Monday, January 31, 2011

Introducing MLU's Newest Writer: Chet Steadman

Ladies and Gentlemen, MLU has officially doubled its staff. Today, we welcome Chet Steadman into the Minor League University family- but do him a favor: don't call him "Rocket."

Chet was a college teammate and buddy of mine, and although he's graduated on to the business world, he is one of the most baseball-minded people I know. We spent our years in the dugout together rattling off countless movie quotes, solving riddles, exchanging trivia, and teaming up on a handful of unforgettable pranks. Always trying to outdo each other, a group of us at the end of the bench in our freshman year were once referred to as the "comedy henchmen" by our head coach- he was not always pleased with our in-game antics.

Chet's the kind of guy who would hit a home run and walk back into the dugout claiming he "Just missed it."  The type of guy who will stand on first base after a dribbling groundball and pretend to stretch his back; innocent in the eyes of the common fan, but I know he's really checking the outfield scoreboard to see if he was granted a Hit on a play he knew was most likely an Error. He's the guy who offers comic relief when you most need it, and even more so when you don't- he's essential to any team, and now he joins the MLU squad.

He will serve as a contributing writer on anything related to the game that catches his eye. Writing with a quick wit and a deep understanding of just what goes on in a ballplayer's head, Steadman is a big off-season pickup for MLU.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

MLU's HAT OF THE WEEK: Lehigh Valley Ironpigs

I am a big fan of the red hat. It sticks out- loud, but in a good way. And the Lehigh Valley Ironpigs sport one beauty of a red hat. The pig nose is classic and the angry eyes let you know this swine means business.

Voted Best Logo in Minor League Baseball by several completely unofficial polls last year, this popular logo combines with a great color scheme to give the Ironpigs the nod for this sunday's Hat of the Week. 

*The Lehigh Valley Ironpigs are a Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.

In case you missed it, check out SMALLS TALK: Minor League Hats are the Way to Go

Previous Hats of the Week
Chattanooga Lookouts
Corpus Christi Hooks
Montgomery Biscuits

Friday, January 28, 2011

SMALLS TALK: The Art of the Autograph

I have been practicing my autograph since 6th grade science class. It wasn't so much because I thought I was going to be famous or have adoring fans to please, I just appreciated the look of a consistent and clean signature. I saw how my Dad signed his checks, how my Mom signed a note- it was the same every time. I was in awe of this stamp-like script they were able to reproduce to exact specifications time after time- I couldn't do that. In the hundreds of signatures that filled my science notebook, maybe three of them looked somewhat similar. But I spent hours of class time practicing, searching for that perfect mix of visual appeal, legibility, and easiness to repeat. I hated science.

I never really imagined there'd come a time when I was asked for my autograph on a consistent basis. Sure, the majority of the fans asking don't know my name or position- but I'm wearing a professional baseball uniform, and if that's good enough for them, then it's good enough for me.

The autograph is a bond between player and fan- a moment in time when a piece of apparel or equipment changes hands and serves as the focal point of a quick one-on-one connection. The autographs of most players won't wind up on Ebay as potential nest eggs, but will be placed on shelves or in scrapbooks- a memory of a great day at the ballpark.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

MiLB LIFE: Wasted Hat Collection

Every minor leaguer must go through it. You spend the bulk of your life collecting New Era hats from all ranks of the baseball world, and then, the second you get drafted, these lids become useless. Sure, you'll snap a few photos wearing the home cap of your new team on Draft day, and perhaps even one more time when you sign your first contract- assuming you're not too embarrassed to ask the scout signing you for a posed handshake, a smile, and a 'Cheese'- but once you begin your professional career, those hats are out.

I grew up with a baseball cap on my head, but it wasn't until college that my relationship with New Era really blossomed. These were the real deal. The 59Fifty was the model seen atop every Big Leaguer's head- the look was authentic, and naturally, I had to be a part of it. My collection grew, and although I continually added more hats, I did my best to incorporate all of them into my wardrobe- careful not to let any feel left out.

