Saturday, August 31, 2013

July 9- Bakersfield Blaze

A full year has come and gone since I last set foot inside of Sam Lynn Ballpark in Bakersfield, California, where I attended my first Bakersfield Blaze game as a spectator since 2008 along with my friend, and fellow Oakland Athletics fan Toni Taylor (@Condorsfan06). Prior to the Blaze’s final game of the series against the Lake Elsinore Storm it dawned on me that it was slowly approaching 12 years since I had left my post as bat boy some time near the end of July in 2000. 12 years. Wow! Where does the time go? I know I’ve gone on about my bat boy days in a few posts all ready, but I don’t plan on doing much of that with this post. My fourth, and final Blaze post I have set for August will fill in a lot of the gaps I’ve left, as well as rekindle a few of the connections I had with players who have since faded into the record books and moved on to bigger and sometimes better things. But for this post, it’s all about the game which took place on July 9, 2012.

Toni and I had been talking since my campaign for the MLB Fan Cave kicked off in February of 2012. What started it was when the Bakersfield newspaper, The Bakersfield Californian, ran a reworded story about me and my time in Bakersfield based around the reel I had down for KEZI in Eugene, Oregon. Since the two of us were both A’s fans it became sort of a natural grown for conversation through Twitter and Facebook. When I made it to New York City Toni hooked me up with a Rollie Fingers bobblehead which she had gotten from her trip to the Coliseum early into the 2012 campaign. 

What’s funny about this is that until I received that Rollie bobblehead I never owned, nor had any desire to own a bobblehead. To me they always seemed like a very fragile space waster, but I have since changed my tune about that after other A’s loyalists joined in on the fun and hooked me up with their spare bobbleheads as well. I just can’t complain against that. Toni and I had chatted about catching a Blaze or an A’s game some times during the 2013 season as neither of us expected that I would ever be sent home from the Fan Cave to be able to make either teams’ games during the 2012 season. Well, as lady luck would have it, I was suddenly given a plethora of time around Memorial Day and I made sure to stick to my word once I figured out when I would be headed down to Southern California.

Toward the end of June I had started my Major League Baseball road trip, but also made to sure to include as many minor league games as I possibly could, which, at the time, meant a lot of Eugene Emeralds games. My original ballpark tour plans were only supposed to be relegated to the West Coast. It wasn’t until partway into July that I decided to expanded into Canada and the East Coast. Nevertheless, all of the stops on my West Coast tour were plotted out perfectly. After I made my run in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Anaheim and then San Diego I would have a week off in Bakersfield to relax before I made my way back to Oregon through a couple day stop in San Francisco and Oakland.

Originally I was supposed to make it from San Diego to Bakersfield on Sunday, July 8th in time for the Blaze game that evening; however, I ended up going back to Anaheim for the final game of the Los Angeles Angels/Baltimore Orioles series with my friend Matthew James (@MattyJay27) which I’ll go into more detail in a not-too-distant post. But alas, I finally made it back home to Buck Owens country and made it to the game with Toni.

Now, I had at least two opportunities to catch the Blaze at home had I left Eugene like two or three days in advance. One of the biggest draws for me to get back to Bakersfield in good time was to be able to see their star player Billy Hamilton tear up the base paths as he was well on his way for setting the Minor League single-season stolen base record held by New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals great Vince Coleman. Before I had left Oregon Hamilton was still on the brink of triple digits and the Major League All-Star break was rapidly approaching. But since the MLB All-Star break didn’t affect the MiLB schedule I figured I was in the clear. Nope! What I forgot to take into consideration was that Hamilton might get called up for the MLB Futures Game, which takes place the day before the All-Star game and right before the Home Run Derby. Guess where Hamilton was when I pulled my car into the parking lot of Sam Lynn. Yah, Kansas City. Needless to say, I was in a pretty sour mood with myself once I became privy to that information. I mean, it was all ready bad enough that I wasn’t at the All-Star Game with the Fan Cave, a decision I’m still beyond confused about.

When I met up with Toni I did my best to keep all of my frustration from the day’s events inside; however, I was still pretty heated about being kicked out of the Fan Cave in the first place so I was a bit crabby for bits and pieces of the game. Some of it was brought up in casual conversation about my experience in New York; other bits came as a result of seeing fellow Cave Dweller Ricardo Marquez’s face on the top of the home run slide during Angels’ 3B/OF Mark Trumbo’s turn at the plate for the Home Run Derby.

The Blaze had gotten off to a hot start by building a 3-1 lead over the Storm which started with a RBI-double from current Cincinnati Red Donald Lutz who I wrote about back on May 6th. But alas, the Blaze squandered the lead in the fourth, but got it right back in the fifth. It was around this time that Toni and I made our way to the team store to pick up some caps. I only had two of their caps at the time, one from my bat boy days and the other that I wrote about on January 16th. Most New Era Caps start at about $34.99 no matter if they’re MLB or MiLB; however, in some rare cases quite a few MiLB teams will sell their caps for less than that. In the case of the Blaze caps they had their 2011-present home and 2011-present alternate cap (this one) for $25 each. Sold!!! They also had their Stars & Stripes cap available for the same price, but I said no to that one for some dumb reason. AAAAARRRR!!! 

After snapping a quick shark photo we watched the rest of the game from the comforts of right behind home plate. I’ve always been more of a right field bleacher kind of guy in Oakland, but at other parks I’ve always fancied sitting on either sides of the dugouts; rarely do I ever sit behind home plate. The Storm tied the game up in the top of the sixth inning, but the Blaze countered again by notching one of their own off of a Theo Bowe single. From the seventh inning on the game turned into a pitchers duel as the Blaze were able to maintain their 6-5 lead until the Storm succumbed to their final out.

After the game Toni and I shot the breeze for a bit while I walked over to the clubhouse entrance to snap a photo of Blaze manager Ken Griffey signing autographs for kids. Yes, that Ken Griffey.  
 What I wouldn’t find out until the middle of November of 2012 is that the red-headed kid on the left is the nephew of a regular customer of mine from when I worked at Just Sports (@JustSportsPDX) over the holidays. It was one of those “small world” moments for sure. Toni and I made our way back to my car where I had quite a few A’s hats for her to choose from as payback for the Rollie bobblehead she had hooked me up with. I definitely felt like the right thing to since she had been so generous to me.  And especially for spending time with me as I made the trip back to one of my favorite and most cherished places in the entire world, Sam Lynn Ballpark. 

#12/4-104: Back on March 24th I wrote the what is technically part two of this story, but every now-and-then I like to get all Quentin Tarantino on y’all and write my stories out of sequence. Some of you might cite the film “Memento” as well, but this isn’t exactly backwards storytelling as it is foreshadowing. You know what, I’ve gotten way too technical with this, so let me steer this back on course…

Hamilton was drafted by the Reds in the second round of the 2009 amateur Baseball Draft out of Taylorsville High School in Taylorsville, Mississippi. With such a high draft position under his belt he went straight to the Rookie Leagues for two seasons: 2009 with the Gulf Coast League Reds and then in 2010 with the Billings Mustangs of the Pioneer League in Montana. In 2011 Hamilton found himself with the Class-A Dayton Dragons betting leadoff to the tune of a .278 average and .340 on-base percentage. Oh, and 103 stolen bases to boot while only getting caught 20 times. Hamilton also managed to muscle three home runs over the wall and leg out 18 doubles and nine triples that season. With such impressive numbers he was a guaranteed promotion to advanced-A Bakersfield in 2012.

Hamilton started out the year wearing #12, but switched it to #4 throughout the season, hence the 12/4. The Reds wanted Hamilton to lower his strikeout numbers from 133 the previous year with the Dragons, as well as raise his batting average a bit. Hamilton did both with ease. In 82 games with the Blaze Hamilton hit .323 and raised his on-base percentage to .413. Hamilton also managed to match his total number of doubles and triples as he did in 2011, but the one thing to look at is the fact that Hamilton played in 135 games (53 less) than what he was at in Bakersfield. Oh, and just because he could, Hamilton swiped 104 bags, one more than he did in Dayton. You want to talk about the next great base stealer? Talk about the next great leadoff man. And to reiterate what I had said earlier, I missed seeing this kid play live by about two days. If this post has a lesson to be taught, it’s definitely that you should support your local Minor League Baseball team. You never know when you might be able to say, “Wow! I remember when I saw him before the Majors.”

