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.