Monthly Archives: March 2011

Opening Day 2011: No-Hitter?

MLB reports: With the 2011 MLB season commencing today, I started to think about milestones and achievements.  Recalling Doc’s no-hitter in last year’s playoffs, I started to blend no-hitter and opening day in my mind.  What did I come up with?  The only man to throw a no-hitter on opening day, the one and only Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians.

On April 16, 1940, in the old Comiskey Park in Chicago, Feller and the Indians beat the White Sox by a 1-0 score.  A tight pitchers duel, Feller and Eddie Smith of the Sox were on their games that day.  A cold and blustery day, the hitters could not get their bats going.  But Feller at the tender age of twenty-one made in his mark in history.

Bob Feller went on to throw two more no-hitters in his career, during the 1946 and 1951 seasons.  Just imagine in that perspective what Roy Halladay was able to accomplish in 2010.  Roy threw a perfect game against the Marlins in Miami at the start of the year and then the second no-hitter in post-season history, joining Don Larsen.  A perfect game and no-hitter in the playoffs.  Boggles the mind doesn’t it?  Another entry in the history book is the back-to-back no-hitters thrown by Johnny Vander Meer in 1938 against the Boston Braves and Brooklyn Dodgers. It is doubtful that we will ever see that feat again, although I’m sure many pitchers will continue to try.

Halladay broke new ground last year by throwing a no-hitter in the playoffs against the Reds, ensuring that Don Larsen would forever have company in the record books.  Vander Meer’s record is likely to remain intact until the end of time, as the probability of a pitcher in this day and age throwing back-to-back no-hitters is likely nil. Thus the next record to go is the opening day no-hitter.  Feller, who passed away last December at the age of 92 was a great pitcher and one of the best of all time.  Will any pitchers join him this year in the record books?  The story will unfold today and tomorrow.  Although very unlikely, there a couple of pitchers going who have a chance.  The truth is that on any given day, everyone has the chance to be great.  That is part of why we all love baseball so much.  Enjoy opening day and thank you for walking down memory lane with me.  Lets play ball!

 

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My Name is Oney: Making My Mark in the Guillen World

(Welcome to part I of a III part profile and interview series with Oney Guillen)

MLBreports:  Here is the scenario:  Put 10 baseball fans in a room.  The degrees of knowledge and experience in the group vary.  It’s irrelevant.  State to these fans one singular word:  “Guillen”.  Ask the focus group to indicate their first reaction and response.  The Likely result, 10 out of 10 times will be “Ozzie”.  Go ahead and try it.  Use any scale of testing group that you like.  100.  1000.  It doesn’t matter.  Ozzie will win out every time.  Now imagine your name is Oney and your father is Ozzie.  You have two brothers, Ozzie Jr. and Ozney.  Your last name is Guillen.  As one of the sons to the great Ozzie Guillen, imagine trying to come out from under that shadow, especially with the two brothers trying to do the same thing as you. I would imagine this is pretty difficult, perhaps impossible.  But then again, you don’t know Oney Guillen.  Some of you might think that you do, but the truth is that “unless you walk in the shoes of a man” as the old adage goes, you will never truly know him. So, let’s take a walk in the shoes of the aforementioned Oney Guillen.  While Ozzie may have left big shoes to fill in baseball, Oney has taken the non-traditional route and chosen a completely different pair to walk his journey in the game of life.  The imprints are already there and the roads in his career remain limitless.  This is the story of Oney Guillen as he makes his mark in the Guillen world.

I initially corresponded with Oney one evening via twitter.  I replied as a follower to a comment that Oney had tweeted and he replied.  We conversed on twitter for some time on baseball.  A few minutes later Oney followed me.  Ozzie Jr. followed a couple of minutes later.  Oney and I struck up a friendship that has continued to evolve ever since.  I commented on a child in one of Oney’s pictures that I mistook as his daughter and turned out to be his niece.  She turned out to be similar in age to my own son.  We discussed our mutual love of children, life and most of all, baseball.  I was instantly drawn to Oney’s charisma and zest for life.  A regular chip off the old block I thought.  I admittedly did not know Oney well yet at this point.  But as I got to know him and later interview him for this article, I was left in awe of the man that he was and the amount of baseball life that he had already lived at such a tender, young age.  As our discussions continued and grew, so did my interest in his story.

I was exposed to Ozzie and Oney at different stages of my life.  Ozzie, in fact, I have met in person on a couple of different occasions, both as s a player in the early 1990’s with the Chicago White Sox and later as a manager with the same South Siders in 2006.  Our first encounter was at a local hotel lobby when Ozzie was a young player signing autographs.  I found him to be young, polite and friendly to the fans.  As a manager, Ozzie and I met briefly at an MLB sponsored party after the home run derby in Pittsburgh.  Ozzie was the center of attention at his table, hanging out with family and friends including Miguel Cabrera, then of the Florida Marlins.  We spoke several words that night, but, again, Ozzie was nothing but polite and courteous.  A strong character and often rough image is portrayed to MLB fans by the media when it comes to Ozzie Guillen.  But without knowing contexts and scenarios, how many of us really know Ozzie Guillen- the man behind the sound bites we hear on television and read in our local newspapers?  Having met him personally on different occasions over the years, I can firmly say that the Ozzie Guillen I have met and know is not the same one that is often characterized by baseball fans.  For those fans that think that Ozzie is a loose cannon or angry person, think again.  How do you know this person?  What basis exists for such conclusions?  These were the same questions that I wish I had originally asked myself the night of December 28th last year.

I try to always acquire as much baseball knowledge as I can and stay on top of all baseball news and facts.  If you had quizzed me several months ago, I would have told you that Ozzie Guillen has three sons.  I would have guessed that two, maybe all were drafted at some point by the Chicago White Sox.  Call it one of my crazy baseball quirks, but I love following baseball drafts and prospects and learn the stories behind the players.  How Tommy Lasorda had pulled in some favors to have the Dodgers draft Mike Piazza in the late rounds of his draft year.  Gregg Zaun’s uncle is Rick Dempsey.  Brady Anderson’s father is not Sparky.  Mariano and Ruben Rivera are cousins.  Jose Canseco has a twin brother who also played professional ball, Ozzie…who allegedly posed this past weekend as Jose in a celebrity boxing fight…well; let’s leave those details for another day.

From there the influx of next generation players is overwhelming- Patrick Leyland, Cale Iorg, Dee Gordon, Delino Deshields Jr., Nick Swisher, Shelley and Chris Duncan, just to name a few.  The list literally goes on and on.  But to name the Guillen boys, I truthfully would have said at the time Ozzie, Ozzie and Ozzie.  Much in the way of George Foreman and his 10 children, with five boys all named George.  Ozzie Jr., Oney and Ozney are not far off in essence.  Each named as a direct or indirect variation of their father’s name.  This is a great honor on one hand, but somewhat of a curse on the other.  A curse in the sense that establishing a name for themselves would be that much more difficult.  Exposure is one arena, solidification is quite another.  The aforementioned night in December last year, I like much of the baseball world, got my first exposure to Oney through twitter.  My perceptions from that day have long been altered.  By sharing my conversations with Oney in this article, I am betting your opinion will change as well.