The rest of Hamilton’s 2012 season is featured in the Pensacola Blue Wahoos post linked here or above.

July 8- Cincinnati Reds

If there has ever been a moment of a “complete lapse of judgment” in any of these New Era Cap posts today has certainly become the day to show it. Actually, I really shouldn’t be so hard on myself. After all, this is actually the first Cincinnati Reds cap I purchased. 

It was some time during the summer of 2010 when I strolled into the Lids at Valley River Center in Eugene, Oregon to buy this and a few other caps merely off of a whim. See, I hadn’t quite hatched the plan to purchase all of the game-worn Major League Baseball caps just yet. At this point in time I was still in the “one cap for every team” phase. With the Reds I wasn’t particularly picky. The Lids store in question happened to have all three styles from the last few years available and I simply picked out the one that looked the best on my noggin. The winner of the mix? This lucky fella which served as the Reds’ home and road alternate cap from 1999-2000, served full-time as the home cap from 1999-2006 and the team’s road and alternate cap from 2003-present. Actually, it’s a really complicated mess of years and uniform combos which make it really difficult to give a straight answer; so, for the sake of argument, this cap has been used by the Reds since 1999 and is still being used today.

What’s really interesting about this cap is that it ushered in one of the more dramatic changes in any teams’ cap design. Yes, I realize that to most the cap looks virtually identical to their other caps since the 1970s, but I say you’re not looking hard enough. For example, this cap introduced the black bill, which is a pretty significant change when considering that the Reds’ hats were completely red with the exception of their 1993-1998 pinstripe home caps, which I can’t find anywhere. But the most important feature, the one that has caused bits of grief for some Reds fans, is the shadow added to the “C” logo.

Personally, I don’t mind it. From an art perspective it gives the logo a bit more depth; however, from a fan perspective I can how this could be considered frivolous.

Now, keeping in mind with what I said earlier about only making this my one Reds cap purchase it will help explain why I chose the numbers I did for this cap. With almost all of my other caps I’ve done a great job of keeping the stats, dates and people within the timeframe of when the cap was used on the field; however, based on those standards I totally blew this time around. But, I did it all for the sake of the two most important figures (to me) in Reds history who had the greatest impact on my youth years.

#11- 1990 was a weird year for me. I was seven-years-old, in first grade and playing my second year of T-ball… as a member of the Reds. When the season started I didn’t think much of it, nor did I really know how much getting the jersey with the #11 on the back was going to impact the next decade of my life.

I realize that saying you were one of the best players on your T-ball team is incredibly silly, but it was true. Aside from being able to hit a ball that doesn’t move with ease, I was actually a phenomenal defensive threat. Yes, I am aware of how ridiculous this sounds, but how many seven-year-olds do you know of that were capable of pulling off not one, but TWO unassisted triple plays. Oooooohhhhh you don’t know of any? Exactly, now you do. Granted, in both cases the only reason I was able to pull them off is because the kids on the other team forgot that you’re supposed to go back to the base when a pop fly has been caught, but at the same time I looked pretty good for knowing what I could pull off at such a young age. And like I said, not once, but twice. Only one other time in my life have I been privy to such defensive awareness from someone so young. So yah, the next time you look at that photo of the freckled kid above, just know that behind those eyes is a Gold Glover waiting to embarrass your team.

Enough reminiscing about my “glory days,” Barry Larkin has always been one of my favorite/most hated baseball figures in my life. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a life-long Oakland Athletics fan. That bit of information alone should fill in all the gaps, but I’m not one to leave empty details. Larkin, like Pete Rose, was born and raised in Cincinnati and attended Archbishop Moeller High School where he was a second round draft pick of the Reds as an outfielder. Rather than sign on the dotted line, Larkin passed on their offer and decided to go to college instead. For college, Larkin grew the largest set of balls the state of Ohio had ever seen as he opted to enroll at the University of Michigan. 

He's wearing an extra special cup made of gold.

The funny thing about this move is that Larkin was originally set to play football under Bo Schembechler in 1982. Larkin never saw one play on the field for the Wolverines in football, and it was by chance later that year, Schembechler allowed Larkin to pursue baseball. Good thing he did as Larkin ended up becoming a two-time All-American (1984-1985), led the Wolverines to two College World Series berths, won the 1983 Big-10 Tournament MVP, was the 1984 and 1985 Big-10 Player of the Year and even played on the 1984 US Olympic baseball team. Oh, and he also graduated like a boss. Despite “missing his window” right out of high school the Reds came crawling back and took Larkin with the fourth overall pick in the 1985 Major League Baseball amateur draft.

Larkin played in a total of 175 games in the minor leagues for the AA Vermont Reds (72) and Denver Zephyrs (103) from 1985-1986 before making his MLB debut on August 13, 1986. Larkin only played in 41 games that season but still hit .283 with three home runs, 19 RBI and eight stolen bases. His performance managed to get him one percent of the vote for the National League Rookie of the Year award in what is arguably one of the best campaigns in MLB history as that year also featured the debuts of Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell, Robby Thompson, Todd Worrell (who won), John Kruk and Barry Bonds. Crazy! What many may not remember about Larkin is that he was a platoon shortstop for the first two years of his career as another prospect, Kurt Stillwell, had been called up exactly two months earlier. Luckily for Larkin the Reds front office saw the potential in him and ended up trading Stillwell to the Kansas City Royals at the end of the 1987 season. In 1988 Larkin played in 151 games and had 588 at-bats. Why is this significant? Well, Larkin only struck out 24 times that season, the least in the Majors that season. In fact, the most Larkin ever struck out during a season was 69 times in 1998, a year in which he won the eighth of his nine total Silver Slugger awards.

For 19 years (1986-2004) Larkin was a regular fixture of the Reds lineup. He made 12 All-Star Game appearances, 11 of which came between 1988 and 2000 and won three Gold Gloves from 1994-1996. Keep in mind, Larkin was still battling St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith for these spots and awards most of the time. Larkin maintained a .295 batting average throughout his career, had 2340 hits, 960 RBI, 198 home runs and stole 379 bases. The best statistical season of his career came in 1995 when he went .319/15/66 with 51 stolen bases and his second Gold Glove which were good enough for him to take home the National League MVP award that season. Only five other times in his career would Larkin finish in the top-25 for the NL MVP. What’s even more interesting is that in 1996 Larkin finished 12th for the award despite hitting .298 and becoming the first shortstop to ever hit 30 or more home runs (33) and steal 30 or more bases (36) in a season.

After his retirement in 2004, Larkin was hired as a special assistant to the general manager in the Washington Nationals organization. In 2008, he signed with the MLB Network as a studio analyst. In 2011 he moved to ESPN to serve as a Baseball Tonight analyst. Larkin received great applause from Reds fans when he helped host Baseball Tonight's on-the-road coverage of Sunday Night Baseball at GABP on July 24, 2011. Crowd chants of "Barry Larkin" and "Hall of Fame" often caused the anchors to have to talk very loud to be heard. Larkin was coincidentally in Cincinnati for Baseball Tonight on the day of the 2011 Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. He was the bench coach for the United States at the 2009 World Baseball Classic and managed the United States' second-round game against Puerto Rico when U.S. manager Davey Johnson left to attend his stepson's wedding. On July 20, 2008, the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum inducted Larkin, César Gerónimo, August "Garry" Herrmann, and Joey Jay. In 2012, he was invited by the Brazilian Baseball Federation to manage their national team in the qualifiers for the World Baseball classic. Surprisingly Brazil beat the home country Panama qualifying for the first time ever for the event and played in Japan. They were originally scheduled to play in Puerto Rico, but because of the huge Japanese baseball influence in Brazil they made the switch and the team played Cuba and China besides the home country. The team went winless in its WBC debut and was eliminated after the first round. One thing to be noted is that Larkin speaks Spanish and Portuguese. Yes, the man is a legend.

In 2010, his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame, Larkin was not elected, garnering 51.6 percent of the vote (75 percent is needed for election). In 2011, he received 62.1 percent of the vote, the highest of non-inducted players and third overall. In 2012, his third year of eligibility, Larkin was voted into the Hall of Fame with 86.4 percent of the vote along with Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo. He was the eighth Reds player and 24th shortstop inducted to the Hall of Fame. On August 25, 2012 his number 11 was retired in an official ceremony at Great American Ball Park.

