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World Baseball Classic Groups 3 and 4 Update and Predictions

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Sam Evans:  The World Baseball Classic qualifying rounds in Panama and Taiwan are finally underway. Many of these games were predictable blowouts but some came down to the end. It will only be a few days before it is revealed which teams are advancing, so here is a quick recap of the games already played and a preview of the finals.

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The End of the Winter Ball Season in Panama: The Chris Swauger Guest MLB Blog

Friday December 9, 2011

MLB reports:   Chris Swauger (aka Swags) is back in North America and returns to the Reports!  Swags has wrapped up his Winter Ball season in Panama and shares his experiences with us.  We even get an inside look at a Winter Ball All-Star Game!  A big thank you to Swags for his time in preparing his second blog feature on MLB reports, as well as the photographs used which were supplied for from his personal collection.  

 

Chris Swauger-  Guest MLB Blog:  The end of a season is always an interesting time.  Depending on the team’s position in the standings, players have a few different perspectives.  When they are cruising in first place, the main objective is to not get hurt.  When they are in a playoff chase or jockeying for positions, the intensity is cranked up to the max and everyone seems to take their focus to a new level.  When they are completely out of the race altogether, it becomes a tragic comedy.  Regrettably and hysterically, my experiences in Panama fall into the third category.

 

Safely buried in third place out of four teams, our team accepted the fact that we were out of contention.  Admirably, we did not completely mail in the season.  Maybe it was because we had so many guys with MLB affiliated teams in the states.  Maybe it was because some guys were playing to try to get seen and signed to play with an affiliated or independent team.  Maybe it was just pride.  Whatever it was, guys continued to show up early and get their work in regardless if a practiced schedule was posted or the coaches even bothered to show up before the national anthem.  No staff meant no authority, rules, or organized workouts…which also meant my tan improved significantly.

 

Our last three game series was against the last place team in our league who had won a total of nine games all year.  Six were against us…stay hot Caballos.  With both teams out of the race the games became more of a friendly, stat-chasing fiesta.  Oddly enough, the Panamanian TV station decided it would be a good idea to put two of these games on national television.  The opposing team had sent all of their foreign (not from Panama) players home and had three players who were moonlighting as taxi drivers.  Their starting pitcher in game one was missing a finger and the tip of another, although I will admit it did give his pitches some wicked movement.  One of our pitchers rolled his ankle on the mound, called timeout in the middle of an at-bat, went to the locker room to get it taped, then came back out to resume pitching.  He must have known the game was on TV and wanted some face time.  I think the other team’s left fielder wanted some as well, because by my official count (One-Mississippi, Two-Mississippi…) it took him 73 seconds to get off the field after being called out at first base.  He did not say one word to the umpire AND his team was in the first base dugout.  He did have three gold chains, two enormous cubic-zirconia earrings, and a fresh tight-fade haircut though.

 

Apparently these two guys didn’t get the memo that when games don’t mean anything, the objective becomes to play as fast as humanly possible.  It doesn’t mean sacrificing the integrity of the game or playing nonchalantly.  In fact, it’s the complete opposite.  Guys who haven’t hustled all year are sprinting down the line and on and off the field in an attempt to finish nine innings under two hours (which is amazing considering average game time in winter ball is closer to five).  What it DOES mean is any attempt to delay the game, like mound visits or calling timeout for any reason other than a seizure, will be met with harsh criticism from both dugouts.  Throwing first pitch breaking balls and not swinging at first pitch strikes are also highly frowned upon.  I practice what I preach; the last game of the season I swung at all 7 pitches I saw in my 5 at-bats.  I would not have been nearly as proud of that if I hadn’t snuck 2 hits out of those 5 at-bats, but the point remains the same: play fast, avoid injuries.