The story behind Oney’s tweets are well chronicled and do not require elaboration at this juncture.  Needless to say, references were made by Oney with respect to ex-White Sox pitcher Bobby Jenks and the twitter world was abuzz.  I will admit on record that the tweets were my first true exposure to Oney.  But tweets on a singular evening do not define a man, a body of work in totality does.  Over the course of the weeks after my friendship was struck with Oney, I prepared notes and went through an extensive interview with him.  I have to admit, I could not put the papers down.  Reading them again and again, I was mesmerized by his story.  The tale of Oney Guillen begins as many of a baseball story does: getting drafted and playing major league ball. 

Thank you for reading Part I of my feature article on Oney Guillen.  In part II of this feature, I will present the first portion of my interview with Oney Guillen and share his thoughts, feelings and dreams in his own words.  From his experiences growing up to his start in professional baseball as a player and working in the head office of the Chicago White Sox, to an in-depth look into his relationship with his dad and brothers.  In part III you will hear from Oney as to his current roles in baseball as well as those of his brothers, and learn about his future goals and dreams.  Stay tuned, the story of Oney Guillen in baseball is one not to be missed.  

 ***A special thank you to Oney Guillen for his time and effort as part of being interviewed for this interview series.  Oney agreed to share private photos from his family album as part of this series.  A thank you as well to Peter Stein, my editor in helping to prepare this piece.***

 

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MLB Opening Day Preview: Schedule and Pitching Previews

MLB reports:  With the 2011 MLB season about to commence, literally hours away at this moment- my thoughts continue to centre on the Holy Grail:  Opening Day.  This year, there are 12 teams playing on Thursday March 31st with the remaining teams playing the next day.  For each MLB fan rooting for their respective team, there are 15 different opening day games that will be the focal point for them.  Regardless of the city you live in or the team you root for, the first game of the year is the most exciting. It is time to shake the snow off your boots, grab your jersey and tickets and get ready for the start of baseball.  For you, the diehards, I present the matchups and probable pitchers for each game.

In my brief analysis of each game, I have taken a slight twist in my analysis.  I have decided not to crunch the numbers and take the stats route.  To predict the outcomes of games, most stat-heads tend to look at historical opening day numbers for each team, head-to-head records, home/away records, day/night games, etc.  This article contains none of the above.  I am simply looking at the teams, taking a feel for each lineup and starting pitcher for each team, in performing my discussion.  I was planning to post this article in a couple of days but with the enthusiasm of opening day on the horizon, I simply could not wait.  Thus MLB fans, I present to you: The breakdown of the MLB Opening Day lineup.  (Note:  all game times are EST.  Starting pitchers are subject to change, especially for injuries.  Games may be delayed due to weather conditions)

Thursday March 31, 2011

1)  Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals:

1:05pm:  Derek Lowe vs. Livian Hernandez

There will be 2 games to start the year on Thursday at 1:05pm and this will be the first game previewed.  America’s team, the Braves vs. the Nationals in the Nation’s capital.  The Nationals are a nice, young exciting team with a great deal of buzz surrounding the team.  Unfortunately, neither of its 2 brightest stars-to-be, Strasburg and Harper will not be a part of the opening day lineup.  The Braves have a strong, young team led by Heyward and Freeman.  Derek Lowe is an experienced veteran who gets the opening day nod out of respect.  Livian Hernandez, on the other hand, is the opening day starter by default.  The Nationals fans will be likely going home disappointed on this day, as the Braves will be the victors in a high scoring opener.

2)  Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees

1:05pm:  Justin Verlander vs. C.C. Sabathia

The next opening game of the year to start the year comes from new Yankee Stadium, as 2 historical teams matchup in what should be an excellent pitching matchup.  Verlander and Sabathia are 2 of the strongest pitchers in the majors and should go toe-to-toe in this game.  While I see the hitters having the advantage in this game while the pitchers break into the season in a strong hitting park, smart money is the Yankees taking the win in their home park.    

3)  Milwaukee Brewers at Cincinnati Reds

2:10pm:  Yovanni Gallardo vs. Edinson Volquez

This game is the one that will catch my attention the most on Thursday.  Two of the most exciting offensive teams in the majors, each led by their young strikeout artists.  Gallardo and Volquez are cut from the same mold:  when on, both are untouchable.  When both are having difficulties, they can be time bombs.  In the Cincinnati bandbox, I am predicting a high scoring game and a Reds victory.  I am a big Gallardo supporter, but I can’t see opening in Cincinnati working well for him. 

4)  L.A. Angels at Kansas City Royals

4:10pm:  Jered Weaver vs. Luke Hochevar

On paper this matchup looks very easy to analyze and in reality, it is.  Weaver is a stud hurler for the Angels, a team with strong defense and fairly balanced offense. The Royals have Cabrera and Francouer in the outfield and Hochevar as their “ace”.  The Royals fans are fortunate to be opening the season at home.  This will be the last of their fortunes on this day as Weaver and the Angels should easily have their way with a Royals team in their final year of rebuilding as respectability begins for them in 2012.

5)  San Diego Padres at St. Louis Cardinals

4:15pm:  Tim Stauffer vs. Chris Carpenter

The young and surprising Padres bring their smoke and mirror show to St. Louis to face the Cards and Chris Carpenter.  With one of my hyped young hurlers Matt Latos on the shelf, Tim Stauffer gets the nod for the opener for the Padres.  With Adrian Gonzalez in Boston, the Padres will find a difficult time to score runs this year.  Stauffer, stellar in the bullpen and spot starts for the Padres in 2010, is now moved into the rotation full time this year.  Carpenter, one of the best pitchers in the game, will prove to be stingy at home.  Regardless of how many runs the Cardinals score on this day, 2 runs will be enough for the Cardinals to start their year with a win.

6)  San Francisco Giants vs. L.A. Dodgers

8:00pm:  Tim Lincecum vs. Clayton Kershaw

This will be a premier matchup, as the World Series champions Giants face their arch-rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Lincecum vs. Kershaw will be a pitching matchup for the ages.  I see these pitchers battling all night, with the Dodgers emerging victorious. Opening night will be exciting for the Giants, but the hangover effect on the road leans to an advantage to L.A. on this night.

Friday April 1, 2011

7)  Houston Astros at Philadelphia Phillies

1:05pm:  Brett Myers vs. Roy Halladay

Day 2 of Opening Day finds Brett Myers coming back to his old stomping grounds to face Halladay and the Phillies.  I don’t want to formally go on record and say that Halladay will throw a no-no in the opener…so….let’s just say, I have already said enough.  The Phillies fans will be smelling blood and it should not take long for Myers to be shaken as the Phillies hitters have their way with him.  Houston goes down quietly and quickly in this one.

8)  Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago Cubs

2:20pm:  Kevin Correia vs. Ryan Dempster

Unless you are a Pirates or Cubs fans…I imagine that only the diehards will be watching this one.  Kevin Correia in my estimation was a solid pickup for the Pirates and with decent run support will win at least 12 games in Pittsburgh.  Dempster, as a steady pitcher for the Cubs will prove to be a worthy adversary.  This game will boil down to which team gets the better pitching and my crystal balls sees a Pirates victory in this one.