#17- I can’t remember where I heard this story or from whom, but somebody I know once asked former Reds pitcher and “Nasty Boy” Rob Dibble who the craziest person from the early 1990s Reds team was. The person who asked had originally assumed the answer was going to be Dibble or fellow “Nasty Boy” Tom Browning. Nope! “Chris Sabo was the craziest motherf---er I’ve ever met” was the quote I was told via hearsay from Dibble. Either way, growing up he was my brother Adam’s favorite player.

Sabo brew up in Detroit and attended Detroit Central Catholic High School. In 1980 Sabo was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 30th round of the amateur draft, but elected to go to college as opposed to signing out of high school. His college, the University of Michigan. From 1980-1983 Sabo played baseball for the Wolverines, two of those years alongside his future Reds teammate from above. When his college career came to an end the Reds came calling, selecting him with their second round pick in 1983.

Sabo’s minor league journey started in Class-A with the Cedar Rapids Reds before he spent his next two season with the AA Vermont Reds as he corrected his swing mechanics. Sabo spent 1986 in Denver with the AAA Zephyrs before moving to Nashville with the Sounds in 1987 as the Reds switched their AAA affiliate. That season Sabo was batting .292 with seven home runs, 53 RBI and 23 stolen bases and more than likely would have still been stuck in the minors had it not been for an injury to Reds’ starting third baseman Buddy Bell before the 1988 season started. As a result Sabo was named the starting third baseman for the Reds that season.

Spuds, as he was called by manager Pete Rose because of the Bud Light Spuds MacKenzie advertisements, played in 137 games his first season and hit .271 with 11 home runs, 44 RBI, 146 total hits and 46 stolen bases. His campaign was good enough to land him his first of three trips to the All-Star Game and he even edged out Chicago Cubs legend Mark Grace for the NL Rookie of the Year award that season. Not too shabby of a first year, especially for a guy who looks like the MLB version of Kurt Rambis.

1989 proved to be a pretty rough year for Sabo, but he bounced back in 1990 and 1991 where he made the All-Star team his final two times and cracked the top-20 for the NL MVP each of those years. His best season coming in 1991 where he hit career highs in average (.301), triples (3), hits (175), home runs (26), RBI (88) and OPS (.859). Unfortunately for Sabo, he only managed to produce one more solid year in 1993 before he bounced around to the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Cardinals and back to the Reds where he retired in 1996 amidst to a bit of controversy. In July of that season, Sabo shattered his bat which was filled with cork. As a result of the incident, Sabo received a seven-game suspension. Sabo maintains that he had never corked a bat in his life. He claimed that the bat in question belonged to another player (whom he would not name). He argued that his performance that season (3 home runs in 52 games) was hardly "an endorsement of the cork industry."

Sabo was inducted in the Cincinnati Reds Hall Of Fame, along with Pedro Borbón and Tony Mullane on July 17, 2010. The Cincinnati Reds gave away Chris Sabo bobblehead dolls to fans in attendance that evening.

Now, you’re probably all wondering why or how I could forget to mention the fact that both Larkin and Sabo were members of the 1990 World Series team. Well, as I mentioned earlier, 1990 was kind of a dark time for me being on the Reds for T-ball and being an A’s fan all-around. Like 1988 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, I tend to just gloss over the fact that those two World Series actually took place. I mean, c’mon!!! The A’s should have won easily like in 1989, but instead got smoked by two of the most rag-tag teams ever assembled. It was hell to watch, even at ages five and seven.

What’s truly remarkable about the 1990 World Series team is that Larkin and Sabo hardly get mentioned for their performances. Most of the talk always comes back around to MVP Jose Rijo, Dibble and Browning; however, even though Rijo did pitch and amazing series with two wins, a 0.913 WHIP and 0.59 ERA, Larkin played in all four games and had the third-best batting average of the Series (.353) along with six hits, a double, a triple, two walks and one RBI. Billy Hatcher and Eric Davis put up great offensive numbers as well, but no one mashed as well as Sabo did with his two home runs in Game 3 along with his .563 average and five RBI for the series. You don’t get pawned off as the star player for the Series only to not get named MVP for coming up huge. Right? 

To make matters worse the Reds sweep ended in Oakland which marked the second time I’ve ever cried at the end of a baseball game. The first time I’ll get to later. You know, after reliving these dark times I’m glad I screwed up on marking up this cap. :P

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

July 7- Midland RockHounds

Looking back on my blog posts, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve written anything Oakland Athletics-related. I suppose I’ll have to make up for that over the next few days. This cap plays a particular importance in my life despite the fact that I’ve actually never seen the team play live, but I’ll get into that in a moment. First, a little bit of history… before some more history. I really need to stop saying that, it’s all relatively redundant.

For those of you who have become avid fans of my blog here is one thing that I should probably share with all of you that a few people have brought up in passing. All of my research is conducted independently, only in a few cases have I needed to rely upon outside sources to help me out; however, I suppose I could still say it’s part of an independent investigation because no one is necessarily volunteering any of this information for me. One thing that I have been incredibly skeptical about since February is whether or not I should use any information I come across in Wikipedia. In some cases I have found a few snippets which have helped aid a direction I may want to take with my posts, but in every case I still need to dig a bit further as opposed to just taking what’s written as gospel. I’d say roughly 85% of the time that I have used Wikipedia I’ve gone through and changed anything that I know is wrong. And no, I’m not just talking about for 85% of my posts; I’m talking anytime I’ve used it over the last decade or so. In most cases we’re talking about minor issues, but every now-and-then I find something egregious. Take today for example. Click on the Midland RockHounds link and you’ll find a mistake within the first paragraph, “The RockHounds are the current champions of the Texas League South Division.” This is not the case. The RockHounds were last division champions in 2010. Like I said, small stuff in most cases, but rather bothersome to keep noticing and changing. Obviously I elected to leave this one be to prove a point. All right, enough of this tomfoolery…

The AA RockHounds have been affiliated with the Texas League and Midland since they first played ball back in 1972 as the Midland Cubs until the end of the 1984 season. After that they became the Angels from 1985-1998 when they changed parent clubs until making their final name change when the Athletics took over in 1999. One thing to be noted from this time period is that the Athletics were clearly a bit cleverer in the name-changing category. The RockHounds played most of the history in Christensen Stadium (awesome name, no relation) as the park had been erected 22 years before the organization was founded until the end of the 2001 season. From 2002 through the present the RockHounds have been calling Citibank Ballpark (formerly First American Bank Ballpark until 2005) their home. This cap was introduced in 2003 and has been used for home games since. In their history the RockHounds have won four division titles (1975, 2005, 2009 and 2010) and three Texas League titles: 1975 (which they split with former Lafayette Drillers, 2005 and 2009.One of the interesting tidbits about this cap is that it took me going to New Era's headquarters in Buffalo, New York to track it down in their flagship location. Weird.

Other awards have followed the RockHounds throughout their history. The Midland franchise under the Angels won the Texas League Organization of the year in 1990 and 1994 and as the RockHounds in 2002. In 1995 Midland won AA's highest award, the Bob Frietas Award. General Manager Monty Hoppel has been named Executive of the Year with the franchise three times: in 1991, 1995, and 2002. In 2007, the RockHounds won the John H. Johnson President's Award, Minor League baseball highest award for a franchise, making them the third Texas League franchise to do so after the El Paso Diablos and the Tulsa Drillers.

I’ve only know, personally, two players who have spent time with the RockHounds and both came at interesting point in my life.

#25- Unless you really followed the Athletics at the end of the 1990s/early 2000s you probably have never heard of Jacques Landry. Landry grew up in Bryan, Texas which is about six hour east of Midland. He attended San Jacinto College, a community college in Pasadena, Texas, which is a suburb of sorts in the Houston area. Other notable players to play ball at SJC include San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt, 11-year pitching veteran Mike Gonzalez, Seattle Mariners pitcher Lucas Luetge and some borderline Hall of Famer named Roger Clemens. During Landry’s tenure with SJC he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 36th round of the 1993 amateur draft. Landry declined and later transferred to Rice University where he played under current coach Wayne Graham during the first years of Rice’s dominant presence within college baseball. After making the tournament in back-to-back seasons Landry was taken in the 12th round of the 1996 draft by the Detroit Tigers and ended up playing in Fayetteville with the Class-A Generals and later the advanced-A Lakeland Tigers. From 1996 until today the Rice Owls have since won the regular season or tournament title every single year in three different conferences, including the 2003 National Championship.

