Ted Simons: If you've been watching the World Series, you've been watching a number of baseball players who made the jump to the big leagues after competing in the Arizona Fall League, which is designed to help develop the sport's top prospects. Now in its 20th season, the fall league has earned quite a reputation for turning out talent. Look no further than the 2011 All-Star game played here in Phoenix, 41 players on all-star rosters were Fall League alums. Here to tell us more about the Fall League is Steve Cobb, he's Major League Baseball's director of the Arizona Fall League. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.
Steve Cobb: It’s always great to visit with you.
Ted Simons: 20th, are you surprised this has lasted for 20 years?
Steve Cobb: There's really been an evolution with the league, and to look back for -- I've been here 19 of those 20, and to look back and see how the respective major league organizations have embraced this league and now actually utilize it, it's very rewarding. And just the numbers of -- sheer numbers of players that have played in this league and gone on to the major leagues. That number is pushing 2,000 players.
Ted Simons: My goodness. But was it tough for the league, for the baseball clubs, the big league clubs to embrace this thing at first? I know it was just getting this whole thing started was a project.
Steve Cobb: Well, when you -- at the very beginning when we started the concept, it involved putting five organizations together, and just sharing information, different approaches, in terms of player development was a real concern. But over the years the organizations have learned that this process does work, it’s beneficial for the players, it's beneficial for the staff.
Ted Simons: And it's basically a domestic option for places like Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, these kinds of winner ball places.
Steve Cobb: Exactly. That's why it was created, so that primarily U.S.-born players could stay here in the states and hone their skills. Before this league they had to go to the other countries and the cultural differences in certain cases presented challenges for them.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about some of these players. These aren't just good players or they could be good players, this is the cream of the crop in terms of prospects, correct?
Steve Cobb: Absolutely. These are the players that are literally on the cusps of making it to the major leagues. Many of them most fans have not heard of yet, but one year from now after 19 years of operation, I can simply say that between 75-100 players that are in this league this year will make it to the major leagues, and the numbers go up even greater after a two-year span.
Ted Simons: So who decides which players play in the league and which players play on which teams?
Steve Cobb: Well, the players are invited by their parent organization. So if you put that in perspective, each organization must send seven players, and there's 125-to-150 players in a minor league system. So if you're selected one of the seven, you're feeling pretty good about yourself and frankly, you're probably pretty talented. So that whole process is done by the organizations, and then we put the five organizations together to form the rosters.
Ted Simons: OK, let's talk about the games themselves. Where do the teams play and when do they play?
Steve Cobb: Well, we're actually about halfway through our season right now. We began on October 4th, and we'll continue through November 19th. We play in six spring training sites, we play at Surprise Stadium, Peoria Stadium, Mesa Hohokam Stadium, Phoenix Municipal Stadium, Scottsdale Stadium, and the brand-new Salt River Fields Stadium.
Ted Simons: That was the one I was wondering about. That's got to be a gem, to be able to play there?
Steve Cobb: It's a wonderful facility. Fans have been responding to that. It's just a great place to watch a game if you haven't been out to a Fall League game.
Ted Simons: Talk about the fans. How many fans usually go to a game? Day games, night games, weekend? Change much?
Steve Cobb: Yes. We'll draw less people during the day. We normally have two day games and one night game. The day games are at 12:35 and 6:35 for the evening, that's set up primarily for the scouting community. They can come in, see an afternoon game and then go to the night game, and then in theory when they do that, they have covered 20 organizations in just one day.
Ted Simons: Wow. Describe the crowd. Who shows up for these things? I know I show up for a couple, but who besides me?
Steve Cobb: During the day we get a significant retiree population, certainly people that are into autograph seekers and people of that nature. And then just real avid baseball fans. It's a real nice comfortable crowd, and at night we tend to attract more families that will come to our games.
Ted Simons: And the weather at night right now is fantastic.
Steve Cobb: It's perfect.
Ted Simons: Perfect baseball weather.
Steve Cobb: We're not dealing with the weather they've been having in St. Louis for the World Series.
Ted Simons: And it sounds like they have 100% chance rain for the next game. Training ground for umpires, training ground for coaches, and future managers as well?
Steve Cobb: The development thread goes through the umpires, the managers, we've had 29 former Fall League managers become Major League managers. Managers like Mike Scioscia, managers like Terry Francona, and Don Maddingly. Some big names. And same thing with the umpiring community. Over 50% of the Major League umpires right now had their final training in the Arizona Fall League.
Ted Simons: You said you've been here 19 of the 20 years. That's a lot of years, a lot of baseball. Is there a memory that sticks out?
Steve Cobb: The one memory that I will never forget, and it's -- I'll make this a short story, there was a player by the name of Butch Huskey. This was in 1993, my first year. Butch was property of the Mets. He hit a home run over Mesa Hohokam Stadium, simple enough, but in the process dislocated his shoulder, his swing was so hard that he dislocated his shoulder and was unable to run the bases. So another runner from his team actually went around and hit the bases and scored the home run.
Ted Simons: This guy was probably writhing on the ground?
Steve Cobb: Absolutely. Never forget it as long as I live, and I didn't know what the rule was.
Ted Simons: Can you do that?
Steve Cobb: You can in that situation because he physically could not run.
Ted Simons: My goodness. Reminds me of who was the player that just hurt himself, from the Phillies, Frank -- Frank Thomas the guy that made the last out in the Phillies series?
Steve Cobb: Ryan Howard.
Ted Simons: Ryan Howard. He hurt his Achilles tendon. Hey, more information, is there a website?
Steve Cobb: Yes. You can go to www.MLBfallball.com.
Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Good to have you here. Have fun this fall.
Steve Cobb: We will. Come out and see us.
Ted Simons: All right. Sounds good.