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The Little League World Series, Oh the Glory Days!

The Little League World Series comes to a conclusion this weekend which will involve the US champion against the international champions.  The US representative will either be from Pearland, Texas or Red Land, Pennsylvania, who square off on Saturday August 29th.  The International contest will pair Mexico against Japan, also on Saturday with the winner playing for all the marbles on Sunday.

Every year there seems to be more and more home runs and stellar pitching performances.  I have read about some of the home runs have been monster blasts that have traveled more than 250 feet and some over 300 feet.  Are kids getting stronger and bigger?  Are they juiced on juice boxes, what gives?  When I was twelve years playing Little League ball, I could barely hit it two hundred feet as I swung as hard as I could.  I remember the most home runs hit that final Little League season was four, it done by the biggest kid in the league.  I was convinced he was 16 years old with his mustache.  He also pitched which made it doubly unfair.

I remember unfondly my first game in the major division of Little League, the game was videotaped on the local cable outlet.  The camera was placed on the first base side and I was the first base coach for the first three innings.  My backside was prevalent for the first hour of the game.  Then I got in the game for the final three innings, and struck out twice against the man child.  I am not sure if my eyes where open when I swung.  The Little League World Series is broadcasted to who knows how many countries and it gets big time media attention with famous announcers.

In my Little League years, we used wooden Louisville Sluggers and I didn’t swing an aluminum bat until I was in Pony League.  There is no doubt that the bats do make a difference in the velocity of the ball being hit.  Great bats now have gotten to be quite the expensive “got to have item” on your team.   I guess I missed that span of technology and the glory that would have come of hitting more homers. Trust me, you never forget some of those memories in your youth.

As for the great pitching performances, my theory is that the evolution of Little League pitching is the result of better coaching, more available learning techniques, year round baseball and camps.   I don’t think I had one coach in all of my years of organized baseball, up to high school that knew much about pitching.  You usually learned to throw a curve from your buddies or playing whiffle ball.  I recall having a lot sore arms and elbow pain issues.   All of the better coaching is great to see and finally a kid can learn to throw an off speed pitch without improvising something he developed in his driveway.

I will enjoy watching the games this weekend and marvel at how good these kids are playing.  I will reminisce about the glory days and block out the embarrassing moments, like the time I beaned my best friend in the rib cage and made him cry.  I just want to know if the kids still get treats at the snack shack after the game, that should be a tradition to maintain.  Cheers Little Leaguers s all over the world!  Read More →

The Cubs, Mets and Astros …Not Stinking?

Okay, as harsh as that sounds, but that’s what the fan bases in those towns are thinking.  They have been beat like a gong for the last ten to fifteen years and slipped into the baseball black hole.  It appears that they have come out of their deep sleep when the old management was sent packing and the new blood came in and finally figured out the way to wake up the slumbering hound dogs. Now the dog days of summer are fun again and ol Yeller is frolicking around like a crazed Labrador in a mud puddle.

What, why and how did the mad scientists turn around these wastelands of baseball?  Step one was to unload all of the high priced malcontents and gather up as many draft picks as possible.  Then ownership must allow for the anger to manifest with the fan base and explain to them this is a rebuilding plan, not a fire sale.  They will be mad and the talk show airwaves will spew out venom and the fans will demand lower beer and hot dog prices.  You may have to weather this storm for three to five years, may be longer.

If you survive the fan backlash, media uproar and public shaming then you must field a team that has some semblance of hope.  That hope will usually arrive in the form of some peach fuzzed kids that have some pop and swagger.  Soon, the fans will like these young pups and hopefully the management won’t give up on them and send them to back and forth to boot camp and exciting bus rides in the minors.

Next step is the most important, the secret ingredient, pitching, pitching and pitching, then more pitching, followed by more pitching.  If you don’t believe me look at the Mets and the prime example, the Giants.  They have had the same bullpen for the last five years and mish mash of starters that get it done in October.  Again, important for managers and coaches not to ride their young pitchers like donkeys, or you are looking at Tommy John and his surgery.

The last two things are the intangibles and the glue that keeps the train from derailing and house of cards from falling down.  Get some veterans that are battle tested and hungry for a big ring on their finger. The final and most esoteric piece to the winning formula, chemistry…..there I said it.  Twenty five guys don’t have to all like each other but it sure helps when the team ain’t squabbling about their playing time and who cheats at cards.

Can it be the year of the Cubbies?  holy smokes, if that happens, Donald Trump might become president….Okay that was weird but so is the Cubs or Astros winning the whole enchilada.  Enjoy the ride and fans might just be watching baseball again in October.

