Friday, December 31, 2010

SMALLS TALK: Pre-Draft Medical Questionnaires

94 on the gun, but does he have any allergies?

How can something so boring be so exciting? When I received my first pre-draft medical questionnaire, in my mind I had arrived. I was a HUGE prospect. This was an exclusive piece of paper, only to be filled out by the most elite talent in the college ranks. I never really considered myself the focus of any major league scout, but this little envelope with the Royals emblem hovering over the return address told me otherwise- I had Big League written all over me, why else would they send me this questionnaire? You think they just hand these things out to anyone? Ok yeah, they pretty much do.

I remember looking at the envelope thinking to myself all excited: "This is the Kansas City Royals!" Twenty-four hours earlier, if you had asked me to go see a Royals game I probably would have responded with an unenthusiastic "I'm not sure what I'm doing, I'll get back to you." Hell, if you had offered me Royals season tickets I probably would have come up with a reason why I couldn't take them off your hands. Not interested. But now all of a sudden, with that KC logo in my hands, this wasn't the franchise that had become synonymous with mediocrity and anonymity, this was the Kansas City Royals! A Major League team, a big deal! And boy was I excited to mindlessly check off countless boxes revealing my medical background.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

SMALLS TALK: The Ryan Howard Namesake

I think "The Office" is one of the funniest shows on TV. My roommate and I watch no less than three episodes every night. The writing is unbelievable and I'm pretty sure Steve Carell is a comedic genius- minus Dan in Real Life and Evan Almighty, of course. What I could never figure out was why they chose to name BJ Novak's character "Ryan Howard." We're talking about one of the most famous names in baseball- with a list of countless fake names to pick from, why go with one that's already known? That'd be like naming a character Albert Pujols- sure, Howard's more generic, but you get my point.

Well it turns out I'm an idiot. Creators of the show purposely gave the character this name as a tribute to Howard, an up-and-coming Phillies prospect who was playing first base and hitting homeruns for the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons at the time. (The show is based on a paper company located in Scranton, PA.) How cool is that, showing love to the local legend? Yeah Howard was a major prospect and was likely going to be a stud in the Bigs anyway, but as a kid in the minors- having a character named after you? Sign me up. And on one of the best shows on television? You gotta be kidding me. Ok, the character named after him is the biggest doucher on the show, but still- talk about immortality.

I would have so much fun with this if I were one of Howard's teammates- I would be so corny and hilarious with my Office references. I'd call him "Temp" and wait for him to put something in the clubhouse toaster so I could sing "Ryan started the fire!" I'd ask him how Kelly was doing and if I could invest in I gotta tip my cap to the Turner Field organist who plays The Office theme song as Howard makes his way to the plate against the Braves. That's just good humor.

As annoying as it may get, I hope number 6 appreciates the gesture that was made. I wonder if he even watches?

The Magic of the Rally
Jeter and A-Rod, How Times Have Changed
Summer Leagues - Cape Still Cream of the Crop?
SportsCenter Commercials are Better Than Most Shows
Schilling's Bloody Sock
Red Sox Nation Goes Crazy, JD Drew Can't Be Bothered
Minor League Hats are the Way to Go
Who Has the Best Uniforms in College Baseball?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

MiLB LIFE: A Taste of the Minor League Off-Season

What other job requires you to work every day for seven months and then gives you a five month vacation? It's wild. The season is a grind, it wears on you, it beats you down, it's repetitive, it's monotonous, it appears endless- and then, well, it ends. And you go home. You have five months to do whatever you want. One hundred and fifty days to yourself. No baseball requirements. No bus rides. Nothing but an empty calendar. So what do you do?

The off-season is a time for bonus babies to relax on beaches for a while before eventually focusing all their time on baseball training and their Big League aspirations. It is also a time for lower draft picks to find a real job and use this reprieve from baseball as a chance to actually make some money so that they can afford to keep chasing their dream. I fall into the second category.

I'm working a desk job this off-season so that when the day comes that I get released- or whenever I retire after my Hall of Fame career- I will have more than my petite signing bonus in the bank and more than baseball statistics on my resumé.

Monday, December 27, 2010

YouTube SENSATION: Batting Stance Guy

Gar Ryness has made a living off of doing what every wiffle-ball playing 10-year old  in America has done in their backyard for decades. What started out as a YouTube phenomenon has quickly become a growing brand, complete with a detailed website and a new 256-page book. This guy's been featured in the New York Times and has even been a guest on David Letterman - all because he can imitate the stances and swings of Major League hitters.

It's a pretty amazing story, and I gotta give it to this guy - he's riding this wave and enjoying every second of it. When you YouTube "Batting Stance Guy," what seems like hundreds of videos pop up - he's no one trick pony. If a player has ever heard his name announced in a Big League stadium, chances are the BSG has got his stance down to every little detail - the stance, the hand gestures, the facial expressions, the nervouse ticks, the on-deck routine, and of course, the swing. It's a ridiculous skill to have, but he is the undisputed best - I think there's something to be said for that.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas and Thank You

Merry Christmas to all MLU readers! I want to thank every one who has checked out my new blog. It's a fun way to spend the off-season and it's only gonna get bigger and more detailed once spring training picks up.

Please help me spread the word. I feel that there are tons of people out there wondering what life as a minor leaguer is like, or even just looking for a site that covers all things baseball, so if you've enjoyed what you've read so far, please tell your friends!

I am always looking for feedback so please contact me if you have any suggestions, critiques, requests, comments, anything- I work a desk job during the day so I guarantee I'll get back to you instantly. You can email me at or friend me on Facebook (Scotty Smalls), or even follow me on Twitter (@MinorLeagueU). Yep, I've pretty much got the whole social media world covered- except MySpace of course, which for some reason I associate with weirdos and creeps.

I'm heading home for Christmas weekend- "Wait, I thought all bloggers lived in their mother's basement?"- so this will be my last post until after the holiday, but MLU will be back and better than ever starting Monday. Future posts to look forward to include an inside look at the MiLB off-season, a baseball movie character All-Star game, my take on pimpin' homeruns, countless Dugout Vocabulary, and much, much more. Have an idea for something you'd like me to cover? Send me a message and I'd love to check it out- I'm always looking for new ideas.