9)  Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Indians

3:05pm:  Mark Buehrle vs. Fausto Carmona

In the seemingly never-ending Opening Day matchup between the Chisox and Indians, Buehrle and Carmona face off in Cleveland.  As most White Sox fans will attest, Buehrle can be steady at the best of times and extremely frustrating in others.  The Opening Day nod was given to Buehrle by Ozzie out of respect and years of service, which is well deserved and applauded.  But with the hot hand of Fausto going into the opener, the Indians will squeak out a victory in the opener in one of the few bright moments that will likely shine in Cleveland’s otherwise rebuilding 2011 season.

10)  Boston Red Sox at Texas Rangers

4:05pm:  Jon Lester vs. C.J. Wilson

I would have loved to be at this game, as this game features the matchup of two of the best MLB offenses and dynamic left-handed pitchers.  This game is being in played Texas, which tends to favor the hitters in the summer…but alas, this game is being played in April.  The Red Sox will be buzzing with excitement with the additions of Gonzalez and Crawford, with the home return of Salty.  After falling short in the World Series, I foresee the Rangers coming to the game focused and determined.  Wilson will be on his game as the Rangers start 2011 with a hard fought victory over the Red Sox in a low scoring game.

11)  Arizona Diamondbacks at Colorado Rockies

4:10pm:  Ian Kennedy v. Ubaldo Jimenez

One word:  Ubaldo.  The man with what, a 0.70 ERA in the first half of last year?  Ubaldo translates from Spanish to English to mean unhittable.  The Rockies take this game in 2 hours or less.

12)  Minnesota Twins at Toronto Blue Jays

7:07pm:  Carl Pavano vs. Ricky Romero

My live Opening Day game is in Toronto, Canada as Pavano and the Twins take on Romero and the Jays.  Both pitchers come into this game after difficult final outings in their last respective spring training games.  I was impressed with the Pavano re-signing with the Twins, as there is an excellent fit for him with this team.  Romero, while a young exciting pitcher, is still growing into his role as ace on an up-and-coming Toronto team.  While game 2 of this series features the true exciting pitching matchup of Liriano and Drabek, the fans attending opening day will have to settle to watch a decent game which will feature a victorious Twins team. 

13)  Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays

7:10pm:  Mark Guthrie vs. David Price

David Price, who will prove to be a serious Cy-Young candidate this year, faces the Orioles at home.  My preseason favorites to win the AL East, this game should be a cake walk for the Rays and Price.  While the Orioles will have a .500 team this year, Opening Night will not be their night.

14)  New York Mets at Florida Marlins

7:10pm:  Mike Pelfrey vs. Josh Johnson

Josh Johnson, when healthy, is one of the top pitchers in baseball.  Mike Pelfrey, pitching for the bottom-feeder Mets, is like a lamb being led to the slaughter.  Playing their final opener in their current home park, the soon-to-be Miami Marlins will give the Mets the first of their likely 90+ losses of the year.  Not even close.

15)  Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics

10:05pm:  Felix Hernandez at Trevor Cahill

The final game of the year features the “Moneyball” Oakland A’s hosting King Felix and the Mariners.  The A’s will have an exciting young team that has some of the strongest pitching in the AL with an improved offense that should finish 2nd in the AL West, with the chance of a division win.  The Mariners, a young team in rebuild mode, have the reigning AL Cy Young winner on the hill.  Despite many bumps ahead in their season, I would never bet against King Felix.  Opening Day ends with a Mariners victory and the season being completely underway.

As you, I cannot wait for the season to start.  Spring training has been exciting and now it is time for the game and stats to count.  While March has been about the hitters and pitchers to get their innings and at-bats in, Opening Day means that the games will be played the way they are meant to.  It’s a long MLB season, with 162 games ahead for each of our teams.  But with all the teams starting with a 0-0 record, everyone has an equal chance of success.  With that in mind and knowing the matchups, let’s get ready for 3 more nights of sleep and then it will be time to play ball.  Have a great season everyone; I have a feeling 2011 will be one of the best MLB seasons of all time.

 

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Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: National League

 

MLB reports:  In part 2 of my series on sleeper targets, I move to the National League.  On each team, I pinpoint the player that will likely drop in your draft or sit on the waiver wire come opening day.  These are the value players that will in my estimation make or break your fantasy year.  Let’s get to it:

Cubs – Carlos Pena:  Yes.  A $10 million player can be undervalued.  Especially one that hit below .200 in 2010.  At 100 walks and 30+ home runs, Pena would definitely have a place on my fantasy team.  Check his 2009 season.  .227 average and a .356 OBP.  87 walks and 39 home runs that year.  Pena can likely be had around the 7th round and as late as the 12th round depending on your league.  You will never get better production at such a reduced rate.  Buy low on Pena.

Nationals – Drew Storen:  As I write this article, I see a tweet that Storen/Burnett will share closer duties to start the year.  Closers by committee tend to scare off many fantasy teams but it shouldn’t scare you.   When you know your guy will have the job for most of the year and nail it down, especially in a keeper league, nab him.  Storen was highly touted in college, groomed as a closer and will be the Nationals closer for the next 10 years.  If you draft right, he can do the same for you.  Storen’s spring woes mean value to you.  Don’t think fringe closer, bet on your #1 stopper on a young team on the rise.

Brewers – Takashi Saito:  I am a big John Axford fan, but the closer position is volatile to say the least.  Injuries and performance creates huge fluctuations.  Statistics show that at least 40% of the closers to start the year won’t have their jobs in September.  Saito has the experience and track record and will get the ball first when called upon.  Saito may be closer insurance on your bench to start the year, but for a guy likely to go undrafted in most leagues, certainly worth the gamble.

Marlins – Logan Morrison:  See Storen.  LoMo was very highly touted to start the spring but a poor March has likely put a damper on many teams’ expectations.  It shouldn’t change your projections.  Spring numbers don’t mean much on a grand scale and young players with big expectations often try too hard and hinder themselves early on.  Once the season starts, the good ones know how to refocus and get back to the basics.  Morrison is the next Will Clark/ Mark Grace.  Sweet swing and patience personified.  Rank him high and draft low.  If he falls to the 8th round or after, nab him and enjoy him for the next 12 years.

Diamondbacks – Miguel Montero:  Another highly touted prospect seemingly forever that has been sidelined year after year by injuries.  I see Montero ready to take the next step.  A catcher with good power doesn’t grow on trees.  Keep an eye on Montero and if your other catcher targets are gone by the 10th-12th rounds, consider him.  The potential is still there and he can still be affordable.

Rockies – Chris Iannetta: I see Chris as similar to Montero but with more potential and a lower price tag.  Despite repeated chances, Iannetta has yet to break through to the next level.  With a good eye at the plate, pop and the think air of Denver, I see 25+ home runs and 75 walks in his future.  He is worth the small gamble as his ceiling remains high at 28.  Colorado is giving him another chance, so should you.

Mets – Francisco Rodriguez:  Between the Mets issues, lack of talent and K-Rod’s own legal troubles, few teams will likely be targeting him on draft day.  Rodriguez went from closer keeper to outcast seemingly overnight.  25 saves and a 2.20 ERA in 2010 sound positive to me.  Remember, bad teams often play in closer games.  K-Rod could get you easily 30 saves at his lowest cost ever.  Think about it.