Read More →

Hisashi Iwakuma Tosses a No Hitter

No-hitters in the Major League’s are not the rarest thing to happen, but every so often, someone throws one that takes notice.   Hasashi Iwakuma of the Seattle Mariners hurled a no no against the Baltimore Orioles, in a 3-0 victory on Wednesday, August 12th.  Iwakuma became only the second Japanese born pitcher to throw a no-hitter in MLB history, the first Japanese pitcher to throw one was Hideo Nomo of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Iwakuma, a 34 year old right hander, in his fourth season with the Mariners, also threw his first complete game.  If you get a chance to see him pitch, you can’t help notice the unorthodox wind up that is unique in itself.  His 6 foot t 3 inch frame stalls at the top of his delivery, then unhinges his knee a couple of times before he completes the wind up.   Iwakuma, like Nomo showcases his split fingered fastball that is his strike out pitch.  The key to his success, like most no hitters was the ability to get first pitch strikes.  He then was able to mix his array pitches with consistent velocity and location.

Iwakuma’s no hitter was the 291st in MLB history and first this season in the American League.  In fact, the last twelve no hitter s have been thrown in the National League.  Just think, if the Designated Hitter was in the National league, we may never see another no-hitter.  There have been five thrown this year in total which is above normal.  

Iwakuma is part of a growing trend of pitchers coming over from the Far East.  There are more position players from the Far East but like Latin America, the pitchers are coming over more and more.  Teams are able to land seasoned veterans from other countries which can be financially risky but the reward is high as well.  There is often a bidding war for some of these players, which inflates the cost for all the foreign players.  Owners are always looking from the next Nomo, Yaseil Puig or the Ichiro Suzuki with the hope they are ready play at the MLB level. 

Photo -Grantland.com Read More →

Jason deGrom, Lightening in a Bottle

I heard about Jason deGrom last year and his rising star status.   He is a right handed pitcher for the New York Mets, age 27, former Rookie of the Year (2014) and National League All Star.  I think he gained nationwide notoriety in this years All Star game when he struck out the side with 10 pitches with pure smoke.  He was throwing fastballs with movement that made the hitters look like non-All Stars.

After watching the All-star performance,  I wanted to know more about this guy.  If he is twenty seven years and has only played two years in the pros, then he must spent years in college or the minors developing his craft.  The amazing part of his story he didn’t start pitching until the fall of 2009 and that was as a relief pitcher.  Up until then he was shortstop playing for Stetson College with a .263 batting average.

He was developing so fast that he soon became the closer for Stetson.  He was moved into the starting rotation where he picked up a curve and change up to add to his barn burner fastball.  It didn’t take long for the major league talent scouts to see his upside when they saw him pitch against the great Chris Sale of the White Sox in a game against Florida Gulf Coast University.  He pitched twelve games as a starter for Stetson that year and recorded a 4-5 win-loss record and a 4.48 ERA.

The Mets drafted him in the 9th round of 2010 draft and signed him with a bonus of $95,000.   He pitched for the Kingston Mets in the Rookie-Level Appalachian League, making six starts.  It was then it was discovered he had partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. After an unsuccessful attempt at rehabilitation, he had to proceed with a Tommy John surgery.  This put him on the shelf for the entire 2011 season.  During the down time, he was able to work with Johan Santana on his changeup.

In 2012, he started out with the Savannah Sand Gnats of the Class A league and later moved to the Class A advanced league and pitched for San Lucie.  He was able to start 19 games and record an impressive 2.43 ERA.  2013 was a busy year for deGrom with rapid movement through the Met farm system.  He started with San Lucie, then was promoted to the Birmingham Mets of Class AA, and finally ended up in the Class AAA with the Las Vegas 51’s.  Some of these promotions where due to injuries to others and movement of other pitchers to the New York Mets.

The Mets were confident in deGrom and his rising status so he was placed on the 40 man roster for the 2014 season.  deGrom started the 2014 system in Las Vegas but got called up in May because of two injuries to the pitching staff.   He made his first start on May 15 but didn’t record his first win until July 8th when he pitched seven scoreless inning and struck out eleven.   He went on to become the National League pitcher of the month for July.   He finished the year with a 9-6 record and 2.69 era which earned him the National League Rookie of the Year honors.   On September 15th, he struck out the first eight batters in a game against the Miami Marlins, tying the MLB record.

This year has been a year where deGrom is considered in the top tier of pitchers to watch.  His pitches never come in straight or flat and have a tailing movement.  In addition, the arm speed of deGrom creates so much deception that he is a hitter’s nightmare.  I just find it so rare that player begins pitching in his twenties and within three years is Rookie of the Year.  He is a great athlete that has had the ability to learn and absorb faster than the majority of baseball players.  He appears to be a humble young man that he will be joy to watch for years to come.

