January 2012

Small blogging break

I am writing this blog to let you know that I will not be blogging for the next week plus. This was my first week back to school after having a month off, and I have quite a bit to get done. I have four important articles that will need to get done, three of them by next Friday and the other by February 2nd. In addition, I will have other work from other classes and two radio shows that need to get done (not to mention my 20th birthday which is on Wednesday), so I have a busy schedule.

I will be doing two basketball articles with one being for my college newspaper and another for a local publication. I then have an article I am working on for a class and another I am working for the same class but will require a lot more time and research. That last one will be the hardest by far although the payoff could be huge for me and would allow me to allow for my work to be seen by a larger audience than I have ever encountered. I am not giving away any information on what the project will entail, but I know that if I pull this article off, which I know that I can then this could be my big break and something that will look great on my resume.

With that being said, I apologize for this short break, but I will be back soon and will continue to produce what I believe is quality content. Let’s go Bucs, and I hope to be on here again in the near future.

I am sad that I will not be blogging for 10 days or so, but I hope to be back soon.

Pirates avoid arbitration with Hanrahan and Morton

The Pirates had an active morning starting with the signing of their all-star closer Joel Hanrahan. The signing means that the Pirates avoid arbitration for Hanrahan. The Pirates and Hanrahan agreed to a one-year deal worth $4.1 million with incentives based on performance totaling $50,000. Last season, Hanrahan went 1-4 but had an ERA of 1.84 and had 40 saves. Clint Hurdle seemed to make it clear that Hanrahan was to be used only to save games. Hanrahan also seemed to struggle with the four out save. The record is a little alarming and the ERA could have been lower had it not been for a regression in the second half of the season. Hanrahan still has that great fastball and I think he could be very successful. A very good and important sign for this Pirates team.

Hanrahan is on the far left in this picture

The Pirates also signed Charlie Morton to a one year deal. The deal is worth $2,445,000. I am sure the amount could have been higher had it not been for an injury Morton is working back from. The injury will force him to be unavailable for Opening Day and late-April is his estimated time of arrival back to the Pirates. Morton went 10-10 last season with a 3.83 ERA. Morton saw a delivery overhaul when he switched to pitching in a style similar to that of Roy Halladay. He earned the nicknames “Ground Chuck” and “Electric Stuff” for these efforts and while his control sometimes was off, the results were much better for both Morton and the Pirates.

Charlie Morton is on the far right of this picture

I got a chance to speak to both Hanrahan and Morton during the early stages of last season, and both were very candid with me.

Morton talked to me about the delivery and how it was started during Spring Training. This does not seem like a big deal now, but this was in April, before the media really picked up on the story and made it into (in the Post-Gazette’s case) a two part series. I found it telling that he compared this new motion to the old one.

“I think what happened was mechanically, I was showing the ball really early,” Morton said. “I may have been tipping pitches, I’m not sure, but I know that the hitters were seeing the ball really well. I adjusted some things, and release the ball a little later and as a pitcher, you can see the swings of the hitters. When I started seeing guys late on pitches after the adjustment, even if they were right down the middle, I knew was heading in the right direction, and that allows me to be confident.”

For Hanrahan, he was talking to me about that feeling of nailing down the save and having total control over any hitter that stepped up to the plate.

“That’s a great day any day you can do that,” Hanrahan said. “It’s a long season, long year, and the games are kind of long themselves, so once you get those three outs, everybody’s kind of relaxed a little bit more, and it’s one of the best feelings you can earn that day.”

As a side note, a quick congratulations to Joel Hanrahan on now being a married man as he tied the knot very recently with Kim.

The Pirates now have four arbitration-eligible players left, and they are Garrett Jones, Jeff Karstens, Casey McGehee and Evan Meek.

Pregame routine

Ok this is a very different kind of post that I am going to do here, but I think it is well worth your time. Athletes have their superstitions and pregame routines that set them up for success. When I go to the ballpark to try and catch baseballs, I have a routine of my own.

On Thursday, I was down at Point Park University picking up my books, and despite the rain that was falling from the sky, I decided to make the walk to PNC Park with Colston and show the routine that I have. Catching baseball involves a lot of running and a lot of the things that go on make me feel like a major leaguer. This is again a different type of blog post and will be led by pictures and explanation. I have a very long pregame routine that I use but it has always done the trick for me.

This first picture involves my tradition of walking to PNC Park. When I am alone or meeting someone, I will always walk on the Clemente Bridge. I usually am walking anywhere from 3:00-3:30 for a gate opening of 5:00. At games I attended last season I was almost always the first one there although Baseball Joe occasionally beats me out. Walking on this bridge provides a great view of the water, ballpark and some Pittsburgh sights.

This is a picture of the Clemente Gate. This is the gate closest to me when I get off of the Clemente Bridge. This gate is the only gate that opens on 5:00 on weekday night games, 4:30 on weekend night games and 11:00 on weekend afternoon games (other times vary). This is the line I obviously wait in to get in the ballpark. The gate is surrounded by the Clemente Statue that many fans choose to take pictures with. As you see it was open on this day, and although I did want a picture of the field, I opted to be a good boy.

After putting my bag down at a specific part of the gate, I start my stretches. I start by loosening up my arm and spreading them around so that they are ready for the remainder of the stretches and the day ahead.

My first stretch are standing up toe touches. I will reach straight down and hold for 30-45 seconds and then will go reach to the right side and left side and do the same thing. This helps get that feeling in my legs to get the speed that I often times use to my advantage at PNC Park.

Next up is 20-30 jumping jacks. These get the arms and legs working. I already discussed how my speed is a huge advantage I have when I go against Pittsburgh ballhawks and this maintains the speed I have. Also if I hope to catch a lot of baseballs I have to make sure that my arms are ready and this allows my arms to stretch out with a little bit of frequency.

I then sit down (in this case in the rain) and reach and touch my toes. This one just like the standing up one allows me to feel the burn in my hands but more so in the legs.

I then put my feet together and get set in a butterfly position. This gets the knees going and at least for me is relaxing. I love doing the butterfly and it allows me to tune all of the unnecessary things out.

I then get back up and jog in place for 30 seconds. This gets those juices flowing and that feel as though a BP baseball was hit. I then speed up the intensity and work the legs even higher for 30-45 seconds. Another simple work out that helps out the legs.

I then do small, medium and large circles for 30-45 seconds going both forward and backwards. This gets the arms working again and keeps me ready to throw later on in the routine and for whatever else that transpires for the remainder of the day.

I then put my hands on my hips and slowly rotate forward and backward for a minute. It is just something that keeps me at ease, and gets the hips working and less sensative to sudden movements and turns. Face it injuries happen and this is one of those stretches that can help prevent injuries.

I then move my feet outward and inward for a minute before switching to frontward and backward for a minute. Finally, I combine the two and do that for a minute. I exert myself more and more as each minute goes on.

I then start my running and sprint forwards and backwards one time each. This gets the feet moving and becomes realistic.

