Saturday, November 7, 2015

Hey Buddy, I Need A Job!

The buddy system. We've all benefitted from it at some point in our life. Or perhaps hampered by it. It happens in all aspects of business from Wall Street to Main street. From retail to professional sports.
Baseball management is built on the buddy system. It's been this way for many years. You play ball, then you retire. If you're fortunate, you can coach, scout, manage or become a front office executive after your playing days are over. How are these jobs filled? The buddy system.
It goes like this. One either makes the phone calls and hires his buddies or one picks up the phone and calls a buddy and says, "Hey buddy! I need a job."
As I've said, this happens all the time in baseball, or any other sport for that matter.
But the times are a changing. It's not the lifelong baseball man hiring his friends to help run a team. It's a new breed of individual hiring his buddies. An outsider.
Now we have people who've never played the sport running teams. They're Ivy Leaguers who can crunch numbers. These Ivy Leaguers used to work on Wall Street. Since the Great Recession, the money doesn't flow freely on Wall Street anymore. Corporate America is tightening the wallet, watching the bottom line. So where are these guys going. They're lining up to work in professional baseball. 
Thanks to Billy Beane, who embraced sabermetrics, stat nerds are working the numbers to reveal a hidden game in baseball. These guys created new stats such as WHIP, VORP, WAR, OBPS, etc.
I like base statistics, but not to this extreme. (Math was always my worst subject.) It's information overload. It's overkill. It's too much!!!
Let's take the poster child for Mr. Ivy Leaguer working his way up the baseball ladder.....Theo Epstein.
A very young Theo Epstein was hired by the San Diego Padres as a intern in the scouting department in the early 90's. He caught the eye of Larry Lucchino, who then made him an assistant in the scouting department. Mr. Lucchino moved on to the Baltimore Orioles and took young Mr. Epstein with him.
Mr. Epstein made a name for himself. He eventually moved on to the Boston Red Sox and helped create the environment of winning and built a champion.
Now, back in the day, a baseball outsider would have been just that. An outsider looking in. It would have been the baseball lifer building and running a team.
I tried to get into professional baseball as a scout in the early 90's and I was rejected. I was told no professional experience, no job waiting for me. I was willing to work for free as a bird dog scout. "Thanks, but no thanks" is what I heard.
I didn't have professional playing experience, no Ivy League degree. No golden ticket into baseball.
I eventually got into professional baseball as a clubhouse manager for the Solano Steelheads of the old Western Baseball League. It wasn't glamorous, but without trying I got in. (I'll write more about that in a future post.)
Now professional is infested with outsiders running teams. Hiring their buddies to help out. I read something that baseball is the new Wall Street. One gets paid a handsome salary, brings in his buddies who also get paid handsomely. There was a joke about Theo Epstein bringing in Jed Hoyer as GM of the Cubs so Mr. Hoyer can decide which steakhouse they'll be eating at for dinner.
Why was it a joke? Because the buck starts and stops with Mr. Epstein. Why does he need a GM for? He makes all the decisions. Kinda reminds me of what hockey legend Gordie Howe referred to himself when he was named a vice president of the Detroit Red Wings.....he said he was the vice president of paperclips.
Similar situation in Los Angeles. Team president Andrew Friedman is THE decision maker. He had a great track record as the GM in Tampa Bay.
So what does he do? He names a GM who basically sits around and does nothing and makes millions doing it. His name is Farhan Zaidi. This is one interesting man. He admitted to knowing nothing about baseball about ten years ago. He was hired as an assistant in the Oakland Athletics front office. Being linked to Billy Beane made him a sought after commodity. This is a numbers cruncher. He learned how to scout as an outsider. He learned how to run a Major League organization as an outsider.
Now he's GM of the Los Angeles Dodgers. I tweeted a Dodgers beat writer and asked what does Farhan Zaidi do all day since Andrew Friedman makes all the decisions. His answer? He sits around and yawns all day. He tweeted the answer in jest, but I'm sure he was half serious too.
Again, I'm stumping for the baseball lifer to run a team. There's a poster child for the baseball outsider who has destroyed teams everywhere he goes. His name is Josh Byrnes. He's been GM of two teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Diego Padres. He simply doesn't know how to run a team. He left the Padres farm system in ruins and made bad decisions in Arizona. The thing is, his name keeps coming up for GM jobs. He's currently in the Dodgers front office as an assistant.
The baseball winter meetings are coming up. A lot of people will be looking for work. If I was running an organization I would throw away the sign that says,"No experience necessary, apply within."
I would be on the lookout for the baseball lifer. Someone who played the game. Knows situations. Knows how to coach and scout. Someone who can talk baseball. Real baseball talk. Someone who's been there done that and willing to do it again.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Remembering The World Football League

