Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Future Is Now

In Back to the Future 2, it was predicted the Chicago Cubs would win the World Series in 2015 over a then fictional Miami team.
The fictional Miami team became a reality in 1993 and went on to win the World Series in 1997 and 2003, as everyone in Chicagoland waits for the Cubs to win a World Series in 107 years.
Back to the movie for a moment. That prediction took place in 1989. The Cubs played the Giants in the NLCS that year, but were beaten by Will Clark's bat.
Let's move on 26 years. The Cubs have been to the playoffs a few times. They were THISCLOSE to the World Series in 2003, four outs away. But as you know a certain fan reached out for a foul ball and the Cubs jinx continued, and Mr. Steve Bartman has been in hiding ever since.
Over the last few years, things have slowly fell into place for the Cubs. Their scouting and player development department have turned out a lot of prospects to get excited about. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber. They stole Addison Russell from the A's. The Ricketts family is finally spending money and brought in Jon Lester from free agency.
But the main thing the Cubs did to turn the team around was hiring Joe Maddon to manage.
At first I didn't like how team president Theo Epstein handled the situation. He fired Rick Renteria just so he could hire Maddon before any other team could.
I tweeted that Renteria should have had a chance to work with this group of kids.
But in this win right now culture, Epstein had to make the move right now. It was business.
Maddon has a track record of working with young players, grooming and developing them to be not only major leaguers, but how to win in the big leagues.
As of now things are looking good in Chicago. They presently sit at 73-52, third place in the very tough NL Central, and they are 2nd place for the Wild Card.
Kris Bryant is making a case for Rookie of the Year.
I saw the Cubs on Tuesday. They are one hard hitting ballclub. I feel they're one prized free agent pitcher from winning the whole thing.
I saw the future of Chicago baseball on Wednesday. I don't think they'll beat the Miami baseball team(It was a alligator logo in the movie) to win the World Series, but in due time, the curse will be broken.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A World Without Mickey Mantle

Twenty years ago Mickey Mantle passed away. At the time I was 23, just a young kid who had no idea about life.
I remember it being big news that day. A lot of Baby Boomers expressed sadness that day. It really effected a lot men who were middle aged, guys as old as I am now.
At the time, I didn't understand as to why it was such a big deal. Yes he was an iconic baseball player, but he was just a baseball player. Twenty years later, I understand.
Life is sweet. Life is short. I'm in middle age now. I've had loved ones I took for granted pass away. Life is moving so fast. Sometimes I think of my childhood and wish for simpler times. I was a child one day collecting baseball cards, watching as much baseball as I could. I read about baseball as much as possible. My biggest worries back them were finishing my homework, what was on TV and what was for dinner.
Now I'm 43 with a lot of responsibilities. I'm not married and I have no kids, but I feel like I have a lot on my plate.
But I think back to being a kid. But I can't go back.
Let's go back twenty years ago when I was questioning the significance of Mantle's death. Those 40-50 year old men were effected because a part of their childhood died that day. They experienced mortality too. Now those men are in their 70's or 80's. I can't imagine what will happen to me when I'm that age. I hope life will be kind to me.
But someday when my favorite baseball player ever passes away, Steve Garvey, I will know how those men felt when Mantle passed away.
Sometimes I think if Mantle had taken better care of himself, he could have played longer, and possibly lived longer.
I wonder what he would think of baseball nowadays. I'm sure he would be one of those guys who say, "Back in my day we were better, the game was better."
Things were always better when you're younger.
With each passing day, I appreciate what I had when I was younger. I wish I could go back to twenty years ago today and appreciate how much a generation appreciated The Mick.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Had A Sip Of Coffee In The Bigs