This next bit of running is actually shuffling. I have used this for tennis and basketball shuffling from one side to the other. I will turn left and right and shuffle. This is to work on footwork which is obviously very important when catching baseballs.

The next drill is called karaoke. No I do not sing but what I do is start with both feet turned and twist my body. As I am turning each foot alternates so if the left foot was in front on the first step, the right is in front on the second step. I do this down and back. Again footwork is key.

This exercise was something I first learned when I was in physical therapy a few years back because of my leg. I now use this as a run with each step getting my legs up high and making smaller steps. I try to get my legs higher each time. I do the same thing back but have my foot touch my butt instead. This stretches the legs out and is a big help.

These two images are of me throwing. Normally I like to throw at least 150-200 times. Normally I will throw with Baseball Joe. On weekends Erik Jabs and Nick Pelescak will throw with me. Ian Weir will sometimes throw with me. This obviously gets the glove working and also keeps that arm loose.

Often times, I will go down the steps by the Clemente Gate and I will search for baseballs in something called the razor grass. Don’t be fooled by the picture, the grass grows quickly and come June it is full so many more baseballs are stored there. You never know if you can find one down there so I will go down there and take a peek.

These two pictures involve something I occasionally do as well. If I am bored or something comes up, I will stay on the riverwalk and see if any baseballs bounce out of the ballpark. This is most possible when a power lefty such as Pedro Alvarez or Garrett Jones comes up. The first picture is an example of a potential position and the second is a renactment of trapping a ball that could bounce into the razor grass or making a slide catch.

I sometimes try to seek shelter if it gets really warm outside. The Pirates Clubhouse Store is one of the spots I use, and it is nice and cool in there which allows for much less sweat. I also get to talk to a lot of the people in there and have a lot of fun interactions with some of the workers. I also look around to see if I can find any good deals.

All in all, everything is an adventure, and regardless of whether 4:30, 5:00 or whatever time comes around this kind of workout stays the same or at least relatively simpler. I hope you see that I put a lot of preparation in so that what that gate opens I am prepared to have a good showing and make myself and The Children’s Institute happy for my charity initiative. I hope that you got something out of this post to see how hard I can work (I don’t see many others putting in nearly as much work) or if you want some ideas. This work has helped me catch 206 baseballs, helped me build friendships and interact with the players. Doing this makes me feel like a Major Leaguer, and many of them do similar stretches to what I do so when I interact with many of them, a huge level of respect comes from me right from the start.

Again, I hope that you enjoyed this post and I thank you for reading all of my posts this week and hope to have some more content for you next week.

2012 Updated NL Standings Projections

National League Predictions

NL East:

1. Philadelphia Phillies- As far as I am concerned, the Phillies are still the class of the NL East. Yes Ryan Howard is gone for at least half of the season, yes Roy Oswalt is also gone and yes Ryan Madson is gone and could have been used as a set up guy but it really doesn’t matter. Jonathan Papelbon is in as the closer and is a great improvement and a proven winner. The team still has Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and the surprising Vance Worley, and they make up maybe the deepest starting rotation in the National League and can certainly keep their team in almost any game. Jim Thome is also back and with Howard on the shelf for now, he will get much more playing time. He has been used as a designated hitter so his defense could be questioned. Another important piece is Jimmy Rollins. He was just signed long term by the Phillies this off-season and he needs to stay healthy. His best days may be behind him.

2. Miami Marlins- New stadium, new team and new attitude. I am not trying to make a billboard but that essentially is the best way to sum up the Marlins and their off-season. Ozzie Guillen, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell and Carlos Zambrano are all major new faces. The Marlins also have a deadly rotation with Josh Johnson, Buehrle, Ricky Nolasco, Zambrano and perhaps lefty Wade LeBlanc or Alex Sanabia as that fifth guy. The team will have an infield consisting of Hanley Ramirez, Reyes, Omar Infante and Gaby Sanchez which is pretty good. Logan Morrison, Chris Coghlan and Mike Stanton could make a great outfield trio as well assuming all three can stay healthy (all had injuries at some point). Stanton’s power is ridiculous. Health is the main word with this team, Johnson, Zambrano, Reyes, Coghlan and Morrison all have some injury history (the pitchers more than the other two). This team needs all of these pieces together to contend. Don’t forget that the Marlins are the rumored leaders to acquire Yoenis Cespedes.

3. Atlanta Braves- I have the Braves sliding down a spot. This team returns essentially the same and Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson could both be injury concerns not to mention that Jurrjens is all over the trade rumors. You kind of know what to expect with this team. Brian McCann, I believe is the best catcher in the majors right now. Will Freddie Freeman have a sophomore slump? Jason Heyward certainly did and that played a big part in their September collapse. Chipper Jones is almost done with his admirable career and Dan Uggla got the power numbers back but that average just does not want to go up. The shortstop position is a huge question although the Braves just resigned Jack Wilson to a one year deal worth $1 million. Other shortstop options are Brandon Hicks and Tyler Pastornicky. Their bullpen was great with Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters, two quality lefties setting it up for Craig Kimbrel who also will be in his second season.

4. Washington Nationals- The Nationals on paper have a good team but again are in the wrong division. I do think that this could be the year that they make it to .500 though and that is a start. The Nationals likely will have a rotation with a healthy Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez as their front three and joined by John Lannen and either Tom Gorzelanny or Chien-Ming Wang. Strasburg will be on an innings count which is part of why they will not be contenders, but the addition of Gonzalez makes them a believable team and potential sleeper in the National League. Wilson Ramo had a great rookie year and after an off-season kidnapping scare is ok and ready to contribute. Adam LaRoche is currently the team’s first baseman although injuries cut his season short early. The Nationals are said to be in on Prince Fielder although they have denied this. If LaRoche were to go down again, expect Mike Morse, who had a great season (.303 31 HR, 95 RBI) to make the move from the outfield to first base. Ryan Zimmerman will have to show that he is fully healthy which he did not seem to be last season. Ian Desmond is still the shortstop but he makes way too many errors defensively. Mike Morse and Jayson Werth will be starters in the outfield with Roger Bernadina and Mike Cameron in a likely platoon situation.

5. New York Mets- The Mets have it tough again and Manager Terry Collins cannot be happy with what he has seen from other NL East teams this off-season. The Mets strenghtens their bullpen adding Frank Francisco, Ramon Ramirez and Jon Rauch among other names but had to give up Angel Pagan. Andres Torres also came over but seemed to struggle to overcome injuries last season. This team will need Johan Santana to come back and pitch like his old self although it is unclear when he will toe the rubber for the Mets once again. David Wright could be on the move sooner rather than later although I think he stays put for the season. Dillon Gee had a solid season for the Mets and has the potential to repeat his success. Ike Davis will be back and I am curious to see if his power is as well. The Mets will face an uphill battle but the have the bats to at least have a chance to make some noise this season.