I've written before I was obsessed with football as a teenager. NFL, CFL, USFL, college football. I couldn't get enough football.
My cousin Richard and I would exchange newspaper clippings about football in our respective areas. He lived in southern California, home of my LA Rams.
Richard news clippings were a treasure trove for me. I live in 49ers country. I hate the 49ers. Enough said. I always enjoyed Richard's mail.
One year we came to visit, Richard had something to share with me. He was very excited to show me. He went to a stack of football magazines he had and pulled out something I'd never seen before.
It was a magazine of the World Football League. There were helmet logos I didn't recognize, teams I've never heard of. This particular issue was of the Southern California Sun, who played at Anaheim Stadium in 1974 and part of 1975.
I was hooked. I went through that magazine cover to cover. Read and re-read the articles. I remember an article about Virgil Carter called "The Computerized Quarterback". Virgil Carter was from the Sacramento area who once played for the Cincinnati Bengals.
I also remember an article about head coach Tom Fears. He was a part of the famous LA Rams receiving corps in the 1950's with Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch.
I would discover very recently that Tom Fears was Mexican, making him the first prominent Mexican to play in the NFL and coach. He was the first head coach of the New Orleans Saints. (Why Mexicans aren't recognized for our contribution to the NFL is beside me. A future post very soon.)
Anyways, I wanted the issue. Of course cousin Richard being a football freak like I was, wasn't going to part with it. Every year we came the first thing I would do after hugging everyone hello was go to Richard's room and look at that WFL magazine. Until one day we went and I went looking for it. I couldn't find it. I asked Richard where it was. He had this look of disappointment on his face and he told me that my aunt Connie, his mother, threw it away along with other magazines that were piling up around the house. My heart still aches over that.....
So I declared myself a World Football League historian. But there wasn't much recorded history of the league by the 90's.
I did come across a book at the Sacramento Library called, "While The Gettin's Good". It was about the first year of the WFL. From what I remember it was basically stories of teams going broke. One team was so broke they had to borrow athletic tape to tape up ankles before a game. One story discussed how players on the Honolulu Hawaiians were living off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and living in tents on the beach. And the owner of the Hawaiians owned the Sambo's restaurant chain. (I miss Sambo's. In this overly politically correct world we live in, the restaurant chain would generate controversy due to the decor of the restaurant. A little Indian boy named Sambo and a tiger. Long story, Google it.)
It was a great book. It's impossible to find now. (Hmmmm? Road trip to the downtown Sacramento library!)
This was nearly twenty years ago. All I had to go off of was memories of cousin Richard's magazine. I was probably the only person who heard of the Philadelphia Bell, Jacksonville Sharks, Portland Storm, Houston Texans ( yes people, the NFL had to buy the current Texans name off the WFL owner), New York Stars, Chicago Fire (later Wind), Detroit Wheels, Florida Blazers and the Birmingham Americans were.
I would eventually discover the Birmingham Americans were the Green Bay Packers of the WFL.
As time would pass, in the current world I live in, we have an all football network, the NFL Network. I LOVE the old NFL Films movies. One show was called The Lost Treasures, and the WFL was featured! Jackpot!! Video proof of the league. (God bless your everlasting soul Steve Sabol.) This show was over an hour of interviews of former players, coaches, broadcasters, and fans with stories of there memories of the WFL.
Great stories about how the league was built on little cash flow, bad credit and bouncing checks. The powerhouse franchise was the Birmingham Americans. They still have fans who meet frequently and talk about old times along with former players. The Americans would win the first World Bowl in 1974.
I kept the show on my tivo until it was accidentally erased! (I'm currently researching Amazon about which Lost Treasures show it was on.)
I however cannot talk about the WFL without mentioning the greatest football player (in his own mind) Jim "The King" Cochran, aka The Poor Man's Joe Namath. He was mentioned in the show and he lived large.....on very small paychecks. When times got tough, he'd move the family to his mom's house.
(He was in another NFL Films feature called Pottstown, Footballtown USA. He was interviewed in present day along with footage of him as a young football player. He easily had the BIGGEST EGO of any athlete I've ever heard talk of themselves. Not in an offensive way, but The King loved The King! I'd pay top dollar for that episode.)
This past Thursday, October 22nd, marked the 40th anniversary of the last day of the league. The league folded halfway through the 1975 season due to financial reasons. It wasn't drowning in red ink, more like red paint.
Men who were supposed to be paid were playing football for nothing. Literally nothing. Some teams never paid their players. Tough game to play for free.
Forty years later, the NFL is king and taking over the world. Too bad the World Football League couldn't do it.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Fear And Frying In Napa