So throw Minor League University under the Favorite Places tab and check us out daily for coverage of the freshest topics in baseball.

Merry Christmas, I hope you all get what you want!

*Need to get your MLU fix over the weekend? Use this time to catch up on some older posts: best college uniforms, minor league hats, awful new MiLB helmets, Ripken vs. Favre, and many more.

(The Babe spreading some Christmas cheer.)

DUGOUT LINGO: "Poo-Slinger"

This is a guy who simply cannot bring the heat. His fastball sits in the mid-80's- or at around "Eighty-poo," another must-know phrase- and every time you face him it is an absolute failure in your mind if you do anything but go deep. In the occasion that he gets you out, you thoroughly consider putting all your baseball equipment on Ebay and fleeing the country. 'If I can't get a hit off this guy then I should start setting up some job interviews or something cause I have no future in baseball.'

We've all been there. A guy throws 95-MPH by you? Tip your cap, get 'em next time. Get caught looking at a curveball you're pretty sure didn't even register on the radar gun behind the plate? Time to find a nearby tall building or Google yourself a new hobby. These guys are just plain bad, and yet the long lineage of poo-slingers continues today.

These guys don't scare anybody, but they usually have above average off-speed stuff and can pinpoint all their pitches. They know they throw slow, and so they make a living out of capitalizing on the fact that you're up there salivating in the batter's box. They make you chase big fat juicy pitches out of the zone and then after an onslaught of off-speed, they're able to blow 84 right by you on the black. And that, my friends, is how a hitter's confidence gets destroyed. Frickin' poo-slingers. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

YouTube SENSATION: Josh Womack's Bat Tricks

I can't tell you how many times I've hurt myself trying these tricks. They look so easy- 'Boom, flip the bat. Catch it. Ta-dahh!' Nope. Not for me. Not once.

There is a ridiculous amount of down time in baseball- time spent in the clubhouse, the dugout, and down the foul lines literally doing nothing. There's only so much chit-chat a manager can tolerate before he inevitably flips out and tells you to do something productive pre-game. The game of Pepper is a classic time-waster. Then there's Flips and Two-Ball, but those games usually get put to rest after the team's first losing streak when the manager inexplicably cites Two-Ball as the reason you've lost six in a row. Dry hacks and visualization accomplish nothing but make you look focused and professional, which is a plus. And sure, steal breaks and jogging can be a good warm-up, but after two or three I'm just about too tired to play the game. 140 game season- I need some variety, some fun.

Introducing the Josh Womack Bat Trick Series. This independent-leaguer has racked up over a million views on YouTube for his now-famous bat flips, and having tried each of these tricks several times, I assure you they're much harder than they look. I've hit myself with my bat in the head, shin, chest, you name it- all during unsuccessful attempts at this entertaining skill. It's gotten to the point where I don't think I'll ever be able to do it because I now instinctively flinch every time I try, knowing it will likely result in some type of bruise.

There's always that one kid on the team that can sort of do it- usually a pitcher, oddly enough- but then you watch the YouTube video again and in reality the kid's not even close. Womack could do this in a game and no one would even bat an eye- just silky smooth. This guy's job has to be as secure as anybody's in the Golden Baseball League with people showing up in crowds just to see his pre-game antics in front of the dugout. "Oh there's a game after this? What d'ya think hunny? Sure, let's stay and watch a little bit." And that's how sellouts start. Every minor league team is looking for their very own Josh Womack- practice up kids.

SMALLS TALK: The Magic of the Rally

Baseball players will do just about anything for a timely run- and a laugh. And when you're able to combine the two, well that's just rally magic. When in need of a big inning, today's generation has rejuvenated the rally. Now this is not your father's "rally cap," where a Little League team turns their hats inside out. No sir. I'm not even talking about today's modernization of the original: wearing hats backwards and flipping sunglasses upside down. I'm talking about the over-the-top antics that are struck up in dugouts at what seem like the game's most stressful moments. Some of these displays actually challenge the action on the field for the crowd's attention, and in many instances they win.

Sure, these rallies are childish and at times obnoxious- but they are even more clever and fun. Rallies bring teams together and keep everybody loose in situations that are usually daunting- and there's a trickle-down effect: How can a Clemson fan panic about being down two runs in the 9th inning when there's a kid in the Tigers' dugout wearing 29 hats on his head?

These dugout shenanigans epitomize the camaraderie and fun atmosphere that go hand-in-hand with college baseball. In summer leagues, exhibitions can grow even more outlandish- perhaps a trial run before players bring the new idea back to their respective campuses. It doesn't always produce a run, but a clever and well executed rally can almost always produce a smile or two.

Now all teams have their go-to moves, and I'm sure there are tons out there that I don't even know about, but here is a sample of some of the most memorable "Rallies" I have witnessed firsthand. (I made up the majority, if not all, of these names.)

Rally Dr. Seuss Hat: As made famous by Clemson in the 2010 College World Series, everybody in the dugout takes their hat off and stacks it on top of one player's head.

Rally Quarantine: A player is secretly announced as "quarantined" without that person knowing. This means that no one in the dugout can go near him- the fun starts when he starts walking around or heads to the other end of the dugout for a drink.

Rally Doctor: Players fold up their hat as if it were on the rack at a store, shove the brim into the tops of their jerseys and cover their chin, mouth, and nose with the remaining bowl that is left, looking like a surgeon's mask.

Rally Shark: Players fold their hats like they did for "Rally Doctor" but now place them on their heads and cover one half of their head with the bill running along the top like a mohawk, or shark fin.

Rally Cluster: All players stand in a bunch in the dugout, getting as close together as possible. Some teams say you must be touching at least three people to be a part of the cluster. Looks hilarious in big dugouts.

Rally Accent An accent is decided upon at the beginning of the inning- often of the thick Southern variety- and all the ensuing chatter for that inning must be voiced using that accent.

