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MLB reports:  On March 7, 2011, after sixteen seasons in baseball, Gregg Zaun decided to hang up his spikes for a final time.  In spring training with the San Diego Padres, his tenth major league team, Zaun decided that he was not ready to continue in the game.  Zaun seemed like a great fit for the Padres, a young team on the rise that could use his mentorship to guide its up and coming pitching staff.  But being a man of integrity, Zaun apparently knew that his time had come.  After a final farewell to the baseball field, Gregg Zaun joined Sportsnet in Ontario to become a full-time member of the Toronto Blue Jays broadcasting team.  After broadcasting with Sportsnet for the last couple of years as a commentator for the playoffs, reports indicated that Zaun would one day become a broadcaster once his career was done.  While being highly capable to continue in the game as a scout, coach or future manager, broadcasting has become the fit for Zaun as he starts the new phase of his career.

A nephew of Rick Dempsey, catching apparently ran in the family as Zaunn started his career with Dempsey’s Baltimore Orioles and rejoined the team for a brief stint in 2009.  A 17th round pick in 1989, Zaun, a catcher by trade,  made his major league debut in 1995 and lasted briefly on the Orioles until moving on to Florida.  As a member of the Marlins, Zaun won his only World Series ring in 1997.  After two and a half season in Florida, Zaun bounced to the Rangers, Royals, Astros and Rockies over the next several years.  While the Gregg Zaun we have come to know and love is cool, collected, knowledgeable and intelligent, the younger Zaun of yesteryear was perhaps not as “together”.  Reports I have read indicate that Zaun in his early his career perhaps took his role for granted, apparently having a sense of entitlement based on his famous uncle before him.  Being 5’10” and weighing 170 pounds, Gregg Zaun is not the picturesque baseball player that we would necessarily come to expect.  In the age of behemoth 6’3″+ catchers and ball players, a player of Zaun’s stature needs to show hustle and heart in order to have longevity in the game.  After several cups of coffee around baseball, the maturation and stability of Zaun finally occurred in 2004.

Gregg Zaun became a member of the Toronto Blue Jays in ’04 and proceeded to spend the best five-year period of his career in Toronto.  Zaun transformed himself into a leader on the ball club and became a fan favorite in the city.  In 2005, Zaun played in a career high 133 games and had 434 at bats.  Career highs of 162 total bases, 61 runs and 61 RBIs were set, but most telling were his 73 walks taken.  Zaun, in addition to an outstanding defensive catcher was becoming an offensive catalyst as well.  In 2006, despite playing in only 99 games, hit a career high of 12 home runs.  Despite reports of Zaun being unhappy about sharing playing time near the twilight of his Jays playing days, Zaun showed up every day without a hiccup and was a team player right until the end of the 2008 season.  Obviously Zaun’s time in Toronto was special for both him and his fans, given that Zaun continued to broadcast for the Jays in the off seasons following his departure from the team.  A definite sign of things to come.

Over the last two seasons of his career, Zaun played out the string with the Orioles, Rays and Brewers.  As the Rays were contending in 2009, Zaun became a stretch-run acquisition.  Playing fairly well, Zaun earned a contract with the Brewers going into 2010.  Unfortunately injuries cut Zaun’s last MLB season short, to a miniscule 28 games.  The thinking around baseball was that despite being 40 years old on opening day 2011, Zaun still had enough gas left in the tank that he would continue playing with his new team, the San Diego Padres.  However, as Zaun realized that he would not be able to achieve his personal goals, rather than take up a roster spot for a youngster he decided to call it a career.  While the sport lost one of its last true gamers on the field, it gained it substantially back on its television screen. 

When J.P. Ricciardi was let go as the general manager of the Blue Jays, not coincidentally Buck Martinez (the former Jays broadcaster that was fired by Ricciardi as Jays manager) returned to the team as its new play-by-play man.  Who did Buck replace?  Jamie Campbell, who was reassigned to the  position of in-game analyst during commercials for the regular season and playoffs.  Campbell, who worked with Zaun for five seasons and gave him his first start in broadcasting, is now Zaun’s full-time broadcasting partner .  It was a breath of fresh air to have Zaun return to the Jays as a broadcaster.  With a new studio set up directly inside the Rogers Centre during the 2011 to boot, fans get to witness the brilliance of Zaun’s work up close and personal during every Jays home game. 

