I wrote a story for Saturday's paper that dealt with reminding Aeros fans the real purpose of minor league games. While everyone loves to win, the Number One priority in the minor leagues is development. Let me say it again: Development of a player will always superceed winning.
As much as fans needed the reminder (Bogar has been hounded by fans for not pulling struggling pitchers quicker), I probably wrote the story a day too early. That's because Sunday's Aeros win over visiting Erie proved yet another lesson in player development when Akron ace Chuck Lofgren was taken out of the game with a no-hitter through seven innings.
Instantly my cell phone rang, and I knew exactly who it was. For anyone who knows me and what a baseball fan I am, let me just say that Toby Rosen is my baseball twin. No sooner had Jake Dittler come on in relief than she was on the other end in exasperation. "What are they doing?'' my good friend Toby asked from her seat down in the stands, scorebook in her lap. "Lofgren's only thrown 84 pitches! He's throwing a no-hitter! What is going on?''
First, let me giver her credit. i didn't even know Lofgren had thrown just 84 pitches. I don't always keep count when I'm working on a couple stories at one time, and I figured he was closer to the 95 mark or so.
Toby didn't want to hear about pitch counts and young arms needing to be protected. She wanted to witness Lofgren get the no-hitter. And the effortless way in which he was pitching, I honestly feel he could have done it.
Aeros manager Tim Bogar joked in office after the game that when he told Lofgren his day was done, he first said. "If you're going to punch me, do it now. But that's it for today.'' He admitted Lofgren was upset at first, but quickly understood it was happening for his best interests.
A little later, Aeros pitching coach Greg Hibbard (who is incidentaly the best pitching coach I've ever worked with in my 10 years in the minors) explained that Lofgren had thrown 107 pitches in his previous outing in Binghamton. And there was no way the organization was going to allow him to do it in back-to-back outings this early in the season.
Bogar admitted he could have sent Lofgren out for a few more batters, but what was the use of pushing the pitch count if he didn't have enough pitches left to go the full nine innings anyway? As a fan of the game, I didn't like the answer, either. But deep down I knew Bogar and Hibbard were right.
Understand, these are not decisions that are made lightly. It kills coaches like Bogar and Hibbard to pull a guy working on a no hitter. They both played in the Major Leagues, they know how specail such a feat it is. But their jobs aren't to help a pitcher throw a no-hitter in the minor leagues. Instead, their jobs are to get Lofgren prepared to be able to it at the Major League level some day.
Sooner or later, we all have to understand that.