Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Black and Blue

Our annual fall world series is about to begin on Friday, and like every year there will be bragging rights and steak dinners on the line.  Tomorrow is the 5th and final game of our " divisional" series...  We really just call it that because the "series before the series" sucks for a title...  And the winner of the divisional set will get home field advantage for the real deal.  Both teams have had some good moments thus far, and it looks like it really is going to be another year where either club could realistically win.

Also happening are our crossfit games.  Four teams compete in head to head competitions every day to earn points toward t-shirts, free passes, and a boatload of pride.  In the midst of the team competition is the individual Iron Pirate competition, which basically amounts to the guys who can go the hardest for the longest getting a sweet t-shirt.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Been a while, I know...

Since my last post, and hopefully, a break that long won't occur again.  The last couple of weeks have been good for us, as we've started to get some rough edges cleaned up and I think we're getting to a point as a coaching staff where we can really see our team shaping up.

This next two weeks is going to be vital because as we finish the Black and Blue playoffs and wold series, we're also seeing the last few opportunities for some players to either take hold of a position, establish a role, or even just make the spring roster. 

Here's the long and short of it.  Right now, we have 32 players.  Reality is that we will only carry 24 or 25 players in the spring, and of that 24 or 25, only about 18-20 will see alot of action.  In a given season, assuming there will be platoon or two, only about 12 position players will get on the field a whole lot, and maybe 6-8 pitchers will throw often enough to be considered regulars.  That leaves around 3 position players and several pitchers on the roster that will only perform in limited duty.  Where does that leave the remaining 5-7 guys that aren't on the roster?  Well, a couple will likely be off the roster because they are injured and will require a medical red-shirt.  With the remaining guys we will evaluate their performance and make a decision:  Either we feel like they will eventally have a chance to start for us, whether it is next year or the following, and offer them a red-shirt, or if we don't feel like they have a chance to win a job in the future, we'll let them go.

I guess that's why this next two weeks are so important.  Close to 20 guys have already made the roster, and there is a job or two that is sewn up, but these next two weeks will determine where the rest of the team winds up.  Every year, someone wins or loses a job in the Black and Blue, and I have little doubt that this year will be the same.  This is the part of the year when the guys on the bubbe get to prove which of them has the stomach to face the pressure and the challenge of competing at the collegiate level, and which are going to cave in to the pressure or be outshined by another athlete. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Week and a Long Day

"A week and a long day"...  That's how the Navy Seals describe hell week.  Now, a tough week at The Lake isn't quite 120 consecutive hours awake and in action.  As a matter of fact, a bad week at The Lake is probably better than a good week at a lot of places. 

In our effort to get our young ballclub to understand what our version of playing hard is, we've had to change the tempo of practice.  Last Tuesday, we were timid at Middle Georgia.  As with anything else in life, when you go into something without belief in yourself, it doesn't quite work out the way you'd like.  We took one on the chin from an opponent because we weren't up to the task on Tuesday, so Wednesday, we drew a line in the sand and made them fight (metephorically, moms!) to get over it.  Thursday was more of the same, and Friday we got to see the fruit of our labor. 

After being embarrassed at MGC, we went down to Darton and beat the Cavs 18-3 at their place and took a 4-0 win from Chipola.  The lesson learned is that just getting after someone's ass is most of the game.  We're still a long way from February, and the long day hasn't quite ended for this group of Pirates, but we're looking a lot more like Chatt Valley than we had been.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Getting closer

I know...  Its been a while since I've posted anything, or at least its been longer than I've intended it to be.  Since my last post, we've played several games, both against true opponents and our own split squads.  We're beginning to show signs of the potential we know we've got, though we're no where near a finished product yet. 

I don't really know what the origin of our biggest obstacle lately really is.  I can't be certain if it is just coincidental, whether its a manifestation of the "summer ball" phenomenon that has swept the country, or even if it is my own perception, skewed by recent success and a few more years under my belt as a coach.  Whatever the case, the obstacle I'm speaking of is the one I wrote about last week.  The good news is that we're making headway.  Last Friday was the best practice we've had all fall, though not for the reasons you might think.  It isn't that we played really well or that we were perfect, because we weren't.  What made it a good practice was that our guys began to start getting after it.  We started to see some competition that had been absent until then.  We were able to carry that over to Saturday, and it led to two well played ballgames against ABAC, one of our Georgia rivals. 

This week has been a solid one, we intrasquaded twice, and our offense is starting to emerge...  This of course happens at the expense of the pitching staff, who left a bit to be desired at times, but overall, the quality of the baseball we're playing has increased. 

I think we're probably very close to where we want to be in terms of understanding our system and the way we run our plays...  Things need to be cleaned up, but there is very little confusion anymore.  On the other front - the one that matters the most (in my opinion anyway) - the competitive front, I'd say we're closer to only about half way there.  We're starting to compete in spurts, and if you watch us play, you'll see it here and there.  Very soon I think we'll be at a point where a core group of guys emerges with the right attitude, skill set, and production to lead us into the spring campaign.  Once that happens, the rest of the bunch will probably take notice and we'll be much closer to where we expect to be. 

Tomorrow we take our crew down to Troy University to square up with two  ACCC-North opponents, so it will be another opportunity to see how we've progressed.

Monday, September 13, 2010

We need some tough

For as much talent as we can put out on a baseball field, what we need a little bit more of at the moment is some toughness.  Now, I'm not talking about "pick on the little guy and let's go start a fight" toughness, I mean game toughness.  I'm also not talking about performing poorly.  Lord knows there is a big difference between playing your ass off all falling short and backing down when its time to rock and roll.  Sure, we've got some guys who have gone out there and stood up, but we have a few more than I'd like that are faltering a little bit when faced with the challenge that college baseball presents.

For some, I think it is the culture they are not used to.  Alot of guys don't like being asked to deal with the pain of getting hit by a pitch or the pressure of throwing inside to opposing hitters.  For others, being faced with similar competition is the obstacle that needs to be crossed.  Those guys don't know what to do when the guy across from them is just as good as they are, they suffer from a sudden lack of confidence.  In alot of ways, I can almost understand...  You've been a star for the last few years and now you're fighting for a job, fighting for respect, and the guys you are competing with and against are as good as you are or maybe even better.

How do you conquer that?  Well, as Lou Holtz would say, "You stand up in front of your opponent and you look him in the eye for 60 minutes.  You hitch up your trousers and you say 'Hey baby, here I am now!  Why don't you try to run through me now!  Let me see you disrespect me with my nose to your nose.  Let's see what you think of me when my face is to ya.'"

Alright, so maybe that's a little dramatic, but the idea is gold.  At some point, you've got to stand up and take control of your own destiny.  Lenny Dykstra is no motivational speaker, and it would seem he's made a few miscues in the business world, but in the book "Moneyball" (which you should read), Michael Lewis writes a quote about Nails that sums it all up: “Billy [Beane] remembers sitting with Lenny in a Mets dugout watching the opposing pitcher warm up. ‘Lenny says, “So who’s that big dumb ass out there on the hill?” And I say, “Lenny, you’re kidding me, right? That’s Steve Carlton. He’s maybe the greatest left-hander in the history of the game.” Lenny says, “Oh, yeah! I knew that!” He sits there for a minute and says, “So, what’s he got?” And I say, “Lenny, come on. Steve Carlton. He’s got heat and also maybe the nastiest slider ever.” And Lenny sits there for a while longer as if he’s taking that in. Finally he just says, “Shit, I’ll stick him.” I’m sitting there thinking, that’s a magazine cover out there on the hill and all Lenny can think is that he’ll stick him.’”

I've heard alot of debate on whether or not this is the sort of thing that can be taught, and to be honest, I'm not sure.  I do know this though:  Whether it can be taught or not, it can damn sure be learned if a guy wants it bad enough.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

That's probably the best way to describe our first action against other people this fall.  In 4 games, we've pretty much covered the gamut of ways you can play.  We've been good in one, bad in one, played ok and lost, and played ok and won.  On the bright side, we haven't tied yet, and with such a young group, this sort of inconsistency is at least somewhat expected.  The trick will be making sure it doesn't last too long.

In our opener at Andrew last Friday, we got a near perfect performance on the mound out of Dustin Dunagan, John Mark Ramsey, Daniel Szathmary, and Brian Alder in a 5-0 shutout to start the fall.  The bats were a little quiet for my taste, but we did hit some balls hard, and Austin Jamieson posted 3 hits to pace us on offense.  Game 2 wasn't as tidy.  Our pitching was solid, with the exception of a rough second inning for Hayden Martin, who was having some issues with soreness.  Hayden felt himself tightening up after the first, but like most players, he felt like he could keep going and get the job done, so he went back out in the second.  Unfortunately, his command lapsed, and the Tigers were able to put together a rally.  The big inning wouldn't really be the difference in the game though, as our offense was unable to get going, and we dropped game 2 6-1.

On Saturday, we headed up to Alexander City to play in CACC's fall Tournament, which is almost a misnomer.  These fall "tournaments" are really just round robins where several teams get together to play in front of some scouts, but they are great because you get a chance to play more than one opponent without having to make a second trip anywhere. 

In game one, we teed off against Calhoun CC, a perennially strong team in the northern division of the ACCC.  Calhoun, as expected, was a good offensive club that really forced our young guys to throw some pitches and battle through some tough innings.  Thankfully, our offense showed up as well, and we were able to outscore Calhoun in a fairly poorly pitched game (for both clubs) 9-7.  The Zachs: Helewski and Mays, as well as Matthew Vollenweider each pitched brilliantly at times and ordinarily at others, but overall continued to provide solid work for us on the bump.

