Tuesday, November 16, 2010

GBL joining United, Northern leagues?

It's been a crazy off-season in the Golden Baseball League. After that announcements that the franchises in Tucson and Victoria won't be playing in 2011, it looked like the league was in trouble. That is until the GBL said it was on the verge of a major announcement (I smell merger!).

Turns out, that's exactly what they have in mind. The Golden League looks to be on the verge of teaming up with the United and Northern Leagues to form what's reportedly being called the North American League for 2011.

Here's the article from BaseballDigest.com that had some details:

New for 2011: North American League
TUESDAY, 16 NOVEMBER 2010 10:00

There's a name on the table for the combined Northern League, Golden Baseball League and United League Baseball: North American League, as reps from the three independent circuits continue negotiations on a game plan for the 2011 season.
To say that baseball in many of these cities relies on the formation of this new league is an understatement: as standalone entities, it would be hard for all three of these leagues to struggle through a 2011 season. Together, of course, it will be a struggle as well, as teams are choosing a plan that features lots more travel in what's still a bad economy, but there's also the greater chance of expansion in the future. Going national, of course, has been the dream of many an indy magnate, and this plan does just that.

It also gives a home to two teams being sold: the Schaumburg Flyers and the Joliet JackHammers, both of the Northern League. Negotiations for the JackHammers sale are in the final stages (a letter of intent was submitted to city officials yesterday) and could be wrapped up this week, subject to due diligence (indeed, the announcement of the new league hinges on the status of the sale), but the potential new owners are not bound to the new entity. Indeed, the word is that this city could end up playing in the Frontier League next season (the team, like all the Northern League teams, has already submitted a FL application). In Schaumburg, the new owners -- who could be in place by the end of the month -- sound very committed to the North American League.

Here are the teams involved: From the Northern League, the Rockford RiverHawks, the Schaumburg Flyers, the Lake County Fielders and (as of now) the Joliet JackHammers. From United League Baseball: the Coastal Bend Thunder, the Edinburg Roadrunners, the San Angelo Colts and the RGV WhiteWings. From Golden League Baseball: the Orange County Flyers, the Edmonton Capitals, the Calgary Vipers, the Maui Na Koa Ikaika, the Chico Outlaws (assuming a lease is worked out) and perhaps a new team, the Tijuana Ambassadors (Embajadores), as GBL officials were down there a few weeks ago to check things out. That's 14, and there's a chance the new circuit could pick up teams in Omaha, where Northern League commissioner Clark Griffith has been working on a deal, and Yuma.

It's been reported that an announcement of the new league could come as soon as tomorrow, but that may be a little optimistic: we hear the holdup is over the status of the Joliet sale.

The plan, we're told, is for each league to play an abbreviated schedule (76 games in the case of the Northern League teams), with 24 or so games against the other two leagues.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Magic Number: 1

The Orange County Flyers have worked their "Magic Number" down to one. Because Tucson and Yuma (and Tijuana) are mathematically eliminated from winning the second half of the GBL South Division, the only two teams that can win the second half are Maui and Orange County. Tucson and Yuma would need Maui to win the second half, creating a playoff berth for the team with the second-best overall record in the division if either Arionza-based team wants to make the playoffs.

The Flyers are one win away from securing at least the second-best record in the GBL South Division for the 2010 season. Because it's a two-team race in the GBL South Division for the 2nd Half, and one of those teams already won the first half, then OC only needs to secure the second-best overall record to lock up a playoff berth.

Why are Yuma & Tucson eliminated from the 2nd Half Division title:
- Yuma is currently 15 games back of first place Maui with only 9 games left to play. They are out of time to catch up.

- As for Tucson, the Toros are 7 games out of first with 9 to play, and both teams ahead of them - OC and Maui - have 11 and 12 games left, respectively. Because OC/Maui play each other 7 times the rest of the season, one of them will pick up enough wins to pull far enough away from Tucson so that the Toros cannot win the second half.
Orange County is currently 45-30 overall, 9.5 games ahead of Tucson (38-42) with 11 OC games remaining, 9 Tucson games remainig. If the Flyers win only one game the rest of the season, they would finish 46-40, a winning percentage of .535. Even if Tucson won all remaining 9 games, they could only finish 47-42, a winning percentage of .528, which would mean the Flyers make the playoffs on a higher winning percentage.

