The eerie connections of Jose Fernandez, Yordano Ventura to Hickory, Dyersville

Coming off a 12-6 season with a 2.19 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, as well as Rookie of the Year honors in 2013, Jose Fernandez was a hot candidate to be the No. 1 pick in the I-75 League’s 2014 draft. Mike Wilson wanted Jose Fernandez to anchor his rebuilding Hickory franchise’s pitching staff, but he feared Fernandez wouldn’t last until his fourth overall pick.

Destin had that top pick, and Wilson dangled third baseman Evan Longoria, as well as picks No. 4 and 204, and Destin manager Mark Gergel agreed to surrender the overall No. 1 pick, plus No. 40 and No. 152.

RIP, Jose Fernandez and Yordano Ventura

RIP, Jose Fernandez and Yordano Ventura

But Wilson wasn’t done with scooping up young fireballers; with the 54th pick overall that year, he also drafted Yordano Ventura, who in only 15 innings in 2013 had dropped jaws with a fastball with wicked movement that was hitting 100 mph.

Hernandez’s injury struggles, as well as some unexpectedly poor performances from other expected rebuilding blocks like Wil Myers (taken No. 3 overall by Hickory in 2014), outfielder Marcell Ozuna (taken No. 40 overall by Hickory in 2014) and outfielder Gregory Polanco (No. 3 overall in 2015) stalled Hickory’s rebuilding effort, and Wilson bowed out of the league following the 2015 season.

With two other clubs dropping out of the league and three new clubs joining for 2016, both Fernandez and Ventura were exposed in the dispersal draft, and Dyersville manager Ryan Renbarger, after considering his options, decided on a long-term strategy, opting for youth in his selections and counting on a down-the-road payoff. After selecting A.J. Pollock and Troy Tulowitzki with his first two picks, Renbarger followed that up with two young arms that he hoped would be the rotation foundation for the next decade: Fernandez with his third pick, Ventura with his fourth.

Fernandez, as you no doubt are aware, was killed in a boating accident in Miami Sept. 25 at age 24. And on Sunday, Ventura, just 25, was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic.

While the loss of a player to a Strat team can’t compare to the emotions the Marlins felt over Fernandez or the Kansas City Royals over Ventura, Strat managers still build up a connection to their stars, rooting for them in real life so they’ll do well on their Strat teams.

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1992 Convention: The Uncut Video

Our longtime managers are quite familiar with one of the most remarkable moments in I-75 League history, that being the no-hitter that Nolan Ryan pitched for the Tropical Heat against the Ansbach Angels at the 1992 convention — a moment caught on tape and preserved for the ages.

We uploaded that video to YouTube in 2010, tagged it “Strat-O-Matic” among other things, and to date it has amassed more than 3,000 views.

Today we present the uncut, unedited, 24-minute version of the video from that convention, which marked the start of our 13th season. We were blessed to have a full turnout of all nine managers that year.

The video shows, among other things:

* Softball action, and batting practice with a young David Hart. His dad captures a popup of David’s with a nifty behind-the-back catch at the 3-minute mark.

* Off-the-wall predictions from each of our nine managers.

* Early-season Strat action, including that no-hitter tilt between managers Jamie Turner and Steve Hart. (Note that it’s after 1:30 in the morning and Steve Hart is still awake.)

* A Steve Bizek headstand.

* And lots of other condo scenes.

Enjoy.

Gold Glove winners spread evenly around league

The Bismarck Bombers will be able to boast a pair of Gold Glovers in their 2013 outfield in Andrew McCutchen and Jason Heyward, but they were just one of several I-75 League teams to land a pair of 2012 Gold Glovers from their end-of-season rosters.

English gets a middle infielder (J.J. Hardy) and a catcher (Yadier Molina), while Margaritaville gets a catcher (Matt Wieters) and an outfielder (Carlos Gonzalez).

Hickory landed a pitcher (Jeremy Hellickson) and a third baseman (Chase Headley, really?), while Wisconsin had a pitcher (Mark Buehrle) and a middle infielder (Robinson Cano).

South Grand Prairie nabbed second baseman Darwin Barney and outfielder Josh Reddick, both first-time winners.

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A jackpot awaits this season’s top playoff outsider

If the I-75 League season ended today, the happiest team in the league would be… the Superior Titans.

That’s because they’d be the best team not to make the playoffs, thus earning them the first choice in the 2013 draft, and making them the presumptive owner of baseball’s most exciting prospect, Bryce Harper.

Harper has a grand total of four major league games and 13 at-bats under his belt. I’ve seen every one of them, as well as all of his plays in the outfield. Here’s why Washington and the rest of the baseball world is abuzz about the 19-year-old phenom:

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Sneak preview of range ratings begins Monday

If you’ve never bothered creating a Twitter account, based on the logic, “What would I use that for?” — well, Strat is now giving you a reason.

The fielding range ratings will be released in full in mid-December as they usually are, but starting Monday, they’re also going to release a couple of tidbits every few hours on Twitter until the ratings for two players from every team have been revealed, which should take until Wednesday or Thursday.

If you’re on Twitter, you’ll need to follow @StratOMatic.

If you’re not on Twitter, you’ll need to go to twitter.com and create an account, and then follow @StratOMatic.

It’s a genius marketing move by Strat, if you ask me.

Meet the new managers: John Renbarger

John Renbarger, manager of the expansion Iowa Swirling Cyclones, was born one month after the I-75 League celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Still a student at Iowa State, where he is majoring in chemical engineering, John displaces Dan Wilson as the youngest manager in the league, but in so doing becomes the second second-generation manager in the league.

The fanatacism that his father, Mike, showed in Strat began to rub off on John in his teen-age years, and so while John is a managerial newbie, the terminology and gameplay are things he has lived with all of his life.

Read John’s complete managerial profile here.

Meet the new managers: Ken Crawford

Ken Crawford has dubbed his team the Michigan Moneyballers, but does he subscribe to the Moneyball principles?

That remains to be seen, but the Ohio native did earn a living as a financial consultant before semi-retiring in 2011 to spend more time learning how to play Strat.  You will recall that he shared managerial duties with John Renbarger at the helm of the orphaned Detroit Demolition Dogs.

A childhood pal of Dave Renbarger’s from their time together at both North Farmington High School and the University of Michigan, Ken has been subjected to second-hand Strat via that relationship for more than 30 years. An avid follower of the Detroit Tigers and major league baseball, Ken hopes the enjoyment of that crosses over into Strat-O-Matic. He even vows to replace his Commodore 64 with a real computer in time for next season and to have Netplay and Hamachi humming on all cylinders by March.

Read Ken’s complete profile here.