Rally Team Picture: Rarely used, a team will spend a half inning separated into two rows- tall guys in the back, small guys in the front- holding the pose of a Little League team picture and smiling toward the on-field action. Bonus: player in front holding two crossing bats.

Rally Militia: Players in the dugout hold their bats like rifles for an entire inning. I have even seen marching on one occasion.

Rally First Name: You simply call everyone by their first name for an inning, chatter included. You have no idea how many guys on the team you don't ever call by their first names until you do this- hell, there are some whose first name you won't even know.

Rally Tweeners: Everyone pulls the bottoms of their pants up to a few inches above the ankle, creating one of the most classic, yet ridiculously bad, looks in baseball: the tweener.

Rally Old-Timer: In addition to "Rally Tweeners", everyone then pulls their pants up at the top so that their belt is well above their belly button, looking like an old-time manager.

Rally Song: It differs from team to team, but there is usually some choreographed dugout dance that is triggered by a certain time in the game or by the playing of a certain song, such as Miami's "Love is Gone" a few years ago.

Teams are always doing things to bring each other together, whether it's dying their hair, growing mustaches, whatever. These "rallies" are another example of just that: teams unifying and having some fun. Hey, brainstorming good rally ideas could possibly be the most important thing some bench players do all year.

Shoutout: Rally Monkey

*Late Editions thanks to the Harwich Mariners' bullpen- nice to see things are still loose down the Cape: Rally Campfire, Rally Snipers, Rally Jazzercise, and, my personal favorite, Crossing the Delaware for Runs.

Jeter and A-Rod, How Times Have Changed
Summer Leagues - Cape Still Cream of the Crop?
SportsCenter Commercials are Better Than Most Shows
Schilling's Bloody Sock
Red Sox Nation Goes Crazy, JD Drew Can't Be Bothered
Minor League Hats are the Way to Go
Who Has the Best Uniforms in College Baseball?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

MiLB LIFE: New Helmets Issued, Players Respond: "Are You Joking?"

The least cool thing about the Minor Leagues has got to be the batting helmets. The bus rides, the Podunk towns, the long season- it's all tough, but these are all side effects of a profession that for most of us is a dream come true, and so we tolerate them because, quite frankly, we get to play baseball for a living and well, that's pretty sweet. We get paid to play baseball- it's not a whole lot of money, but every now and then I think about that and I can't help but feel a little cool. The least Minor League Baseball could do is let us look cool while we're out on the field feeling so cool.

But no. They don't even give us a chance. Take a look at the Rawlings-S100. These helmets became mandatory in Minor League Baseball last season and believe me, no one is happy about it. It has got to be the worst-looking piece of equipment in sports. Seriously. It looks like a space helmet, and why the hell is it so long? The batter looks alright looking straight ahead (although still ridiculous), and then he turns to the side and BOOM- it just keeps going. It's just painful to look at.

Apparently these new helmets are capable of withstanding fastballs of up to 100 MPH, hence the name- clever. Was there entirely no way to make it any more stylish? Did they really finish making it and not laugh when they all looked at it? "Oh my God, we totally messed up, look how big it is! And why is it so long? No one's gonna wear that! Oh man this is hysterical looking, let's keep the mold just for fun because of how hilarious it looks, but yeah we definitely need to get back to the drawing board on the real helmet." No one said this at the Rawlings factory? Really? I find that hard to believe.

I don't know what's more embarrassing, Rawlings pitching this helmet to MLB officials with a straight face or the fact that someone high up enough to sign off on something like this actually thought, "These are great!" Whoever that is has been cursed in Minor League dugouts across America and some portions of Canada since instituting these new lids, and it won't stop until we get helmets that actually fit in the helmet racks at most stadiums.

I almost cried when I saw Pujols and Ethier (along with others) sporting these moon caps during last season's All-Star Game . I flipped out. I could not believe they were stooping so low- was this change permanent? Was Major League Baseball making the full transformation after the break? Luckily this was not the case, as I rejoiced watching highlights of the two of them on Baseball Tonight a few days later wearing normal, human-sized headgear. Some say they had been offered big bucks to wear the new models for the showcase game, others say the helmets were the only ones available in the clubhouse- either way, what a scare!

David Wright was encouraged to wear this abomination of a helmet because of its added safety when he was coming back from a concussion after getting hit in the head. (Talk about an added incentive not to take one in the head- 'I gotta wear that thing?!') He foolishly did so, and for about a week he couldn't get one girl in New York to take him seriously. It could have been a career-breaker, but he wisely returned to his old helmet shortly after and order was restored in Queens. This is a guy who wore a fastball in the head- a traumatic experience. He is offered a helmet that is proven to be safer and be more suitable for avoiding head injuries, which would be wise with his history of concussions and could even prolong his career, and he turns it down. 'Um, no thanks.' Now THAT is saying something! Could these things be any uglier?

There is one positive thing I can say about the Rawlings-S100: I take two gloves out to the dugout with me everyday, and because of its ridiculous length and volume, I'm able to fit both gloves inside of my helmet and carry it as sort of a basket which is kind of convenient. That's it. It's ugly, it's heavy, it's not comfortable- sure it can help you take 100 MPH off the dome, but so could a football helmet or a Medieval Knight helmet- there have to be some parameters here.

Thanks to these new helmets, Minor Leaguers everywhere want to make the Big Leagues now more than ever.

Monday, December 20, 2010

IT'S ON! -- Unbreakable Records? Ripken vs. Favre

Longevity is impressive in any sport. It often comes as a result of many factors: talent, toughness, determination, and, of course, luck. In baseball, guys must tough out the daily grind of the overwhelmingly long season. On the gridiron, football players must sustain physical contact and injuries that human bodies simply are not made to withstand. There are countless athletes who have carved out long successful careers in their respective sports, but no one- literally- has done what these two men have done.
Cal Ripken, Jr. was a 19-time All-Star, 2-time MVP, and World Series champion, but he is most noted for breaking, and ultimately shattering, Lou Gehrig's seemingly untouchable record of 2130 consecutive games played.
Brett Favre was no slouch himself; an 11-time Pro-Bowler, 3-time MVP and Superbowl champion, he more than doubled the NFL's previous mark for consecutive games played set by Ron Jaworski (116).
These two athletes epitomize the term "gamer" and it is possible we will never see the likes of a Ripken or a Favre again. So whose record is more impressive? Better yet, whose streak is more unbreakable?

