Results tagged ‘ Philadelphia Phillies ’

The Rotation book review

I am going to take a one post break from the Pirates and talk about the cross state rival Philadelphia Phillies. Yes they are not meeting expectations, but with big bats Ryan Howard and Chase Utley out of the line up, it is hard to compete offensively. Opposing pitchers do not fear them any more and their 4-5 record puts them in fourth place in the NL East.

Speaking of pitching, I read an interesting book involving the Phillies pitching. The Rotation was written by Phillies beat writers Jim Salisbury and Todd Zolecki and published this year. It discusses the Phillies pitching rotation during the 2011 season which featured Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt and was considered one of the best pitching staffs of all-time.

Most of the book is spent looking at these starters and how they came to the Phillies and it was interesting how Halladay and Lee wanted to be together as soon as they heard that it was a possibility. The book goes into great detail about how the Phillies upset Lee and his wife, and how if the Phillies did not act fast in signing him that he was going to re-sign with the Texas Rangers. The book’s details made you feel like the Phillies may not be able to sign Lee even though you knew what the end result would be.

The book also discusses Joe Blanton’s season as well as the rise of Vance Worley, although because the book was ultimately not about them, their coverage was minimized and it was a shame, especially with Worley, who had such an unexpected and successful season.

Another thing I did not like was its length. The book was only 256 pages. Yes, the type was small, but I expected to have more detail on each month. I felt the writers were so absorbed in letting you know these pitchers that there was not as much there in terms of games. Faithful by Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan did a great job of mixing off-season activity with the games. While the off-season was important, so were the games. Yes there were interesting tidbits on gameday routines from the starters, specifically Roy Halladay, the book solely focused on that instead of the team having the most wins in franchise history, which was a missed opportunity.

The interviews the writers did were great, and you can tell they spent a lot of time talking to the players and coaches in preparation for this book. The humor in this book was sneaky at times sometimes even subtle, but it was funny.

Reviewing this book, I will give it high marks and I think it is great reading. I love getting the inside look at teams, and honestly I did not even know this book was out until I bought it at Barnes and Noble. It is worth your time Pirates fan, Phillies fan, baseball fan or even sports fan.

4 out of 5.

The Rotation
Jim Salisbury and Todd Zolecki
256 pages
List Price: $15 [paperback]
Amazon price: $10.20

Front Cover of the book.

Pirates vs Phillies 4/8/12 PNC Park

“Gates are opening at 11:30 Sundays from now on.”

I should have known right then and there that Sundays were going to suck. In previous years, the gates opened at 11 AM for a 1:35 PM Sunday game. Just the Riverwalk would be open and no gates would be open for 1/2 an hour later. That would hold true and as expected there was no season ticket holder time, and we would be confined to the Riverwalk until noon, which essentially defeats the purpose of going to Sunday games.

Let’s rewind the tape a little bit here. I was first in line, and for 15 tosses caught with Baseball Joe who then randomly cut me off. I was looking forward to a long throwing session, so I was disappointed when it was cut short. Essentially it meant that I had to stretch much longer, which is not nearly as much fun.

Bag ready and first in line at the centerfield gate.

Erik and Nick did show up and came up with the same conclusion that Sundays are crap shoots and not really worth the time.

When noon finally did came, I decided to try right field when it became apparent that I would not be the first one in center for the two Easter Eggs there. I was a little too low for an Easter Egg, and was prepared to head down to center. I was in 142, and that entrance was not opened, and that ended up being a blessing in disguise.

A ball rolled to the wall, and Phillies reliever Mike Stutes went to the wall. I unfortunately did have my Phillies gear on at this point, and I figured he would not remember me from having to watch his glove the day before due to the gear. I guessed I figured right, because when I asked him for the ball, he said, “sure”.

I was prepared for the tossup, but forgot that I was in right field. Things are much tougher ballhawking wise there, and to make things even tougher, Stutes turned his back to me and did an over the shoulder toss. This put to risk the direction of the ball, distance, etc… The ball was slightly left of target, and I was having difficulties tracking it. I also quickly realized that a gloved kid was right behind me, which meant if I misplayed it, the kid would almost certainly get the ball. Fortunately, at the last moment, I found it and placed the glove in the right spot for ball #1. Thanks Mike!

Phillies reliever Mike Stutes. He let me watch/hold his glove and tossed me up a baseball the next day. Has a great Twitter presence as well.

BP was essentially a waste so I tried center and figured it wasn’t worth it. First base yielded no luck, but I figured I would try the dugout again. In an even stranger turn of events, the Phillies fans were nice once again to me, perhaps thinking I was one of them (you fools!) and let me into the front row, right at the steps area where all of the players would run down. I knew from Saturday that no one major would sign, and I wanted to try my luck at another baseball.

Phillies BP ended 10 minutes later, and of course Laynce Nix was the only one who signed autographs.

Then Third Base Coach Juan Samuel was putting the baseballs back in the Phillies bags. I asked him for a baseball in Spanish and he didn’t hear me. I did not panic, and a baseball fell from the bag far enough that I tried again. I asked again for a baseball in Spanish (so glad that I knew he was born in the Dominican Republic). He looked up saw me and it was another over the shoulder toss. It was his only toss and I caught it for ball #2.

Muchas gracias Juan!

That was it for BP, and I of course went to my spot by the bullpen where I again got exactly where I wanted.

From there I saw both team’s lineups and I got very excited.

April 8th Pirates starting lineup

Juan Pierre is starting. YES!!!

I did get to talked to Herbie Andrade and Euky Rojas as always, which is a treat.