Here's a look at the overall GBL South Division Standings as of this morning (August 25):
GBL South Division



Winning %

Games Back

Na Koa Ikaika Maui





Orange County Flyers





Tucson Toros





Yuma Scorpions





Tijuana Cimarrones





With no games for South Division teams today, Wednesday, the Flyers have a chance to clinch a playoff berth on their own terms, beating the Tijuana Cimarrones at home at Goodwin Field on Thursday, setting up a face off against the Strong Warriors of Maui for GBL South Supremacy!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Playoff Picture

With four more Flyers wins, Orange County will clinch at least the second-best overall record in the GBL South Division for the 2010 season over both Yuma and Tucson. Yuma is mathematically eliminated from the second half.

If the first-half champion Maui Strong Warriors win the second half as well, the team with the second-best overall record will face them in the playoffs.

Tucson is currently 11.5 games behind Orange County in the overall standings and would be eliminated from having the second-best overall record with two more Flyers win or Toros losses (Tucson would finish at best 48-42, .533 winning percentage, while the Flyers would finish 46-40, a .535 winning percentage). Tucson (15-17 second half) has 12 games remaining on its schedule – and one potential rain-delay against Tijuana it could make up from Saturday – and is mathematically eliminated from the second half South Division title because even if the Toros win out to finish 28-17 [.622] in the second half, they could not overtake both Maui and Orange County because the two teams play each other 10 times.

Of those 10 games, if OC wins at least 5 of them, the Flyers will finish at least 27-14 [.659] in the second half and have a better winning percentage because of fewer games played due to the cancelled 4-game series in St. George, and Maui can eliminate Tucson from the second half with six more wins this season which would secure for them at least a 25-14 [.641] second half record, resulting in a stronger winning percentage than Tucson.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Maui planning on second season

Here's a story from today's Maui News that details the current situation from the GBL's Na Koa Ikaika Maui franchise. The team is playoff bound in its inaugural season, and while there has been rumblings all season about how much money it takes to make the trip to Hawaii, Maui owner Michael Cummings says his team is on solid ground and staying put for 2011.

Cummings says team is staying
Na Koa Ikaika owner acknowledges financial losses in inaugural season
POSTED: August 21, 2010

WAILUKU - Despite having to delay paychecks this week by three days after falling short of money, crowds that continue to fall below hopes and a league that appears to be in trouble, Na Koa Ikaika Maui owner Michael Cummings said his team is going to be here next year.

''We will be back, we will be back,'' Cummings said Tuesday, one day after handing out paychecks to the team that were postdated until Thursday. ''It is long haul, regardless. We are here for the long haul. Whatever rumors fly around just because a situation comes up one day doesn't mean that we are done. By no means does that mean that we are done.''

Asked about the reason for the delay on the checks, Cummings said, ''It wasn't just necessary, it was just money being funneled over from another business that I have into the Maui bank account and it has just taken longer to get it over here, that's all.''

Na Koa players held a team meeting before their game with the Yuma Scorpions on Tuesday night - manager Cory Snyder and pitching coach Brendan Sagara were also there - at which the discussion included not taking the field for the finale of their 15-game homestand.

Among the concerns of the players was depositing their checks when they were on the road - they left Wednesday for a 12-day, 11-game road trip that began Thursday night in Chico, Calif.

''They are definitely disappointed as far as not being able to clear their checks, but I have already worked it out where if it comes in when they are not here, we will just give them cash, just do a wire to wherever they are at and give them cash,'' Cummings said.

Cummings admitted that the income has not been what he projected in this inaugural season. At a December news conference to announce the team's formation, Cummings said a break-even point would be an average of 1,200 fans per game. After the first homestand in June fell well short of that, he said that cost-cutting measures on travel had reduced the break-even number to 1,000 fans per game.

Even with a 45-21 overall record, best in the league, Na Koa's attendance is well short of that number.