NL Central:

1. St. Louis Cardinals- Albert Pujols is gone but as this team showed last season, they can still do very well without him. Adam Wainwright is my key to this team’s success and adds a lot of credibility to the pitching rotation which will likely read Chris Carpenter, Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook. The team had a closer by committee last season and it seems like they finally decided to go with Jason Motte which seems to be the wise choice. Lance Lynn proved his worth in the playoffs and so did Marc Rzepczynski. Lance Berkman likely will shift over to the first base position and this is a needed move for him as his defense is often suspect. This will leave an outfield of Allen Craig (once he returns from injury), Jon Jay and Carlos Beltran. Beltran is aging but his bat provided a spark to an otherwise lifeless Giants offense last season (and the Mets earlier in the 2011 season). David Freese excited Cardinals fans with his postseason play. While many expect power numbers from him, I think he is hoping for an injury free season, as he has missed time during both the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

2. Cincinnati Reds- The Reds made a nice move by acquiring Sean Marshall from the Chicago Cubs. Marshall will make a great and reliable set up man for this team and although they have to give up lefty Travis Wood, they had enough pitching to make the trade. Adding Mat Latos is huge for this team. They finally have that ace this team needed and now their other four starters (Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake and most likely Homer Bailey) can slide down to more natural and realistic positions on the pitching staff. Latos had a great 2010, but don’t be fooled by his 2011, he was on a dismal San Diego Padres team. Getting Ryan Madson to close also is huge for this team. Francisco Cordero had a rocky 2010 and was worth about the same price as Madson was to sign this season. Madson is much younger and having won a World Series can come in right away and get the job done. Devin Mesoraco will be the team’s starting catcher and if he plays like he did in AAA he could be a natural. The big three (Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips) all are back and Phillips signed a longer deal. They will be on the team for a long while and bring pop and defense to their positions (Phillips especially defensively).

3. Milwaukee Brewers- I may have placed this team in second if it weren’t for MVP Ryan Braun likely being suspended for the first 50 games of the 2012 season. The Brewers started slowly in 2011 and I expect the same to happen this season. The rotation will consist of Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf with a fifth starter to be determined. John Axford had a rough start to the season but still had a great 201 and should find no problems succeeding in 2012. Without Fielder and Braun this team will have to turn to Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks and new Brewers Aramis Ramirez to pick up the pieces. None of these three provide the power or leadership of a Braun or Fielder but they each excel at certain things. Hart had a down year compared to his breakout 2010 but his 26 homers prove that the power is still there. He did have an injury though and so did Weeks whose injury really did affect the way he played. He will have to heat it up fast. Ramirez also has the capabilities of being successful and also had 26 homers. At 33, he is getting older though and does not have much time left to produce those power numbers. With Braun out, expect the outfield to start the season looking like Nyjer Morgan, Carlos Gomez and Hart.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates- I considered putting the Pirates in fourth however opted not to do it. The Pirates do tend to get off to fast starts, but their best overall offense weapon Andrew McCutchen barely hit over .200 in April last season, his second worst month in terms of production. Other players such as Pedro Alvarez also struggle in the always cold April. Alvarez will be the focus of many Pirates fans. He was booed to no end and failed to meet the ridiculously high expectations placed on him in year number two. He will be pushed by Casey McGehee who was brought in from Milwaukee and may also see time at first base. The Pirates bullpen is solid and led by closer and all-star Joel Hanrahan. They were overworked though and it showed as the team fell out of contention in August. Erik Bedard is the key addition to this team and if he stays healthy could really be something for this team. He will be joined by James McDonald, Kevin Correia and Jeff Karstens to start the season. It is highly unlikely that Charlie Morton will be ready for Opening Day which means there will be a battle for that fifth spot. Brad Lincoln likely is the leader right now but Jo-Jo Reyes is among others fighting for that spot. Clint Barmes could be a decent shortstop, or at least much better than what Ronny Cedeno gave this team. He is better defensively and has a much better bat. Garrett Jones will be an interesting development this season as he will likely be seeing much less time against lefties and could see time at first base or in the outfield. Other key components will include Jose Tabata and Neil Walker.

5. Chicago Cubs- The Cubs are by their own admission two years away from contending. Ryan Dempster or Matt Garza will be the ace of this team although Garza could be traded either way. Dempster needs to rebound this season or else it could be a long year. Paul Maholm, Randy Wells, Travis Wood, Andy Sonnanstine and Chris Volstad are among the others would could get a spot in the rotation. Starlin Castro is a huge wildcard on this team. He has the potential to be a star but he has had off-the-field issues and made many errors last season. Marlon Byrd is also a big part of this team. With Sean Marshall gone, this team lacks a security blanket for Carlos Marmol who was once again very inconsistent as a closer. Ian Stewart will be the third baseman for the Cubs and has the bat if he can figure out his game once again. Darwin Barney does nothing great but is a good player across the board. Alfonso Soriano is likely on his way out soon. The outfield is loaded with Bryan LaHair, Byrd and David DeJesus to name a few players.

6. Houston Astros- This is the last season for the Astros as a member of the National League. The Astros traded Mark Melancon, their closer, to Boston and got Jed Lowrie in return. Lowrie could put it together in Houston and will be given a chance to start right away. Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers are both huge trade pieces but for now join J.A. Happ and Bud Norris as rotation locks. Brandon Lyon likely will return as the closer. Jose Altuve intrigued me a little bit last season and I will be watching to see what he does this season. Carlos Lee may also be on his way out. He is 35 and saw his power drop to 18 homers last season. This year does not look promising at all, but the Astros are building the farm and that is probably the best way to go right now.

NL West:

1. Arizona Diamondbacks- The Diamondbacks were one of the aggressive teams early on in free agency and it paid off as they get Trevor Cahill a proven starter and Takashi Saito a proven reliever. Pitching wise this team will have Ian Kennedy (a statement 2011 season), Daniel Hudson, Cahill and Josh Collmenter as locks for the rotation. Paul Goldschmidt could be a power bat but could just be a lot of swings and misses as well. Justin Upton cut down on his strikeouts and with Chris Young, they have two great power options who can play defense. They are hoping for Stephen Drew to have a great 2012. Aaron Hill also provides great power and the signing of Jason Kubel albeit interesting was a creative idea and he will join forces with Gerardo Parra in left field.