Football fans, get your tomatoes cocked and ready- I'm going with Ripken on this one. When their streaks are averaged out over the 16-game NFL regular season and MLB's 162-game season, Favre actually outshines Ripken by over two seasons : 18.56 to 16.25. And yes, football is a far more physical sport, and Favre battled through injury, sickness, and personal problems on countless NFL Sundays to make sure he was under center for his team. And not only did he play, he produced! He holds essentially every quarterback career record (including the bad ones)- although most would argue those to be a perk and byproduct of such longevity.

Ripken's "Iron Man" record is more unbreakable, however, because it happened on the baseball diamond. It's a game where a "day off" isn't worthy of ESPN coverage, but rather commonplace for every league starter. The grind of the MLB season is unlike any other in sports. Every day is game day, and a night game in Seattle followed by a matinee in New York is not out of the ordinary. These guys are always going, and while their bodies aren't being smashed by 300-pound Defensive Tackles, they are slowly but surely breaking down over the course of the season- and that's in addition to the mental grind of a season that can span over seven months.

In football, you take your beatings, you have six days to recover, and as long as you can go the next Sunday, you play. That's what makes Favre's record attainable: if you're healthy- and productive- you play. Peyton Manning has never missed a start in his career. He has good protection in front of him, he gets rid of the ball quickly, and he's smart about avoiding the big hit via the slide or, my favorite, the fetal position surrender. His streak currently stands at 206. Do you think Peyton can stay healthy and keep his starting job for six more seasons? I do. The record will lose some of the toughness and grit that Brett's style and over-publicized injuries brought to it, but it will someday belong to number 18.

Ripken's will never be touched. I know they said that about Gehrig's mark, but this is a new age. Perennial All-Stars don't even play full seasons, never mind sixteen straight. There are too many factors, too many health precautions, too much awareness of the daily grind, and yes, too much babying that goes on today to allow someone to even approach such a streak. If a baseball player is legitimately healthy all-season, a rare occurrence in itself, he will play about 150 games, on average. Days off have become a part of the game- a way for a player's body to recover, an opportunity for a back-up to get some at-bats and exposure, and a chance for a star to let his mind rest. They're not seen as a punishment, but rather a perk.

The whole season is geared toward making the playoffs and winning a World Series, so days off are given in bulk toward the beginning of the year to ensure a player's health later in the season, when it counts. Lose your star QB for two NFL games? That could be the difference between making the playoffs and watching them from your couch.

Much focus is placed on toughness throughout these streaks, both physical and mental, and rightfully so- but what about luck? How lucky is Favre that he never battled concussion problems that plagued so many of his colleagues. How lucky is Ripken that he never caught that inside fastball off the knuckles that have shattered hands and left so many guys sidelined for weeks, even months at a time. No hamstring pulls, hell, not even a bad case of the flu. These two Hall-of-Famers fought hard their entire careers, but luck was also on their side.

In the span between two NFL Sundays, a baseball player plays six games. No bye weeks, no days off from practice- hell, there is no practice! Every day's game day, and the fact that Cal Ripken, Jr. woke up on 2632 consecutive game days to see his name on the lineup card is truly amazing- a record that will surely stand the test of time.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

SMALLS TALK: Jeter and A-Rod, How Times Have Changed

It's 1998 and these two are the Sweethearts of America's pastime. They're the league's young superstars- the toast of their respective towns. You gotta figure life is pretty good for Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. And such good friends! Who knew? This playful banter appears to be more than a publicity stunt- these guys seem to be genuine friends- guys who respect each other for their great talents, and can relate to exactly what the other one goes through in daily life. Jeter even said A-Rod stays with him when the Mariners come to NYC- you kiddin' me? These guys have a legitimate bromance going on, and America is loving every second of it. The future is bright for these two emerging stars. So what changed?

A-Rod did. I'm guessing the transformation occurred shortly after he signed his earth-shattering contract with Texas, and even though Jeter had the rings, A-Rod was best. I mean, look at his bank account. He gets paid like the league's best, so he's gotta be, right? And that was good enough for him.

Jeter, on the other hand, is the consummate professional. Even if you hate Jeter (i.e. Red Sox fans) there's really nothing bad to say about the guy. Sure, his range isn't what it used to be, and his power numbers have never been stellar, but those are on-field matters beyond his control. No one can question his attitude or toughness. His leadership, his professionalism- it's all exemplary. He's the captain of the most legendary team in all of sports, and with good reason. He's a marketing wet dream, just ask Gatorade, Nike, and Gillette. He dates some of the world's hottest women, and you never hear a bad word about him. No messy breakups, no pictures in Us Weekly, no Tiger horror stories. Jeter just gets it. And like him or not, you gotta tip your cap to him.

A-Rod, on the other hand, tries desperately to be the apple of baseball fans' collective eye, and the harder he tries, the more people hate him. Arrogant. Juiced-up. Socially awkward. He wants so bad to just be one of the guys, but it's just not in his makeup. He's a self-centered superstar who is respected for his on-field talents, but little else. Jeter is the mayor of New York; A-Rod gets booed in Yankee Stadium. He's been on the Yankees for almost a decade now and I still consider him a new Yankee, and that's because he's never really had the Yankee makeup, and he still hasn't been granted acceptance by New York fans or even his teammates. He's an individual, and when he's done he'll have the individual accomplishments and records to go with that- complemented with an asterisk, no doubt. Jeter, on the other hand, will have a fistful of rings and a plaque in Cooperstown. Sure, A-Rod got a ring, but he needed Jeter to get it. Jeter never needed A-Rod.

