Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July 1- New York Yankees

If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m a huge fan of talking about the stories from a team’s past that don’t quite get remembered except in passing moments and at the countertop during a bar room discussion by the most avid of baseball fans and historians. In the case of the New York Yankees, most long-lasting tales focus heavily upon the dominant teams featuring yesteryear’s stars like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris and Whitey Ford all the way up through the 1970s with Thurman Munson, Chris Chambliss and Reggie Jackson and on into the 1990s and 2000s with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill. These are the teams of our grandfathers, fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers and extended relatives that we all laugh and smile about. But like any fairy tale story, there is always that moment of struggle and conflict that we can’t look beyond.

Unlike most of my other posts I have elected to start with a bit of history about the cap first so that I can wind up and lead into the heart of the story. Despite what most of you have seen through film and photos of the last 80 years or so on Yankees baseball, the team has actually gone through a surprising number of uniform and logo changes in their 113-year history. So far I’ve touched on one of the former caps that the Yankees reintroduced in 2012 in my post from February 9th when they were still known as the Highlanders. It wouldn’t be until 1913 that the team would officially become the Yankees and begin play with the navy blue cap with the white “NY” logo that we’ve all become familiar with. Over the years the “NY” went through a few style modifications (all of which I’ll detail with individual posts) until they finally settled down on this particular style in 1992, right around the time that this scrappy no-namer was taken with the sixth overall pick in that year’s amateur draft.  

Now, some of you might be saying, “Hey Benjamin! Are you high? The Yankees have been using the same logo since the 1960s at least.” My response to that is, “WRONG!!!” It’s very close, and I used to think the same thing; however, years of baseball card collecting and a vested interest in authentic baseball caps has certainly made me the wiser man in this category. If you look closely in the Jeter photo above you’ll notice that the tips on the “N” and the “Y” curve up and outward and are almost sanded down to a fine 45 degree edge. Here’s a closer look.

Now, if you take a look at the logo on the cap used through the 1991 season, you’ll see that the tips of the “N” and the “Y” shoot out at the tips a little bit more, plus the shape of the “N” has a bit more of an off-kilter curve to it, making the “Y” appear to be a little bit tighter in closeness to the left arm of the “N.” 

I know this all sounds crazy, but it’s true. The main reason I bring all of this up is because at some point in time down the road when I write about the fraternal doppelganger of this cap, I don’t want any of you to think I’m cheating you by writing about the exact same cap. Even weirder, now that I have time stamped this cap that I’m wearing as a 1992-present cap, I’m now about to spin you a story or two from Yankees’ history from the era of the second cap. Yes, I realize none of this makes sense as I try to stay within the era of the cap and its use. The only problem is that I am saving an even better story for the second cap for October, and since this one straddles the end date of the second cap, I figure what the hell? Almost all of us witnessed the Yankees of the 1990s and 2000s so there’s really no sense in dragging anyone down that road again. Nothing personal against the Yankees or their fans; I just feel that there’s no sense in trying to rehash upon what so many others have all ready talked about for the last decade. That would be kind of like going out an making a film about World War II, hoping that your interpretation was somehow better than the dozens that have come before it. Once again, as well all should know by now, Quentin Tarantino pretty much put that baby to bed.

7/1/90: On the morning of July 1, 1990 the Yankees found themselves dead last (seventh place) in the American League Eastern Division with a record of 28-44. The Yankees had been in that position since May 26th after a loss to the Kansas City Royals by the score of 4-9. Then-manager Bucky Dent, who I’ll be writing about down the road, was relieved of his managerial duties on June 5th and replaced by Stump Merrill for the remainder of the season. Even with Merrill at the helm, the Yankees struggled to register a number in the win column despite the level of talent on the team which included Don Mattingly, Steve Balboni, Steve Sax, Jesse Barfield and a fresh-faced rookie by the name of Jim Leyritz. Andy Hawkins was on the mound for the Yankees that sunny afternoon in Chicago along with his 1-4 record in 13 starts on the season. Hawkins’s win came on May 6th against the California Angels, but it was up to him to do battle against the White Sox in old Comiskey Park this day.

Through the first four innings Hawkins and White Sox pitcher Greg Hibbard had themselves a little bit of a pitchers’ duel at hand. Each had 12 batters come to the plate, and in each case both men sent the batters back to the dugout with their tail between their legs. In the top of the fifth inning Hibbard continued his pace, getting Balboni, Barfield and Leyritz out consecutively. Now, it was time to switch sides. Hawkins made short work of both Dan Pasqua and Ron Kittle with a flyout and popout respectively; however, he walked catcher Ron Karkovice after running him up to a full count. Hawkins then had a passed ball get by against second baseman Scott Fletcher, allowing Karkovice advance to second base. Hawkins then proceeded to walk Fletcher before getting Sammy Sosa to flyout to left field.

Hibbard’s perfect game was broken up by Yankees catcher and former-Oakland Athletics skipper Bob Geren in the top of the sixth inning with one out on a single to third baseman and current White Sox manager Robin Ventura. Hibbard would go seven innings and only allow four hits while striking out four throughout the game. As for Hawkins, his day was just getting started. Hawkins got through the sixth on three straight batters, but once again allowed a walk in the top of the seventh inning to designated hitter Ivan Calderon. Hawkins then took down Pasqua again, Calderon got caught stealing by Geren and Kittle went down watching the strikes go by.

If you couldn’t tell by now, the Yankees offense was pretty much non-existent. Hawkins was a lone-man on the mound with a no-hitter in tact through seven innings. In the eight, the wheels came off. Actually, that’s a poor analogy. It’s more like, the wheels came off, rolled down the street along with the car and somehow found themselves back on the hubs. Karkovice and Fletcher both succumbed to popflys to second baseman Sax, but on the next play third baseman Mike Blowers botched a routine ground ball hit by Sosa which allowed a baserunner via error on behalf of Blowers. Sosa then stole second as Ozzie Guillen was in the process of walking, which ultimately led to Lance Johnson receiving a free pass to first base himself, thus loading the bases with two outs for Ventura. At this point I should probably remind you that Hawkins’s no-hitter was still in tact. On the first pitch from Hawkins, Ventura swung for the fences but got under it, sending a deep fly ball to an eagerly awaiting Leyritz out in left field. On most days, this play would have been routine, but on a day like today with a non-no in tact and the wind blowing like crazy in the outfield, Leyritz made a rookie mistake and lost the ball at the last second as it careened off of his glove and onto the grass, allowing all three runner on base to score as Ventura pulled into second. Leyritz was charged with an error, but the White Sox now held a 3-0 lead despite the fact that they were still getting no-hit by Hawkins. Calderon was up next for the Sox, getting himself into a bit of a jam as Hawkins quickly developed a 1-2 count on him. With nothing really to lose, Calderon lifted a ball into deep right field where the sun and the wind played havoc with a slightly careless Barfield waiting under it. Like Leyritz, the ball was being acted upon by the elements, and the same result occurred. Barfield lost the ball in the sun which allowed Ventura to score from second, kicking the score up to 4-0 in favor of the South Siders. Pasqua came to the plate again, working himself into a full count before popping it up to Yankees shortstop Alvaro Espinosa to end the inning.

In the ninth, the Yankees offense didn’t stray too far from their original game plan. That plan being that they weren’t intending on scoring any runs. After getting closed out by Scott Radinsky, the Yankees lost the game by the final score of 0-4 and Hawkins’s no-hitter was still in tact. Well, for a year and two months it was recognized as such. As it would later come to pass, on September 4, 1991 the Committee for Statistical Accuracy, appointed by Major League Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, changed the definition of a no-hitter to require that a pitcher throw at least nine full innings and a complete game. Since Hawkins (who never gave up a hit during a game against Chicago, despite the Sox winning the game 4-0) played for the visiting team, the Sox never batted in the ninth inning and Hawkins lost the credit for a no-hitter. Pretty stupid, eh? One could argue that this is one of Vincent’s stupider moves during his reign as commissioner; however, this same committee also ruled that Roger Maris is the one and only single season home run record holder, overturning the 1961 decision of former commissioner Ford Frick that Maris and Ruth's home run totals should be listed side-by-side for 154 and 162 game seasons (contrary to popular belief, Frick never mentioned using an asterisk). Sooooooooo… he redeemed himself significantly on that one.

Despite only being commissioner for four years (1989-1992), Vincent’s legacy will forever be tied to directly with the Yankees. Aside from the aforementioned tidbits above, it was Vincent who expelled Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner III just 29 days after Hawkins’s no-hitter after “The Boss” paid Howie Spira, a small-time gambler, $40,000 for "dirt" on his outfielder Dave Winfield after Winfield sued Steinbrenner for failing to pay his foundation the $300,000 guaranteed in his contract. Steinbrenner was eventually reinstated in 1993 (one year after Vincent left office).

