WAILUKU - The Jose Canseco show left town just two weeks ago, but it seems like an eternity.
Na Koa Ikaika Maui beat Canseco's Yuma Scorpions six of eight times in mid-July to finish an 11-6 homestand at 24-25, and they won two of their first three on an 11-game road trip to reach .500 for the first time since they were 9-9.
Since then, Maui has fallen into an eight-game slide, including a five-game sweep by Yuma, and are now 11 1/2 games out of first place in the North American Baseball League's North Division, 9 1/2 games out of a playoff spot.
The magic that was palpable with the Cansecos in town - Jose is the Yuma player-manager and twin brother Ozzie is an injured player-coach - is gone.
With 13 home games left, Maui will try to regain what Canseco brought to Maehara Stadium. Today, Na Koa (26-34) start a nine-game set against Edmonton (36-25), currently sitting in the North Division's final playoff position.
After averaging 400 fans per game for the first 25 home dates, Na Koa averaged 790 for the six Canseco nights, a trend that is league-wide in the NAL.
|Rio Grande Valley||37||26||.587||2|
Rio Grande Valley 5, San Angelo 2
McAllen 11, Edinburg 3
Today's Games (HST)
San Angelo at Rio Grande Valley, 1:05 p.m.
Calgary at Lake County, 2 p.m.
Edinburg at McAllen, 2:05 p.m.
San Angelo at Rio Grande Valley, 3:35 p.m.
Chico at Yuma, 4:05 p.m.
Edmonton at Maui, 6:35 p.m.
Five of Maui's six largest crowds came in the Canseco series.
"Absolutely, I think part of my job description is developing the league, having the league gain acceptance," Canseco said on July 18, his last day on Maui. "Basically I am, like, an ambassador of the North American Baseball League."
With a 19-16 home record, but a 7-18 road mark, this final homestand must be stellar to keep Na Koa's postseason hopes alive. Maui finishes with 23 games on the road, starting in Illinois, then to Chico, Calif., then to Texas.
Canseco, 47, is in his fourth independent league and is enjoying the ride and position as top draw in this far-flung circuit that reaches from Zion, Ill., to Alberta, to Texas, and, of course, to Maui.
His first goal is learning how to be a manager in his first stint in that capacity following a 17-year major league playing career that ended in 2001 with 462 home runs.
"Obviously, it is a big old learning process, I'm learning everything right now," Canseco said. "I'm learning how to manage and play at the same time. I think just trying to do both jobs is kind of difficult. So, I'm learning really from the ground up how to manage a team. It is pretty interesting, it is difficult, not that easy."
Canseco is currently hitting .243 with five homers and 30 RBIs in 40 games and is 1-2 on the mound with a 7.48 ERA in eight appearances. He was 5-for-24 with one homer and two doubles on Maui, along with a complete-game, seven-inning loss on the mound in a doubleheader game in which he gave up five earned runs and seven hits.
He has former major leaguers Tony Phillips and Joey Gathright currently on the Scorpions roster, and Willy Aybar played 13 games for the team while finishing a drug suspension from Major League Baseball.
"I think the most emotional parts are - you know we had a big squad in spring training - cutting players," he said. "I think having to make trade decisions, that is very emotional, very difficult to do, especially when you get attached to the players as a player."
In one game on Maui, he visited the mound seven times and made four pitching changes. Several of the pitching changes Canseco made on Maui were met with audible vulgarity and/or smashing of an old trash can by the removed pitcher in the Yuma dugout. Ozzie Canseco tired to talk his twin out of returning to the mound before each of the final two innings in his complete game on July 18.
"A lot of times as a manager, you may have to make certain decisions that may not be very popular with the players," Canseco said. "So you have to differentiate between the two. It is a tough gig."
Canseco said, "It helps a lot" to have his twin brother to consult with.
"If I was here by myself as a player-manager, it would be too difficult for me," he said.
Ozzie Canseco said he is happy to help his brother out.
"He is here for a reason, he obviously still loves the game very much," Ozzie Canseco said. "That is why he is here as a manager and a player. I honestly feel this will be his last year playing because of his age and because of his health. In terms of a manager, I definitely see a future for him after this year."
Jose Canseco does know he wants to stay in the game.
"I am trying to stay in the lineup and show the guys that I am with them," he said. "Whatever I can do. Hopefully my presence gets the hitters around me a lot better pitches to see."
He does not miss a chance to stay in the limelight. Last week, he asked his 400,000 Twitter followers if Gary Bussey, Scott Baio or Christopher Atkins should coach first base in a game against Maui. He also has plans for his own reality show.
On Maui, his Tweets were calm. The highlight was on his way out of town when he wrote, "Maui fans were great it is a great baseball town and wish we had more trips their .Thanks maui I still can't believe all the A's fans there"
Canseco knows he will not duplicate what Cory Snyder - Maui's manager last season in the Golden Baseball League and a former major leaguer himself - did when he rode a division title to affiliated baseball as the Double-A hitting coach for the Seattle Mariners.
"Absolutely zero, no chance," Canseco said. "And I have accepted that."
He knows his past - the tell-all book "Juiced" he wrote about steroid use in Major League Baseball and his own admitted use of the substance - is the major reason why he will never be back in the affiliated game. He now regrets writing the book.
"There are three things you don't mess with in life," he said. "You don't mess with politics, you don't mess with religion and you don't mess with Major League Baseball."
He said independent baseball is just fine with him.
"I don't really see it as higher leagues, I see it as baseball," he said. "Wherever you go, whatever they name it, I'm sure you could make an all-star team here and face an affiliated Triple-A team and beat them. It is just a name."
An old friend, Lon Simmons, a Hall of Fame broadcaster who now lives on Maui, stopped by to say hello to Canseco during the Valley Isle series.
"The voice of the A's," Canseco said. "I remember his voice, his stature, his being a great big guy, a nice guy. He was always a friend of mine."
Simmons recalls one of the best players in the game when Canseco arrived in Oakland in 1985. Simmons broadcast all of Canseco's games in Oakland through 1992.
"Before he came in we had heard all the stories about how he hit, how he hit with power, that he could do all these things," Simmons said. "He was heading for superstardom before he ever got the the major leagues. When he got to the major leagues we found out they weren't lying about any of it."
As Simmons watched Canseco's major league career develop, he cringed.
"I thought for a couple of years he was the best player in baseball," Simmons said. "I thought after watching him play for the first couple of years that he was going to break every record that could be broken because he was that good. He was not only good, he was hitting with power, he was hitting with situations, he was the fastest guy on the team, he would steal bases, he would take extra bases, he was an outstanding outfielder, he could catch the ball and he had a throwing arm like you can't believe."
Simmons can only shake his head at what might have been.
"It was the biggest disappointment I think I have ever had in baseball that he didn't reach all of those goals," Simmons said. "I think maybe it was just too tough for him, that he was so good, that he had so many things pulling at him and that he supposed to do all these things. Sometimes you just can't do it when you have got all this pressure on you."
Added Simmons, "He still looks like he could be that good."
Simmons believes Canseco's big league career started to decline when he hurt his arm pitching in a blowout game for Texas.
"I think he thinks that he has left something behind and he has," Simmons said. "He could be a hitting instructor by just showing them part of what he could do. Some of the things he has done are strange, but people have to realize that he really is a pretty smart guy and he has a lot more going mentally. He has that information in him that he could teach to the young players."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org