My collection was well-rounded. I had the classics- Dodgers, TigersRed Sox (never had a Yankees lid, figured I couldn't sport both, but I obviously consider it a classic)- along with some fun alternates- the Clemens era Blue Jays, the royal blue Brewers, and the red 'TC' Twins. Mix those with some throwbacks- the Mo Vaughn Angels, a two-toned Expos, and an old 'Devil' Rays- and you've got a pretty complete MLB collection.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

SMALLS TALK: Greensboro's 'Bat Dogs'

You don't send a boy to do a dog's job. That's what the Greensboro Grasshoppers believe, at least. In a clubhouse where players are constantly coming and going due to the ever-changing nature of A Ball rosters, 'bat dogs' Babe Ruth and Yogi Berra are the two mainstays at Greensboro's NewBridge Bank Park.

The first time you see the two black labs sitting by the side of the dugout, you can't help but tilt your head in curiosity- 'What's going on? Hmm, why is there a dog on the field? Uh oh, he's walking towards the plate- Hey, grab him!' In your mind, baseball and dogs have never been associated- it doesn't make sense.

Well in Greensboro, it makes perfect sense. Every night is 'Bark at the Park' night with these two on hand, and to be totally honest, they're probably the best 'bat boys' in the league. (They're definitely the best 'bat dogs').

They're awesome. Unlike the usual cast of pre-pubescent bat retrievers, these canines are never distracted- they know their job, they don't get confused, and there's no chance of stepping in their gum that they carelessly spit onto the dugout floor- which I'm only assuming is no fun. Nope, with these dogs it's all business.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

COLLEGE to PRO: Team-Issued Gear

In college, you have it made. You are given everything you could ever need while playing or preparing for the game of baseball- you could literally show up on day one of practice without a single possession and you'd be perfectly fine. Your school dresses you, puts a glove on your hand, places a bat on your shoulder, and slips a fresh pair of cleats on your feet- and just in case, there's an extra pair sitting in your locker. Back in school I was all about the free gear, so naturally when I made the jump to pro-ball I assumed there'd be even more handouts. To say I was let down is an understatement.

On my first day in Rookie Ball, I walked into the clubhouse equipment room expecting the full treatment. In my mind I saw maple bats, a table filled with different glove models, and a tailor running toward me with a measuring tape, eager to form-fit my uniform. I mean, this was professional baseball!

What I got was an entirely different experience, however. I walked in thinking I was hot stuff, and I left realizing I was nothing but a name checked off a list for having received his pro-ball gift basket.

What I had come to know in college as a thorough process of careful perusing and selecting was now a whirlwind of flying clothing and quick-draw 'yes or no' questions. I stood still, a target for the clubbies as they ran around, throwing socks, jerseys, shorts, and hats in my direction. It was all hands off- no options or choices, aside from uniform number and bat model.

Monday, January 24, 2011

MiLB LIFE: Draft Day

It's the day that you dream about as a Little Leaguer. A day when years of hard work come to fruition - when Big League fantasies suddenly seem tangible. A day when you look back on a lifetime of baseball as merely the beginning.

Day one of the MLB first-year player draft had finally come. After weeks of answering questions from family, friends, and local newspapers about my expectations for the future, it was finally out of my hands. I was a spectator like everyone else. The process was starting - there was nothing more I could do.

Knowing that the first day of the draft only covered the first round picks - and that I would most definitely not be one of those called - I enjoyed the day one coverage free of stress. I watched as lives changed, boys turned into millionaires, and bright-eyed kids became the face of an organization's future. Pretty powerful stuff.