Last week was a busy week. I was property of the PGA Tour. No, I didn't play in a tournament, but I was inside the ropes.
This was my second year volunteering for the Open in Napa. It's the first event of the 2015/16 season. I meant to write a post about it last year, but I was so exhausted from the week, I didn't get around to it. I posted most of my thoughts on Twitter. (@skipcastaneda on Twitter)
This year was much easier since I knew what I was doing. Last year I was a fish out of water.
Last year my role was being a marshall on the 16th hole. This year I was moved to the 17th hole. It's was a par 4, 375 yards.
The role of the marshall is quite easy, but you must focus. We had various assingments. We would rotate to the tee box, the gallery gates, the landing area and the green. There was always something going on around us. There were times when not much of anything was happening at our hole. The biggest lag in time was the time in between the morning group and afternoon group.
The biggest name to appear this year was Rory McIllroy. He drew the largest galleries. After he went through, the golf course was empty.
There were groups with names such David Toms, Rory Sabatini and Angel Cabrera who had no one following them. There were also no names with no one following them.
This year was different. Last year the golfers interacted with us volunteers more. This year, not at all. As a matter of fact, this year was work.
I'm not complaining, I'll volunteer again, but this year had a different vibe to it. I'm guessing the contestants took it as a serious tournament this year.
The final day saw a two hole playoff with Emilliano Grillo taking home the trophy and the winners check. I got a chance to offer my congratulations to him. It was nice to connect with a first time PGA Tour winner. It was also nice to shake hands with a newly minted millionaire.
After the awards ceremony, it was time to go home. I wanted to stay longer. Just soak up the energy left behind after a busy week. But it was time to go. Speaking of moving on, Fry's announced they are moving on. In 2016, the tournament will be known as the Safeway Open. I work for a competing grocery chain. I'll go back to volunteer, but I won't wear the gear.
I eventually made it to the front gate and waited for a shuttle to take me to my car. There was a long delay. I decided to walk. It was hard to walk away. I didn't want the week to end.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Football In The Great Wide Open

