Author Archive

TAKING MY FINAL AT-BAT …

After four years at MLB.com, I’m hanging up my jersey and tipping my cybercap for the last time here on GotMilb, as I move on to greener fields … but wanted to bid a fond farewell to the few, the proud, the faithful readers I had and to thank you (all four of you) for the comments, compliments and questions along the way!

I’ve spent the last 25 years solely as a journalist, and now will be moving over to the “baseball” side of things, as Special Assistant for New Media and Player Development for Opening Day Partners, a company which designs, owns and operates Minor League ballparks and teams. I know if you check out some of the clubs I’ll be working with there will be a lot of familiar names!

I am incredibly excited about this latest chapter of my baseball life and hope you will follow along with me (first blog entry there forthcoming shortly).

Thanks to everyone who has made my time here enjoyable and memorable.

Please keep in touch!!! I am still on Twitter at LisaWinstonBB!!!

MY HOLY GRAILS: 2010 EDITION

 Everyone has a holy grail or two. The item — or items — that elude them, tantalize them, tease them. Maybe it’s something huge like a valuable antique baseball card, or an original seat from Yankee Stadium.

  Maybe it’s something innocuous but elusive, something from their childhood.

  But whatever it is, you’re always on the lookout for it, scanning eBay, keeping a peripheral eye on the shelves at your local supermarket or grocery store, finding yourself pulled into those “antique markets/4,678 dealers under one roof!” places you may drive by one day while on the road.

  My “holy grail” list is reasonably small and eclectic (hey, just like me!).

  But the latest addition to it is this:

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  That’s right. I want an Operation Panda T-shirt (no, not the whole group of guys, just the shirt). I want to wear it in my home office (a fancy name for the crappy Staples desk and Dell laptop where I spend the bulk of my time) and remember how everyone in my 2009 online fantasy league laughed (sure it was online but I HEARD THEM LAUGH) when I chose Pablo Sandoval with my second overall pick in the draft.

Little Futures Me and Pablo in Dugout 2.jpg
  I am not jumping on the Pablo Sandoval bandwagon, by the way. I’ve been following the big huggy bear’s career since he was a 19-year-old infielder who appeared in the first Minor League All-Stars Futures Game I ever covered, in Pittsburgh in 2006. (Though this picture was from his 2008 Futures appearance in NYC). I kept following as he moved back behind the plate to his favorite position, catcher, and helped lead one of the best Minor League rotations to great heights in the California League in 2008, catching up with him briefly during the Carolina-California League All-Star Game in Myrtle Beach (below, with his San Jose pitcher Jesse English) before his ascent to the big leagues that September.
Little Pablo Sandoval chats with teammate Jesse English before Caro Cali ASG.jpg
  I admired his bubbly sense of humor and his pride in his brand new metal-mouth full of braces that he flashed in January 2009 at last year’s Rookie Career Development Program. And when I heard he’d gotten a bad-bounce groundball in the mouth the following spring, the first thing I thought was “Oh no, his braces!!!!!!”

  But the Panda T-shirt is not the only item on my holy grail list (though it is the only one that is baseball-related).

  Last night I managed to hit the payload while heading home from dinner with relatives in New Jersey, as we swung into the parking lot of a Shop Rite on Route 1 and cleaned them out of all of the Snapple Mint Iced Tea:

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  Other items I am always looking for:

  The original Clairol Herbal Essence shampoo. I don’t mean any of that new “Herbal EssenceS” crap that comes in every color and nasty fruity scent. We’re talking the real green here, the oddly shaped bottle with the emerald gold that smelled like spring. I saw it on eBay for like $40. $40 for a bottle of 10-year-old shampoo???
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  Also on the lookout for Coconut Yoo Hoo. The only place I ever saw it was at a gas station convenience store in Clearwater, Florida, right at the end of the Courtney Campbell Causeway. My sister and I would stop there for six-packs of Coconut Yoo Hoo and bingo lottery tickets. Rumor has it that the product was bought out by this other company that calls it Koko Blanco but I can’t find that anywhere either.

  One item that was long on my list but now is apparently available on eBay for a reasonably affordable price ($65 per bottle … hey, once upon a time you could only find it for $500 a pop) is my “signature scent” perfume, Andiamo by Borghese. To this day I will run into people I knew when I was in my 20s or even teens who will hug me and say “you still smell like you.” I’m down to my last four bottles of the precious and may eventually have to go back to eBay to stock up my stash but I hold out hope that at some point in the meantime, the folks at Borghese will bring it back, even for a limited time, so I can not only buy the bottles but also the bubble bath and body lotions that use to be part of the gift set!

Andiamo.jpg
So what are YOUR Holy Grail items? Share them here, you never know who may have one just lying around that they might want to share!!! (And if anyone happens to have a bottle of Herbal Essence at the back of their closer, you know where to find me!!!)

GAMECHANGER: WHERE WERE YOU WHEN DANA PLAYED LITTLE LEAGUE?

  I am constantly reminded by my computer-savvy daughter, my music producer husband, my online editors and the poor folks at Comcast customer service who have to listen to me implode about how “the thing” isn’t working, what an utter technological moron I am.

  But every so often even I will come across an “app” that I recognize as so brilliant and simple that I wonder how it wasn’t thought of earlier.