Per Fay Vincent's interview on WFAN (NY) on July 14, 2010 (the day after Steinbrenner died), Vincent had wanted to suspend Steinbrenner for only two years. It was Steinbrenner who asked for a lifetime ban as he was tired of baseball and wanted to help run the US Olympic effort. Steinbrenner knew he could not run the Olympic effort if he was suspended, so he asked for a lifetime ban, which he received. Steinbrenner then applied for (and received) reinstatement after two years.

Other highlights in Vincent’s career include the indefinite suspension of World Series champion, and repeated drug offended Steve Howe in 1992, who became the second player to be given a lifetime ban for drug-related issues. The first player was Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins in case you were wondering. Vincent was also the only man who had the balls to slap the MLB owners with a $280 million bill after the orchestration of collusion to prevent any free agents to be signed from 1985-1987, a topic I will get to later in the year as well. All in all, not too shabby of a four-year stretch for a guy who was paralyzed from the waist down after falling from a four story ledge in college.

#19- Going back to my earlier statement about bar room conversation, there is probably one topic that comes up more often than most people would think when it comes to sports banter. That topic; worst #1 draft picks of all-time. This conversation is usually relegated to NBA or NFL conversation, as they’re the only two leagues truly at the forefront of polarizing the draft; however, there are some analysts and critics who carry out this same discussion with MLB picks. If you ever find yourself deep in the midst of this conversation, always remember to bring up Brien Taylor.

Taylor was born in Beaufort, North Carolina, to parents Willie Ray, who worked as a mason, and Bettie, who was a crab picker at the local seafood plant. He was the second of four children, named for the lead character in the movie Brian's Song. Taylor attended East Carteret High School. In his senior season, Taylor threw 88 innings, striking out 213 hitters while walking 28. His fastball often hit 98 and 99 mph. In 2006, MLB super agent Scott Boras claimed that Taylor was the best high school pitcher he had seen in his life.

The Yankees selected Taylor with the first overall selection in the 1991 Major League Baseball Draft, and offered him $300,000 to sign a minor league contract, the typical amount given to the first overall draft choice at that time. However, Boras, acting as an advisor, advised the Taylor family that the previous year's top-rated high school pitcher, Todd Van Poppel, was given more than $1.2 million to sign with the Oakland Athletics, giving up a scholarship to the University of Miami in the process. The Taylors held out for a three-year $1.2 million contract, "Van Poppel money," even though they had less leverage because Brien's poor grades in high school prevented him from getting a major college scholarship offer. They threatened the Yankees that Taylor would not sign and instead attend Louisburg College, a local junior college, as leverage to get the Yankees to agree to their terms. The Yankees were without the official services of owner George Steinbrenner, who was serving his lifetime banishment at the time, but through the media, Steinbrenner said that if the Yankees let Taylor get away, they should be "shot." Taylor signed for $1.55 million the day before his classes were set to begin. Further delay would have meant the deal could not be signed until after the school year ended, which coincided with the following year's draft.

Initially, the Yankees had hoped that like Dwight Gooden, Taylor would be ready for the big leagues at the age of 19. However they found he needed a better move to first base to hold base runners. In 1992 he was 6-8 for the Class-A Advanced Fort Lauderdale Yankees, but with a 2.57 ERA and with 187 strikeouts in 161 innings. The next year as a 21-year-old with the AA Albany-Colonie Yankees, Taylor went 13-7 with a 3.48 ERA and with 150 strikeouts in 163 innings. He also led the Eastern League with 102 walks. Nonetheless, Baseball America named him the game's best prospect and he was expected to pitch for the AAA Columbus Clippers of the International League in 1994, and start for the Yankees in 1995. The Yankees had asked Taylor to report to an instructional league so he could spend the winter of 1993-94 working on fundamentals. However Taylor declined the Yankees' request, claiming he was tired from the pressure of the season. He said he needed the rest and chose to remain near his North Carolina home.

On December 18, 1993 the normally mild-mannered Taylor suffered a dislocated left shoulder and torn labrum while defending his brother Brenden in a fistfight. The New York Times reported that Brenden confronted a man named Ron Wilson, who he had fought with in Harlowe, North Carolina. Brenden suffered head lacerations. Once Brien found out his brother had been hurt, he and a cousin went to Wilson's trailer home to confront him. There, Taylor got into an altercation with Jamie Morris, Wilson's friend, and Taylor fell on his shoulder. According to Wilson, Taylor attempted to throw a “haymaker” at Morris, and missed, which caused the injury.

In the hours following the altercation Boras told reporters the injury was a bruise. However when the Yankees had Taylor visit Dr. Frank Jobe, a well-known orthopedic surgeon, who called the injury one of the worst he'd seen. Jobe repaired a torn capsule and a torn labrum in Taylor's shoulder. Initially Jobe told Taylor that he would throw again with similar velocity and that his shoulder might even be more durable. However, he was never the same pitcher again. When he returned after surgery, he had lost 8 mph off his fastball and was unable to throw a curveball for a strike. He was at AA before the incident but spent the bulk of the remainder of his professional baseball career struggling in A-ball.

Taylor was able to get his fastball back into the low to mid 90's, and he had also filled out, gaining 35 pounds from when he first signed. However, he had control problems. In 1995 he pitched for the Yankees Gulf Coast League team, and walked 54 batters in 40 innings. In 1996 he pitched for the single-A Greensboro Bats, and walked 43 batters in 16 13 innings, going 0-5 with an 18.73 ERA. At Greensboro again in 1997, he walked 52 batters in 27 innings, going 1-4 with a 14.33 ERA. He was released by the Yankees at the end of the 1998 season, and pitched for minor league affiliates of the Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians until retiring in 2000. In his final stint with the Indians' Columbus affiliate in 2000, he gave up 5 hits, 9 walks, and 11 runs (8 earned) in 2 23 innings.

After baseball, Taylor moved back to North Carolina and picked up a job with UPS as a package handler and later a beer distributor. His life never mirrored his potential as he bounced around from job to job, fathering five daughters and having brushes with the law. In March 2012, Taylor was charged with cocaine trafficking after undercover narcotics agents purchased a large quantity of cocaine and crack cocaine from him over a period of several months. He was federally indicted on cocaine trafficking charges in June 2012. Taylor plead guilty in August 2012 and was sentenced to 38 months in prison, followed by three years' supervised release. Taylor, inmate #56437-056, is currently serving his sentence at Federal Correctional Institution, Fort Dix. 

So much talent gone to waste as a result of a bad decision to some, but the definition of a protector of his family to others. It’s hard to watch sometimes, but it’s all part of the cycle of fame and fortune. Hopefully more kids trying to reach stardom latch onto and learn from this story.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

June 30- Texas Rangers

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the last year when it comes to uniforms, I think one of the top three moments of clarity is when I learned not once, but twice that ESPN uniform “analyst” Paul Lukas (Uni Watch) really has no sense of style and appreciation for change. I realize how much of an odd comment it is for me to say this when considering how much of a purist I’ve become when it comes to just buying hats; however, I do appreciate it when a designer comes up with something new, even if it is a bit unorthodox.

Baseball is a game that some take for granted and heavily undervalue. While some want to complain about how slow it moves or whatever bit of dribble that translates into my head as “clearly you’re not smart enough to appreciate it,” the one thing that very few grasp is that it’s one of the few games that hasn’t undergone any dramatic changes in over 120 years. I’d say adding the designated hitter rule in the American League in 1973 is most notable. Regardless of that, my point about Lukas arose the first time this last autumn after the unveiling of the new Diamond Era batting practice/Spring Training caps and he felt the Atlanta Braves Chief Noc-A-Homa logoed cap was worthy of a F grade, the only one to receive it. Lukas, for one, opposes any use of the old Native American symbols and names as stated in an article he wrote for ESPN back in September of 2012. While I have always respected other peoples’ opinions on this particular matter, I can’t help but find the humor in white people making this argument, while on the other side of the coin there are a fair number of Native American tribes who respect it and are honored by the use, but this is a matter I’ll get into way down the road in another post.  The second strike against Lukas came on March 27th when he unveiled the 2013 Memorial Day Stars & Stripes caps in a picture tweet which said, “All 30 teams to wear these really ugly camo caps on Memorial Day.” I just can’t side with that.

I for one am a fan of them. Hell, I am a huge fan of the ones from last season. You know; the ones I wrote about back in May which featured the game style-colored caps with the digital camouflage interior logos. The ones I’m still trying to find the last few teams that I need. Like baseball uniforms, the United States military has undergone a similar change by updating their camouflage patterns and colors. In years passed, New Era had stared with variations of red, white and blue pattern hats with actual stars and stripes integrated into the logos which ended up pleasing some and disappointing others as well. Even though I personally didn’t purchase any of those caps, as a fan of the game and a fan of caps, I can still stay that it was a clever series of designs. When it came to last season’s models I felt that it was a way more fitting tribute to the troops on top of the proceeds that were, and are still being donated to Welcome Back Veterans. I will admit I was a little disappointed to see that last year’s models weren’t brought back for a second tour, but I got over it once I saw these. Even more important, I as incredibly impressed with the fact that Majestic Apparel collaborated with New Era and came out with matching camouflage-logo jerseys and shirts for the players to wear and fans to purchase which were met with positive responses from both. My point in all of this is that as a uniform critic, using “ugly” as an adjective is rather juvenile. Even more so, to be so quickly dismissive shows no sign constructive intelligence, kind of like when CBS baseball writer Jon Heyman bashed the Oakland Coliseum so harshly in one tweet. As journalists, they know and could do a lot better.