Tucked away in the northwest part of extreme Northern California is Humboldt State University. It's a beautiful campus in Arcata, California. I've heard of the school, but didn't think anything of it until my cousin Billy, who plays for Azuza Pacific University (never heard of APU until Billy went there), played Humboldt State over the weekend.
So my cousins and I set a about a long road trip........a very long road trip. 
They picked me up in Suisun, California, which was on the way on Hwy 12. They had already been in the car for six hours. We would be in the car for another six hours. 
When we left after picking me up, along the way you can see the state changing. I live in what's called the North Bay, which sits along the northern end of the California Delta region. Lots of channels and waterways that takes boats out to the Pacific.
We passed wine country, the coastal ranges, and eventually in to the Redwood Empire. 
Now my family is from Southern California. The north state was a different world to them. 
The air was clean and fresh with a crispness to it. They live in smog. To them, the weather was a treat, and it made me happy that they were enjoying the scenery. 
We finally made it to Eureka. (Eureka we finally found it! It's the state motto to those of you outside California.)
My family was hungry and by accident, we ate at the same restaurant as the APU football players were having their team meal. So we got to chat with Billy for a few moments before he had to go back to his team meal. They ate in a separate hall and we could hear them laugh, tell stories and applaud one another when their names were called. It was fried chicken night at The Samoa Cookhouse. It was a wonderful meal and we ate a "family style" dinner. We passed plates of food to one another and ate everything off our plates. (We went back for breakfast the next day. Thank you Samoa Cookhouse for making me gain five pounds!)
On to the game. Humboldt football is a big deal. The whole town looks forward to the season, and the Redwood Bowl is filled to capacity for every home game.
The Redwood Bowl is a great place to watch a football game. Redwood trees tower over the field, and the other athletic facilities are top notch. I was expecting a beat up old stadium that was falling apart. It makes Hornet Field in Sacramento look bad. 
As for the team itself, Humboldt was ranked number six in the country in Division 1 AA. Their offense is explosive as they score 55 to 62 points a game. 
My cousin Richard said it was the weirdest offense he ever saw and he couldn't really describe why. He said I would have to see it for myself. I agree with cousin Richard, it was a very unusual offense. They run the ball, and run the ball all night long. Their running back, Ja'Quan Gardner, had 100 yards the first quarter! He eventually finished with 305 yards rushing. That young man is gonna play professionally somewhere. I would say he'll be playing on Sundays, but he has CFL written all over him, and the CFL plays a weird weekly schedule.
Cousin Billy had four tackles. (Side note- NFL Hall of Famer Jackie Slater told Billy's parents and I that Billy is a very good football player and APU is lucky to have him. What a compliment! And what an unexpected treat to meet Mr. Slater.)
Humboldt and their offense had a tough fight against APU's defense. I imagine other coaches who'll soon be playing Humboldt will be watching APU's defensive game film to figure out how APU held Humboldt to 34 points.
After the game, we went down to the field and spoke to Billy. He had to rush off to the bus. Not to go back to the hotel, but back to Glendora. (Azuza and Glendora are right next to each other. The school straddles the border of both towns.) That was a very long over night bus ride. (Funny thing is the team flew into Sacramento, then bussed it up to Eureka. I guess a small school couldn't afford to fly them back.)
On the way home this morning, very early this morning, we were talking about next years trip back to Eureka. I loved it. I rediscovered a part of California I haven't been to since 1985. Also went in 1983 and I thought Eureka was another planet. But that's another story. 
I have another reason to go back to Eureka next summer. The Humboldt Crabs of the collegiate summer league baseball fame play ball just next to the Humboldt State campus. A future blog post!

The First Of The Last

I attended the Sacramento Kings pre-season game against the San Antonio Spurs. No big deal right? It just a preseason game.
Well, it's the beginning of the end for Arco/Power Balance/Sleep Train Arena.
This is the last year for NBA basketball in Natomas. As I write this, the Golden 1 Center is a year away from completion.
I attended the very first game at Arco Arena, a charity basketball game organized by Kevin Johnson. The interior of the arena wasn't finished yet.
We were in awe of the new place. Twenty seven years later it's long since obsolete.
It was built on the cheap by Gregg Lukenbill's construction company.
I even attended the first ever NBA game at Arco Arena. It was the night George Bush won the presidency. I wanted Dukakis to win. (What did I know about politics? I was just a junior in high school.)
I've attended many games over the years. The time went by fast. This season will probably go fast. The final game in April will be here before you know it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Fairgrounds Golf Is No More