I got to see the reliever file in as always and that was fun. I just had a feeling about this game after that walk off, and decided to stay for the duration of the game. Call me crazy, but I ended up right.

Another favorite part of being by the bullpen is watching that day/night’s starters warm up. I can immediately see either by their expression or by my judgment how they will fare in the game minutes later. Here are today’s starters.

James McDonald gets his warm up tosses in.

Vance Worley warms up for the Phillies in preparation for his April 8th start.

Snagging wise, I ended up with two more baseballs. The first was from Herbie Andrade. It was not intended for me, but rather for a little kid. The kid dropped it, and immediately I played hero, stopping the ball and giving it to the kid. Hey ball #3 for me which is great. Herbie gave me a thumbs up, and Euclides Rojas disappeared for a minute and tossed up a baseball of my own for ball #4, which was awesome.

As for the game, the Phillies scored in the first inning again, but the Pirates finally showed offense, their best offensive effort thus far in the season (… yeah not saying much).

David Herndon came in the ninth game with a 4-4 score and the Pirates got that lead off double again. Jose Tabata nearly blew the whole thing once again, but it was Andrew McCutchen who came through with a walkoff single off the centerfield wall and well over the head of buddy Shane Victorino. This meant the Pirates were 2-1 and had won a series against the Phillies in dramatic fashion.

Andrew McCutchen is interviewed on the field just moments after the walkoff win April 8th.

My next game is tentatively scheduled for a week from today, May 20 vs the St. Louis Cardinals. I had a nice throwing session today for 40 minutes. I was moving well, my arm felt great, I threw at least 200 times and my glove was not too bad. I also increased my velocity today and had no issues which was great, especially since my velocity and arm felt the same from start to finish.

Between now and Thursday, I hope to get three blog posts up. I have to blog about my core workouts and will review two books that I read, one of which has not even been released yet.

Until then, Let’s Go Bucs!

Pirates vs Phillies 4/7/12 PNC Park

Saturdays were always good to me last year, as evidenced by my average of five baseballs a game on Saturdays. It was Passover, but with my numbers, I could not turn down attending this game. I decided to leave after the top half of the first inning, to appease my parents.

I arrived at the gate around 3:25 and was ready for what I hoped to be a good day. Erik and Nick had already been to Cleveland that day for BP and all three of us went over to the grassy area to throw around.

It was a great session, and I felt ready to go into the gates and have another great day. The mixture of pop ups, straight throwing, grounders and pitching boot camp that is the Saturday throwing session is a great way to see where you are at on the day.

Preparing for Saturday's gate opening. Photo by Randy Page

Photo by Randy Page

Starting my throw motion. Photo by Randy Page

Getting ready to make another catch in warm ups. Photo by Randy Page.

When the gates did open, I searched for Easter Eggs in left field and came up empty. I decided quickly to go to the first base side and I was pleased that the speed I had last season was still there as I was a little concerned that the lifting I have done in weeks would harm my speed.

When I went to first base, I was surprised to see a white speck. Upon close inspection, it was a baseball and I picked it up for ball #1 on the day.

I then saw a Phillies player on the field, and was surprised to see that it was Juan Pierre. I have long looked up to Juan and he is one of my favorite MLB players because he resembles me perfectly. He is an underdog, a leader, a fast runner and a singles hitter.

He essentially was just standing there, and I saw that he had a baseball, so I knew that two of my wishes could have come true.

Erik later asked who I was talking for as long as I was and he seemed surprised when I told him.

In short, Juan and I talked for 10 minutes and he was outside because he was getting ready for warm ups. He wanted to be outside since he is stuck in the clubhouse for such a long period of time. I had him sign a baseball, one I will keep and not sell for charity.

Juan Pierre signed this baseball for me that Tony Watson had just thrown me. You can tell that he is a religious man and I respect that a lot.

During this conversation, Tony Watson fielded a baseball and nodded to me, his way of asking me if I wanted it. I nodded and ball #2 was in my glove. Thanks Tony!

I did get to tell Juan about my charity and when I told him that every baseball counted, he tossed me the ball in his hand for ball #3, but he did ask for it back when he went to stretch which was fine.

Juan was a great guy, and we posed for a picture before he left. It already is one of my favorite pictures, and I think even more highly of him than I did before.

Phillies outfielder and all around great person Juan Pierre poses with me for a photo.

There was a lot of downtime after that, as the Phillies relievers stretched and of course with no overthrows, and no toss ups, I was standing still until I saw future Hall of Famer Jim Thome signing autographs. Thome has hit over 600 home runs putting him in the top 10 all time in homers hit and he is still playing in his early 40′s. I had Thome sign a First Pitch Program.

Phillies first baseman and future Hall of Famer Jim Thome signed this First Pitch Program. The program is currently up for bids with 100% of the proceeds going to The Children's Institute. Please comment on this entry if you have a bid.

Another highlight of my day involves Philadelphia Phillies reliever Mike Stutes. He asked me to watch his glove, which I did while he warmed up on the field before BP. I still did get my picture taken with the glove in its place.

I even got to hand it to him which was pretty cool. He thanked me and I told him I did not want to get Tulowitzki’d. That recent prank could have happened to me if I wasn’t careful. Here is that video:

Phillies BP then began, and there was a loose ball close to where I was standing. I did not have a glove trick and thus could not reach it. Who would come to the rescue? It was Phillies Strength and Conditioning Coach Dong Lien. Yes that name is right, and his name is not on the Phillies Coaching Roster. He was decent with tossing three balls to fans towards the end of BP, so I knew it was worth a try. Lien, threw the first two balls, both further away in and then came closer to me as the ball was close by.

“Could I please have that ball, it’s for charity,” I said.