  Parents, scouts, amateur coaches from all across the globe, meet your new best friend: GameChanger, the brainchild of Ted Sullivan.

  In a nutshell, GameChanger, a new free iPhone application, does for amateur baseball from Little League to colleges what MLB’s GameDay does for pro ball.

  It brings you, in real time, every pitch, every play, every run of a game. And you don’t have to be computer-savvy to use it, either!
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  This week, Sullivan and his business partner Kiril Savino will be in Dallas, Texas, for the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) convention’s trade show, introducing amateur baseball coaches from all over the country to GameChanger in what will be it’s official launch.

  I have a strong suspicion this will be the start of something very big.

  GameChanger is a free application for users that allows them to input “real time” scoring of any baseball/softball game into his or her iPhone. Each play is then beamed immediately to the GameChanger website with the box score constantly updated and real-time play available.

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  While an iPhone is required by whoever is doing the input (and these days, really, who other than me doesn’t have one?), it’s not required to follow along. Fans can keep track on the web at the GameChanger site or the individual teams’ sites (if they have them) or just on their own cel phones.

  This is, needless to say, huge news for any mom or dad who has had to miss one of their kids’ baseball or softball games because of work commitments, meetings, illness, or any other number of conflicts that come up in everyday life.

  And for youth athletes’ relatives that don’t live close enough to come cheer them on.

  And for the booster clubs of schools and even colleges across the country who want to keep tabs on their Lions and Tigers and Bears (oh my!)

  In addition, local online news outlets, ranging from established dailies and weeklies to the ever-more-popular trend of websites devoted to local amateur sports for a given region, will also have the opportunity to add real-time widgets from GameChanger.

  This is particularly notable in this sad era where sports journalism is being downsized by economic woes, with one of the first casualties being the coverage of local sports.

  The idea for GameChanger came to Sullivan as he read a New York Times article about a company called WePlay, an online platform for youth-based sports teams (not limited to baseball).

  “It was sort of a Facebook tailored to families of kids playing youth sports,” Sullivan explained.

  The concept intrigued Sullivan, but he also had a vision of focusing more specifically on baseball and what was really needed for the thousands upon thousands of people across the country that were involved in all that sport’s amateur levels.

  “To have lots of data and interesting content on a team or player’s page, it takes a lot of effort to get it there,” he explained. “And to expect youth coaches to come home after every game and enter commentary is just expecting too much. So I started thinking that if we could capture the data in real time and deliver it instantaneously to a platform, it could be an interesting business venture.

  I’m not terribly surprised that something this innovative and baseball-fan-and-family-friendly would have been developed by Sullivan. I’ve known him and his older brother, Brendan, for more than a decade thanks to my own history covering Minor League Baseball and living in the Washington, D.C. area.

  The two, both former Minor League pitchers and D.C. natives, co-founded Headfirst Baseball as an off-season business where they gave private pitching and hitting lessons to local kids. In the intervening decade it has become the biggest youth sports program in the D.C. area and continues to grow. 

  While Stanford-grad and former San Diego Padres minor league closer Brendan is heading up Headfirst now, Ted, a Duke University product, forged out on his own in 2000 after his two years in the Cleveland Indians system, eventually getting his MBA in 2006 from Harvard Business School.

  Through Headfirst, Sullivan has done his share of coaching amateur baseball from Little League on up so he knows first-hand the challenges of finding the parent who will sit there and score any given game while also cheering on his/her kids (had to get the “her” in there since I’ve been in their folding chair).

  “I thought it wouldn’t be too long before somebody who was scoring a game with their scorebook and pencil would take out their iPhone to do something slick and sophisticated, and then say, ‘why am I using a paper and pencil to do this when I have an iPhone?’” Sullivan said. “So I thought if we could put this together and capture the time sensitivity of it, with zero marginal cost of capturing that data, there could be an enormous audience across the country that would want it.”

  The 18 months since Sullivan first got the glimmer of the GameChanger concept has been a busy period (and not just because he’s also getting married in two weeks). As luck would have it, though, he found two perfect partners for the venture in Savino, whom Sullivan calls “a ninja when it comes to software development,” and Calvin Kuo, who spent seven years in computer programming at MLB.com, who is handling the front-end web interface design for GameChanger.

  Sullivan’s background is more in marketing, so he admitted he was surprised to discover just how complicated the creation of the program would be.

  “I could do zero from a technical perspective,” he said. “I understood mobile apps, I had worked in business development and I understood what happened behind the scenes, but I couldn’t write one line of the code.”

  He has made sure, though, that would not be the case for the users of GameChanger.
 
  Knowing that different parents or fans might be drafted to score a team’s game on any given night, it was crucial that learning how to input the GameChanger data be as simple as possible.

  “If we had to hold people’s hands through teaching it, it would never succeed, because we need to grow virally and get it out there fast,” he said. “So what we spent most of our time on was figuring out how to make this incredibly simple and I think we’ve achieved it. We’ve been testing it for six months and I watch people who aren’t even iPhone users pick it up in two minutes.”

