Tag Archives: Major League Baseball

Triple B Flashback: The Curious Case of Scott Kazmir

Editor’s Note: In honor of Scott Kazmir being traded From the Oakland Athletics to the Houston Astros we take a look back at the curious rise and fall of the Houston native who rebuilt his career and became an All-Star when many thought he had nothing left in the tank in a column that originally appeared last July.

Hollywood, and the world of sports, both love a good comeback story of redemption.

Whether it is the story of a loveable group of misfits banding together and claiming a title, or a washed out boxer making one more trip into the ring, the Hollywood movie machine churns out film after film that tugs at the heart strings of movie goers and helps them believe in the underdog.

Of course occasionally the world of fact trumps the world of fiction when it comes to tales of redemption and making the most out of second chances.

For a real life story of redemption, that very well could have the stuff of a Hollywood blockbuster, let us consider the curious case of Oakland Athletics pitcher Scott Kazmir who was named to his third career All-Star team over the weekend, and first since 2008.

Kazmir was drafted by the New York Mets in the first-round in 2002 and was traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization two years later. Kazmir helped lead the Rays to the World Series in 2008.

Scott Kazmir made is Major League Baseball debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and his Atlantic League debut with the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson

Scott Kazmir made is Major League Baseball debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and his Atlantic League debut with the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

Following the World Series run the Rays traded Kazmir to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim midway through the 2009 season.

Following the trade Kazmir’s “True Hollywood Story” included some mighty struggles.

Although many players struggle to adapt to their new surroundings following a trade, the struggles of Kazmir were epic in nature.

After two extremely rough seasons in Southern California Kazmir was released by the Angels on June 15, 2011 despite having $14.5 million remaining on his guaranteed contract.

Kazmir failed to get picked up by another Major League club following his release from the Angels and his career seemed all but over despite being less than three years removed from appearances in both the All-Star Game and World Series.

History is full of players who seem to suddenly lose their stuff for no apparent reason. While injuries can often be blamed for declines in performance sometimes a player, such as Kazmir, just starts to see their performance fade without suffering the type of career ending injury experienced by many.

Of course sometimes the mental aspect of the game can be just as debilitating as an injury and players often have to struggle to overcome doubt and other mental factors to return to the top of their game.

Kazmir was out of Major League Baseball for two seasons as he continued to struggle with his mechanics and other factors that had rendered the once dominant hard to hit pitcher as easy to hit off of as a pitching machine.

The true rock bottom for Kazmir likely came when he signed with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League on July 7, 2012.

While the Skeeters represented a chance for Kazmir to play baseball near his home town it was likely a huge shot to the ego to be playing on a team that had no Major League affiliation.

While the Skeeters offer a competitive atmosphere, and the Atlantic League often has players who sign Minor League contracts with Major League ball clubs, the adjustment period for Kazmir likely was difficult as very few players on independent league rosters have World Series starts on their resumes.

Kazmir started 14 games for the Skeeters during the 2012 season and finished with a 3-6 record and a 5.34 ERA.

Following the end of the Skeeters’ season Kazmir signed with Gigantes de Carolina of the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League posting a 4.37 ERA while striking out 27 batters in 23 innings.

The time with the Skeeters and the Gigantes had gotten some attention and the performances earned Kazmir an invite to the Cleveland Indians Spring Training in 2013.

It is fitting in a way that it was the Indians that invited him as the Major League movie franchise focuses on the Indians being a place where players that seem to be washed out can find second chances.

Our Hollywood story could easily have ended right there with Kazmir getting a chance for one more Major League Spring Training before calling it a career after failing to crack the starting rotation of the Indians as a non-roster invitee.

But Kazmir did crack the rotation for Cleveland out of Spring Training and excelled with the Indians to the point that the Oakland Athletics signed him to a two-year $22 million contract prior to the start of this season.

In year one of the deal Kazmir has been the Athletics most consistent starter and earned a place on the All-Star Team.

With the Athletics currently holding the top spot in the American League West standings it is entirely possible that Kazmir will pitch in the postseason once again six years after tasting the postseason for the first time with the Rays.

It is even within the realm of probability that the Athletics could make it all the way to the World Series.

While the Scott Kazmir story of second chances is certainly still being written, a very strong footnote would be to have him hoisting a World Series trophy in October.

Yes, sometimes reality does trump fiction when it comes to the magical Hollywood ending and after several seasons in the valley, that featured stops through the Atlantic League and Puerto Rico, Scott Kazmir appears to be making the most of his second chances.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to practice my pitching in case Hollywood needs a southpaw to portray Kazmir in the movie of his life.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

Hinchcliffe Wreck Shows Risk of Injuries are Part of Everyday Life for Athletes

Every day life is full of risks if one really stops to think about it.

There is the risk of stubbing one’s toe while fumbling in the dark all the way to the risk that someone will run into the back of your car while you are stopped at a light.