Day two of the Draft came the next day, and although I reminded myself it was out of my hands and vowed to clear my mind and get out of the house, I found myself glued to the computer. Ten rounds went by, and I was no closer to getting paid to play baseball. Friends of mine had gotten picked, and I immediately sent out their congratulatory text messages. I was happy for them, there was no jealousy - they were the bigger prospects, I was new to the scene. I was still just happy to be there, and it helped when they responded with words of encouragement.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

MLU's HAT OF THE WEEK: Chattanooga Lookouts

The Chattanooga Lookouts put a minor league spin on my favorite Phillies lid in this edition of Hat of the Week. Blue and red are a fool-proof color scheme, and the playful logo is a classic minor league play on a team's name.

The 'C' combined with the droopy but watchful eyes makes for one of my favorite logos in the MiLB ranks. This hat is stylish, and also serves as a great conversation starter- two of the biggest criteria when determining Hat of the Week.

So next time you find yourself in a hat store, keep a 'look out' - (couldn't resist) - for this fan favorite.

*The Chattanooga Lookouts are a Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

(In case you missed it, check out SMALLS TALK: Minor League Hats are the Way to Go)

Previous Hats of the Week
Corpus Christi Hooks
Montgomery Biscuits

Friday, January 21, 2011

MiLB LIFE: Dealing with Heckling Fans

I love a rowdy crowd. Nothing takes my game to the next level like an onslaught of Boo's and insults. The fans are simply showing that they care, marking their territory, and trying to give their team the edge- all while having a good time and sharing some laughs. I can appreciate that. It's more fun for the players if it's fun for the fans.

But sometimes standing in that outfield grass it can feel like you're on an island with those fans- hundreds of fans just dying to see you fail, and doing their best to have a part in it. They're relentless, and it appears as though they're gonna bring it for a full nine innings. So what do you do?

As the title of the new Adam Sandler movie suggests, Just Go With It. Acknowledge their presence. React to their comments. You're both going to be there for three hours, you might as well have some fun together.

I get a kick out of these guys who are so serious- straight-faced the whole time, basically pretending the crowd doesn't exist and he doesn't hear their voices. It's ridiculous. I've found that the harder you try to ignore a heckler, the more he gets under your skin. The anger builds up inside you, and that's when you see players start yelling back at fans and challenging them to fist fights. The second that happens, the fan wins. You're distracted, you're thrown off your game, and the idiot in your ear is now your main focus- the baseball game has taken a back seat.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

MiLB LIFE: Clubhouse Rules

Every organization is different, and each has their own unique set of rules. Coming up through any minor league system, you become accustomed to these rules- they become second nature. They are guidelines that everyone must follow, and as strange as some may be, no questions are asked. We follow these rules blindly, all while hoping to some day break free from such oppression and make it to the Show, where you basically do whatever you want because, well, because you can- you're a Big Leaguer.

But as we struggle to climb the ranks, we still fall under minor league jurisdiction. Now every team demands its players be on time, work hard, and abide by the different daily schedules and appointments- but they also each have their subtle clubhouse rules: rules that make the MiLB experience slightly different for every club.

For example:

No Cleats in the Clubhouse: This rule is a mainstay in most clubhouses, and almost everywhere it proves effective for maybe the first week. The idea is to keep from tracking dirt and mud into the clubhouse, but taking your spikes off outside and walking around in your socks is surprisingly annoying- unfortunately for the clubbie manning the vaccuum, this rule almost never stands the test of time.

Dress Code / Collared Shirt: Every time you make your way to the ballpark, regardless of the time or reason, you have to wear a collared shirt. They want their players looking sharp and professional, which I can actually appreciate. (Hilarious in Rookie Ball seeing the surfer dude from California who brought nothing but t-shirts and wife beaters react to hearing this rule- harsh, bro.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

MiLB LIFE: Drug Testing

Over the past decade, baseball has become a dirty, corrupt game in the eyes of the public. So many of the game's superstars have now been associated with some type of steroid story that the average fan can't help but wonder if any of their favorite Big Leaguers are clean. Bonds, A-Rod, Manny, Clemens- the list goes on an on. The steroid era re-defined baseball. Guys were bigger, pitchers threw harder, home runs went further, runners were faster- makes me feel sorry for the poor bastards who resisted the temptation and did the right thing- assuming there were any, of course.