“What charity,” Lien asked.

“The Children’s Institute,” I replied.

Right after I said children, I saw him toss me ball #4. I would thank him by name, but I think that WordPress wouldn’t be too happy about that, so I will thank him again in this way.

Dong Lien, Phillies Strength and Conditioning Coach

A couple of minutes later, a ball was hit just enough to get in the grassy area and close by where I was standing. I waited there and plotted my move. Soon enough, Thome was jogging back in to take his cuts. I was able to get his attention and his toss was like he was fielding a grounder and I was the pitcher running over. He underhanded it a little short, so I reached over and made the clean catch. It drew a nod from him, I thanked him and he was off. It was surreal to have him toss me a ball, especially since I was in my Pirates gear the entire time.

I then saw Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon signing autographs and I went over with the second Pirates First Pitch Program I had and had him sign it.

This Pirates First Pitch Program autographed by Phillies Closer Jonathan Papelbon is up for auction. Feel free to comment to this post if you are willing to bid on it. 100% of proceeds go to The Children's Institute.

Jonathan Papelbon signing autographs at the April 7th Pirates vs Phillies game.

I decided to stay by the dugout towards the end of BP and came up empty handed and thus ending BP with five. I was fine with that on this day.

I then paid my weekly $5 for the Pirates Charities raffle and then headed to the bullpen to get a good place to watch the action. I got exactly the spot I wanted as I wanted to talk to Herbie Andrade and Euclides Rojas for the first time this season.

When they did show up, they both remembered me and they both lit up with smiles. They both said that they had great off-seasons and asked how mine was, which was nice.

With the re-introductions out of the way, I was excited to see both Cliff Lee and Jeff Karstens warmed up.

Phillies Pitcher Cliff Lee warms up on April 7, 2012

Jeff Karstens starts his warm ups on April 7th vs the Philadelphia Phillies.

Karstens had a hiccup in the first inning allowing a run, but the Pirates were able to get it back for him to tie the game at one. The Pirates offense again was dormant, but they were able to have a successful ninth inning which started with a Rod Barajas tape measure double.

On the Root Sports Postgame show, former Pirate Kent Tekulve showed how close Barajas was to a homer, and the picture was rather funny actually.

The game ended on an Alex Presley infield single which brought the crowd to its feet and gave the Pirates their first win on the season. The atmosphere was electric and it was the second consecutive sellout.

Pirates celebrate after Alex Presley bats in the winning run. Photo by Randy Page

The third and final game of the series and homestand was the next day and it was Kids Day. I decided to take the risk and attend this game. Little did I know how much of a risk this would be and that my streak of games with a baseball was in serious jeopardy. How would I respond? You will have to read the next entry to find out.

So it begins: Pittsburgh Pirates Workout Day 2012

Today marked the unofficial start of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball season as the Pirates decided to make their workout, the day before the home opener, open to the public. This was a great idea to raise the excitement levels for the fans and even make some money off of the concessions.

The only thing that ruined this good time was the Phillies who decided that they did not want the fans to see them hit. Erik Jabs decided to count his snags and although I was initially apprehensive, I opted to count mine as well.

I went to this event with my friends Andrew and Colston. We lined up by the Highmark Legacy Square entrance around 1:45 as that was the only gate that would be open for fans to get in come 2:30.

The three of us ran into some familiar faces which was great. We then all played a game of catch and I threw nice and easy. I was encouraged for the most part with the session and then got back to my position as first in line.

A short while later, my backpack was checked and we got to go in at 2:20, 10 minutes early. A couple of beer bellied fans raced ahead of me. I knew to save my energy as they raced off for the first base line. I ws carefree and knew I would be first into left field. I knew that Erik and Nick Pelescak would not be at the ballpark yet and I was on the clock. I would have to take advantage.

I was surprised to see some of the Pirates taking early cuts. From where I was standing Manager Clint Hurdle and 1st Base Coach Luis Silverio were in the outfield. A Pirate hit a hopper that traveled close to the wall and Hurdle had a glove and was getting it.

“Clint, may I please have that ball,” I said.

“It’s early BP, we don’t throw any of the balls up,” Clint said in his usual booming voice.

“O.K. I understand. Thanks for responding,” I replied.

“You know what? What the heck,” Hurdle said before tossing me ball #1 on the season. This was the first baseball a fan received at PNC Park this season. That was an awesome feeling. Thanks so much Clint!

With that done, I knew the relievers would be coming out very soon. I had already searched, and there were no easter eggs and when nothing was being hit out to me during early BP, I retreated to the third base side so that I would get a good chance for a toss up from a reliever. On my way up I ran into in-game host for the Pirates Joe Klimchak and we did a great handshake and man hug before I continued running.

Slowly the relievers all trickled out as well as Erik Bedard and Jeff Karstens. At this point, I had said another hello and then my buddy reliever Evan Meek came over and made a point to say hello and ask how I was doing. He is looking much thinner and may be in the best shape of his playing career. I am amazed at how healthy he looks.

The relievers then got ready to throw. Jason Grilli stopped once through his delivery to talk to me. As you may remember, he called me this off-season to discuss his business venture. He remembered my name and we talked for a little while he threw. We even were joking around with each other, and when I called him “J Grills”, we both laughed. Meek and Grilli threw together and when they were done, I asked Jason for the ball, which he tossed for ball #2. My goal for the day was three so I was one step closer to accomplishing that.

Jason Grilli tosses up a baseball during BP. Photo courtesy of Kayla Thompson

After the relievers were done throwing, they took part in a few drills and got their running in.