  Sullivan knows that the fan base he is targeting is devoted but scattered into small clusters. Little League teams might each have 20 parents (and a few tech-savvy grandparents) who want to follow along from home. High Schools
, a few hundred fans, friends and family members. Small colleges, such as Division III powerhouse Amherst College which has already expressed interest in working with GameChanger (and full disclosure is my own alma mater) a few thousand.

  So one of the challenges for GameChanger will be for it to spread via word-of-mouth (or computer keyboard).

  “We’ve gotten great reactions from the people using it but for something like this to spread, the product is going to have to market itself,” he said. “The person using the product, the scorer who doesn’t have to add up and enter all the stats after the game, the fan or parent who can consume the data at another sibling’s game or while stuck in the office, all of them have to be telling their friends about this for us to be successful.”

  Getting the word out to the grassroots of the game will be Sullivan and company’s quest in the coming months, especially as the winter begins to melt away and diamonds across the country start turning green again.

  Some folks have already stumbled across it prior to any official launch simply by browsing the iPhone “app store.” As of Jan. 1, over 300 people had already signed up for GameChanger.

  Of course, like any work in progress, the technology continues to be tweaked.

  “Software development is a constant cycle of build, test, refine, build, test, refine, which is never ending,” Sullivan said.

  The big rollout is planned for this spring, when baseball games start getting played not just in California and Texas and Florida but in all 50 states.

  Speaking for myself, I would have loved to have had access to GameChanger years ago when my daughter was playing Little League baseball. I was often the one chosen to keep score (I will say my hand-written scorebooks are masterpieces).

  But in her last year of organized ball, the only girl in the league that year, she played for a team led by “Coach Larry” (I don’t think he ever knew my name, referring to me simply as “Danasmom”).

  “Coach Larry,” unlike any other coach she had over the years who were pretty laidback and of the “let the kids have fun” school, was very vehement that the scorebook be a little more detailed than you would usually find in Little League. He insisted I count pitches thrown by every OPPOSING pitcher (hello, these were 9-10-year-olds) so that he’d know which pitchers’ arms were burnt out before he chose players for his summer All-Star travel team.

  “Coach Larry” would have loved GameChanger. But you, gentle readers, can have it now. Ain’t modern technology grand?

  You can find out more about GameChanger at http://www.gamechanger.io or via iPhone’s app store.

RINGING IN THE NEW!!!

Smyth.jpgWe all like to set goals for our selves and of course Jan. 1 tends to be the best time to do so. Sometimes we dump those resolutions by, oh, Jan. 5. Other times we actually exceed our greatest hopes … for example, I am willing to bet that Oakland Athletics relief prospect Paul Smyth (pictured above) had no idea on Jan. 1, 2009, that he’d not only sign with the As but would spend more than two months closing out games in the Minors without ever giving up a run in his pro debut!

So the main one I have made is to spend more time here at Got MiLB in 2010 … of course, it isn’t a great sign that it has taken me until January 3 rather than, say, 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1 to start fulfilling this one, but it’s a start …

And, hopefully, I will try to make things more interactive so that you as readers might take a few minutes to chime in with your thoughts and opinions!!!

Anyway, I am going to kick things off this morning by sharing a few words about the 2009 MiLBY Awards.

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Now honestly, I wasn’t even sure this was the official title for the awards. When we started giving them out a few years ago, it was simply the term we had lovingly and affectionately bestowed “in house” on the MiLB (Minor League Baseball) end-of-year award winners. And there are an impressive group of them, may I add …

Each year for the last few years we (and I won’t name names so that the voting cabal can remain SOMEWHAT anonymous) spend an inordinate amount of time (no joke) voting for the top hitter, starting pitcher, relief pitcher, team and single-game achievement at (deep breath) short-season , Class A (that would be Midwest/South Atlantic League), Advanced A (Cali, Carolina and Florida State Leagues), Double-A, Triple-A AND the overall winner.

Trust me, we don’t take this voting thing lightly. I bet we spend more time poring over the stats than most BBWAA folks do with the Hall of Fame ballots (for one thing, there are a lot more players to consider). Then we send in our picks, and usually a bulk of the winners can be chosen in that fashion with a sizeable if not unanimous chunk of the votes. But there are always a few where we need to hash it out, narrow down the names and revote, and occasionally even lobby for our picks.

Sometimes, the overall winner will also be a single-level winner. But often it’s someone who doesn’t qualify for one of the regular level awards because he’s moved up through his system … cases in point this year, both our Starting Pitcher of the Year, Chisox ace Daniel Hudson, and Reliever of the Year, San Francisco’s Dan Runzler (pictured below right), started their years at Class A and each pitched at FOUR LEVELS of the Minors and then had GREAT big league debuts as well!!!! That is unbelievably rare, and for two guys to do it? Wow).

Runzler.jpg
On the other hand, our Hitter of the Year, Oakland Athletics first baseman and slugging prospect Chris Carter (below, clearly watching one of his 28 homers fly out of the park), spent most of the season at Double-A Midland, so was not only our Double-A winner but also our Overall Hitter.

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We rolled out the stories over the course of the last week of the 2009 calendar year. And since this is often a time when people are spending time with their families, or watching College Football bowl games, or on vacations, it is possible you may have missed them … our biggie, the Hitters of the Year, ran on January 1.

So my first good deed of the 2010 year is to share the link to THE MILBY PAGE here for you so if you missed it you can go and check out the winners and read their individual stories.