 

After the final out was made, everyone exchanged handshakes, hugs, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers.  The crazy thing about the end of a season in professional baseball is there is a legitimate chance it is the last time you will ever see some of the guys on your team in your life.  Guys you are together with nearly 24/7 and share intimate details of your life with become distant memories after lockers get cleaned out.  It’s a harsh reality of a cutthroat game, but it is a fact.  Baseball keeps rolling along. The players, coaches, and their careers are merely passengers that can be thrown off as quickly as they are scooped up.  I have enjoyed my ride thus far and can’t wait to see what road lies ahead.

 

My ride in Panama culminated with a trip to the All-Star Game in Panama City.  I was extremely excited because our game was being piggy-backed by a celebrity softball game that included Derek Jeter, C.C. Sabathia, Ozzie Guillen, Curtis Granderson and many other big leaguers.  It was also going to be a fun experience because my father was able to make the trip down to see me play in the game.  He even got an all-access pass into the dugout and onto the field for the event (it’s amazing what Panamanian security officers will let you get away with if you are a gringo, act like you don’t speak English, and pretend you know exactly what you are doing.  Wearing absolutely zero credentials my dad got to hang out with the team and sit in the VIP section right next to the dugout.  He volunteered to shag balls during batting practice but we ended up not having it.  It was cancelled because there were no baseballs.  We ended up hitting in the batting cage with the dozen balls the league brought in for the team to autograph.

 

The game itself is more of a friendly expo than an intense competition.  While players still want to win and show off what got them into the game in the first place, the atmosphere is more like a country club than a Roman coliseum.  The same last-game-of-the-season rules apply about throwing a lot of fastballs and swinging early in the count.  Well, at least I thought they did.  That is until the pitch sequence of my first at-bat went curveball, change-up, slider, curveball, change-up, fastball to the backstop, change-up.  I still swung at every pitch.  I had a few choice words and slightly inappropriate body language for the pitcher.  I also, had zero remorse when our team of “Internacionales” (American, Dominican, Venezuelan, Cuban, Brazilian, Japanese, and Korean) commenced to trouncing the Panamanian players to the tune of a 6-0 lead and a perfect game into the 6th inning.  Save for an error and a meaningless 3 run homer with two outs in the last inning, the International team dominated the game.  Keeping my Panamanian teammates in mind, I respectfully say “WEAR IT!!! That’s what you get for playing a showcase game like it’s Game 7!”

 

After the game both sides shook hands and thanked the fans.  They were what this game was really about and we acknowledged that.  One last cold shower and we were back on the field to mingle with the big names with big wallets playing in the next game.  Like an idiot I left my camera in the hotel room, paranoid that it might get stolen on the last day.  I seem to have inherited this ability to brain fart from my father, who forgot to charge his camera’s battery and it died before the first game ended.  So, I have no proof that I met any of these awesome guys that made an appearance.  Just take my word for it.

 

As I finish this blog entry reminiscing on my time in Panama, I am extremely happy.  Happy that I jumped at the opportunity and happy that I got to experience this journey.  I grew as a man and as an athlete during my time in Panama and am a better person and player because of it.  There were hysterical moments and miserable ones, but they were all a good time and will make great stories.  I hope to use this blog to continue to tell those stories and the ones that lie ahead.

 

Thanks for the opportunity

Chris Swauger

PS: Follow me on Twitter @cswag8 for daily doses.  However, be warned: my followers have an extremely high rate of eye-rolling.




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Playing Winter Ball in Panama: The Chris Swauger Guest MLB Blog

Friday December 2, 2011

MLB reports:   We are proud to welcome Chris Swauger (aka Swags) back to the Reports!  After our interview with the St. Louis Cardinals prospect, we are fortunate to have Swags return as a Guest MLB Blogger.  Have you ever wondered what goes through a player’s mind playing winter ball in a foreign country?  Swags is here to give you the scoop on the experience of playing ball in the offseason.  A big thank you to Swags for his time in preparing this feature, as well as the photographs used which were supplied for from his personal collection.  

 

Chris Swauger-  Guest MLB Blog:  I was walking out of a LA Fitness in Tampa when I got the call to play winter ball in Panama.  After an hour of being stared at like I was an alien by the juice-monkeys for actually using the squat rack and leg machines, I figured why not be a true alien in a foreign country again?  Having played the last two years in Colombia, I was used to the funny looks and had become fluent in Spanish.  It seemed like a great opportunity to see a new place and continue to improve my baseball skills.  So a week later I said goodbye to my family and the motherland and got on a plane to the middle of nowhere.