While they did this, I went up to Pops Plaza where I got a free Pirates shirt. It was a decent shirt, better than a lot of their t-shirt Friday shirts and frankly was just nice and simple. It was smart too because the shirt allowed them to promote the Pirates twitter account.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the screen came out, and BP started for the Pirates.

There was no competition at first base, so I went over there as it worked wonders for me last year. At this point, Erik and Nick were in left field, I decided to stay on the first baseline as there were maybe a handful of people.

I was rewarded fairly quickly, as Rod Barajas was in the first group of Pirates taking cuts. Barajas hit a cutting liner that I was able to field and catch for ball #3. Considering I have made it a goal to catch more batted balls this season, this was a huge confidence booster and a step in the right direction for sure.

Ball #4 came shortly after as Jose Tabata hit a bouncer which ended up in the seats and I scooped it up. Short, sweet and to the point.

Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez were over there when I made those plays and sure enough I figured I would have a chance to get another ball from over there so I stayed. Relievers Tony Watson and new Pirate Juan Cruz came over and I focused immediately on Juan.

It took a while since Watson was getting the balls, but when Cruz got a ball and was in earshot, I asked in Spanish. He looked at me and paused before throwing the baseball back in. Perhaps it was because Pitching Coach Ray Searage was close by, but I had succeeded and I knew he had heard me. I knew that if I continued to get in his head, he would have no choice but to throw it to me.

Sure enough a ball comes close to me and Cruz had not gotten back into position so I knew this was my chance. I asked again in Spanish and a random lady asked right after in English.

“He asked first,” Cruz said before throwing ball #5 my way. This was awesome and I knew that I had well exceeded my goal of three baseballs at that point. Muchas gracias Juan.

I then waited for the next set of hitters, and knowing that I would not get anymore toss ups, I was hoping for a baseball to get hit my way, but that would not happen. I moved to left field and essentially nothing happened so no luck for me.

I ended up with 5 baseballs on the BP which was good enough for tops on the day. It is a great feeling to know that I did a good job today. I have worked really hard towards the last few weeks of this off-season to get into shape and my stamina is up and my strength is up a little more. My confidence is also up by a lot as well. I only wish that I could have seen Phillies BP, I likely could have received a few more baseballs.

Still, five baseballs is a great way to start the season, and with clear skies tomorrow and the Pirates taking BP tomorrow I can only hope for some easter eggs and maybe a ball or two. Should be a fun day.

Workout Day Wednesday

Opening Day is only one week away but the Pirates have made their fans very excited by conducting a workout day on Wednesday the day before the home opener.

The event is free and the Highmark Legacy Square entrance in left field, next to the ticket windows is where the fans will go in at 2:30.

The Pirates will be taking BP at 3 PM and the Phillies will be hitting at 5 PM.

The event is free and so far the Pirates have confirmed that left field will be open. According to a Pirates customer service representative, other sections that will be open are up to Manager Clint Hurdle and a few others. The representative said that upper deck sections will be closed as will section 101 since the Budweiser Bowtie Bar will not be completed.

Be sure to satisfy your baseball hangover by attending the fun event and see how the players prepare for Opening Day.

Zack Hample Book Review

I was pleased to receive a galley for Zack Hample’s third book, The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals and Secrets Beneath the Stitches. For future references I will call the book “The Baseball” to try and shorten things up.

 All in all, this was a very interesting book. The book itself is divided into three parts “Baseballs in the News”, “Historical and Factual Stuff” and “How to Snag Major League Baseballs” (not to be confused with the title of his first book).

After a brief intro, the book gets started with part one. Part one is five chapters and 77 pages and covers a lot of topics.

 Hample talks about early on in baseball history when teams only carried a few baseballs and that fans were not allowed to keep them as they would be used game after game until they became almost impossible to track. Hample further discusses owner Charles Weeghman who let fans keep baseballs hit to them. Weeghman saw that letting fans keep a baseball would bring more fans to the ballpark, and would earn a profit, as despite having to constantly pay for new baseballs, he was getting more money in return for eager fans who wanted to take home a part of the game.

Hample also briefly discusses what happened to baseballs in specific games. The most notable examples were of fans Steve Bartman and Jeffrey Maier. You all know that Bartman was the Chicago Cubs fan that interfered with a foul ball that then Cubs outfielder Moises Alou could have caught. Many blame him for the Marlins advancing past the Cubs and winning that year’s World Series. Jeffrey Maier was the fan who interfered in the American League Championship Series (ALCS) and caught a Derek Jeter home run. The New York Yankees were playing at home against the Baltimore Orioles and Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco had a chance at the ball. Eventually the umpires ruled the call a home run and New York treated him as a hero. Maier moved on to play college baseball.

Hample also discussed the evolution of the foul ball. Baseball used to have hitters that would hit all kinds of foul balls just to tire out a pitchers arms. In today’s game you see nine pitch battles but back in the early stages of the game, it was not uncommon to see hitters foul back 20 pitches. Hitters also hit the ball in specific places sometimes as well.

 Hample also talks about death in baseball. I found that interesting, because many fans view baseball as just a game but sometimes baseball can be a life or death situation. He also discusses former player Juan Encarnacion who had a foul ball strike him in the eye while he was in the on-deck circle and he never played the game professionally again.

 A highlight of the book was the “Baseball in Pop Culture” chapter. In this chapter, Hample breaks down instances in various television shows and movies such as “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and describes where baseball came into play and how legitimate the scene was to real life. Very recently, an article was written about the actual game that Matthew Broderick who played Ferris Bueller in the movie and the game they attended to make that movie possible. It was an interesting read. Unfortunately that article came out, so Hample could not put it in the book, but if you read this part of the book then you should read the article.