Now that I’m off of my soapbox, I’ll move onto the hat. I snagged this and two others on June 24th during my trip to Buffalo, New York for the New Era Fan Appreciation event. In my Buffalo Bisons post from that date I explained how at the end of the New Era factory tour we were allowed to take a few “defective” Texas Rangers Stars & Stripes caps home with us. Not wanting to be greedy, I only took as many as my means told me; one for my friend Taylor (@TaylorAKSmith), one for my friend Mark (@TheTXGonzo) and one for myself. I probably could have snagged more, but I didn’t want to overstep the hospitality. If you couldn’t tell from the photo above, the defect in these caps was that the “T” logo was supposed to be made in red with a blue trim, not white with a blue trim.

To be perfectly honest, I dig the white “T” a lot more than the red, but that’s just me.

Now, unlike last year’s Stars & Stripes caps, I don’t have any intention to purchase one of for every team; however, at some point down the road I will snag the Oakland Athletics for my collection because, you know… Athletics.

When marking up this cap I couldn’t help but post the same date as the Arizona Diamondbacks cap I wrote about on May 14th due to its significance, but also because it makes a lot of sense (in my mind) on account of the logo. I’ll explain…

5/27/13: If you didn’t click on the link for the Diamondbacks post, I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version. Back when the schedule was written up and first posted, the Diamondbacks were so thrilled with the success of a doubleheader which had taken place the previous season that they opted to schedule one for the upcoming season. Being the smart guys that they are, they came up with the best date to hold the games and host the Rangers at the same time, Memorial Day. Since it’s a National holiday, and typically a day when people tend to go out and partake in family events, it proved to be a perfect match for everyone involved… except the Rangers.

If you haven’t noticed with my other posts, I like to find patterns and discover weird stories which all took place underneath these caps. In the case of this one, I thought it would be an amusing fit to mark a date I’ve all ready used on a hat that was made incorrectly for a team that ended up losing both games of the doubleheader they agreed to play in on the road. That’s right; the Rangers dropped both ends of the double dip by the final scores of 5-3 and 5-4. Unfortunately for the Rangers they couldn’t get anything really going offensively with the exception of Adrian Beltre who went 3-9 with three RBI for both games.

June 29- Arizona Diamondbacks

The 2012 Major League Baseball season is hands down the craziest, most enjoyable season I have had the privilege of following. While it truly would have been spectacular to be in the stadium of all the no-hitters, perfect games and cycles hit last season, thank God I have the power of to help me get as close to the action as possible without leaving the comfort of my home. I realize that sentence sounded like some cheesy promotion, just bear with me. As awesome as it was to be in the MLB Fan Cave for the first two-and-a-half months of the season to watch a lot of these games, that experience laid the foundation for what ultimately became one of the greatest baseball experiences on my life.

Of all the crazy historical things to occur last season there is one experience that now sits in my top-three “All-Time Greatest MLB Moments” list which started with a handshake back on May 5, 2012. If you read my post from June 26th you’d know about the visit in the Fan Cave from Arizona Diamondbacks pitchers JJ Putz and Patrick Corbin.

After an hour or so of shooting the breeze both Putz and Corbin said that they would probably be back the next night to hang out and watch the Jon Bones Jones UFC fight against Rashad Evans. Now, one thing I’m a bit confused about is that according to his fight stats Jones fought Evans on April 21st, soooooo… I don’t know what the hell we watched. All I know is that Jones and his crew had stopped by the Fan Cave about a week prior to promote the fight, which makes me all that more confused.

Anyway, Putz and Corbin lived up to their word and stopped by in the evening after their 3-4 loss to the New York Mets. Not ones to let a rough day get in the way of their fun, Corbin brought friends and relatives from upstate New York with him and Putz did the same with his parents and a life-long friend named “Rooftop.” As the evening progressed with beers in hand, intense pool and skee-ball games and excellent conversation, other members of the Diamondbacks arrived as well including Willie “The Igniter” Bloomquist and Aaron Hill. Most of the night I just chilled out, nursing the same bottle of Bud Light for an hour, chatting it up with Corbin’s brother and Putz. Lindsay Guentzel (the Minnesota Twins fan) had taken the duty of showing everyone around the Fan Cave and taking photos for the executives so the rest of us had to wait until she was finished to go over and talk to Bloomquist and Hill. Around the time the main event was getting underway Hill and a friend of his were on their way out as they had just stopped to poke around. It was at this time I finally had a chance to talk to him as he had apparently been interested in talking to me since he stepped in. I was a bit confused by that at first, but it all made sense when he talked about how he had seen me on the jumbotron at Citi Field before the game as one the episodes of “Player Poll” I had done was being shown. Putz confirmed this as well as he happened to walk by Hill at the right moment. Hill then asked me a few questions about myself which I kicked off with going to the University of Oregon, hailing from the Bay Area and especially Bakersfield, California. Hill lit up immediately, “Dude! I’m from Visalia! That’s crazy!” Bakersfield and Visalia are roughly 80 miles apart from one another off of Highway 99, but are practically the same city if you’ve ever spent time in either. Hill then asked which baseball leagues I played in growing up, trying to figure out if we had played one another. As it turned out, we missed each other by a year; which also would have made for an interesting conversation seeing as I played second base growing up and he’s an All-Star second baseman. Suddenly, the urge to head out went away as we continued to gab about growing up in the armpit of California… that is until Lindsay decided to butt in. It literally went from us totally bro-ing out to Lindsay wanted everyone to take a photo for all of the executives. I’m not sure why she cut in at that moment, but it completely changed the mood rapidly. Either way, it was good to get the chance to share a few words with someone who had a similar upbringing. What I didn’t expect, besides getting kicked out of the Fan Cave, was that Hill was about to embark upon a historical journey. But first, the cap!

The Dbacks unveiled this cap back in 2007 along with the cap I wrote about on April 29th. While the red brick cap serves as their game cap, this black model with the “A” logo serves as the home alternate cap. By this I mean that the Dbacks generally wear it on Sundays OR whenever the starting pitcher decides to roll with it for their start which also contingent upon the jersey/pant combo they elect to roll with. What’s a little disappointing about this cap is that I decided to mark it up with dates and stories despite the fact that the cap wasn’t even worn when the events took place. No matter, it’s still worthy of praise.

6/18-29/12: If there was ever a fitting bit of irony in all of 2012, June 18, 2012 was certainly a fitting day. It was the fourth game of the Northwest League season and I happened to be down in Eugene to watch the Emeralds face off against the Yakima Bears in the fourth of their five-game series. I had all ready been to Opening Day, in which I wrote my experience on June 18th (what a coincidence!) and I rolled back down from Portland to catch this particular game with my friend Chris Crude. The main reason why I say today was filled with irony is because the then-Bears, who are now the Hillsboro Hops, are the short season-A affiliate of the Dbacks. Now, even though I was all ready at a baseball game I always take the time to check up on how things are going around the league using my application on my phone. One of the games on interest I had was the Dbacks versus Seattle Mariners game taking place in Phoenix. Normally I would be blacked out due to the fact that Eugene sits within Mariners territory; however, I lucked out. Here’s why.


During my time in the Fan Cave I had won the phone during a scavenger hunt challenge set up in the first two weeks we were there. It proved to be especially useful for me as I was the only one there who didn’t have a smart phone. So, anytime I went to the bathroom or upstairs to grab a drink I always made sure to have at least one game going. The only problem was that I ran into the same issues with blackouts from time-to-time. The worst instance came when I had to give fellow University of Oregon alum and SB Nation host Dan Rubenstein a tour of the Fan Cave. During the tour, I had to keep my eyes on the Mets versus Washington Nationals game that was taking place; however, the game was blacked out due to the fact that I was standing in Mets territory. When I pointed this out to the head of business public relations for MLB Jeff Heckelman, he took it upstairs for a moment and came back with the game on the screen. Apparently Heckelman had the tech guys play with it in which one of them installed a master key, so now I never have to worry about blackouts, missing spring training games, playoff games, the World Series and the All-Star game. Tight! All I need to do is take care of it and not lose it.

Back to reality

About two weeks prior to this game Hill had almost hit for the cycle June 5th against the Colorado Rockies, but more important, since our chance meeting Hill had been hitting well so I decided to monitor his progress, plus deep down I’ve always had a soft spot for the Dbacks and enjoy watching them. At first the only true redeeming quality of the game was that Wade Miley was taking the hill for the Dbacks, just one of the many games in which he would be lights out and build a solid case for the National League Rookie of the Year award. Despite giving up a single to Kyle Seager in the first inning, Miley dealt the rest of the way. In the bottom of the first inning Mariners pitches Hector Noesi gave up three consecutive singles to Bloomquist, Hill and Justin Upton. At the time, no one really thought much of it and the Dbacks put a few runs up on the board by the end of the inning to take a 3-0 lead.