2. San Francisco Giants- So Jonathan Sanchez is gone, that is no big deal for this team. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and surprising Ryan Vogelsong are all penciled into a deep Giants rotation. Brian Wilson had his moments as a closer although injuries are a concern. The offense was dormant for most of the season and Buster Posey could help out assuming he can stay healthy. Pablo Sandoval will also need to improve on his 2011 numbers. The whole Aubrey Huff and Brandon Belt dilemma may surface very early on this season. Huff was not great in the outfield but if Belt has another great Spring Training, Manager Bruce Bochy may have no choice. With Cody Ross moving on and Pat Burrell retiring, the Giants welcomed Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera to the team via two trades. Cabrera had great numbers with the Royals last season and Pagan has the speed that will help this team defensively.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers- This team falls out of second place and down to third mainly because of the loss of Hiroki Kuroda. He was a reliable pitcher for this team. This year the rotation will feature Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano. The latter two were free agent signings. This is a solid staff with a lot of good experience. With Jonathan Broxton gone, the Dodgers will turn to Javy Guerra (21 saves) to close the door, although Kenley Jansen is also a potential option. This team is really thin at catcher and will have to rely on A.J. Ellis. Dee Gordon is a really exciting player that provides opportunity for this Dodger team. Andre Ethier had a down year and the injuries did not help. Matt Kemp by all counts should have been the NL MVP, however he had a great season and silenced his doubters. Kemp’s numbers likely will take a slight dip, especially with the Dodgers playing in a pitcher’s park.

4. Colorado Rockies- Normally the Rockies are a second half team, but after a nice start they just plummeted down in the standings settling for fourth in a five team division. Their rotation is a mishmash of everything, and includes Jorge De La Rosa (depending on when he comes back from injury), Jhoulys Chacin, new Rockie Kevin Slowey, Juan Nicasio (assuming he recovers from injury) and other options include Esmil Rogers. I like the signing of Ramon Hernandez. He is 35, however he still calls a nice game and is a servicable starter. Todd Helton will continue to start for this Rockies. Jason Giambi and his 13 homers from 2011 are waiting in the wings as well. Troy Tulowitzki continues to be great as his .302 30 and 105 shows. I just would love to see him play a full season. Casey Blake at third is a great sign as long as he stay healthy. Michael Cuddyer hit 20 homers but his power went down due to the Twins new ballpark. Carlos Gonzalez will play right field and hit 26 homers despite only playing in 127 games last season. Dexter Fowler will play in center. The Rockies traded Huston Street to San Diego, and now Rafael Betancourt will close games. Should he fail, Rex Brothers will be waiting in the wings.

5. San Diego Padres- I almost feel bad for the Padres. They pretty much played dead all of last season and the injuries they faced certainly did not help anything. Petco Park is not offensively friendly. Their rotation projects as follows: Tim Stauffer, Clayon Richard, Dustin Moseley, Cory Luebke and Edinson Volquez. I do not expect much from this staff although they could surprise, especially if Richard, Moseley and Volquez overcome injuries they had last season. Yonder Alonso is an intriguing player as is Kyle Blanks. They both have great power behind their bat but are seemingly behind in the depth chart. First base is currently occupied by Jesus Guzman and the outfield consists of Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin and Wil Venable. Quentin will likely lose some power by playing in Petco but at least he is a bat that could help this team. Maybin finally started putting things together last season and could improve the power numbers a little bit. Huston Street will close for the team.

Playoffs (again assuming we are dealing with just one wild card)
1. Cardinals
2. Phillies
3. Diamondbacks
4. Marlins

NLDS:

Marlins over Cardinals in seven games- Marlins are the more complete team and by their luck the Cardinals suffer a defensive lapse from Matt Holliday again.

Phillies over Diamondbacks in six games- Phillies know how to win when it matters. Diamondbacks got a taste of it last season, but are not ready to win on the big stage just yet.

NLCS:

Phillies over Marlins in six games- Phillies will have Ryan Howard back by this point and they have a better starting rotation.

World Series:

Phillies over Angels in seven games- Both teams are stacked but that Phillies rotation just has a lot more playoff pressure experience than the Angels do.

With that my predictions are over until perhaps the start of the season. Expect that mystery blog post out either tomorrow or on Monday. Thanks for reading all week everyone and feel free to comment or spread this blog around to anyone who may be interested.

Updated AL Projected Standings

This is my update prediction on the American League. With several moves happening all over baseball, I had to change my standings accordingly.

AL East:

1. New York Yankees- The Yankees are staying put in the driver’s seat. The signing earlier today of Hiroki Kuroda and acquiring Michael Pineda strengthen a rotation already consisting of Ivan Nova, C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia. Someone will be the odd man out. It likely will be Garcia or Burnett. Rumors are swirling that Burnett is being shopped but if he is not expect Garcia to be waiting in the wings as a long reliever in the bullpen. Russell Martin now will be the fulltime Yankees catcher as Jesus Montero was traded as part of the Pineda deal. Pineda was great in the first half and don’t be fooled by that 9-10 record, he was on a woeful Mariners team and has some devastating stuff.

2. Boston Red Sox- Red Sox also stay put and made nice moves acquiring Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey to be the set up man and closer. The question mark could be Daniel Bard who could be a starter or a reliever. I am not sold on him converting to a starter, but we shall see how that works out. My two keys for this season are the starting pitching and Carl Crawford. Will the starters be injury free and stop with the excuses. Daisuke Matsuzaka is already lost for the season and Clay Buchholz is coming off of an injury. Josh Beckett has an injury history and Jon Lester could miss some time. Crawford had a rough first season in Boston and wherever he was placed in the lineup it did not work out. He needs to have numbers close to his success in Tampa Bay.

3. Tampa Bay Rays- Don’t ever count these guys out. They have to be licking their chops that they are being overlooked once again. They have no pressure and with many of their starters finding success last season this could be another great season. David Price had an off year last year but is a world class pitcher. James Shields also is a great pitcher that has proven to be a reliable option. Jeremy Hellickson was named AL Rookie of the Year, but looking deep at his numbers, he was bailed out by his defense. The team cannot afford those baseballs to start dropping or a sophomore slump. Speaking of youth, the team just locked up Matt Moore long term and he could come in right away and perform well. The offense will be led by Evan Longoria who will need to up his average for this team to compete. B.J. Upton also will need to have a big role on this team.

4. Toronto Blue Jays- This team has a lot of potential, and would compete in many other divisions, but unfortunately they are once again in a stacked AL East. Jose Bautista continued his success and could have been the team’s MVP had it not been for a slump he had during the second half of the season. He has quietly continued to do his thing in a place where the offense is plenty. J.P. Arrencibia, Kelly Jounson, Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus are also among the power in the offense. Pitching wise the team is led by Ricky Romero. Romero is also very overlooked and has been getting better each year. I am excited to see if Kyle Drabek can put the pieces together and become the pitcher the Blue Jays expected when they traded Roy Halladay to get him (and a few others).

5. Baltimore Orioles- Yes my AL East standings have not changed. The Orioles still have all of that fire power but with it comes the strikeouts. Orioles made an interesting sign earlier this off-season when they inked Wei-Yin Chen, who may get a chance to start right away. The team also signed Tommy Hunter who was formerly a Texas Ranger. Jeremy Guthrie deserves a much better fate than he got last season. Offensively the list goes on: Matt Wieters, Mark Reynolds, JJ Hardy, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis are those who are expected to perform well. Jones is the most exciting of the bunch and is a defensive gem.