Sorry for the delay. Very busy at headquarters.
Well, two weeks ago I was fortunate enough to take part in a batting practice and fielding drills at AT&T Park in San Francisco. I made the big leagues....for a couple of hours.
Having a cup of coffee means you were only in the bigs long enough to have a cup of coffee, not stay for very long.
(I love baseball lingo!)
A group of us were given the four star treatment.
There were three groups divided into outfielders, infielders and hitters.
My group shagged flies in the outfield hit by former San Francisco Giants pitcher Bill Laskey. At his age he can still hit! I've always had a depth perception problem in the outfield......still do. I didn't catch one fly ball. I think it was because I was in awe of being on a Major League field. (In 1992 I was on the outfield of the now demolished Kingdome in Seattle for a singles concert. My only memories is the feeling of Astroturf. Very spongy.)
After about half an hour running after fly balls I couldn't catch, we then went on to our next station....the batting cage.
I originally thought we were going to face a live pitcher for batting practice. I was disappointed to see it was a pitching machine. (I knew I should have taken hacks at Scandia) We were allowed about twenty pitches. Of the twenty, I hit about six. The machine was throwing pitches on the outside part of the plate. I adjusted and got a few hits. I was jammed once and it stung my hands. I hit a Texas Leaguer just barely past second base. The others went back to the pitcher. I used a Louisville Slugger bat left over from my days as a clubbie for the Solano Steelheads back in 2000. (Long live the Western Baseball League!)
After batting, we took grounders at third, the hot corner.
Rich Murray, brother of Hall of Famer Eddie Murray hit grounders to us.
This is when I truly respected the speed of the game. I was playing back behind the bag, in anticipation of bad hops of the ground. The infield is mowed so short, a true roll comes off the ball. Rich yelled out to me, "I can tell you played on some bad fields. You were playing as if you were expecting the ball to take a wicked hop to you." I got to thinking, your local baseball park isn't Major League quality.
I was quite proud of myself at third. I cleanly fielded most of the balls hit to me. Some did go past me and I had to run to the outfield to get them.
I say I respect the speed of the game because they probably hit the grounders at half speed to us. I got to thinking of how ground balls come off the bat at game speed.
After about almost two hours of baseball workouts, we had a mini question and answer session with Laskey and Murray. Bill Laskey and I spoke of our dislike for Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers. (He mentioned Puig is a pain in the ass!)
Murray gave me a hard time about my fielding at third base. All in jest of course.
We then went up to the Club Level for lunch. Every Major League clubhouse provides "spread" for the players after a game. Spread for us was Polish dogs, salads, hamburgers, chili and dessert.
We were then given some gifts, a Giants hat and sunglasses. We were also given tickets to that nights game!
As we were leaving the stadium we got lost in the bowels of the stadium. As we were walking around, I stopped to take a picture of a plaque of one of my favorite sportswriters, Nick Peters. I heard someone walking behind me...it was Giants manager Bruce Bochy! He gave us directions on how to exit the park. We continued on to our exit. We then came upon another familiar face. It was long time Giants Clubhouse Manager Mike Murphy! He waved hello to me like he knew me!
It was a day I didn't want to end, but all good things must come to an end. I had a few hours to kill before the night game.
I walked to Lefty O'Douls for a beer. A friend of mine who lives in The City was right about her  description of the place..... dark, loud and hole in the wall dump. I loved it.
Later that evening I saw Madison Bumgarner throw a masterpiece. (I hate to admit it, but he's amazing!)
Brandon Crawford hit two homeruns out of the field I stood on earlier that day.
That day made me wish I would have tried harder as a kid to excell at baseball.
Being in the big leagues is like a drug. You crave it and you want more of it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Booster Club Nightmares

Football season is upon us and that means it's football fund raising time.
I was enjoying an evening out in the back patio with my family in southern California when the conversation turned to my cousins fundraising efforts.
I noticed some discount cards that most high school football teams sell. It was $10 and it gets you discounts all over town. I was gonna buy one but the fund raiser was over.
There's a certain limit my cousin had to raise and he raised it, actually he exceeded the amount.
I asked what does his team do with the money. He says it goes to equipment, gas  for the bus when they make roadtrips.
I then asked what happens if a kid doesn't raise the money. He said they get the hand me down equipment.
I then made the comment that football is an expensive sport to play. (In my last post, I mentioned my mom wouldn't sign the permission slip. She was a single mother too, and she told me years later that football was just too expensive to take part in. And she mentioned I would have been torn to shreds. Thanks mom!)
So I then spoke to my cousins about high school football fundraising. It all starts with the booster club. They tell you how much money is needed to be raised per kid. In this case it's about $500.
Now for some families, $500 is easy to raise. They mentioned some kids aren't fortunate to raise that kind of money.
Some of these kids live in the same neighborhoods, and they're asking the same people to donate. Most walk away empty handed. They still get to play, but with the hand me down equipment. The hand me down equipment is a tell tale that they didn't raise the money. So they're made fun of.
The woman who runs this booster club seems like an evil tyrant with her hand out. It doesn't end with the equipment fund raising. There's also the volunteer list of duties to do on game day. The worst of which is running the snack bar. There's also selling programs, raffle tickets, parking lot duty.
If there aren't any volunteers, you're assigned a duty.
Now, most people work. Some parents just can't drop everything and volunteer. Most parents can't even write a check to help with the fundraising.
I asked what this booster club president does for a living. She does nothing. Her husband owns his own business and they're very comfortable.
I asked what does she do on game days to help out. Nothing. She's in the stands watching her son play.
She also gossips about the other parents and kids.
My cousins put one kid through high school football. They knew what to expect. They do what they have to do and then some. But it's not enough.
Ms. Booster Club president is always asking for more.
We spoke at length about the egos and attitudes in kids sports. I have other friends who help out with Little League, Babe Ruth and high school baseball. It seems as if the adults overlook the fact that it's all about the kids.
Whenever I'm invited to watch a friends kid play, I can't sit in the stands for very long. There's always that one parent who speaks their mind and makes things miserable for everyone.
My cousins sit by themselves away from the drama. I commended them for dealing with Ms. Booster Club. I don't think I could do it. I'm sure if I had kids I'd be singing a different tune. I'm glad I don't have to deal with it. I'm happy buying a discount card I'll never use.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