For professional athletes there are the every day toe stubbing risks that the average person faces along with the risk that in some cases they might be seriously injured or even die at work due to the inherent risks associated with what they do for a living.

James Hinchcliffe (shown in Winner's Circle after the 2013 Grand Prix of Houston) recently reminded people that driving Indy Cars is risky business. Photo R. Anderson

James Hinchcliffe (shown in Winner’s Circle during the 2013 Grand Prix of Houston) recently reminded people that driving Indy Cars is risky business.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, police officers, firefighters, and members of the military are among the many professions who also put their life’s at risk so in no way do I want to come across as saying that athletes are the only ones with risky professions.

There are countless men and women working tirelessly at dangerous jobs every day who deserve our thanks for keeping us protected.

Usually their jobs do not have them in arenas full of screaming fans while they perform the risky work though. In that way professional athletes really are in a league of their own when it comes to performing risky behavior in front of the masses.

One of those athletes who does risky work in front of the masses, Indy Car driver James Hinchcliffe, is in the Intensive Care Unit of an Indiana hospital following a violent crash during practice for the Indianapolis 500 Monday.

Hinchcliffe, or Hinch as he is known to many of his fans, suffered a puncture to the left upper thigh after a piece of the car’s suspension assembly pierced the driver cockpit, or tub, and went through his leg causing severe soft tissue damage and rupturing arteries.

According to some published reports after his car’s right front suspension failed, Hinchcliffe hit the wall with a force of 125 Gs and was likely traveling more than 220 mph when he hit the wall. It should be noted that G forces above 100, even in short bursts, can be fatal in some cases.

Unlike in other sports the same safety team travels to all Indy Car races. It is the quick work of that team that is being credited with saving the life of James Hinchcliffe following a wreck Monday. Photo R. Anderson

Unlike in other sports the same safety team travels to all Indy Car races. It is the quick work of that team that is being credited with saving the life of James Hinchcliffe following a wreck Monday.
Photo R. Anderson

Were it not for the fast action of the safety crew it is entirely possible that Hinch could have died from his injuries due to the blood loss associated with a ruptured artery.

While Hinch is alive thanks in part to enhanced safety features and procedures to handle injuries like his, it is likely that there will be new safety features added to the Indy Cars after the cause of the latest crash are revealed.

However Indy Cars will never be 100 percent safe any more than athletes in other sports can be 100 percent protected from the risks of getting seriously injured in their chosen fields.

Recent lawsuits from former NFL players show that injuries from playing sports can sometimes take years to manifest themselves as is the case with players stating that they are suffering from the effects of head trauma long after their playing careers have ended.

In response the NFL has new concussion protocols in place to try to lessen the risk of injury to current players from head trauma.

In baseball there has been a rash of injuries the last few years with batters and pitchers getting injured after having their heads and jaws make contact with a baseball traveling at high velocity.

Former Houston Astros pitcher J.A. Happ was lucky and evaded serious injury in 2013 when he was hit by  a ball on the mound while pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays. Happ's hit and others like it have led Major League Baseball to look at ways to better protect the players. Photo R Anderson

Former Houston Astros pitcher J.A. Happ was lucky and evaded serious injury in 2013 when he was hit by a ball on the mound while pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays. Happ’s hit and others like it have led Major League Baseball to look at ways to better protect the players.
Photo R Anderson

In response to the increase in head injuries Major League Baseball is developing new protective head gear that can be worn by both batters and pitchers to help lessen the impact of a ball to the head.

The actions by the NFL and MLB to protect their players is certainly to be commended but no system can totally prevent injury when it comes to sports.

This is not to say that all motorsports and contact sports such as football should be deemed unsafe and banned any more than I should have to bubble wrap my home to avoid injury from bumping into things in the dark.

The trick is to make things as safe as humanly possible for the athletes involved so that they can live to play, or in Hinchcliffe’s case, drive, another day.

Sports are much safer today than they were 10 years ago and 10 years from now they will be even safer. Innovations will continue to evolve in the world of sports as well as other fields.

As long as people learn and improve from each accident and injury than they serve a purpose in helping the industry as a whole become safer. Failure to learn from the issues would be a far more devastating scenario.

In time the Mayor of Hinch Town will again be spraying the bubbly of victory after he heals from his injuries. Photo R. Anderson

In time the Mayor of Hinch Town will again be spraying the bubbly of victory after he heals from his injuries.
Photo R. Anderson

I had the opportunity to meet Hinch when I worked with the Grand Prix of Houston. While platitudes are certainly thrown around a lot, I can say that James Hinchcliffe is one of the most easy going athletes I have encountered in any sport and is one of those athletes who seems to really enjoy what they are doing and understands that it is a privilege to get to do what they do for a living.

The road back to driving an Indy Car will not be an easy one but Hinch has shown time and time again that he has an ability to handle those turns with the greatest of ease. I would not count the Mayor of Hinch Town out just yet.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to move a few things so that I do not bump into them tonight.