Phillies – Raul Ibanez:  I rarely recommend targeting 39 outfielders.  My general rule is to stay away from the 35+ crowd, injuries and performance issues tend to occur quicker with the older player generation.  But Ibanez had 34 home runs in 2009 with 93 runs and rbis that year.  His batting average and obp were relatively consistent to his historical norms, only the power seemed to be going down.  Ibanez got going later in the season and hopefully an offseason in his revitalization chamber helped (no joke, he does own one).  In that ballpark and with the loss of Utley and Werth, Ibanez could see time in the 3rd and 5th slots.  At the very least he will be a decent 5th outfielder and perform as a 3rd on many nights.

Pirates – Ryan Doumit:  For a team with as little talent as the Pirates right now, Doumit continues to stand out for me.  I featured him in a profile piece this week, check out the archives to read my full evaluation of Ryan.  Bottom line is that he is a switch hitting catcher that can help you in almost every category.  With outfield and first base eligibility as well, Doumit will offer versatility to your fantasy team in the case of injuries.  The most likely scenario is that he will be traded to a contender between opening day and the all-star game.  I still smell a breakout year and with much to prove, Doumit could see 2011 as his year.

Cardinals – Colby Rasmus:  A highly touted prospect, difference of opinions between La Russa and Rasmus has burnt out some of Colby’s bright light.  But with Pujols looming in the line-up, I believe this kid is only beginning to scratch the surface of his potential.  Seemingly around forever, Rasmus is only 24 years old.  30+ home runs with 100+ rbis are on the way…buy early to avoid the 1st round price tag in a year or two.  5th-7th round bargain in my book.

Braves – Mike Minor:  After breezing through the minors last year, the 23 year old made it to the Braves in his 2nd professional season.  Having lost his 5th starter job in spring training, Minor might be off to the bullpen or minors to start the year.  I see Tommy Hanson potential in this kid and so do the braves.  Minor could go anywhere from the 15th round to undrafted in many leagues.  With good starting pitching at such a high premium these days in baseball, there should be room on your bench reserved for Minor. 

Reds – Yonder Alonso:  Alonso and Logan Morrison almost go hand-in-hand for me.  One of the Reds top prospects and A-Rod friends/protégés, Alonso is a man with a stellar bat and no position to play.  Blocked at 1B by Votto, the Reds have not expressed the confidence to-date to name Alonso as a future outfielder.  Seemingly a change of scenery is in order, but this kid has endless potential in his future.  Buy low and thank me later as you watch walk after walk and the doubles/home runs fly off his bat.  I see Alonso as one of the special, rare superstars to-be in baseball.  Watch him play, I think you will agree.

Astros – Brett Wallace:  Another highly touted prospect for what seems forever, Wallace is now on his 4th organization in his short professional career.  Traded for the likes of Matt Holliday, Michael Taylor and Anthony Gose, several organizations have shown a lot of faith in the capabilities of this third baseman turned first baseman.  The bat is real, as Wallace was considered to have the strongest bat in his draft year class.  With the downturn of the Astros, many people seem to forget the potency of their park.  Wallace is the next face of the Astros and hopefully your fantasy team.

Dodgers – Andre Ethier:  I debated long and hard between Ethier and Broxton in this spot.  I definitely see Broxton rebounding this year to reclaim his spot as a top-5 baseball closer. He is that good and an off-season of rest and exercise should do the trick.  With Ethier, despite having 1st round potential, I tend to see him very undervalued in fantasy drafts as a whole.  The former Athletic displays the power and patience that I most value in a hitter.  A possible future MVP candidate one day, the likely 5th round pick is almost certain to give you a minimum level of production, with a higher ceiling to come.  Jump in early, I value Ethier much higher than Kemp if that gives you a better idea on his ranking to me.

Padres – Matt Latos:  This one you for sure did not see coming.  With Latos mania running wild, you must think that I am exaggerating.  I am not.  As a whole I am not crazy about the Padres as a team, similarly to the Mets.  But Latos is a special pitcher, one of the only ones I would consider drafting in the 3rd round.  His low ERA and WHIP combined with wins potential sold me.  Don’t reach at any cost, but even drafting early will give you the numbers that your pitching staff requires in fairly consistent fashion.

Giants – Buster Posey:  As World Series champs in 2010, players on the Giants will likely come with a higher price tag this year based on the team’s miracle run.  Don’t overpay…unless you are buying this generation’s Johnny Bench.  Posey can do it all at the plate and still has room to grow. A top 5 rounds pick?  Definitely.  Be prepared to go as high as the 2nd or 3rd round but believe me, you could do worse than getting the strongest player at the weakest position to fill in baseball.

I hope you have enjoyed my look into fantasy baseball sleepers.  Good luck managing your fantasy team and hopefully I have been able to make some of your roster decisions much clearer.

 

 

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Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: American League

MLB reports:  Based on the popularity of my article this week on my 10 fantasy baseball tips, I keep the fantasy talk alive today. For those fantasy teams in need to fill key positions, sleepers are always sought after. Before, during and after drafts, fantasy players are always looking for value finds. Let’s cut to the chase. I present my sleeper pick for each MLB team. My criteria was based on production and availability. I looked for good value that would come at a low cost. Here goes starting with my A.L. Sleeper picks.

Orioles- Matt Wieters: A highly touted backstop, Wieters has started slow in his MLB career. Catchers take time to develop. Grab him from the 5th round and on.

Red Sox- Jarrod Saltalamacchia: Keeping the catcher-theme going, it was not long ago that Salty was blocked by McCann and the centerpiece of the Teixeira deal. Boston has faith in him as their #1, you should as well, as your #2.

Indians- LaPorta: I was high on Matt as soon as he was drafted by the Brewers. The kid can just plain hit. Pressure from the C.C. deal dying down. 2011, he will break out.

Tigers- Porcello: Rick’s stuff is just nasty. Will be a bona fide #1 one day. Worth the risk.

Yankees- Granderson: Lost year in 2011 and strained oblique to start the year. Best time to buy in on Curtis, 20/20/20/20 potential still there.

Jays- Rauch: While most leagues jump on Francisco, I would take Rauch. Proven and likely to grab job early on.

Angels- Rodney: People may feel nervous with Fernando but the saves will be there. Be realistic and if falls late, grab him.

Rays- McGee: Closer-by-committee are 3 of the most dreaded words in the fantasy baseball dictionary. A smart shopper knows how to spot the victor as committees rarely last. My money is on McGee, not Peralta. McGee has the stuff and drive to take the job.

White Sox- Flowers: A.J. may be back but its to babysit and bring along Flowers. Kenny was so high on this kid that he traded Vasquez for him. Great discipline and power at the plate, he will be up this year and take form.

Royals- Gordon: Former Baseball America #1 prospect, Alex has become mud in a short time. He can become a success overnight. Don’t miss the boat.
Twins- Blackburn: I simply love this kid. He doesn’t walk anyone and is simply great when he’s on. 15 wins could be in the cards.

A’s-  Carter: Chris Carter (not the ex-met, red sox player is a beast. He tore up AA pitching in 2008. He was traded in packages for Haren and Quentin. Grab him late.

Mariners- Pineda: the #2 to Felix as #1, Michael Pineda is the real deal. Great stuff and character rated high likly to be up in June. Lock him up.

Rangers- Napoli: Do you like 30+ home runs from your catchers? Ignore Torrealba. Remember what I tell you.

Thank you for the read and follow of our site. Please forward any fantasy questions to mlbreports@gmail.com. Tomorrow night, I will post my NL sleepers. Enjoy!