It's amazing how two best buds, two talented young shortstops on the rise, took such different routes to get to the 2011 Yankee Clubhouse. And the best part: A-Rod is blissfully unaware that his records won't count, that his accomplishments will be scrutinized, that he's a villain in the eyes of countless baseball fans. He gets paid, he plays a game he enjoys, and he can date any woman he wants- life is good, right?

Hey, to each his own. I like the road Jeter took.

Summer Leagues - Cape Still Cream of the Crop?
SportsCenter Commercials are Better Than Most Shows
Schilling's Bloody Sock
Red Sox Nation Goes Crazy, JD Drew Can't Be Bothered
Minor League Hats are the Way to Go
Who Has the Best Uniforms in College Baseball?

Friday, December 17, 2010

SMALLS TALK: Summer Leagues- Cape Still Cream of the Crop?

When it comes to collegiate baseball summer leagues, there's the Cape, and then there's the rest. The Cape Cod Baseball League annually attracts the nations top talent, and as a result draws Major League Baseball's most intrigued scouts. Every game is an All-Star game, and summers on the Cape can literally make or break you as a professional prospect. But why? There are countless summer wood-bat leagues spread throughout our nation- what's the Cape got that these other leagues don't? Well, a lot.

First off, the league is played at a location where most people vacation. These are beach towns that are hoppin' in the summer. They're jam-packed with bikini-clad girls, great restaurants, and adoring baseball fans- and what does the town do every night? Show up in mobs to support their boys on the diamond.

Once the players arrive on the Cape, games start in mid-june and the regular season ends first week in August. You make the championship? You're done August 13th. Last year the Northwoods League regular season didn't end until August 14th, and that's after a June 1st start date. The Northwoods is a league that's on the rise in attracting talent, considered by many to be "second to the Cape," maybe even "1A" in the eyes of some- but it will never be the Cape.

The Northwoods, like many other leagues, does its best to emulate the minor league experience. I played in both the Northwoods and the Cape and I can tell you there's no comparison. Sure they're very similar with regard to talent level, and the Northwoods even draws higher attendance numbers than the Cape, but the CCBL will always be tops. Ask most players in the Northwoods if they want to finish their summer on the Cape and they'd be on their way to the airport before you finish the question. 

Northwoods can compete on the diamond, but it's the experience that separates the two: the 70-game seasons, the 12-hour bus rides, the middle-of-nowhere towns- it's basically a summer internship in the minor leagues and what these leagues don't realize as they advertise this taste of life in the pros is that minor league life sucks. Small, shitty towns? Staying cooped up inside all day to keep away from weirdo meth-heads roaming the streets? Long ass bus rides? Games every single day? Unless there's the hope of getting called up, unless there's that MLB dream dangling in the balance, why would a star college player sign up for 70 games in addition to the 60+ he just played at school? This is college.

Same can be said about the Alaska League, the Prospect League, the NECBL, and countless others. The talent is there, but it's the experience. On the Cape you play at high school fields and fans bring lawn chairs to set up down the baselines. You're longest drive is 45-minutes down the road and you carpool to get there. It's high school ball all over again- it reminds you of a simpler time and no one questions it or complains because of all the greats who played on those fields and drove those roads before them.

The tradition of talent on the Cape is amazing, and it's resoundingly upheld by today's generation as 250 league alums were chosen in the 2010 MLB draft- is that even possible? One in every four college players selected in the draft had played in the Cape Leage at some point- I mean that's just plain silly.

Other leagues attract great talent, but the nation's top talent will always flock to the Cape because of the overall experience. Shorter schedule, beautiful beach towns, easy travel. These are all the factors that ultimately result in the country's highest level of competition, bleachers flooded with scouts, and big crowds of fans on a nightly basis. And oh yeah, the league's All-Star game is played at Fenway Park; tell me that's not a thrill for a 20-year old kid.

It's not the minor league experience players are after; they'll have to deal with that when the time comes. They're in college, they just played a grueling schedule- they want to play good baseball but it's the summer: they want to have fun.

Book Shoutout: The Last Best League by Jim Collins
(Great inside look at what a summer playing on the Cape is really like- far more accurate and enjoyable than watching "Summer Catch")

SportsCenter Commercials are Better Than Most Shows
Schilling's Bloody Sock
Red Sox Nation Goes Crazy, JD Drew Can't Be Bothered
Minor League Hats are the Way to Go
Who Has the Best Uniforms in College Baseball?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

SMALLS TALK: SportsCenter Commercials are Better Than Most Shows

This is  SportsCenter  Genius. SportsCenter has the best commercials on TV and there's no debating that. Simply put, ESPN gets it. Time after time they churn out clever 30-second clips that leave you wanting more. And it's a commercial! You're supposed to hate the ads that separate you from the TV show you're watching, yet I find myself YouTubing "This is SportsCenter commercials" in my free time. ESPN presents such a dry sense of humor that is evident in all of their anchors. Whether they're crafting witty catch phrases or substituting the word "football" with "tackle football" for an hour long NFL report (lookin' at you Kenny Mayne), they're making you laugh- not laugh hysterically- but a smile/chuckle that let's them know you appreciate their effort.

They have been portraying their office as home to all things sports for as long as I can remember- and it never gets stale. This ad campaign is older than most people watching it, but each commercial is always fresh and new. I literally get excited when one comes on that I haven't seen before. What athletes will be featured? What anchor are they gonna be hanging out with? What common sports occurrence are they going to put a hilarious office spin on this time?

PLAYER MOLD: Mr. Perfect

The name says it all - this guy's perfect. He's an all-star on the field, he looks great in a baseball uniform, and he looks even better with his smoking hot - yet sweetest girl you've ever met in your life - girlfriend on his arm. He's got the size, he's got the talent, and soon enough, he'll have the money to go with it. This kid has every reason in the world to be a cocky Superstar, and who could blame him? Life is pretty good for Mr. Perfect.