 Another cool part of the book was the celebrity ballhawk part. This showed celebrities catching baseballs. While a negative of the chapter was the part about Justin Bieber and the picture that followed it, the chapter as a whole was extensive and showed things that the reader did not know as Hample had a chance to be a critic.

 The second part of the book came after this chapter. As a warning, it is recommended that you the reader do not read this whole part in one sitting. It is very detailed an extensive and is highlighted by how the baseball has evolved each year. The history lesson starts in 1847 and concludes in this year, 2011 with the current price of a baseball.

 The huge history lesson on the baseball takes up more than 59 pages of the book and Hample said that it was the hardest part of the book to write and understandably took the longest time to complete.

 After that is a part on what is inside the baseball itself and Hample’s visit to the Rawlings Factory in Costa Rica. There also are a ton of pictures here (always a plus) of many different kinds of commemorative baseballs.

 After another chapter is part three, which Hample is a professional at; ballhawking.

 I was pleased to see that Hample took the time to make a completely new section in ballhawking instead of just copying and pasting the entire contents of his first book. Hample told me that his outlook on ballhawking is different and he is embarrassed by that first book now as he feel that he came off as greedy and selfish. This is the ultimate guide on how to take home a baseball (or two, or three, or you get the idea) from any game that you go to. Hample guarantees that if you follow his advice, that there should be no reason why you do not go home with at least a baseball at every game that you attend. Hample teaches the reader what to do when it rains at a game, what the glove trick is, how to dress and much much more.

 Hample also talks to the ten most successful ballhawks and finds out about their life both in and out of the ballhawking world. It is interesting to hear some of the stories behind some of the people who have ballhawked for quite a while now.

 Hample also has some memorable moments in ballhawking and the best stadiums for ballhawking.

 For those who don’t understand it or even those who need a refresher, some ballhawking terms are used in a glossary.

 Hample hopes that with this part of the book, those who have not approved of ballhawking in the past will not consider it bad or evil any more and perhaps will gain an understanding of it.

 I understand that many people who will pick this book up will bypass the ballhawking aspect of the book as it may not be for them, but even without the ballhawking section, there still is a ton of information here. As mentioned earlier in this review, Hample visited the Rawlings Factory in Costa Rica, but also went to Coors Field home of the Colorado Rockies to check out the humidor where they store baseballs, found out how to rub baseballs at Citizens Bank Park home of the Philadelphia Phillies and visited many other ballparks he either had not attended or had not visited in years. He did all kinds of other research for this book and you can tell by reading this book. Hample told me in an interview that he bet that fans will learn a whole lot by reading this book and may not even know 10% of the material in this book.

 Despite the obvious fact that this book can be intense at times, Hample said that the reading age for this book should be ages 10 and up. I personally do not think a 10-year-old could not handle the second part of this book, but I have been proven wrong before. For everyone else, whether you are just a baseball fan or want to read a good book, this is the book for you. It also helps that the book is affordable considering today’s economy and the money situation.

Basic Information:

Price: $14.95 US Price; $16.95 Canada Price

Pages: 368

Paperback

Title: The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals, and Secrets Beneath the Stitches

Publisher: Vintage Original (division of Random House Inc.)

Date of Release: March 8, 2011

Other books written by Hample: How to Snag Major League Baseballs, Watching Baseball Smarter

The 2nd Annual Pirates Awards

 This idea started last year, when I realized that no Pirate would get any actual awards. I was semi-wrong when Nate McLouth took the Gold Glove award, but that award has a criteria that is very flawed. While Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones have chances at Rookie of the Year Award honors, it seems unlikely that it will happen. With that said, here are the nominees and winners of this year’s Pirate Awards.

 Team MVP:

1. Andrew McCutchen- It only makes sense that we start off with the team’s leadoff hitter. His dazzling speed and late game heroics made fans out of many. He is in the team’s plans for the long haul.

2. Garrett Jones- GFJ is up here because quite frankly, he was a joy to watch. He hit the most home runs among rookies and he was versitile playing first base as well as left and right field. While he is an old rookie because he was stuck behind Justin Morneau on the Twins, he never let that faze him.

3. Ross Ohlendorf- Ross pitched very well all season for the Pirates earning a team leading 11 victories. While he did not pitch the entire season due to inning limitations, Ohlendorf showcased his stuff especially in the second half of the season.

4. Zach Duke- Duke made a 5 game improvement this season winning 10 games this year. He also is an accomplished hitter, and if you don’t believe me, then watch him during batting practice at the ballpark. Duke was able to locate his fastball much better this season making himself much more effective this season.

The Winner: Andrew McCutchen

 Cutch gets the award, because he was consistent all season long. Duke led the league in losses this year because of a lack of run support, but his earned run average started to pile on as the season continued. Ohlendorf was inconsistent for half of a season, and Jones was terrible when it came to hitting with runners on. You kind of knew what you would get with Cutch, and thus he is the team’s MVP.

 

 

 Team LVP:

1. Brandon Moss- While he won the starting right field job in April, he never really showed promise. While he was clutch for a short while in August, most of the time fans groaned and booed when he came to bat. The only reason he is still a Pirate is because if he were sent to Triple-A another team may claim him.

2. Brian Bixler- Another year gone, same Bixler. He shows all kinds of potential in Triple-A, but always appears overmatched in the Majors. In that sense he is very much like John Van Benschoten. Not much to write about him because plain and simple, he is just not that good.

3. Ryan Doumit- Doumit was doing a decent job catching in April, and then he got injured. While he is a leader on this team, it seems as if he does not practice what he preaches. He argued with John Russell and he did not really do anything positive that opened eyes when he returned.