Copyright 2015 R Anderson

 

Bringing Cinematic Sunshine to a Cold, Gray Day

In the musical/movie, Annie, the title character sings a song about the sun coming out the day after today.

While the song about a sunshine filled tomorrow has more to do with an orphan’s wish for better days during the Great Depression than actual meteorology, for many people the gray days of winter have them wishing that they could bet their bottom dollar to get the sun to come out.

This is the plight I have found myself in the last couple of weeks as my section of Texas has had more gray skies than blue skies.

And while the gray in the sky has me asking just who stole my sunshine, there is one place where the sun always shines and the grass is always green.

I am referring to the world of cinematic baseball where even when a movie is filmed during the winter the action on the screen invokes warm days and clear skies.

To be clear not all baseball games are warm. I have sat through many cold early season baseball games including a particularly cold Pensacola night but somehow even freezing at a Ballpark seems warmer than just walking around on a gray day.

There is just something about a Ballpark that warms one down to the core.

In the spirit of seeking sunshine and to help usher in the upcoming baseball season we will be featuring baseball movies every Monday between now and Opening Day.

That equates to about 12 weeks of cinematic baseball to get you in the mood for the arrival of the Boys of Summer in April.

Today we kick off our 12 week countdown to opening day with Bleacher Bums.

The film follows a group of season ticket holders over the course of a season and explores the interpersonal relationships that develop when you spend several hours a week surrounded by people who share a common interest, in this case baseball.

I have often said that baseball is a sport that is best experienced live at the Ballpark. There are so many sights, sounds, smells and other sensory sensations that just can’t be captured on television.

But in the spirit of our quest for cinematic sunshine Bleacher Bums can provide that in Ballpark feeling. You may want to have some hot dogs and popcorn available to fully recreate the sitting in the bleachers feeling.

While the actual baseball scenes in the movie offer a few errors, the film connects on the interaction of fans and the conversations that often break out during the course of a game.

Through the years just as I think I have heard almost everything imaginable in a Ballpark something new is overheard from my seat and I am reminded of Bleacher Bums and how it captures the Ballpark conversations to a science.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to check the weather forecast once more to see if there is any sunshine coming in the 10-day forecast.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

The United States to Normalize Cuban Relations after Nearly 60 Years

The other day it was announced that after the United States would seek to normalize relations with Cuba after nearly 60 years of trade embargoes and other restrictions that have made it difficult for the average American to travel to the nation 90 miles south of Florida.

The closest I ever came to visiting Cuba was on a cruise ship in the late 80’s when the ship was heading back towards Miami from the U.S. Virgin Islands. As we approached the island the captain made an announcement along the lines of if you look out to our starboard side you will see Cuba.

I recall that the island was covered in a sort of rainy haze which made it both intriguing and beckoning at the same time. I also remember briefly thinking that I hoped the captain did not drift into Cuban waters by mistake and lead to an international incident.

Stories of the pre Cuban Missile Crisis and Bay of Pigs Cuba have always fascinated me. I was not alive during the tense days when the U.S. Naval blockade was in place to keep Russian ships from supplying missiles to the island so it is likely that my opinion towards Cuba may be different if I had lived through those tense days that almost led to World War III.

Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba is where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. Photo R. Anderson

Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba is where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.
Photo R. Anderson

Instead, for me Cuba represents a land where Earnest Hemingway and other figures spent their days fishing and their nights in smoke filled rooms, or crowded ballparks enjoying the freshest of Cuban cuisine and culture while getting from point A to point B in various cars from Detroit.

I guess one could say I want to experience the vision of Cuba that I have in my head. I want to sit and watch a baseball game played in a ballpark where the air and the accents are both thick and rich with history.

I want to sit in a road side cafe and eat my weight in Cuban pork and plantains while watching the hustle and bustle along the street.

I want to visit Finca Vigia, Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.

I want to see those old cars that were on the road when Hemingway walked the streets and are still being driven today due to the ingenuity of the Cuban people to keep those cars roadworthy for all these years.

I had always held out hope that the embargo would be lifted during my lifetime so that I could visit all of the sights and sounds of the island mentioned above and now it appears to be the case.

Of course normalizing relations with Cuba, and opening up a United States Embassy on the island, takes time and certain travel restrictions will still be in place for the foreseeable future so a trip to ring in the new year on Cuban soil is out of the question at this time. But it does seem closer to becoming a reality today than it did before the President’s announcement.

Cuban cigars that were once traded on the black market due to sanctions against Cuba will soon be available without fear of prosecution.  Photo R. Anderson. Photo R. Anderson

Cuban cigars that were once traded on the black market due to sanctions against Cuba will soon be available without fear of prosecution.
Photo R. Anderson.

Make no mistake there are serious issues that still need to be resolved in Cuba and lifting an embargo that was either effective, or ineffective, depending on what side of the fence you are on, is merely the first of many steps.

The news of normalized relations was met with both elation and protests within the Cuban American communities of Florida.

Throughout the embargo many people have risked their lives to escape Cuba and build a better life for themselves and their families in America. Countless more lost their lives making the journey or were intercepted and sent back to Cuba.