 

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At the Crossroads: Ryan Doumit, Pittsburgh Pirates

MLB reports:  On paper, taking a look at Ryan Doumit (“Dough-Mitt”), there are two sides of the coin.  Heads, you find a switch-hitter turning 30 this year.  A 2008 career season consisting of 15 home runs, 71 runs, 69 rbis, .357 obp and .501 slg.  A catcher by trade, Doumit who stands 6’1”, also plays the outfield and first base.  Despite an injury plagued 2010 season, he still managed 13 home runs in 124 games played last year.  Tails, you find a baseball player that may be labelled as a catcher but often branded as a defensive liability without a home.  Injury prone, 2010 represented the most games Doumit has ever played in a major league season.  Bouncing between the minors and stints on the DL, Doumit next closest seasons were 116 games in 2008 and then 83 in 2007.  The power, while seen in small spurts through his sweet swing, has never materialized into the 20+ home runs projected for him.  Now cast as an outfielder/ back-up first baseman, the future is unclear for Ryan Doumit.  After signing a significant contract with the Pirates, the team has now spent two unsuccessful seasons trying to unload him.  There is even talk of a possible release on the horizon for Doumit.  But is the negativity surrounding this once bright star justified?  Let me put it simply: no.  I am not ready to write off Ryan Doumit and quite frankly, neither should anyone else.

For those of you that read me regularly, you will know that I tend to be biased towards high walks and obp type hitters.  Analyzing Doumit’s number of walks since 2007:22, 23, 20 and 41, it would seem surprising on the surface that I would invoke any type of support of him as a hitter.  Doumit does not have a great reputation as a catcher, lacking the natural instincts for blocking balls in the dirt, throwing out runners etc.  Believe, I have it heard it all and read it all when it comes to Doumit the player.  My discussion on Doumit falls into the “moneyball” vs. scouts debate.  The numbers vs. tools argument.  Having watched Doumit countless times on television and numerous times in person, I will state that the tools override the numbers in this case.  Doumit is a big strapping switch-hitter with the power for 30+ home runs in my estimation.  In the right line-up and ballpark, we could see a whole new player.  Further watching Ryan behind the plate, it always appeared to me that pitchers were very comfortable with him behind the plate and that he had a strong presence of controlling his team and game like a general.  The multi-positional abilities I believe have hurt Ryan in the long run and created a utility player tag on him that is unjustified.  Thus goes the game of baseball and very often the careers of many players.  But hope is not lost yet. 

This spring has already been a rough one for Doumit.  Low batting totals in only 10 games played thus far, Doumit has been sidelined for much of the spring with a strained oblique.  If I was viewing Doumit as a team, I would see a buy low and high reward candidate.  All of the lost games over the years means that Doumit has a lot of miles left, whether in the outfield or behind the plate.  I cannot see the Pirates at this point releasing Doumit for nothing.  Proven health and production this year would lead to an inevitable trade, likely by the all-star break.  Top teams are always in the need of reinforcements and as players continue to drop like flies this spring (Brandon Morrow just announced to start the year on the DL as I write this article), the demand will be there for Doumit.  Why the faith in a player that has not proven much to-date?  Again, simple answer:  tools.  The ability is there and when healthy, we have seen the production.  But we cannot fault Doumit because of injuries alone as he does play on a team that often resembles a AA team on many of its off-nights.  I have never personally seen Ryan Doumit every take a game off, night off or going through the motions during an at-bat.  Playing on a sub .500 team for as long as he has though, one imagine that it would start to take a toll on the confidence of any player, Doumit included.  The Pirates are rebuilding on an upswing, with talented players such as Alvarez, Sanchez and Meek ready to lead the team in the coming years.  I do not see the rebirth of the team occurring on Doumit’s clock, but that does not mean that opportunities should not exist for Doumit.  A fresh start and a defined role and purpose would make all the difference in the world.  Hopefully this will happen soon.

2011 represents a crossroads year for Ryan Doumit.  A talented player once expected to be the centerpiece of his franchise, Doumit is a man without a position and seemingly chance this year.  Given the opportunity to perform, I believe that Doumit will put up the numbers.  McCutchen is healthy and playing strong and as long as he is in the line-up, Doumit will hopefully see some good pitches to hit.  Rounding back into form, Doumit I expect will be on a new team and line-up by May or June at the latest this year.  Motivated by the move, I expect Doumit to flex the baseball tools we know that he has and start to live up to the expectations that are starting to fade for him.  Never count out a talent like Doumit.  The Pirates gave up on Jose Bautista back in 2008 and at age 30 he did pretty well for himself.  Good luck to Ryan Doumit on this upcoming year, I am looking forward to his march back to baseball stardom in 2011.

 

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Meet Dr. Antonio Castro: Team Doctor for Cuba and Son of Fidel

MLB reports:  In part 3 of my impromptu 3-part feature on Cuban baseball, I am featuring Antonio Castro Soto del Valle, team doctor for the Cuban national team, Olympics and WBC.  Dr. Castro, a top orthopedic surgeon in Cuba, just happens to be as well the son of Fidel Castro.  Fact or fiction you may ask?  Fact.  The story of Castro is one for the baseball ages that I first stumbled upon during the 1996 edition of the World Baseball Classic that I will be sharing with you today.

One of my favorite parts of baseball is the obscure news items and pieces of information that are out of the “normal” realm.  The Glenallen Hill arachnophobia incident, when Chuck Finley was attacked with a female pump by his then-wife Tawny Kitaen, Wade Boggs eating fried chicken before every game…well, you get the idea.  One part of the 1996 Cuban WBC team really stuck out in my mind at the time.  It seemed that every time Cuba was about to change a pitcher, the team manager for Cuba was always consulting with team physician.  In fact, the doctor was talking to the players before and after at-bats, sitting down with pitchers between innings and jumping out of the dugout to be the first person to congratulate the players as Cuba scored each of their runs.  This seemed a little strange in mind, so I tried to focus on the team doctor to get the scoop.  Looking into the Cuban dugout on the television, I further noticed that the manager never left the team doctor’s side.  The team doctor further seemed to enjoy talking on his cellular phone, even during games.  By the time the 1999 edition of the classic was upon us, I figured out all the mystery behind Cuba’s team doctor.  Only a one-word answer was required:  Castro.

Dr. Antonio Castro Soto del Valle was apparently a great athlete in his day and played 3B in Cuba.  Much his like father Fidel, a pitcher with a legendary curveball (See the book Castro’s Curveball, by Tim Wendel), baseball was always in Antonio’s blood.  But apparently baseball was not in the boy’s future, much like his father before him.  Fidel gave Antonio 2 choices:  go to medical school or fight in the military.  Wisely choosing medicine, Antonio grew to become one of Cuba’s top orthopedic surgeons.  But his fame and popularity have evolved from his role as the physician for Cuba’s baseball national teams.  Before games, Castro is often spotted signing autographs for fans and taking pictures.  The connection between the name “Castro” and baseball is too rich for most diehard fans to pass up.  Extending beyond medical capabilities, the issue on my mind is the true part that Antonio plays with Cuban baseball.  Further, the extended role of Fidel on the team through his son.  The likelihood of the Castro connection in managing and controlling the Cuban team is too high to ignore.

