The season that was

Monday, September 1, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:53 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Most people can’t change jobs on a whim.

Frontier League players do it all the time.

Catcher Andre Gomez didn’t think he was on his way out of town when he headed to Taylor Stadium on July 21.

During that night’s loss to the Cook County Cheetahs, Gomez got into a dispute with manager Papo Davila about his playing time. The argument led to a yelling match in the clubhouse after the game. The next day, a Tuesday, the Mavericks released Gomez.

That Wednesday, the final game of the three-game series with the Mavs, the Cheetahs announced they had signed Gomez.

He relaxed in the stands and watched his new team complete the sweep of his old team. Gomez laughed and joked with ushers and the public address announcer. Then, when the game ended, he grabbed his things and climbed onto the Cheetahs’ team bus.

“I could have packed my bags and gone home,” Gomez said. “Instead, I got a chance to keep my career going.”

A month later, Gomez was back at Taylor Stadium.

“I’m definitely a Cheetah now, but I’m still a Maverick at heart,” Gomez said. The Mavs needed a replacement for Gomez. They found it in an Iowa furniture store.

Darrell Sinclair had taken the furniture job but had not yet started when he got the call from Columbia. The Mavericks knew Sinclair; they had cut him during spring training.

“This is my longest stint in the league so far, so I’m pretty excited,” Sinclair said after his third game as a Maverick.

On the edge

Justin Hendrickson was the best mid-Missouri Maverick you never heard of.

Hendrickson, or Hindu as his teammates call him, is a first baseman from Seattle who was part of the team last year when it was the Canton Coyotes. That season, he hit .292 and led the team with eight home runs and 46 RBIs. Coming into camp in May, he carried the confidence that any hard-hitting veteran might have.

“Want to see how to hit ’em?” he said.

He strolled into the batting cage on the first day of spring training.

Crack. The ball sprung off his bat, putting his power on full display.

His style was as unmistakable as his swing. To quote former Missourian sports writer Cory Matteson, he wore his socks “Jim Thome high” and his sideburns “Brady Anderson low.”

Hindu approached the game with a sense of humor. During the team’s final exhibition game against River City on May 21, Hindu hit a deep fly ball that was caught at the warning track. He threw his helmet into the dugout and kicked a trash can. As his teammates looked over, he grinned back.

“Nah, I’m just screwing with you guys,” Hendrickson said. “I just wanted to see how you all would react.”

That smile was gone the next morning when he stood outside the Mavericks’ locker room in street clothes as the team took the field for practice. He had been released that morning.

Then-manager Tony Torchia said it had been a hard decision. Hindu was a victim of the numbers game.

“I hate to see him go,” Torchia said at the time. “He’s a better hitter than five or six guys out there. But we can only have three two-year guys by league rule.”

Nine players were cut from the Mavericks’ roster during their two-week spring training.

That’s how things go in the Frontier League. The idea at the heart of the league is to give young players a chance to play professional ball at a higher level.

It is forever heralding the accomplishments of its former stars such as Anaheim reliever Brendan Donnelly and Cardinals starter Jason Simontacchi.

But for every player who moves up from the Frontier League, there are three or four players who see their big league dreams die at the lowest level of professional baseball.

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