''I think we are averaging about 600, 650 right now,'' Cummings said, adding that the season-ticket base is about 140. ''I am not going to say it is disappointing, but obviously none of us will ever be happy with our attendance - we always want it to be bigger. It is not what our expectations are, but we are coming to the end of the season and I know next season will bring more fans in here. As people get to know us, the bigger we will get.''

Cummings acknowledged that the team was a bit slow to start promoting itself.

''For one, we got late into the season for us getting out here,'' he said. ''We didn't really start hitting the streets until March. That didn't help us out with sponsorship and then the attendance is not as high as we would like it to be. You lose out on concessions and merchandise. We are getting low on merchandise, but we are getting towards the end of the season.''

Cummings said the team is losing money at this point.

''I am not going to say it has been more than I anticipated, but (losses) are definitely there,'' he said. ''We anticipated 'X' amount of dollars before we came into this. I bring money from other businesses and that is just how we funnel this. It is unfortunate because I have a business in North Carolina that is helping us fund this and it is taking us longer to get the funds over here for some reason. I don't know the reason, but we can't control what we can't control.''

Cummings said the North Carolina business is a ''financial company for technology businesses.'' He owns a consulting business in California as well.

He would not reveal how far Na Koa was in the red, or what the preseason projections had been.

''We knew we would lose money coming into this - that was in the business plan, it was in our cash flow and it was in our income statement - so the losses are anticipated,'' he said. ''I really don't want to get into actual figures.''

Snyder said after the final Yuma game, won by Maui 4-1, that the players did not let the paycheck situation affect them on the field.

''It is just one of those things that happens - why it happens nobody knows,'' he said. ''We just have to move forward. At the end of the day, we are in this thing for each other. They are on the field for each other. They have got to win for each other. Every pitcher that is on the mound is doing the best that he can. At the end of the day they are trying to win.''

Mark Okano, a veteran of the GBL and the first player signed by the Maui franchise, said after Tuesday's game that the team shook off the paycheck delay.

''We had to just eliminate that,'' he said. ''Just like (Snyder) said, 'We've got to come out here and do it for us, and for the Maui people.' With that said, we had to do it. Just win and keep winning because no matter what the situation, especially in this game, you've got to come and do your best and I think we did that.''

Na Koa are in the GBL playoffs on the strength of their first-half title in the South Division. Their final homestand is a seven-game series Aug. 31- Sept. 6 against the Orange County Flyers, Maui's probable opponent in the first round of the playoffs. If the Flyers make the postseason, they might stay on Maui and play the entire best-of-five series at Maehara Stadium. The winner of that round would advance to the best-of-five league championship series, meaning the possibility of two or three more home games for Na Koa.

''One of the things that will happen is, when we are done winning the championship, we will be out on the streets talking to sponsors and bringing existing sponsors back, going after new sponsors,'' Cummings said. ''That gives us 10 months to be out on the streets, a whole difference from two months. I expect a much, much better season (in 2011). There's a lot of things that we learned that we didn't know coming in.''

The playoff gates are a bonus, but those games could create conflicts with Maui Interscholastic League football. Maehara Stadium and War Memorial Stadium share a parking lot, and the baseball teams have been using the football locker rooms all season. For last week's football game between Maui High School and Waiakea, the baseball teams used the locker rooms and the football teams met in the War Memorial stands at halftime. Cummings met with MIL executive director Joe Balangitao and Maui High athletic director Michael Ban less than an hour before the games began.

''We had a little situation with the locker rooms,'' Cummings said. ''I think it was a little more lack of communication. We were told that we needed to have one locker room set up so the MIL could come in. Then we were told not to. The last thing I heard is, 'We are good,' until game time. And everybody showed up and said, 'Hey, how come we can't get in?' We are getting that all resolved so we don't have that situation any longer.''

With two teams out of money (the Tijuana Cimarrones and St. George Roadrunners) and two more beginning the season being league-owned (Yuma and the Chico Outlaws), 40 percent of the GBL has serious financial issues besides Maui. Na Koa did not take a scheduled trip in July partially because Tijuana's Cerro Colorado Stadium field was declared unplayable by the league, but also due to lack of funds.