4. Matt Capps- This was not the “Big Bull Rider” that I know. He was just inconsistent this season and he was a total mess.

The “Winner” (?): Matt Capps

 Capps just was not the same this year. He just didn’t save games consistently for us and if there was not a save situation (please see games against Phillies, Dodgers, etc..), he was atrocious. I don’t get why the Pirates are going to give him an offer this offseason.

 

 Most Improved:

1. Zach Duke- He seemed more in control than I ever remember. He nearly pitched four complete games to tie for the NL lead (thanks John Russell) and was the best offensive pitcher.

2. Ross Ohlendorf- Wow, what a change a year makes. “Ross the Boss” went back and forth on using his sinker or his fastball, and his mix confused the hitters facing him. In the second half of the season, hitters did not want to face Ross Ohlendorf.

3. Andy LaRoche- A year ago he was below the Adam LaRoche line, and now, he has come back to be the player I thought he was. Offensively, he led the team in runs batted in with 62, and he very well could be the National League’s best defensive third baseman thanks in large part to Perry Hill.

 The Winner: Ross Ohlendorf

 I wrote on this blog last year that Ross Ohlendorf was the worst September call up. I wrote that he was visibly overmatched, and that he should not be a starter let alone be on the Pirates. I can now admit that I am wrong, and I am proud to do so. He led the team in games won easily passing Paul Maholm’s 2008 total of 9 and thus wins the award.

 

  Moment of the Year:

1. Taking 2 out of 3 from the Phillies- Many in Pittsburgh, myself included thought that the Pirates had no shot against the Phils. Afterall, we had struggled against them at Citizens Bank Park, and it was clear that they were the more superior team. Still an Andrew McCutchen walk off sparked the team and they stunned the Phillies taking the series against them.

2. Taking 3 of 4 from the Dodgers- Just like the scenario before this one, LA dominated us at their ballpark and there was not much expectation here. Still we took 3 out of 4 from a team that advanced to the NLCS and still has a shot of winning the World Series. That is pretty cool if you ask me.

3. Triple Play vs Cincy- It was just a spur of the moment kind of thing, but luck struck for the Pirates, and although they lost the game, it has to be on the highlight reel. You can’t deny the pop fly caught by Jack Wilson, who tossed to Freddy Sanchez, who tossed to Adam LaRoche to complete the triple play. You also can’t deny the fact that none of them are wearing a Pirates uniform any more.

The Winner: Taking 3 of 4 from the Dodgers

 This was almost as tough as deciding the MVP winner, and there were a ton more nominees I could choose from. It’s just before that series we were on a massive losing streak and we had just had a game were just about 3,000 fans attended and the upper deck was closed. It also captured the image of a 4 run ninth inning to win the third game of the series as well as Zach Duke pitching a near perfect game to win the final game of the series.

 Best Midseason Acquisition:

1. Hunter Strickland- Simply put he combined to pitch a no-hitter almost immediately after being acquired. The last time I heard no-hitter here was 1997.

2. Lastings Milledge- Although he did not make immediate impact, causing many fans to want Nyjer Morgan back, Milledge came around, having a wonderful September and making a believer out of Pirates fans.

3. Tim Alderson- Although some were confused by him getting traded for Freddy Sanchez, Alderson has quality stuff and more importantly great potential.

 The Winner: Tim Alderson

 I am fairly excited by his potential, and I think he can be a front end starter. It would have been hard to keep Freddy financially and the trade worked to our advantage as Freddy got injured while playing for the Giants.

 Most Improved in Minors:

1. Daniel McCutchen- He led triple-A in wins when he got his September call up, and after getting adjusted to pitching in the Majors did a decent job for the team.

2. Rudy Owens- The Pirates Minor League pitcher of the year showed promise and could be a star for years to come.

3. Starling Marte- He had a nice record and he always got my attention. He made me want to read what happened in the Minors every day.

 The Winner: Daniel McCutchen

 I got a decent look at him in September, and I think he could be either the fifth starter or long reliever. He has been with Ross Ohlendorf seemingly every where he goes, so why can’t he be the most improved next year?

 Worst September call up?

1. Brian Bixler- I mean come on, why bring up Bixler. He is overmatched and is a liability defensively. Need I say more?

2. Neil Walker- I love his potential but it just wasn’t there offensively.

3. Virgil Vasquez- Didn’t fair well when he was first called up, so why did you call him up?

4. Eric Hacker- Had only three appearances and his first had exactly one person clap to welcome him. Did I mention that the game was at PNC Park? Oh and his ERA? 6.00.

 The “Winner” (??): Brian Bixler

 Just a waste of breath and space. It is rare when he plays, and even rarer that he does something right.

 

  Best Broadcaster:

1. Bob Walk- Has a great sense of humor and can be fairly random. With the team we have, funny and random is good.

2. Tim Neverett- He replaced Lanny Frattare (retirement) and although I was expecting the worse, he did a nice job. Needs to work a bit more on saying things in different ways.

3. Greg Brown- Everytime I hear him, there always is a “gees” in whatever he is saying. Not a bad “voice of the Pirates” though.

4. Steve Blass- Last year’s winner was honored for his decades long ties to the team.

 The Winner: Bob Walk

 It’s got to be Bob Walk, he easily takes it this year.

 Most Surprising:

1. Delwyn Young- I wasn’t expecting much from him because of what we traded away to get him, but we got a steal. This guy is an ideal utility man because he can play everywhere in the field, but he has a solid bat to go with it.

2. Zach Duke- Pretty much everything said above goes here as well.

3. Garrett Jones- You saw what he did in Spring Training, but did you really think he would make it to the Pirates, let alone go on such a tear?