Game 2 looked like it was going to be a straight up pitcher's duel, as lefty Michael O'Neal impressed against Panhandle Opponent Gulf Coast CC.  Mickey provided three quick innings against GC, but their typically strong pitching stymied our hitters as well.  The entire game was really either about how good both teams could pitch, or possibly about how poorly each team was hitting this early in the fall.  If it weren't for Cody Dykes having an uncharacteristically bad outing in which he couldn't seem to get a feel for his off-speed pitches or get much jump on his fastball, it probably would have been a 3-2 or 2-1 type of game.  As it was, Cody was having a rough a go, and they were able to jump on him for 5 runs to beat us 7-2.  Our offense wasn't very good for the first 6 innings of the game, showing little life until Trace McDaniel provided a pinch hit single in the seventh.  After two quick outs, Neal Chambless and Ty Abbott turned in back to back doubles to get us on the board and plate two runs.  It didn't do much to change the outcome, but at least it gave us something positive to take away from an offensive perspective.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cutting our teeth

Starting last Thursday, we finally got into some game action, and our new guys are getting a chance to get a  taste of what college baseball is all about.  In all, we've done pretty well thus far, with most players adjusting well and giving a good look.  Obviously, we have a lot of work to do and a lot of room for improvement, and we'll get an even more definitive look at what we've got when we toe the line against somebody else on Thursday.

Its hard not to be excited about our young pitching, even if its only been 3 games.  As expected out of a young group, we're a little wild at the moment, but we've run out at least 5 or 6 guys that I would put ahead of where last year's horses were when they were at this point as freshman.  The real question will be how they develop and grow moving forward, but for right now, the future looks bright.

Offensively, we need to get some guys going, but the offense is always the last thing to come around.  Half of it is because hitting is hard.  The other half is because it takes a while for some guys to hop on board and get outside of their comfort zone.

Each of our intrasquads so far has been very close on the scoreboard, and that speaks well for us as a whole because it means we're as deep as we hope to be.  Today is our final test run before we roll into someone else's back yard, and after a good day of work yesterday, I think we'll have a great game today.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The first bad day

A rainout on Sunday forced us to push practice a day back to Monday, but it felt like we never really got out of bed.  I guess you expect to have a rough day here and there and every team on the planet goes through some growing pains when you start working with a new group.  That's probably the best way to describe it, too: growing pains.  We're currently carrying a roster filled primarily with freshman, so with all the new information they are being presented with, on top of the physical demands being placed on them, there are bound to be some days that aren't as good as others. 

You also have to toss in the fact that we were playing a BP intrasquad, and those are typically a little less exciting than a regular game.  A couple guys were playing out of position too, and of course, the ball always finds you when you're playing a new spot.  These issues, while contributing factors, weren't the problem though.  The problem was that we had several guys going through the motions.  More than 1 player cruised around the bases, didn't hustle into position to make a play, or just plain dogged it at times, and while errors aren't good, they don't bother you nearly as much as when your team just isn't playing hard.

I chalk it up to several guys just not quite understanding that there is a difference between where they've come from and where they're at.  What used to be good enough, often doesn't cut the mustard anymore, and that is just another of the lessons that will be learned before we step on the field for opening day next spring. 

On the other hand, if you're really going to teach them all that they need to know, you almost have to have some rough days to expose the areas that need the most attention.  In that regard, it's kinda a catch-22.  You don't want to have a bad day, but if you don't have a rough one now and then, it gets awfully easy to overlook some of those little things that mean alot.     

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Always a Pirate

This entry is a bit different.  Any of you who know our club from last year or the year before should know who Shaun Harrison, or as we call him "The Snow Leopard", or just "Snowy".  Snowy is a centerfielder who came to us out of Grayson High School in Gwinnett County.  One of the best athletes to ever step on the field at The Lake, Snowy came in a little raw as a true freshman, but anyone paying attention could see that there was no limit to his potential.  Besides just being a freakish athlete, we was also one of the hardest working players I've ever known, and I'm speaking as a player, as a coach, and as a fan.  We couldn't get the guy off the field, out of the cage, or out of the gym.  At the close of his first fall we made the decision to red-shirt the "Lep" because wasting a year of eligibility on a guy so talented didn't make any sense, and we could see that 2 years down the road he'd have a chance to emerge as something truly special. 

This was supposed to be his year, but as it happens now and then, the powers that be threw a wrench into our plans.  While playing summer baseball in Atlanta (and tearing it up by all accounts), Snowy suffered a torn achilles tendon while running the bases, and he will not be able to compete this season.  We always try to figure out why things like this happen to such good people, and I promise you that you won't find an answer in this blog.  I can only say that Shaun's absense at The Lake has already been felt.  All of the praise of his athletecism and work ethic pale in comparison to the praise he deserves as a human being.  EVERYONE loves Shaun...  I mean it, EVERYONE... Teammates, teachers, staff members, his coaches.  A day hasn't gone by when his name hasn't been mentioned and a story hasn't been told with the Lep involved.

I suppose the point I'm making is that, although he won't be patrolling center field in the pinstripes this season, this is still his year at Chatt Valley, and The Snow Leopard is still a Pirate.  We all miss you, Snowy, and we pray that thing heals up quick so we can have you down to visit.  I'll make sure there's an extra jersey around for you this spring.     

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rites of Passage

Before you all report me to the authorities for hazing, I'd like to point out that no catchers were harmed in the making of this post.  Dustin Averett and Drew Bowers officially became members of the catching corps at Chatt Valley today by recieving a ceremonial ice bath administered by your truly and the returning catchers.  Basically, it works like this:  I lure the new fellas over to the front side of the dugout and get them into their squats.  Instead of learning some golden nugget of baseball wisdom, however, they instead get showered with a cooler full of ice water dropped from the roof of the dugout.  Everyone gets a good laugh about it, and a couple of guys go home wet. 

I know, it's childish, but this is a game, right?  I figure if it's an acceptable Superbowl celebration, it can't really  be hazing...

 So far, the first week has been great.  Guys are gettign after it, and some things are already showing promise.  I think Crossfit is proving to be tougher than some of the guys anticipated, but all in all, I am pleased with where we're at.  Our infield sessions the last two days have been very sharp.  I feel like we could probably put a solid defense out there tomorrow.  Maybe not a mid-season defense, but certainly a solid one.  By the end of the year, I think this group has a chance to be as good as any Pirate infield we've ever put out there.  Dacen Cash is one of several Pirate infielders that has flashed some serious leather in the first few practices, and thus far, we haven't had anyone get "exposed" as a pretender.

Our outfield has looked very strong early on as well.  This may be one of the better throwing groups we've had.  It's going to be fun to see how the outfield shapes up though, because we will certainly be formidable in the corners, but with the loss of Shaun Harrison to injury, center field is going to be a battle.  We've got several good candidates for the job, and over the next two months, it will be exciting to see who takes it upon themself to really grab ahold of that position and wrestle it away from the competition.

Behind the dish, we've got four guys that are pretty good, and each one of them is doing a great job right now.  Keith Tidwell is a great example of how to work back there, and even this early, I can see it rubbing off on the other guys.  In terms of depth, I doubt anyone will be our equal at backstop this spring.  The guys tossing them the ball are looking sharp as well.  The hype appears to have some validity right now, as our pitchers have come in ready to go.  Vollenwieder and Alder are gonna cause some problems with their angles, and there are a whole bunch of guys who are gonna compete on "stuff" alone.  "Stuff", for any baseball novices out there, is a term for the action, movement, or effectiveness of a pitcher's repertoire.  If a guy has good "stuff", he's hard to hit when he's in the strike zone.  I can tell you this, too:  When we smooth over the rough edges with Irving Monte Reese we are going to have a serious weapon on our hands.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Crossfit or Unfit

As some of you may know, we use a training regimen at Chatt Valley called CrossfitCrossfit is a difficult thing to describe because it incorporates such a large number of movements, exercises, and skills.  Essentially, it is a combination of powerlifting, conditioning, and gymnastics that continually challenges the body in new ways.  In one word: Tough. 

I'm proud to say that while Crossfit is gaining popularity around the country, we are likely the very first JUCO team to have incorporated it into our everyday routine.  3 years ago, as I was reading Muscle and Fitness, I came across an article called "Sweat Storm".  I'd been looking for a new workout routine for myself, and I have never really enjoyed traditional weightlifting, so this article really grabbed my attention.  The workouts it described reminded me of the kinds of things we did on my high school wrestling team, and let me tell you, there aren't too many things that compare to wrestling in terms of intensity and conditioning.  With my interest piqued, I asked Coach thomas if he'd give it a try with me, and of course, he did.  After a week, which was called "Hell Week", we immediately decided this was something our guys needed.

 This is our 3rd season Crossfitting now, and with Crossfit Inception opening up in Columbus recently, we've really been able to ramp up the level of intensity and instruction our guys are getting.  The guys over at Inception have done a great job teaching our boys the essential lifts of Crossfit, and today, they ran us through a workout called "Baseline", which is a measuring stick for CF performance.  So far, with the help of a few extra pairs of eyes, and some quality leadership from our returning players, the team has done well.  "Well" in this case, means different things for different people.  For Bryce Dial it was dominating the workout today (Baseline is not a full workout, it is like a time trial, so it can be completed very quickly by an athlete in great shape) in 4:16.  For Zach Helewski, it was continuing to fight even as time expired and not giving in to the pain.  For most of the others it was cranking out as many reps as they could as quickly as they could as the clock kept ticking. 

