Results tagged ‘ Garrett Atkins ’

The New Atkins Diet: Garrett Atkins cut and other notes

 1. The Pirates have unconditionally released Garrett Atkins today. Atkins hit .129 this spring managing only four hits in 31 at-bats. I along with many others predicted that Atkins would stick with the team, and my main reason was that Atkins played under Clint Hurdle in Colorado, however he never really got it going. Many also had anticipated that after his dismal season with the Baltimore Orioles last season that being reunited with Hurdle would help, as Atkins found a great deal of success in Colorado and the hitter’s friendly Coor’s Field, however that never came into fruition.

 2. Left-handed reliever Justin Thomas and right-handed pitcher Fernando Nieve were both reassigned to Minor League Camp, and neither was expected by anyone to make the 25-man roster and was evidenced by Thomas pitching in only 4 1/3 innings and Nieve being rocked in the early portions of Spring Training.

 3. Scott Olsen and Joe Beimel have both been injured for almost all of Spring Training and now Olsen is out of the fifth starter race and Pirates GM Neal Huntington “may be out of the bullpen competition”. There is a strong possibility that Olsen will start the season on the disabled list as he has recovered but according to Huntington, “…not where he needs to be”. Olsen spoke to the media today, and based off of those conversations, it is almost certain that he will start his year on the DL. With this news, it appears that Charlie Morton will be the fifth starter on this team as Brad Lincoln’s status is unknown. Morton has had a great spring and is getting his confidence back which will help this team.

4. Opening Day is April 1 in Chicago against the Cubs and either Paul Maholm or Kevin Correia will get the ball for the Pirates. Whomever loses this competition will receive the consolation of throwing the home opener April 7 vs the Colorado Rockies. I am sure that if it was up to the fans and even Correia, Maholm would get the ball, as he and Doumit are the longest tenured Pirates. Other than his start against the Red Sox, Correia has not fared well this spring and Maholm not great either however has shown promise and made adjustments.

 These are some of the Pirates news and notes for the day, and I am going to be posting an entry within the hour on some Pirates and their strengths/weaknesses.

A Vote For Pedro.. No not THAT One

I understand that this may seem like a Napoleon Dynamite or even a Pedro Alvarez reference, but that is not the case. The Pedro that I happen to be speaking of is Pedro Ciriaco.

 This past September Ciriaco was made a September call-up and management never gave him a chance. He never really got a chance to start and show off some of his glove work. His bat in that small quality looked impressive as he hit .333.
 
 This Spring, Ciriaco has been given ample opportunity at shortstop and has rewarded the Pirates hitting over .350 before today’s “B” game that he was scheduled to be in. Manager Clint Hurdle seems impressed by Ciriaco and honestly, why wouldn’t you be?

 Ciriaco has to be considered a front runner as Rule-5 pick Josh Rodriguez does not look to make the team. Ciriaco can play the infield minus first base and is dabbling in some outfield and can prove his worth even further.

 It also helps Pedro’s case that Ronny Cedeno, who does his best work in the earlier part of the season was hitting .217 as of Sunday although he has brought that up since then. Cedeno is too streaky for me and much like Andy LaRoche is good in April, no more and no less.

 Ciriaco was given to the Pirates by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the trade that sent Chris Snyder here as well. Pedro was rated the Diamondback’s best defensive prospect, so the offense is a strike extra, no pun intended.

 If this Pedro does not make the roster come Opening Day, then something is truly wrong with this team. I understand what Garrett Atkins and Josh Fields can do, but at this moment the way that the roster is, Ciriaco is the way to go.

Zack Hample Interview Part IV

 As I said in the last entry, this post will be the interview in its entirety. I put a lot of time and effort in to this and I would like to thank Zack Hample author of The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals and Secrets Beneath the Stitches, for taking nearly an hour of his time to answer my questions. The interview itself ended up being over 14 pages and almost 5,300 words, but here is the completed product:

1.      You have written How To Snag Major League Baseballs and Watching Baseball Smarter, why a third book?

Zack Hample: “I just love to write first of all and I just love collecting baseballs. I love ballhawking, snagging, whatever you want to call it and although there’s some people out there who think that I’ve kind of already overdone it and sort of maxed it out, I still feel that there’s a lot more still to be said and it was even more than that even before I wrote this book. I had a vision for this book that was all about the baseball itself, and sort of an extension of my collection and my overall passion for this one particular hobby.”

2.      How did the title ultimately come to be?

Zack Hample: “The title was actually suggested by my editor and some other people at Random House. It took a long time to pick the title, and it was getting to the point where they needed a title because long before a book actually hits the stores, there’s publicity and there’s memos and releases and the publisher sends out stuff to bookstores to try and get them to pre-order the book, and they’re trying to generate interest way ahead of time and you have to be able to call it something at that point. Months ago, it really came time to make a decision and we went through a lot of ideas, and I really like the title that they ended up choosing. I think that it is catchy and I think it’s a pretty good idea of what the book is about.”

3.      We all know that a book takes research, how much research went into your book?

Hample: “A ton of research. I actually thought that this book, would be easier to write than Watching Baseball Smarter, and I’m such a big nerd with numbers and like to keep track of things. I actually keep track of all the hours that I spent writing, and Watching Baseball Smarter, took a total of about 1100 hours and I figured that this book would take less just because I knew there was going to be a lot of stuff on snagging baseballs which is pretty much all in my head and I figured I’d just be really passionate about the subject. My publisher actually told me that this book could be shorter. Watching Baseball Smarter, was 64,000 words, and they said for this one about the ball, aim for 50 to 70,000, so I thought great, if I can still get paid and write 50,000, then I guess that’s what I’ll aim for and that was my first thought, not like I was trying to sell anything short. Once I started getting into it, I just loved the material and kept finding so much of it that I really didn’t pay any attention to the word count and I ended up writing about 80,000 words and I needed to ask special permission to go over that limit. It took me a long time to write more words and it also took much longer than I expected because of all of the research that was involved. The bulk of my research came from the Hall of Fame. I was in touch with, Tim Wiles the Director of Research and he had a ton of information and he had several files on foul balls and the ball itself, actual Xeroxes of newspaper clippings dating back to the 1860’s and he told me that I was welcome to come up there and take a look at it for free. I guess otherwise I would have had to pay the admission to get into the museum that day, but that stuff is available to the public. That is way up-state in Cooperstown (New York) though, and I figured it would cost me a lot to get there, to rent a hotel and would have to stay a couple of nights am I just going to take all of my notes, in the span of two days? No I’m probably going to want to Xerox them anyway, so the other option was to pay $300 and have him Xerox everything and send it to me, so I chose that option. It wasn’t cheap. I also spent about a thousand dollars of my own money going to Costa Rica (a roundtrip flight, two nights in a hotel, etc..). I put a lot of money into this book which is how business works, you make an investment and you hope to end up with a great product in the end. The Hall of Fame sent me a phonebook sized stack of papers and I did nothing for a solid month, other then just comb through and read stuff and sort of methodically made my own index of what all of the different articles were about, categorized them and from there threw out a lot of stuff and highlighted a lot of stuff. That was a solid month of reading stuff and trying to figure out what to do with it. I felt like I was an English Major for a year and a half but other things involving research included visiting the Humidor where the Rockies store their baseballs. I knew that I was going to write about that in the book, and yes there were photos online and there were articles written, but like the Rawlings factory in Costa Rica, I could have written a chapter about it if I hadn’t been there, but I just knew that it would be a lot better if I could see it for myself. I also got to go and spend a day with the Phillies’ Equipment Manager and Citizens Bank Park on a day when the team was on the road. He took me into all of the secret areas of the stadium and showed me how he actually rubbed mud on baseballs that are used during games. So I went to certain places and gathered info along the way and even for the snagging baseballs section at the end of the book, I had already been to every Major League Stadium, but there were a few places that I hadn’t been to in about a decade and I knew that I wanted to write about those in the book. Again, I could have written stuff asking people about it, looking at photos and seeing charts of the stadium but I went to Atlanta for three games, I went to Cleveland for three games and I went on a few other trips just for the book. I kind of crammed those trips into last spring to beat one of the deadlines so I consider that research, and it was never ending really. So many interview requests and just a lot of online research, I sort of was poking around doing various searches and Google and just seeing what comes up and kind of following the leads and talking to people. That was a long answer, but that was because I did a lot of research. That’s why I took so long to write this book.”