I didn’t see the sun for the first 5 days I was down here.  I was a new member of the Caballos de Cocle, and I felt like I should have been playing in galoshes instead of cleats.  Our practices started at 9 AM because it poured every afternoon.  It felt a lot like Spring Training, with the heavy eyes and constant practicing of fundamentals.  However, the practice field was slightly different.  I had played on fields with pebbles and rocks sprinkled on the field, but this place had full-blown boulders laying around.  The warning track consisted of grass as tall as me and was home to a family of iguanas.  But I figured if we could play defense on this field, when we got on ours we would all be Gold-Glovers.  We grinded it out for a week and went into opening night feeling invincible.

We were exactly that for two games.  We pitched, hit, and played defense like seasoned veterans en route to two straight walk-off wins.  I had both of the walk-off hits, but before we crown me a clutch performer, I must inform you that they were the only hits I had in either game.  I would have probably been put on a plane home if I hadn’t come through in those at-bats.  Going into the final game of our first series, we were pretty much fitting ourselves for championship rings.  Then reality kicked in.

We started blowing saves and our clutch hitting disappeared.  Guys on the team, including myself, continued to put up good numbers but the wins did not come.  As a team we could not get in sync.  We would pitch well and not hit.  Then we would put up four runs in the first and our pitchers struggled to hold the lead.  It is one of those things that happens in this game.  Rough patches are bound to happen, but they take the highway to panic mode when the season is only 36 games long.  I sit here today writing this blog with our team sitting 5 games out of the playoff race with 3 games left to play.  On paper our team should have not lost a game, but that’s why you play.  The better teams are in the playoff hunt, and ours is sitting here like me trying to figure out where we went wrong.

When the game starts challenging you on the field you start to look for positives off of it.  In a town as small as Aguadulce, Cocle, Panama, you have to look really hard.  By my official head count the town has 50 people in it (I might be off by a few hundred).  The biggest structure in the town is the church, and, outside of a few restaurants and dollar stores, there really isn’t much to do.  My roommates and I began to find humor and entertainment in the smallest things.  Such as:

 

The gym that has every piece of Tony Little endorsed equipment from the 80s and 90s…but has no free weights or squat rack.

The clubhouse that has TWO washing machines but no dryer.  When I show up to the stadium early, right field looks like a Goodwill clothing yard sale.

The ability for men to wear Capri pants and be considered stylish.

The maid that works diligently every day cleaning and scrubbing the entire 4 room two-story house every day…and also has a habit of turning off the A/C every morning so we wake up like we are in the middle of a Bikram yoga class.

The Korean player on our team who plays “light-field” and complains about the “blain fleeze” he gets when he eats ice cream.

The fact that one of my roommates thought a mothball was a Mentos.

The flocks of geese people have as pets.

The chauffeur that honks at every female we passed regardless of age (extremely creepy).

The amount that the Latin guys on my team enjoy mayonnaise sandwiches.

The Thanksgiving meal of ham and cheese sandwiches.

The clubhouse attendant who scrubs down our lockers, shoes, uniforms, AND batting practice balls.  No one has hit a home run in BP for 3 weeks because they are water-logged but they sure do shine like pearls.

The fact that I only eat at two restaurants because the others have made me do my best bus-driver impression on the toilet seat.

The team bus that is an Aladdin movie prop during the day, and the hottest club in town at night.

 

As you can tell it’s not the most glamorous of lives, however it is quite amusing.  Paying dues in the Minor Leagues and foreign countries can be a bit of an adventure, but it has provided me with many life experiences.  I hope to use this blog as a means to share those experiences.  I would like people to see what players like myself go through to chase their dreams.  Follow me on Twitter @cswag8 if you would like to get a daily perspective and interact with me.

Until next time,

Swags




Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

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