In all the interviews with Antonio Castro that I have read, he has always denied direct or indirect involvement in managing the Cuban baseball team.  Further inquiries as to whether Fidel contacts him during games to advise the manager of the team has always been responded to with laughs and denials by Antonio.  However, if you go back and watch any of the Cuban WBC games, the sight of Antonio on his cell during games and speaking with the manager throughout is one that seems very murky to say the least.  If I had to hazard a professional guess, I would say that the Cuban manager was rarely if ever making a move without some form of feedback from Castro.  To the naïve or unknowing viewer, Castro would appear to be a bench coach, hitting or pitching instructor based on his role in the dugout during games.  I will admit that I made this mistake during my first observations of Castro.  In fact, I can even recall watching Castro making a mound visit during a game to speak to the pitcher without any medical or injury concerns.  Much pressure on any pitcher, as the feeling would be as significant as if Fidel himself was speaking to the pitcher.

Cuba is faced with a significant loss of talent to the MLB through defections.  Articles I have read have indicated that based on his age (late 30s) and strong rapport with the players, Antonio Castro has the unofficial role of raising the morale of players and reducing defections.  There has even been talk of Cuba moving to a system of taxing its players’ salaries in exchange for the permission to leave Cuba and pursue professional baseball in other countries.  Antonio Castro in fact, is one of the leading proponents for this system.  With the U.S./Cuba trade restrictions, such a system may be impossibility, but the mere fact that a Castro is leading the push for reform appears to be a good sign for Cuban baseball.  Taking the above roles in baseball out of the equation, the hiring of Fidel Castro’s son as the team doctor for the Cuban national team boils down to a very simple logic and explanation in my mind.  By seeing Antonio Castro in the dugout and field, the players cannot help but work harder and play stronger.  Having Castro travelling with the team and in the hotels likely serves as a deterrent or hindrance for many players in their mind from defecting.  Do I think that Fidel talks to his son during games on his cell phone?  Without proof, I would answer without a doubt.  Do I think that Antonio talking to the manager during games is in reality Fidel giving instructions to the manager?  Absolutely.  If Billy Beane was able to contact his managers during games as discussed in “moneyball”, I cannot see why Fidel would be any different.  Cuba is ruled by a dictatorship, why should its baseball team be any different?

Don’t get me wrong.  I love Cuban baseball to its absolute core.  I would rather view a Cuba Series Nacionale game than an MLB game any day of the week.  I am a passionate major leagues supporter, but Cuban baseball is played at a much different level and intensity.  The players will do whatever it takes to pull out wins and the managers will not hold back any punches in the process.  Cuba embodies everything that is professional baseball, especially through the Castro family.  You may agree or disagree with Cuba’s political stances and approaches, but its game of baseball is still the same as ours.  Only Cuban baseball is played in the same way the game was played in our neck of the woods many years ago, in an era long gone by.  Dr. Antonio Castro is a similar throwback to the glory days of baseball, as was Ariel Pestano and the use of pitchers in Cuban baseball featured in the previous 2 parts featured on MLB reports.   If you have never seen Antonio Castro before, check out some of his team’s games.  Otherwise, I trust that you are now more familiar with Cuban baseball after reading these features and were able to see that there is more to the game and culture of baseball outside of the MLB. 

 

 

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The End of an Era: Ariel Pestano

MLB reports:  You may not know the name, but you will recognize the player.  Ariel Pestano (Valdes) was considered one of Cuba’s greatest catchers of all time.  In actuality, likely one of THE best catchers ever.  Pestano, known in his country at “the veteran”, has been a Cuban baseball staple for the past 10 years.  Debuting with the Cuban national team in 1999, Pestano played in the Olympics and both the 1996 and 1999 World Baseball Classic for Cuba.  By retiring in 1999 after the last WBC, baseball has lost a legend and a throwback to an era that is slowly disappearing.  In an age of generic players and cookie-cutter approaches, Pestano was one-of-a-kind.

I was first introduced to Ariel Pestano in the 1996 WBC and could not wait to see him again by the 1999 edition of the Classic.  In comparative terms, it is hard to point to a past or present major league catcher that mirrors Pestano.  I find it difficult to looking at his Cuban numbers and calculating the value of his play.  Offensively and defensively, the man could do it all.  But rather than judge him by numbers in a league unknown to me, I place my consideration in what I saw with my own eyes.  If the WBC editions were any indication, Pestano could play ball.  A patient hitter with pop, I could see him hitting 20 bombs in the major leagues if given the opportunity.  A cannon for an arm, he knew how to keep runners honest and distract hitters from getting good hacks at the plate.  But his true value was in his leadership.  Pestano was like a general on the field, leading his team to war.  Pestano was not afraid to get into the face of an opposing player or teammate if he felt that his team was being disrespected or not playing to its capacity.  His approach made for great television viewing, no doubt, but his teammates were better for having him behind them.

A big problem in baseball viewership and fandom today is the reliance on the fantasy aspect of baseball, mainly statistics.  I love researching OPS and WHIP as much as the next baseball junkie, but real baseball has value outside of the “moneyball” approach.  I recall a pitcher on the Cuban team in one WBC game in 2006 giving up repeated hits.  At one point Pestano literally ran to the mound and was about to clobber his starting pitcher.  I could not understand what he was saying, but you could not put a pin between the pitcher and catcher.  Pestano was literally in the pitcher’s face reading him the riot act.  While many critics would call such a move “unprofessional”, “bush-league” and “showing up your pitcher”, I actually enjoyed the accountability and passion that Pestano was demanding from his teammate that day.  Those types of moments do not show up in box scores the next day, but live on with a team forever.

If you have never seen Ariel Pestano play a professional baseball game, download a World Baseball Classic game on your computer involving Cuba from either 2006 or 2009 and watch the man behind the plate.  Chances are that you have never seen a player like this before and will never see one again.  Pudge Rodriguez has had his moments through the years, but has simmered down.  But in truth, he never had the intensity and life/death mentality that Pestano displayed on the baseball field.  Taking aside the armed guards with machine guns in the dugout, I have always found Cuban teams to play with heart and pride.  I recall a Cuban pitcher one game running out to the field to yell at an outfielder after misplaying a ball.  When a pitcher in any inning/situation gives up even 1-2 infield hits in a game, chances are the Cuban bullpen will be up and running.  I don’t recall ever watching a Cuban game where the bullpen wasn’t going with at least one pitcher for nearly the entire game.  This is how seriously Cuba takes it baseball and this mentality was embodied fully in Ariel Pestano.

My WBC Cuban heroes, Pestano and Lazo are unlikely to ever defect and join the MLB.  Both recently retired and based on their respective ages and devotion to Cuba- defection is unlikely, if not impossible.  Pestano retired to apparently work and train his son, who like his dad is a catcher.  The best of luck to you Ariel, thank you for the memories.

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Changing Baseball Pitching – Cuba Style

MLB reports:  The handling of pitchers and pitching staffs has evolved over the years in baseball. Once upon a time, pitchers were expected to complete all or almost all games they completed. Slowly the use of relievers expanded. From there, the invention of pitch counts started- 100 approximately per start. Innings limits, per start and per year are now prevalent. Teams are getting wiser as to watch the innings pitched in a year from the time a pitcher is a rookie and most create yearly caps. The strategy of handling pitchers seems to get stricter every year.

Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan are often credited with the modern game use of pitchers. The notion is for starters to pitch approximately 5 innings, with relievers for innings 6-7. The setup man pitches inning 8 and closer for the 9th. The above standard is adopted by all teams at this point in the MLB. But is this the right system? It is hard to know. Pitchers today seem to be stronger than ever and throwing less innings, yet injuries are at an all-time high. From a results standpoint, are MLB teams maximizing production from their pitching staffs? That is the million dollar question. Now I throw another hat into the ring- let’s try playing Cuban baseball instead. Perhaps its time for a shift.

My suggestion is a variation of the Cuban style of baseball, but I will simplify it for this article. Here goes the idea in a nutshell. A team would employ the closer for the first 2 innings of a game. The start of a game is the most crucial, to set the tone against the opposing team. Rather than start the traditional starting pitcher, who often takes time to get warmed up, start the closer who knows how to come into a game cold. The closer would pitch the first two innings and hopefully make short work of the opposing team. From there, the starter would come in, after warming in the pen during the game, for innings 3-9. If problems start near the end of the game, bring in the 2nd closer for inning 9, or 8-9 depending on need.

The above system is based on the Cuban style of ball. Watching the previous WBC in 2009, the Cuban system would have Aroldis Chapman starting the game, going anywhere from 1-4 innings. From there, Pedro Lazo, the workhorse starter would pitch the rest or close to the rest of the game. Imagine today for the Cinci Reds pitching Chapman to start a game, Volquez pitching innings 3-8 and Cordero with the 9th. How scary would that be? The opposing team would have no rhythm to start the game and would never likely get going from there.

Baseball has evolved over time and will continue to do so over time. Nolan Ryan is trying to get more innings under his pitchers’ belts to build stamina and endurance on the Texas Rangers. I like the system personally, but it doesn’t work for everyone. The concept I propose above is not my invention but based on the Cuban game. All I am saying is that perhaps its time for a change in the MLB. It will make the game more exciting and perhaps even revolutionize it…yet again.

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Opening Day Excitement! First Phone Entry

MLB reports:  Welcome to the start of several firsts today. Saturday March 19, 2011. MLB reports transforms into a daily baseball site- with new content posted every day. After much deliberation and thought, I decided that the demand for daily baseball news is high and I am happy to deliver. So welcome to the new universe, the “new” format of MLB reports.

Ultimately, the content will be based on what you, the readers, want to see. Based on our conversations on twitter, facebook and e-mail, the topics of interest continually emerge. If you really want to see a point of discussion, don’t be shy- let me know. I will do my best to bring the best and latest baseball news with discussion.

It is very exciting to be posting this entry on my blackberry. A little raw and fresh, but feels very real. Being so excited about opening day just up ahead, I couldn’t wait to shout it out. The blackberry is proving to be a fantastic outlet.

I see the opening day tickets in my drawer, all 8 of them. Lots of people coming out this year which will make the experience that much more fun. I will be going to the Jays opener on Friday April 1st against the Twins, the day after the first real day. Where will you be? What is your plans for one of the biggest baseball days? Whether in the ballpark live, at home in front of the television or listening on the radio, just be there. Opening day is the day when all fans unite to celebrate the greatest sport on the planet. Have fun and enjoy everyone. Less than 2 weeks away!

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Honeymoon in Bali: Baseball-less for 2 Weeks

MLB reports:  For those that know me and for those of you meeting me for the first time, I send my warm hello and how are you.  I am writing this article on my 3rd flight of the day – the red eye at 3:15a.m. EST, Monday March 7th from San Francisco to Toronto.  I am on approximately 2 hours of sleep and my system cannot ascertain the time or day of the week at this point.  Do not feel sorry for me, I got to enjoy a beautiful honeymoon in Bali with my amazing, wonderful wife.  Wife, quite the word to say and the novelty has not worn off yet.  But rather than inundate you with mere travel highlights, like an old time grandma slideshow from Florida that will put you to sleep, another twist.  I breathe, sleep and eat baseball.  That’s it.   Baseball is the only subject that I tweet and write about.  So for my latest entry, I prepared a report on the state of baseball from my 2 weeks of travel.  I have noted the highs and lows of my travels and future recommendations if you are ever on a trip like this one of your own.  As I write the accounts of my adventures, please note that I am glassy eyed, smiling and expressing myself in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion.  This is for all my baseball tweeps – my return to the real world.  My return to the baseball universe.

On Sunday February 20th, at approximately 2:00p.m., I was summoned in the hall for the start of the portrait shots.  With a final tweet on my trusted blackberry torch, I was signed off from the baseball world for the next 2 weeks.  My amazing niece Michelle (twitter handle @officialmlbfan) was gracious enough to intern for me from the day of my wedding and through my honeymoon to look after @MLBreports.  I’m sure she did a great job; she is an up-and-comer who has a lot of passion and interest for the game.  I will admit that I did not go on a computer for the entire honeymoon except for the past Friday.  It turned out my flight home was cancelled and I had to rebook my flight on-line.  I sneaked a quick peek on twitter and spent 5 minutes reading Michelle’s tweets.  Great reporting tweets, I was the proudest uncle in the world.  Plus I snuck in tweets about 5 of news stories I read and did a #FF for Ryan Tatusko of the Washington Nationals.  This spring represents a huge opportunity and upcoming year for Ryan and my thoughts and prayers are with him.  But aside from that brief interlude, when my blackberry shut off for the start of the pictures, my baseball contact came to a screeching halt.  No internet, television or newspapers.  Nada.  I become a baseball hermit.

The wedding itself was the greatest day of my life.  Karly was the most beautiful princess I had ever seen.  The ceremony was emotional to say the least, without a dry eye in the room.  I probably had the most tears of all.  After a wonderful night of dancing, eating and partying, Karly and I made our way to the airport at 6:00a.m.  Next stop on the Monday (ironically being family day), was an 8:00a.m. flight to Washington.  With barely an hour between plane flights from Washington to Korea, we had precious little time in the Washington airport.  With 3 flights to Bali, I figured that we would be visiting our fair share of airports on this trip.  As we made our way to our gate, I scanned quickly the few open shops for any sign of baseball gear.  With 3 books and 3 copies of baseball America in hand, I was fairly sure I would be safe for reading material.  Finding new baseball merchandise never gets old for me.  Right before our gate I lucked out.  No Harper gear (augh), but I did locate gorgeous Strasburg jersey t’s on the rack!  Jersey t’s, for those that are not familiar with them, are t-shirts with a team logo on the front and a player name and number on the back.  A perfect medley of baseball jersey and t-shirt, thus a jersey t.  2 colors were available, red and navy blue.  The store was down to only large and x-large for the red shirts.  That was cool as I wanted a blue shirt anyways.  With my Strasburg jersey-t in hand, I passed on the sweatshirts and caps.  I wanted to be save the funds for all the baseball merchandise I would be finding on my trip.  Big mistake.