I Missed First Practice 29 Years Ago

Ninth grade football! Every boy at Douglass Jr. High was talking about trying out for football the summer we were about to become ninth graders.
I was one of them.
I could pass the football unlike anyone at Campbell Park. I was always the quarterback. I INSISTED I be the quarterback.
I boasted to anyone who was around I was going to try out for the Douglass Lions football team.
I was gonna pass the Douglass Lions to victory every week. I was gonna be The Man!
I remember the morning before tryouts going to bed early to get my rest. First meeting was at 8 am sharp. I was gonna be the first one there......
I overslept.
Woke up at 7:45am. My friend Sergio and I were gonna go to the meeting together.
We went together, we were just late.
I remember we both were too embarrassed to walk in. I thought Coach Smith was gonna rip us a new one.
We stood around deciding what to do.
Sergio decided to go home. I did too.
I'm sure if we had walked in, we would have took some razzing from the guys and that would have been the end of it.
I always wondered what would have happened if I went to that first meeting. In my then teenage mind, I would have been the starting quarterback, the big man on campus, being every girls dream at school.
But looking back, reality tells me I would have been knocked around like a tackling dummy.
I was 5 foot nothing, a scrawny 120 pounds. I would have been too short to see over the line. Passing with a real football other than a Nerf football like I did at Campbell Park would have been a challenge. I could throw like Joe Montana with a Nerf ball.
There was one other obstacle that would have prevented me from football glory, and it wasn't on the gridiron. She lived with me, she was my mom.
My mom would not have signed the permission slip allowing me to play. She thought I would have gotten paralyzed by a freak hit or just plain torn to shreds. (Gee, thanks mom!)
I told her that I would have lifted weights to get stonger. She said I was too weak to lift weights. (Gee, thanks mom!)
She insist it would have been a miserable experience.
Well, the Douglass Lions went on to win the championship without me. The guys were celebrities around school wearing their football jerseys around school on game day. I was just another schmuck in street clothes.
I could never bring myself to watch the games. I felt like I should have been out there. I had a afternoon paper route that conflicted me from watching the games anyway.
Hard to believe it's almost thirty years later. Where does the time go?
Now I'm on vacation getting ready to watch a cousin participate in his first practice with pads.
I'm sure in thirty years he'll have better memories of football than I do.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Telling Your Bosses What They Want To Hear

The 2015 trade deadline passed yesterday and now the dust has settled. One team that was expected to conduct a fire sale stood pat and did nothing.
Last winter San Diego Padres GM AJ Preller constructed to what many thought would be a contending team and give the Dodgers a run for their money.
Preller signed James Shields, traded for Matt Kemp, Melvin Upton and Craig Kimbrel. The Padres looked great on paper. Everyone in San Diego was excited. Preller promised a winner.
The excitement didn't last long. The pitching staff is struggling and the hitters can't hit. It's been a long miserable season in San Diego.
Preller was ordered to dump salary. They weren't calling it a fire sale, just moving contracts. (Detroit is calling it a reboot).
This past week, myself and the other 29 teams were looking to San Diego to move Kemp, Shields, Upton, Kimbrel, Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner, Seth Smith, everyone!
Yesterday the baseball world was awaiting news from the Padres. At 1:01pm Pacific Time, nothing happened.
Last year deals weren't officially announced until well after the deadline.
When I sat down to dinner, it was obvious the Padres did nothing. They stood pat.
AJ Preller told his bosses what they wanted to hear, "I believe we can make the postseason with this roster "
Talk about saying anything to keep your job!
Everyone knows AJ Preller's plan didn't work. It blew up in his face. He should have saved face and made deals to build for the future.
Now he's gambling his future with the Padres and hoping this team makes the playoffs.
Something tells me he'll be known as former Padres GM the first week in October.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Live From The Broadcast Booth