AL Central:

1. Detroit Tigers- This division is the easiest to call. No team in this division will be able to compete with this team. This team has all of the needed pieces. At starting pitcher this team has Justin Verlander who won the AL Cy Young and MVP. He had a great season and has one of the fastest fastballs in the game. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello join him in the front end of the rotation and Doug Fister also will be in the rotation. The fifth spot is wide open. The bullpen is solid and improved with the signing of Octavio Dotel who was a part of the World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. He joins Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde to make a formidable back end of the bullpen. Offensively Miguel Cabrera had a great season and with the whole DUI drama behind him his number may improve. Alex Avila and Victor Martinez will both see much playing time with Gerald Laird coming back to the team after a year with the Cardinals.

2. Cleveland Indians- Things start to change here. I am leapfrogging the Indians up to second place. I really don’t think a wild card comes from this division. The rotation looks very nice with Ubaldo Jimenez, Derek Lowe, Justin Masterson and Fausto Carmona being in the first four spots and I will give Carlos Carrasco the final spot. Ubaldo and Carmona will have to be much more consistent but they both have the potential to be great. Masterson was great last season and Carrasco can throw off hitters with his timing. Grady Sizemore re-signed with the team and he will have to contribute and stay injury free this season. The same goes with Travid Hafner and Shin-Soo Choo. Chris Perez will come in as the closer but Vinny Pestano could potentially seize the job. Something to keep an eye on but those two will have the eighth and ninth innings covered.

3. Chicago White Sox- They will stay at three. They lose points as Robin Ventura is at the helm, with no experience in any level managing, it is a wild card hire and I am not sure if anyone really knows what to expect. All of the main pieces return including John Danks who just signed an extension with the team. Paul Konerko is starting to get up there in age but his power is still great and will be needed. Gordon Beckham needs to step it up. Adam Dunn needs to become the hitter he was in 2010 that made the White Sox overpay for him. The health of Jake Peavy could also be a huge factor in this team’s success.

4. Kansas City Royals- They get a bump up to fourth place. The team is mostly young and it will be interesting to see what they do. Billy Butler will continue to be the team’s designated hitter as Eric Hosmer emerged last season and had a largely successful year. Also succeeding were Jeff Francoeur and Alex Gordon who finally is starting to meet those high expectations that were placed upon him when he was drafted. Their pitching is nothing special and Jonathan Sanchez will likely become the ace. He has been mediocre largely and was overshadowed by Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in San Francisco. This is his chance. I am intrigued by Danny Duffy. He had a rough rookie year, but I have heard some great things about him and I think he could improve a lot this season.

5. Minnesota Twins- Yes I have the Twins freefalling all the way into last place again. When I placed them second I expected them to sign both Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer. They ended up losing both of them and that will cost them. Their two remaining big bats are Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Morneau clearly has more pop, but both are coming off of injuries and the Twins do not even know for sure where they want to put Mauer on the diamond. The signing of Ryan Doumit will give them options and Mauer could catch, play first or even DH if needed. Denard Span only was able to play in 70 games last season and that is alarming for a banged up team. He will need to be a big presence on this team. Josh Willingham could prove to be a big bat and he belted 29 homers last season. His .249 average is a little alarming though, and he is going to the new outdoor stadium in Minnesota which has been the Citi Field of the American League. Power numbers have been less than stellar. Pitching wise Carl Pavano regressed last season and could be joined at the front end of the rotation with Francisco Liriano. Scott Baker and Nate Blackburn also are likely to make the starting rotation. Matt Capps will start the season as the closer. He had the role last season when Joe Nathan was struggling only to lose the role again. His saves could be an adventure but an outfield of Span and Ben Revere could help. Team just does not look promising to me though.

AL West:

1. Texas Rangers- I still feel that the Rangers have the most complete team in their division. The most interesting development from the off-season for this team is the possibility of signing Yu Darvish from Japan. They have until Wednesday to get a deal done, and I expect it to take until the last minute, but he will sign. The signing of Joe Nathan means that Neftali Feliz, the team’s closer is moving into a starting job this season. This was supposed to happen last season but never materialized. The starting pitching projects to include Feliz, Darvish, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando. I expect continued success from Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre. I hope to see more complete numbers from Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli, something that resembles the post-season success they had last season but I don’t think that will happen. I hope that Elvis Andrus will improve the power in his bat a little bit more, and I expect that to happen, but even if that does not happen, his defense is still very good for his position.

2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim- They will have a lot of success this season with the signings of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. Their rotation rivals the Phillies rotation of last year and will include Wilson, Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and likely Jerome Williams. This is a rotation that could fare really well and potentially have a Cy Young if the team plays their cards right. The Angels were lacking a little bit of firepower offensively but signing Pujols immediately erases that. Also do not forget that Pujols is a great defender as well. I am making Howie Kendrick my x-factor for this team. He finally put it together last season hitting .285 with 18 homers. I believe he can up these numbers as well as the 63 homers. Other big bats include Mark Trumbo (29 homers and does he become DH) and Torii Hunter (23 homers and some solid defense). The closer job currently belongs to Jordan Walden who routinely hit 100 miles per hour with his fastball. He had his issues last season and the team will have a replacement ready in case he encounters similar problems.

3. Oakland Athletics- The Athletics have been shopping their pitchers like it is Black Friday although in true Billy Beane form, he is getting pieces that he believes will help the team in the long term. This seems to happen a lot and somehow the team still hovers around a .500 record. Brett Anderson will likely be the ace for this team. Dallas Braden will be back after his injury last season and also hold a rotation spot. I am interested in Jemile Weeks. He is the team’s most exciting player and maybe this is the season where he gets out of his brother’s shadow. Predicting anything for this team anymore is just total guesswork.

4. Seattle Mariners- The Mariners do not have many pieces left either. Felix Hernandez and Ichiro Suzuki have been mainstays on this team. Hernandez is finding it tough to win with this team although he did win 14 games, one more than his Cy Young 2010 season. Charlie Furbush should join him in the rotation. There just is not much there. Ichiro’s numbers were down last year and had under 200 hits for the first time in years. The signs are there but with Ichiro, you never know. Miguel Olivo will likely get most of the starts although the team acquired John Jaso from the Rays and he will push Olivo for some playing time. Other familar names on this team are Chone Figgins, Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Casper Wells.

Playoffs: Currently I will put one wild card since the whole one wildcard or two is confusing
1. New York Yankees
2. Texas Rangers
3. Detroit Tigers
4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (wild card #1)

ALDS:

Angels over Yankees in six games- The starters will be too much for the Yankees to overcome and they will choke in the playoffs once again.

Rangers over Tigers in seven games- Verlander had a shaky 2011 post-season and I think he will blink in game seven.

ALCS:

Angels over Rangers in seven games- Yes I have the Rangers winning the division but losing in the playoffs. I think the Rangers will be in a similar position as they were in the World Series. Joe Nathan will blow a save in game six that would have ensured a World Series berth and the Angels will make them pay. The Angels pitching will again help them in this series.