At the end of the 1998 season Landry was signed to a minor league deal by the Athletics and played all of 1999 in Modesto with the then-Modesto Athletics. This is the point in time where I step in. 1999 was my first year as the bat boy for the Bakersfield Blaze and at that time I was only 16-years-old, Landry was the second-oldest player on the team at 25. Now, due to the fact that there are so few teams (10) and it’s broken up into two divisions with a first-half and second-half champions, the Athletics made a few visits to Bakersfield which gave Landry and his accomplice, Eric Byrnes, more than enough opportunities to play practical jokes on me and get me into as much trouble as they possibly could. Some of the highlights included black widow spider scares and the thievery of a teammate’s Little Caesars pizza. But, no matter what happened it was all for jokes, and when the games started we were all in the zone.

Toward the end of the season Landry and I swapped email addresses and kept in contact as best as we could. Every so often I’d here from him, but most of his emails were usually just part of a mass send which was comprised of funny video. When the 2000 season rolled around and the Athletics came to town Landry wasn’t there. Landry had been promoted to Midland where he spent 2000-2003, batting .251 during his time as an outfielder, as opposed to the third or first base he had been playing in Modesto. Of the three seasons his best came in 2001 when he went .241/36/95, which ended up being the second-best year of his career behind his 1999 campaign which got him promoted (.311/27/111). In 2002 Landry was promoted again to AAA Sacramento to play for the River Cats for a total of 57 games. At the end of the season Landry was no longer on the Athletics.

Landry was picked up originally by the Seattle Mariners and played with the AAA Tacoma Rainiers for a brief stint before getting released and then picked up by the Houston Astros where he played the rest of the season with the Round Rock Express while they were still affiliated with the Texas League. After the 2003 season, Landry was out of baseball. I never heard from him after his second year in Midland, which was right around the time I had graduated from high school in Vancouver, Washington. If anyone knows him or knows where he might be at, tell him I said hi.

#29- Another three-year veteran (2 ¼) of the RockHounds is someone I wrote about back on April 15th during my Jackie Robinson post. Jeremy (@Baseclogger) Barfield and I became acquainted and then friends within the two hours that we met. For the more risqué bit of the conversation that kicked it off I suggest clicking the Robinson link above. As for everything that I didn’t all ready mention, Barfield and I mostly hit it off so well because we’re both pretty much the same type of person intellectually. We don’t take things at face value and we always do what we can to better ourselves and our education. Like Landry and so many others above, Barfield played his little bit of college ball at San Jacinto College, but after he played high school ball at Klein High School in Klein, Texas where he was originally drafted by the New York Mets in the ninth round of the 2006 amateur draft. I was the only one at the pool at the hotel in Phoenix for the final audition of the MLB Fan Cave who knew this off the top of their head. This particular bit of knowledge was not known by then-reject and current Mets Fan Cave representative Travis Miller, which ultimately demoted him to Barfield’s shit list. Actually, thinking about it now, almost anyone who knows of Barfield should know that bit about him, especially if you’ve seen the infamous bat flip video that has become a hit on YouTube. But alas, Barfield went one to SJC for two years where he was then drafted by the Athletics in the eighth round of the 2008 amateur draft. The move then and especially last year was an odd choice for the Athletics due to the fact that the A’s have been outfielder heavy since 2005 and Barfield would have been better suited, if not moved up the rankings a little bit quicker. This of course is the way that I see it, and I’m sure others might feel the same way. In any case, Barfield’s first three seasons took him from the short season-A Vancouver Canadians to the Class-A Kane County Cougars to the advanced-A Stockton Ports before starting the 2011 season in Midland.

Barfield’s first year in Midland was pretty solid. He hit .257 with 11 home runs and 72 RBI as he shared the field with the likes of Grant Green, Sonny Grey and AJ Griffin (who ruins the color scheme). When we met near the end of February it was right at the beginning of Spring Training. Players were just arriving to Arizona just as we were and Barfield paid us a visit at the end of the second and final night. Most of our conversation didn’t actually revolve around baseball. In fact, most conversations I’ve ever had with professional athletes don’t, unless I’m on the job. The Fan Cave hopefuls, Barfield and I sitting around the pool didn’t qualify as work. So, anytime baseball was mentioned it was always after he initiated it. For the entire duration of the night I was wearing my Fan Cave campaign shirt that I had made for a few people in Eugene, Oregon to help spread the word. As the night came to a close Jeremy had grown a fondness for it and asked if he could have it. Knowing that I could easily make more back home, I gave it to him right then and there. It was a very humbling and prideful feeling. I’ve always been creative and put together very solid ideas; however, very few people ever took notice prior to the first shirts I made for the University of Oregon versus Auburn University National Championship in NCAA football. These…

But when anyone, pro athlete or not, says, “I want that thing you created because I like it,” it makes for a great feeling.

To add to that, Jeremy did an interview with Baseball Prospectus not too long after our meeting and had some additional nice words to say about our encounter and me. Here’s the link. Jeremy kicks on around the 1 hour and 13 minute mark.

2012 went on to be an even better season for Jeremy. He hit .272 with 13 home runs and 64 RBI, but he remained with the Midland for the rest of the season, making sweet catch-and-throw plays like this.

Jeremy had a pretty decent Spring Training this year, and it was all capped off by this photo taken after he crushed a dinger during one of their games against the Colorado Rockies. In fact, it was the earliest known photo of the new home run celebration the Athletics players orchestrated.

One of the more positive things that came from this time is that Jeremy decided to finish up his degree which we talked not too long after I finished up my school in the middle of March. No matter the age, current job, etc. I will always be supportive of anyone who decides to continue their education. I think it’s pretty awesome that at his age and what he does for a living he sees the importance of it. As Spring Training came and went Jeremy was headed back to Midland, but fortunately his time didn’t last very long as he was promoted to the River Cats after his game on May 7th against the Frisco RoughRiders.

Remember what I said about the Athletics having too many outfielders? Well, they felt the same way, on today’s post date, and gave Jeremy the option to convert to become a pitcher; which would make him a very valuable commodity if it’s successful. As for now, the conversion seems to be going well according to his updates on Twitter. Until the first moment in the spotlight comes and every day after, I wish you luck dude. I hope it works out.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

July 6- Eugene Emeralds

March 7th was a pretty spectacular day. It was the day when the Eugene Emeralds were selling all of their brand new 2013 caps for $20 outside of the bar (@TheWebfootBar) my friend Justin owns. Having all ready scored the alternate cap back in January, and seeing how $20 is too good of a price to pass up, I bought the remaining two I needed to round out my collection. It’s days like this that cap collectors like myself love and hate as we all love to get new caps, but hate how quickly the money evaporates from our pockets. No matter. Down the road we are all happy for our purchase when we don our newly purchased caps and hear the ever-familiar, “Hey! Where did you get that cap? It’s awesome!” In the case of this cap, the fine folks at Brandiose in San Diego deserve the most credit.

For those of you who don’t know, Brandiose, or Plan B. Branding as they were formerly known, have been at the forefront of team logo design for the better part of the last decade based out of San Diego, California. The founders, Jason & Casey, started out in their college dorm room designing logos for high school teams and eventually were given their big break by the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx as they were the only team to respond to the 150 letters they sent out to every minor league team. After their first success, many more followed. They are responsible for many of the logos I have all ready written about for teams such as the: Everett AquaSox, Pensacola Blue Wahoos, Stockton Ports, Lakeland Flying Tigers, Casper Ghosts and even revision for the oldest team in Major League Baseball, the Cincinnati Reds. In 2012 Jason & Casey were tapped by Emeralds General Manager Allan Benavides.

"When we started this process, we wanted to end up with something fun that fans could really associate with," said Ems General Manager Allan Benavides. "Sasquatch gives the Emeralds a face for the first time in our long history." Sasquatch biting the tree will be the emblem on the home hat while the foot-shaped "E" will serve as an alternate. The road uniforms will feature the "Eugene" script with feet on each end. Home, away and alternate uniforms will be released in the spring.