''I am not as much concerned about the league as just some of the teams,'' Cummings said. ''I think this next year there will be a lot of regrouping for the league and the teams together to look at it and say, 'Where did we make mistakes? And where did we do the right thing?' And to fix it up.''

Maui and Tijuana were added as expansion teams for the 2010 season. Cummings was part of the St. George ownership group for a six-week span ending in October 2009, when he decided to sell his share and concentrate on Maui.

''Sometimes leagues can grow too quick and maybe that is what is going on here,'' Cummings said. ''St. George got a new ownership group. All those things are tough to wrap your arms around when you have three new out of 10. Maybe next year the league will look at going a little bit slower.''

Cummings could sell some of the GBL rights to the state of Hawaii he purchased for $800,000 last year. Cummings added that an airline deal - hoped for since the beginning, but not done yet - ''is our number one priority for next year.''

''I would like to stay as the owner of the Maui team and then look at bringing new people in for other islands,'' he said. ''We do own the rights for those other islands and it is beneficial for us to bring in other teams here for next year. I'd like to focus on Maui, so if someone wanted to come in and do an acquisition on the Oahu rights or the Big Island, I would look at selling them.''

Cummings, the 100 percent owner of Na Koa, said his franchise is solid.

''What I tell everybody is, 'What is sitting here is the best team and franchise in this league, bar none,' '' he said. ''From the personnel to the team to the environment. A lot of people would really like to get their hands on this. ... I have had offers to buy the Maui franchise.''

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

GBL Playoffs Preview

With only three weeks left in the Golden Baseball League season, the playoff chase for 2nd Half Division titles is heating up. While the Orange County Flyers are trying to keep ahead of Tucson and Yuma in the overall season standings, Maui has already clinched its post-season berth by winning the first half over Yuma by .005 in winning percentage.

The Flyers have put enough distance between Tucson and Yuma that it would be tough to see them overtaking them in the second half, however they could potentially get close enough to threaten for the 2nd best overall record in the GBL South, which would secure the playoff berth if Maui wins the second half as well.

In the season-long overall standings, Orange County currently has a 6-game lead over Yuma, however the Scorpions have struggled in the second half after losing key pieces to their puzzle like Daryl Arreola, Tim Rodriguez, Zac Cline, Bill Pulsipher, Santo De Leon, and many others.

The Yuma Scorpions have had their troubles, but the schedule is in their favor the rest of the season. After returning from Maui, which has yet to lose a home series this season, Yuma is playing Orange County for three games in Fullerton this weekend. After that, the Scorpions will not leave the state of Arizona for the rest of the season, playing Victoria, Calgary, Tijuana and Tucson the rest of the way.

In the North Division, the Chico Outlaws clinched the first half with a strong start to the season, and 14 early games against the Tijuana Cimarrones to get ahead of the competition. The Outlaws have slumped in the second half, having to make two road trips to Canada and losing some home games with the RoadRunners financial troubles. Chico will get to make up the St. George games later in the season at Nettleton Stadium, but they'll have hurry up and get back into form if they're going to hang with the Calgary Vipers, who appear to be on their way to the 2nd Half North Division title.

Prior to the Capitals meltdown after manager Brent Bowers' resignation in the wake of his homophobic blowup against an umpire in Orange County on July 31, my thought was that the Capitals would still have trouble overtaking the Calgary Vipers down the stretch. Since OC swept Edmonton out of Fullerton, the Capitals have dropped to 8 games out of first place. Calgary now leads Victoria by six games, but the Seals picked up a couple extra home games against St. George instead of having to play them on the road. The Seals will also have plenty of games in Canada, however the defending champs in the Stampede City have won 9 of their last 10 and don't appear to be slowing down.

As of now, it looks like you can pencil in the four playoff teams, but in a crazy game like baseball, anything can happen. The GBL post-season is scheduled to start on Tuesday, September 6 with two games hosted by first-half winners on September 6 and 7. Thursday, September 8 would be the travel day and Games 3 (and 4-5 if necessary) would be over the course of the following Friday, Saturday, Sunday. The GBL Championship series is scheduled to start on the ensuing Tuesday.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Prior in USA Today

Former NL All-Star and new Flyers reliever Mark Prior has been big on the mound so far, and now he's big in the headlines. Check out this article in USA Today, written by Joseph D'Hippolito, about Prior's comeback into professional baseball.