So that is my AL projected standings and playoff predictions for now. Tomorrow I hope to have my NL standings and playoff predictions. Either Sunday or sometime next week, I have a post coming out that will be different in comparison to any other that I have done. I believe that it will be something that you will like and was suggested to me by a fellow ballhawk and friend Erik Jabs. Stay tuned for both of these upcoming posts.

Goals for the 2012 season

Again as a reminder, these goals are set in case I do not get this internship I really want. If I do get it, then these goals obviously will be changed. Here is my list:

1. Stay injury free/healthy- This is a huge one. I am working hard on my health as it held up for the season but I have been having some issues that I am trying to resolve. For that reason, I likely will not stay for the duration of many games and likely will leave after the first inning or pitches to keep my health intact and to keep my stamina up. I was lucky to avoid any real injuries although I fell trying to scale something in left field, I was hit in the chin on numerous occasions and I took the side of a bleacher hard to the left side of my stomach. That injury, although it does not look like much drew blood and actually took a few days for to heal. I still was at the ballpark the next day doing my thing, but it did not feel great.

2. Attend at least 50 games- I know that I can do this one. I was at around 45 games this past season so I firmly believe this should be a piece of cake. I am a true Pirates fan and I love seeing the team play.

3. Raise more money for The Children’s Institute- I really want to continue to give to The Children’s Institute. While not all of the money is in from this season yet, I am proud that I can help out a little bit. I hope to be able to receive more support in the future. With a full season, I have much more time to plan this out and hopefully raise even more money.

4. Being able to snag more commemorative baseballs- like this one

5. Set the foundation with some off-season training- Normally I do not do much to prepare for the season until about a week before the season when I will walk. This year I am fortunate to have someone at my college who will be my personal trainer and help get me ready for the season. The combination of the cardio and weights will definitely help me get off to a fast start this coming season.

5. Advocate a 4:30 gate opening time on weekdays- I took the initiative at PirateFest to speak to someone high up about opening PNC Park at 4:30 instead of 5:00. Among the reasons for this being good are: ability to see more than three minutes of batting practice, kids get their first experience of seeing their favorite players and we get to feel closer to the team/feel like a part of the team. I am hoping that those in charge of the park see it the way myself and much of the Pirates season ticket family sees it. I spare you the remainder of the details or else we will be here all day.

6. Continue controlling my emotions- In the ballpark I was not as frustrated or impatient as I was in 2010 and that was great. I hope to be able to continue this in 2012.

7. Catch more baseballs on the fly- Just like in 2010, I relied almost solely on toss ups, so much so that I led PNC Park ballhawks by a comfortable margin. I hope to be able to catch some more instead of being a one trick pony. I hope to be good at many things, and considering that I do not have a glove trick, I have to make up for that as much as I can.

8. Signatures- I took a different approach to signatures last season. In short, I did not get many. For those I did get, almost all of them were for charity reasons. Still I ended up keeping my Matt Kemp and Tim Lincecum signatures and also got an Adrian Gonzalez signature which was cool. I likely will take a similar approach this season unless I want someone who hit or threw me a ball to sign it. Other than that charity reasons only.

9. Have fun- This is a fun experience. Ballhawking has allowed me to meet so many people I otherwise never would have met. For me it is great cardio and something which has made me a better person as well.

10. Snagging goal for this year- Lastly, the moment a lot of you have been waiting for. How many baseballs do I want to snag this season? Last season I decided on 128, a weird number but double the 64 baseballs I snagged in 2010. I ended up with 135 and would have snagged many more if there weren’t so many rained out BP’s.

I thought long and hard about my number for 2012 and finally decided on 206. Yes it is another weird number but I look at it this way. I am going to 50 plus games and if I can average 4 baseballs a game, then I will be right at 200. I know there will be days where I can do much better, and I know I can reach this goal. 206 comes from the total amount of baseballs I have snagged in my ballhawking career, so I hope to double my output. All of the ballhawking goals I have set for myself I have either met or surpassed and I have picked I number I believe I can get to.

One last goal that I would like to share is that I want a double digit game. I have come close on a few occasions, but I would just like to get that done a couple of times over the season.

Highs and lows of PirateFest

It was a big surprise to me that this year’s PirateFest was the second most attended. It was rather last minute that it was moved to before Christmas instead of the traditional end of January celebration. Here are the highs and lows of this year’s event.

High: Spacing

PirateFest was much more spread out and thus it was much easier to walk around and explore. Yes they could have had more things to check out, but usually PirateFest occurs when the boat show occurs and it is really cramped for room. Kudos to the Pirates for moving up the date and making it easier to move around. I love to check everything out and even on Saturday it was not too bad to get from point a to point b.

Low: Lines to get in

Friday is season ticket holder day. I heard many season ticket holders complain about getting in at 6:30 instead of 4:00. I can understand their frustration. Times are tough financially and with the ticket price increase and some seats being expensive the least you can do is let all season ticket holders in at 4:00. The lines on Saturday and Sunday were terribly run by David L. Lawrence Center security. I was a part of the Sunday line and it was a mess. There were no apologies and even worse there was confusion to where the line even started. It took 10 minutes for someone to tell me that I was in the wrong line. When I finally got close to the front they stopped the flow on my side and let this other group in. It was a mess, and couple that with only three scanners and things were just a mess. So much for me not missing a minute of PirateFest.

High: Players handing out programs

On Friday the Pirates had the genius idea to have the players hand out programs, calendars, pocket schedules, et cetera to the fans and it made a great first impression. It was a creative idea and immediately allowed you to rub elbows with the team. I hope they do this in the future.

Low: Oh Say Can You Sing

I appreciate a good song as much as everyone else, but I was at PirateFest on all three days and after hearing the National Anthem over 60 times, I may never want to hear it again. Maybe do auditions over all three days and pick the top 10. It got even worse at times when me (being Jewish) had to hear Christmas songs during the second round. It was just a mess.

High: Tim Neverett

While many are still not used to his voice yet, he was the person of all of the announcers on stage who had the best pronounciation.

Low: Tim Neverett

I was trying to get a picture of a q&a session but instead I got Tim Neverett’s bottom.

High: Andrew McCutchen and James McDonald

These two were the worst last year at PirateFest. J Mac was sick and did not really participate and Andrew McCutchen was cold, calculating and full of eye rolls. This year both were much improved. J Mac appeared in many game shows, hovered around the Oh Say Can You Sing booth Saturday holding court with fans and was a big hit with the fans who got to see him much more loose. Cutch was much better during q&a’s was a presence on all three days and on Saturday night during Wii Home Run Derby he sat back on the make shift field while 20 or so kids ran to sit right beside him. It was a cute scene. Perhaps the best moment for Cutch, at least for me was when he impersonated Neil Walker’s batting stance.


Low: Underused players/coaches

Just they were unseen and it was a shame that minus the q&a sessions and autograph signings they were seemingly out of the public eye.