For many years I can remember driving past Joe Mortara Golf Course in Vallejo and thinking what a cool place it was. It was a nine hole golf course set in the infield of an old horse racing track. However I never stopped. Just kept driving past it. I guess I thought I was too good to play a course situated at an abondoned race track.
Well, last year on a whim, I stopped to play it. I remember the day, July 2nd. I remember the day for a very personal reason. It was the day a TV commercial I appeared in was released. I tried to play my round of golf and was besieged with well wishes from family and friends.
Anyways, back to the round. I went to the "pro shop" and paid my green fees. When I got to the first tee. I was joined by five other people who didn't want to pair up. (I hate playing golf with people I don't know. I'm uncomfortable with the awkward conversation. One time many years ago I played golf with a guy who felt he needed to tell me about his wife, kids, job, boss, etc. I came to the course to get away from my troubles, not listen to someone else's.)
So we waited.......and waited. Finally it was my turn. I hit my first tee shot about twenty yards from where I was and lost the ball. The ground was that bad. Weeds were everywhere. The grass hadn't been taken care of for God knows how long. So I hit my next shot.......on to the racetrack. Not a good start to say the least.
This course had been around for years before I was born and it seemed like when the original greens keeper died, the course management didn't bother to hire another one.
I wouldn't even say this course had grass. Patches of dirt, mud, puddles of water was more like it. 
Needless to say, this wasn't an enjoyable round of golf. I must have lost about a dozen balls. I remember on the ninth hole, I drilled one next to this bridge. I saw where it landed, or so I thought. It disappeared. Worst golf course ever!
Over a year later, I noticed something about the place when I drove past it several times in the last few weeks. The course itself looked abandoned. It was a brown golf course. I thought because of the drought we are experiencing here in California, they were not watering it anymore. After some research I discovered the county decided to shut it down. It was operating at a loss for many years. There are many golfing options to choose from in the area and no one cares to play golf at what could be described as a pitch and putt, and I'm being nice calling it that.
So without even trying, my first time was my last time playing there. 
I'm sure it was a great little course back in its heyday. I played it as it was slowly dying, literally. It was too expensive to maintain. 
Now I wish I would have stopped and played it when I was younger. Now it's gone.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

27 Years Later

Last night I witnessed something I have been waiting to see most of my baseball life. I finally saw an on field celebration after a team won a division title. It happened to have been my favorite team, the LA Dodgers. But I should have seen this happen 27 years ago, but it didn't happen. Allow me to explain.
September 1988. I was 16 years old without a car. (I was a bike riding, walking to school loser. One other reason I didn't have a girlfriend in high school. Thanks mom! Ha!) I had tickets to a Giants/Dodgers game at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. It was a Sunday afternoon game. I had four tickets that cost $11 each. I arranged a ride with a friend. His uncle was supposed to take us along with his younger brother.
So I show up to my friends house to get ready to leave. Then I was told of a slight problem. Turns out my friends uncle wouldn't take us unless I got a 5th ticket for his friend to go. This was blackmail! This was Giants/Dodgers with playoff implications on the line. This is one of the most storied rivalries in sports. We call Ticketron (Before there was Stubhub, there was Ticketron to all you young readers out there. You called for tickets. This was before cell phones mind you.)
The game is sold out. So it looks like my friends uncles friend was bleep out of luck.
It turns out we were bleep out of luck.
No extra ticket, no ride was his rebuttal. He bailed on us.
So now we're three teenagers without a ride. My friends parents had plans. I called every relative I knew and they all said no chance. I was calling everyone I knew who had a car to take me. No luck. (On a side note, my friends mom said she'd pay me back the $33 for the tickets we couldn't use. I'm still waiting for it. What's $33 with 27 years interest?)
So I had to watch the Dodgers possibly clinch on TV at home. Imagine watching the game with tickets to the game in your hands and there's nothing you can do about it. I was torturing myself by watching the game. But I had to see the Dodgers win the NL West pennant.
They didn't. They lost that day. I felt they would have won if I was there. Wishful teenage thinking.
The Dodgers went on to clinch the title in San Diego.
Who knew that day I would have to wait 27 years for that situation to happen again.
It happened last night.
Clayton Kershaw threw a masterpiece. 13 strikeouts and allowed one hit in a complete game shutout. One of the best pitching performances I ever saw.
Funny thing is, Clayton Kershaw was born in 1988. He was 6 months old that fateful day. Who would have known a new born baby would one day control my destiny. (I know, I'm being dramatic for literary purposes).
So I can finally cross something off my bucket list. Life is good!