In the bottom of the third inning Hill led off with a triple, but was then brought in to score after an Upton sacrifice fly to deep right field to take a 4-0 lead. Once again, as the inning then came to a quick close, nobody really knew what was going on.

In the bottom of the fifth inning Miley led off with a strikeout while Bloomquist fired one to second baseman Dustin Ackley. With two outs, nobody on, Hill slapped a line drive into left field which allowed him to get to second on the stand. With the single, triple and double in the books in only the fifth inning, the mood of Chase Field tensed up a little bit, despite the fact that the Dbacks were still holding onto a 4-0 lead.

As the bottom of the seventh inning loomed the Mariners decided to make a pitching change and brought in Shawn Kelley to take things over with Bloomquist leading off as the Dbacks now led 6-1. If the first batter faced was any proof of how probable it was going to be for Hill to hit for his first career cycle, then anyone who had the chance to make a bet on Hill hitting a home run to finish it out should have been made. Prior to Bloomquist’s at-bat Kelley had only given up two home runs on the year; the first was Oakland Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes’s first career home run on Opening Day in Tokyo, Japan and the second was on May 8th against Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder. In both cases it’s not like Kelley was getting teed off of by some slouch. Against Bloomquist, Kelley served up a tater right down the middle, but Bloomquist could only get it to deep center. With a little more pop in his bat, if Hill was given the same pitch, it definitely would have gone over the way. Luckily for Hill, that happened. After taking the first pitch for a strike, Hill played the next pitch as aggressive as possible, launching it over the left field wall, becoming the fifth player in Dbacks history to hit for the cycle and the second player in MLB on the season to pull it off; the first being Mets outfielder Scott Hairston.

After Hill hit the double I began tweeting up a storm, mostly focusing on how had he hit the double he needed against the Rockies on June 5th he would have been the third player in MLB history to hit for the cycle twice in a season. Once again, the irony of this day, and especially this tweet, were about to come back in a big way.

On June 28, 2012 I was laying in bed watching baseball on my computer as I had just gotten back from a three-day road trip in Seattle to watch the Athletics play the Mariners along with my friend, and 2013 Fan Cave hopeful Tommy Bentley (@RealTomBentley). Due to my fatigue level I was kind of in-and-out of the Dbacks game as they were playing the Milwaukee Brewers on the road. I don’t remember too much about the other three games I had going at the same time, but as the Dbacks game progressed I ended up closing the other screens out.

Just like the game on June 18th (2012), Hill batted in the two-hole behind Bloomquist who ended up grounding out in his first at-bat against Brewers pitcher Randy Wolf. With a called strike against him, Hill mashed a hard liner into left field which bounced over the wall for a ground rule double. Aside from putting himself in scoring position, the hit also turned out to be the 1,000th of his career. Upton and Jason Kubel followed Hill by both striking out looking, marooning Hill on second base to close out the first. Once again, no one really paid much attention.

In the top of the third inning “The Igniter” led off with a double which was then followed up with a bloop single just over the head of Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks and into centerfield by Hill. Hill then stole second base before Upton roped a single himself, scoring Bloomquist from and pushing Hill to third. After that, the floodgates opened as the Dbacks ended the inning with a 6-1 lead. With a double and a single in the bag, plus a five-run lead, very few gave much though to Hill, once again, despite the fact that he still had a solid amount of at-bats left in the game.

In the top of the fourth Dbacks starting pitcher Ian Kennedy struck out looking to lead off while Bloomquist reached on an error by Weeks. Not being the one to waste pitches, Hill took the first for a strike and then exploded upon the second. Hill sent a screamer to deep left field to not only put his team up by seven runs, but also got the social media world jibber-jabbing about how he still had five more innings to lock up a triple. Not since Babe Herman of the Brooklyn Robins in 1931 had a player hit for the cycle twice in one season, and not since John Reilly in 1883 had someone done it in games so close together.

In the top of the sixth inning catcher Henry Blanco and Kennedy both recorded outs. Bloomquist then legged out a slow rolling single to short, which paved the way for all of the eyes of the baseball world to be focused on Hill. Livan Hernandez had replaced Tim Dillard at the top of the inning who in turn had replaced Wolf at the top of the fifth. Hernandez started off by throwing two consecutive balls, none of which Hill wanted a piece of. As Hernandez let the third pitch go (a changeup) Hill dipped his head down after making contact as if he thought it was a pop out. Nope! The ball actually had a decent amount of speed behind it and as soon as Hill saw it drop into play he kicked his run into third gear. Morgan got to the ball slowly, which rolled to the wall as he figured Hill was going to holdup for a double. Nope! Weeks caught the cutoff throw and fired it slightly offline to the waiting Aramis Ramirez at third base… too late. Hill dug it out like a champion and slid his way into the record books when he touched (and stayed) on third base. A fair amount of Brewers fans applauded Hill for his effort, which was a bit classy on their part. Not too bad of an achievement for a kid from Visalia, California who went home with two balls in his pocket. You know, one for hit #1000 and the other for the double cycle. What were you thinking? Video

#46- Patrick Corbin was especially a treat to meet, but even weirder is that he looks almost identical to my U of O roommate Lyle Birkey, just a bit taller See..

Somewhat unknown last season, Corbin was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the second round of the 2009 amateur draft only to be traded to the Dbacks on July 25, 2010 along with Rafael Rodriguez, Joe Saunders, a player to be named later (Tyler Skaggs) in exchange for Dan Haren… who I look nothing like.

From then until the end of the 2011 season Corbin muscled his way through the minor league system, posting solid numbers while playing with the Rookie League Orem Owlz, intermediate-A Cedar Rapids Kernels, advanced-A Visalia Rawhide and Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and the AA Mobile Bears plus a brief stint with the AAA Reno Aces before making his Major League debut on April 30, 2012 against the Miami Marlins. Corbin got tagged for three earned runs in that first game, also allowing eight hits and three walks, but he struck out six and received the win for his efforts.

For the rest of the season Corbin had his highs and his lows, but in every case he stuck through it and didn’t make excuses. After the game on May 5th against the Mets Corbin, his brother and I got into a bit of a discussion in regard to his performance that day. He was pulled after 83 pitches after going 3 1/3 innings and only allowing two runs. Despite the high pitch count it was a situation that his brother and I felt he should have been allowed to attempt to get himself out of. For being a first-year pitcher, sometimes you have to take the lumps in order to know how to correct your mistakes down the road; a lesson in baseball that isn’t much different from real life. Corbin finished the 2012 campaign with a record of 6-8 with a 4.54 ERA in 17 games started. Like I said, it had its ups and downs, but in the end it all proved to be an eye-opener for Corbin’s 2013 effort… which has gone by rather smoothly.

So far this season (as of July 28, 2013), Corbin is on pace to potentially win the National League Cy Young award with a 12-2 record, 2.24 ERA, 123 strikeouts and a .991 WHIP. That’s one hell of a turnaround! Not to mention the fact that the Dbacks are hanging tough in the NL West and looking to secure their sixth trip to the postseason since the team’s inaugural year in 1998. Lord knows I bet on them to do it. Here’s to hoping I’m not as crazy as I look.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

June 28- San Jose Giants

For those of you who may have noticed that I have continually gotten a bit off track from my daily posts, I assure you that there is decent reason for my last gap in between posts. One of the things that I have been trying to make a habit of is anytime I write a specific date on any of my hats I save that date to pay a true tribute to the event that took place. As you’ll soon learn with this post, I decided to keep the date open until it arrived.

This is one of the few moments where becoming a bit burnt out in writing these posts ended up paying off in the end. Granted, I could have just posted the title and the linking words like two of my other posts (which I still need to write), but I found that, like the other two posts, it’s taking a bit longer than it should to get around to writing them. So, I decided to just wait it out and not progress until I accomplished my goal at hand. Not to sound like I’m jumping into a Delorean and going into the future, but this story actually first came to be on June 29th when I received a text from my friend, and fellow Oakland Athletics MLB Fan Cave finalist Vanessa Demske.

On that afternoon I was sitting around on the couch as I had a rare day off from work. Being the productive person that I am, I found myself watching episode five of season four of “The Wire,” as I am still trying to get through the entire series. At this point I think it’s best to inform you that if any of you decide to spoil the second half of season four or all of season five you will have a swift kick to the gonads (even if you’re female) awaiting you. Anyway, I won’t go into detail as far as what was going down on screen (I don’t like to spoil things), but I received a text message from Vanessa while she was in the gift shop at Municipal Stadium, the home of the San Jose Giants. Like a lot of my friends out of state who go to minor league games, she sent me a photo of the hat wall which always puts me in a good mood.

