It may feel like the Minor League season has just reached the midway point. Seventeen leagues worth of playoff races are still way too early to call. The trading deadline has not even arrived yet.
But it is never too early to start getting excited about the pending arrival of the Arizona Fall League.
The AFL, known as a "finishing school" for the elite prospects in the Minors, starts its 16th season on Oct. 9, playing a six-day-a-week schedule at five stadiums in the greater Phoenix Area that culminates in a league championship game on Nov. 17.
And the league's pre-season officially kicked off with the announcement of the six teams' field staffs for 2007, a list dotted with many familiar names.
To the fans in Phoenix, who comprise the majority of the lucky folks who get to come out to see the AFL on a regular basis, the most familiar name will certainly be that of Chip Hale, the Diamondbacks' third-base coach, who will be managing the Scottsdale Scorpions.
Hale is also a familiar name to anyone outside of Arizona who follows the Minor Leagues on a more than casual basis. The consensus Minor League Manager of the Year in 2006, he led the Triple-A Tucson Sidewinders to the Pacific Coast League championship and one of the best records in the Minors at 91-53.
Despite being born in northern California, these days Hale is Arizona through and through, as he lives in Tucson with his family during the off-season and attended the University of Arizona there.
Originally a 17th-round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins in 1987, he made his Major League debut two years later and was a member of the Twins' World Series championship squad in 1991. That was the same year he became indirectly immortal in the Minors, as the Triple-A Portland Beavers batter who hit the fly ball that sent outfielder Rodney McCray through the outfield wall on his running catch.
Although this will be Hale's first opportunity to be a member of the AFL field staff, it is not his first time through the league.
"I played there in the league's first year," he recalled. "Grady Little was my manager and Terry Francona was my hitting coach. So I know how good a place it is to be seen and to get to manage a bunch of good players. I have really good memories of the league."
Hale has been hoping to get one of the managerial slots in the AFL for several years, so he was thrilled to get the news that he'd received the Scottsdale slot. He is especially looking forward to working with field staff members from other organizations, among them his hitting coach Tim Teufel of the New York Mets and pitching coach Mike Caldwell of the San Francisco Giants, both Major League veterans who are now pursuing their coaching careers in the Minors.
"I just think this is a great opportunity to work with different people from different organizations and get their viewpoints on things, because in baseball there are no absolutes," Hale said. "Everyone has their own theories on different situations. Even players who are coming up now are extremely smart about how the game is played."
Hale added that he's hoping that at least one of the other two organizations that are contributing players and trainers to his team, Tampa Bay and Toronto, might send additional coaches to spend time with his club, as some teams do.
Although his home in Tucson is a little too far for him to live there and commute to Scottsdale on a daily basis, this job will have the added attraction of allowing his family to drive up and spend the weekends with him.
Among the other familiar names who will be managing the teams in the AFL in 2007:
Dave Clark, Houston Astros: Mesa Solar Sox
This marks his fifth year in a row as a Minor League manager, and the second consecutive off-season that he's continued honing his skills, after working in the Hawaiian Winter League last year. He has taken his team to its respective league title series three of the last four years.
Clark was a Major League outfielder for 13 seasons with Cleveland, the Chicago Cubs, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston, with whom he finished his playing career in 1998. He became a coach two years later, including two years in the bigs with Pittsburgh as hitting coach in 2001 and 2002.
Rafael Santana, Chicago White Sox: Phoenix Desert Dogs
Best known as the shortstop for the World Series champion New York Mets in 1986, and an active member of the Mets Alumni Association, Santana also played for the Cardinals, Indians and Yankees, one of just a handful of players who have worn the Major League uniforms of both the Mets and Yankees, having been dealt from the Mets to the Yankees in 1988.
He is in his second year as a Minor League manager, after serving as both Minor League and Major League coach in the Royals, Red Sox and now White Sox systems. He has also served as the White Sox' Minor League infield instructor.
Tony Franklin, New York Yankees: Peoria Javelinas
In nearly 40 years in the game of baseball, this marks Franklin's first season as a member of the Yankees organization and he caps it with the honor of being sent to the AFL as its lone field staff member.
John Russell, Philadelphia Phillies: Peoria Saguaros
Russell was the 2006 International League Manager of the Year when he took the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons to an 84-58 record and the playoffs. As a player, the versatile (catcher, first baseman, outfielder) Russell spent much of his career with the Phillies as well as playing for the Braves and Rangers as well. He moved to the dugout after completing his playing career.
Damon Berryhill, Texas Rangers: Surprise Rafters
Instead, he completed his second year in that capacity for the Rangers, a job he also held with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization in 2003. He caught in the big leagues for 10 years, with the Cubs and the Braves.
Lisa Winston is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.