayer choose to play for the Hounds versus any other independent professional club?
AG: I believe because our ballpark will set us apart. It will be a great place to play in, and this area will be a great place for the players to come to. I think proximity to an airport is important, I think being close to MLB teams in Baltimore and D.C. is important, because they’ll keep their eyes on us. Also Loudoun is a wonderful area to live in. These players who’ve lived all over the country will understand why this area is so supportive of professional baseball, professional soccer, our stadium. If it’s good enough to be one of the fastest growing counties in the United States, it’s good enough for players to come here to play.
I like to sell to a player and his agent the idea of coming to the Hounds and being treated like a professional ballplayer. We will put him in a position to be successful while he puts our organization in a position to be successful. Some of the best stories that I’ve been involved with have been signing players to a team and they end up moving to that town permanently. Corey Thurman, Jason Aspito, so on. That’s why it’s so imperative that we bring the right guys in to represent our organization. I have no doubt that from the first team we field, one or two of those guys will wind up loving Loudoun so much they make it their permanent home. Corey married a girl from York. Jason now runs a baseball clinic in York.
I take as much pride in sending guys back to MLB organizations as I do in winning games, and that can translate into winning championships.
DD: Who are a couple of the top success stories of guys who’ve signed?
AG: Back in 2007 in York we had Tike Redman in centerfield. Within three weeks the Orioles signed him and two weeks later was the starting centerfielder in Baltimore. In Somerset in 2003 we had a catcher named Mitch Melusky. The Orioles called him and said they wanted to assign him to Double-A. Mitch said no thanks, I’m good enough to play at least Triple-A. So he declined, stayed with us in Somerset. A few weeks later the Houston Astros signed him, put him in Triple-A, and soon after he was back in the big leagues.
A couple more that I didn’t have anything to do with but are success stories are last year Lew Ford was playing everyday for Long Island. The Orioles signed him to Triple-A, he came up to the majors later and was a key part of their playoff run. The year before that Jerome Williams was pitching for Lancaster, was signed by the Angels and wound up pitching for them in the playoffs.
DD: What chances are there for a really good local ballplayer to play for the Hounds?
AG: An excellent chance if that player has professional experience. This is professional baseball, not amateur baseball. There are other independent leagues out there geared to players who don’t have professional experience; this League is not one of those leagues. That said, there are always diamonds in the rough. We’ll hold a tryout camp before spring training every year, and anybody who wants to showcase their talents in front of our coaching staff and player personnel staff will have that chance.
If someone impresses us, maybe we bring them to spring training for another look, but I don’t want to create any false expectations. We will always help players find the right spot, and that may be through our connections with other independent leagues.
DD: How does this League compare with other independent professional leagues?
AG: In this League, unlike other leagues, there are no restrictions as to service time. As long as you can lock that player in under your salary cap, any player is eligible to play for you. In other leagues, you have to have a certain number of guys who’ve never played professionally before, other guys with limited professional experience, and only a certain number of so-called veterans. Obviously we thrive on the fact that we bring in guys who’ve been in the big leagues, who’ve played a lot in Triple-A, who have the fight and desire to get back to that level.
DD: When will the Hounds manager be selected?
AG: Most likely at the end of this baseball season, unless we find someone who’s available now who we think is the right guy. We’re keeping our eyes and ears open when we head to Major League spring training camps in March and talk with general managers and farm directors to see who may be looking for a job. I wouldn’t be surprised if our manager next season is a guy who’s currently under contract to a Major League club. Because of this area, because of Dulles Airport and having two MLB teams close by, this will be a very enticing opportunity for many people in baseball. We will not have a small pool to choose from.
One difference between this League and affiliated baseball is that affiliated ball is about developing players for the Major Leagues. Our manager will not be hand-tied. He will be directed to win baseball games.