Young: Three days in the desert at SABR AFL Conference

From SABR member Geoff Young at Baseball Prospectus on November 6, 2012:

I try to visit the Arizona Fall League at least once every year. I don’t always succeed, but it’s a treat when I do. On my first trip to the desert, in 2001, I saw such future big-leaguers as Hank Blalock and Michael Cuddyer. In the 2004 championship game, it was Ryan Howard and Huston Street (who went on to be named NL and AL Rookie of the Year in 2005). The next November I convinced myself that Lastings Milledge would be a star. My last visit, in 2010, featured Jason Kipnis.

There were many other players that I didn’t see or don’t remember seeing. The point is that, much like spring training, the AFL provides an opportunity to watch players that most baseball fans haven’t heard of yet but likely will in a few years (or sooner). For some people, this is cool in itself, in an “I saw them before they signed with Geffen” kind of way. For others, it’s fun to watch a Cuddyer or a Howard on a larger stage now and be transported back in time, to memories accumulated in a given autumn.

This year, I attended the fourth annual SABR AFL Conference, which took place November 1-3 in Scottsdale, Arizona. The conference included four games in four ballparks featuring all six teams (culminating in Saturday night’s Rising Stars Game, which showcased the crème de la crème), dinner at local institution Don and Charlie’s, a ballpark cookout with former big-league third baseman and current Salt River Rafters manager Matt Williams, and a meeting of the Flame Delhi Chapter of SABR.

Oh, and the most important thing: Great people. Folks who love baseball and who know a lot about the game and are willing to share what they know. Rodney Johnson coordinated the event like an expert, making sure everything ran smoothly and going out of his way to make attendees feel at home. It drew locals, as well as fans from all over the country and beyond (one gentleman came down from Edmonton, Canada). At the end of three days surrounded by like-minded baseball fanatics, my only thought was: I don’t want to go home.

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Originally published: November 6, 2012. Last Updated: November 6, 2012.