 The Winner: Garrett Jones

 Jones went from a nobody to a somebody. No one expected this out of Jones.

Garrett Jones, take me to the river! by Dave's Family Fotos.

  Best Performance:

1. McCutchen’s three HR game: It was nice to see Cutch rake since he is not known for his power. The curtain call has to be one of the highlights of the season.

2. Duke’s complete game home opener: I was in the Lexus Club, and I saw Duke in total control of the Astros all game long. The fist pump he made after the final out told the whole story.

3. Craig Monroe hits two three run home runs vs. the Braves: Monroe, who no longer is a Pirate, seemed to have a thing for three run home runs in his short time with us.

4. Andy LaRoche’s perfect day vs. his former team: I can’t think of any thing better than going five for five with two home runs against your former team.

 The Winner: Zach Duke’s Home Opener

 Just total control from start to finish. The Astros never stood a chance. It also is worth a mention that Duke had a double that game too.

 

 Coach of the Year:

1. Joe Kerrigan- He transformed many players from Zach Duke to Ross Ohlendorf. He also was loyal to his guys and was the only guy who really stood up for Ian Snell (before Snell blamed him for his problems).

2. Don Long- His extra time spent with Delwyn Young seemed to pay off and in some of the series against big time teams, his work showed with the comebacks and walk offs.

3. Tony Beasley- Despite a death in the family, “Beas” pressed on, and did a solid job.

4. Perry Hill- Although it seems unlikely that Perry Hill will come back to the Pirates, he transformed Andy LaRoche into an elite fielder and Delwyn Young as a solid second baseman.

 The Winner: Perry Hill

 This was probably the hardest decision of all. A case really could have been made for Kerrigan or Hill. I think I was swayed by Kerrigan staying one more year and Hill likely not. Hill did a good job as the infield instructor and the Pirates raised their intensity defensively.

On First by jmd41280.

 Best nickname:

1. Cutch (Andrew McCutchen)

2. GFJ (Garrett Jones)

3. Ross the Boss (Ross Ohlendorf)

4. Big Bull Rider (Matt Capps)

 The Winner: GFJ

 I mean come on it stands for Garrett Freaking Jones. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.

 Best Inning Break Activity:

1. Pirate Quiz- Nice game just pick an answer and either take what you won or go for the box of mystery.

2. Press Your Buc- Played under the rules of the game by a similar name, the contestant presses a button and stops on a prize or a whammy.

3. Bucco- Nice little Plinko game where if you get in the middle you when a 10 game pack or other prizes.

4. Perogie Race- Even though there is a meeting in the Park where it is determined who wins, it is still cool to watch, especially if you are one who bets money on the race.

 The Winner: Pirate Quiz

 I will admit that I am a little biased because I have been on Pirate Quiz, but still I like this game more than the others because at least there are some variables that change. Still, I couldn’t find a picture to capture the victory of Pirate Quiz so I guess I’ll have to satisfy demands by putting this up instead.

P1000226 by boomerkuwanger.

 That wraps up this year’s edition of the Pirates Awards. Agree or disagree, feel free to comment. Until next year, may all gloves be golden and all seasons winning.

9/6/09 Pittsburgh Pirates vs St. Louis Cardinals PNC Park and 9/8/09 Pittsburgh Pirates vs Chicago Cubs

Rarely do I ever attend Sunday games, because it is just too hot and there are kids everywhere, meaning people like me have little to no chance of getting anything. It also doesn’t help that there rarely is BP on Sunday games.

 However, I went to this game because I was getting complimentary tickets as well as a little special something after the game.

 I was expecting to be stuck up in the 300 sections, but I ended up sitting in section 124, right by the umpire exit but a level up, so I was happy.

 When I got to my seat, I noticed a Pirate signing and was excited to find out that it was Ross Ohlendorf. I immediately dropped my bag, and went down to get him to sign. It was a long crowded wait, but eventually Ohlendorf (pictured below) signed my scorecard and I went back to my seat happy.

Ross Ohlendorf by Dave's Family Fotos.

 Not much else occured for me in this game although I got conversations with Herbie Andrade and Denny Bautista (pictured below) about baseball.

 I did not really go for baseballs that day, although I was more in the talking mood talking to a worker about working at the ballpark. He gave me inside information about the park that many don’t know.

 Soon enough, the game was over and I prepared for my special moment. I made the call and then a few minutes later I was face to face with PA announcer Tim DeBacco (pictured below). This was my chance to meet the man behind the infamous voice.

 Before I continue, I am sure many of you are asking me how I got into contact with Tim. I can tell you that I sent him an email explaning who I was and how I enjoyed and appreciated his work. I then asked if there was any chance I could meet him. He responded by offering tickets on a mutually agreed upon date which ended up being this game. We (my dad and I), were also to get a tour of the sound studio as well as talk about my journalism endeavors.

 Tim took us up, and it was really nice, as he had nothing but good things to say and continued to encourage me to continue down the right path. He also gave me a ton of 2009 media guides  he no longer needed including ones from the Cardinals, Phillies and the Mets. I was really excited, and I took a lot away from the discussions Tim and I had. After a few pictures, we all left the ballpark and parted ways.

 Two days later, I was back at the ballpark to see the Cubs face the Buccos. It was a rare school night game, but we were a couple of rows from the field, and it was Arnold Palmer night at the ballpark. I added this entry to this blog because it is a really short one.

 I was looking forward to meeting Palmer and getting a signature, but the Pirates put Palmer in the Lexus Club making it impossible to get to him.