And there are some good ones so please don’t just read the overall winners (though they are great too) … one of my favorite stories of the 2009 Draft was that of Kansas closer Smyth, who Oakland picked up with a 35th round pick on the final day of the event. Partly because he had a valid passport, he was shipped right to Vancouver where he became the team’s closer. Normally you won’t hear a whole lot about a senior sign in the 35th round, but when they manage to not give up a run ALL YEAR between a short-season club and a Class A team, a span of more than 35 innings, well, you’re going to hear about them. Those 0.00 ERAs don’t come around every day and neither do guys like Paul Smyth.  Remember the name …

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So I hope you have all been having a great winter break and are as ready as I am for the “hot stove” season to start cooling off with the approach of the real deal, pitchers and catchers reporting in just a matter of weeks!

Needless to say, we’ll try to keep you updated and interested on the prospect side of the coin, with the annual pre-season Top 50 Prospects package coming up soon, as well as the Top 100 Prospects to watch for fantasy baseball purposes on tap and, of course, our own 10 Players to Watch packages coming for all 30 organizations being prepared even as I write this.

Oh, and my other resolution? To learn some of the technical ins and outs of this blogging thing a little better. Until then, hope you don’t mind TWO pictures of Paul Smyth (and am I the only person who thinks he looks like a young Danny Graves???).

In the meantime, tonight or tomorrow I’ll be back to share with you a story about a project developed by an old baseball friend of mine that I think may revolutionize how people watch and follow amateur baseball … from Little League through the college ranks. Intrigued? Keep an eye on this space!

MISSING MR. BILL

  How often do you forge one of your life’s most important relationships with someone who got your name off the men’s room wall?

  I know that if you’re a baseball fan and happened to stumble onto this blog post, you’re going to probably stumble off just as quickly because I’m not analyzing the prospects that the Toronto Blue Jays might be getting in this looming blockbuster deal with Seattle and Philadelphia (though from the names I’m hearing, they are great ones).

  Or you’ll be bummed that I am not prognosticating which of the 150-plus free agents will be going where and what effect that will have on their team’s 2010 hopes, the state of baseball in general and global warming.

  Or you’ll be disappointed because I’m not logging on to provide the earlier-promised recap of the recent Winter Meetings in Indianapolis (an appallingly bad internet connection at our hotel kept me from being able to give you guys “real time” blog). And by this time, you’ve probably read all there is to read about THAT event, via umpteen blogs, twitters, Facebook entries and every other form of social media.

  Instead I’m here to write about Bill Koenig.
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  And I can pretty much guarantee that if Bill were still with us in body (I know he’s here in spirit), he would definitely NOT have a Twitter account or Facebook page.

  Today marks the 10th anniversary of the way-too-early passing of a great writer, a great mentor, a great friend and a great person. And while I know I may often be given to overstatement, I bring to you as confirmation this column written about him 10 years ago by another great writer-mentor-friend-person, Paul White, who is very definitely NOT given to overstatement.

  The original Minor League Editor at what was once Baseball Weekly and once the absolute go-to paper for all things baseball — and ONLY things baseball — Bill had moved down to DC from Rochester, where he was the long-time Red Wings beat writer, when BBW launched in 1991.

  I was, at the time, the beat writer at the Potomac News (it has a new name now) covering the Class A Prince William Cannons (then the Yankees, now the Potomac Nationals), in my third year covering the club. I’d moved down to the area from New York City, thinking that I’d parlay being a Minor League beat writer into one day covering the Yankees or Mets.

  It took approximately one season for me to fall so madly in love with the Minors that any aspirations of ever “moving up” to the big leagues evaporated into the muggy northern Virginia summer night’s air.  I’ve been lucky enough (well, so far, anyway) to somehow cobble out something of a living covering the Minor Leagues and only the Minor Leagues pretty much full-time since then.

  I would not have been so lucky had Bill Koenig not happened to enjoy attending Cannons games on a regular basis.

  The team would (I learned second-hand) print out my articles and post them over the urinals in the men’s room (they did not do this in the ladies’ room). So Bill got to know my byline and my writing quite well.

  It might seem obvious that we would meet at the park. However neither of us were really “press box” kinds of people. Both of us preferred to sit in the stands, in his case in the upper rows of the bleachers and in my case down behind home plate with the scouts and players’ wives and girlfriends (often with baby in tow if I couldn’t find a sitter).

  Who knows if our paths would have crossed at all had we not bumped into one another one evening while picking up press notes.

  I introduced myself and his response, as Paul White notes in his column, was “I know who you are, I read your articles on the men’s room walls.” We watched that night’s game together and he convinced me to send a resume and clips to Paul, then the editor-in-chief, in case there might be an opening. I was reluctant because I figured the paper, the first of its kind, probably had a complete storage room filled top to bottom with applications from every baseball writer in the country.

  Truth is, I wasn’t far off. But Bill invited me to lunch, gave me a tour of the office, introduced me to Paul and the staff and miracle of miracles, a few months later a job DID open up and by May 1992 I was a member of the Baseball Weekly staff. I know Bill’s input had something to do with it.