Photo – Robert Sabo/New York Daily News

The Midsummer Classic, Yeah I Still Watch it

The Major League All-star game lands in Cincinnati on July 14th with a couple of day of festivities.  I guess I am sucker for this game.  Since my days of collecting baseball cards starting in 1968, I have been hooked on baseball.   All it took was a 5 cent pack of Topps baseball cards and small wafer-like piece of gum (that was harder than your young teeth should have endured) and I was obsessed with the All Stars.  When the All Star game rolled around, I would lay out my cards to see how many of the All Stars I had in my collection.

I appreciate the fact that Major League baseball still tries to market this game as a big too do but I must say, I think they are trying may be, too hard.  Now the game has play-off ramifications which was never the intent of the game.  This is supposed to be a game for the fans to see their favorite stars, not a game that every managerial decision could have an effect on the World Series.  I hope this ridiculous rule is abolished very soon and the winner of the game is rewarded with only lovely parting gifts.

I am not blind to the fact that baseball is dropping in viewership and MLB was trying to put some zing into the All Star contest.  I also realize that less kids are watching and playing less baseball and I have my theories behind that.  If you want to incentivize the game for players, don’t make it about the winner getting home field advantage in the World Series, make it something more personal for every player.  I say let each player, represent a charity and their choice or their team’s choice.  They have monies pledged and the team, the player and the league gains some goodwill and good publicity.

Oddly, one of my favorite parts of the game is not the game itself but the player introductions.  This is part of the original fascination with the game and my card collection.  When a representitive from your favorite team played in the game then you felt fulfilled as a fan, it didn’t matter who won the game.

Lastly, Major League big shots need to reconsider the voting process.  On line voting is ruining the game by allowing internet savvy fans to load up on their teams players.  Somehow the fan involvement is being taken over by computers.  If you want the players and managers to vote their peers in then I couldn’t object. You could also go Old School (I used this dreaded term, but will promise never again) and only use stadium voting hard copy.  I have a feeling that computers are not going away soon, so may be Google can step in find a solution to box stuffing.

Cheers

Photo by AP Photo/John Minchillo

Glove masters test post

Watching great baseball fielding is just as good as a home run in my humble opinion.   Fielding in baseball, always takes a backseat to the offensive statistics in the glamour category.   In Major League Baseball, the importance of pitching and defense has begun to outweigh the teams who bash the ball.   As they say, good pitching stops good hitting and good pitching needs good defense.   Keeping runners from taking an extra base, turning double plays and throwing runners out who attempt to steal are cornerstones for winning, again, not glamorous, just efficient.

The statisticians in the world have come up with a multitude of formulas to determine who is the best of the best at their position. There is the simple statistic of fielding percentage that just measures errors against opportunities but that still doesn’t tell the story.   The eyeball test still works the best and the best I have ever seen in my lifetime were Omar Vizqual and Ozzie Smith.   I was lucky enough to see Vizquel in his later years when he was a San Francisco Giant and was still amazing. He had a certain calm to his play and he made the position look easier than it was.

Here are some of my favorite defensive players this year in MLB:

Having a good shortstop is crucial to winning. A shortstop that is agile, quick, has great range and has a Howitzer for an arm is rare. One that has those skills is Andrelton Simmons of the Atlanta Braves. He is has only been in the league a couple years but is fast becoming the best at his position. He was awarded a gold glove and voted as the best defensive player in the National League in 2013.

At catcher, you will not find, still anybody better than Yadier Molina. At 32 years of age, he still has the physical tools to be one of the top catchers in the game. The way he calls a game and handles a pitching staff is not as talked about as much, but note, the St. Louis have consistently been a good pitching team year after year.   In addition, a lot baseball fans and experts have taken notice of catcher, Matt Weiters of Baltimore.

The hot corner has its share of defensive standouts and I think Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles is one of the best. He won the Gold Glove at third base in 2013 and AL Platinum Glove award. He is also a player with a short MLB resume but he has a big upside. Once thought of as a future shortstop, the position he played before coming to the Orioles, but it appears third base will be is home for now. There are those that compare him to Alex Rodriquez because of his large stature. He possesses a rifle for an arm and soft hands to snare the screaming balls coming his way.

Any talk about defense and I like to add a centerfielder. They don’t necessarily need the best arm but they need to be speedy and know how to take a good angle to the ball. One of best I am seeing is Carlos Gomez of Milwaukee.   The highlight reel was enough to convince me, that he has all of the tools to be labeled the one of the best defensive centerfielders.