She then informed me that the Giants held a Breast Cancer Awareness Night during the previous game and that they were cleaning out all the BCA hats and asked if I wanted one. As it stood at the time, I didn’t have any San Jose Giants caps in my collection, so any cap that the team wore on the field was one that I was more than happy to add to my bag. I told her yes and that my size was 7 3/8. She then responded back and let me know that they were all out of that size. Grumble!!! No big deal though, with my hair continuing to grow a 7 ½ would work just as well and feel a little bit looser on my melon. She obliged and said that she would mail it out later in the week.

At that point in time the last post I had written was my Fort Wayne Wizards piece on LaTroy Hawkins. Since the game in which this cap was used took place on the 28th and the Hawkins piece was dated for June 15th, I figured I had plenty of time to write 12 more posts before it arrived. So, I wrote a few stories here and there to make a strong effort to get all caught up. Unfortunately my availability to write with my intense work schedule, daily commute and additional writing I do for three other Web sites has really slowed down my process. Nonetheless, I braved on, all with the anticipation that this cap would arrive shortly; so I write and waited. Wrote and waited some more. Wrote and waited even more. And then I just waited. I’m not busting Vanessa’s chops when I say this, but the package took a little bit longer than expected. And trust me, these things happen as I am notorious for not having the time or resources to get packages out sometimes, BUT… it did arrive today.

I was at work when it showed up on the front porch, but my mother (yes, I still live at home temporarily) was nice enough to inform me that she found it when she got home from work and threw it on my bed. When I got home around 11:30 PM I grabbed my Benchmade knife (Murica!!!), popped it open and admired it for a bit before grabbing a bowl of cereal so I could have a little bit of sustenance in my tummy-tum before writing this up. I should also point out that I’m absolutely exhausted and that I’m not trying to pass out as I write this. Just as promised, the grey with pink “SJ”-logoed Giants cap was in my possession. Vanessa even made sure to leave me a little note to remind me of the date and the event and that all of the other research was on me. So nice of her.

Of all the 315 or so hats that I own this is the first one which served as a charitable promotion. This is the second year in which the Giants have teamed up with Team KRTY and Sutter Home to host the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Night. As part of the promotion anyone wearing pink was given two tickets to a future Giants game. On top of that the Giants hosted a silent auction in which patrons who had the highest bid were allowed to jump onto the field after the game and select which pink jersey they wanted off the back of the player who wore it, along with an autograph to boot.

As far as charitable promotions go, I’ve always been a huge fan of stuff like this. In the Majors teams will participate in charity-related events and host special nights; however, everything is done on the exterior of the game itself. By this I mean there is nothing really at play during the game with the exception of games which take place on Mother’s Day when all of the players use special pink bats. The great thing about the minor leagues is that special uniforms are provided for these events and usually donated, raffled off or sold to fans after the game. Even though they’re only used for one game, it’s still a very creative and joyous experience for everyone involved, especially the fans.

6/28/13- Unlike a lot of my other caps, where I get really in depth and creative with my marks, I decided to keep things simple and straight to the point this time around. The Giants hosted their Bay Area rival the Stockton Ports in the second of a four-game series which lasted over the final weekend of June. The Giants had all ready locked up the first half of the season Northern Division title, so it was on to the next challenge.

After leading the Ports by a score of 3-0 the wheels came off (so to speak) in the top of the sixth inning as the Ports rallied hard and dismantled Giants pitchers Adalberto Mejia and Luis Rojas to the tune of eight runs in the inning. This would prove to be the only offense the Ports would need behind the bats of Antonio Lamas and Max Muncy.

Despite the 6-8 loss for the Giants, winning the game on this night would have only made for a small victory in their effort to continue their contributions to help fund research and bring awareness in the fight against breast cancer. And for that, as begrudging as it may be being an Athletics fan and all, I tip my cap to you Giants. Because after all, everyone's goal in this fight is the same, to eradicate breast cancer, or any cancer for that matter, once and for all.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

June 27- Washington Nationals

Originally I was going to hold off a bit on writing about this cap, until I double-checked my archives. In the whole mix of trying my best not stumble over repeating the same teams’ caps within a month-long time frame, I’ve somehow managed to neglect writing about certain teams for longer than that stretch. I must also take into account how much I’ve fallen behind in my quest to write about a new cap every day this year and how I’m trying to catch up at a somewhat miserable rate. Nonetheless, when looking at the grand scheme of things and which day I’m on in my posts, this particular Washington Nationals cap actually falls within a perfect time frame. If you haven’t noticed by now, even though I’ve fallen almost a month behind, I’ve done my best to keep my posts in REAL TIME, in that I try to give you the story as it happened up until that day as to not confuse anyone with stories that may have taken place after afterward. This piece will dabble a little bit into the “future,” but not too much.

I picked this Nationals cap up on June 24th during my shopping spree at New Era’s headquarters in Buffalo, New York along with about 20 other caps during my trip for the Fan Appreciation even they held for nine other collects and myself. Of all the hats I picked up, this was one of the newest to this season that I scored which was also kind of a weird move on my part when considering that fact that I could have had any other hard to find hat than this one. By that I mean I could have easily scored this cap off of the Lids Web site at any point in time, but there was just something about that was telling me to add this to my cart. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that up until the moment I saw it on the wall I had only come across it in photos as the store I work at, Just Sports (@JustSportsPDX) and the Lids at the mall I work don’t have it in stock. Either way, I was going to purchase at one point or another, so I figured in this case, “why not now?”

As I just mentioned, the Nationals introduced it this season as their “alternate two” cap, which I found to be an unusual title considering that the Nationals are down to three caps, including this one, which they wear on a regular basis on the field. One of which, their road cap, I wrote about on April 17th. The road cap features the exact opposite color scheme as the alternate cap and is also the last Nationals cap I've written about. Clearly I’m slacking. Anyway, the Nationals have only used one other “alternate” cap, excluding holiday caps, during the franchise’s time in our nation’s capital (the red cap with a white “DC” logo), but I’ll touch on that in a later post. The thing about that cp is that it hasn’t been seen or heard from since the end of the 2008 season. Therefore, there really wasn’t any need to give this cap the “alternate 2” title when they could have just stuck with alternate.

As far as when they’ve used the cap, they’ve only worn it during home games which take place on back-to-back Saturday and Sunday games. Having only caught a speckle of Nationals games this season, it was hard for me to recall whether or not any of the games I had watched lived featured any of the players wearing it; however, thanks to Chris Creamer and the fine folks at, they’ve been cataloging every team’s record during the 2013 campaign and how the perform under every uniform combination for the season. In essence, with four new game style caps introduced/re-introduced this season, I at least have a bit of a direction as far as where to start in some these stories. At the same time, since two of the four caps brought out are alternate throwback styles, I pretty much have this Nationals cap and the New York Mets alternate as the only ones to really worry about. The other two; a 1983 homage Chicago White Sox which I’ll get to later in the year and the 1970s Pittsburgh Pirates throwback I wrote about on June 12th.

With only a few months to work with on this cap the one thing that was discovered about this cap is that it riddled with bad luck. From their first official game of wearing it on April 13th against the Atlanta Braves through today, the Nationals have only fared a record of 2-9. For having only worn this cap at home that’s a rather disturbing trend. Even worse is that the team continues to use it. Now, I’ve always know baseball to be a game of superstitions. Players will do weird things like wear their teammate’s pants (Jose Bautista), some will go without washing their socks (Jason Vargas) and other will eat fried chicken before every game (Wade Boggs); however, once a losing trend starts to form, players usually figure out what the common problem is and rid of it as fast as they can. Somehow this cap has been overlooked in that discussion. Whoops!

When trying to come up with any kind of marks for this cap I scoured the stats to try and find something interesting. At first I was going to roll with #8 for Danny Espinosa as he had reached based at least once, in some form or another, in the first four games of the hat’s use, BUT… it sadly went awry by game five. The same could have been said about #25 Adam LaRoche as I was tallying the game boxscores backwards; however, once I got to the first few games of the season I noticed a consistent slew of borderline golden sombreros. So, I took the easy route and went with the two guys who were able to muster wins in the two of 11 games played prior to today.

#27- Jordan Zimmermann is off to the best start of his career this season, all ready going 11-3 with a 2.28 ERA and gaining a lot of respect amongst critics for a potential National League Cy Young award at the end of the year. Zimmermann’s game under this cap took place on June 9th for Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins in which he performed masterfully by going a solid seven innings with eight strikeouts in the Nationals’ 7-0 win. However, Zimmermann’s tale to this point is just as interesting.

Zimmermann was born and raised in Auburndale, Wisconsin, which is about 90 minutes west of Eau Claire where my girlfriend Angie Kinderman (@sconnieangie) grew up. If you can’t tell by both of their last names, Wisconsin has a strong German heritage running through the state. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and was drafted by the Nationals in the second round of the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft. In 2008, Zimmermann had a combined 10–3 record with a 2.89 ERA at intermediate-A Potomac and AAA Harrisburg, and in July was named to the Eastern League (AA) All-Star team. He finished the season leading the organization in wins, strikeouts, and earned run average, and was the Nationals pitcher of the year.