4.      What was your favorite part of the book to write?

Hample: “I am not even quite sure how to answer this, because just in sort of looking through the book, or telling people about it, it seemed that whatever chapter I’m talking about, is sort of like ‘Oh man I love this chapter, this is my favorite chapter!’ and then I start thinking about the one that came after it and it’s like, ‘No, that’s my favorite chapter!’ I really enjoyed a chapter called “Foul Balls in Pop Culture” and there’s kind of two things there and the main one was that I critiqued a lot of TV shows and movies that had scenes in them with foul balls. That was a lot of fun, to actually watch these things, sometimes in slow motion and sometimes twenty times to pick up on little details and sort of play the role of film critic briefly, I think that really turned out to be a fun section. The timeline, “The Evolution of the Ball” which is definitely the biggest single chapter in the book, is pretty intense. It was probably the toughest section to write because it was so long, but I learned the most probably from writing that. It’s not like I knew all of this stuff going into the book, I learned a ton along the way. The “How to Snag Major League Baseballs” portion of the book, that was great because I got to write it in the first person. I didn’t write about myself just to hear myself talk but I thought that it would actually kind of change the tone of the book and make it more personal and be able to tell some stories that could help people out. It was fun to kind of change gears a little bit and it almost resembled my blog at times, and I sort of felt more of a connection of the reader or who I imagine the reader to be. I guess the Rawlings chapter as well was just a thrill on a personal note. It was the last chapter that I wrote and my dad was really sick at the time, and he was diagnosed with cancer in June, and he ended up dying in September and his last few weeks alive, he and I worked on that chapter together (he is also a writer) and I did all of the work and writing, but I would write a sentence and then read it to him and he’d say ‘great’ or ‘no I don’t like that word, what else can you put in there?’ We combed through that whole chapter together and he was with me every step of the way and it was our last real great time spent together. My mom said that he didn’t really have energy to be awake a whole lot during the day but whenever I came over with my laptop, it just energized him and he was so happy to see me and to work with me, so when I see that chapter, there’s a lot of my dad in it.”

5.      What do you want people to think of your book?

Hample: “In general, I really love it when I can share my passion with people and then other people share it back in return, so it’s sort of my way of saying to the world, ‘look how cool baseballs are’. This sort of explains why I am such a nutjob about it, and why I’m so into catching them. I want people who don’t even like baseball to enjoy this book, just because it sort of intellectualizes an object, and brings to life something that I think most people, wouldn’t think about.”

6.      Who is the target audience for your book?

Hample: “I don’t think any diehard baseball fan would know half of the stuff in the first two parts of the book, probably not even 10 percent of the first two parts of the book. There’s some famous stories for sure, but I go into a lot of detail that I certainly never knew and I probably know as much about baseballs anyone going into this book. I certainly have baseball fans in mind just because I use baseball jargon and I just talk about certain things about the sport without stopping to give a ton of context, whereas in Watching Baseball Smarter, I did stop and took some time to explain things, because I was trying to introduce people to the sport they might not have known as much about it coming in, so certainly a more educated fan I guess for this book, but I don’t really think you have to know a whole lot about baseball. There’s certainly a few things you might not get if you don’t know about baseball, but there’s just so many fun stories that are great out of context that I think anyone can read. I think that maybe kids under 10 years old might have a tough time but I think this book will appeal to a wide-range of readers, I hope so anyway.”

7.      What is your favorite picture in the book?

Hample: “Probably the Justin Bieber photo, no I’m just kidding. Well probably, the photos from the Rawlings factory, I guess, just because it’s a place that basically nobody gets to go to. I was fascinated with it long before I even dreamed of writing this book, I always wanted to go there. I was there on a family vacation in 2005, and I contacted Rawlings and tried to get them to let me in and of course they said no. I don’t know, it was such an elusive place and I have many more photos on my computer from the factory that did not make it into the book because there was limited space and all that, but I think just looking at those brings back some great memories. We all want behind the scenes access, we want special privileges, we want to see stuff other people don’t get to see, and so that’s what I think of when I see those photos and it’s pretty cool to be the one who gets to share that with other people.”

8.      Why three sections, and why did you come up with the three sections that you came up with?

Hample: “It took a lot of planning and scheming and strategizing and the biggest challenge by far with this whole book, was simply figuring out how to organize all of the information. It just seemed logical, I mean it’s not like three is the magic number or anything like that, I mean I would have done five parts if there were five huge, different areas that needed to be talked about and at one point I just considered doing two parts. I knew it would be at least two, as I thought about doing a snagging part and then everything else, and there was even a time when I was considering four and I forget what the fourth one would have been but it really just worked out that way. The structure of the book kept evolving right up until the end.”

9.      You tried to incorporate the good of baseball such as how crazy people were in the early 1900’s over baseballs and the bad such as death in baseball. Why do you think there is so much good and bad in baseball?

Hample: “I think that baseball is probably a reflection of life in general, I mean it’s not all bad and it’s not going to be all great. I think that’s sort of the nature of the world and there’s just a lot of money involved in baseball and a lot of ego so there’s a lot of drama in that sense. You are dealing with a very hard object of course, that can travel more than 120 miles per hour when it leaves the bat so from a physical standpoint, there’s certainly the chance that destructive things will happen. I just think that’s sort of how it goes, it is what it is, and that’s what makes it so entertaining too as something great might happen but something tragic may happen as well and you sort of live and die with it, sometimes literally.”

10.  What inspired you to write down the complete history of the baseball (“The Evolution of the Ball”)?

Hample: “Just my own curiosity inspired it and I just felt like that was an essential part of it. It’s a book about the ball and in fact, when I tell people about the book, I tell them the title, and the first thing they ask is, ‘oh it’s like a history of the ball,” and it’s funny that that is the first thing they mention, and I have to say, ‘well yes, there’s a chapter about that but there’s so much more’. So I think without even really knowing much or thinking much about it, it’s sort of a logical obvious thing to write about and from a personal standpoint, I was fascinated myself in how it had changed and how it affected the sport along the way.”

11.  You made a youtube video recently showing all that was inside the baseball. What inspires you to break down the baseball… literally and would you recommend it to others?

Hample: “That’s something that I had done on my own a couple of times over the years, just out of curiosity. I’m not really particularly handy or good at fixing things or you hear stories about kids who took their parents microwaves apart when they were seven and then learned how to put it together and now they’re an expert mechanic. It’s not anything like that with me, I was curious to see what was inside of it and as far as the Youtube video goes, as with the book itself, it’s just something I love so much that I want to share with a wider audience  and it would be fun and interesting really for people to see it.”

12.  Why did you decide to put all of the pictures in of the commemorative baseballs, and how many different types of commemoratives out there?

Hample: “I don’t know the exact number, and it is kind of hard to pin down, because there have been prototypes of balls that were never released to the public but there are a  few collectors who have them. They weren’t ever used in games, so many are unsure if you count those. There sometimes is one logo which has three different versions and different background colors, so do you count that as three different ones or just one? It’s hard to pin down a number, but there are hundreds. I’m friends with someone who is a serious commemorative baseball collector, and he shared with me a master list at one point, and he was very helpful and it helped me come up with those 36 commemorative balls that you see in the book. The reason why I wanted to put those in there, quite simply, is who doesn’t love photos? My editor told me, that unfortunately we were not able to do color photos but she said you can have as many black and white photos as you want. Photos or any kind of visual really, bring stuff to life, and I just wanted to have a whole chunk of photos. When I pick up some random book in a store, I always flip through to see if there are pictures and I look at those and read the captions and I wanted that to be the case with this book, but not just have them clustered in one little area, but have them all throughout the book. I struggle with ADD, I haven’t officially been diagnosed, but I don’t want to read something that’s just hundreds of solid pages of text, I like it when it’s broken up a little bit with cool stuff to look at.”

13.  Sticking to the same theme, what is your favorite commemorative baseball, either snagged or not snagged?

Hample: “I think the prettiest one is La Primera Serie from Monterrey, Mexico. The captions says that, ‘it is the first commemorative ball for actual regular season games that took place outside of the US or Canada’ and it’s too bad that there are not color photos in the book, because this particular ball is just gorgeous. The ball has alternating red and green stitches and the actual stamping from the ball is red, so it’s extremely festive. That’s a popular ball in general among collectors, and I think it is one of the coolest ones. I’m not sure about the rarity of the ball, there might have been a lot of them made and just sold as souvenirs, it’s only 15-years-old or so.”