  I started as an agate-slinger, editing box scores and other notes. I also helped Bill compile the weekly Minor League notes (back in those days we actually called every single Minor League team every week to get player notes and highlights from them) and even wrote occasional Minor League features for his section.

  Though I was moved onto the Major League side for much of 1993-1994, as one of the columnists/feature writers, my heart remained firmly on the Minor League side. In August 1994, when the big strike tore apart much of baseball and ruined my beloved Montreal Expos’ shot at the World Series title, the paper underwent a massive staff reorganization.

  Bill was promoted to senior feature writer and I was reassigned to his former position of Minor League editor (In five words: The Job Of My Dreams).

  By being given free rein to write about anything and everything, Bill’s writing became even more widely read by the general baseball fan rather than just those who flipped to the Minor League section rather than past it.

  For the next five years, the hundreds of thousands of Baseball Weekly readers got to enjoy the remarkable prose and insight and wisdom of one of the true great baseball scribes.

  And for those five years, I had the pleasure and privilege to sit next to him and try to soak it in — I would often stop my own work to listen to him conduct phone interviews. He was the master at making them conversational and informative and eliciting information and stories that you know 99 percent of reporters would never get.

  But even more than being a brilliant writer and mentor, Bill was a wonderful friend. Paul’s story is right on target (of course) in that it’s almost impossible to describe Bill’s smile, his laugh, his sense of humor. He could be snarky  (before snarky was even a word, which it apparently still isn’t according to my auto-correct) with the best of them.

  And while he was always the ultimate gentleman, he could also tell a few definitely-NOT-for-publication stories that make me giggle to this day when I remember them (and no, I’m not repeating them here). Some may have sounded like urban legends to most but as far as I was concerned, if Bill told them, they had to be true.

  My favorite “Bill as a friend” story. One thing he loved as much as baseball was college basketball. One wintry weekend he had tickets to a game where my favorite college team, UMass, was playing at George Washington. An unexpected blizzard found me without a babysitter at the last minute and unable to join him as planned, so I watched the game on TV from home, devastated at not being able to go and root for my guys, especially my favorite UMass player, Dana Dingle.

  Now to understand Bill, you have to realize this is a guy who despite his passion for the game, would never resort to “fandom” or get an autograph or anything like that in about a million years. But that day, for some reason I can’t recall but had to do with a
charity being run by then-GW coach Mike Jarvis, all the fans received 8-x-11 sheets of yellow paper with the No. 3 on them — which happened to be Dingle’s uniform number.

  And when I got to my office the next Monday morning, there on my desk was a yellow sheet of paper with the No. 3 and the note: “To Lisa: Dana Dingle, #3.”
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  Bill had actually taken the sheet, gone down to the floor after the game and gotten me Dana Dingle’s autograph. Need I tell you it is something I cherish to this day, both the autograph itself and the appreciation of what it meant for Bill to do that for me.

   Oh, and did I mention he was a helluva a drummer? I seem to recall his big number was “Topsy Part II.” I know everyone who had the pleasure of attending his wedding to his soul mate, Marlene, will remember one of the highlights of the evening being when he sat in on the drums.

  10 years ago today, at 50 years old, Bill’s huge heart gave out. Honestly, all these years later, there’s not a day that goes by that there isn’t something that makes me think of him … a Steely Dan song (I went to my first Steely Dan concert with him at Merriweather Post Pavilion), reading the name of one of his old favorite players with the Orioles or Rochester, a laugh that sounds like his.

  Tomorrow will mark the 28th anniversary of the passing of my mother, also at a ridiculously young age, and I will mourn her and miss her then as I do every day.

  But today I am thinking about Bill.
 

 

GENTLEMEN … AND LADIES … START YOUR ENGINES!

That seemed to be the appropriate header as I sit here at National Airport (sorry, people, I still refuse to call it Reagan!) waiting for my flight to Indianapolis for the Winter Meetings. I admit I am inordinately excited.

I know there have been people who have been like “Indianapolis? Seriously? SERIOUSLY?” (that last “seriously” is for my fellow “Grey’s Anatomy” fans, with a special shoutout for agent Billy Martin Jr. who had the cojones last year to not only spot THE CHIEF in Vegas but to actually get him to pose for a picture … I have been kicking myself for the last year for not doing the same. Warning right now: If Sandra Oh or my idol Chandra Wilson happen to be in Indianapolis this week, I have my digital camera ready!!!)
Billy and the Chief.JPG
Anyway, you may ask, “Why would you be excited about Indianapolis, more so than, say, Las Vegas or Disney World or Nashville?” (the locations of the last three WMs and, with Disney World, the next one as well)?

Well, here’s the thing. If I were going on vacation or taking my family or heading on some dreaded work-related convention where I couldn’t stand my job or my co-workers and just wanted to have good distractions, then Vegas or Disney World would be great options. And if I didn’t care about a) having to walk approximately 5 miles a day and b) finding my co-workers for drinks every night, then I guess Nashville would be more palatable.

But for me, the Winter Meetings are all about seeing people and catching up with old friends and colleagues and connecting with folks that, at least in this year’s case, I have not seen in a year (not since last year in Vegas) … so the ideal location for the Winter Meetings is: a locale where the hotels are all connected to the convention center (trade show site) and each other, and, as an added bonus in this case, a MALL with NORDSTROM’S and a MAC counter (yeah, I may be in the minority of Winter Meetings attendees who care about the latter).