In 2009, Zimmermann made the Nationals' roster as the fifth starter; however, the Nationals did not need him in the rotation until mid-April, so Zimmermann opened the season with the AAA Syracuse Chiefs. Zimmermann's contract was purchased on April 20, 2009, and he made his major league debut that night, after a two-plus hour rain delay, against the Atlanta Braves. He pitched six innings, allowing two runs on six hits, with three strikeouts and a walk, earning the victory. Zimmermann won his second game in as many starts against the Mets, becoming the first Nationals/Expos pitcher to win his first two starts of his career since Randy Johnson did so in 1988. Coincidentally, Zimmermann was the losing pitcher in Johnson's historic 300th win on June 4, 2009.

Not too long afterward Zimmermann began experiencing elbow pain, and in July landed on the disabled list. In August 2009 Zimmermann was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament and underwent Tommy John surgery, expecting to miss 18 months. In 2010 he made quick progress. Over four minor league levels, he started 10 games in limited play, racking up just 39.2 innings, but compiling a solid record: 1.59 ERA, 27 hits allowed, 31 strikeouts, and just six walks. On August 26 he was recalled to make his 2010 debut back in the big leagues, where Zimmermann got a no-decision in an eventual win by the Nationals over the Cardinals. On this same day, the Nationals learned that their other young pitching phenom, Stephen Strasburg, would need Tommy John surgery and would be out for 12–18 months. In Zimmermann's second return start, however, five days later, he pitched six shutout innings, allowing only one hit, no walks, and striking out nine, a personal best. He also became the first National to get through six innings facing only 18 batters.

2012 marked a career year for Zimmerman as he went 12-8 with a 2.94 ERA as a member of, not only a stacked rotation, but as a member of the first Nationals/Expos’ team to win the NL Eastern Division title in the franchise’s history.

Zimmermann also got married during the offseason to his longtime girlfriend, and fellow Wisconsinite Mandy Jellish. The only reason I bring this up is because they got married over New Year’s in Wisconsin the same time I was visiting Angie for the first time since we had met in September for the Miami Marlins game I wrote about on February 23rd. How do I know this? Collin Balester, the man who is pretty much responsible for convincing me to get out to Florida for my Major League Baseball stadium road trip. The man is a hell of a good luck charm.

#37- On the other side of the tape is Mr. Franchise himself, Steven Strasburg. Strasburg was actually on the losing end of two of the game the Nationals played under this cap on April 13th and May 11th; however, he locked up the win in the contest played on May 26th against the Philadelphia Phillies by the score of 6-1 in his nine strikeout performance. Strasburg is currently 4-6 with a 2.41 ERA as of today as he had a no decision against the Arizona Diamondbacks in their 2-3 loss.

 Strasburg attended West Hills High School in Santee, California. At first, he struggled on the school's baseball team, posting a 1–10 win–loss record in his junior year. A 12-strikeout game against El Capitan High School in his senior year, in which Strasburg allowed one hit, drew attention from scouts. He finished his senior year with a 1.68 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 62 ⅓ innings pitched, with seven complete games. He finished with three varsity letters, set school records in ERA and shutouts, and was named his school's 2006 Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He was also named second-team all-league and his team's MVP. Despite these achievements, he was not selected in that year's Major League Baseball Draft.

Strasburg had hoped to attend Stanford University but was not accepted there. Although recruited by a number of schools across the country, he enrolled at San Diego State University, where both of his parents attended school. He played college baseball for the San Diego State Aztecs, coached by Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tony Gwynn. When he first arrived, he was an unlikely candidate to pitch collegiate baseball at all; he was so overweight and out of shape that his conditioning coach nicknamed him "Slothburg" and encouraged him to quit baseball. He also had a difficult time adjusting to college life, moving out of his dormitory and in with his mother after five days. He acknowledged, "I wasn't the most mature guy out of high school. ... The dorm was an overload, too much, too soon." Strasburg responded with an intense workout regimen, losing 30 pounds (14 kg) in the process. He also worked to improve his mental toughness. Coaches tested him by placing him in high-pressure situations and telling him he needed to get strikeouts.

San Diego State used Strasburg as a relief pitcher in his freshman year; he began the season pitching in middle relief, before becoming the Aztecs' closer. He held opponents to a .141 batting average against and was named Co-Freshman of the Year for the Mountain West Conference. In the summer of 2007, Strasburg also played for the Torrington Twisters of the collegiate summer baseball New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL). He was named to the NECBL First Team as a closer, and was also chosen as the Top Pro Prospect and Top Relief Pitcher in the NECBL.

In 2008, as a sophomore, Strasburg was converted to a full-time starting pitcher. He went 8–3 with a 1.58 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 98⅓ innings. Four of his thirteen starts in 2008 were complete games, two of which were shutouts. On April 11th of that year, he struck out a Mountain West Conference record 23 batters in a game versus the University of Utah. He also gained eight miles per hour on his fastball, regularly working in the upper 90s and touching 100 mph.

Strasburg finished his junior year, the 2009 season, 13–1 with a 1.32 ERA, 59 hits allowed, 16 earned runs, 19 walks, and 195 strikeouts in 109 innings pitched. In his final home start on May 8, 2009, Strasburg threw his first career no-hitter while striking out 17 Air Force Falcons batters. His lone loss came against the Virginia Cavaliers in the NCAA Regionals as Virginia advanced toward the College World Series, but he still struck out 15 in seven innings during the loss.

On June 9, 2009, Strasburg was drafted number one overall in the 2009 Major League Baseball Draft by the Nationals. On August 17, 2009, he signed a record-breaking four-year, $15.1 million contract with the Nationals, just 77 seconds before the deadline, shattering a dollar-amount record previously held by Mark Prior, who signed for $10.5 million in 2001. Strasburg made his professional debut on October 16, 2009, starting for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. He was selected to play in the league's Rising Stars Showcase, but was unable to participate due to a minor neck injury. He also won Pitcher of the Week honors for the week of November 2, 2009 and led the AFL with four wins. Before the 2010 season started, Baseball America named Strasburg as the top pitching prospect, and the second-best overall prospect behind Jason Heyward.

Strasburg was assigned to the Harrisburg Senators of the Class AA Eastern League for the start of the 2010 season. There was so much anticipation and hype surrounding Strasburg that there were about 70 credentialed media members in attendance at his April 11, 2010 debut, and ESPN nationally broadcast portions of the game. He won his Senators debut against the Altoona Curve, allowing four hits and four runs (one earned), while striking out eight batters in five innings. During his first home start on April 16, he yielded two hits and an unearned run with three strikeouts in 2⅓ innings in a loss to the New Britain Rock Cats, one where his innings were limited due to a rain delay. Harrisburg set an attendance record in Strasburg's home debut with 7,895 fans. He completed his Class AA stint with a 1.64 ERA while striking out 27 and walking six in 22 innings.

On May 4, 2010, he was promoted to the AAA Chiefs. In his first game with the Chiefs, he pitched six scoreless innings, striking out six batters while allowing one hit and one walk. That game drew 13,766 fans—the highest attendance in the 135-year history of baseball in Syracuse. In his second start, Strasburg was removed after pitching six no-hit innings. He finished his minor league stint with an overall record of 7–2, an ERA of 1.30, 65 strikeouts and 13 walks in 55⅓ innings, and a WHIP ratio of 0.80.

Strasburg made his major-league debut on June 8, 2010, against the Pittsburgh Pirates. A Sports Illustrated columnist termed it "the most hyped pitching debut the game has ever seen." Strasburg picked up the win in his debut, pitching seven innings, allowing two earned runs and no walks and 14 strikeouts, setting a new team strikeout record. Also, he was the first pitcher in history to strike out at least eleven batters without issuing any walks in his pro debut, while falling just one strikeout short of the all-time record for a pitcher's debut—Karl Spooner (1954) and J.R. Richard (1971) both struck out 15, but each took nine innings to do it, and each walked three. (Bob Feller also struck out 15 in his first start, although it wasn't his big league debut). He struck out every batter in the Pirates' lineup at least once and struck out the last seven batters he faced—also a Nationals record. He threw 34 of his 94 pitches at 98 miles per hour (158 km/h) or faster, including two that reached 100 miles per hour (160 km/h).

In Strasburg's second and third major league starts he struck out another eight and ten batters, respectively, setting a major league record for the most strikeouts in a pitcher's first three starts with 32. The previous record holder had been Richard, who struck out 29 in his first three starts in 1971.

Strasburg was also featured in the cover story of Sports Illustrated following his second start. His #37 jersey was the top-selling jersey in all of baseball for the month of June and became the best-selling Nationals jersey of all time in that span.