But Minor League Baseball is now doing their part to clean up the game- 365 days a year. 

In season, drug testing crews will show up unannounced during games and set up shop in both the home and visiting clubhouses. Gone are the days when the team trainer would be tipped off weeks in advance as to when the next drug test was, allowing him to warn the troops. No one ever knows when or where they'll strike next- their confidentiality is matched only by the CIA.

After the game, you walk into the clubhouse and their tables are all set up. You fill out what is no doubt an extremely unnecessary pile of paperwork, you grab a little plastic container, and then, well, you do your best to fill it- but not alone of course. That'd be too easy and not awkward enough- instead you head into the nearest stall with your new pal: a total stranger who's been assigned to closely watch you as you go to the bathroom. 'Pull your shirt up and your pants down.' Awesome.

Pull my shirt up? Ohh, so you can catch all those guys who play every game with a tube attached to a pouch of clean urine hidden under their uniform in case the drug testing people show up. Smart.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

MiLB LIFE: Being the New Guy

Being the new guy is never easy. Whether you were traded, signed late, got moved up or bumped down, the process is all the same. From my experience, it usually takes around one week for a new player to become fully acclimated and feel like part of the team- but boy that is one long, lonely week.

The minute you walk into the clubhouse you're under the microscope. Your new teammates size you up as whispers about what position you play and which round you were selected in swirl around the room. You are a threat to several players in that clubhouse- you are now their competition for daily at-bats and future opportunities. Not to mention you are totally wrecking the flow of a clubhouse full of players that have spent the bulk of a season together- everyone knows each other's quirks and habits, they're well aware of their pet peeves, and they all have their own routines that ultimately contribute to the overall team routine. 'Hey man, that's Johnny's seat.' - 'Franky hates when people touch his glove' - 'Hey hold up, Sandy always hits first in our group.' As the new guy, you know none of this. You will inevitably mess something up on day one and step on a few toes along the way- all part of the process.

The team trainer is your new best friend. He welcomes you, gets you squared away with a locker and uniform, and gives you the full tour. But once the pleasantries are over, you're on your own. There will be a few guys who come up to you on their own and introduce themselves, and instantly you think these are the greatest guys in the world. I try to be one of these guys- a simple handshake and an exchange of names goes a long way for a kid feeling out of place.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Q & A : Response to Comment Section Questions from 'Owen'

This comment was posted under MiLB LIFE: A Typical Game Day [Part Two]

      Owen said...
Ha, ha! The part about the base running drills made me laugh so hard. I'm actually going to say that to my coach this spring. I'll let you know if he laughs or I wind up running wind sprints. Here are some questions: do you get free equipment and why don't players get to keep their uniform shirts? Does the team let you buy it if you want to? Do you get to pick your number?
      January 14, 2011 8:09 PM 

Owen, thanks for reading and I appreciate the comment. As far as my feelings about base-running drills go, I'd keep those to yourself- unless you have a hankering for your coach's favorite form of punishment, of course. 

As for equipment- I was given a free glove on my first day of Rookie Ball. It was the weirdest thing. I walked into the equipment room, got my uniform, team shorts and shirt, and at the end they asked my position. 'Outfield.' Here you go- they handed me a brand new black glove still in the packaging. I didn't have any say or get to pick- there it was. I looked down at some Wilson model I'd never seen before- for all I know it was a test model. I could barely get my hand into the thing- it now serves as decoration on a shelf in my bedroom. A teammate of mine made the point that they likely gave us these gloves simply so they can say they gave us a glove- I wonder how many actually see any action.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

MLU's HAT OF THE WEEK: Corpus Christi Hooks

I've always been a sucker for the navy and light blue combo. The Corpus Christi Hooks have a winner with this home cap- great colors complemented by a fun logo: the staples of a good Minor League hat. 