Mark Prior toils in independent league but on big-league quest

FULLERTON, Calif. — Nearly a decade after being a highly regarded prospect — and four years after throwing his last major-league pitch —Mark Prior hopes to revive his career by starting behind Square 1.

Prior, once a force in the
Chicago Cubs' rotation, now pitches in relief for the Orange County Flyers, who play in Fullerton, Calif., and in the independent Golden Baseball League.

"I'm a long way away from where I need to be to pitch at the big-league level," Prior said. "But I still have the passion to play, and I'm still 29; I'm not 39."

Prior, who lives in San Diego, views returning to the affiliated minor leagues — let alone the majors — as a long-term goal, not one for this year.

"That would be great," Prior said. "But for teams in a pennant race, throwing me into that kind of fire right now probably is not beneficial for that team or myself. Any team that's out of it would probably rather look at their own young guys.

"I'm not putting a time restraint on it because that seemed always to put me in a bad situation, where I was trying to push something that I know I wasn't ready to do."

When the century began, baseball experts viewed Prior as the nation's best young pitcher. In 2001, the right-hander won All-America honors at Southern California and the Golden Spikes award as the best amateur player.

That June, the Cubs selected Prior with the second overall pick in the draft behind catcher Joe Mauer and signed him to a $10.5 million deal, a record at the time.

Prior made his major-league debut in 2002. The next year, he went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 211⅓ innings while helping the Cubs reach the National League Championship Series.

As a reward, Prior made the NL's All-Star team and finished third in voting for the Cy Young Award. But also in 2003, Prior suffered the first in a series of injuries that would sabotage his career.

Injuries piled up

Most of those injuries involved Prior's arm. In 2005, Prior missed one month after a line drive from the Colorado Rockies'Brad Hawpe broke his right elbow. In 2006, Prior strained his shoulder during spring training and missed the season's final six weeks with shoulder tendinitis.

He never pitched again for the Cubs.

In April 2007, Prior had exploratory surgery that revealed structural damage in his shoulder, and he missed the entire season. The Cubs non-tendered Prior, who signed with the San Diego Padres in late 2007. But while rehabilitating, Prior tore a capsule in his shoulder; the ensuing surgery kept Prior off the field throughout 2008.

"I'm not going to lie and say that I never wanted to say, 'I've had enough,' " Prior said. "But I talked to enough people who told me, 'If you're going to shut it down, make sure that you're not going to look back.' "

Last fall, Prior started physical conditioning at the University of Southern California. This spring, he began throwing to Trojans batters in controlled situations.

"I was really trying to strengthen (my right shoulder) as much as I can, probably more so than I have in my entire life," Prior said. "At 29, I was probably in better shape than I was when I was 21, 22 and pitching in Chicago."

Prior threw for major-league scouts June 30 but received no offers. Then Flyers manager Paul Abbott, who pitched for six teams during 11 major-league seasons, contacted Prior's agent, John Boggs. Boggs' son, Steve, starts in center for the Flyers.

"I kind of got in (Abbott's) ear," said the younger Boggs. "I said, 'Hey, maybe he should come and play for us.' "

Perfect start to comeback

Prior had a tryout with the Flyers on July 31, signed on Aug. 3 and made his first appearance that same day.

He pitched a perfect inning with one strikeout.

"I'm still getting some kinks out," Prior said. "(Saturday) was the first day where I was able to throw two different breaking balls. Everything's kind of evolving from day to day right now."

In five innings of relief over three appearances for the Flyers, Prior has allowed an unearned run, two walks and two hits while striking out 10.

"My best chance is to come back as a reliever," said Prior, who has never pitched in relief professionally. "I think my body will handle that better than trying to throw 110, 120 pitches.

"It's a way to see what I've got left in the tank. Once I can show everybody that I'm healthy, maybe get a full season under my belt as a reliever, then I'll see what's up."

Flyers assistant general manager Dan Koosed said that Prior was throwing 89-90 mph consistently.