14.  Now on to something both you and I are rather familiar with- snagging. You wrote an entire book on this topic earlier, how is this section different from that book?

Hample: “The first thing I want to say about it is that I didn’t simply copy and paste my first book into the final third of this new one. I completely rewrote it. A lot of the chapter names are the same, I got that right when I was 19 and wrote the book the first time, but looking back at that first book now, I’m actually kind of embarrassed by it. I think the writing is terrible and I wasn’t nearly as knowledgeable about this stuff and it’s not really a good book. I mean you could say ‘yeah well it was good for a college kid’ or whatever, but it’s certainly not my best work. I think that I had only been to a dozen stadiums by the time I wrote that first one, and now I’ve been to 48, and I talk about many different stadiums, many different players and stories, I’ve learned much more about this since I wrote the first one. The writing is better; it’s more fun, it’s more personal, and I sort of go beyond myself and beyond just catching balls and bring in stories about the sport too and sort of actual historical things and things that were in the news connected to ballhawking. I think it’s a good enough section that people that don’t even want to catch baseballs would have fun reading it.”

15.  If you could give a quick tip to those reading this interview that are interested in ballhawking that you do not normally give, what would it be and why?

Hample: “I have to say that every possible strategy that I’ve ever thought of is in the book, I did not withhold a single thing. The only thing that I understated in the book was when it came to sneaking past security and being sneaky. I didn’t want to go there, I don’t want to (tick) off anybody in Major League Baseball or get myself in serious trouble. It’s all there in the book, so I would just sort of reiterate the basic things, which are: show up early to batting practice, bring a glove, and invest a few bucks in buying some clothing of the visiting team as you’ll really get a lot of balls tossed at you. Those are just the basics, so just go out to a park sometime, and have a friend hit a few fungos and just practice catching fly balls, it can really be helpful, just learning how to judge a a ball. I don’t have an extra insider’s info, and part three of this book is so through that it may come back to haunt me. I’ve already lost out on a lot of baseballs because other people were there to catch them that got into it because of me, and they were using my own tricks against me. I’m willing to make that sacrifice and lose out on a few baseballs here and there just to be able to share this with a lot of people. There are many baseballs to be caught, and if my numbers are just slightly down at the end of the year, so be it, I’m sure there’s a lot of other people out there that will be happy to have caught those baseballs.”

16.  For those interested in ballhawking but who have never tried, what is the top saying you use to get a player’s attention for a baseball?

Hample: “My voice. I mean that might sound obvious, but I think if you’ve never really tried or have never you gone early, you might not realize that it is perfectly acceptable to shout out at the players as loud as you possibly can as long as you do it politely and you don’t expect anything and you’re not demanding and you say please. Just don’t be shy, raise your voice and make yourself be heard.”

17.  What is your favorite snag?

Hample: “I’m still going to go with the last home run ever at Shea Stadium (hit by a Met), just because it was incredibly crowded and it was a very historic game and I practically grew up in that stadium and I never caught a home run there in all the years that I’d been there, and then with just a few innings to go, I managed to do it, and to me that’s better then a Barry Bonds home run because Bonds is just one guy, and of course, there’s speculation that he may have done some dishonest things along the way. The Mets home run ball represents an entire organization, a city and a stadium so that one is going to be hard to beat, unless I catch somebody’s 500th home run or someone’s 3000th hit, maybe it will be a ground-rule double and bounce up to me.”

18.  Why should people buy your book? What makes it different from other baseball books?

Hample: “Well, because it’s fun and interesting and because I think a lot of books out there focus on a particular player, they focus on a team, they’ll focus on a particular World Series, they’ll focus on some history and there will be a lot of trivia, but my book it, as far as I know, there has never been a book that just focused on an object before like this or to this extent in baseball. It’s a different kind of baseball book, it’s sort of like a look at the sport itself through the lens of the ball.”

19.  Who is your favorite current baseball player?

Hample: “I’m going to have to go with Heath Bell. He’s been so incredibly nice to me and I already felt that he was my favorite two years ago before he was even a closer, and now look at him, he’s the man. He’s making all-star teams, he’s in the spotlight and he’s the man for the Padres so I think it’s got to be Heath Bell. I mean there are other guys I just love. I’ve always loved Jeter and Mariano. Mariano Rivera and Ichiro Suzuki- I love those two guys because they found their own unique way to succeed. I mean Mariano, just throws one speed and yet he just dominates and throws off Major League hitters, it’s unheard of, and Ichiro, he’s practically got his (butt) hanging out of the batter’s box and he’s running one way, his bat goes the other way and he weighs like 30 pounds with rocks in his pockets and he just should not be a professional athlete or baseball player, and it’s not just like he made it, I mean he dominates, so I sort of feel like he is an underdog even though he is still great, so I appreciate players like that.”

20.  What team is the best bp team for you?

Hample: “The Marlins. The Marlins have always been really generous with tossing out baseballs into the crowd and it may be because I have a wonderful teal colored outfit, but for a number of years, they’ve just had a ton of righties and just guys that really crush the ball. I’ve always put up good numbers and had a lot of fun seeing the Marlins play.”

21.  Since I will likely put this on my Pirates blog, what do you make of the Pirates?

Hample: “In general, I actually don’t keep up with off-season news, just because baseball completely takes over my life during the warmer months, that I actually like to take the winter months and get as far away from it as possible, so I don’t really know that much about what’s been happening in the Major Leagues in general since the end of the World Series and then you sort of go a step further back and talk about the Pirates, I couldn’t tell you a single move they made. For all I know, Albert Pujols may have signed with them but… wait, is Clint Hurdle going to be managing them? (Upon finding out that Garrett Atkins will join them) I think he has proven that he can hit a mile above sea level. I don’t expect good things from the Pirates, this season, just judging on past performance. I mean I would love for the Pirates to win the division, I would love it, again, I love the underdog and Pittsburgh is such a wonderful baseball city that just goes back to generations and I would love to see that franchise resurrect itself, but I don’t see it just turning around that quickly, but no one thought the Padres were going to do anything last year, I mean everybody thought that they were going to suck, and they did end up missing the playoffs, but they surprised a lot of people.

22.  What do you make of PNC Park from a ballhawking perspective?

Hample: “My best advice on how to handle right field at PNC Park is not to go there or hang out behind the bleachers before the stadium opens. I know I put PNC Park in my top 10, but it sort of barely squeaked in there. It is not a great batting practice park, but it’s really good during games. If I were just according to BP, I probably would have put Citizens Bank Park in there. I have become more home run conscious. There’s sort of that flat standing room area between the bleachers and that low second deck that helps a lot.”

23.  Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Hample: “Ballhawking as a cultural phenomenon gets a lot of bad press and there’s a lot of negativity associated with it. People have this perception that ballhawks knock over little kids and steal baseballs from them, just because I catch one ball means that someone else is deprived of it, but that’s really not how it works, and it’s something that kids of all ages just enjoy. I try to give back I’m raising money for a charity and I give a lot of baseballs to kids and I see other ballhawks doing the same thing. When my first book came out, I was sort of all about keeping every single ball and I even wrote a list of excuses not give people on why not to give them a baseball and I am pretty embarrassed by that now. My attitude has changed, and ballhawking has received a lot of press in the last few years and I think it’s going to get a lot more in the coming seasons when A-Rod starts taking aim at Bonds’ career record  and Pujols as well. Everyone is going to be hearing about ballhawks, and ballhawk related things. I think that the less people know about this, the more negative things they will tend to assume but I think for people who aren’t familiar with this, give it a chance, read the book, read some blogs of ballhawks, go on mygameballs.com, read some of the columns  and read your (Zac’s) blog. It is a really fun, positive hobby and like anything, there are some negative things that do arise, but it’s just pretty cool, and I just want more people to know about it and give it a fair shake.”