Is it me or does that little guy look more cute than intimidating? Kind of a little brother 'trying to prove himself' type of look he's got goin' on- maybe it's just the way he's wearing his little red hat. Either way, this Hooks lid is one of my favorites.

*The Corpus Christi Hooks are a Double-A affiliate of the Houston Astros.

(In case you missed it, check out SMALLS TALK: Minor League hats are the way to go)

Previous Hats of the Week
Montgomery Biscuits

Friday, January 14, 2011

MiLB LIFE: Fat Camp

Came to Spring Training out of shape? Nothin' Tony Perkis can't handle.

Think you can get away with that belly just because you hit a few homers? Welcome to Fat Camp. Now this term may not be universal throughout the entire Minor League system, but I'm sure each organization has their own version of this institution. It's simple really- show up to Spring Training with a belly? You're in Fat Camp. Gain a certain amount of weight during the season? Boom, Fat Camp. Start showing a decrease in your endurance or conditioning level? Go see that strength coach right over there and he'll get you set up in, yep, you guessed it: Fat Camp.

Now Minor League Fat Camp is not the fun and games depicted by Gerald Garner and company in Heavyweights- no go-karts or dances; no pranks or tomfoolery. Fat Camp is simply a series of additional exercises that players considered by the organization as 'out of shape' must do on a regular basis until they reach a target weight. For some it's a kick in the ass- a reminder to put down the fries and booze for a minute and lose those few extra pounds they've  added over a string of late nights. For others, it's a challenge to get in shape for the first time in their lives- they've always been big, but they've always known how to hit or pitch so they've always gotten by without having to change.

Then there's the one or two guys who look at Fat Camp as an inevitability- these are the lifetime members. Sure it's a pain in the ass to have to do more cardio than every one else, and at times it's embarrassing, but this is pizza and beer we're talking about here! These guys simply add the Fat Camp regiment to the rest of the team workouts and go on living their lives as they always have- same laziness, same diet, same slow speed and big belly. These kids are an enigma to me- so you know you're fat, the team knows you're fat, and it's proven that by applying yourself to better health you'll likely be more effective on the field and live a longer life? Yeah, I wouldn't try to change either. Sounds stupid.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

MiLB LIFE: My First Call-Up

This guy and I have the same exact physique, it's uncanny.

They say you never forget your first time. It was around 9:00 AM on August 9th. The phone rang next to my bed in the dungy Innkeeper Lodge and I immediately wished death upon the unknown caller. Our bus had rolled into the motel's parking lot a mere six hours earlier- a lengthy drive away from the setting of the previous night's game. I had no intention of opening my eyes for another couple hours. Actually getting out of bed? Maybe another hour or so after that. But 9 o'clock? Who the hell was looking to grab breakfast at 9 o'clock?

I almost didn't answer but then realized it was the only option that would put an end to the shrill ringing. I blindly reached for the phone and put it to my ear. Through the morning grog, I was able to voice an annoyed "Hello?"

"Hey, it's Skip. Listen, come down to my room..."

Suddenly I was awake and instantly aware that this phrase usually led to one of two things. He took what seemed like an hour to start the rest of his sentence.

"...You're getting moved up. They've had a couple outfielders go down with injuries and you're the guy they want. We're still working out how you're gonna get there so get your stuff together and head down here in about 15 minutes. Room 116. Hey, congratulations- just keep doing what you're doing." He hung up.

What just happened? I didn't really know what to feel. I was excited to be the guy they wanted. This call confirmed that at least one of the higher-ups in the organization was aware of my existence, which from time to time you tend to doubt in the Minors. I was on their radar, I couldn't believe it. I heard bed sheets move and Kenny, my best friend and road roommate, roll over: "Who was that?" he asked, still asleep. "That was Skip." Suddenly he was awake too. "You movin' up?" I was moving up.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

YouTube BATTLE: Both Runs Count, Which is More Impressive?