He hasn't let anything go to his head, and he seems to be appreciating all the perks and recognition that have come his way. He's got a friendly demeanor in the clubhouse and never has anything bad to say about anybody. He enjoys the game. Baseball is a treat for him - partly because it doesn't present to him the same frustration that it instills in everybody else, but mainly because of the childlike fun he has playing it. He knows the game. He understands it. Yet he works hard. Wait, it's kinda weird how hard he works. Yeah, why does he work so hard? And why's he always asking me how I'm doing? Something's up with this guy.

Mr. Perfect harnesses the rare combination of top talent, a good work ethic, social skills, and a strong moral compass. This combo is so rare that people cannot help but question his motives. His talent on the field speaks for itself, but he does community service too? Get outta here.

Mr. Perfect often sees backlash from haters who refuse to believe someone would actually always do the right thing. Take the Tim Tebow experience. I'd say it's embarrassingly close to 50/50 on people loving and hating the Gator QB. The worst dirt the bashers could dig up? 'Virgin!' -- 'God-lover!' -- 'Why don't you go make out with Urban Meyer!' National championship. Heisman. National championship.

People are suspicious of good intentions and jealous of accomplishments, that's simply human nature. It's not until you spend some time with Mr. Perfect playing cards during a rain-out that you realize he's the real deal. He's hitting .397 and won't stop talking about the gapper you hit yesterday. He invited you out to dinner after the game with his parents who are visiting. You set up a time to work on some stuff in the cages together before early outs. This kid's a legitimately nice guy. And just like that, you go from skeptic to believer. You want to be best friends. You want him to marry your sister. You go from hatred to man-crush. How could anybody not like this guy?

You feed off of his work ethic. He makes you a better player. The team rallies around his attitude and love for the game, and come crunch time he always delivers. He's perfect. And until you get to know him, you will hate him for it.

Big League Version: Joe Mauer
Movie Shout Out: Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez

The Project
Mr. Perfect
The Grinder
The Superstar

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

SMALLS TALK: Schilling's Bloody Sock

Say what you want about Curt Schilling. Outspoken. Fat. Aggressive republican. He's not the most popular public figure in sports, but he did have one hell of a career: one that will be remembered for- and arguably epitomized by- one moment: the Bloody Sock.

2004 ALCS, Game 6. Facing their hated rivals en route to the biggest comeback in sports history. A key part of bringing a city its first World Series title in 86 years. All storybook stuff, but in my opinion, the best part about the entire bloody sock moment is that nobody else could have had it. Not Pedro, not Derek Lowe, not Manny, nobody.  And it's not because they're not tough or because they wouldn't have played- it's because they don't have the same style.

Schilling was a part of the 5% (if that) of Big Leaguers who wear stirrups as opposed to colored socks. What's even more rare is that Schilling is one of maybe two guys this century to sport elastic-bottomed 'tweeners, pants that hang out just above the ankle. The majority of MLB players wear their pant bottoms low enough to cover the tops of their cleats, but not Schilling. He has just enough white showing for the whole world to see his stitches had busted open, he was bleeding, he was in pain, and yep, he was still gonna pitch. The Bloody Sock is an image that has come to embody toughness and perseverance, and if Curt Schilling wore his pants and socks like everybody else in the league, the world would never know this legacy.

Sure, Curt would have ranted and raved in the press conference about how much he was hurting, but would we have believed him? Curt's a blow-hard, and him detailing what went on under his pant legs or explaining how he was bleeding but the blood blended in with his red socks doesn't have the same effect as "Holy shit, is that blood on his sock? That's badass."

Which brings me to my final point: Curt Schilling has been preparing for that moment, his career-defining image, ever since Rookie Ball when the clubbie asked him "socks or stirrups?" Just like Squints, Curt had been planning this for years. He knew what he was doing, and his rare choice to go stirrups with tweeners doesn't go overlooked by this blogger.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

SMALLS TALK: Red Sox Nation Goes Crazy, JD Drew Can't Be Bothered

There goes the RBI chance, thanks man. (FULL VIDEO HERE)
 This is classic JD Drew. April 2009, nationally televised game, sold out Fenway Park, hated rivals in the visiting dugout, 2-1 game, 2 outs, bases loaded: Pettitte starts his windup and Jacoby Ellsbury takes off for home like Benny the Jet! "He's stealing home, I don't believe it! He's stealing home! He's stealing home and they don't see him! I don't believe it!" Pettitte spots him, hurries the pitch, Posada reaches for the tag, and he's... SAFE! Fenway erupts, Bay poops his pants in the on-deck circle, Francona has a heart attack, and Jacoby runs into the arms of his teammates waiting in a jacked-up dugout. What a momentum swing, what a risk, what a play! I'm literally sweating as I write this.

Arguably the most exciting play in all of sports, and JD Drew's bat never left his shoulder. He didn't say anything, he barely got out of the box- he simply didn't react at all. In fact, I think I even saw him mouth to the riotous crowd "Shhh keep it down, I'm trying to hit here." Can we get a pulse check over here?

JD Drew reminds me of that high school kid who hates baseball, and hates even more the fact that he's good at it. The kid whose dad had him taking 500 swings a day since he was three years old. In tee-ball he was focusing on staying inside the ball and back-spinning line drives as opposed to what flavor slushie he was gonna get at the snack stand after. He had a batting cage in the backyard and played on three different travel teams at the same time. He'd hop into the car after going 4 for 5 and his dad would sternly ask him about the flyout he hit in the 3rd. The kid who's treated baseball as a full-time job since middle school, and that's what I think it is to JD- a job.

While his teammates are hootin' and hollerin' in the dugout about the play that brought 38,000 fans to their feet, JD is back in the box racking his brain trying to remember what pitch Pettitte threw him the last time the two saw a 1-1 count. Sure you can say he's the consummate professional, but that's bullshit. Play with some emotion, some passion. Now I understand that he was still up and it was still a big spot with runners on first and second, runs that truly mattered, and I guess if he went wild celebrating Pettitte could have plunked him- but to load the bases again? I doubt it. What I do know is that the guy who used to wear number 7 and play Right Field for the Sox would have jumped on Jacoby like it was Game 7. His reaction would have made the screaming fans look tame. He was a team-first guy who never let anyone question his passion for the game. But that was Trot, and this is JD. Boring, emotionless, uninterested, dead-inside JD.