 

Zack Hample Interview Part III

 There will be one additional part to this interview, however it will be the entire interview. This entry is the remainder of the interview, as somehow I managed to finish the interview. Here is Part III:

10.      What is your favorite picture in the book?

Hample: “Probably the Justin Bieber photo, no I’m just kidding. Well probably, the photos from the Rawlings factory, I guess, just because it’s a place that basically nobody gets to go to. I was fascinated with it long before I even dreamed of writing this book, I always wanted to go there. I was there on a family vacation in 2005, and I contacted Rawlings and tried to get them to let me in and of course they said no. I don’t know, it was such an elusive place and I have many more photos on my computer from the factory that did not make it into the book because there was limited space and all that, but I think just looking at those brings back some great memories. We all want behind the scenes access, we want special privileges, we want to see stuff other people don’t get to see, and so that’s what I think of when I see those photos and it’s pretty cool to be the one who gets to share that with other people.”

11.      You made a youtube video recently showing all that was inside the baseball. What inspires you to break down the baseball… literally and would you recommend it to others?

Hample: “That’s something that I had done on my own a couple of times over the years, just out of curiosity. I’m not really particularly handy or good at fixing things or you hear stories about kids who took their parents microwaves apart when they were seven and then learned how to put it together and now they’re an expert mechanic. It’s not anything like that with me, I was curious to see what was inside of it and as far as the Youtube video goes, as with the book itself, it’s just something I love so much that I want to share with a wider audience  and it would be fun and interesting really for people to see it.”

12.      Why did you decide to put all of the pictures in of the commemorative baseballs, and how many different types of commemoratives out there?

Hample: “I don’t know the exact number, and it is kind of hard to pin down, because there have been prototypes of balls that were never released to the public but there are a  few collectors who have them. They weren’t ever used in games, so many are unsure if you count those. There sometimes is one logo which has three different versions and different background colors, so do you count that as three different ones or just one? It’s hard to pin down a number, but there are hundreds. I’m friends with someone who is a serious commemorative baseball collector, and he shared with me a master list at one point, and he was very helpful and it helped me come up with those 36 commemorative balls that you see in the book. The reason why I wanted to put those in there, quite simply, is who doesn’t love photos? My editor told me, that unfortunately we were not able to do color photos but she said you can have as many black and white photos as you want. Photos or any kind of visual really, bring stuff to life, and I just wanted to have a whole chunk of photos. When I pick up some random book in a store, I always flip through to see if there are pictures and I look at those and read the captions and I wanted that to be the case with this book, but not just have them clustered in one little area, but have them all throughout the book. I struggle with ADD, I haven’t officially been diagnosed, but I don’t want to read something that’s just hundreds of solid pages of text, I like it when it’s broken up a little bit with cool stuff to look at.”

13.      Sticking to the same theme, what is your favorite commemorative baseball, either snagged or not snagged?

Hample: “I think the prettiest one is La Primera Serie from Monterrey, Mexico. The captions says that, ‘it is the first commemorative ball for actual regular season games that took place outside of the US or Canada’ and it’s too bad that there are not color photos in the book, because this particular ball is just gorgeous. The ball has alternating red and green stitches and the actual stamping from the ball is red, so it’s extremely festive. That’s a popular ball in general among collectors, and I think it is one of the coolest ones. I’m not sure about the rarity of the ball, there might have been a lot of them made and just sold as souvenirs, it’s only 15-years-old or so.”

14.      Now on to something both you and I are rather familiar with- snagging. You wrote an entire book on this topic earlier, how is this section different from that book?

Hample: “The first thing I want to say about it is that I didn’t simply copy and paste my first book into the final third of this new one. I completely rewrote it. A lot of the chapter names are the same, I got that right when I was 19 and wrote the book the first time, but looking back at that first book now, I’m actually kind of embarrassed by it. I think the writing is terrible and I wasn’t nearly as knowledgeable about this stuff and it’s not really a good book. I mean you could say ‘yeah well it was good for a college kid’ or whatever, but it’s certainly not my best work. I think that I had only been to a dozen stadiums by the time I wrote that first one, and now I’ve been to 48, and I talk about many different stadiums, many different players and stories, I’ve learned much more about this since I wrote the first one. The writing is better; it’s more fun, it’s more personal, and I sort of go beyond myself and beyond just catching balls and bring in stories about the sport too and sort of actual historical things and things that were in the news connected to ballhawking. I think it’s a good enough section that people that don’t even want to catch baseballs would have fun reading it.”

15.      If you could give a quick tip to those reading this interview that are interested in ballhawking that you do not normally give, what would it be and why?

Hample: “I have to say that every possible strategy that I’ve ever thought of is in the book, I did not withhold a single thing. The only thing that I understated in the book was when it came to sneaking past security and being sneaky. I didn’t want to go there, I don’t want to (tick) off anybody in Major League Baseball or get myself in serious trouble. It’s all there in the book, so I would just sort of reiterate the basic things, which are: show up early to batting practice, bring a glove, and invest a few bucks in buying some clothing of the visiting team as you’ll really get a lot of balls tossed at you. Those are just the basics, so just go out to a park sometime, and have a friend hit a few fungos and just practice catching fly balls, it can really be helpful, just learning how to judge a a ball. I don’t have an extra insider’s info, and part three of this book is so through that it may come back to haunt me. I’ve already lost out on a lot of baseballs because other people were there to catch them that got into it because of me, and they were using my own tricks against me. I’m willing to make that sacrifice and lose out on a few baseballs here and there just to be able to share this with a lot of people. There are many baseballs to be caught, and if my numbers are just slightly down at the end of the year, so be it, I’m sure there’s a lot of other people out there that will be happy to have caught those baseballs.”

16.      For those interested in ballhawking but who have never tried, what is the top saying you use to get a player’s attention for a baseball?

Hample: “My voice. I mean that might sound obvious, but I think if you’ve never really tried or have never you gone early, you might not realize that it is perfectly acceptable to shout out at the players as loud as you possibly can as long as you do it politely and you don’t expect anything and you’re not demanding and you say please. Just don’t be shy, raise your voice and make yourself be heard.”

17.      What is your favorite snag?

Hample: “I’m still going to go with the last home run ever at Shea Stadium (hit by a Met), just because it was incredibly crowded and it was a very historic game and I practically grew up in that stadium and I never caught a home run there in all the years that I’d been there, and then with just a few innings to go, I managed to do it, and to me that’s better then a Barry Bonds home run because Bonds is just one guy, and of course, there’s speculation that he may have done some dishonest things along the way. The Mets home run ball represents an entire organization, a city and a stadium so that one is going to be hard to beat, unless I catch somebody’s 500th home run or someone’s 3000th hit, maybe it will be a ground-rule double and bounce up to me.”

18.      Why should people buy your book? What makes it different from other baseball books?

Hample: “Well, because it’s fun and interesting and because I think a lot of books out there focus on a particular player, they focus on a team, they’ll focus on a particular World Series, they’ll focus on some history and there will be a lot of trivia, but my book it, as far as I know, there has never been a book that just focused on an object before like this or to this extent in baseball. It’s a different kind of baseball book, it’s sort of like a look at the sport itself through the lens of the ball.”

19.      Who is your favorite current baseball player?

Hample: “I’m going to have to go with Heath Bell. He’s been so incredibly nice to me and I already felt that he was my favorite two years ago before he was even a closer, and now look at him, he’s the man. He’s making all-star teams, he’s in the spotlight and he’s the man for the Padres so I think it’s got to be Heath Bell. I mean there are other guys I just love. I’ve always loved Jeter and Mariano. Mariano Rivera and Ichiro Suzuki- I love those two guys because they found their own unique way to succeed. I mean Mariano, just throws one speed and yet he just dominates and throws off Major League hitters, it’s unheard of, and Ichiro, he’s practically got his (butt) hanging out of the batter’s box and he’s running one way, his bat goes the other way and he weighs like 30 pounds with rocks in his pockets and he just should not be a professional athlete or baseball player, and it’s not just like he made it, I mean he dominates, so I sort of feel like he is an underdog even though he is still great, so I appreciate players like that.”

20.  What team is the best bp team for you?

Hample: “The Marlins. The Marlins have always been really generous with tossing out baseballs into the crowd and it may be because I have a wonderful teal colored outfit, but for a number of years, they’ve just had a ton of righties and just guys that really crush the ball. I’ve always put up good numbers and had a lot of fun seeing the Marlins play.”