The issues that led to those harrowing water crossings will not change overnight and should not be forgotten. But, normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States could lead to grass roots changes that take shape in the decades to come.

Another huge issue with the announcement that has yet to be fully fleshed out as a result of the open relations with Cuba is the impact on Major League Baseball.

Shortly after the President announced the change in posture with Cuba, Major League Baseball issued a statement of its own stating in part that they were actively monitoring the situation and would respond when appropriate.

Just as I am sure there are regular citizens on both sides of the issue of opening relations with Cuba I am sure there are people in the ranks of baseball that are on both sides of the issue as well Cuban.

The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team in 40 years to play a game in Cuba in 1999. With normalized relations with Cuba coming it is likely one will not need to wait another 40 years for another game in Cuba involving MLB teams. Photo R. Anderson

The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team in 40 years to play a game in Cuba in 1999. With normalized relations with Cuba coming it is likely one will not need to wait another 40 years for another game in Cuba involving MLB teams.
Photo R. Anderson

For years baseball players from Cuba have risked their lives and left their families behind defecting in hope of finding greener pastures elsewhere. And while it has become easier for MLB teams to sign Cuban player over the past couple of years there are still hurdles that only impact Cuban players.

It is entirely possible with the normalized relations that Major League Baseball teams will set up academies in Cuba similar to the ones that are in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other countries to evaluate international talent.

Major League Baseball has a history in Cuba with the Giants, Dodgers and Pirates all having held their Spring Training camps in Havana at one time or another. Additionally, the Havana Sugar Kings were the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds from 1954 to 1960.

After a 40-year absence Major League Baseball made a brief return to Cuba in 1999 when the Baltimore Orioles and the Cuban national team played an exhibition game in the Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana. The Orioles won 3-2 in 11 innings.

With many issues left to resolve it will likely be years before the floodgates open wide to Cuban players leading to additional competition to be one of only 1200 players to be on one of the 30 Major League Baseball teams’ roster.

Realistically in the near term, it will be far more likely that one will still need to travel to Cuba to see a roster filled with Cuban baseball players. A day will likely come though when almost every team in the Major Leagues has some sort of Cuban influence.

Of course the Cuban influence I would most like to see return to American Ballparks is some good quality Cuban pork. Are you listening Minute Maid Park?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to try and find an authentic Cuban sandwich.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Derek Jeter Walks off into Sunset at Yankee Stadium

Yesterday, Derek Jeter, long time shortstop for the New York Yankees, played in his last game at Yankee Stadium.

Yankee Stadium is the second to last stop in the farewell tour that began at Minute Maid Park against the Houston Astros in April to honor the career of a man who played two decades in pinstripes.

At each stop along the way teams have paid their respects to Jeter by bestowing gifts upon him, and making donations to his charity.

The final stop on the tour will be Fenway Park this weekend and it will be interesting to see what kind of tribute Red Sox Nation has for the Captain.

Last night the Baltimore Orioles, American League East Champions,  lost to the New York Yankees in Derek Jeter's final game at Yankee Stadium. Photo R. Anderson

Last night the Baltimore Orioles, American League East Champions, lost to the New York Yankees in Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium.
Photo R. Anderson

While fans throughout baseball have saluted Jeter all season long, yesterday was about saying goodbye to the hometown fans at Yankee Stadium.

Even unfavorable weather forecasts that threatened to move the game to Monday, or cancel it altogether,  could not dampen the spirits of fans who paid well above face value on tickets to be able to say that they were there when Jeter said farewell to Yankees Stadium against the Baltimore Orioles.

In the end the rain stayed away, and the Yankees defeated the Orioles 6-5 thanks to the retiring bat of Derek Jeter.

While Derek Jeter’s career was certainly full of big moments, one could argue that securing a victory in his last game at Yankee Stadium with a walk off single was one of the biggest, if not one that he will remember the most.

There are those fans of conspiracies and hats made out of tin foil who are sure to claim that the fix was in to allow Jeter to hit that game-winning walk off single since a) baseball loves happy endings and b) Orioles Manager Buck Showalter was Jeter’s first manager with the Yankees.

Could the fact that Derek Jeter drove in the winning run in his last at bat at Yankee Stadium be called just a little too convenient? Sure.

But as Peter Parker’s uncle Joe would say “With great power comes great responsibility” and for Jeter that responsibility is helping his team win when placed in positions to do so.

It also helped that the Yankees bunted a runner into scoring position ahead of Jeter’s at bat to avoid risk of him hitting into a double play.

While the ending was certainly worthy of a Hollywood sparks falling on the field from the lights kind of thing, to those tin foil loving conspiracy fans I say that there is no way that the game was fixed to allow Jeter to win it.

One need only look at what happened to Charlie Hustle himself, Pete Rose, to see what baseball thinks about game fixing.

For those too young to remember, Rose received a lifetime ban from baseball for betting on games he managed since it was believed that he could somehow manipulate the results in a manner favorable to his wagers.