High: Sunday free stuff

After the last game on Sundays things are usually given away. The stuff wasn’t as good as normal, but I still cashed in and so did many fans who opted to hang around. I also want to note that I got a baseball, and no I am obviously not counting it. I got even more stuff before the doors closed.

Low: Lacee Collins

She MC’d two games and pronounced at least half of her words incorrectly. Enough said.

High: Memorabilia galore

You never know if you will find a trading card, program or jersey in the memorabilia area and I believe I found a couple of things, one of which I bought and am enjoying.

Low: Autograph lines

I did not chase any autographs this year, and it was not because of the line, but the lines were ridiculous. For instance, it was a two hour wait to get Michael McKenry’s autograph (no offense to the Fort, just an example). I can his autograph whenever I want at PNC Park. Furthermore, take advantage of that extra space and make a place for another autograph zone or two. This spreads the fans out, reduces time and causes less hurt feelings for someone missing out on an autograph.

High: Root Sports highlight

Every year you get a chance to record a highlight from a Pirates game, but this year it was run the best it ever was. I did my highlight on Friday, and even better they gave me a flashdrive. That was much better than going online and only being able to view it for a short time.

Low: “Hey Clint, can I please have your autograph?”

I was sitting by the stage on Saturday when I saw a man waiting by the overpriced concession stand. I had to do a double take because the guy looked almost exactly like Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle. I quickly realized that it was not, however as a joke, I pointed it out to my friends Colston, Kayla and Shane. It was funny but then went bad pretty quickly. I saw two teenage girls run to this poor man (who was with his family) and ask for his autograph. It was just sad and proof that Saturday is when the “fans” come to PirateFest. Maybe they’ll get it one of these days.

High: I found a lineup card of the April 9, 2011 baseball game

Why was this cool you ask? Well this was the game where a “fan” infamously got tased and I was seen on Channel 4, quoted in an article for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and interviewed by Stan Savran who is the most respected Pittsburgh sports journalist. It brings back great memories for me. I really wanted the card but I did not want to pay the $25 for it. Maybe another time if it is still there. At least I got a picture of it.

High: The return of Andy Van Slyke

This was a huge positive for many Pirates fans. This was my first time getting to see him. He was a big part of those early 1990’s teams and was my father’s favorite player on those teams.

Low: The father who made his child dress like the Pirate Parrot

Low and perhaps a high: Clint Hurdle butchers my radio shoutout

Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle was getting ready to go into the secluded area and I asked him to do a shoutout for my radio show A to Z Sports. He first responded with a “WHAT!!” Not exactly understanding. Finally, out came a “Hi I’m Clint Hurdle, I’m all-in and you’re listening to A t Z Sports.” Oh boy. It will still air, half because he butchered it and half because he said all-in, which I key on when I impersonate Hurdle. Put those two pieces of the puzzle with Clint Hurdle confusing an X-Box for a “P-Box” and it just cracks me up. Also thanks to Daniel McCutchen, Frank Coonelly, Jeff Karstens and of course Hurdle for the radio shoutouts.

High and low: April 5

It is too long to wait for. This is the date of the first (home) game of the season when the Pirates take on the Philadelphia Phillies. PirateFest gets you excited, but now of course the wait is longer then ever before.

Notes:

1. Hat tip to Pirates Prospects. The team, headed by Tim Williams produced their second prospect guide. It looked great and I highly recommend it. I will use this to educate myself on the Pirates Minor League System. For $20 it is a great companion. They also publish a Pirates annual, on the team, the 40 man roster and expectations. To find out more about the books or just to see what they do, feel free to visit http://www.piratesprospects.com/

2. I would be remiss to not include my buddy Jim O’Brien. He was selling all of his books over all three days of PirateFest and he seemed to be busy interacting with people. We engaged in numerous conversations over the three days and I met a contact as well.

3. Thanks to my season ticket account executive Jaclyn Mereyl. I am in a bind of course as to whether I am renewing my season tickets due to a potential internship and because of her, I was able to receive tickets to two days of PirateFest. She has been really great to me these past couple of years despite my sometimes constant phone calls. She really is great at her job.

4. Thanks to Root Sports. I won a Twitter contest giving me four additional tickets to PirateFest. That saved me from having to pay $12 for a ticket. I was able to take Colston on Saturday and we had a great time (thanks for coming Colston).

5. Thanks to the gong from Oh Say Can You Sing (see above). No explanation needed.

6. Thanks to all of the people that ran into me and said hello. It was great to see/meet many of you.

7. Thanks to Randy Page (also known as Big Yellow) for providing the single best memory in my PirateFest history. At the end of Saturday’s q&a, Randy got a shoutout from Cutch and got applause from all of the players and coaches on stage. Man I picked the wrong seat to sit in.

Here come some bonus pictures

1. Myself with Pirates broadcaster Greg Brown

2. Myself with OVA beat reporter Kristy Robinson

3. Signed James McDonald holiday ornament I won from the Pirates in a Twitter contest. I ran from my seat in the stage area all the way to the back of PirateFest on Sunday through a tight crowd to get one of two that were there.

Grading the 2012 Pirates at PirateFest

A quick note here. When I say Friday, Saturday or Sunday I mean PirateFest which occured December 16-18, I do not mean literally this past Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Ok time in…

Clint Hurdle (last year A+) This year A: Clint Hurdle still understands that the fans want a winner. Yes there still is a lot of work to be done, but fans support Hurdle and that is huge as he starts year number two. Also on a humorous note, he called an X-Box a “P-Box” and then looked at me to correct him. He is loud and this team needs that. I saw him making the rounds Friday and Saturday but after Youth Baseball Clinic Sunday morning, he was no where to be found.

Jeff Banister (last year A) This year A-: Let me preface this by saying that it is not his fault. Unfortunately only the true Pirate fans even know who he is. Banister is a very nice guy and the discussion I had with him on Sunday was great. He talks to you like you are a friend and he has known you a long time. He is very respectful and it is a shame that fans don’t realize his importance in Pirates history, how close he was to becoming the Pirates manager and also that if Hurdle gets tossed Banister takes his place. Because of all of this, his role is reduced and he may have signed autographs, done the q&a’s and the Sunday youth clinic and that was it. He even waved to me when he came into PirateFest on Saturday. Great guy and the fans need to know him.

Nick Leyva A-: Again the same case as Banister but Leyva was not really even approached by fans. Unfortunately unless you knew him you would not recognize him if he were on the street. I finally got to meet him for the first time on Sunday and he was really nice. I can’t really say much else because he did not get much opportunity during q&a.

Bob Nutting (last year B+) This year C-: Nutting was present on Friday and probably Sunday for the Suite holders meeting. Other then that, I never saw him and I was wondering all over the place. He was his usual excited self during his Root Sports interview with Stan Savran, but he was a big dud this year for me.