We've barely scratched the surface, and it is only week one, but our guys have gotten a taste of what we expect from them now, and it is already starting to give us a glimpse at what some of these guys are made of. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Now, what did YOU do this summer??

For two weeks at the start of each fall, we build a base of conditioning for our position players.  In "dad speak", we do some running to get in shape.  Today was the first day several of our newcommers have taken a step faster than a hurried walk in a couple of months.  You can always tell who has spent their summer preparing and who decided they'd just wait till we opened up to get in shape.  It's not really rocket science, either.  That guy puking over there:  He didn't do a whole lot of prep the last couple of months.  The guy making awful faces so it looks like he's going hard even though he's hit cruise control:  Yeah, he didn't do much either.  The ones walking up to the ones that are struggling and trying to stand them up?  Yeah, they probably at least spent a couple of weeks getting ready.

Does all that really matter?  At the end of the day, I guess not.  We're not gonna put a lineup together based on what they do over the summer.  We ARE going to put a lineup together based on who plays the best this fall, and sometimes, those guys who are getting in shape now take a little longer to get going than the ones who are ready to roll on day 1.  It is very difficult to play well when you're to sore or tired to move, heh.

The good news is that 95% of this group came into camp in great shape and ready to get after it.  What excites me about that fact is that guys that get after rarely have to be motivated to compete or to play hard.  My first impression of this team's character is a very good one.  I don't know what the coming weeks will reveal about our talent, attitude, or integrity, but I do know that right now...  It looks like its gonna be a damned good year.

Another year at The Lake

It's August and another year of Pirate baseball is beginning.  We held our entrance meeting for the fall last night and got all the tedious but necessary tasks such as practice gear issue, paperwork, and team policy taken care of.  It sounds like it should only take a few minutes, but against all odds, we always seem to squeeze close to 4 hours out of our intro.  I suppose what it boils down to is making sure we take the time to really outline what these guys need to know before they ever suit up and step on the field for us.

Most of this week is pretty basic, we'll do some field prep, cover all of our basic systems, and get prepared to hit practice with a full head of steam.  For me, especially in years like this where we have so many freshman, this is the best part of coaching.  We're essentially a blank slate as a ballclub, and teaching these guys the game, the Pirate system, and how we expect the game to be played is the most exciting aspect of my job.  I think anyone who has ever had the privilege of teaching would agree with me when I say that watching someone learn and grow under your care is one of the most fulfilling undertakings you can hope to embark upon.

I can already we're gonna have some characters this year.  I couldn't be more excited.

Friday, July 9, 2010

In honor of the mid-summer classic, I present my all-time MLB team.

A discussion in the dugout this afternoon sparked my interest in making this post, and with the MLB All-Star Game close at hand, I felt it was the right time to unveil my all-time MLB team. Below I will post a position by position roster and lineup with discussion on why I made each selection. Feel free to comment, post your own teams or irrationally attack my selections!

The Starting Nine

C - Mike Piazza - Yeah, yeah, he couldn't throw... So what? With the pitching staff I've assembled, I don't think he'll need to/ What he could do though, is MASH. The guy clubbed 427 homers during his career and hit .308 lifetime. There is no question he is the most productive offensive catcher to ever play the game, and despite common (and incorrect) opinion based on his poor throwing arm, he was a very good defensive catcher. If you don't believe me, ask some of the guys who threw to him. remember, the position is called CATCHER, not thrower to seconder. In addition to his incredible stats, he was a 12 time All-Star and won 10 Silver Sluggers... That's a little award they give to the best offensive player in the league, no big deal.

1B - Lou Gehrig - Let's face it, there have been a slew of fantastic first baseman in the history of the game, in fact, one is playing for the Cardinals right now. Albert Pujols might one day ascend to be the greatest first baseman to ever play, but he's still got to make up ground on this monster. Gehrig's career line: .340 batting average, .447 on base percentage, and .632 slugging with 493 dingers and 1995 RBI's - that's an average of 143 per year. The Machine (Pujols if you live in a tool shed) is pretty damned impressive, but all of those numbers I just mentioned? Yep, they're all higher than Albert's. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that Gehrig scored an amazing 1888 runs during his career batting BEHIND Babe Ruth. Not impressed? You might also recall the Iron Horse set the original games played streak, and who knows how much longer he'd have kept it going if illness didn't end his career prematurely.

2B - Rogers Hornsby - Hornsby's .358 career batting average is second only to Cobb's. That alone warrants mention, especially considering he played in the big leagues for over 20 years. He also smashed 301 long balls and posted a .400 or better average 3 times in his career. His mark of .424 in 1924 still stands as the highest batting average since baseball became baseball at the turn of the century. "The Rajah", as they called him, is one of a very select group of ballplayers to hold a career OPS of over 1000, and he anchored the Cardinals' lineup during the legendary "Gashouse Gang" years. Not only that, but he apparently called Jimmy Dugan, Tom Hank's character in A League of Their Own "a talking pile of pig shit." This alone would get him on my club, but here it's just icing on the cake.

3B - Alex Rodriguez - There really aren't a ton of third baseman who have posted legendary type numbers. Mike Schmidt comes to mind, and Chipper Jones (as much as I'm not a fan) is a future Hall of Famer, but the list doesn't go much deeper. Even if it did, A-Rod's .304 lifetime average, 597 homers, 1773 RBI's, and 299 steals would separate him from the pack. He's already out performed Schmidt and Jones in every meaningful category, and for those of you who want to scream "but Mike was a great defender!" can cram it too! A-Rod has a pair of Gold Gloves on his shelf, and plays a fantastic third base. Add that to 12 All-Star appearances, 10 Silver Sluggers, 4 Hank Aaron Awards, and 3 MVP's, and you've got one hell of a trophy collection. Let's not forget that he's led the league in bleezo's and runs 5 times, RBI's twice, slugging 4 times, and won a batting title. Oh, by the way, he's a 40-40 clubber too. 1st ballot Hall of Fame, and he gets to play the hot corner for yours truly.

SS - Derek Jeter - "HERESY!!", you cry! I think not. Honus Wagner doesn't qualify for 2 reasons, 1. He played in the 1800's for part of his career. 2. He played the OF for a good portion of his career. "Well, there has to be someone besides Jeter doesn't there??" Ok, who? Robin Yount? Nope, he played alot of CF and Jeets has put up better numbers in fewer seasons in the Majors. Luke Appling? Great player, but still doesn't match Jeter's production. Ozzie Smith you say? The Wizard was a phenom with the leather, but you've got to play both ways to make my team. "Surely Cal Ripken was better!" Yeah, Ripken never took a day off and he did beat 431 balls over the wall in his 21 years in the big leagues, but for my money, I'm still taking the Captain. Jeets is hitting .316 for his career thus far, and though he doesn't have as much thunder as Cal, his lifetime slugging and on base are both far better, and he's scored 1631 runs to Ripken's 1647 in 5 fewer years in the league. He's also swiped 314 bags, won 4 Gold Gloves and been a World Series MVP. I bet that trophy is right next to his ring vault. Take that, Robin Yount.

LF - Barry Bonds - Steroids, schmeroids. I know we all want to hate Bonds because he was often douchey with the press and isn't a very likeable personality. I know we want to crucify him because he played in the steroid era and has been connected with the BALCO deal. Get over it. Before he got swole, he'd already collected 3 MVP's, made the 40-40 club, and been the hands-down best player in baseball for 10 years. The guy hit 762 dingers and we ran him out of the league. Maybe without the juice he'd have only hit 700, but with the extra years he'd have played I don't think it would have mattered. The man walked 2558 times in his career. That's more than another pretty good ball player that wore number 3 for the Yankees. Of those free passes 232 came in one season. TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY-TWO!!! 120 were intentional. No one has ever inspired fear in an opposing team the same way Bonds did. Buck Showalter actually intentionally walked him with the bases LOADED. Twice. Bonds won 8 Gloves in his career, along with 14 Silver Sluggers and All-Star appearances. He was an MVP seven times. You can say his career means nothing because he padded his numbers at the end all you want, but he's playing left and batting third for me.

CF - Willie Mays - Alot of Ken Griffey Jr. fans are probably foaming at the mouth right now, but the numbers speak for themselves. Mays hit .302 with 660 homers, 1903 RBI's, and 338 stolen bases in his career. He also posted an on base of .384 and a slugging of .557. Every single one of those numbers is better than what Griffey was able to produce. I don't give credit for games missed to injury, either. Maybe Griffey would have bested each of those marks, but we'll never know will we? Mays made an incredible 24 All-Star games, he won 11 Gold Gloves in center field, and he was named MVP of the National League twice. The Say Hey Kid played in golden era of centerfielders in New York, competing with the likes of Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider, both of whom also in the Hall of Fame. With the exception of Barry Bonds, Mays is considered by many to be the greatest all around ballplayer to have ever lived. I guess in this case, I'm lucky to have them both playing right next to each other!