Monday, December 13, 2010

SMALLS TALK: Minor League Hats are the Way to Go

Almost makes getting to the Bigs not even worth it...

*Relevant Tangent: So I'm in the gas station yesterday and I see a kid wearing the hat of the MiLB team I played for last season. Holy shit! We're like 2,000 miles away from that city and this kid's wearing this hat like it's no big deal. So I obviously say something cause stuff like this is still cool to me and he says he had no idea what team it was but he found it online and thought it was cool. Bingo! Knew exactly where he was coming from. I, of course, spent the next 5 minutes telling him about the team, the city, the stadium, our average attendance, our record last year, my batting average, the reason for my slump at the beginning of August, and our clubbie who makes the best chicken salad East of the Mississippi. By the time I had snagged a Sharpie from behind the counter to personally sign the gallon of milk he was purchasing the kid was 3 blocks away.

The New Era 59/50 has got to be the most popular hat in the world. Every baseball player from little league through high school can be seen sporting his favorite team's lid to homeroom, and come college the collection has grown so extensively that you're even able to match different hats with particular outfits and colors. While the MLB hats are a classic look, it's easy to grow tired of the same old teams. Can you go anywhere without seeing someone wearing a Red Sox, Yankees, or Dodgers hat? Even hats of the less popular teams started flying off shelves because people were looking for a new look, and all of a sudden White Sox, Angels, and Tigers hats started sprouting up everywhere. There aren't enough good-looking hats to go around, and even when they come up with a new hat (usually a throwback ironically), that hat quickly becomes old news because everyone is starved for a fresh new 59/50 that they think no one else has.

In college, I wanted my own look, so in class one day I started surfing Mickey's Place and Starstruck on a quest to find a new hat, one I had never seen before, something original. Boom, it hit me like Roberto Alomar's spit hit John Hirschbeck's cheek- MINOR LEAGUE HATS. They're perfect. They present the same baseball look that's accomplished with the big league caps, but instead of picking from 30 teams, you have close to 200 teams to pick from, with each one usually supplying two or three different options.

On top of the variety, the Minor League hats are more fun. With names like the Modesto Nuts and the Chatanooga Lookouts they don't take themselves too seriously, and their logos are usually more interesting and vibrant than those in the Majors. Major League Baseball is a business, and each team is a big time organization. Their look is their identity, and so they can't afford for it to constantly be changing. They want their logo to be permanent and recognizable, while conversely some Minor League teams switch up their logo and colors on a yearly basis.

In addition to the plus of never running into someone with the same hat, Minor League lids are a great conversation starter. Generally no one will know the name of the team you're repping and will then inevitably ask. But the real fun comes when someone does recognize the team- "Myrtle Beach Pelicans, no way! I have a house on Myrtle Beach! I used to go to their games all the time as a kid! Let's hang out, I'll buy you drinks all night! This is awesome!" Every time.

Some Favorites:

Friday, December 10, 2010

MOVIE RANT: Summer Catch

*I'd like to preface this post by saying that "Summer Catch" is just an awful movie. The Boston accents make me cringe, the baseball scenes make me wonder if anyone on set has ever played a sport, and the acting has me firmly believing that I could head to Hollywood right now, star in a movie, and become the nation's next heart-throb young actor..

Equipment is an area where a lot of movies lose their authenticity. For example, Freddie Prinze, Jr.'s glove in Summer Catch is too big. Way too big. He's supposed to be a bigshot pitching prospect and he's walking around with a slow-pitch softball outfielder's mitt. It's no wonder he got kicked off his college team with that Rick Vaughn replica glove. He walks off the field one out shy of a no-hitter to chase a girl (granted it was Jessica Biel, probably not a bad move), yet the size of his glove is the aspect of the movie that I find unrealistic. Attention to detail, Hollywood. You can have the most far-fetched plot in the world and I'll eat it up, unless you have a pitcher sportin' a 15-inch Rawlings. Clean it up.

In the same movie Matthew Lillard, who tries so hard to be funny it hurts, plays a catcher from USC who has some trouble adjusting to the wood bats of the Cape League. Sure, he's having a tough go but I think he gets a raw deal when in the FIRST GAME, after maybe two at-bats, he walks to the plate to the announcer saying, "Brubaker's really struggled with these wooden bats this year, he's had a real difficult time here on the Cape." He's 0 for 2 on the season! Ten seconds later he could've been batting .333. I would've turned around and flipped the announcer the bird right then and there. 

Lillard later breaks a bat over his knee in a tirade after striking out (1:32 mark). This is ridiculously hard to do. I mean really hard. I tried once and not only did I not succeed but I thought I broke my thigh in two. A Dominican on my team this summer did it, a brand new Maple M110. I'm still in awe. Forget stats, shit like that gets you to the Bigs.

One more critique: Freddie Prinze, Jr.'s character says "Come on Blue! Get off your knees your blowin' the game" under his breath on the mound after a questionable call. I mean come on. I thought that line was reserved for 12 year-old spectators trying to get a cheap laugh out of their buddies at the ball game, and even then the kids he's with are like "yeah yeah, good one dude..."

Some Hollywood nerd who's never played baseball definitely heard that line and thought it was pure gold, doing his best to force it into the movie with no regard for credibility. And then when the coach goes out for a mound visit, Prinze serves up that line's soulmate: "Does his wife know he's screwin' us?" I don't think I've ever heard one of those lines without the other being uttered immediately 2 seconds after, at most. Both just awful in-game chatter, laughable really.

(Check out the "Tip Drill" at the beginning of the movie's trailer. Are you kidding me? When have you ever heard of a baseball team- high school? little league? tee ball? wiffle ball?- tip a ball behind their heads and up to each other? What does that work on? How does that make you better? Was the only sports consultant available for this movie a former high school football defensive back? I can assure you every Chatam A would laugh in Coach Schiffner's face if he pulled that drill out of his ass for the team's first practice. Stuff like that gets you laughed out of the Hawaii League, never mind the Cape.)