"We've got to build up his arm strength," Abbott said. "One thing we don't want to do is have a setback."

Saturday night in the first game of a doubleheader, Prior pitched the sixth and seventh innings, striking out four batters in a row.

Prior relaxed during the second game by telling stories and joking and laughing with teammates in the Flyers' bullpen.

"I'm having a blast," Prior said. "The guys are great. It's been almost five years since I've pitched competitively and felt like I actually could get people out.

"It's just good getting back out there."


Prior could mow 'em down
Although Mark Prior wasn't always healthy while pitching for the Chicago Cubs from 2002 to 2005, he managed to post the highest ratio of strikeouts per nine innings during that period:
W -L
Mark Prior
613 1/3
Randy Johnson
845 1/3
Kerry Wood
Johan Santana
726 1/3
Pedro Martinez
Source: Baseball.Reference.com

Monday, August 16, 2010

MLB FanHouse on Prior

Check out this article from MLB FANHOUSE about Mark Prior's comeback. Prior joined the Flyers on August 3 in his first time back onto a professional diamond since playing with the Cubs in 2006. So far this season, Prior has struck out 10 batters over 5.0 innings and allowed two hits without surrendering an earned run.

There's Relief in Mark Prior's Fresh Start
8/15/2010 8:15 PM ET By Tom Krasovic

FULLERTON, Calif -- Mark Prior has a reminder for everyone.

"I'm still 29," he says.

Drink that down with your daily orange juice. Mark Prior is still on the sunny side of 30. See? Life doesn't always move at warp speed and leave us dumbstruck that so-and-so got to be so old. How can Prior be so young? Wasn't it a lifetime ago that he carried all of Cubdom on his right shoulder? Don't lay all that crazy and clunky history on him now. He's still a lad. A twentysomething. Not a hint of gray in his dark brown hair, either.

Then you wonder how old his shoulder is. Like an ancient redwood tree, its core may have rings dating to the Romans.

The shoulder took Cubs Nation on a thrilling ride, then the cosmic bill came due, and it was a doozy. That's Prior's story in a nutshell.

When Prior threw his explosive fastballs, the Cubs seemed capable of winning their first World Series since Teddy Roosevelt was president. The year was 2003, and the former University of Southern California star with the bulging calves was winning 18 games and WHIPping up a 1.10, and then snuffing the Braves in the playoffs. The universe had done a backfiip. The Cubs reached the National League Championship Series and then, as easily as Prior zipped fastballs past hitters, jumped ahead three games to one. Cubs fans watched the invincible Prior and almost felt like fans of the Yankees. You know, the franchise that Prior had spurned upon being first drafted in 1998.

It was all a tease, of course. Who started the Bartman Game? Prior. With the Cubs ahead by three runs and one victory from a World Series date with the Yankees, he took a shutout into the eighth. You know the rest. The foul ball. Poor Bartman. Moises Alou. The eight runs scored by the Florida Marlins. I was underneath the stands in Wrigley Field, a few feet away when Cubs security brought Bartman past the screaming fans. Felt like a Yankees crowd. Foul words. Bulging eyes. And the men were angry, too.

I guess we should've known, even here on the Best Coast. If Ted Williams, another San Diego Kid, couldn't lead the cursed Red Sox to a World Series title, how could Prior free the Cubs from an even more powerful spell? He couldn't. He ended up with a bum shoulder. And it wasn't just any bum shoulder. Life dealt Prior a hat trick that even the Blackhawks wouldn't fathom. Three separate procedures within one surgery were needed to repair his shoulder in April 2007.

Attempting a comeback, he returned home to the San Diego Padres. He rehabbed endlessly, threw off the mound a dozen times or more, then threw a practice pitch that sent him back to Dr. James Andrews for a fourth procedure.

"I felt something like a firecracker going off in my shoulder," Prior said in May 2008.

West Coast Bias figured at that time that Prior's career was over, and until this past Saturday, I hadn't asked Prior about the shoulder. Didn't have the stomach for it. Maybe Prior would get on his with his life, and everybody would let it go.