Frank Coonelly (last year A) This year A: I was wondering in to PirateFest o Friday and the first person I actually saw was Frank. Within a minute we got into a conversation and it was great. He gets it and even during the management q&a sessions, he was sharp, straight to the point and was willing to add some humor into the mix.

Neal Huntington (last year A) This year A-: Some of the remarks Neal made at the media luncheon at PirateFest on Friday were a little troublesome and controversial, but he made the rounds, posed for pictures and was able to make a good impression. He was just a notch below Frank.

Pedro Alvarez A-: At this time during PirateFest last year Pedro was on his honeymoon and rumors about weight problems he may have had were circulating all over the place. Pedro looked to be in great shape and discussed his training regimen he has used this off-season and he seemed more driven then ever. It helps that the Pirates also signed Casey McGehee to push him and perhaps make him even better. He posed for plenty of pictures with fans, myself included and even had some fun during some interviews. His best moment was Sunday afternoon when he was signing autographs for season ticket holders and was sneaking a look at Oh Say Can You Sing from the curtain. It was rather humerous. Well done Pedro.

Clint Barmes A: Clint gets high marks here as well. He did not get much questions during the q&a sessions, but he made the most of them with his concise answers and eye contact. He was an active participant Saturday in Jeopardy even though he got some answers wrong. His highlight was actually after Jeopardy. He was free to go and could have left and got lunch or hung out with some of the team, but instead he crouched by the stage and had to have signed hundreds of signatures and posed for a good amount of pictures. It was a nice welcome to Pittsburgh gesture.

Kevin Correia (last year A) This year B-: Kevin Correia went strangely unrecognized for an all-star a few short months ago. Many fans swarm players as they leave but when Correia left no one even seemed to notice. As a banker on Deal or No Deal he seemed cold and bored. He just seemed disinterested by the experience and was just going through the motions. He went through autograph sessions and on Saturday after his round as the banker he signed until he was told he had to stop.

Joel Hanrahan A: Joel was very present at PirateFest this year although his Saturday Jeopardy skills were questionable, to the point that he would throw his partner under the bus and buzz just for the sake of buzzing in when his partner has no idea what the answer was. Joel was his usual funny self during the q&a sessions and he seemed to be the most sought after Pirates on the radio interviews. All in a day’s work for Joel.

Jeff Karstens (last year A) This year A-: Karstens was not as active as he was last year but he was witty during the &a and even jokingly appeared insulted when a fan asking a question said that only Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez knew Spanish. I got to talk to him and that was cool. He is a great guy but he has a huge shell that he still sometimes struggles to get out of.

Brad Lincoln (last year A) This year B+: He appeared more uninterested this year although he started to use Twitter and that helped him a little bit. I did not see much of him outside of the q&a and Sunday Oh Say Can You Sing competition. This grade may not be his fault but still I wanted to see some personality and he seemingly fell asleep during q&a.

Andrew McCutchen (last year D) This year A: It is the most dramatic transformation I have seen. Cutch was on his best behavior throughout his three days. Friday he was much more playful with the fans during his q&a. Saturday he unleashed his Kermit the Frog impression and was great with the kids during Wii Home Run Derby. He sat with the kids and got very animated. I finally got to see the side of Cutch that I have long been looking for. Sunday he was not out as much, but he was signing and I saw no eye rolling which is a great improvement.

Daniel McCutchen B-: Again this is not his fault. He had his best year thus far in his career but did Wii Home Run Derby Friday night, the q&a sessions and that was just about it. Yes he signed but he just was not out like the other Pirates. He clearly has a great sense of humor that he displayed Friday night when he referred to Hurdle and made fun of the Root Sports Special “Home Hurdle Advantage”.

James McDonald (last year D+) This year A+: Yes J Mac gets the highest grade. He was a little hesitant to sign autographs or take pictures in his downtime, but he was much more active than the previous PirateFest. Friday he gave me a love tap while I was waiting in a line after I asked him what was up. Saturday we had a nice conversation and he kept joking that I should try to audition for Oh Say Can You Sing. It was funny to rub shoulders with him. The highlight was that he was Mr. Gameshow. He did all kinds of games and was all over the stage, judging, helping and being hilarious. All in all, a great improvement for J Mac.

Michael McKenry A: Again he was limited but he got quite a few chances to talk about that 19th inning in Atlanta. He still is nice as can be and you can tell he is ready for the season. He can bench a lot of weight and he is ripped. There is no other way to say it. Wish I could have seen more of his personality though.

Alex Presley B-: Things started out great for Presley when he handed me a PirateFest program, calendar a pocket schedule with a “what’s up man”, but then things got a little weird. He just did not stand out. It was cool that he signed in a radio area by the PirateFest stage, but he seemed out of place as a banker on Deal or No Deal and he really had no chance to talk during the q&a sessions.

Chris Resop B: Resop just did not have much chance. I heard he was supposed to judge the Perogie Eating Contest one day, but I never went over there. He shined during public interviews and he gave good answers during the q&a but PirateFest does not seem to be his thing. Hopefully he will open up more soon like he did during the interviews.

Jose Tabata (last year B+) This year B: He was a gem during Friday’s q&a, but otherwise was just not used much. His most memorable line Friday was when a season ticket holder was apologizing on behalf of his friend who interfered with Tabata catching a homer. Tabata in true form said to the teenager, “Thanks. Have a good night okay?” All of the players laughed. Otherwise, Tabata looked mostly confused.

Neil Walker (last year B-) This year A-: Neil participated in Minute to Win It Saturday and was a big hit with the fans. He loved the one fan during Saturday q&a. Walker and Hurdle were the two loudest in cheering for this fan and he kept coming back up. Walker seemed a little bored during Friday’s q&a as though he would rather be elsewhere. He still showed up unlike last year when he did the Root Sports interview Friday then stayed away until Sunday due to illness.

That is grading all of the current Pirates players, coaches and management. I hope you enjoyed this and stay tuned for my PirateFest recap.

Catching up

To all of my loyal blog readers, I apologize for not posting lately. I have not been feeling well and just have not been up to posting. I do have a lot to update you about, so here is a list of what to expect in the near future:

1. PirateFest posts: It is too hard to break down all three days. I likely will do a highlights/low lights post. I also will do a separate post rating the Pirates and how they were to the fans much like I did last year.

2. Updated NL/AL Projected standings: Recent signings, events and gut feelings have made me change my mind on some teams, so you will see my new insight and why I feel the way that I do.

3. Goals for the 2012 season: I obviously have goals for the season, but certain things hinder my goals. I will likely blog this from a ballhawking perspective though and also from a fan perspective. There is a chance that I will not ballhawk nearly as much as I have in the past, and that would change almost all of these goals.

All in all, there is a lot for me to catch up to, and I hope to finish it all by this week, as on Monday school starts for me. The good news, is that if I am able to get season tickets, Wednesday nights are the only consistent night throughout the school semester that I would be unable to attend games. That would make me miss potentially one or two games. I look forward to posting these entries and I hope that you will look forward to reading them.

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