The reality of sports is that a player’s time always has to come to an end.  Baseball is no different.  Whether a young hot-shot prospect like Brien Taylor is a first overall pick that never makes it to the majors, or a Jamie Moyer/Julio Franco type that almost plays into their fifties.  Gregg Zaun could have easily gone either way in the game.  A World Series ring in his third season in the majors.  Having a famous uncle who was a major league catcher for a whopping 24 seasons.  Zaun from all accounts came into the game with a sense of entitlement and if his first few seasons had followed suit, Zaun could have burnt out quickly.  Without the proportions of a typical star major league player, arrogant/unmotivated type players tend to not last long in the show.  But something did click with Zaun and lasted within him to allow him to have a long and productive major league career.  Unfortunately for the Gregg Zaun fans out there, that same maturity allowed Zaun to walk away from the game, even though he could have hung on for another season or two.  Apparently his time was done and now Gregg Zaun is ready to continue the rest of his career.

I have really enjoyed reading and listening to Gregg Zaun’s analysis and thoughts on the game.  In addition to being an analyst on Blue Jays broadcasts, Gregg can be found on twitter under the handle, appropriately enough @greggzaun.  In my opinion the game of baseball needs more Gregg Zauns in its ranks.  A winner with pure hustle and determination, the Gregg Zaun that I know embodies everything that is pure and great about baseball.  The future is unlimited for Gregg Zaun.  MLB reports wishes Gregg all the best as he starts the second phase of his career and get ready, you will be watching Gregg on ESPN or the MLB Network before you know it.  Remember, you heard it here first.


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MLB Opening Day: Survival List and Highlights

MLB reports:  Going into day-two of the MLB opening day schedule, I will be in Toronto tonight to watch the hometown Blue Jays face the Minnesota Twins.  With a sold-out, packed stadium of over 50,000 screaming fans, tonight will be awesome.  Opening day is the greatest baseball day of the year and should never be missed.  I have attended all-star games and World Baseball Classic matchups and I can still say that opening day is number one.  I have not yet attended any world series games, which has its own energy and excitement..  But the start of the year, the start of the season, with hope and optimism all around- opening day is king.

With hope comes reality.  Opening day, while a great deal of fun to watch, should still be prepared for ahead of time.  For those experienced fans who have been through this before but need a refresher after a long offseason and for those new to the game, I have prepared the following tips for you.  Opening day is most enjoyable when you come to the game ready.  Here is what you need to do in order to enjoy the experience to the fullest.

1)  Pack food and water:  Check the policy of your stadium on this, but most will allow you to bring in any food and a sealed bottled of water.  Opening day gets pretty hectic, as the stadium will be full and the concessions are not yet in mid-season form.  To avoid missing any of the action in long lineups, plan ahead and bring your own munchies. 

2)  Wear baseball gear:  Coming to opening day without a baseball top/cap is unacceptable.  Preferably you should wear the colors of your home team, but any baseball clothing will do.  To get into the excitement, you have to dress the part.

3)  Bring a camera:  Opening day will last three to four hours, but pictures last a lifetime.  Be sure to capture all the moments of the game and your surroundings.  The more friends an family that you have at the game, the better the photo opportunities.

4)  Bring people:  Coming to the game with a buddy or loved one is great.  But the more people that join you in your section, the greater the feeling you will have at the game.  I have seven people in total in my group coming today, it will be a blast.

5)  Strategic bathroom breaks:  Try to go right before the game starts.  The bathrooms will be crowded all game long and hopefully your bladder can hold up for most, if not the entire game.

6)  Arrive early:  On a Friday, traffic is usually bad no matter where we live.  Add to that the number of people attending the game, the slow pace of the ushers in welcoming people, checking tickets and giving away free stuff- and you have a recipe for disaster.  Try to be at your stadium approximately two hours before game time to make sure that you can easily get in, check out the concessions and all the pre-game festivities in a relaxed manner.