RF - Babe Ruth - C’mon, did you really think it would be anyone else? Sure, Hank Aaron was great. He played in almost 1000 more games than Ruth did and only truly outperformed him in a couple categories despite the huge disparity. Maybe Hammerin’ Hank was a better defender, but we tend to forget that Ruth didn’t just hit home runs, 714 of them to be exact, he also pounded out a career .342 average, and he set (then) records for walks, runs, and RBI’s. His career OPS of 1.164 is astonishing, and if they’d had awards back then, he’d have won them all. In 1921 his 59 homers were more than any other TEAM in the American League. The intentional walk was invented to keep Ruth from creating souvenirs. Hard to believe he was a winning pitcher in a World Series BEFORE his hitting made him a legend. Modern baseball is played the way it is because Ruth changed the way the game was played back then. He was the first slugger, and he’s eating hot dogs, calling his shots, and shagging fly balls in right field for me.

DH - First off, I hate the DH, but it exists, so get off my ass already. That said, Ted Williams - Sure, I could put Teddy ballgame in right field for a defensive upgrade and let Ruth DH, but I’m not gonna be the guy who doesn’t let the Bambino get as much face time with the crowd as possible. Williams is one of the greatest hitters there has ever been, period. He sports a .344 career average, he blasted 521 home runs, and if he wasn’t busy flying planes in WWII and Korea for 4 years you could have easily added another 130 bombs (pun intended) to his tally. Williams won the batting title 7 times in his career, made every All-Star team he was eligible for, and won the Triple Crown twice. He would have won it a third time too, if his .343 average in ’49 wasn’t just the second best in the league that year. As a side note, Ted wrote a pretty sweet book, too. Anyone who likes baseball should pick it up. I’m not sure if it applies point by point across the board anymore, but it still have a heck of a lot of value.

The Bench

Catcher - Ivan Rodriguez - You’ve gotta have 2 catchers, and I know all you Johnny Bench fans are gonna have a meltdown, but Pudge is just better.

IF - Albert Pujols - There, are ya happy, he’s on the club, he just ain’t startin over the Iron Horse.

IF - Ozzie Smith - Ok, so there are plenty of guys who could out hit him, but no one could out glove him. IF I’m going to a SS off the bench, it’s for his defense.

OF - Mickey Mantle - Greatest switch hitter to play the game and one of the most beloved characters in MLB history. Mostly I just wanna see him swing the bat like a caveman and hit mammoth home runs.

OF - Hank Aaron - Can’t keep this guy off the roster. No doubt one of the greatest ever.

OF - Ty Cobb - You’ve got to have the career batting average leader on the roster, right? Hell yeah you do, and besides, this guy would literally KILL you to win a game. That’s the intensity I want on my ballclub!

How They’ll Hit

1. Rogers Hornsby

2. Alex Rodriguez

3. Barry Bonds

4. Babe Ruth

5. Lou Gehrig

6. Ted Williams

7. Willie Mays

8. Mike Piazza

9. Derek Jeter

I know, do I really want to hit 4 lefties back to back? Hell yes I do, Koufax is pitching for us, so I’m not too worried!

The Starting Five

Walter Johnson - The Big Train mowed down everybody he faced. He also managed to do it while playing for a bad team. He won 417 games in his 20 year career, while striking out 3508 hitters and posting a 2.17 CAREER ERA. Not bad. Maybe it was the dead ball era, but I’m running this guy every 5th day.

Roger Clemens - Read my statements on Bonds above. The Rocket is probably the actual best of all-time. When you take into consideration the guys he played against, the fact that he dominated in the steroid era (even if he used em too), and his gaudy numbers, there is no way you can argue against him being in this group.

Randy Johnson - Johnson’s winning percentage is ludicrous. His strikeout total is second only one man. He won 5 Cy Young awards. He’s super tall and really ugly. What more could you want from the third man in your dream rotation?

Greg Maddux - Alright, he looks like a Math teacher, I’ll give you that. Regardless, this guy could pitch. He was the ultimate control pitcher, and possibly the best control artist of all time. He managed to collect 4 Cy Young awards en route to his 355 career wins. Oh yeah, don’t bunt on him, either, he won 18 Gold Gloves. And you say PFP is a waste of time…

By the way, I feel I should mention that Cy Young is not on my team. I have my reasons.

Sandy Koufax - Did I just put a guy who played half as long as every one else on this list on my all time team?? You’re damned right I did. Maybe Koufax’s career stats won’t boggle your mind, but he was the best pitcher in baseball for 7 years, and I’d bet anyone that had to face him would tell you that no one has ever been better.

The Pen

Steve Carlton - Steve’s slider was the best pitch in baseball for close to 20 years. I hate the Phillies, but there’s no way I wouldn’t put this guy on my roster somewhere.

Bob Gibson - His ERA in ’68 was 1.12. Also, Tim McCarver, who I think is the biggest douche-bag in the history of the game, went out to visit him once. Gibson looked at him and said “What the hell are you doing out here? The only thing you know about pitching is that it’s hard to hit, now get your fat ass back behind the plate where it belongs.” I’d have voted him into the Hall just for that.

Pedro Martinez - Jerry curl or not, Pedro was pretty nasty. By putting him on this team I won’t have to worry about him waking “up the Bambino… Maybe I’ll drill him in the ass.” I also won’t have to worry about him losing a ball game after he gets the nod.

Tom Seaver - “The Franchise”. What else is there to say? They literally nicknamed him The Franchise.

The Closer

Mariano Rivera - The guy has been throwing one pitch at one speed in one place for 15 years and there still isn’t anyone who can hit him. If I need 3 outs to win a game, he’s my guy, end of story.

So there you have it, my all-time MLB team. Love it, hate it, whatever. Comment away with your own teams and feel free to bash mine!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Many meetings... Ok well, one meeting.

The 2010-2011 Pirates met as a team for the first time today. No, we’re not having illegal practices, we held our annual mid-summer meeting. Overall, the meeting went fine, we got our guys registered for classes and covered a large chunk of information that they will need, but will likely forget by the time we get going in August.

The funny thing about this sort of information only, parent/player meeting is that we look forward to seeing everyone, but we walk in knowing we’re about to willfully throw ourselves into about an hour of post-meeting chaos.

The part of the meeting that goes smoothly is the part where Coach Thomas and I basically go over all the stuff our guys need to know to get going in the fall. The part that gets a little hectic is when we unleash the registration packets and start picking out classes. For returning guys, this part takes about 5 minutes. They know what they’ve taken, they know what they need, and they’re familiar enough with the process that they don’t spend too much time pondering their class options. The incoming freshmen are a bit of a different story. No one wants to get off on a bad foot in the classroom, even the guys who wish they never have to set foot in one. With that in mind, they sit down with several sheets of paper outlining the available class options and start putting together our schedule.

Where it gets interesting is in the conversations discussing the importance of this class over that class. It is a perfectly normal concern that most parents have worrying that their son is taking too many tough classes right off, or too many light classes right off, or that he’s going to be put into classes that won’t actually help him graduate. Even for me, it might be difficult to look down and think “You mean to tell me that typing or weight training will help my son graduate??” Hopefully, our moms and dads left today with a better understanding of how the whole system works.

The best part of the day is getting the chance to sit and speak with families and players that I haven’t gotten to know very well yet. I know we’re talking about class, but it is still nice to spend a few minutes discussing things and getting a feel for who I’m going to be dealing with for the next two years. If today is a good measuring stick, it should be another very successful couple of seasons.

So that was today, getting registered, telling guys not to be late, and to show up in shape. We’re one step closer to moving in and kicking this thing off in the fall.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Nolan Ryan, where are you?

It wasn’t that long ago when your typical pitcher threw 9 innings almost every time out and the closer was a term that had yet to be invented. In the big leagues, the complete game is becoming exceedingly rare, presumably because pitchers are being paid ludicrous sums of money, and if they are derailed by injury, their ball club is out a player and a boat load of money.

As with most things that happen in the big leagues, we start to see a trickle down effect to all other levels of baseball whenever Major League teams start doing something different. How long after the designated hitter was implemented was it before college and high schools adopted the rule? Let’s keep in mind too, that the DH was meant to be a vessel for aging stars to stay in the league a few more years to help drive revenue and fan support…

How about the recent addition of helmets to base coaches? This rule stemmed from a coach being killed by a line drive during a game. The ball hit him in the neck, so I’m not sure what the little cap on the top of our head is really doing to protect us. It was obviously a window dressing answer to a frequently debated topic so that Major League Baseball could say they addressed a safety issue, and the bleeding hearts would be satisfied that action was taken. These bleeding hearts are the same people that outlawed breaking up double plays in amateur baseball and require warnings to be issued anytime a ball is thrown too far inside. The real fruits of these labors, by the way, are that players actually get upset when they are taken out by a slide or knocked back by a pitch. We haven’t made them safer, we’ve made them a bunch of pansies that don’t like aggressive competition.

I’m getting off track… The point of this blog post is to talk about pitch counts, and how we use pitchers in the college game. I find it hard to imagine that 15 years ago, an 18 year old athlete could routinely throw 130 pitches and 7-9 innings every time out, but now, even with advances in training and recovery, we can only ask a guy to throw 100 pitches and we get worried after he hits the 5th or 6th innings. We actually have pitchers come in to ask how many pitches they’ve thrown, as if knowing that number will somehow have an effect on their game. We have guys that don’t want to participate in team drills or fundamentals because they threw a bullpen that day or pitched a couple days before. That’s probably a reason why PFP’s (pitcher’s fielding practice) kill so many teams at our level. 18-20 year old guys are actually convinced that they cannot participate in the days following an outing or pen.