The new identity pays tribute to America's greatest urban legend, the legend of Sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest. The primary logo features a Sasquatch unearthing trees behind "Emeralds" lettering. Fans will also enjoy the iconic "E" Sasquatch foot logo, and several other Sasquatch and foot related marks. A number of different options were considered including themes that involved forests, trees and various woodland creatures. "Ultimately, we felt that sasquatch was the best fit to represent the mystique of the Northwest woodlands," said Benavides.

The development process began last June when Jason and Casey met in Eugene with fans, staff and community members to learn about the stories, history, and personality of the Emeralds and Eugene. Brandiose developed the logos, uniforms and is dreaming up enhancements for the 2013 fan experience. "Eugene is a hotbed of countercultural ideas," said Brandiose's Jason Klein. "From Sasquatch sightings to hippy culture, the Ems are honoring Eugene's eccentricities with a few of their own." –

Back in November of 2012 when the Ems unveiled their new logos I was stuck in Portland for the holidays and working as was unable to attend the event. But that didn’t stop Benavides from hitting me up asking me if I wanted any of the new caps later that night. I of course said yes and they made sure to hold the alternate cap aside for me until I moved back to Eugene to finish up school this last winter. As I’ve mentioned in my previous Ems articles, they run a pretty solid program and I’m always happy to share the love in my blog posts. Kudos!

Now, as I’ve mentioned in a lot of my other “new to 2013” posts it’s hard to tell a story about a hat or player who wore that if it hasn’t been used on the field. In this case I figured it would be a cool time to share a random, but true story about Eugene that only a few people know about in keeping with the theme of Eugene’s oddball history. Since this cap is the team’s road cap, it kind of makes for an appropriate discussion piece as most of my 2012 was spent on the road; only a few weeks were actually spent in or around Eugene.

So… it was July, only a few days after I had returned to Oregon after the West Coast leg of my MLB road trip. I still had until the end of the month until my roommate and my lease expired on our apartment in Eugene so I made as much use of that as I possibly could on any random nights when I felt like going back home to visit and catch up with friends. Since my apartment was only about five blocks from the campus of the University of Oregon and about a 9-iron shot away from the bar I worked at (Max’s Tavern), I rarely ever strayed far from that area. It was some time around 9:30 PM when a few of my friends who worked at the tattoo parlor across the street rolled in and saw me drinking a few beers and enjoying whatever game was on MLB Network that night. None of them knew I was in town so they were all especially excited to see me, as I was excited to see them. Everyone had questions about my experience in New York and why I was home so early, all of which eventually was made worse by the fact that the MLB tickets commercial I was featured in was blaring on the television in the background. Most of the people I knew from the tattoo parlor weren’t fans of baseball, but all of them had grown a particular interest on account of me. At the same time, most of them didn’t have MLB Network so seeing me on TV as I sat in front of them blew most of their minds. To me, it was really uncomfortable as more people around the bar started taking notice to the fact that “the guy from the commercial” was sitting in their midst. Luckily my friends quickly realized how embarrassed I was to be “that guy from the MLB Fan Cave” and they all suggested that we head somewhere else for a few drinks and to catch up. This was something I was more than happy to oblige.

The bar they chose was a bit of a metal/punk rock/anything goes type bar called John Henry’s, which also serves as the 80s night hotspot for all of Eugene on Thursdays and a burlesque house on Sundays. In other words, the place is pretty rad. The only problem that I ever had with it is that it sits in the “Barmuda Triangle,” an area in downtown Eugene where to larger hub of popular bars reside. I’ve never been a huge fan of going to ridiculously jammed up bars, so this was definitely a pole vault out of my comfort zone. My friend Brendan got me a 32 ounce bottle of Miller High Life; yes, they serve those there, and it’s awesome. The group of five us shot the breeze, talked about what we had all been up to and I made sure not to be the centerpiece of the conversation. I just wanted to have a normal night back in the reality I was used to before I left for New York. As my MHL emptied I headed back to the bar for a refill, but ended up staying for a little bit longer than expected due to a conversation I got myself into with someone who seemed really out of place.

When I got to the bar I could see the bartender was busy so I took a seat on the only open stool and waited until I could flag them down. Just as I sat down I felt a hand upon my right shoulder and a voice ring out, “Excuse me, but you’re in my seat.” Not being the jerk who takes seemingly open seats, I got up and said I was sorry. I then followed it up with the routine, “I didn’t know it was taken, I’m just waiting to get a drink.” In all of this time I still didn’t look over my shoulder to really see who I was talking to, a constant theme in my life as I’ve always been the kind of person who does reasonable things on command like duck when someone shouts it, as opposed to looking to see what’s about to blast me in the face right before it happens. Just as I finished my comment the stranger replied, “No worries young man… what are you having? It’s on me.” At this point I chuckled and was about to say, “No worries, I got it,” but all that came out was “Nnnnn…” as I finally looked to see who I was talking to.

Dave Chappelle.

At this point I just froze and laughed some more, but then muttered out what I was originally trying to say. He then said, “No really, I’m buying.” I half-expected him to follow that up with yelling, “It’s a celebration!” in his Rick James voice, but he didn’t. Not wanting to be rude I told him what I was drinking and sure enough he put it on his tab… after he made fun of me for drinking a “32 ounce bottle of urine.” To which I replied, “You know, kids are going hard these days. And when I drink piss, I make sure it’s the finest the great city of Milwaukee has to offer.” He laughed and said, “I’ll have to remember to think of that if I find myself passed out in a bathroom stall in Milwaukee.” We then shook hands, said goodbye and I walked back over to my friends. I never bothered to find out why he was in town, but for that moment, it made me feel better about everything. I figured that at the end of the day, if I can make one of the best comedians in the game laugh, life isn’t so bad.

#50- When I marked this cap up I did under the guise that I was writing down the number on the roster for the 2013 season. Nope! It ended up being someone from 2012; however, the name alone is well worth the acknowledgement.

Goose Kallunki was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 27th round of the 2012 amateur draft out of Utah Valley State University in Orem, Utah. The son of collegiate athletes, Goose prepped at Orem High School and helped the team make it to the Region Championship in 2006 and a fifth place finish at State Championship in 2008 as a four-year starter for the Tigers. He was also a three-time All-Region and two-time All-State selection. He also played basketball and golf at Orem, earning All-Valley, All-Region and All-State honors in basketball.

At UVSU he played first and third base, becoming the first player from the school to receive All-America honors during his senior year by Louisville Slugger, National College Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA), American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) and He was also named third-team All-America by Baseball America and Perfect Game, was one of three finalists for 2012 Dick Howser Trophy, honor nation's top collegiate player, a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award, which goes to top amateur baseball player, District VIII Player of the Year (NCBWA), ABCA First-Team All-Region selection, Great West Conference Player of the Year and First-Team All-Great West Conference Selection. He was quite the busy boy.

Goose’s time with the Emeralds only lasted one season for 53 games. He hit .254 with two home runs and 13 RBI in which 51/53 of those games came as the team’s first baseman. This year Goose has been moving around to various Independent League teams such as the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings, the Joliet Slammers and the Roswell Invaders (minor league teams always have the best names). Between all three teams he is batting .286 with two home runs and 32 RBI.

Friday, August 16, 2013

July 5- Salem-Keizer Volcanoes

It sounds cliché, but there has been one constant in my life that I almost always share with anyone who has made an impact in my life for the better or worse; at some point in time down the road, we will meet again. I assure you, this is one of those positive moments.

Whether you have been actively reading my posts or just getting introduced to them, there is a two-year time period that I still hold as one of the best times of my life. From 1999-2000 I served as the bat boy for the then-advanced-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants the Bakersfield Blaze. Over the last few months I’ve gone back into my vault of stories and unearthed experiences and encounters that, for the most part, I never really shared with anyone. Most of it had to do with the fact that I never really had a platform or a reason to share these stories, but most of all; I never really thought anyone would care about them. During my second season the Blaze shook things up on the field by bringing in a brand new managerial crew led by former Baltimore Orioles shortstop and World Series champion Len Sakata. For those playing at home, Sakata was the original starting shortstop for the Orioles before Cal Ripken, Jr. stepped in and started his Ironman streak of 2632 consecutive games started; keep this in mind for later in the story. One of the members of Sakata’s crew included a former minor leaguer named Bert Hunter who was serving as the Blaze’s batting coach and outfielders coach.

Now, I’m going to do things a little more unorthodox than usual by jumping around which you’ll soon realize has great purpose.