So Indianapolis is awesome. Two great hotels with great lobby bars, all connected to the convention center via skywalk so we don’t have to count on The Weather Channel 24/7. There will only be one or two central locations where we can pretty much depend on being able to find anyone we need/want to see and connect with at any time (three if you count the press room I guess).

No unnecessary distractions like casinos and fancy clubs and Donny and Marie, or Mickey and Minnie, or Dolly and Her Girls. Just baseball people, a captive audience, my milieu.

So, barring unforeseen delays, Indianapolis here I come … and of course I will keep what readers I still may have posted along the way! (Yeah, Rule 5 thoughts upcoming in the next day or two … some REALLY interesting names on the list of availables!!!! What about you guys? Who do you think your team should take in the Rule 5???)

WELCOME TO THE OFF-SEASON … oh … wait …

Once I flip that desk calendar page from October to November, it usually means I am in the midst of the kickoff (sorry for the football reference) to my off-season flurry of activity … you know the drill, right?

Organization reviews, end-of-year awards, looking ahead to the fun stuff like the Winter Meetings (this year in Indianapolis which I’m especially excited about since there will be a captive audience, unlike Las Vegas or Disney World), the RULE 5 DRAFT (in caps for me, the biggest Rule 5 Draft geek in existence), and then the inevitable “countdown to pitchers and catchers reporting.”

This year, however, it’s been a little different, in case you haven’t noticed. Because for some odd reason, there is still this whole World Series thing going on. Not that the two teams involved have such big devoted fanbases that anyone is paying attention. I’m sure most fans would rather read about the Minors anyway …

November Fool’s!

Seriously, though, folks. Though I have no idea exactly WHEN they will be coming your way, suffice to say that our “org reviews” WILL be coming to a computer screen near you soon and in the meantime my colleague Jonathan and I are hard at work cobbling them together …

Now, I’m not giving away any big trade secrets or saying anything I haven’t said before when I confess … I am in the huge minority in that I don’t like writing Top 10 or Top 20 lists (I know most people LOVE these rankings lists: writing them, reading them, debating them). I really don’t. I think in many cases comparing, say, a raw and gifted 18-year-old shortstop with huge upside who may or may not make the given adjustments in the next few years to a big-league ready outfielder with solid tools, a proven track record and a good shot at a Major League job this spring is apples and oranges. Delicious apples, yummy oranges. But how do I pick one over the other for that 10th spot on a list? Both have value. And whoever I leave off, well, they probably deserved to be on a list. Which is why I hate lists. It’s the mommy in me. I feel like I should just keep giving out accolades until I run out of them. (BTW I am not using a specific team’s 10-11 here … these are just made-up examples).

Anyway, we WILL have post-season Top 10 lists anyway (because I don’t make the rules, I just follow them sometimes) … we’ll have our pre-season Top 10s AND our post-season Top 10s so we can pat ourselves on the back or poke fun at ourselves or whatever … we’ll have our pre-season Hitter and Pitcher of the Year picks for each organization AND our post-season picks (you can look forward to seeing where we were right and where we went woefully wrong) … AND we’ll have organization overviews, in-depth looks at each organization’s 2009 draft, etc.

We will have them soon. Promise.

But you ALSO need to keep an eye on this space here (and on Jonathan’s blog as well) for a series we’re going to run that will give us the opportunity to share some news and notes on OTHER guys who didn’t make “The List” but either were final cuts, merited consideration, or simply deserve some sort of nod for great numbers or accomplishments.

That way, when you’re reading the original articles and want to post under reader comments “Hey, what about Joe Schlabotnik?” hopefully you can come over here to the blog and see that indeed I DID consider Joe Schlabotnik and while he didn’t make the Top 10, come read more about him over here. Consolation prize, perhaps, but better than nothing.

I want to call it “But Wait, There’s More!” … I’ll see if Jonathan likes that idea. Or unless someone else has a better idea.

Anyway, just wanted to chime in with this … now I’ll get back to my voluminous pile of manila folders and lists.

 

I’M BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACK …

  Yes, I’m still here. I won’t make excuses or explanations for the absence but will hopefully be back and posting again …

  This story inspired me to chime in, especially as we’re right in the middle of pre-draft-mania and the tournaments leading up to the College World Series. (Wish I could be in Chapel Hill this weekend for the super regional between host North Carolina and East Carolina … I could call it the Aunt Bowl in honor of my daughter, whose aunt on one side lives right outside of Chapel Hill and whose late aunt on the other was an esteemed professor at ECU before she passed away in 2006).

  Anyway, the story linked is about a high school playoff game in Minnesota where both starting pitchers threw more than 200 pitches. Sounds impossible to fathom in this world of pitch counts where an outing of more than 100 pitches borders on abuse.

  But it brought back memories of the first college post-season series I ever covered as a sportswriter, the first time I went on the road, the first time I felt a part of baseball writers’ press box camaraderie, and the week I realized yes, this is what I want to do.

  The year was 1988. The place, Beehive Field in New Britain, Connecticut.

  The event: The ECAC (East Coast Athletic Conference) tournament, the winner of which would move on to the Northeast Regional tournament, which would also be held at beautiful (not) Beehive.