“Alright coach, what’s your theory?” I’m glad you asked. Guys need to throw more often. They need to throw longer. They need to learn the difference between being sore and being injured. I’m not saying we should be overusing young arms and forcing guys to put themselves in danger. What I’m saying is that we need to stop being so prissy and that we shouldn’t be “careful” unless there is a good reason, such as a prior injury, or other such circumstance. Young players need to understand that they are not Major Leaguers, and standards that apply to multi-millionaires probably don’t transfer down very well to teenagers. I find it laughable that we actually get nervous when a guy gets near 85 or 90 pitches. It isn’t their fault either, it’s ours as coaches. We should be teaching players to expect a little more than what the television says is acceptable for 27 year old millionaires who have a lot more to lose.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sometimes "Player of the Year" means "Player of Last Year"

Our conference, the ACCC, released the All-Region and All-Conference teams for the 2010 season today. I’m proud to say that Pirates Jeff Shields, Derek Varnadore, and Ryan Holland were named to the All-Region and All-Southern Conference squads, while Bronson Gagner and Donte Williams were named to the All-Southern Conference team. We couldn’t be happier for these guys, as they deserve every bit of any accolade they receive.

I also want to say that each player from the other teams around the league was deserving of being named, and they are all outstanding performers. That said, and at the risk of sounding like sour grapes (not to mention that I’m sure I’ll catch some flak for this), I do have to ponder a couple of the omissions. Tom Richardson, in my opinion, was clearly the strongest catcher in the region. His line is compared to the All-Region/Conference selection at catcher below (I apologize for the awkward formatting, for some reason, my tables wouldn't convert properly):

Player             G  Avg    Slg%  AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI BB HBP SO SF SH
All Region C 44 0.346  0.471  136    24  47  5    0   4    35     9     0      8    3    5
Richardson   44 0.358  0.541  159    43  57 12   1   5    43    31    5     22   4    1

 The other guy is a heck of a player, and certainly deserving of recognition for his effort, but I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves. I suppose it is possible to have outperformed someone else despite being outperformed in Avg, Slug, OB%, R, RBI, 2B, HR, BB, HBP and H, I’m just not quite sure how.

The other puzzling decision, was the selection of “Player of the Year”, for the Southern Conference. I feel in this case, the selection would have been more appropriately titled “Player of Last Year”, or maybe “Most Outstanding Two Years”. Again, I’ll post some comparative stats and let you guys decide if my concerns are valid.

 Player          G  CG  SO  W  L   IP    R   ER  ERA  AB    H   2B  3B  HR  HB  BB  SO
POTY          17    5     0      8   2  111   63  46    3.73  445  122  12    2     9    15    38   108
Shields        15   4      4    12   2  95.2  35  17    1.60  367   76   13    1     3     3     35     98
Varnadore   14   3     1      7    1  80.2  43  35   3.90   320   84   15    0     4     9     33   103
Gagner        13    4     2      9    1  70.1  35  21   2.69   272   66     9    2     6     8     17     58

Again, the player awarded the honor is an outstanding player, and particularly in 2009 (though anyone would have had a hard time outperforming Johnny Gunter) he posted phenomenal numbers. I guess I’m just unsure how the selection process works. It clearly isn’t based on Wins, ERA, opponent’s average or any other statistical category. I guess those 5 extra strikeouts were pretty special.

I will say that the players getting the nod did both have outstanding post season performances, but I was under the assumption that we had an All-Tournament team to celebrate post season accomplishment.

Anyway, I do not wish in any way to diminish the play of these two fine ball players, I guess I just feel that perhaps a couple of ours were deserving of a bit more recognition than they received.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Baseball is losing a Hero

For Pop...

My grandfather, Joe Scigliano, or Pop to his family, is losing the battle for his life today. Pop was a baseball man, and he, along with my father, was responsible for my love of the game. My earliest memories include going with him to his 55 and over softball games in Daytona, Florida and playing catch with him in the front yard of our house in Deltona.

Pop played the game of baseball until he was 45 years old, playing short stop, second base, and third in the Queen’s Alliance League in New York City. The QAL was an independent league during his era, and it served as a farm system for several Major League organizations. Pop was a perennial star in the QAL, being named to numerous All-Star and All-League teams. In addition, he was a member of several championship teams, and saw his greatest success against the most worthy of opponents. One of the great things about my grandfather was that he kept a scrapbook of literally every write up for every game he ever played. One of those write ups includes the story of how he went 3-4 with a homer and a triple off (then) future Hall of Famer Whitey Ford. The papers called him “Scooter” because he reminded them so much of the Yankee great Phil Rizzuto with his superlative defensive skills and lightning speed. He also held a career average of well over .300, failing to bat .300 or better only once during more than 25 years with teams such as the Greenpoint Gems, the Greenpoint Greys, the Milita Club, and Question-A, a dream team of all the best young players in New York.

Prior to being drafted into the Korean War, Pop was offered a contract to play in the Cleveland Indians’ organization. Upon his return from the war, he signed a contract to play in the St. Louis Browns organization. His affiliated professional aspirations were never fully realized, as he could not retain his day job during the playing season, and he made the decision to forgo his baseball career in order to support his family. That’s the kind of man he was, always placing his family before himself.

If his baseball career wasn’t amazing enough, Pop played competitive softball until he was 80 years old. Yeah, that’s what I said, 80. During his 50’s and 60’s he played on nationally competitive senior tournament teams, and played A level recreational softball on 18 and over teams with my father, uncle, and myself until he was 68. I remember being a junior in high school playing short stop on my father’s softball team… I played short, my dad played third, my uncle played 1st, and my grandfather “Nintendo Joe”, as the seniors called him, played second base. How many people can say they turned double plays with their grandfather? I guarantee you if there were guys left to play with, even at his final age of 82, he would have been out there grinding it out. During his senior softball days he was awarded uncountable MVP awards and wore a lot of “C’s” on his jerseys. At 75 years old, he carried a batting average over .650 for the season and was named “man of the year” by Hobgood Park’s softball committee. He lived the game, breathed it, and he taught it to me every day of my life.

Off the field, he was a perfect role model. I tell people all the time that I’ve never had a sip of alcohol or a puff off a cigarette, and most don’t believe me. The ones that do always ask me how I’ve done it and why. Joe Scigliano is a big part of that answer. In his 82 years, he never took his first drink or smoke. From the time I could speak, he taught me that I didn’t need those vices to have a good time, be cool, or more importantly, to be myself. I grew up wanting to live a life that would make him proud of who he’d helped raise and who I’d become. As far as family goes, I’ve been blessed to have the best.

I will miss seeing him on the ballfield. I will miss talking the game. I will miss seeing him smile, and more than anything, I will miss him in my life. Baseball is losing one of its greats, even if only a few of us got to know his name.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The unwritten rules

Baseball is unique in that we have so many rules that exist outside of the rulebook. These rules aren’t etched in some book, but instead, they are passed down from coach to player and player to player, and in some cases, they are held more sacred than the rules the boys in blue are required to uphold.

These certainly aren’t all of the unwritten rules most players follow - creating such a list would be impossible, as almost every league, level, organization, and region seems to have their own interpretation of many of the rules to follow.

• Don’t try to embarrass another team once you’re beating them handily. Stealing, bunting, etc., is unnecessary when leading by 8 or more runs. Keep hitting doubles by all means and try to score, but don’t try to rub it in. The exception to this rule being in a championship game or other such contest that carries significant weight.

• Don’t throw at the other team’s pitcher. In high school and college this goes unheeded, but in pro ball, this is a good way to start a donnybrook.

• Even when attempting to disrupt a play, such as breaking up a double play, never intentionally try to injure an opposing player. You’re not a tough guy because you try to hurt someone; you’re a major douche bag. Knock him down, for sure, but don’t try to end his career.

• Unless you’re a big leaguer, when you hit a bomb, don’t stand there and look at it. The next guy might get one in the ear.

• Don’t show up the umpire by drawing lines in the dirt… You’re gonna get tossed. If you have to complain, look straight ahead and say what you have to say without letting the world know you didn’t like the call.

• Never show up a coach or teammate. This can be done in a number of ways, but here’s a couple examples: If someone misses a sign and you get throw out or left out to dry as a result, don’t throw your hands up, yell across the field, or do anything else. Go to the dugout like nothing happened and then deal with it. If a guy makes an error, keep your mouth shut until you get to the dugout. If a called play fails, don’t mean-mug the play caller.

• Don’t look at the catcher’s signs while you’re hitting. Stealing signs is a part of the game, but peeking in the box is for cowards.

• If you’re gonna steal signs, at least try to be sneaky. Being obvious about it makes you look bush, even if everyone knows it’s expected.

• Only throw at another player to protect your teammates or if a guy tries to disgrace your club.

• If you’re gonna throw at a guy intentionally, hit him below the shoulders. No matter how big a tool he is, he doesn’t deserve to suffer a serious injury.

• Don’t step on the first baseman’s ankle when you cross the bag. That thing is plenty wide enough for you to hit it without crippling the guy standing there.

• Don’t bunt to break up a perfect game or no hitter. That’s chicken shit, I don’t care what anyone says. Unless the post season is on the line, if the guy is tossing up a perfecto after 7, be a man and swing the bat.