BH- Bert only served as an assistant coach from April until early June as he was only doing extended coaching work with the Blaze until the short season-A season started in the Northwest League as he had been serving as the batting coach for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes since 1998. Since the Volcanoes season was getting started, it was time for him to head back north to Oregon. Little did he or anyone else know, but I soon followed him up north in July when I made the move to live with my mother in Vancouver, Washington roughly 165 miles north of where Bert was. From 2000-2002 in lived in Vancouver with my mother. Only six times during that time period did my mom and I drive down to the Salem-Keizer area or southward, at which Volcanoes Stadium rests just off of I-5 around mile marker 160 and a couple hundred yards north of the 45th parallel. For those of you who don’t know, the 45th parallel is the degree of latitude directly between the equator and the North Pole. The reason I bring all of this up is that in all the times we passed by the stadium we never once stopped for a game.

That was a pretty sad move on my part because Bert and I got to be decently close during the two-and-a-half months we worked with one another. After the third game of the 2000 California League season Bert dubbed me with the nickname “Spread Killer.” The story behind that has to do with an unfortunate reality of minor league baseball; it’s really not that glamorous. Before every game the team provided a food spread for the players which consisted of bread, peanut butter and grape or strawberry jelly. That’s it. Unlike the Oakland Athletics in “Moneyball,” sodas from the fountains in the concessions booths were free to the players and staff. But, before every game I always made myself a PB & J sandwich without ever asking any of the coaches or players permission. Because of this, I became the “Spread Killer.” To pay penance for all of the sandwiches I had enjoyed before every game I provided the team with entertainment from my house which consisted of my Nintendo 64 and an electronic dartboard that I happened to have lying around the house. Both of these gestures went very far with the guys, but they still called me “Spread Killer,” except this time they didn’t have a dickish tone about it. After almost every game Bert and I rolled a best of three series of 301 on the dartboard. Of all the guys in the clubhouse, he was the only one who could contest with me.

June 2013

It was a rather boring Saturday at work at Just Sports (@JustSportsPDX) alongside my former co-worker Bradley. I say former because he had put his two weeks notice in and would be moving on to another job shortly after this date. Bradley was about an hour away from clocking out for the day and on the sales floor while I was behind the counter picking up a pile of stocking caps that had been knocked onto the floor by a customer. As I reached for the last one I heard Bradley say, “Hey, how are you doing?” to someone who had just walked in. Within a matter of seconds I recognized his first, but I couldn’t pinpoint why. Rather than be a jerk and ask where we might have known each other, I held back, played it cool and let Bradley do all of the talking. The two gabbed about baseball for a few seconds which gave Bradley allowed Bradley to chime in about the “black and orange” since he’s a Giants fan. The man then mentioned that he was a black and orange fan himself, but his allegiance falls with the Orioles. I had a feeling of déjà vu wash over me as Bradley and I had talked about the Orioles almost days prior, mainly about Ripken, Jr. and September 6, 1995, the day Ripken passed Lou Gehrig on the consecutive games played list. Bradley, being the big Ripken, Jr. fan that he is, brought that moment up. The man then talked about how awesome that night was from his perspective, which he followed up with, “and I was there.” Somehow Bradley didn’t hear that part, but that was all I needed to hear for everything to finally come jarring loose in my brain.

“You played professionally for a few years, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Yes I did. Nine years,” he said.

“You used to coach the Bakersfield Blaze back in 2000, right?” I followed up with.

He looked at me with a slightly puzzled look and then said, “Yaaaaahhh… but I spent most of my coach years with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.” At this point I had to ask his name as I had forgotten it. Sure enough, it was Bert. Bert was still a bit confused as to how I knew him and he didn’t know me, so I asked him, “Do you remember a spiky blonde-haired kid who worked as the bat boy back in Bakersfield?” He said, “Yaaaahhh… I kind of do.” I then helped him out a little bit more, “We used to play darts after all of the games and you always called me “Spread Killer.”” As soon as the last syllable escaped my mouth his eyes widened and he let out a boisterous, “Oh my God!!!” and chuckled.

In about 10 minutes, the time it then took for his wife and kids to come into the store, we caught up on 13 years of lost time. Bert managed for six years in the Arizona League, still within the Giants organization from 2002-02. The Rookie League club won four league titles and he was named manager of the year in 2004 after the team went 37-19. After that he went home to Keizer and got on with Willamette University, a private and solid baseball school in Salem where he has been the team’s third base and outfielders coach since 2009. One of his daughters plays basketball at Oregon State University. I told him about graduating from the University of Oregon, the MLB Fan Cave, my baseball tour and how I’m trying to break into baseball as a writer. My only regret from our conversation was that I didn’t get a photo with him before he left, but I still find it funny that very little had changed with him and so much had changed with me, yet we were both still doing our thing in the environment that we both have a kinship for, baseball.

In the 14 years that I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest I for some reason only made it out to a Volcanoes game once, and that happened by chance in 2005. I had a brief (one week) internship with the local newspaper, The Statesman Journal, working as a stringer for their sports page. On my second night I was sent to Volcanoes Stadium to shadow their Volcanoes beat writer, whose name escapes me, as the home team took on the visiting Tri-Cities Dust Devils. I don’t remember too much from the game other than the fact that the Volcanoes won. After the game we headed to the clubhouse for post-game interviews with a few of the key players, both of whom I decided to write about and mark my cap with. What I didn’t know at the time, like Bert above, we’d have quite the reunion a few years down the road. But first…

In 1996, Bellingham Giants co-owners Jerry Walker and William Tucker announced that they were moving the NWL franchise to Keizer, Oregon, a city of 22,000 located immediately north of Salem. The Bellingham club, short-season Class A affiliate of the Giants, had the NWL's lowest attendance figures during each of its two seasons. Keizer had striven to assert itself as an independent, thriving city for 12 years since the former Salem suburb had become an incorporated municipality. City officials, led by Mayor Dennis Koho, and civic leaders worked toward getting a new baseball stadium located and built in Keizer. The area had lacked a suitable facility for pro baseball since the early 1960s, when the Salem Dodgers vacated historic Waters Field (which burned down in 1966). Volcanoes Stadium was built in less than a year, on a tract of land adjacent to I-5 just northwest of the Keizer interchange. The 4,252-seat facility was ready for the debut of the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in 1997. Two years later, the American Institute of Architects honored the Volcanoes with a design award for the stadium. This cap, according to Chris Creamer’s has been around since their inaugural season.

Well, I suppose there is a little bit of truth to that. This particular card was from the 1998 season and features the “V” with the baseball blowing its dome out like a smoke stack; however, this particular panel shading on the cap was first introduced for the 2003 season. Prior to that, all of the caps featuring this logo were a very light grey. Even funnier, when trying to track down photo of players wearing this cap, I this was the first photo that came up.

What’s unusual about this photo is that Tim Lincecum only pitched in two games for a total of four innings for the Volcanoes. In my opinion, I think someone with a bit more history with the team should have been higher on the search criteria. You know, someone like these two knuckleheads below. And one thing I need to point out, I couldn't find photos of either of these guys wearing this hat.

#20- Sergio Romo was born in Brawley, California. He graduated from Brawley Union High School in 2001, having played shortstop and third base on the baseball team. With no scholarship offers from four-year colleges, Romo nearly signed enlistment papers to follow his father in the U.S. Navy, but opted to play baseball at junior college instead. Romo first went to Orange Coast College before transferring to Arizona Western College. Romo was named to the All-Region I second team of the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference in 2002 and 2003. In 159 innings, Romo earned a 16-4 overall record with a 2.79 earned run average (ERA).

For his junior and senior years, Romo played NCAA Division II baseball at two colleges: the University of North Alabama (2004) and Colorado Mesa University (formerly Mesa State College) (2005). He was named First-Team All-Gulf South Conference in 2004 while playing for North Alabama and was 10-3 with a 3.69 ERA in 97.1 innings. In his senior year with Mesa State (2005), he was the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year. That same year Romo was drafted by the Giants in 28th round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft.

Romo only played one season for the Volcanoes in… you guessed it, 2005. In fact, it was the first of two years as a professional that he pitched as a starter. That year he took to the hill for 15 games, 14 of which were starts. He went 7-1 with a 2.75 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 68.2 innings pitched. Impressive.