  I was there to cover the Fordham Rams, the MAAC champions.

  Although the paper for which I was working covered Fordham regularly during both football and basketball season, it pretty much ignored all college baseball teams. But the Rams were really good, even with the loss of their 1987 ace Pete Harnisch, who had been a first-round pick by Baltimore in the previous year’s First Year Player Draft.

  Perhaps their best player was a freshman outfielder named Ray Montgomery who had a school record 21-game hitting streak and earned Co-MAAC Player of the Year honors. He went on to play in the big leagues and is probably too busy this week to read this blog entry since he’s the Assistant Scouting Director for the Milwaukee Brewers (but I bet he’d remember the game). (Here he is with MLB Network star Matt Vasgersian at a Triple-A All-Star Game back when they were both up-and-coming future stars). 
Matt Vasgersian and Ray Montgomery.jpg
  So since I wanted to be a baseball writer and was getting basically NO opportunity to do at that time at that job, and since Fordham really deserved someone covering them through the post-season, I volunteered to become their beat writer on my own time and my own dime. I guess the price was right because they let me do it.
 
  Also in the tournament were Hartford, featuring slugging third baseman Jeff Bagwell (the scouting report on him was pitch him inside), Maine with a freshman outfield sensation named Mark Sweeney, LeMoyne (their ace was a kid named Peter Hoy who made it briefly to the big leagues), C.W. Post and Fairleigh Dickinson University, aka FDU and aka a big rival of Fordham.

  I was all eager beaver reporter armed with my scorebook and about 82 pens (some things never change), assiduously writing down not just every play made but every pitch thrown.

  It was the Rams’ second game of the tournament and their first against FDU where that habit almost caused carpal tunnel syndrome.

  On paper, it was just your typical garden-variety 14-inning game (the Rams would go on to play a 19-inning game against Clemson in the first round of the Northeast Regionals later that week), which Fordham lost, 6-5 (they would come back to beat FDU the next day by the same score).

  Neither team had lost yet in the double-elimination tournament so while the stakes were high, they weren’t THAT high.

  Fairleigh Dickinson sent its ace to the mound, a sophomore right-hander named Mike Mongiello who was their conference’s Player of the Year that year. And he pitched like an ace for nine innings.

  When he came out for the 10th inning, the reporters all glanced at each other in surprise.

  When he came out for the 11th inning, I counted my record of all the pitches he’d thrown. I don’t remember the total at that point but it was really high.

  In the 12th inning, the “official” pitch count for Mongiello, who was still in there, was relayed up to the press box from the FDU dugout and let’s just say it was significantly lower than the number indicated in my scorebook. And while I may have MISSED a few pitches, I certainly hadn’t ADDED 20.

  Mongiello remained in the game for the 13th and 14th innings and finally came away with the complete-game win in an absolutely masterful and gutsy performance.

  FDU’s official pitch count for him was 215 pitches. That is what I wrote in my story. My scorebook showed 250 pitches. That didn’t include warmups between innings and may have missed a few full-count foul balls.

  Mongiello went on to be drafted in the seventh round of 1989 by the Chicago White Sox and enjoyed a seven-year Minor League career with them, getting as far as Triple-A and posting a 3.64 ERA.

  Our paths crossed in the Minors a few years later and of course I had to go over and introduce myself and tell him that I had been there for that amazing game.

  Apparently he must have told some of his teammates about it and no one believed him, or at least thought he was exaggerating. I was able to not only confirm the epic outing, but add that in fact his own telling of it with a pitch count of 215 wasn’t giving himself enough credit.

  He obviously had no hard feelings about the workload either, because he spent some time later on at FDU as their assistant pitching coach. I’m guessing, though, that he never left one of his pitchers in to throw 250 pitches.

 

BASEBALL HONEYMOON PLAYS NOSTRADAMUS FOR 2009!

Opening Day (or as many of us say OPENING DAY!!!!) is here in the Majors, and Opening Day (or OPENING DAYS because for some reason the Eastern League is starting a day early) is almost here in the Minors …

So Episode 7 of BASEBALL HONEYMOON brings you two awesome season previews for the price of one, as in … well, as our blog says,

“the same low, low price of….of ..ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! FREE! GRATIS, BABY!”

bballhoneymoon2.jpg

For those of you, like me, who can’t get enough of USA Today/Sports Weekly baseball guru PAUL WHITE talking baseball, the first half of the show is for you as he (and we) talk about our picks to win each division and each league’s “big” awards (MVP, CY and Rookie of the Year).

The second half … well, let’s put it this way … if you are one of the hundreds of people who have told me over the past year or two how much you miss the good old days when JONATHAN MAYO and I did our regular hour-long show “Around the Minors,” consider this sort of a reunion show. It’s not an hour (well, not quite) but we’ll share our pre-season predictions for Minor League Player and Pitcher of the year …

 

BEYOND THE BOXSCORE … GETTING TO KNOW CINCINNATI REDS P JUANCARLOS SULBARAN

 Team Netherlands was the talk of the World Baseball Classic. 

  19-year-old pitcher Juancarlos Sulbaran was the talk of Team Netherlands.  And yes, it’s spelled “Juancarlos,” one word.