First basemen usually have the highest fielding percentages among all players.   It is a tricky stat because you sometimes are only as good as the quality of throws coming your way.   I like to determine with the human eye test. When I see a guy at first base that can snare the balls hit down the line or in the hole between first and second, I take notice. I grew up watching JT Snow at first for the Giants and he was incredible at the foul pop fly heading towards the seats. He looked like a football wide out catching a pass over the shoulder. This year, I like Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Gabby Sanchez of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs, all rising stars.

Next time you are at baseball game, at any level, notice who are the better defensive players. They are the ones with not only the strong arms, but they also have better instincts to the batted ball. They appear to be in better positions to field and catch. Some of this is natural quickness but sometime it is because they are better students of the game. They watch how batters adjust their swings, they watch were the ball is pitched and they mentally focus on the ball coming off the bat. You can even see this in a Little League game when some kids are ready and others are blowing bubblegum.

 

Mone Davis temp post

This young lady is not only an amazing athlete, she also an inspiration to all young girls. If you haven’t heard by now, Mone Davis was the thirteen phenom who took the 2014 Little League World Series by storm. Yes, a girl that got a lot attention but had the chops to back it up. She throws harder than most boys and also has a mechanically fluid wind up that looks like she throwing effortlessly.

Mo'ne Davis 2Ms. Davis was the first girl to pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series, along with the fact she was only one of eighteen girls to ever play in this tournament, sixth to get a hit and the first African American girl to play in LLWS.   She played for the Taney Dragons, a team in Pennsylvania. They didn’t win the World Series but the ride they went on captivated the whole nation.

Davis throws a seventy mile per hour fastball which is about ten MPH faster than the average player in in her age group. That translates into ninety three mph on a full sized diamond when using the reaction time comparison. Her wind up is very consistent throughout her pitching performances.   She is quite a marvel for an any baseball fan.

Davis’ impact should inspire more girls to play the game of baseball. As we all know, that the term, “throwing like a girl” is tag that no boy wants to hear but maybe in the future, it will be used more thoughtfully.

Mo'ne Davi 3In October 2014, Davis was named one of the “The 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014” by Time Magazine. Director Spike Lee, produced a sixteen minute documentary entitled, “I Throw Like a Girl”. Davis also threw out the first pitch of game four of the MLB World Series in San Francisco.

Mone Davis, most of all brought joy and a humble attitude that captivated all baseball fans and non- baseball fans. It will be interesting to see her age and see how her journey in life evolves. Don’t be surprised if this is not the last we hear from her.

 

Images courtesy of Gene J Puskar/AP, Al Tielmans SI/Getty Images, Littleleaguenow.org, Rob Carr/Getty Images

Madison Bumgarner: A Legend in the Making

Mad Bum, as he is called by his San Francisco Giant teammates is one of those athletes you can’t help but like. He is a nice young man, humble and always putting his teammates first.   He has a little wild side to him as he has be photographed holding up six open beer bottles above his mouth after winning the rounds of baseball play offs. Okay, maybe is isn’t a saint but he sure saved the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.

Madison Bumgarner 2Mad Bum is a fierce and relentless competitor with a calm demeanor except for when Yusiel Puig tries to showboat him. Some say he has ice water running through his veins, as appears stoic on the baseball mound.. He is not the type to implode with his emotions when things don’t go his way as it appears he bears down and refocuses to deliver his best effort.

Bumgarner at the age of twenty six has two World Series rings and the Series MVP to put under his belt. Pitchers like him do not come around often, a tall left hander with an easy motion that looks deceiving to most batters. Because of the angle the ball comes out from his motion along with velocity, his pitches are hard to get a read on. When he has a master of his release point and pitch location, he is unhittable. Bumgarner also takes pride in his hitting, he knocked out four home runs last year, and two were grand slams.

When baseball experts look at the San Francisco Giants for 2015, they are picked to not repeat their exploits. Every year the Giants have won the Series, they have been picked as under dogs. Mad Bum is the pitching ace of the staff and loves nothing more than to be picked as an underdog, again. Please, Major League Baseball don’t unleash the Mad Bum for your own good.

 

Images courtesy of:  Theron W. Henderson Getty Images/North America & Linemakers.sportingnews.com

Mo’ne Davis, The Girl With the Mighty Arm

This young lady is not only an amazing athlete, she also an inspiration to all young girls. If you haven’t heard by now, Mone Davis was the thirteen phenom who took the 2014 Little League World Series by storm. Yes, a girl that got a lot attention but had the chops to back it up. She throws harder than most boys and also has a mechanically fluid wind up that looks like she throwing effortlessly.