 So not only was that a disappointment, but I didn’t get a ball or signature at the game because of the Palmer ceremony and a need to leave the game early. It also didn’t help that the Cubs had a seven run, eight hit first inning before getting an out. So overall, a bad game all around.

8/26 PNC Park Pirates vs Phillies

 This entry should be shorter, because there was not as much going on this time as the last entry.

 Let me state for the record, that I should not have been at this game. I had tickets for the previous day’s game, and I mistakenly assumed that they were for the game I went to. It was a struggle and took a lot of loopholes to get tickets for the Wednesday game, but soon enough, I had seats in section 7. If anyone paid attention to the Tuesday Pirates-Phillies matchup, they would know that I had tickets to the best game of the season, and blew it big time.

 So I went to the game again with my friend Colston, and upon entering the park I was a little upset. As my ticket was being scanned, the gates were being open to everyone, so I would be behind in getting to BP. I did get in, and caught up with Erik Jabs. After a quick hello, he was off to right field to capitalize on the lefty hitters.

 I did not get any balls during BP, but I also failed in my chances to get autographs. Pedro Martinez was jogging along the warning track when all of a sudden, he stopped to say hi to Manny Sanguillen and signed autographs. I went over and got in a good position for him to sign my Gold Glove Baseball, but he said to us that he had to leave.

 Still, I did not see much problem with this, as Raul Ibanez was to my left striking a conversation with one of his friends. He then proceeded to sign his friends ticket. When the conversation ended, I asked him if he would sign my baseball, but he said this instead, “I don’t sign during batting practice”. While he did respond to me, his response was an absolute copout. I had just seen him sign for his friend, so understandably I was upset at him, but I decided not to say anything, as I tried to blend in as a Philly fan. I didn’t want him to think I was a Pirate fan, because that would not bode well for me.

 Later on Ibanez seemed to be even more foolish as Phillies reliever Scott Eyre briefly signed. So I ended up with no signatures at BP and no balls to boot. I did end up with something though, as I got my pain in my knee to come back.

 After BP, I went to the bullpen area to see if there were any baseballs in there, but there were none. Seeing the lost cause, I decided to head to my seat.

 Things did not get much better at my seats though. One of the reasons I pay the extra money to get the close seats is because of the autographs however I was in for a big surprise, and not a good one.

 I was standing in the front of the row as usual with the full understanding that many of those with me would be leaving as they would be kicked out of the section at 6:30. However, the ushers were either really cranky or the extra rules and regulations set by the Pirates were absolutely pathetic. Not only would the fans who were not in the section going to be kicked out from seeking autographs at 6:30, but those not in the front row of each section would have to return to their seats as well.

 I asked my usher, who looked like former baseball player John Wehner if I could stay in the front since I am in the section, but got a no since I was not in the front row of the section. Then he added, “Nobody’s going to be signing.” Well of course nobody will sign when you force everyone to sit down in their seats. So because of the Pirates and their stupid regulations, I got no autographs. Based on the way the ushers acted, you would have guessed that each member of the Phillies had swine flu, but no, they were just trying to ruin everyone’s good time.

 It just felt awkward just waiting for the game started. I already had the lineups filled out and it was watching paint dry. I also was right in the middle of my row which made things harder because I always had to get up. My knee was still in pain, so that never helped.

 The game started and of course Philly gets a home run in the first inning. I ended up leaving my section in the third inning (and I could not leave fast enough), for dinner. I then grabbed my dinner and went straight to the Riverwalk.

 Nothing was really going on there, but the winner of Pirate Quiz got a set of Rolling Stones music, so not that bad of a prize. 

 After that, I decided to try my luck at the bullpen. I also shaved the night before to appear younger to those in the bullpen. I was a little more careful, because I was not sure if Luis Dorante would recognize him from five days earlier.

  I was able to get much closer than I did when I started a few days ago, when I was as far as can be. On this day, I was a spot away from the corner spot, but a kid was there and never left. So with not much action, I stayed and chatted with those by the bullpen. Eventually, a group of three people came over, one of them looking like former Pirates pitcher Ian Snell (picture below).

 In the ninth inning, I put on my rally cap and continued talking. However when Brandon Moss came in to pinch hit, someone asked what good he was going to do. I then replied saying, “just watch, he’s going to hit one right over the wall.” She laughed, but sure enough, Moss went deep, and all of us celebrated as if the ball had just dropped during New Year’s at Times Square. High fives were exchanged with all, and after I correctly predicted that Ramon Vazquez would ground out to the shortstop, we went to extra innings.

 After Steven Jackson allowed the first two Phillies hitters on base, he was lifted for fellow reliever Phil Dumatrait. Dumatrait has been warming up, and was put in to face Chase Utley, a lefty. This was obviously done to get a favorable matchup as Dumatrait is the lone left-hander in the Pirates bullpen.

 After Dumatrait finished throwing, I saw this as my last chance. It was bullpen catcher Heberto “Herbie” Andrade who had the ball and I called down to him to toss it. After he told me that he couldn’t hear me, I asked my request again, but louder, and he said yes. Andrade (pictured below in the Pirates batting practice jersey), then tossed me my first and lone ball of the day.

 

 The really good thing about this ball, was that it was not a practice one. You could tell that it was used more than just that one bullpen session, and the quickness in my request ensured that Andrade unlike Dorante didn’t have time to switch balls.

 Dumatrait unfortunately came in, and allowed a first pitch three run home run to Ryan Howard and effectively ending the game.

 The game was a fun one, but compared to the game before was a big letdown, because other than getting the baseball, nothing happened.

 I will be at the ballpark 9/4 and 9/6 so entries will come soon for those. 

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