  I don’t know about the rest of you, but watching this guy pitch in the game against Puerto Rico was one of the highlights of that tournament for me. I already knew a lot of the veteran players and coaches (hi Bam Bam! Hola Sir Eugene!) but was unfamiliar with Sulbaran.

  However, since I was working on the Cincinnati Reds organization preview at the time, I definitely took notice. In fact, I think I looked like one of those cartoon characters whose eyes pop out of their head (lovely image, no?).

  Sure, he finished the tournament with the highest ERA of any of the 13 pitchers on that impressive Dutch staff, allowing three runs total in 2 2/3 innings over two appearances. 

  But you can’t expect a teenager who has yet to make his pro debut to dazzle while facing Major League stars.  

  Or can you? 

Juan Carlos in action.jpg  Sulbaran, Cincinnati’s 30th round pick in 2008, made quite a World Baseball Classic debut when he came out of the bullpen in the sixth inning against Puerto Rico in a first-round game. 

  Inheriting men on first and third with two outs and a 1-0 lead, the first batter he faced was Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, a free agent who was showcasing his hitting skills.

  Sulbaran struck out Rodriguez on three pitches. 

  “When I came out of the bullpen I didn’t know I was going to face him, I just knew that there were men on first and third and everyone in the stands was screaming,” he recalled. “Then I saw him standing there so I just focused on my catcher and didn’t think about anything else.”

   One inning later, after loading the bases on a double, a single and a hit batter, he got out of the jam by getting Carlos Beltran to ground out to end the inning. 

  So who is this kid anyway? 

  The Curacao-born Sulbaran was impressive enough in his home country in his teens that teams began approaching him to turn pro. But his dad, Jorge, had other ideas. 

  “I was 16, before my junior year in high school, and my dad didn’t feel I was ready to go and play and live by myself,” Sulbaran explained. “So instead we moved to Florida so I could finish high school there and then get drafted.”

  The Sulbaran family moved to the Miami area in 2006, where he attended American Heritage High School, a team that featured such talented classmates as first baseman Eric Hosmer, the third pick overall last spring by Kansas City, and catcher Adrian Nieto, the Nationals’ fifth-round selection. 

  Sulbaran, honored as the Miami-area pitcher of the year for 2008, fell to the 30th round due to his commitment to the University of Florida but the Reds eventually signed him  with a $500,000 bonus, a record for that round. 

  Not that Sulbaran was idle that summer. Having caught the eye of the Dutch Olympic team’s coaches during an earlier international tournament  when he limited the opposing club from Cuba to one hit over seven innings, he was invited to join the squad and pitched for Team Netherlands in Beijing. 

  In the Olympics, he once again faced Cuba, this time a slightly older and more experienced squad, allowing two earned runs over 4 2/3 innings in a loss to that squad. 

  And that showing pretty much wrapped up his invitation to join the World Baseball Classic squad where, once again, he was the youngest member of the team , three weeks younger than fellow pitching phenom Dennis Neuman of the Red Sox. 

  While both experiences were rewarding in their own ways, Sulbaran thinks the World Baseball Classic may have been more educational. 

  “In the Olympics, there were fewer professional players and they weren’t at as high a level as the players in the World Baseball Classic,” he said. “Pitching there, any mistake you made, you pay for it.”

  Sulbaran, whose repertoire includes a hard sinker, a good curveball and a changeup, remains in Reds camp in Sarasota nursing a blister which will likely push his pro debut back a bit longer, until he can go six or seven innings. 

  He can’t wait till he can get out there and officially start his pro career, expected to be at Class A Dayton, but don’t think that facing Midwest League batters will change his game plan. 

  “It doesn’t matter who you’re facing, if I make a mistake they’ll hit me the same way,” he said. “So I just have to focus on keeping my pitches down and staying ahead in the count, whether I’m facing a rookie or a Hall of Famer.”

  Our “Beyond the Boxscore” interview was shorter than usual because of technical issues (don’t you hate excuses like that) and also because I couldn’t ask him some of the usual questions about his minor league career thus far, but I am really hoping to get the chance to cross paths with him this season, watch him pitch again, and do a more in depth interview.

MLB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest? 
Juancarlos Sulbaran: Finishing high school. In Curacao, everyone leaves school when they’re 15 and never finishes high school. Now that I’ve graduated, I’m really glad that my dad made that decision for me. 

MLB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball? 
JCS: Probably working with my dad for his contracting company. 

MLB: Everyone has a “hidden talent.” What’s yours? 
JCS: I have soccer skills. 

MLB: Do you have other hobbies or creative outlets aside from baseball?
JCS: I like watching movies, playing soccer, and just hanging out with my friends. 

MLB: Complete this sentence: It would surprise people to know that I…
JCS: Don’t like pitching that much! I was a first baseman and third baseman. And for me, baseball was always more about how to get on base, steal a base, slide, get dirty and make diving catches. But I’m learning more about pitching now. 

MLB: Who is the most unusual character you’ve met in your pro baseball career?
JCS: (Dutch teammate pitcher) Sidney Ponson. Whateer he says, whatever he does, it always makes you laugh. 

MLB: If you were commissioner for a day, which one rule would you change? 
JCS: Let all the pitchers hit! 

 

 

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