PLAYER MOLD: The Grinder

This kid just flat-out sucks and he's the only one who doesn't know it. He's got a poo-arm, he steps in the bucket, he's undersized, he's got zero tools, and on top of everything, he's not the best looking guy either. His BP is painful to watch - you feel as though you're developing bad habits and getting worse just by watching him hit weak flare after weak flare to the opposite field. You look around the outfield while he takes his swings and people are actually laughing about what's going on in the cage. You literally feel bad for this kid, and figure it's only a matter of days (hours? minutes? swings?) until he gets called into the manager's office for "the talk." Poor bastard.

Then you check the team statistics and that little shit is batting 30 points higher than you. He's fourth on the team in RBI's out of the 9-hole, and he hasn't made an error all year at shortstop. Uh oh. The team's stat guy is also about to get canned because these numbers can't be right, can they? I mean that kid stinks - doesn't he?

The kid's a grinder. He has been laughed at from high school through college and now even more so at the next level. His swing is ugly and his arm's below-average, but he simply loves baseball and does the little things that make a difference and keep coaches from cutting his ass at first sight.

He's automatic in the field. He takes ground balls every day after practice and takes pride in his defense. And to make up for his weak arm, he's worked on making his transfer and release lightning quick.

He's a great base-runner. He works tirelessly on learning pitchers' moves and getting great jumps, enabling him to steal a good amount of bags with just average speed.

He's got no power and has a laughable swing, but he studies pitchers, picks up on their tendencies and is a student of the art of hitting. He always gets the bat on the ball and is the team's best hitter with 2 strikes.

He works his ass off every day. He is a great teammate, always first to pick somebody up. He loves the game of baseball so much that you even start questioning if he's all there mentally - but there's no questioning his work ethic or positive attitude. He earns the respect of all his teammates, and needless to say the coaches are in love with him.

Nothing he does is pretty, but he gets the job done.

Big League Version: David Eckstein

Movie Shout Out: Kit Keller

*I was thinking of somehow including the great speech from "Rudy" - even though that's football, it seemed relevant. But then I remembered that although he indeed worked his ass off, Rudy was always just an awful player.

The Project
Mr. Perfect
The Grinder
The Superstar

Thursday, December 9, 2010

MOVIE RANT: Field of Dreams

The most important thing about a baseball movie is its authenticity. The plot can be as far-fetched as you want - 12-year olds managing Major League teams, ghosts walking out of cornfields starting pick-up games, home runs breaking light-towers, pre-teens closing out games for the Cubs - it's all great. As long as it's entertaining and relevant to the story, I'm all for it.

BUT, it's the little things that bother me. While other people gripe about the unrealistic plots and storylines, I'm driven crazy by the lack of attention to detail in sports movies.

Field of Dreams, I love you but come on! I know Ray Liotta was perfect for the role but you're messing with history here. Shoeless Joe was one of the best hitters to ever live - (statistically that is- I think any good college player today could've been a Hall of Famer back then but that's an argument I don't want to start right now) - and he was a LEFTY. Consequently, as great as Ray Liotta was for the part, the second you found out he hits Righty you should have shown him the door. Eh eh, no way. Would have been great to have you, but we can't mess with that - we need a Lefty to play Shoeless Joe.

Or at least come up with a way to show a mirror image or something - God, make an effort. Don't just carry on and hope no one notices. Wait, what's that? Really, not one person actually noticed? Um ok, nevermind I guess. (Oddly enough, Liotta throws Lefty while Jackson threw Righty.)

But you're not off the hook yet, Field of Dreams. I hate to pick on it, because it really is one of my favorites, but the whole movie leads up to this epic Father-Son moment when Ray channels his inner boy and asks his father to "have a catch" - quite possibly the only moment in cinema history where it's acceptable for a grown man to cry - and whadda ya know? Ray's Dad has a dogshit arm! He's supposed to be this great catcher who played professional baseball for years, and Costner, being the actor-who-totally-wishes-he-was-an-athlete that he is, completely shows him up. The guy throws like a robot. I didn't even notice at first and then I peeked at how natural and fluid Costner was in comparison - what a joke.

What were the casting credentials for this character? He literally says four words in the whole movie - anyone who played high school baseball could have nailed that role - and they get a guy who throws like he's two weeks off Tommy John? "Hey, let's get that guy who was incapable of doing the only requirement necessary for this part! Oh boy, when it comes to ideas on how to possibly ruin the climax, that's a doozy!" That kinda stuff wouldn't fly on my set.

PLAYER MOLD: The Superstar

Every team has one. They've been a part of baseball since Ty Cobb first grabbed a bat. The stud, the big shot, the prospect. He is the best player on your team and no one is more aware of it than him. He's been told how great he is from tee-ball through high school, and if you don't feel like telling him then that's no problem - he'll tell you. He's got all the tools, his stats are astronomical, but as a teammate, there's no one you hate more.

This guy's just an asshole, and everything he does is meant to call attention to himself or put somebody else down. In his mind, it's a privilege to wear the same uniform as him and he reminds you of that every day. When he's up at bat in a big spot you're torn between wanting the team to win and not wanting him to be the hero. He pays no attention to club rules - shows up late, disregards dress code, talks back to coaches - and he pays no consequences as a result because, let's face it, the coach - and the team - needs him. He holds the team's fate in his hands, and he knows this. No, he loves this.

This kid has Big League potential but you would literally pay to watch his career go down the toilet. Nobody likes him, but still, he's "one of the guys" based solely on his talent. Everyone knows he's a jerk, but whenever a group of guys is hanging out, he's there. He's the kid you love to hate, no one has a nice thing to say about him, but he's got talent - you can't deny that. So just like in Little League when the best players inevitably are considered the cool kids, you tolerate this horse's ass simply because of what he can do on a baseball field. Ahh, the juvenile hierarchy of talent-based friendships.

Big League Version: Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez
Movie Shout Out: Jack Parkman

The Project
Mr. Perfect
The Grinder
The Superstar