21.  Since I will likely put this on my Pirates blog, what do you make of the Pirates?

Hample: “In general, I actually don’t keep up with off-season news, just because baseball completely takes over my life during the warmer months, that I actually like to take the winter months and get as far away from it as possible, so I don’t really know that much about what’s been happening in the Major Leagues in general since the end of the World Series and then you sort of go a step further back and talk about the Pirates, I couldn’t tell you a single move they made. For all I know, Albert Pujols may have signed with them but… wait, is Clint Hurdle going to be managing them? (Upon finding out that Garrett Atkins will join them) I think he has proven that he can hit a mile above sea level. I don’t expect good things from the Pirates, this season, just judging on past performance. I mean I would love for the Pirates to win the division, I would love it, again, I love the underdog and Pittsburgh is such a wonderful baseball city that just goes back to generations and I would love to see that franchise resurrect itself, but I don’t see it just turning around that quickly, but no one thought the Padres were going to do anything last year, I mean everybody thought that they were going to suck, and they did end up missing the playoffs, but they surprised a lot of people.

22.  What do you make of PNC Park from a ballhawking perspective?

Hample: “My best advice on how to handle right field at PNC Park is not to go there or hang out behind the bleachers before the stadium opens. I know I put PNC Park in my top 10, but it sort of barely squeaked in there. It is not a great batting practice park, but it’s really good during games. If I were just according to BP, I probably would have put Citizen’s Bank Park in there. I have become more home run conscious. There’s sort of that flat standing room area between the bleachers and that low second deck that helps a lot.”

23.  Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Hample: “Ballhawking as a cultural phenomenon gets a lot of bad press and there’s a lot of negativity associated with it. People have this perception that ballhawks knock over little kids and steal baseballs from them, just because I catch one ball means that someone else is deprived of it, but that’s really not how it works, and it’s something that kids of all ages just enjoy. I try to give back I’m raising money for a charity and I give a lot of baseballs to kids and I see other ballhawks doing the same thing. When my first book came out, I was sort of all about keeping every single ball and I even wrote a list of excuses not give people on why not to give them a baseball and I am pretty embarrassed by that now. My attitude has changed, and ballhawking has received a lot of press in the last few years and I think it’s going to get a lot more in the coming seasons when A-Rod starts taking aim at Bonds’ career record  and Pujols as well. Everyone is going to be hearing about ballhawks, and ballhawk related things. I think that the less people know about this, the more negative things they will tend to assume but I think for people who aren’t familiar with this, give it a chance, read the book, read some blogs of ballhawks, go on mygameballs.com, read some of the columns  and read your (Zac’s) blog. It is a really fun, positive hobby and like anything, there are some negative things that do arise, but it’s just pretty cool, and I just want more people to know about it and give it a fair shake.”

 

 

Pirates early season preview part 7: Centerfield

 As it stands now, here is the current centerfield depth chart:

 1. Andrew McCutchen

 2. John Bowker

 3. Matt Diaz

 We all know the Andrew McCutchen story and how he took over for Nate McLouth in centerfield. While McLouth did win a Gold Glove award, the criteria for the award is severly flawed and his range was not that great. McCutchen defensively is worth the price of admission, and a reason why I get centerfield seats as much as possible. He entertains the fans as a seemingly neverending human highlight real.

 Another thing that sets McCutchen apart is his offense. The Pirates love speedsters in centerfield, and Chris Duffy, Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouth and others (obviously McCutchen) fit the bill. McCutchen goes against the grain however, because unlike many of these previous options, he has a bat to go along with the speed.

McCutchen also earned high praise from one of the best names in the game, Bobby Cox. “He’s an All-Star. This year, probably,” said Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox. “Hitting. Running. Defense. Throwing. He’s got it all. He catches the ball like Andruw Jones did when he was 19. You can’t hit a ball [past him] out there. He’s got lightning in that bat too.”

 The year started off slowly for McCutchen, however he slowly recovered and raised his batting average over .300. Both McCutchen and Garrett Jones had career days on May 14 vs the Chicago Cubs. The teammates were the first to both go 5 for 5 since Willie Stargell and Bob Robertson in 1970. “I guess we were just kind of competing against each other,” McCutchen said, laughing. “I don’t know. I’d get a hit, he’d get a hit. He’d hit a homer, I’d hit a homer.”

 The biggest surprise of the year was that “Cutch” was not named to the All-Star game. McCutchen was the most qualified of the Pirates to be named so it came as a little bit of a surprise to some fans that he wasn’t named to the team, but the Pirates usually only get one player on the team each year and Evan Meek made more sense as he was a solid reliever all season with a sub-one ERA for quite a bit of the time before the All-Star Game.

 McCutchen had a rough August hitting .226 but hit .326 after that. On his batting during these times, McCutchen stayed true to himself. “Honestly, I don’t think I’m doing anything any different right now. You swing, and the ball finds a hole. That’s it. That’s the game of baseball.”

 His second season with Pittsburgh was not a sophomore slump, as he hit .286 while hitting 16 home runs, batting in 56 runs and he also stole 33 bases.

 McCutchen is clearly the team’s starter in centerfield for this year, and for seasons to come. McCutchen did get a little banged up last season though so that could be a cause for concern.

 If Cutch does get injured, I have discussed a lot of the previous options in Matt Diaz, John Bowker, Josh Fields and Garrett Atkins. It is worth noting that Steve Pearce played the outfield as well for the Pirates, so there is a chance that he could play the position as well.

 One guy I have not talked about is Alex Presley. Presley was drafted in the 8th round of the 2006 MLB Draft. He was promoted to the Majors on September 7, 2010 and is a current member of the 40 man roster. Presley played in 19 games and got 23 at bats with 6 hits for an average of .273. He struck out five times and stole one base (and was caught stealing once as well). He often pinch hit for the pitcher during his time, and also would play the outfield in games where the outcome was essentially decided. He did start a few games due to injury or to give guys a day off, but he did not homer or drive in any runs. Presley was named a Minor Leaguer of the Year in the Pirates’ system. Presley would be able to play any of the three outfield positions which helps his chances, but it is likely that the Pirates want to see more of Presley in the Minors so that they can see what he has to offer, and plus he will get more at-bats that way as well.

 Here is what I see as the likely depth chart for the outfield:

 1. Andrew McCutchen

 2. John Bowker

 3. Matt Diaz

 4. Alex Presley

 It is likely that neither Fields nor Atkins could play the centerfield position and Diaz is more suitable for corner outfield position and Bowker has much more power than Presley.

 Tomorrow I will blog about the platoon scenario in right field. All signs point to Garrett Jones and Matt Diaz in a platoon but Ryan Doumit is waiting in the wings.

Pirates early season preview part 6: Left Field

 As of this moment, here is the Pirates current depth chart:

 1. Jose Tabata

 2. Matt Diaz

 3. John Bowker

 Tabata came over to the Pirates in the deal that sent Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen and Ross Ohlendorf to Pittsburgh. Tabata brought a lot of excitement to the city. Tabata had some off the field trouble involved with his relationships and his age, but he brought speed and excitement to Pittsburgh. Tabata was called up on June 9, and in his first at-bat singled. He hit .299 in 2010 and led National League left fielders in range factor per game at 2.09. Tabata stole 19 bases, but his power has not shown up yet hitting only 4 home runs. Upon growth and maturation, perhaps the power will come.

 I discussed Matt Diaz in a recent post, but essentially he will be in a platoon scenario in right field. That does not mean that he could not start in left field, but it just means that this is highly unlikely. History has shown Diaz struggling against righties and Tabata bats from the right side, meaning that Diaz has a slim chance of starting.

 John Bowker is the next option down the line, because if Ryan Doumit even stays in a Pirates uniform, he will play right field and has never played PNC Park’s left field, which as you know has some weird bounces. Bowker was brought over to Pittsburgh along with Joe Martinez in the trade that sent Javier Lopez to the San Francisco Giants (it worked out pretty well for them). Many complained of Bowker’s offense, but he was brought up as a September call-up. Bowker had some chances to start and he made the most of them, hitting .319 with 4 home runs and 10 runs batted in. Sure the sample size was small, but I was encouraged by what he was able to do. It will be interesting to see what Bowker has to offer.

 As it stands right now, here are my projections for the left field come April 1:

 1. Jose Tabata

 2. John Bowker

 3. Matt Diaz

 There always is the chance that a Minor Leaguer can take a position on this depth chart, and perhaps the super utility player Corey Wimberly could make a push on the depth chart, or even Josh Fields or Garrett Atkins. I don’t see that happening yet, as I believe that Pirates Mangement already has their minds made up over the position.