#38- Playing third base for the Volcanoes that season was an 18-year-old kid from Puerto Cabello, Carabobo, Venezuela who was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2002 and goes by the nickname “Kung Fu Panda.” Yup! Pablo Sandoval lit up the NWL that season with his bat, hitting .330 with three home runs, 15 doubles and 50 RBI.

On the night I was in house, July 4, 2005, Sandoval went 2-5 with one of his two triples on the season and two RBI. Romo was equally a s brilliant throwing five solid innings, allowing only two hits, one walk, one earned run and struck out five. At the time Sandoval didn’t know much English so Romo did a bit of the translation work for him during the interview. From what I can recall they were both incredibly pleasant guys, both of whom had the potential to break out further down in their careers. How right that statement turned out to be.

Now, as I mentioned above, we did meet years later, last year to be exact in the Fan Cave.

As sharp as my memory is I had completely forgotten about that night in Keizer just as much as they probably did as well. The day in the Fan Cave was rather interesting for more than just the video and premise that they were brought in for. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. The concept was pretty clever; Sandoval and Romo had a little booth in Washington Square Park and the two would give out custom handshakes to people who dropped a quarter in their jar for charity. Before we left Sandoval and Romo kept calling me B-Weezy on account of my beard and how I looked like closer Brian Wilson, but they were also giving me smack for wearing an Oakland Athletics shirt that day. Not being one to be a “Buzz Killngton,” I told them to wait a second while I went to my cubby box to throw on my sweatshirt. I dropped my hat in, tied my hair back, put on my favorite black hooded sweatshirt, threw up the hood and rocked some shades before turning around to greet them again. Both of them lost their minds and rallied for me to be a part of the video because I looked the part so much.

As much as that last little bit sounds like BS, here’s the proof. 

This sketch was put together two days after Wilson had gotten his second Tommy John surgery and I did my best to play it off the whole time they were there as if I was actually Wilson. My impression, despite saying little-to-nothing, was so successful that I got requests for pictures and autographs the entire time we were out in the park. To everyone who asked I repeatedly told them that I WAS NOT Wilson; however, all of them thought that I was just saying that as a rouse. It wasn’t until I took off the sunglasses, removed the hood and moved my arms around that people finally believed me. Romo and Sandoval had a good laugh about it, but all of the scenes with me were edited out, more than likely because I made Ashley Chavez, the Giants fan, seem irrelevant. This happened a lot, and not because of anything I purposely did, but because everyone thought I looked like Wilson so often, they all assumed that I was the Giants fan of the group. In fact, there was another sketch that was supposed to be filmed the next morning with only me. The concept was that Giants pitcher Barry Zito and I were going to walk around Times Square for an hour to see who would get more photo and autograph requests. An hour before I had to be at the Fan Cave the next morning Zito backed out. Funny.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

July 4- USA Olympic/World Baseball Classic

Happy Independence Day everyone!!! Time to drop some knowledge!

When I originally thought about doing this post I was going to focus primarily upon the United States of America’s baseball team; however, upon doing a thorough amount of research I found that “one cannot simply talk about USA Baseball” in a few paragraphs. The main reason for this is because the USA Baseball team has evolved for nearly a century. That’s right, for roughly 101 years there has been some form of a US national team in place. So I’ll do my best to keep all of this succinct and with a point, rather than just constant babbling.

If I didn’t all ready blow your mind with the 101 years part, things are going to get a bit crazy for the next page or so for you then. According to the USA Baseball Web site and Wikipedia (for the sake of argument) the US National team was formed in 1978 and has been the National Governing Body (NGB) for amateur baseball. It represents the sport in the United States as a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and internationally as a member federation of the International Baseball Federation (IBAF). This is not entirely true. A lot of it is dependent upon wordage used and when other top-tier organizations complied to recognize baseball on an international level. This includes (as stated above): the IBAF, USOC, NGB, International Olympic Committee (previously), the Pan-American Games, etc. Like I said, there is a lot to cover but I’ll leave most of you to your own research as to not bore you with bureaucracy. Anyway, my whole point of the “not entirely true” dates back to 1912, the first time baseball was displayed as a demonstration sport at the Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.

For those of you who don’t know, the definition of a “demonstration sport” is a game or event which is displayed for promotional purposes as an attempt to encourage interest in other countries. Baseball made its first appearance in the Olympics in 1912 in Sweden as an exhibition sport. A game was played between the US, the nation where the game was developed, and the host nation. The game was held on Monday, 15 July 1912 and started at 10 a.m. on the Ostermalm Athletic Grounds in Stockholm.

The Americans were represented by various members of the American Olympic track & field athletics delegation, while the Swedish team was the Vesterås Baseball Club, which had been formed in 1910 as the first baseball club in Sweden. Four of the Americans played for Sweden, as the Swedish pitchers and catchers were inexperienced. One Swede eventually relieved Adams and Nelson, the American pitchers. Six innings were played, with the Americans not batting in the sixth and allowing the Swedes to have six outs in their half of the inning. The game was umpired by George Wright, a retired American National League baseball player who also happened to be the brother of Harry Wright, the guy who pretty much invented professional sports in the US. One could argue that his Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1871 were the first professional athletes in the world, but that would be an untrue statement. Some dude named Gaius Appuleius Diocles in Rome in 146 A.D. can disprove that.

In 1936 baseball was once again displayed as a demonstration sport, but only two teams actually took the field; the US Olympic team and the World Champion team. Both teams were comprised of all members from the US. But even at that, the US kicked ass in front of Adolf Hitler. The person who pushed for baseball in Olympics was a pro ballplayer named Leslie Mann; no, not the actress whose married to Judd Apatow. Rather, the guy who played for the Boston Braves, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Whales (Federal league), Cincinnati Reds and New York Giants for 16 seasons. Originally Mann had organized a 20-game exhibition in Japan the year before the Olympics. In fact, a team from Japan was supposed to play in the Olympics in Germany, but backed out last minute. Mann later went on to found the International Baseball Federation which played its first international championship in 1938 in England. The English team, composed mainly of Canadian college players, won 4 out of 5 games against an amateur American team. He also organized subsequent championships in Cuba in 1939 and Puerto Rico in 1941. World War II brought Mann's efforts to an end.

Baseball was played at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, but not the kind you’re thinking of.

Traditional baseball wouldn’t rear its head in Olympic competition again until 1956 when the games were held in Melbourne, Australia. What’s interesting about these games is that baseball was considered THE “foreign” demonstration sport of the games; however, baseball had been played throughout the country since 1889 and the Australian team was the first to actually field a legitimate team against the US… with the exception that their top cricket players were not allowed to play due to the fact that they were professionals. At the time, according to IOC rules professionals were not allowed to participate in said competitions. Due to the field being set up between the running tracks, right field was only 225 feet so special ground rules were put in place, stating that a ball hit over the running track on the full will be declared a home run, where one that bounces or rolls on or over the track, shall be declared a ground rule double. This rule was put in place to stop baseball cleats damaging the track for the events after the baseball. The game was played on December 1st (remember, Australian seasons are the opposite of ours) from 12:30pm. As the visiting team, the Americans batted first, scoring 2 runs off 3 hits. Australia did not strike back until the bottom of the 2nd inning, when Chalky White of South Australia hit a solo home run off Vane Sutton. Sutton made up for his error in the top half on the 3rd, with a grand slam to send the score out to a commanding 6-1. The Americans again put the pressure on Australia in the fifth inning as two errors led to another 2 runs to the US, putting them in a comfortable position. The game was eventually called at 2:40pm, after six completed innings and a final score 11-5, with the US batting first. Very few fans were present at the start of the game, but according to record 114,000 had arrived by the sixth inning. This was due to the finals for the 1500 meters, 4x400 meters relay and finish of the men's marathon.

The Olympics were held in Tokyo, Japan in 1964 and once again only one game would be played between the Japanese and the US national team led by former USC head coach Rod Dedeaux, the greatest college baseball coach in history. Members of the team included pitchers Alan Closter, Dick Joyce, and Chuck Dobson; catchers Jim Hibbs and Ken Suarez; outfielder Shaun Fitzmaurice; first baseman Mike Epstein; and second baseman Gary Sutherland. Fitzmaurice hit a home run on the first pitch of the game and the US won 6-2 in front of 50,000 fans.