Strasburg was placed on the disabled list with an inflamed right shoulder in July 2010. He returned to action on August 10, but in his third game back, on August 21, he was removed with an apparent injury. On August 27, the Nationals announced that Strasburg had a torn ulnar collateral ligament (like Zimmermann), requiring Tommy John surgery, and about 12 to 18 months of rehabilitation. In the 2010 season Strasburg pitched in 12 games, all starts, throwing 68 innings, 92 strikeouts and compiling a 2.91 ERA. He was named a pitcher on the 2010 Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team. Strasburg made his first rehab start on August 7, 2011 for the Hagerstown Suns. Strasburg made six rehab starts during the 2011 minor league season throwing a total of 20⅓ innings, with 29 strikeouts, compiling a 3.49 ERA and a 1–1 record. He then made 5 starts during the 2011 major league season, his first coming against the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 6. That year he threw for 24 innings, struck out 24, compiled a 1.50 ERA and a 1–1 record.

In April 2012, Strasburg accumulated an NL-best 34 strikeouts and second-best 1.13 ERA. He totaled 6 walks and did not give up a home run. Consequently he was named NL Pitcher of the Month. On May 20, Strasburg went 2-for-2 as a hitter in a game against the Baltimore Orioles and hit his first career home run, a solo shot off of Wei-Yin Chen.

In his June 13 start against the Toronto Blue Jays, Strasburg became the first pitcher of the year to strike out 100 batters.  On July 1, Strasburg was elected to his first All-Star Game, alongside teammates Gio Gonzalez, Ian Desmond, and Bryce Harper. Strasburg ended the season 15–6 with a 3.16 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 197 strikeouts in 159⅓ innings pitched. Strasburg hit .277 with a home run, 7 RBI, and three walks, earning him a Silver Slugger Award.

As part of Strasburg's rehabilitation from his Tommy John surgery, and as a precaution due to his low innings total in 2011, the Nationals decided to limit the number of innings Strasburg would throw in the 2012 season. Although the number was never official, rumors started that Strasburg's limit would be between 160 and 180 innings. It was also decided that Strasburg's shutdown would be final; he would not pitch in the playoffs. Dr. Lewis Yocum, the surgeon who operated on Strasburg's elbow, agreed in 2011 that Strasburg's 2012 innings total should be limited, although he did not consult with Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo or Strasburg during the season. Teammate Zimmermann underwent a similar process the year before.

Strasburg's high profile and the success of the Nationals in the 2012 season made the innings limit a topic of national conversation. In addition to baseball writers, a number of other figures made their views on the topic known, including football broadcasters Troy Aikman and Terry Bradshaw, basketball reporter Stephen A. Smith, and even prominent politicians such as Rudy Giuliani and Mitch McConnell. Rizzo defended the decision to shut down Strasburg and criticized the buzz surrounding it: "It's a good conversational piece; it's a good debatable subject. But most of the people that have weighed in on this know probably 10 percent of the information that we know, and that we've made our opinion based upon." The Nationals announced that Strasburg would be scheduled to make his final start on September 12 and would be replaced by John Lannan in the Nationals' starting rotation. However, after a rough outing on September 8, Davey Johnson announced that Strasburg was finished for the 2012 season. Strasburg spent the postseason on the physically unable to perform list as the Nationals lost the 2012 NLDS to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

June 26- Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves

Despite the fact that I bought this hat while in Buffalo just the day before, it’s one of the few hats that I have that carry a lot of personal meaning. If you’ve actively followed these posts, or at least gone back and read a few from my archives, the logo on the front may seem familiar as I write about a similar cap back on March 5th. Of all the logos in Major League Baseball it really comes as no surprise that the two I have a kinship with most also happen to be the most controversial: Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians and this one, Chief Noc-a-Homa of the Atlanta Braves.

I honestly can’t explain why I’m so drawn to it, perhaps a little of it does stem from the backlash it has received over the years; however, I don’t make it a point to be offensive on any level about it. To me, it’s just a symbol of the past which has been misconstrued over the decades when it was first introduced during the Milwaukee years in 1954. I bring all of this up because as much as it has pitted baseball fans or political pundits against one another for so many years, to me, it’s a symbol of bonding that will always remind me of the greatest year of my life with two people who have shown me a lighter side of “The Chop.”

Since this is a custom cap that I’ve already dwelled upon there really isn’t much of a reason to re-hash on old material. If you are interested about the history of the symbol, I highly recommend clicking on the link from my original post above. The one thing I can give you about this one is that it was cleverly done in the original Milwaukee styling. While the red bill and the navy blue panels were both shared by the Braves of Milwaukee and Atlanta, the Noc-a-Homa head in a flesh-colored tone was shown more prevalently in the early years between 1957-1966 up north; however, there was a five-year time frame in with the same color pattern was used in Atlanta (1967-1971), but with a much more detailed face.
 This particular hat, or the Diamond Era cap featuring this logo that was originally supposed to be released this season, was a hot topic of conversation amongst the other eight #CrewEra13 invitees and myself. All of us had in some form or another agreed that the original batting practice cap was one of the Holy Grail pieces we wanted to add to our collection. At one point we (more I) thought that there was some sort of box of Diamond Era Braves caps somewhere within the confines of New Era’s headquarters, much like what happened with the Ark of the Covenant at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Some of our top men are on it.

Nonetheless, this cap was still available for purchase, which made all of us happy. In some weird way this logo became the unofficial symbol of our trip to Buffalo as most of us all ready had some variation of the Noc-a-Homa logo on a cap, but more important, we all have some kind of a fascination with it.

Due to the fact that this is not a game style cap I have a lot more freedom in how I marked this bad boy up. Rather than take a historical route like my other posts, I decided to go with something more important to me.

R/R: Of all the Braves fans I’ve met throughout my 30 years of existence, there are two that have made a significantly profound impact on my life at two very important moments, and; coincidentally, they both happened to be named Ricky: Ricky Mast and Ricky Ruby.

Ricky Ruby (@RickyRuby) and I met in the lobby of the Lafayette Hotel in downtown Buffalo, New York two days ago when we both were invited to the Fan Appreciation event held by New Era on June 23rd and 24th. Ruby hails from Atlanta and is one of the bigger pro-Atlanta fans I’ve ever met; however, it’s not for this that I’ll continue to remember him. One of the things that the other eight of us quickly picked up about Ruby is that he’s a big video game and comic book connoisseur. It was first brought to our attention at Niagara Falls when we hiked to the south side of the mouth and Ruby text message tone went off. His tone: the “Go-Go Power Rangers” chime that the red ranger received when ZORG was trying to get a hold of them. Needless to say, the 11-year-old versions of us quickly came out of hiding upon hearing it.

I found this on his Facebook page. Sorry for stealing it.

Throughout the rest of the trip Ruby delighted us with his cavalcade of custom comic book and video game caps that he purchased from shops in Japan which featured Batman, Mario from Super Mario Bros. and Iron Man. But the one topic of discussion that he and I kept bringing up was the matter of the Noc-a-Homa Diamond Era cap. We both had different motives as far as why we want the hat (I suppose), in that he wants it for his Braves/Atlanta collection, where as I want it for my ownership of all the Diamond Era/Braves history collection. In the grand scheme of things one could easily say that both falls within the same boundaries, which I would not dispute as we’re both avid collectors of all hats Braves.

When I got back to Portland I made sure to give him a follow on Instagram and Twitter. Due to the fact that I had been having issues with my phone throughout the trip to Buffalo I wasn’t able to do it then. Once I got back and we started tweeting back and forth with one another I got to see how big of a deal Ruby is within the Atlanta/Braves community. I’ve always been a fan of interacting with supporters of other teams besides my Oakland Athletics as well all have that common ground of fan hood, we all share the same kinship for baseball. One thing that I am looking forward to is the opportunity to get to a game at Turner Field with Ruby for two reasons:

1. Because I’ll have someone awesome to shoot the breeze with at the game.

2. Turner Field is one of the three Major League Baseball parks I have yet to visit. I couldn’t think of anyone better to check that off of my list with.

Ricky Mast (@RickyMast) and I started talking back in February of 2012 when we were both in the running for the MLB Fan Cave this last year. On a nearly routine basis he, a lot of the other prospective Cave Dwellers and I gabbed on Tiny Chat. Despite the fact that we were in competition with one another, all of us hit off fast for the same reason I mentioned above, we’re all baseball fans. No matter what the team or rivalry is one can always seek solace in the common ground and develop a kinship. Such was our case.

Ricky pulling off a low-key mohawk shark in the background.

Ricky being Ricky.
 Mast and I first met in person in Phoenix, Arizona as our planes landed around the same time along with Megan Washington (@teammegan) as the two of them had arrived on the same flight. Naturally, we all hit it off immediately as we swept through the terminals to try and find where we had to meet the shuttle to get to the hotel.

For those of you who are NASCAR fans Mast is the son of Rick Mast, a veteran driver who drove during the Winston Cup days from 1988-2002. What’s most interesting about this is that despite the fact that I don’t closely follow NASCAR I knew who Ricky’s dad was when I lived in Bakersfield, California as two acquaintances both had posters of Rick and his HOOTERS-sponsored car in their garages: Mark, a neighbor down the street whose daughter and I were friends, and Rick Mears, the Hall of Fame four-time Indianapolis 500 champion who lived a few blocks away whose son was friends with my brother Adam.