7)  Bring your Smartphone:  If you have a blackberry or iphone, sending the occasional updates through twitter or facebook will make you leading edge and gives the people that follow you a chance to share in your experience.  Photo updates get bonus points.

8)  Get into the game:  Socializing throughout the game is fun.  But if you are at the point that you have no idea what inning it is and the score, clearly you are not paying enough attention.  Keep focused so that you miss any of the key game highlights and bring the game into your discussion.  The greater experience you have on opening day, the more likely you will be out for future games this season.

9)  Watch the lineup:  Your home team likely has some new faces.  Learn the roster and get to know the players on your team.  You will see them for 162 games this year and watching them live to start the year will help your knowledge.  I look for things like batting stances, pitching deliveries, names/numbers etc.  Learn your team as the better you know your guys, the harder you will support them.

10)  Savor the moment:  Enjoy every second that you are there.  Take in every sight, sound and smell from opening day from the second you enter the stadium to the time you leave.  You will only get one crack at opening day every season, enjoy this one. 

I wish everyone a great MLB opening day!  Hopefully you will get to attend a game in person over the course of the last two days.  If not, try to make sure that you are enjoying an opening day game, if it is on your computer, television or radio.  Then try to make the effort to get to a game as soon as you can to get into the spirit of the start of the MLB season.  Plan a road trip for the summer to watch some games at a park that you have never seen.  But at the end of the day, just enjoy baseball.  It is the greatest game in the world and its back for the next seven months.  It’s truly the best time of year to be a baseball fan.

MLB reports from Opening Day- Thursday March 31st:

1)      Some shaky closers to start the year as Axford imploded as the Brewers lost to the Reds, Broxton and Franklin both gave up long balls in their initial outings and Rodney got the save in a high WHIP fashion.  Remember, there will be new closers on 30-40% of teams by the end of the year.  Closer is the most volatile position in baseball.

2)      Alex Gordon, batting third for the Royals, went 0-5 with 3 SO.  My preseason pick to have a strong bounce back year, I hope that he doesn’t fail me.

3)      Checking my predictions for the opening day schedule, I finished with a 5-1 record yesterday.  The only game I missed on was the Cardinals and Padres game.  Little did I know that Pujols would ground into three double plays.  It was just one of those games.  We shall see how I do on the rest of my predictions later today.  You can view my opening day matchups and predictions on posted on Tuesday.

4)      The Dodgers/Giants game proved to be a pitching matchup for the ages.  Kershaw and Lincecum went head-to-head and did not disappoint.  Key moment of the game occurred when the Dodgers had a 1-0 lead in the 6th with the bases loaded and two outs.  Mattingly decided to let Kershaw bat for himself.  In a tight game with little offensive opportunities, the Dodger’s manager could have cost himself the game.  In an early game and Kershaw likely to go only one more inning (which he did), you need to play to win.  Hopefully someone can explain the National League to Donny as the season progresses.  Otherwise, Kershaw looks like he is ready to break out into a superstar and Lincecum will be solid yet again.

5)      The Padres are in big trouble.  Now that Adrian Gonzalez is gone, the smoke and mirrors can be removed and the carriage is now back into being a pumpkin.  When Venable is your leadoff hitter and Orlando Hudson is batting third, you know that it will be a long year.  It looked to me like Buddy Black created a lineup by drawing names out of a hat.  With so little talent, maybe he is on to something. 

6)      Jered Weaver looked great to start the year and should be in Cy Young form.  The Angels as a team are yet again the impatient hackers on offense that they always seem to be.  Against a scuffling Luke Hochevar, the Angels stranded 15 men on base and only took one walk as a team.  The Angels will have to rely on their pitching if they hope to contend in the AL West.  Vernon Wells had a typical Vernon night.  Anaheim fans will be calling for his head by June.

7)      Great start by the Braves.  Lowe was spectacular and Heyward is mature beyond his years.  He will be the face of the franchise for the next ten to twelve years if he stays healthy.

8)      Phil Coke, the named fifth starter for the Tigers had a shaky relief outing against the Yankees.  This cannot help his chances to keep a starting role.  Hopefully the Tigers give him a chance to start and show what he can for at least a month.


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