 Tomorrow’s entry will be on the centerfield position, which as we know is home to Andrew McCutchen, a friend to all Pirates fans, and always great to myself and all in centerfield. He puts on a show every night, and it makes thing exciting. It looks to be a great entry.

 

Pirates early season preview Part 5: Third Base

 As it stands now, here is the Pirates current depth chart:

 1. Pedro Alvarez.

 2. Josh Rodriguez

 The position was Alvarez’s come season’s end, however Andy LaRoche was given the position at the beginning of last season. Not many were sure what to expect with LaRoche, but many knew that he was just a placeholder and Alvarez would take over the position sooner rather than later. LaRoche had a decent 2009 season, but had a great defensive season under the tutiledge of Perry Hill. Hill left after the 2009 season, and sure enough so did LaRoche’s defense. It made things much easier for Alvarez to take over the position.

 Alvarez was officially called up on June 16, 2010. He hit 13 home runs and batted in 53 runs in 66 games for Triple-A Indianapolis. In his first couple of weeks, fans were calling for his head. Every one was thrilled when he was drafted and because the Pirates have not been winning, the media overhyped Alvarez. People expected him to hit an endless amount of home runs, and last time I checked, he was not god. Alvarez will get his fare share of hits, but he will strikeout a lot as well. Rocco DeMaro even compared him to Adam Dunn once, meaning he will strikeout a lot, but he will get his fair share of hits too.

 Perhaps Alvarez’s biggest Pittsburgh highlight was his three run home run off of Colorado Rockies closer Huston Street in the bottom of the tenth inning, in perhaps the craziest game of the year.

 Alvarez had a couple of multi-homer games last season and was named National League Player of the Week based on his September 20-26 performances, in which Alvarez went 10-24 (a .417 batting average) with 2 home runs and 13 runs batted in. He was the NL Rookie of the Month for the month of September after hitting .311 and batting in 26 runs.

 Alvarez will be starting at third base unless a freak injury happens. Alvarez has shown the power in his bat and he got into baseball shape last season, after people were saying that he would have to start at first base because of his weight. Pedro is working defensively on mastering the position, so that will be something to watch.

 There is not much else to write about, as I have gone over Josh Rodriguez as well as both Josh Fields and Garrett Atkins for every other infield position. The Pirates likely will keep Rodriguez as he is the Rule-5 guy, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they got rid of him because they did not appear to be set on anybody. Fields and Atkins essentially are the same player, but Fields is coming off of an injury and thus is an experiment. Atkins is for that matter too, but Hurdle is likely to favor Atkins, as Atkins played under Hurdle back in both of their Colorado days and is more likely to help this team.

 With that being said, here is my projected list come April 1:

 1. Pedro Alvarez

 2. Josh Rodriguez

 3. Garrett Atkins

 4. Josh Fields 

 I will start blogging tomorrow about the outfield beginning with left field. Jose Tabata is the front runner in the outfield, but who else is in the running. 

Pirates Early Series Preview Part 4: Shortstop

 As of today, here is the depth chart for the shortstop position:

 1. Ronny Cedeno

 2. Josh Rodriguez

 3. Pedro Ciriaco

 Unfortunately for the Pirates, they are very thin at the shortstop position. Essentially by defauly, Cedeno will be the new shortstop. I along with any other sensable Pirates fan know that Cedeno has no reason to be the team’s starting shortstop. Cedeno somehow managed to hit 8 home runs in his 136 games played. Cedeno seemed to get more and more tired as the season went on, and even worse, he played this off-season for a Venezuelan Fall League and thus I am concerned about how he will hold up this season. He also was a liability in the field committing 18 errors last season. His range factor was also down last season. In his 423 career games played at the shortstop position, he has made 56 errors. While that stat may be a little reassuring, his defense slipped a little last season and while he made a few nice plays, they often were overshadowed. Cedeno essentially is a great bench player, but should not be a starter for any team, even if it is for the Pirates.

 I went over the Rodriguez matters yesterday, as he is the team’s Rule-5 Pick. He was signed to provide some “competition” for Cedeno. I still have no idea why the Pirates have not gone after a shortstop as of late, but essentially Rodriguez will be the team’s starter if Cedeno gets injured (he is quite injury prone) or does not perform up to par. While that may be a scary thought, nothing could be as scary as Cedeno being the Pirates starting shortstop.

 Pedro Ciriaco was a part of the deal that sent Chris Snyder to Pittsburgh and Bobby Crosby, Ryan Church and D.J. Carrasco to Arizona. He was cited as the fastest guy in the Diamondbacks Minor League system which made me a little excited. Fan were supposed to see what he had to offer, as he was a September call up. Things got really exciting when he got hits in his first two at-bats. With Cedeno struggling, many wanted Ciriaco to start to see what he had to offer, but Pirates Management refused and even in the same breath said that they weren’t just happy with Cedeno’s play, but that he was a “lock” to start at the position for the 2011 team. The team never allowed Ciriaco to start a game, and thus he was pretty much a waste of a call-up. In his next two at-bats, he struck out before getting a hit in the second to last game of the season against the Florida Marlins. He got an at-bat on the last game of the season, striking out again. Essentially, Ciriaco was 3 for 6 with 3 strikeouts, which although it was an extremely small sample size, was not that impressive.

 The Minor Leagues do not offer much promise at this moment as Chase D’Arnaud is not ready for the Majors quite yet. It is obvious that the shortstop position is our weakest position both offensively and defensively.

 I am very surprised at the team’s approach to this position thus far in the off-season. I understand that the team is short on money, but they were happy to blow their money on two (perhaps even three) minor leaguers that essentially serve the same purpose (Josh Fields, Garrett Atkins and Corey Wimberly) and Lyle Overbay. It seemed like they spent their money on signing guys to seemingly show Ryan Doumit the door and seemingly ignore the shortstop position.

 If the Pirates decide to spend some money, they cannot ignore their shortstop position, as that and a left-handed reliever are their two biggest needs. Here are the shortstops still in the free agency market and my quick thoughts on them all.

Orlando Cabrera (36) – Type B, not offered arb: Cabrera was briefly connected with the Pirates this off-season, but the rumors were quickly denied. Cabrera is a defensive shortstop, which would benefit this team, but I believe that Cedeno has better power numbers. He and Ojeda are the oldest shortstop candidates, and Cabrera likely would command too much money anyways.

Bobby Crosby (31)- I actually would like to see the team bring Crosby back. He had a brief stint here, and never really had a chance with Arizona, and we could probably sign him cheaply. Crosby at least provides some depth for the team, and at 31 still could play an active role with this team.

Cristian Guzman (33)- Would be a great fit, and I believe would start over Cedeno, but likely will ask for too much money. Plus he is an old 33.

Jerry Hairston Jr. (35)- He seems to be older than 35, and I think he would ask for too much money.

Julio Lugo (35)- Not worth it at all. He would likely command too much money anyways.

Augie Ojeda (36)- Not a good fit at all.

Nick Punto (33)- Would be a better signing at least defensively, but would probably ask for too much.

Edgar Renteria (34)- He wouldn’t sign with us anyways. Probably will sign with San Fransisco.

 Here is my predictions for the depth chart come April 1 (no surprises here):

 1. Ronny Cedeno

 2. Josh Rodriguez

 3. Pedro Ciriaco

 Tomorrow I will write about the much more exciting and eventful third base position.

Pirates Early Season Preview Part 3: Second Base

 The Pirates second base position is not one to write home about, but here’s at least a try. Here is the Pirates depth chart as of today:

1. Neil Walker

2. Josh Rodriguez

 It’s not much of a depth chart, but here is more info. There are still a ton of free agents listed at the second base position. According to the website mlbtraderumors.com, here are those players and a few descriptions.

 Willy Aybar (28)- Interesting signing if we can get the right price.
Ronnie Belliard (36)- Has some power, but a risk especially with the age.
Willie Bloomquist (33)- would be nice utlity. After KC stint though he may not want to play for another loser.
Alex Cora (35)- not worth it.