I've always been curious on how things work. My mom remembers me tearing my bike apart so I could put it back together again. There were always extra pieces afterwards that I couldn't figure out where they went on the bike. It just reinforced I was curious about things and not mechanically inclined.
My curiosity took me to the broadcast booth at Colusa Casino Stadium in Marysville, California to oversee how a baseball broadcast works.
We at home just listen to the game in progress. The highlights we hear on soundbites is the finished product.
We don't see the hours of preparation a broadcaster does to deliver a quality broadcast. It involves preparing game notes, getting info about every player on the roster and going to the clubhouse to gather a story or two that a broadcaster may tell during the game.
As I said, we hear the finished product. I wanted to see a work in progress. How does one with so much information to deliver make it happen? I was bound to find out.
It's not as easy as it seems. I can't just write my friendly local Major League Baseball team and ask to sit in the booth and watch. (The Oakland Raiders didn't even respond to my request for a press pass. Yup, not so friendly)
I was thinking about writing the local AAA team, the Sacramento River Cats, to sit in and listen and gather notes. AAA is a notch below the big leagues, so I figured I would get a minor league rejection letter.
Hmmmm, what to do?
Then it hit me. There's a collegiate summer baseball team in Marysville called the Marysville Gold Sox. I listen to the strong radio signal of KUBA 1600 AM and remembered they broadcast the games over the summer.
So I wrote their play by play man Geoff Flynn and asked for press box access. The worst they could say is no.
I wrote a month in advance. No answer. I figured I was just getting a summer league rejection letter. Two days before the game, I got a response!
I was told I was more than welcome to sit in and watch. Just come on up to Marysville.
So I brought my notepad and scorebook to the pressbox.
"Hi! Are you Felix? I'm Geoff, nice to have you here!" Geoff quickly showed me around the pressbox and introduced me to everyone. Everyone being two other people. An older gentleman who was the scoreboard operator and a young man who was the PA announcer.
Geoff had to gather a few notes and quickly left for the clubhouse. A young lady came in with food and cold soda for Geoff and she asked if I wanted anything. I had a big lunch and I told her I was fine. I would later regret not getting a soda as it got very hot up there in the cozy confines of the broadcast booth.
Geoff came back and hurriedly recorded his opening. During all this time, he was constantly talking to a producer back at the studio. The producer always told him how much time it was until commercial break was over and after Geoff would conclude a half inning of play, the producer would tell him he was "clear", meaning he was off the air. It was roughly 90 seconds or so of commercials, and Geoff would sign on again to describe more action.
During the course of the game he would obviously describe the play by play. Between pitches he would tell a story of that particular batter. The Verizon Air Series is a college wood bat league. It's basically kids getting some extended playing time and getting experience hitting with a wood bat. The kids (I feel old saying that, but they're kids) come from all over the country. Some from big schools and others from schools I never heard of. (Heartland College, New Mexico Highlands....where are these places?)
I asked Geoff if he gets to know the players so he can pass on a story about some of them during a game. He said he doesn't get to know them as much as he'd like, as the season goes by so fast and the lack of roadtrips doesn't help getting to know the guys. (That's for another post, the team itself)
Geoff asked if I'd like to talk for an inning or two. I think I said yes before he finished his question!
So we quickly got ready for me to make my radio debut.
"You're on in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1", the producer from the studio told us.
Geoff told the audience at home what inning we were headed to and then he introduced me for everyone to hear in the north valley.
He asked me what brought me to Marysville, why was I interested in the Gold Sox and he asked me about my blog. I was nervous at first, but I got comfortable quickly. I was mostly trying to avoid talking over him, so I spoke between pitches or after a play was made. Geoff had a job to do and I didn't want to interrupt him. It was his booth and I was a guest. The two innings I was on the air, it went very quick. No on air catastrophes to speak of, although I did describe the Gold Sox as being sloppy.
I went back to keeping score of the game and taking notes for this post. I wanted to tweet some of what was happening, but doing three things all at once was impossible. I could barely keep score.
Geoff was great at handling everything happening in the game, keeping score, and preparing for the later innings. He was constantly talking to the producer back at the studio.
His setup for the broadcast was simple. It was a laptop hooked up with Skype, a Wi-Fi card, a mini mixing board and a digital recorder. And of course microphone headsets. It was that simple.
Over the course of the game he would tell a funny story and look over at me with a smile while telling it. I could see in his eyes and hear in his voice he loves his job.
Radio seems very fast paced and sitting in the booth I could see that it is.
I really enjoyed the opportunity to sit and watch.
I asked Geoff about "The Grind". I worked in professional baseball for one summer. I was warned about the Grind. By the end of the season, I was exhausted. It's a grind to show up at the ballpark everyday and go to work. A regular job is a grind, so is life in general. But in baseball being at the ballpark 12 hours a day, it's an exhausting grind.
He says he was very tired and the grind is getting to him. I totally knew how he felt.
I stuck around for the post game show. I spoke with Geoff, the PA announcer and the scoreboard operator long after the fans left. It was a very long day and I had a long drive home. I thanked Geoff for letting me drop in. I told him I was coming for the final homestand. I told him I would email him letting him know when I was coming. He said not to email, just show up.
This is Skip signing off until next time!