Another example of what Major League Baseball thinks about throwing games, further back than Rose, is the Black Sox scandal where several players of the Chicago White Sox were banned for life for fixing the World Series.

Beyond the threat of being banned for life for throwing a game, another issue that shoots holes in the “they let him win” argument from the tin foil hat society is the fact that, while Buck Showalter may have managed Jeter for 15 games 20 years ago, his current team, the Baltimore Orioles, are trying to secure home field advantage in the playoffs.

Orioles manager, Buck Showalter, was Derek Jeter's first Major League Manager. Despite that history Showalter's Orioles did not let Jeter's Yankees win despite what some might think. Photo R. Anderson

Orioles manager, Buck Showalter, was Derek Jeter’s first Major League Manager. Despite that history Showalter’s Orioles did not let Jeter’s Yankees win despite what some might think.
Photo R. Anderson

A team looking for home field advantage in the playoffs does not intentionally lose games, even if it makes for good Hollywood stories.

So to be 100 percent clear the fix was not in last night to allow Derek Jeter to score the winning run of the game.

It just worked out that way and gave Derek Jeter another lasting Yankee Stadium memory.

Much like Mariano Rivera did during his farewell tour last year, Jeter has said that he wants his final on-field memories to be from Yankee Stadium despite the team still having three games left in the season.

Jeter will be available as a designated hitter during the series against the Boston Red Sox, but fans expecting to see him standing at the shortstop position at Fenway Park will be greatly disappointed much like the fans at Minute Maid Park were last year when Rivera decided to stay in the bullpen and not make a curtain call appearance against the Astros.

While Derek Jeter’s career will end with a few plate appearances in the designated hitter’s role against the Boston Red Sox, instead of in another World Series as many had hoped at the start of the season, few other players in the history of baseball have had as much success or had the type of fan base as number 2 had.

While Derek Jeter’s career is ending the debate regarding whether he will be the first unanimously chosen member of the Baseball Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in five years is just beginning.

Between now and the time the Hall of Fame voters fill out their ballots in 2019, Derek Jeter will try to become a normal person and do the things that he put off during a 20-year career in pinstripes. Only Derek Jeter knows what that next chapter will be.

What is known is that for 20 seasons, in one of the most intense environments around, by all accounts Derek Jeter played the game of baseball in a way that he can be proud of and in a manner that many would be wise to duplicate.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get ready for the last weekend of the regular season.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

 

Spending Summer’s Last Gasp at the Ballpark

Today marks the first day of fall.

By and large fall, or autumn if you prefer, is my favorite season.

I enjoy the changing leaves, and the chill in the air, along with the various pumpkin flavored items that hit the grocery stores and restaurants this time of year to mark the season.

Of course having lived in Florida and Texas for the majority of my life, I usually have to settle on pumpkin flavored ice cream and chilled apple cider since for the most part  temperatures are still too hot for changing leaves and breaking out the fall coats.

But when I lived in Maryland as a much younger version of myself, I would visit the local apple orchard and pumpkin patch each year on school trips and jump into leaf piles that were above my head.

The Sugar Land Skeeters may be the road less traveled in the Houston area baseball scene but word is quickly spreading as the success grows. Photo R. Anderson

The Sugar Land Skeeters may be the road less traveled in the Houston area baseball scene but word is quickly spreading as the success grows.
Photo R. Anderson

I may yet return someday to a land where autumn and other seasons exist but for now I will take part in the two Texas seasons of hot and not quite as hot.

So on the last day of summer with temperatures still in the low 90’s, I decided to mark the occasion with a baseball game.

After all baseball players are often referred to as the Boys of Summer so what could be more American than baseball to mark the end of summer?

When it came down to picking where to catch this fall eve last gasp of summer game I had the choice between the Houston Astros or the Sugar Land Skeeters since both teams were in town.

In true Robert Frost poem fashion it was much like I was standing before two roads, one well-traveled and one less traveled.

Were I to choose the more traveled road of the Astros, I would be watching a meaningless game in a mostly empty air conditioned Ballpark that seats 45,000 or so as the Astros went through the motions of finishing out another losing season that cannot end soon enough for players and fans alike.

Fans Gathered to see the Sugar Land Skeeters play the York Revolution on the final day of summer Sunday. Photo R. Anderson

Fans Gathered to see the Sugar Land Skeeters play the York Revolution on the final day of summer Sunday.
Photo R. Anderson

On the other hand, were I to choose the less traveled road that led to the Skeeters, I would be watching a game outside as nature intended in a much more fan-filled Ballpark as the Skeeters battled to clinch the Second Half division title.

With choices like that it was easy to pick the Skeeters of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball over the Major League Baseball Astros.

That is not to say that I have completely given up on the Astros, but with some of the front office moves made by the team lately it becomes increasingly more difficult to justify spending MLB type money to see a lesser product.