David Eckstein (36) – Type B, not offered arb- Interesting. Age is a concern but at short would be worth it for the right price.
Kevin Frandsen (29)- Young and could be worth it if price is right.
Mark Grudzielanek (41)- too old for position.
Cristian Guzman (33)- I like this fit, but I think he wants too much money.
Jerry Hairston Jr. (35)- Like Eckstein I am intrigued, but I think he would be cheaper.
Joe Inglett (33)- Not enough of a sample size to judge. Could come cheaply though.
Adam Kennedy (35)- Would be worth too much money… projects like Aki to me.
Felipe Lopez (31) – Type B, offered arb
Julio Lugo (35)- probably too old to play position.
Aaron Miles (34)- utility player but too old in terms of playing style.
Augie Ojeda (36)- not worth it.
Nick Punto (33)- would be an interesting option but price would likely be too high.
Delwyn Young (29)- Would sign for right price, but would he sign with the team that quit on him?

 All of these are options, however most of these options will either be old and/or costly and I don’t think the team is keen on signing Delwyn Young again.

 Josh Rodriguez is becoming a more important piece of this team than anyone could have expected. The Pirates are very thin at second base and shortstop, so much so, that Rodriguez is the backup to Walker and Cedeno. Rodriguez was drafted by the Pirates in this year’s Rule-5 Draft. The pick surprised many, as many expected the Pirates expected to draft a pitcher. Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said that this year’s Rule-5 class did not excite him like it did in seasons past. Previous Rule-5 picks include Donnie Veal and Evan Meek. Rodriguez went to Rice University and was taken in the second round of the 2006 draft by the Cleveland Indians. Rodriguez played for the AA Akron Aeros from 2008- May 2010 when he was promoted to the AAA Columbus Clippers.  Rodriguez could play a big role on this team, and is one injury away from being a starter.

 Every Pirate fan made a huge mistake in Spring Training: they counted out “The Pittsburgh Kid”. Pirates management had said that Neil Walker was a man without a position. Walker missed out on third base as Pedro Alvarez had him beat out in AAA, and Andy LaRoche would be the Pirates starter. In Indianapolis, things did not look great for Walker, as he was essentially being used as a big utility man. Perhaps even he didn’t even know where he was going to play or even which glove he was going to put on. Still, Walker perservered as his average was at an all-time high and he was hitting well, getting the attention of his teammates and the Pirates.

Walker had been in AAA for a little while, so his team was rooting him on every step of the way. Andy LaRoche was doing a decent enough job at the time to keep his third base job, although Pedro Alvarez would eventually take his place as the starter. Walker was in luck, as Aki Iwamura was having his troubles both offensively and defensively. The fans wanted his head and the Pirates were looking for options. Ultimately, the Pirates choose Walker to take over the job and essentially it was on the job training, as Walker, previously a catcher and third baseman was learning his third position and had not made that many appearances (23) at the position.

Walker continued his tear in the Majors, as he hit his first home run on June 1, 2010 against the Chicago Cubs. In his first full week at the position, Walker looked like he had played second base all of his life, leaping, diving and back pedaling like a gold glover. Walker, a switch hitter, also surprised many with his offensive success against lefties. On July 20 against division rival Milwaukee, Walker went 5 for 5 at the plate and was the first Pirate rookie since John Wehner in 1991 to accomplish such a feat. He finished the season hitting .296 with 12 home runs and 66 runs batted in. Walker also was named to the 2010 Topp’s All-Rookie team, equaling the feat teammate Andrew McCutchen experienced just a season before.

 While Walker is clearly the starter at second base barring a freak injury, the options as previously stated are pretty slim. The team addressed the position by trading for Corey Wimberly from the Oakland A’s. Wimberly was a utility man in Triple-A for the team in 2010 and has never played at the Major League level. According to mlbtraderumors.com, “The 27-year-old posted a .284/.373/.354 line with 56 steals while playing at least ten games at short, second, third, left and center.”

 While there may be a few minors that have a slight chance, I have not heard much from the organization acknowledging these candidates. Perhaps someone like a Josh Fields or Garrett Atkins could play second base and conduct an experiment much like Walker’s from last season. Still, the chances of them starting are unlikely, so without further ado here is my projection for the Spring.

 1. Neil Walker

 2. Josh Rodriguez

 3. Corey Wimberly

 Tomorrow’s entry will be on the equally thin position of shortstop.

 

Entry on Pirates Promos, Caravan and Garrett Atkins

Here is some analysis on Garrett Atkins starting with the Wikipedia info:

Atkins was drafted in 2000 out of UCLA by the Colorado Rockies in the fifth round (137th overall). This time, he chose to accept the offer from an MLB club and began the process of reaching the majors.

Colorado Rockies

 2007 season

Garrett Atkins

Hit .301 overall, batting .349 at mile-high Coors Field, but hit only .254 in away games. However, one of the reasons for any substantial differences in home and road splits for Rockies batters is that they have to make adjustments in how they see pitches away from Coors Field – particularly breaking balls, such as sliders and curve balls – since those pitches act differently at Coors Field than on the road.

 2008 season

In 2008, Atkins spent much of the season playing first base in the absence of injured teammate Todd Helton, marking a defensive transition to “a more natural position for him.”

 2009 season

Prior to the start of the 2009 season, Atkins accepted a one-year $7 million dollar contract from the Rockies. He struggled in the 2009 season hitting .226 with nine home runs, and 48 RBIs. With the emergence of Ian Stewart Atkins became less of a priority in the Rockies longterm plans, he was thus non-tendered by the Rockies on December 12, 2009, officially making him a free agent.

Baltimore Orioles

2010 season

Atkins agreed to a 1-year, $4 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles. The deal includes a one-year club option for $8.5 million, with a $500,000 buyout. He is expected to be the starting first baseman.

On June 27, the Orioles designated Atkins for assignment.

On July 6, the Orioles released Atkins.

 Pittsburgh Pirates

 2011 Season

Atkins agreed to a minor league deal with the Pirates on December 23, 2010. It includes an invite to spring training.

 Atkins has a third base background, although he can play first base as well. As it was said earlier, he is on a Minor League deal and he is right handed. As a right-handed batter, Atkins can backup both Pedro Alvarez and Lyle Overbay if he makes the Majors. To me the signing was cheap, however confuses me. Here I was earlier this week singing the praises of the team signing Josh Fields and then the team goes out and wastes the small amount of money they have to sign a guy that could potentially become the next Delwyn Young on this team. I am not quite happy with this signing, although I still rank the Olsen signing as the worst of the off-season.

  Zac’s Grade: C+

Garrett Atkins Career statistics
Batting average     .285
Home runs     99
Runs batted in  

  488

 This came forth earlier in the off-season so here is the actual Pirates promotional schedule:

April
Date Opponent Promotion / Event Presented by For
Thu, Apr 7 Rockies Opening Day
2011 Magnetic Schedule All Fans
Fri, Apr 8 Rockies Free Shirt Friday All Fans
2011 Pirates Schedule Poster All Fans
Sat, Apr 9 Rockies Zambelli Fireworks
2011 Pirates Schedule Poster All Fans
Scratch’n Win Eat’n Park All Fans
Sun, Apr 10 Rockies Kids Day
Kids Glove Kids 14 & Younger
Fri, Apr 22 Nationals Free Shirt Friday All Fans
Reusable Coffee Sleeve All Fans
Sat, Apr 23 Nationals Andrew McCutchen Action Figurine All Fans
Scratch’n Win Eat’n Park All Fans
Sun, Apr 24 Nationals Kids Day
Kids Build-a-Bear Pirates Bunny Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Kids 14 & Younger

All giveaways and event dates are subject to change.

May
Date Opponent Promotion / Event Presented by For
Fri, May 6 Astros Free Shirt Friday FSN All Fans
Sat, May 7 Astros Pirates Cap Night All Fans
Zambelli Fireworks
Scratch’n Win Eat’n Park All Fans
Sun, May 8 Astros Kids Day
Kids Mini Bat Kids 14 & Younger
Mom’s Earrings All Moms
Fri, May 20 Tigers Free Shirt Friday All Fans
Sat, May 21 Tigers Neil Walker Bobblehead All Fans
Scratch’n Win Eat’n Park All Fans
Sun, May 22 Tigers Kids Day
Kids Pierogy Beach Towel Kids 14 & Younger

All giveaways and event dates are subject to change.