Mo'ne Davis 2Ms. Davis was the first girl to pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series, along with the fact she was only one of eighteen girls to ever play in this tournament, sixth to get a hit and the first African American girl to play in LLWS.   She played for the Taney Dragons, a team in Pennsylvania. They didn’t win the World Series but the ride they went on captivated the whole nation.

Davis throws a seventy mile per hour fastball which is about ten MPH faster than the average player in in her age group. That translates into ninety three mph on a full sized diamond when using the reaction time comparison. Her wind up is very consistent throughout her pitching performances.   She is quite a marvel for an any baseball fan.

Davis’ impact should inspire more girls to play the game of baseball. As we all know, that the term, “throwing like a girl” is tag that no boy wants to hear but maybe in the future, it will be used more thoughtfully.

Mo'ne Davi 3In October 2014, Davis was named one of the “The 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014” by Time Magazine. Director Spike Lee, produced a sixteen minute documentary entitled, “I Throw Like a Girl”. Davis also threw out the first pitch of game four of the MLB World Series in San Francisco.

Mone Davis, most of all brought joy and a humble attitude that captivated all baseball fans and non- baseball fans. It will be interesting to see her age and see how her journey in life evolves. Don’t be surprised if this is not the last we hear from her.

 

Images courtesy of Gene J Puskar/AP, Al Tielmans SI/Getty Images, Littleleaguenow.org, Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Glove Masters

Watching great baseball fielding is just as good as a home run in my humble opinion.   Fielding in baseball, always takes a backseat to the offensive statistics in the glamour category.   In Major League Baseball, the importance of pitching and defense has begun to outweigh the teams who bash the ball.   As they say, good pitching stops good hitting and good pitching needs good defense.   Keeping runners from taking an extra base, turning double plays and throwing runners out who attempt to steal are cornerstones for winning, again, not glamorous, just efficient.

The statisticians in the world have come up with a multitude of formulas to determine who is the best of the best at their position. There is the simple statistic of fielding percentage that just measures errors against opportunities but that still doesn’t tell the story.   The eyeball test still works the best and the best I have ever seen in my lifetime were Omar Vizqual and Ozzie Smith.   I was lucky enough to see Vizquel in his later years when he was a San Francisco Giant and was still amazing. He had a certain calm to his play and he made the position look easier than it was.

Here are some of my favorite defensive players this year in MLB:

Having a good shortstop is crucial to winning. A shortstop that is agile, quick, has great range and has a Howitzer for an arm is rare. One that has those skills is Andrelton Simmons of the Atlanta Braves. He is has only been in the league a couple years but is fast becoming the best at his position. He was awarded a gold glove and voted as the best defensive player in the National League in 2013.

At catcher, you will not find, still anybody better than Yadier Molina. At 32 years of age, he still has the physical tools to be one of the top catchers in the game. The way he calls a game and handles a pitching staff is not as talked about as much, but note, the St. Louis have consistently been a good pitching team year after year.   In addition, a lot baseball fans and experts have taken notice of catcher, Matt Weiters of Baltimore.

The hot corner has its share of defensive standouts and I think Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles is one of the best. He won the Gold Glove at third base in 2013 and AL Platinum Glove award. He is also a player with a short MLB resume but he has a big upside. Once thought of as a future shortstop, the position he played before coming to the Orioles, but it appears third base will be is home for now. There are those that compare him to Alex Rodriquez because of his large stature. He possesses a rifle for an arm and soft hands to snare the screaming balls coming his way.

Any talk about defense and I like to add a centerfielder. They don’t necessarily need the best arm but they need to be speedy and know how to take a good angle to the ball. One of best I am seeing is Carlos Gomez of Milwaukee.   The highlight reel was enough to convince me, that he has all of the tools to be labeled the one of the best defensive centerfielders.

First basemen usually have the highest fielding percentages among all players.   It is a tricky stat because you sometimes are only as good as the quality of throws coming your way.   I like to determine with the human eye test. When I see a guy at first base that can snare the balls hit down the line or in the hole between first and second, I take notice. I grew up watching JT Snow at first for the Giants and he was incredible at the foul pop fly heading towards the seats. He looked like a football wide out catching a pass over the shoulder. This year, I like Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Gabby Sanchez of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs, all rising stars.

Next time you are at baseball game, at any level, notice who are the better defensive players. They are the ones with not only the strong arms, but they also have better instincts to the batted ball. They appear to be in better positions to field and catch. Some of this is natural quickness but sometime it is because they are better students of the game. They watch how batters adjust their swings, they watch were the ball is pitched and they mentally focus on the ball coming off the bat. You can even see this in a Little League game when some kids are ready and others are blowing bubblegum.