EVERETT, Wash. -- The home of the short-season AquaSox is a port city. This raises the question: Is there something in the water?
After all, there has to be some reason why the AquaSox seem to be one of the more eccentric groups of players in all of Minor League Baseball. Maybe it's the idiosyncratic ballpark environment -- Everett Memorial Stadium is owned by the local school district, and the highly elevated AquaSox clubhouse is attached to the district's adjacent football facility. The clubhouse is accessible only via an imposing set of stairs, giving the home team a lofty sense of remove that, perhaps, could help cultivate new and different professional baseball perspectives.
Or maybe the day-in, day-out wearing of what is perhaps the strangest logo in all of Minor League Baseball has an effect on the brain. The frog emblazoned on the team's primary logo is depicted licking a baseball, his bulging red eyes as bugged out as his brain circuitry.
Interesting theories, but when you get right down to it, the cause is immaterial. Strangeness is as strangeness does, and the AquaSox are one strange group of amphibians. I learned this over the course of a frenzied half-hour last week, when I ascended the stairs of their isolated clubhouse kingdom to speak with some of them.
First, there was Taylor Ard, a clean-cut outfielder who, in another life, was a long-haired, lip-synching college superstar. He was followed by Minors Moniker Madness contestant Jamodrick McGruder, who, in addition to indulging countless "McGruber" references, holds the paradoxical distinction of being both the fastest and slowest individual on the team (to sum up: He's lightning-quick on the basepaths but assumes a glacial pace when doing just about anything else).
And then there was Dylan Unsworth, a South African pitcher with flowing blond locks, forceful fashion opinions and what might be the most impressive set of forearm tattoos in Minor League Baseball (if MiLB.com ever holds a bracket-style tattoo tournament in the vein of Moniker Madness, Unsworth would be a No. 1 seed).
But the most, shall we say, "unique" denizens to emerge from the clubhouse were those representing the AquaSox's bullpen crew. Members of the unit calls themselves "The Nasty Boys," making them spiritual descendents of the Reds' famed early-90s relief assemblage, and right-handers Blake "Flaco" Hauser and Dominic "The Godfather" Leone took the time to explain their unique origin story.
In the manner of those who feel a deep psychic bond with one another, Hauser and Leone told the tale in tag-team tandem.
Leone: It was an alien invasion kind of spacecraft landing ...
Hauser: And we were all on it. We kind of scattered and used our arms to, you know ...
Hauser: Throwing rocks at wild animals and eventually, we found our way back to the crash site, which, I believe, was over there (points over his right shoulder, in a direction opposite the ballpark).
Leone: Yep, over there (points in same direction).
Neither Hauser nor Leone pitched on the night I was in attendance, although Nasty Boy members Matt "Sliders" Vedo and Grady "The Sideslinger" Wood each tossed a scoreless frame. This was par for the course in Everett, where the efficient work of this group of UFO survivors has been a prime factor behind the team's overall success. At 44-27, the AquaSox boast the Northwest League's best record.
The question now is this: Having been through so much already, can the Nasty Boys remain a cohesive unit as they make their way through the Mariners' Minor League system? Leone is hopeful but aware that there are limits to their bullpen powers.
"It'd be nice if we had enough leverage to do that, to where if one guys gets moved up then everybody gets moved up," he said.