June
Date Opponent Promotion / Event Presented by For
Fri, Jun 3 Phillies Free Shirt Friday Consol Energy All Fans
Sat, Jun 4 Phillies Zambelli Fireworks
Scratch’n Win Eat’n Park All Fans
Sun, Jun 5 Phillies Kids Day
Kids Pedro Alvarez Replica BP Jersey Kids 14 & Younger
Fri, Jun 10 Mets Free Shirt Friday All Fans
Sat, Jun 11 Mets Skyblast featuring Zambelli Fireworks and Live Music TBD
Scratch’n Win Eat’n Park All Fans
Sun, Jun 12 Mets Kids Day
Kids Pirate Parrot Cruise for the Cure Bobble Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Kids 14 & Younger
Mon, Jun 20 Orioles Blass/Sanguillen 1971 Championship Canvas Wrap All Fans
Tue, Jun 21 Orioles 1971 40th Anniversary Celebration
1971 Commemorative Ceramic Stein All Fans
Fri, Jun 24 Red Sox Free Shirt Friday All Fans
Sat, Jun 25 Red Sox Zambelli Fireworks
Scratch’n Win Eat’n Park All Fans
Sun, Jun 26 Red Sox Kids Day
Kids Bucco Bands Kids 14 & Younger

All giveaways and event dates are subject to change.

July
Date Opponent Promotion / Event Presented by For
Mon, Jul 4 Astros Pirates Stars’n Stripes Reversible Floppy Cap All Fans
Fri, Jul 8 Cubs Free Shirt Friday All Fans
Sat, Jul 9 Cubs Skyblast featuring Zambelli Fireworks and .38 Special in Concert
Scratch’n Win Eat’n Park All Fans
Sun, Jul 10 Cubs Kids Day
Kids Pierogy Wind-Up Racers Kids 14 & Younger
Fri, Jul 22 Cardinals Free Shirt Friday All Fans
Sat, Jul 23 Cardinals Zambelli Fireworks
Scratch’n Win Eat’n Park All Fans
Sun, Jul 24 Cardinals Kids Day
Kids Jose Tabata Replica Alternate Jersey Kids 14 & Younger

All giveaways and event dates are subject to change.

August
Date Opponent Promotion / Event Presented by For
Fri, Aug 5 Padres Free Shirt Friday All Fans
Sat, Aug 6 Padres Skyblast featuring Zambelli Fireworks and Live Music TBD
Scratch’n Win Eat’n Park All Fans
Sun, Aug 7 Padres Kids Day
Kids Drawstring Bag Kids 14 & Younger
Fri, Aug 19 Reds Free Shirt Friday All Fans
Sat, Aug 20 Reds Zambelli Fireworks
Scratch’n Win Eat’n Park All Fans
Sun, Aug 21 Reds Kids Day
Kids Book Covers Kids 14 & Younger

All giveaways and event dates are subject to change.

September
Date Opponent Promotion / Event Presented by For
Fri, Sep 9 Marlins Free Shirt Friday All Fans
Sat, Sep 10 Marlins Zambelli Fireworks
Scratch’n Win Eat’n Park All Fans
Sun, Sep 11 Marlins Kids Day
Kids Pirates Slippers Kids 14 & Younger
Fri, Sep 23 Reds Free Shirt Friday All Fans
2012 Magnetic Schedule All Fans
Sat, Sep 24 Reds Fan Jam featuring Steve Miller Band
2012 Magnetic Schedule All Fans
Scratch’n Win Eat’n Park All Fans
Sun, Sep 25 Reds Kids Day
Kids Growth Chart Kids 14 & Younger
2012 Magnetic Schedule All Fans

 

Although this came forth a while ago as well, here is the Pittsburgh Pirates Winter Caravan Schedule:

Group 1

Featuring outfielder Andrew McCutchen, relief pitcher Evan Meek, and broadcasters Bob Walk and John Wehner.

Date Location Time Event Details
Mon., Jan 24 Pittsburgh, PA 10 a.m. – 11 a.m. Allegheny General Hospital Visit
(private event)
Mon., Jan 24 Pittsburgh, PA 11:15 a.m. – 12 p.m. Autograph session at
Allegheny General Hospital lobby
Mon., Jan 24 North Hills, PA 1 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Autograph session at PNC Bank
in McIntyre Square
Mon., Jan 24 Somerset, PA 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. VIP Reception at
Seven Springs Mountain Resort (private event)
Tue., Jan 25 Wheeling, WV 10 – 11 a.m. Triadelphia Middle School Visit
Tue., Jan 25 Wheeling, WV 12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Luncheon Event at Wheeling Island
Tue., Jan 25 Pittsburgh, PA 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. Autograph Session at Dick’s Sporting Goods
at the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills
Wed., Jan 26 Freeport, PA 9 a.m. – 10 a.m. School Visit (Location TBA)
Wed., Jan 26 Pittsburgh, PA 2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Carmalt Academy School Visit
Wed., Jan 26 Shaler Township, PA 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. Autograph Session at Giant Eagle
Thu., Jan 27 Pittsburgh, PA 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Allegheny Traditional Academy School Visit
Thu., Jan 27 Pittsburgh, PA 2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. School Visit (Location TBA)
Thu., Jan 27 Pittsburgh, PA
(Private Event)
6 p.m. – 9 p.m. Roberto Clemente Museum reception
(Private Event)

Group 2

Featuring pitching coach Ray Searage, starting pitcher James McDonald, infielder Neil Walker and broadcaster Tim Neverett.

Date Location Time Event Details
Mon., Jan 24 Washington, PA 10 a.m. – 11 a.m. School Visit (Location TBA)
Mon., Jan 24 Morgantown, WV 12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Luncheon Event at Damon’s Restaurant
Mon., Jan 24 Uniontown, PA 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. Autograph Session at Uniontown Mall
Tue., Jan 25 Smithton, PA 10 a.m. – 11 a.m. Visit to Dick’s Sporting Goods
Distribution Center (private event)
Tue., Jan 25 Latrobe, PA 12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Luncheon Event at Giannilli’s Two Restaurant
Tue., Jan 25 Indiana, PA 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Autograph Session at Indiana Mall
Wed., Jan 26 Rural Valley, PA 10 a.m. – 11 a.m. School Assembly at West Shamokin Jr. High
Wed., Jan 26 Butler, PA 12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Luncheon Event (Location TBA)
Wed., Jan 26 Steubenville, OH 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Autograph Session at Fort Steuben Mall
Thu., Jan 27 Poland, OH 10 a.m. – 11 a.m. School Assembly at Poland North Elementary
Thu., Jan 27 Youngstown, OH 12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Luncheon Event at Butler Art Institute
Thu., Jan 27 Pittsburgh, PA
(Private Event)
6 p.m. – 9 p.m. Roberto Clemente Museum reception
(Private Event)

Group 3

Featuring bench coach Jeff Banister, first baseman Garrett Jones, relief pitcher Joel Hanrahan, outfielder Jose Tabata and broadcaster Greg Brown.

Date Location Time Event Details
Mon., Jan 24 New Castle, PA 10 a.m. – 11 a.m. School Visit at George Washington Intermediate
Mon., Jan 24 Meadville, PA 12:30 p.m. – 2 p.m. Luncheon Event at Allegheny College
Mon., Jan 24 Erie, PA 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. Autograph Session at Dick’s Sporting Goods
Tue., Jan 25 Ridgway, PA 11 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. School Visit at
Ridgway Area Middle School
Tue., Jan 25 DuBois, PA 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. Autograph Session at DuBois Mall
Wed., Jan 26 State College, PA 11:45 a.m. – 1 p.m. Luncheon Event at Damon’s Restaurant
Wed., Jan 26 State College, PA 1:30 P.m. – 2:30 p.m. Hospital Visit to Mt. Nittany Medical Center
Wed., Jan 26 Altoona, PA 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Autograph Session at Dick’s Sporting Goods
Thu., Jan 27 Ebensburg, PA 2 p.m. – 3 p.m. Ebensburg Center Visit (private event)
Thu., Jan 27 Pittsburgh, PA
(Private Event)
6 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Roberto Clemente Museum reception
(Private Event)

 

The Pirates Caravan will also visit Charleston, West Virginia, on Sunday, January 30 and Monday, January 31. The players traveling to Charleston will be announced at a later date.

  • Sunday, January 30: Charleston, WV – Hot Stove Banquet (Time and Location TBA)
  • Monday, January 31: Charleston, WV – Luncheon, Appalachian Power Park (Time TBA)

 

 

 

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