I will continue to wish the Astros well in their rebuilding effort but for now will be voting with my wallet by not supporting them in person until they make more strides towards being a competitive team. That will not stop me from visiting Minute Maid Park next year to see my Orioles and Rays play however.

While many of the recent players for the Astros seem to be in over their heads at times as they try to establish their careers many of the players for Skeeters are just trying to hold on to their careers a little longer.

The Sugar Land Skeeters are heading to the playoffs for the second straight year.  Photo R. Anderson

The Sugar Land Skeeters are heading to the playoffs for the second straight year.
Photo R. Anderson

Players in the Atlantic League for the most part will not be confused with Major League All-Stars, with the exception of Scott Kazmir who parlayed a stint with the Skeeters into a return to the MLB All-Star Game.

Rosters are comprised of former Major Leaguers and other players who could not find a place on an affiliated team roster for whatever reason.

The play in independent leagues, such as the one the Skeeters call home, can sometimes be sloppy with routine plays turning into errors on occasion but for the most part the errors even out as both teams are making them.

But what the players lack in polished skills they more than make up for in heart and determination. That is not to say that there are not Major League baseball players who play with heart and determination but as a whole those seem to be the exception.

Consider this, with entire team salaries far below what a single Major League Baseball player would make the men who make up the Skeeters roster are playing for the love of the game and the chance to put on a show each night for a couple of thousand fans under the lights.

Gary Gaetti has managed the Sugar Land Skeeters for their entire three-year existence. Photo R. Anderson

Gary Gaetti has managed the Sugar Land Skeeters for their entire three-year existence.
Photo R. Anderson

They know that their playing careers are finite but while they can they will continue to play the game that many of them have played as far back as they can remember.

So with these reasons in mind my last day of summer was spent under the sun watching the Skeeters defeat the York Revolution to clinch that division title for a berth in the playoffs.

I will take a game with players giving their all on every play over a game with players going through the motions every time. Also, a reasonably priced concession stand does not hurt either.

Two game diverged in a field, and I – I took the one where the players have the most heart. And that has made all the difference.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some playoff tickets to buy.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

 

Are Tampa Bay Rays in the Midst of an Epic Meltdown or on the Verge of a Historic Comeback?

For the first decade of their existence the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were bad, really bad.

How bad?

So bad that if the Devil Rays early years were put to music they could easily include the lyrics stink, stank, stunk.

So bad that in those first 10 seasons of play, from 1998 to 2007, the team failed to end a single season with a winning record. In fact the most victories came in 2004 when they won 70 games.

Although the stingray tank at Tropicana Field remains the Tampa Bay Rays showed that the devil is in the details when they switched from being  called the Devil Rays to just the Rays after 10 losing seasons. The result of the name change was a trip to the World Series in 2008. Photo R. Anderson

Although the stingray tank at Tropicana Field remains the Tampa Bay Rays showed that the devil is in the details when they switched from being called the Devil Rays to just the Rays after 10 losing seasons. The result of the name change was a trip to the World Series in 2008.
Photo R. Anderson

But in a musical about face worthy of a Kenny Rogers song, the Devil Rays became the Rays in 2008 and they turned it around by not only posting the team’s first ever winning record but also managing to win the American League Pennant and earning a trip to the World Series in the process.

Since that turning around in 2008 the Rays have posted winning records in every season that followed and have made some more playoff runs to boot.

While they have yet to match the World Series run of 2008, the Rays have remained a threat to win the ultra-competitive American League East Division or Wild Card for the past six years.

That brings us to this year and a bit of history repeating as the Rays, who were predicated as World Series favorites by many experts, have taken an Olympic sized nose dive due to injuries and spotty offense that have them looking less like a perennial playoff threat and more like the Devil Rays of old.

With some key players lost for the season, and others going on and off of the disabled list with unusual frequency, the Rays have had their share of setbacks to overcome during the first quarter of the season.

In addition to injuries the Rays have had to battle through offensive slumps that have rendered many of the bats in the lineup silent.

Instead of being on track for the playoffs the Rays currently possess the worst record in all of baseball heading into a three game series against the Houston Astros.

It should be noted that the Astros started getting really bad around the same time that the Rays got really good.

The Tampa Bay Rays, holders of the worst record in baseball,  will look to turn their season around starting tonight when they begin a three-game series against the Houston Astros. Photo R. Anderson

The Tampa Bay Rays, holders of the worst record in baseball, will look to turn their season around starting tonight when they begin a three-game series against the Houston Astros.
Photo R. Anderson

After losing over 100 games for the past three years, the Astros are on pace to break even this season and possibly even post a winning record for the first time in years.

When the schedules were announced for the season few people would have believed that the Astros would have won five more games than the Rays heading into their weekend series.

After spending more on payroll than the frugal Rays had previously done, there were great expectations for this season. While the Rays could yet right the sinking ship that has become their 2014 season with each mounting loss the calls to trade away players grow louder as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches.

While the Rays are faced will calls to trade away players in return for prospects each season it is likely that a failure to return to competitive play could result in several current players being sent to new surroundings in July.