• If you’re way up and the other team throws a wild pitch, advance. It’s more embarrassing for you to stay put. You humiliate the other team more by “taking it easy on them.”

• If you’re not a pitcher, don’t cross the mound during a game.

• Don’t get caught stealing 3rd with 2 outs.

• Don’t make the 1st or 3rd out at 3rd base.

• Don’t throw at a guy because he’s playing good… I.e., don’t drill someone because they’ve been raking and you’re sick of them pounding doubles off the wall.

• Players: don’t goad or yell at opposing coaches or staff.

• Coaches: don’t goad or yell at opposing players.

• Never laugh at a player, whether he is an opponent or a teammate, because he lacks talent or ability. Also, never laugh when an opponent gets injured.


That’s about it for now, feel free to post any others you believe in or that I’ve failed to list, or post comments to agree or disagree with any that I’ve mentioned!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Home Training" for ball players.

Home Training, that’s what they call it down here I think, and for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, it’s basically another way to describe all of the things parents teach their kids about how to act when they leave the house and enter someone else’s abode. On the ballfield, it refers to the things that parents and coaches ought to be teaching their players from the time they are little about what they should be doing when they walk on to anyone else’s field.

After hosting a tournament this past week, I noticed that many of the players lacked a certain level of “Home Training”, so I was inspired to post a small compilation of what players should and shouldn’t do when they go on the road.

1. Don’t park in an area that is not a parking lot unless there is no parking lot… You wouldn’t go to someone else’s house and park on their lawn because their driveway is a little further from the front door.

2. If you see astro turf in a batting cage, don’t wear spikes while you’re hitting in it. No one has to tell you not to strap your spikes on to take dry swings in your living room, why would you do it on someone else’s carpet. That stuff is expensive, and yes, you can put holes in it.

3. Don’t play pepper, hit fungos, play catch, or take dry swings on the grass anywhere except in the outfield. I realize that grass grows back, but coaches spend a lot of time making sure theirs doesn’t need to…. Take all of your turf destroying activities to the outfield or the warning track.

4. When you arrive, don’t walk across the field to get to your dugout. Walk around the warning track or at least around the back of home plate. This isn’t a huge deal, but you probably aren’t gonna go stomping across the lawn because you’re too lazy to use the walkway, so why do it at the park?

5. NEVER hit balls into a chain link fence. You may as well grab an axe and start hacking the damned thing down. If there isn’t a net, guess what? DON’T HIT. I promise, those 20 side tosses aren’t making that big a difference anyway.

6. Trash cans should be used. You’d be pissed if someone walked into your bedroom and threw a half eaten sandwich, an empty bottle, and a cup full of spit on the floor.

7. If you have to open a gate to walk through it, close it behind you.

8. You never know who is watching and how long their memory is, so act like you have some class, wear your uniform properly, and don’t show your ass if things don’t go too well. You might be ruining an opportunity before you ever know you had it.

I could probably list about 60 more items, and I think I’ll work on a general “unwritten rules” post here pretty soon, but this is it for tonight’s ramblings. By the way, the Columbus Woodbats, my summer woodbat team, is off to a great start. Our current record is 6-1, and we’ll take our show on the road next week or two as we kick off a long road trip this Tuesday.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Grab your torches and pitchforks, we're gonna talk about umpires.

With recent Major League incidents involving umpires Jim Joyce and Joe West, I thought it only fitting that I make a post regarding the men in blue.

First off, umpiring IS hard...  Sometimes.

That's probably as a deep a defense I will offer up for umpires in a long while though.  Here's the thing: in almost every league at almost every level there are a handful of umps who fall into the "look at me" category, or even worse the "I want to make a difference in this game," type.  The shame is that these guys leave you so raw that it almost makes you forget about the handful that really are class guys who do a good job.

The "look at me" ump is the kind that rips his mask off the first time he hears a tweet from anyone and asserts his authority...  This guy wants everyone to know he's in charge and that he's not taking shit from anybody.  He's also the guy that issues warnings aplenty the first time a ball is too far inside or who chases after players and coaches goading them into a confrontation.  This is Joe West.  Joe West wants you to argue with him.  He wants you to say the wrong thing because the he can escalate the situation into an ejection for his ego.  You know these umpires the second you see one walk after a player or coach continuing to argue even after they've walked away.

The other guy, Captain Rulebook, is desperate for an opportunity to make an obscure call to show everyone his immense knowledge of the rules.  He's the guy that balks in the winning run, calls an interference at second base to decide a game, or makes any other of a myriad of calls that you almost never see.  Most of the time, coaches will tell you that we just want the right call to be made.  What we also want is for the players to determine the outcome of the game.  This fella forgets that everyone is at the ballpark to see the players win or lose the ballgame, not the umpire.

Anyway, without getting too long winded, the sad fact is that whether it is difficult or not, most amateur umpires are going to miss several calls every game.  The thing I think we have to try to remember is that aside from the above two types, most of them are decent guys trying to do their best, and like hitters, they are gonna fail a large percentage of the time.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

"Balls?? We're talking about balls out here?"

First, get your head out of the gutter. I’m not talking about balls and strikes either, I’m talking about baseballs. More specifically, I’m talking about the baseballs that were used in my Great South League game last night. I’m fortunate enough to manage a summer club in the Great South League, which is a collegiate summer bat league with teams in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, and South Carolina, and last night I had an encounter that was worth talking about.

We’re playing the East Alabama Big Train, a team out of Birmingham, and after 5 innings, we’re up 3-1 and the game is moving along nicely. In the bottom of the 6th, our short stop, former Pirate Grason Wiggins, spokes a deep liner off the left center field wall to drive in another former Pirate, Alex Montes, from first base. Very nice, we’re up 4-1. As soon as the inning ends, I notice there is a little meeting forming over on the other team’s side of the field, and of course it is only a minute or two before I’m asked to come over as well.

Now, I’m walking over there thinking there is going to be some sort of discussion about substitutions or the Extra Hitter (college summer rules allow for a 10th batter). What I got was a bit different. Waiting for me, along with both umpires and his head coach, is the opposing team’s GM (that’s general manager for those who don’t know the lingo), who has made his way onto the field from the press box. Obviously, I’m eager to hear what has drawn such a distinguished crowd, and I’m a bit disappointed when the GM tells me, “Uh, we’re concerned that we’re not using the right baseballs. Our pitcher says he’s having a hard time getting comfortable with the balls you’re using.”

I know… For me, this is the most asinine thing I’ve ever heard, so my only response is “Well, we’re using the baseballs we’ve been supplied, so I’m not really sure what the problem is.”

“Well, we’re supposed to use Diamond baseballs, and these are Wilsons… And that’s ok, but I think a couple of different types of balls are being used.”

So there it is… This guy thinks I’m tossing out different baseballs for his guys to use to gain some sort of advantage. At this point, I’m actually getting a little pissed off, because not only should the GM NEVER be on the field interrupting a game, but this fella is actually accusing us of cheating! Long story short, I tell the guy that I’ve got a lot more important things to think about than trying to beat him by rigging baseballs, and hits me with the classic “Dash, you’ve been around long enough to know…” routine. “Well,” I say, “I’ve been around long enough to know this is a stupid thing to be interrupting a game for. I can’t believe we’ve just stopped play to talk about the baseballs we’re using in a summer ballgame. Balls?? We’re talking about balls out here? We’ve stopped the game to talk about the baseballs?? This is a waste of my time.” I felt like I was Alan Iverson giving his “Practice??” speech all over again.

At that point the drama was ended, we all got back to business, and my Columbus Woodbats finished laying a 5-1 defeat on the Big Train.

Oh and by the way, unless the ball is wet, made of plastic, or is flat on one side, any pitcher who is complaining about the balls he’s got to throw probably isn’t worth the mound he’s standing on. I think it’s more likely that their GM felt they should be doing better and the pitcher got thrown under the bus, but seriously, our guy was throwing the same Wilson baseball out there as their guy was, and he didn’t seem to have too many problems dicing up their order.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Success is built on relationships

People ask me all the time what we’re doing at Chattahoochee Valley that allows us to be successful year in, year out. The first thing that comes to mind, and it’s really simple when you think about it, is that we recruit good ballplayers. It sounds cliché or overly simple, I know, but you’d be amazed how many programs recruit a lot of what we call “projects” and then wonder why they struggle. A project, by the way is a player that has some raw ability but is very unrefined in his playing ability. Typically, this is a kid who requires a lot of coaching and improvement before he is ready to be a regular contributor at the college level. Some of these guys turn into the best players in the league… On the other hand, some of them end up back home in time to pick out a sweet-ass Halloween costume.

Ok, we don’t recruit guys that suck. That’s the first thing, so what’s next? Well, now we develop the relationship, and everything else we’re able to accomplish is built from there. Building a relationship with a player is just like building a relationship with anyone else… You have to DTR (Define the Relationship), develop trust, and have good communication. I know I sound like Dr. Phil, but it’s true. The bottom line is that your guys have to understand that you’re the coach, but they have to trust your judgment and feel like they can be honest with you about their game. Without trust they’ll never truly buy in to what you ask them to do, and without open lines of communication they’ll never really feel like they can relax and play the game. I’m not saying it should be open season and that players should feel like they can do or say whatever they want, but as long as it’s within reason, it should always be encouraged for them to tell you how they feel things are going.