Ricky and I hit it off pretty well from the start, but we hardly ever saw each other from what I recall in Arizona. He and I were pitted in different groups and went to interview different teams/players as part of our final day’s worth of challenges. In the end though, he and I were both chosen to represent our teams as part of the final nine for the Fan Cave in New York City.

As much as I can recall about conversations and moments that we shared in the Fan Cave, there are only a few moments that I think back on regularly that always put a smile on my face. One of the features that we had on the walls was a radio that worked based on Bluetooth functions. Anytime the late games started up we (all nine of us) would use it to our advantage and play a continuous amount of sound bites and songs to help keep us entertained as the night wore on. Nothing against watching baseball for 12-16 hours a day, but sometimes there can be a few boring moments and breaking the monotony is necessary. One of the cards ( six of spades) that Ricky had in his pocket was the theme song to the TV show “Night Court,” a favorite show for both of us as we were growing up. TV theme songs and movie quotes became a regular line of conversation between the two of us. One particular moment in which it was caught on film was when we were filming the opening scene to the “Miggy Poco” telenovela sketch with Miguel Cabrera and Jon Glazer of “Cheap Seats” and Conan O’Brien fame. If you go back and watch the sketch you can see Ricky and me in the background talking; however, you can’t hear what we are saying. In a nut shell, Ricky and I were reciting the first interview between Will Ferrel and O’Brien when Ferrel came out in character as Robert Goulet. A few highlights include, “Dyan Cannon, she’s got a shape to her,” “Hello Johnny!” "Oh I’ve just been driving a lot,” and “Robert Goulet ate too many cherry Pop-Tarts backstage.” Ricky was as big, if not bigger, fan of ridiculous comedic quotes and standup routines as I am. There was seldom a time when he and I wouldn’t try to make the other person laugh from the moment we woke up to when we went back to our apartments to get some sleep. Our dueling Harry Caray’s became quite the treat, as did the occasional Ric Flair-style “Wooooooooo!!!” No matter what we said or how we said it, every bit was a gem, and I can’t recall laughing harder around anyone I’ve ever met.

Ricky is also quite the accomplished musician, no matter how much he may try to downplay it. Put an acoustic guitar in his hand and he’ll crank out some country gold. Since I was only in the Fan Cave for the first two-and-a-half months I didn’t become familiar with his Braves tribute to “No Diggity” by Blackstreet with his version titled “Go Yickity,” which was accompanied by a wonderful popsicle stick puppet show music video. However, I was fortunate to witness three moments of his brilliance at the tail end of April and the first few weeks of May. The first is something that very few remember, but I tweeted about as it was going on. I’ve always been a huge fan of the “Star-Spangled Banner’ when it’s performed via guitar. I don’t remember the exact date but games were just about to get underway when Ricky sat behind the couch and gently strummed away at the acoustic playing our national anthem. The other seven Cave Dwellers were going about their business, typing things up, talking, etc., but I completely tuned everything out to listen to Ricky play. It was one of the most endearing moments I recall from my experience.

The second moment came on May 3rd when Patrick Corbin and JJ Putz of the Arizona Diamondbacks stopped by for a visit before the opening game of their weekend series versus the New York Mets. A few days prior we had been sat down by the executives to talk about how we were doing after the first month of being there. I won’t go into too much detail now as I’m saving the whole discussion for a later post, but from what I recall from what Ricky had told me, they had said that he needs to produce more original material. I was shocked by that comment, but Ricky, being the loyal and diligent guy that he is, ducked into the corner and immediately got to work. What he came up with is a version of Hootie and the Blowfish’s “Hold My Hand” but sung as a tribute to Braves’ catcher Brian McCann. 

For the time it took him to put it together and the balls he had to play it front of everyone, including Corbin and Putz, it was astonishing. Putz ended up getting it on video as he and McCann were good friends, but I’m not sure if Ricky ever got any feedback on it. But that’s not the end of this. I’m still not sure if Ricky knew this in advance or if I just didn’t check the schedule of upcoming visitors, but Darius Rucker, Hootie himself, paid a visit to the Fan Cave shortly after Putz and Corbin left. As it turns out Rucker is a big Cincinnati Reds fan, and of course I was coaxed into showing off my Reds tattoo to Rucker, at which he was pleasantly surprised by the detail (thank God). At the same time Ricky was asked to play his version of “Hold My Hand” for Rucker, which Ricky, once again, knocked right out of the park. I’d say as far as creativity goes, Ricky definitely grabbed the bull by the horns. Literally.

The third moment came on May 22nd when Billy Butler, Aaron Crow, Bruce Chen, Brayan Pena and Jeff Francoeur of the Kansas City Royals paid us a visit. Most of this day I paid tribute to on May 23rd in one of my Oakland Athletics posts, but there was one major detail that I had left out. Unbeknownst to almost everyone, Ricky had written a song about Francoeur as he is still a huge hit with the Braves’ fan base. 

I’m pretty sure it’s still available on the Fan Cave Web site, so do yourself a service and check it out. This particular song was a Ricky Mast original and became a huge hit with Francoeur and the gang. The thing that I found most shocking in the end was that it almost didn’t air because of Ricky’s last line in the song, “He’s a badass in the USA.” Due to the word “badass” being used it was almost scrapped. I guess the word on the street is that it took 10 emails back and forth with the head office to approve of it, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about showbiz AND the word on the street, it’s usually pretty reliable. Either way, the important thing is that it was approved.

On of the last little anecdotes I have from our time in the Fan Cave has to do with one of the lesser-known rules in which Ricky had to abide by. By now, most of you have become fully aware of the fact that I had to, and still do, bark like a dog anytime anyone, including myself, says the name Jayson Werth (WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF!!!) It became a bigger hit than I expected, especially with kids who came to take a tour. Now, one of the rules of the house that followed was that I had one for Ricky. Anytime I said Chief Noc-a-Homa Ricky had to reply with, “I love Ted Turner!” Probably the best/worst moment of this came on New Year’s Eve of this last year when I was in Ft. Lauderdale with my girlfriend Angie (@sconnieangie). It was a little after midnight EST and the bar we were at, America’s Backyard) started playing the Florida State/Atlanta Braves chant song. You know, the one they do as everyone does The Chop? Anyway, I was pretty drunk when it came on and I decided to text Ricky about it, at which I also mentioned Chief Noc-a-Homa. Within a matter of seconds I got a sold, “I love Ted Turner” in response. I don’t remember much of the night after that, but seeing that text again in the morning put a solid smile on my face as I was more than likely barfing.

After I was eliminated from the Fan Cave at the end of May I did my best to keep in contact with Ricky and few o the others guys. One moment in particular that I’ll never forget is how I almost caused an accident in Los Angeles in an attempt to take a photo of a Ralph’s grocery store. As weird as that sounds there is a very good reason for doing so. Of all the movie quotes that Ricky and I bounced off of one another, there’s a line from “The Big Lebowski” that came up the most. The scene in which it takes place is after Donny, played by Steve Buscemi, has a fatal heart attack and Walter (John Goodman) and Jeff aka The Dude (Jeff Bridges) are sitting at the desk of the head of the mortuary to negotiate (shout about) the price of the urn in which Donny’s ashes are placed. After not coming to an agreement in regard to a portable receptacle, Walter shouts, “God damn it!!!” followed by, “Is there a Ralph’s around here?” It became our bread and butter play. Anytime I shouted, “God damn it!!!” Ricky would always follow up with, “Is there a Ralph’s nearby?” Seeing how I was in LA, where the film took place, and there was an actual Ralph’s “around here,” I had to do it. From what I recall, Ricky was most pleased.

In the months to follow Ricky and I spoke less and less, which was mostly fueled by something stupid I said during the 2012 MLB All-Star game, which I’ll get into detail about when I reach that post. After Ricky was eliminated I pondered for a good few hours before sending my apology. I was happy that he responded, but was really upset that he was let go. Of the nine of us, I am confident to say that he was the second-most interactive with fans, but truly the most talented of the group.

Months would go by before we spoke again, which came on a really weird night. Back in December of 2012 I was one of thousands of victims involved in a shooting that took place at the Clackamas Town Center Mall in which I worked. Once again, I’ll go into more detail later in the year, but of all the people to hit me up in the wake of the aftermath, the one that meant the most was Ricky. It’s one thing for people that I regularly talk with to know what was going on and check up on me, it’s another thing for someone to be genuinely interested in my well-being after months of silence.

Not a day goes by that I don’t regret what I said, to cause the shift, but I’m glad that steps have been taken and we’re talking again, even if through the occasional jokes on Twitter. It’s only fitting I suppose. That was pretty much what our relationship was based on from the start. And I’m certainly not complaining about a good laugh in my life.