It is of course unfair to surmise that the Rays current rough season marks a return to the years of losing records. Teams have bad years now and then for a variety of reasons and usually bounce back within a year or two so there is no need to dust off those old Devil Rays jerseys just yet.

One need only look at the Boston Red Sox who won a World Series after suffering through an abysmal season the year before to see that one rough season is no cause to think that the sky is falling on a franchise.

The Rays still have time to turn the season around this year and have been known for late season heroics that have propelled them to victory in the past however the time to make that turnaround is decreasing.

A sweep by the Astros this weekend would likely be a huge blow for the Rays and would continue the downward spiral while a sweep by the Rays would be just the thing to move the season forward.

Time will tell which direction the weekend goes for the Rays but with each passing game the since of urgency grows a bit more to return to a culture of winning.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to get to.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Major League Baseball Takes Time to Remember a Trailblazer

We are a country that enjoys commemorating achievements in all shapes and sizes.

Some call it the American spirit while others might call it an attempt to ensure that the sacrifices of those that have gone before us are remembered long after they are no longer walking amongst us.

Memorials of all shapes and sizes can be found from sea to shining sea as a way of helping to ensure that history is not forgotten.

The number 42 hangs in all 30 Major League Baseball Ballparks in honor of Jackie Robinson who broke the color barrier on April 15, 1947. Photo R. Anderson

The number 42 hangs in all 30 Major League Baseball Ballparks in honor of Jackie Robinson who became the first African American to play for a MLB team on April 15, 1947 when he suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Photo R. Anderson

Tomorrow marks one of those occasions to remember history and honor those who have achieved against the odds.

Aside from being “Tax day” April 15 is also “Jackie Robinson Day” which a day sat aside to pay homage to an achievement of courage and determination in breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

While many fans may have only heard of Jackie Robinson following the release of the movie 42 his impact on the game of baseball stretches back nearly 70 years.

On April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first African American to step foot on a Major League Baseball field when he suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The world of baseball for Jackie Robinson, and many other players like him, was far different from the world of baseball today.

I am not referring to jumbotrons and jumbo hot dogs or any of the other things that have found their way into the modern game. I am not even talking about the designated hitter.

Prior to 1947 there were no minority players in the highest level of professional baseball. It took an owner willing to do what others wouldn’t in Branch Rickey and a player willing to withstand insults from on the field and in the stands in Jackie Robinson to pave the way for those that came behind them.

Since 1997 when the number was retired players like Hunter Pence of the Houston Astros have all worn the number 42 on Jackie Robinson Day. Photo R. Anderson

Since 1997 when the number was retired players like former Houston Astros right fielder Hunter Pence have all worn the number 42 on Jackie Robinson Day.
Photo R. Anderson

For people of a certain age, like me, it is nearly impossible to picture a segregated baseball diamond. From my earliest recollections there were people of all shapes and sizes and races on the field.

Look at the rosters of the 30 MLB teams today and one will find players from six continents.

None of that would have been possible without someone taking the first step to desegregate the diamond.

So it is fitting to take time to honor Jackie Robinson’s sacrifice and to ensure that generations who were not alive back in 1947 can learn the story and know that without the sacrifices of people like Jackie Robinson the world would be an entirely different place.

One of my favorite quotes is “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It was first stated in the early 20th century by George Santayana, but the phrase is still as true today as it was when first spoken. Society must continue to learn from history so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

During the annual celebration of Jackie Robinson there are always a select few who will state in various outlets that the inclusion of Jackie Robinson in the Baseball Hall of Fame was based solely on him being first to break the color barrier and is not reflective of his playing ability.

For the first time since Major League Baseball ordered all teams to retire the number 42 in 1997 there are not any players who wear the number on any day other than Jackie Robinson Day.  Photo R. Anderson

For the first time since Major League Baseball ordered all teams to retire the number 42 in 1997 there are not any players who wear the number on any day other than Jackie Robinson Day. Mariano Rivera was the last player allowed to wear the number and he retired at the end of last season.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, a quick look at his career statistics show that based on the merits of his play alone Jackie Robinson is every bit of a Hall of Fame caliber player and is included as much for what he did as a player as well as what he did as a trailblazer.

As part of Jackie Robinson Day each player on every team wears the number 42 as a show of respect and solidarity.

In 1997 Major League Baseball retired the number 42 on all teams in honor of Jackie Robinson. As part of the number retirement players who were still wearing 42 were grandfathered in and allowed to keep wearing the number for the remainder of their careers.

Following Mariano Rivera’s retirement at the end of last season no player will ever again wear the number 42 in Major League Baseball.

It is likely that the Yankees will retire Rivera’s number as well based on his impressive body of work.  That will lead to the hanging of two 42 banners in Yankee Stadium with one for Robinson and one for Rivera. Then again the Yankees always did like to be a little different.