Something I should note as well is that it isn’t about having your players like you or think you’re cool either. If you earn their trust, even when you’re on their ass and they hate your guts (and trust me, at some point they WILL hate your guts… I never liked a guy while he was making me do burpees or telling me how bad I blew a play), they’ll be able to look back after the fact with some understanding of what you were trying to accomplish.

I’m lucky enough to have gotten close with a great deal of my players, and I think if you were to ask most of them, they’d say the feeling was mutual; The very same can be said for Adam, too. I think that’s why it comes as no surprise to people who’ve been around our program that we manage to continually put quality teams on the field.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Shoes to be filled... Part 4

This is the 4th and final installment in my “Shoes to be filled…” series, and it includes the final group of players that will be leaving the pinstripes before next fall.  Here's the rest of our shoes to be filled:

Donte Williams, OF/RHP - “D-Train” or “Train”, named because he’s built like a freight train, has been a fixture in our lineup for the last two seasons. After being used further down the order in 2009, Train took over as our full time leadoff hitter after a few short weeks this spring. Not only did he make us proud in this new and vital role, he absolutely shined. No other leadoff man in the league was as versatile in their assault of first base. Donte literally used every weapon imaginable to reach base, and used them all with alarming success. As a hitter, Train hit a cool .383, lifting his career average at CV to a steady .356 mark. He used 20 walks, 22 hit by pitches, and 53 singles to set the table for us this year in addition to a homer and 10 doubles. He was so adept at reaching base that he only failed to do so at least once in a game on two occasions. One of those occasions was a pinch hit at bat, and the other was a game in which he had only 2 plate appearances. Not only that, but he finished the season on a 17 game hitting streak. After reaching base so frequently, it is not surprise that Train also scored an impressive 58 runs in just 47 appearances. He wasn’t too shabby when it came to driving runs in either, driving in 38 runs for the year. It’s easy to forget that Donte was also an outstanding relief pitcher for us during his stint with the Pirates. He threw just 31 innings in his career, but in those innings he struck out 17 batters, walked just 4, and sported a 1-0 record with 2 saves. While putting up these outstanding numbers, Donte was the epitome of self control, always managing to keep an even keel regardless of the situation. You could always count on him to keep his composure in tight spots and to lead by example without having to make a scene or run his mouth. Donte has signed to play at the University of West Alabama this fall.

Heath Peterson, 1B - The first thing you notice when you see Heath walk into a room is that he an absolute monster of a man. After you get to know him, you realize that his stature is probably the least impressive attribute he possesses. Heath is one of the most respectful, polite, and decent young men you’ll ever have the privilege to meet, and despite a fearsome appearance, he’s the first person to offer a helping hand. Oh, by the way, Heath can MASH!! In two years batting in the middle of the Pirate lineup, Heath clobbered 16 home runs, 14 doubles, and drove in 81. I say clobbered because when Heath gets a hold of a pitch he doesn’t just hit it, he destroys it. There are probably a couple balls he hit that are still making their way toward the Gulf of Mexico as I write… Heath hits balls that the defense gets out of the way of… He hits balls that scare small children and make babies cry. Maybe that’s a little overboard, but seriously, the guy has incredible power. By the time he was finished, he sported a pretty good batting average too, hitting a blazing hot .391 in 2010 and .331 for his career. The big guy can run too, he was safe on 13 of 15 steal attempts during his career at CV, and I’d bet more than a few catchers got pretty nervous on every one of his 67 runs scored. To finish the season this year, he homered in 4 straight games while going 8 for 13 and knocking in 6 and scoring 9 down the stretch. All told, he was responsible for creating 148 runs during his two years in the pinstripes. At the time of this writing, Heath has scholarship opportunities on the table, but he has not yet decided what his plans for next season are. As soon as he makes his decision, I will update this portion of my blog.

Bronson Gagner, RHP - At 6’7 260lbs, we called him “Big Daddy”. I’m pretty sure the rest of the league referred to him as “Jeez… Now we have to try to hit THIS guy??” Bronson was as good a starting pitcher as any pitcher to ever come through Chatt Valley, and he was arguably the most consistent hurler in 2010 that we’ve had during my tenure. The big man was great in literally every single appearance he made this season. Even in the 1 loss on his record, he pitched fantastically, keeping hitters off base all day while our offense had a rare off day. By the end of the year, he’d rattled off 8 straight victories, and if it weren’t for a couple of no decisions early in the year, his record could very easily have been even more impressive… Hard to believe when I tell you his record was 9-1. That’s right, 9-1 and his ERA was a tidy 2.69 in the process. Over his 70 and 1/3 innings of work, Big Daddy whiffed 58 opposing hitters and walked just 17. More impressive, only 4 of the walks came in his final 7 starts. Opponents managed a pathetic .243 batting average against him, and just for good measure, he mixed a pair of shutouts. His primary weapon was a fastball that has great 2-seam action and clocks in at 90-94 MPH, and there were several games in career where he literally didn’t need anything else to defeat his opponents. In a game against Wallace-Selma his freshman season, Bronson threw a complete game and only had to use his breaking ball twice. This season against Southern Union, he fired nothing but fastballs until the final frame to claim the win. When pounding heaters wasn’t enough, the big righty used an excellent slider and changeup to keep hitters guessing. With a two year tally of 13-3 with 93 K’s and 1 save, Bronson is easily among the all-time elite pitchers to suit up at Chatt Valley. What makes me more proud to say though, is that he is one of the best men I know… He is exceptional in every aspect of his character, and his worth as a human being dwarfs his tremendous value on the ballfield. Bronson has signed to play at Mercer University next fall, and he is likely to be selected in the June 5th Major League draft.

Tyler Googe, 3B/RHP - One word of advice to pitchers in the Peachbelt Conference next year: If Googe is hot, don’t throw him a strike. When he was on, there has never been a more dangerous hitter to face in the ACCC than Googe. He began the year by blasting 3 homers in a double header victory over Andrew College while driving in 10 runs in just a single afternoon. Against Wallace-Dothan, he literally had opposing players instructing their pitchers not to throw him any more strikes because he hammered 3 bleezies and a double in one game. In that contest he scored 5 runs and drove in 7. That’s right, one guy accounted for 12 runs in ONE game. His cumulative numbers were nothing to shake a stick at, either. For the year his line read .330 with 8 doubles, 9 homers, 39 RBI’s and 25 runs scored, and he did this in just 29 games in the Pirate lineup. The best part is that Tyler always showed up to the ballpark with a smile on his face and something good to say to everyone. He’s the guy you can’t help but like and the first one to bring humor into any conversation. Some people would say that he’s coachable… I’d describe it more as being willing to literally do whatever you ask him to in effort to win. He’s not just willing to listen, he’s completely selfless and is a consummate team-first personality. This has never been more evident in a player than it was in Tyler, who took every move, whether it was to 3rd base, 1st base, on the bump, in the DH slot, or even when he was asked to sit down, without the slightest hesitation, question, or complaint. That’s probably why watching him have so much success was so entertaining. Tyler has signed to play at Columbus State University next fall.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

On summer coaches, shady dealings, and how to evaluate your son

There is a disturbing trend out there where summer travel ball coaches are trying to convince their players that they, the summer coach, is the doorway to a prosperous collegiate career.  Now, I'm not talking about the guy who works his ass off calling college coaches for tryouts and does everything he can do to expose his players while giving informed and accurate references to the places they want to play.

I'm talking about the used car salesman who claims that HE will get you a scholarship because all he has to do is make a phone call and so and so at Awesome U. or CC will sign you based purely off their sparkling recommendation.  I'm talking about the guy who pressures kids into playing for them by telling them he can affect their scholarship opportunities in a negative way if they don't.  I'm talking about the guy who tells his kids that they don't need their lousy high school team because summer ball is where the thunder is.

The truly sad part is that kids and especially parents tend to actually buy what these guys are selling.  Before I go any further, I do want to make it clear that there are some very reputable summer organizations out there that I would recommend to anyone looking for exposure.  Feel free to email me for references of places that I DO think run quality programs, and I'll be happy to try to point you in the right direction.  You can also take a look at our rosters and see where alot of our guys come from.  Chances are if there are more than 1 or 2 guys from a given summer club on our roster, there is a good reason for it.

So what should you be looking out for?  Well, anyone who promises anything greater than exposure, effort, and a commitment to making your player better is selling something you don't want to buy.  Guys that look you right in the eye and tell you that there are 5 places they can call to get your son signed tomorrow are full of shit.  As with most things, if it sound too good to be true, it probably is. 

The good ones will tell you that they get their players into quality tournaments and showcases against quality teams in front of quality scouts.  They tell you that they will strive to meet your son's needs as an instructor and that they will do everything in their power to get your son in front of the coaches they want to play for.  They should also be telling you that your son is responsible for sealing the deal!  If he doesn't play well or perform when people are watching, there's really not alot anyone can do to help place him.