Except there was Prior on Saturday, pitching in a professional ballgame and saying afterward there's still sand left in the hourglass. His brown eyes appear determined. He smiles more than he did for an entire spring training two years ago.

"I'm having a blast," he says after throwing two innings for the Orange County Flyers, a team in the independent Golden League.

"It's been a lot of fun, just getting back out there and just playing the game," he adds.

Even when he pitched three days earlier in Yuma, Ariz., a griddle in the desert, he was in his bliss.

"A lovely place to be this time of year," he says. "I had fun. It was a good time."

"I don't think I'm going to come back as a starter right now. ... Once I can show everybody that I'm healthy as a reliever, maybe get a full season under my belt as a reliever, maybe I'll go back to that road (as a starter) and see what's up."
-- Mark Prior He had last pitched in 2006, although "pitched" isn't quite right. His shoulder was paining him so badly that he often doubted he could make it through his bullpen sessions. Lasting for nine starts, he was 1-6 with a 7.21 ERA for the Cubs.

Middle relief is his best ticket back to the major leagues, he says. In his new gig, he's tossed five innings over three outings. He's yet to allow an earned run and has 10 strikeouts. He plans to pitch in consecutive games later this month. He hopes to pitch for a major league team next year as a reliever. By 2012, he'd like to start.

"I've got a lot of work to do," he says.

The radar guns register some progress. When he threw in front of major league scouts three weeks ago, his fastball touched 90 miles per hour only once. The scouts were less than dazzled, so the Flyers came calling. Saturday at California State Fullerton's ballpark, Prior entered in the sixth inning and sat on 91 for an inning. He weakened in his next inning, losing about 2-3 mph, but still struck out the side. In all, he threw 39 pitches, touching 92 mph once. Twenty-seven pitches were strikes. He threw only four warm-up pitches before his second inning. Afterward, he didn't apply ice.

The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder could've built a spacious igloo with the ice he required from Padres trainers in March 2008.

"It's taken me awhile to get my arm healthy," he says. "I think it's healthy. I think I'm starting to show that to people.

"Now I need to refine and retool everything after three or four years away from competitive games."

A starter for all of his baseball years, Prior is getting a crash course in relief work. Here is what he's learned:

• "It's better to be not warmed up enough than to be overwarmed," he said. "The other day, I kind of warmed up a little too early, and especially in the heat, you lose that little edge that you need."

• Adrenaline can be his friend. "I have that extra little bit of adrenaline of, 'Uh oh, here we go' type of thing," he said, sounding like a California dude. "You might not necessarily feel ready, but you are ready."

• The spontaneity of relief nudges the analytical Prior out of his head, in a good way. "You can really map everything out to the minute as a starter," he said. "As a reliever, you're all over the map, and there is no map. It's fun, though. It keeps you on your toes."

Three relief outings, even against ham-and-eggers, have affirmed the decision to try middle relief.

"I don't think I'm going to come back as a starter right now," he said. "Right now my best goal and my best chance is to come back as a reliever. I think my body will handle that better than trying to go out there and throw 110 pitches or 120 pitches every fifth day. Once I can show everybody that I'm healthy as a reliever, maybe get a full season under my belt as a reliever, maybe I'll go back to that road (as a starter) and see what's up."

While Prior pitched in the twilight on Saturday against a rag-tag team from Tijuana, fewer than 10 miles away at Angel Stadium the Los Angeles Angels were playing the Toronto Blue Jays. The ballpark where Prior pitched was mostly empty. Among the some 200 spectators were two men who wore Cubs jerseys. One had Prior's name on the back. The best part of the game came when another former big leaguer, Cha-Seung Baek, struck out the designated "beer batter," thus allowing fans to buy beer at half price for one inning. Baek's fastball was clocked at 83 mph. "I'm feeling pretty good," said Baek, who chose rehab, rather than the surgeon's scalpel, after arm ailments slowed his fastball.

Baek said Prior has improved with each outing. "It's good to see him here," he added.

A few minutes after his final pitch, Prior signed autographs for fans near the Flyers' dugout. Later, he signed for several others while walking down the right field line.

When asked why he's still pitching, he answered without pause.

"Because I want to play," he said. "I'm still 29."