Baseball at the 1984 Summer Olympics was a demonstration sport, and the first Olympics in which the USA Baseball Team played as an internationally recognized program since the US boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, Soviet Union. Although single exhibition games had been played in conjunction with five previous Olympics, it was the first time that the sport was officially included in the program, and also the first time that the sport was played in Olympics held in the United States. Eight teams competed in Los Angeles, California in the tournament. Games were held at Dodger Stadium. Cuba, after winning the gold medal at the 1983 Pan American Games, was to participate, but did not as a result of the Soviet-led boycott (Payback). The US made it all the way to the final game where they lost to the Japanese team by the score of 6-3. Notable names from the ’84 team include Mark McGwire, Will Clark, Cory Snyder, Barry Larkin, Bobby Whitt, B.J. Surhoff and Bill Swift. The Dominican Republicteam that year featured a relatively unknown fastballer named Ramon Martinez. Due to the fact that baseball was a demonstration sport, no actual medal was awarded to the winners.

In 1988 in Seoul, South Korea, the final year as a demonstration sport, the US took home the gold (literally) as the beat Japan in the final game rematch. What’s most unusual about this final game is that actual medals were given out; however, they were not recognized by the IOC. It’s all dumb. Notable players on that year’s team include Andy Benes, Jim Abbott, Charles Nagy, Mike Fiore, Tino Martinez, Robin Ventura, Ed Sprague and Mickey Morandini.

Finally, in 1992 baseball made its debut as an official sport at the Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, which is oddly enough one of the only Olympic cities to actually turn a profit off of the games. The US finished a respectable fourth, having bean beaten by Japan and Cuba in the round robin stage and once again by Cuba in the semi-finals. If it makes you feel any better Cuba won the whole thing. But from 1992-2008 baseball served as an official Olympic event in which the US took home one bronze (1996 in Atlanta, Georgia), one silver (2008 in Beijing, China) and one gold (Sydney, Australia).

I don’t know a terrible amount about the Pan-Am Games, but what I can tell you is that the US have won five bronze medals, seven silver medals and one gold medal. I didn’t go into too much research in the Baseball World Cup either as most people don’t know much about it. However, there is the IBAF-recognized World Baseball Classic which wrapped up its third year in 2013… with the US team failing to medal in all three years.  Not to be one to end things on a downer, I saved the best for last, but first… the hat.

This particular cap was first introduced during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Prior to those games all headwear consisted of “USA” being stitched across the front panels like this.
Jason Giambi
Kris Benson

So whomever designed the current “US” with a red-outlined silver star logo back in 2000 certainly did a fantastic job as it has been used prevalently ever since in all international baseball games. While the cap has appeared in other bill and panel color schemes, the classic all-nave blue has lasted all 14 years of competition, with the addition of the flag of the USA added to the side in 2006 during the first World Baseball Classic tournament.
Now, despite 101 years to focus on I was able to whittle my marks down to two numbers for one year.

#28- Drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the first round (10th overall) of the 1999 draft, Ben Sheets made his professional debut with the Ogden Raptors of the Pioneer League. In August, against the Idaho Falls Chukars, Sheets struck out eight batters while allowing just one hit through five innings. Later in the month, he was promoted to advanced-A Stockton of the California League. In his seven minor league starts that year, Sheets averaged a strikeout ratio of 10.09 batters per nine innings.

In 2000, Sheets was on the US national team for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. One of the most important things to note from this year’s Olympics is that it was the first time professionals were allowed to be on the team. Granted, none of the talent had made it to the Major League level, but they were still paid players in the minor leagues and no longer technically amateurs. Sheets pitched 22 innings, struck out 11 batters, walked one, and gave up 11 hits during the tournament, and faced off against Cuban ace Pedro Luis Lazo in the gold medal game, giving up three singles and advancing just one runner to second base for the entire game. Sheets gave up no walks and struck out five in a 4–0 complete game shutout. It is still considered one of the finest pitching performances in US international competition.

After helping the US win their first and only gold medal in Olympic competition, Sheets headed back to the minors in 2001 but quickly worked through the ranks of the Brewer farm system until making his Major League debut on April 5th. In eight seasons with the Brewers, the last few which were hampered by injury, Sheets went 86-83 with a respectable 3.72 ERA and 1325 strikeouts. All four of his All-Star Game appearances were made with the Brewers in 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2008. His best statistical season came in 2004 when he went 12-14 with a 2.70 ERA and 264 strikeouts, which were good enough for an eighth place finish for the National League Cy Young award that season. At the end of the 2008 season Sheets and the Brewers went their separate ways.

Sheets wouldn’t pitch again in the Majors until 2010 when the Oakland Athletics agreed to a one year, $10 million with an additional $2 million in incentives, contract with the Oakland Athletics. Sheets got the Opening Day start, going five innings allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits while striking out 3 and walking 4, receiving a 'no-decision'. The Athletics lost the game in the bottom of the 9th. On July 29, 2010, the Athletics announced Sheets would miss the remainder of the season due to a torn flexor in his right elbow. His season ended with Sheets going 4-9 in 20 starts.

On July 1, 2012, the Atlanta Braves announced that Sheets had signed a minor league contract with the organization in order to attempt a comeback to the major leagues. He made his first minor league start with the Mississippi Braves on July 4, 2012. On July 12, the Braves announced that they had called Sheets up from the minors. Sheets made his first start in nearly two years on July 15th against the New York Mets. He pitched six scoreless innings, giving up two hits and striking out five to earn the win. After his second start also resulted in no runs given up by Sheets, who pitched six innings of five-hit, six-strikeout ball, he stated, "If you asked me if I'm surprised I haven't given up a run, yeah I am. But I'm not surprised I'm getting people out. I wouldn't have come back if I didn't think I could get people out." Sheets made the final start of his career Wednesday, October 3, 2012 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

#16- Doug Mientkiewicz attended Westminster Christian School in Palmetto Bay, Florida, where he was a teammate of Alex Rodriguez. Upon graduation, he was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the twelfth round of the 1992 Major League Baseball Draft, but chose instead to play at Florida State University. In his third season with the Seminoles, Mientkiewicz led the team with a .371 batting average, 19 home runs and 80 RBI. Florida State earned their first ACC Championship, and Mientkiewicz was named ACC Atlantic I Regional MVP. After the season, Mientkiewicz was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the fifth round of the 1995 Major League Baseball Draft.

In 1998, he batted .323, with a .432 OBP and .508 slugging percentage in 509 at-bats for the New Britain Rock Cats to earn Eastern League (AA) All-Star honors, and a September call-up to the Twins. He batted .200 with two RBIs in 25 at-bats for the Twins. Mientkiewicz earned a roster spot with the Twins the following spring without having previously played in Triple-A, and batted .229 with two home runs and 32 RBIs sharing playing time with Ron Coomer at first base in 1999. After a full season in the majors, Mientkiewicz spent the 2000 season with the Twins' AAA affiliate, the Salt Lake Buzz. He was the Triple-A All-Star first baseman, and Pacific Coast League All-Star designated hitter. He batted .334, with a .446 OBP and .524 slugging percentage, in 485 at-bats for Salt Lake, while both scoring and driving in 96 runs.

After the season wrapped up Mientkiewicz was named to the US team and served as the starting first baseman. Mientkiewicz was counted upon for his leadership as the oldest member of the team. He is best known for his walkoff home run against the South Korean team in the semifinals which helped carry the momentum into the gold medal game against Cuba.

In 2001 Mientkiewicz became the Twins’ full-time first baseman, posting the best numbers of his career on both sides of the ball. He won his first and only Gold Glove of his career that season and finished in 14th place for the American League MVP award after going .306/15/74 under then-manager Tom Kelly. Mientkiewicz had another solid year with the Twins in 2003, but was traded to the Boston Red Sox near the trading deadline in 2004 where he joined a former Twins teammate David Ortiz as they shattered the “Curse of the Bambino” that season after the Red Sox won their first World Series title since 1918. Not wanting to make the same defensive gaff as in the case of Bill Buckner in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Mientkiewicz was put in a first base and recorded the final out of the Series.

Since then, Mientkiewicz became a bit of a journeyman, playing a season each with the New York Mets (2005), Kansas City Royals (2006), New York Yankees (2007), Pittsburgh Pirates (2008) and Los Angeles Dodgers (2009). He currently serves as the manager for the Fort Myers Miracle, an advanced-A affiliate of the Twins in the Florida League.