Here are just a few other things to keep in mind on this subject:
  • No college coach in the country worth his salt is EVER going to take a player just because a summer coach tells him to.  His recommendation may help inform the coach, but without corroboration from multiple sources or a good audition, I won't touch a guy on word alone.
  • Summer programs that give "scholarships" also have another category of player:  "Fund-Raiser"  Trust me, you don't want to be in the latter group, and whether anyone will ever admit it, this group does exist.  Sometimes the B squad pays and the A squad plays.
  • Programs that ask their teams to fix results "for the good of the organization" are not programs you want to be involved with.  If the "Red" team is told to allow the "Blue" team to win to set a bracket, arrange a championship match up or any other reason, you don't want to play there.  What does that tell the kids on the team that sacrifices for the organization?  That's right, they don't mean a damned thing, and the A squad is where its at.
  • Once your son signs a scholarship it CANNOT be taken away by a phone call from a summer coach.  Listen, people want to scare you with their influence, but two things are at work here, 1. Once you sign that scholarship, you're locked in unless you get cut.  2. Reread the first point in these bullets.  No coach in the world is gonna go "Oh, is that right, Billy Greatcoach? You think Sammy is a terd and I should rescind his offer...  Right away sir, and while we're at it, why don't you head on down to the ballpark and make out my lineup!!"

Now for the most important piece of information you need to know about summer ball:  If your son is an outstanding ballplayer, he doesn't need summer ball to get signed.  Unless you live in the middle of nowhere and your son plays for an absolutely terrible team, if he's good, someone is going to like him.  That's if he's good, now.  That doesn't mean that mom and dad think he's an all star so it must be true....  That means that the kid puts up numbers and has athletic ability that everyone can see.  Here's a tip for parents to help evaluate where their son is at, and I promise, I don't mean to be insulting or snarky, but these are the things we hear every day is this is what they almost always mean...  Here are some translations:

"Well, he ain't real big and he ain't gonna hit it out of the park, but he's the hardest worker on the team and he's got lots of heart."

Translation:  He's the little guy that plays real hard and everyone loves, but when its all said and done, he's just not very good.

"He's not gonna blow it by anybody, but if he hits his spots he can get some folks out."

Translation:  He throws about 74-78 MPH, and he gets average high school hitters out often enough to be effective.  Hell, he may even win alot of ballgames in high school, but he's the 3rd or 4th guy down the line and unless he has pinpoint control, he's not gonna get good hitters out.

"He's got a GREAT arm, but he's a little raw.  If he had someone to work with him......."

Translation:  This guy has no idea where the ball is going after it leaves his hand....  Someone is gonna sign him though, and fortunately, some of these guys work out in the end. 

"He can hit it a mile, but if he had a little more discipline he'd be the best hitter on the team."

Translation:  He probably hits 6th in high school and he launches 3-5 homers in a season, but he's only gonna hit .275 because he swings at every pitch. 

So what am I getting at?  If the primary ways your son is described are "he hustles", "he's got heart", "he's a hard worker", or if it starts with something like "Well, he's not....  BUT", the odds are, he's a solid high school player, but he's just an average player.

Most good players are described a little more directly:  "Man, this kid can play...  He runs a 6.7, bumps 87 off the mound, plays a damned good 3rd base, and he can really hit." or "He the best kid on the team, he's got power, speed, and he's wearing out region pitchers." or possibly "If we didn't have , he'd be the best player out here."

THEN after they tell you that, they follow it up with the "AND he always hustles, works his tail off and he knows how to win."

I hope I've gotten the idea I've meant to convey across, and if not, comment and tell me about it, I'd love to continue the discussion!

Oh yeah, stay tuned either tomorrow or Monday when I'll be finishing up my "Shoes to be filled..." series, and check out our team website at!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Shoes to be filled... Part 3

Here are 4 more Pirates that we’ll be replacing in ’10-’11. As I’ve been working on these posts and sifting through memories and numbers as deeply as I am, 2 things have really occurred to me.

  1. It’s easy sometimes, even for me, to take for granted how close you get with your club after spending so much time together in the trenches.
  2. How exciting it is going to be next year having so many new faces and a team with unlimited potential waiting to forge their own unique identity.

With those thoughts in mind, here are some more shoes waiting to be filled:

Derek Varnadore, RHP - Dominant and consistent are the two words that pop into mind when I think about Varnadore. Dominant because the guy whiffed 197 hitters in 161 and 1/3 innings, not to mention the fact that he went 13-6 in his career and 7-1 in 2010. Consistent because in each of his two seasons at Chatt Valley he threw 80 and 2/3 innings, allowed just 35 earned runs, walked only 30 hitters, allowed only 85 hits and struck out about 100 hitters. His lines were so similar that in 2009 he faced 321 hitters and in 2010 he saw 320. How’s that for consistency? Varny has been no stranger to big games either. In 2009 he was a conference starter as a freshman, and if it weren’t for a handful of mistakes by our club, he probably would have racked up 10 wins. He was asked to come in and clean up a mess against a tough Wallace-Hanceville team in the ACCC tournament that year and responded by tossing 6 and 1/3 innings in relief allowing just 3 hits and striking out 8. He followed that up with a 6 inning, 7 strikeout performance just two days later against Southern Union. By the time we started the season in 2010, the expectations on Varnadore could not have been any higher. To open the season, he threw in front of 18 Major League scouts, firing 93-94 MPH fastballs past hitters for 4 innings. Not bad for a guy that came to us from Oconee County topping out at 87 only 16 months earlier. Varny served as our Friday night starter in 2010, and without a doubt, not a single team we faced all year was looking forward to stepping in against the intimidating righty. He brought to the mound an aggressive attitude, and he brought to our team a front line starter that you handed the ball knowing that when you got it back, it was going to be with a lead. We didn’t send Varnadore out to pitch, we unleashed him on the opposition. He has signed to play at Auburn University next fall and is likely to be selected in the June 5 Major League Draft.

Kevin Putkonen, OF - Sometimes you spend 10 months recruiting a guy and after running the treadmill you sign him. Sometimes you run that treadmill and you lose him. Sometimes, inexplicably, a fantastic player just falls into your lap. Put’s was a case of the latter. In October of 2007 I got a phone call from Kash Beauchamp, a well known baseball man from Phenix City who played at CV a while back and spent some time playing and managing in the minor leagues, telling me that he had a kid from Windsor, CT that might be able to help us. The honest to God’s truth is that I had no idea what to expect, but he had the kid in town and asked if he could bring him over for a workout. Turns out, the kid had a sweet left handed swing and the ball jumped off of his bat. We offered him on the spot, and he agreed on the spot, making Kevin Putkonen arguably the best player we never had to work to get. It didn’t take Put very long to get going, either. He blasted 18 dingers in his career at CV, hammering 9 each year, and he drove in an impressive 95 runs in the process. Put also put up a .329 average and smacked 19 doubles in the pinstripes… And he did a lot of this after missing the entire 2009 fall with a shoulder injury. Had he been able to work out all fall, I have no doubt that his already impressive .329-9-52 line would have been even better. Put was also a great guy to have around off the field. He always had a good thing to say about everybody he met, couldn’t get enough time in the weight room, and he was a tireless worker and a quality student. I was fortunate enough to have gotten to know Kevin on a personal level, and I consider him to be a good friend. Kevin has signed to play at Samford University next fall.

Matt Black, 1B/3B - What do you say about a guy who hit .351 with 20 doubles and 100 RBI’s in 92 games while sporting arguably the best leather at first base in the league? He’s damn good, that’s what. Matty was a big time run producer for us over the last two seasons. In an injury shortened 2010 season in which he only played 35 games, he still managed to drill opposing pitchers to the tune of a .388 batting average with 47 RBI’s. His career total of 100 places him dead even for the all-time Pirate lead, and he was on pace to obliterate the record when injuries and rain outs kept him out of at least 20 games this year. Matt was a quiet leader for us at Chatt Valley, never speaking unless he had something worth listening to say, and never asking his teammates to do something he wasn’t willing to do in return. When it was time to get going though, he’d be the guy right in the middle of it, ready to smoke a base clearing double, or to dig a tough throw out to bail out an infielder. Matt was and is everything you want from a player as a coach. He always gave his best effort, he never let his teammates down, and he was the first to take responsibility for his actions. I know I’ve said this about every guy on this list, but sticking true to the trend, you couldn’t ask for a better man to have on your team than Matt Black. Matt has received numerous scholarship opportunities to play at the DI level, and as soon as he makes his final decision, I will post an update to this section of my blog.

Lawrence Jackson, OF - Larry was a transfer for us this year from Andrew College in Cuthbert, GA. At Andrew he had an impressive freshman year, batting .325 with 5 homers and 45 RBI’s. Though he was forced to platoon this season in an outfield that was loaded with talent, he was still able to post quality numbers and bring explosiveness to our lineup. In 62 at bats, Lawrence batted a solid .306 with 4 doubles, 16 runs, 16 RBI’s and 2 homers. In addition, he took 10 hit by pitches and turned in more than a handful of clutch pinch hit performances. His bat was crucial in victories over conference rivals CACC and Wallace-Dothan, and against non conference foes Darton and Middle Georgia. Jackson possesses well above average speed and outstanding power at the plate. He is a tough competitor and a consummate team player who always put the team’s benefit above his own. He’s also got a hell of a sense of humor, and he’s always willing to laugh at himself. Larry gave us flexibility in the outfield and at designated hitter that we had never had before, as he was one of 6 guys to see regular action in the Pirate outfield. He also gave us a reliable bat off the bench, collecting a team leading 5 pinch hits on the year. It takes a special kind of guy to come into a situation knowing there are 4 returning starters, but Larry did it and even found a way to carve his own niche in our offense. He’s a first class guy, a first class personality, and he’s going to make an immediate impact wherever he lands next fall. Lawrence has received several scholarship opportunities to play at the DII and NAIA level next fall, and as soon as he makes his final decision, I will post an update to this section of my blog.