My visit to the next airports in Korea and Bali would be indicative of the state of baseball for the entirety of my travels.  A bare, non-existent, black-hole- void of any baseball.  Not one item or bare nugget of baseball could be found in either airport.  I had finished off at this point all of my copies of Baseball America on the flight to Korea and started to read Ron Darling’s book:  “The Complete Game” on the flight to Bali.  I left all my copies of Baseball America on the plane ride to Korea thinking that I would not have the time or will to re-read them again and that 3 baseball books would suffice for the rest of the trip.  In the worst case scenario, I could always find another baseball book or magazine in an absolute emergency at any Bali bookstore.  Second big mistake.  Near the end of my 2nd week of the trip I was hungry for those recycled Baseball Americas like a druggie without a fix.  For as bad as the airports were, searching for any sign of baseball throughout Bali was like looking for curling or snowboarding.  Absolutely non-existent. 

I have to say that I was quite proud of myself.  I stayed away from the internet for the entire trip except for the brief period spent re-booking the return flights.  For television, I did actually try to make it work on our 2nd last day.  Unbeknownst to us, Karly and I were staying in Bali during the start of their new year and biggest yearly festival called Nyepi, the Balinese “day of silence”.  On this holiday, slated on the last Friday night of our trip through to Saturday, nobody was allowed to leave the hotel as all the streets were closed.  Police were even patrolling the area apparently and returning people to their homes if they were out and about.  Friday night was the festival of dragons and characters that were created through floats paraded in the streets.  As it rained fairly hard that night, we missed the festival.  I figured, what the heck, let’s try out the television.  Channel 4 was labeled ESPN and I looked forward to watching a spring training game or two.  3rd mistake.  The television barely worked and had very poor picture quality.  From what I could see, the visual was soccer in a language that I did not understand.  It was not ESPN.  It was not even ESPN Deportes.  Baseball television viewing was not going to happen.  What about MLB.com which broadcasts most spring training games you ask?  Did my hotel have Wi-Fi?  Of course…but I did not being my laptop.  4th mistake and the baseball follies and misadventures would continue from there.

As a note, spring training did start during my 2-week honeymoon period.  Aside from opening-day and the World Series, spring training is the 3rd most important national holiday period for a die-hard baseball fan.  But alas, with almost 2 weeks in, I am yet to see one pitch of any baseball action in 2011.  I land in Toronto at 7:00a.m. Monday morning and will be at work by 9:00a.m.  I have a wedding ring, beard, but no baseball viewing this year under my belt.  Tomorrow night that will all change as I will either watch or listen to games thanks to mlb.com.  But until then, I sit on a plane ostracized from the baseball community at large.  Through a quick twitter run I learned that Jason Castro is likely out for the year for the Astros.  Jake Peavy is well ahead of his recovery time for the White Sox and pitched 2 successful innings against the Angels. Miguel Cabrera has drawn the ire of Maggs in Tigers’ camp.  But that’s it.  2 weeks and essentially oblivious from the baseball world.  I was asked by many people if I was concerned that my honeymoon ran concurrently with spring training.  My answer was always no.  With a wedding and honeymoon, spring training attendance was not going to happen for me this year.  In truth, I have never yet been to a live spring training game in my life.  One day, but not this year.  Once I comeback, I will be caught up within a day.  Plus there is still over 3 weeks of spring training games to go.  I will only get 1 wedding and honeymoon in my life.  My time to get married was now.  No regrets.

So during the 2 weeks of my honeymoon adventure, did I experience any baseball related stories?  The highlight of the trip from a baseball perspective was wearing my Nick Swisher jersey-t and visiting Ketut Liyer, the medicine man and healer featured in the Julia Robert’s movie “eat, pray, love.”  The picture of Ketut analyzing my shirt was priceless as he was captivated, almost mesmerized by Swisher.  That picture is one that I will refer back to and enjoy for the rest of my life.  I will send it to Swisher himself and my tweeps and hope that get the same enjoyments.  But otherwise, I found a 1986 baseball t-shirt from Japan in a Bali shop that fit like a shmedium (too small for a medium, too big for small) that was inaccurately labeled as a large.  Other than that, not a single trace of baseball on the entire island.  The trip was successful from a productivity standpoint in my baseball realm.  I completed the 3 aforementioned copies of Baseball America, read and completed reviews of 3 baseball books- Dirk Hayhurst “The Bullpen Gospels”, Batting Stance Guy “A Love Letter to Baseball”, and Ron Darling “The Complete Game”.  I read my notes and interview with Oney Guillen in preparing an upcoming article on the well-known baseball persona.  As I write this article, it marks my last entry of the trip.  But most of all, I am pleased to say that I was so relaxed and inspired by the tranquility of Bali, that I finally started my baseball novel and was able to complete 21 pages.  My lifelong dream, or one of them at least, is to write and publish a book.  I hope the starting point of my work will one day lead to the completion of such a book.  As with anything in life, time and luck will tell.

For our return flight home, Karly and I were to travel through Hong Kong and San Francisco before landing back in Toronto.  With the rise of popularity in baseball throughout the world, including the 2 editions of the WBC, I expected to find some glimpses of the sport in Hong Kong.  After striking out in Korea (great pun), I met the same fate again.  I was provided with the sports section of the English edition of a Hong Kong newspaper which had 2 baseball articles.  An inside look into Cliff Lee joining the Phillies and his status going into the season and a profile of a minority shareholder in the World Series champions San Francisco Giants, who happens to be Japanese and the only non-American owner in the game.  But other than that, no jerseys, shirts, or books.  No other baseball finds in Hong Kong.  I settled to purchase at the airport a book on mastering twitter (surprise) and a magazine on blackberry apps  and tricks (bigger surprise) to get me through the 11-hour plane ride to San Francisco.  My hopes of international baseball merchandise would need to wait another day.  To the day that I could be like Tuffy Rhodes or Colby Lewis… except that I would be trekking to the stands of the stadium to watch a live Japanese baseball game.

As Washington had started my honeymoon journey, San Francisco ended it.  Being World Series champions, I had no doubt my credit card would get a decent workout at the airport.  A black Buster Posey jersey-t, world series champions 2010 t-shirt with the roster on the back, and a Lindy’s fantasy magazine, my adventure was done…from both the honeymoon and baseball perspectives.  The trip itself was the vacation of a lifetime that provided me with moments and experiences that I will never forget.  I loved every minute and was so fortunate to spend every truesecond of it with my wife.  For the baseball fans though, I have some tips for those of you taking similar future adventures.  Make sure you pack plenty of baseball magazines, newspapers and books.  You can never have too many.  Don’t throw out any materials as you may require same for later reading at all times including airports stop-overs.  Baseball reading will be your best friend.  Bring your own baseball t’s and hats to stay in the baseball spirit even when you are away.  My beloved Detroit Tigers 2005 All Star Game baseball cap that got left in a cab in Bali was replaced by a Hard Rock Café Bali cap.  Not the same, I know, and the hat will never come back.  But for every lost Tigers hat, there is a Nick Swisher jersey-t/Ketut photo opportunity for the taking.  Finally, bring a laptop/notebook computer that carries mlb.com and a smartphone blackberry/iphone/android device if you have it.  No, you will not expect to use it, especially if you are on a honeymoon.  But with free Wi-Fi and the occasional sleepless nights, baseball watching, reading, writing and tweeting are beloved treasures that will always come in handy.  If you ever get a chance to go to Bali, my advice:  GO!  You will love it.  In the interim, see you all back bright and early Monday morning.  Baseball continues 24/7, with or without me.  Starting in several hours I look forward to being back within its world again.  I missed you all and baseball very much – it will be good to be back.

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