Fans gather during the 2011 Jackie Robinson Day at Minute Maid Park. Photo R. Anderson

Fans gather during the 2011 Jackie Robinson Day at Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

While last year’s celebration of Jackie Robinson Day was marred by the cowardly act of the Boston Marathon bombers, this year the celebration can focus on the courage of Jackie Robinson along with the courage and determination of the bombing victims who have overcome their own set of odds since the events of last year.

Acts like the bombing of innocent bystanders at the Boston Marathon show that the world is still as full of hate today as it was on that April day in 1947.

But just as was the case in 1947, there are still people willing to rise above the hatred and do what is right. And that is something worth remembering every day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to watch 42 before the games start tomorrow.

Copyright 2014 R Anderson

Baseball Opener Comes Stateside

Last night the long drought from the last out of the World Series in October, to the first pitch of the 2014 Major League Baseball season came to an end.

The evening was filled with all of the typical prime-time opening night festivities that one comes to expect from the National Pastime and helped usher in the next six months of the sporting calendar.

Technically the start of the 2014 Major League Baseball season occurred in Australia during a two-game series Down Under between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers, but in my mind one cannot really count those games as the start of the season since the other 28 teams were still playing Spring Training ball.

Australia is a great place to see wombats but is not not the best place to host regular season baseball games in the middle of Spring Training. Photo R. Anderson

Australia is a great place to see wombats but is not not the best place to host regular season baseball games in the middle of Spring Training.
Photo R. Anderson

In fact even the Dodgers and Diamondbacks returned to playing Spring Training games once their trip to Australia was complete.

I know that MLB puts signature series games in exotic locales around the globe each year as a way to build the fan base outside of North America.

I also know that the idea of playing games in a converted cricket stadium that was built before the United States Civil War is certainly a unique venue that is hard to pass up.

And despite the time difference that made catching both games stateside difficult from what I saw the fans in Australia seemed to enjoy the Major League Baseball experience.

And if some children in the stands grow up to be lifelong fans of baseball, or perhaps even turn into Major League players, like Tampa Bay Rays pitcher and Australia native Grant Balfour, then the money spent taking the game to Sydney will be worth it.

I was fortunate enough to travel to Australia a few years back and it is certainly a lovely place to visit as it is full of wonderful historical venues and culture.  But, due to it being located on the other side of the globe it is perhaps not the best venue for hosting regular season baseball games in the middle of Spring Training since it could put the teams playing in them at a disadvantage.

I am all for increasing the global reach of baseball and think that games should be played around the globe. I also firmly believe that baseball should once again be played at the Summer Olympic Games so I am not saying that North America should be the only area where Major League Baseball is played.

But, for the good of the game I think that those games that are played each year in exotic locales should count as Spring Training games and not regular season games.

Under this plan the fans in those far off countries would still have the chance to see Major League Baseball games in person but the players would not be at the disadvantage of already playing games that count in the middle of Spring Training.

Opening nights in baseball such as the one last year between the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers often feature large flags. Photo R. Anderson

Opening nights in baseball such as the one last year between the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers often feature large flags.
Photo R. Anderson

So, in my mind the real start of the season was last night between the Dodgers (winners of those two games in Australia) and the San Diego Padres.

Starting the year between two teams from the same state is nothing new for MLB.

Last year the prime time opener had a bit of Texas twang to it when the newly minted American League Houston Astros hosted their in-state and new division foes the Texas Rangers.

The Astros won the season opener last year against the Rangers and then proceeded to take a season long dive that would make a Grecian free diver proud.

Before that first pitch of the prime time opener each year there is the promise of a season full of potential. A single game, win or lose, certainly does not make a season. Winning the season opener in front of a prime time audience does not guarantee smooth sailing throughout the rest of the season anymore than losing the opener means that the season will be a complete waste.

While all eyes were on the Dodgers and the Padres last night, the other 28 teams will start play today and tomorrow as they each drive towards the goal of a World Series title.

There will be individual story lines to follow this year such as Derek Jeter’s final season as a player and Ryan Braun’s return from being suspended last year for Performance Enhancing Drug use.

One of the highlights of opening night is when the players from both teams are introduced and line the infield before the game. Photo R. Anderson

One of the highlights of opening night is when the players from both teams are introduced and line the infield before the game.
Photo R. Anderson

There will be larger stories to look at as well this season such as the role that expanded instant replay will have on the results of games in addition to what teams will exceed the preseason predictions and make a push for the playoffs.

The MLB season will be six months of endless possibilities that will allow fans of all ages to take in the sites and the sounds of the game just as they have for generations.

Sure, starting the season with a pair of games in a cricket stadium surrounded by wombats, koalas and kangaroos can be cool now and then but for me there is nothing like the appeal of multiple games every night back in the 30 Ballparks of Major League Baseball.

The cold days of winter are behind us for the most part and the Boys of Summer are ready to hit the ground swinging. And if one of those Boys of Summer happens to hit the bull they just might win a steak dinner.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to decide which games to watch tonight. Play Ball!

Copyright 2014 R Anderson