These two players both manage to score a run while making the catcher look downright foolish. They both look dead in the water on their way toward home, and let's face it- the above videos should be of two routine outs at the plate. But they're not. These players thought outside the box and did everything they could to affect the scoreboard, and it's their unorthodox scoring methods that have made them fan favorites and YouTube sensations.

This battle is a case of quick wit versus instinct. The Durham Bulls player took a risk on a passed ball- he should have been toast. So he runs past the plate and has an epiphany: "If I act like I'm already out, the catcher will feel a false sense of security. He will lose all urgency, and mosey over for the insurance tag, assuming I won't resist. BUT, as he makes his way over, BOOM, I will spring to life, give a little juke, and beat him back to the plate! The run will score and the manager won't be up my ass about taking a chance on a ball that only rolled 5 feet away from the plate. Ok, here goes nothin'!" Pretty quick thinking.

Fordham's Brian Kownacki didn't have that kinda time. While running full speed toward home, he sees the catcher receive the relay throw about 8 feet in front of him. Can't slow down. Plate's pretty well blocked, can't try either side. But wait. The catcher caught the throw in some sort of crouch. Queue the Superman dive.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

MiLB LIFE: A Typical Game Day [Part Two]

In case you missed it, check out MiLB LIFE: a Typical Game Day [Part One]

Now that you've had breakfast, watched a movie, taken a nap, phoned home, surfed the web, and grabbed lunch - it's time to go to work.

3:00 PM - Arrive at the Ballpark
Enough sitting around - time to head to the office and earn that sorry excuse for a paycheck. Pack a snack, throw on a collared shirt (team dress code), and hop in the car with your roommates for another trip to the stadium. When you walk into the clubhouse you're greeted by a crop of sweaty early bird pitchers who have already lifted and done their running. You will also see the position players who live with those pitchers who have no other ride to the park and so have been napping on the clubhouse couch for a good hour or so. There are card games, music blasting, TV's catching you up on the previous night of sports - kudos to whoever first dubbed it a 'clubhouse.' That's exactly what it is - a place for guys to be guys. The Little Rascals would be proud.

3:45 PM - Head Out for Warm-Ups
After popping a sufficient amount of Ibuprofen and getting dressed - game pants and BP top (team issued T-shirt) - it's time to head out for 'Orientation.' This word was totally foreign to me when I entered the professional ranks, but it's basically a wrap-up of the previous night's game along with an outline of the day's schedule and maybe even a scouting report if it's the first day of a series.

Unlike every previous sports team I've played on, game recaps are discussed by the manager the next day rather than right after - likely to give the coaching staff time to exchange opinions and also because of the fact that there are so many games - no single game is worth a post-game meltdown. During a losing streak? Maybe. But no one loss, no matter how heart-breaking, will ever be addressed by a manager until the following day.

After orientation comes a long, drawn-out stretch, led by the team's strength coach. Despite knowing how important it is for both a warm up and injury prevention, the whole stretching process is one of the worst parts of my day. Perhaps I become bored too easily, but stretching for 15-minutes is nothing more than a necessary evil in my book - total snooze fest.

Monday, January 10, 2011

MiLB LIFE: A Typical Game Day [Part One]

The daily life of a minor leaguer is far from exciting. Over the course of the 140-game season, each player will develop some type of routine that he will hardly modify or stray from during the entire 7-month stretch. Days are repetitive, you lose all grasp of current events in the outside world, and the concept of days of the week or dates becomes a lost cause- you find yourself trapped inside the bubble that is Minor League life.

From time to time you’ll try to mix it up in an effort to keep from going insane- wake up early for a round of golf, switch up your breakfast order, find a new lunch spot- but ultimately you end up back on your old routine. Your old, boring routine.

Here’s a look at a typical Minor Leaguer’s game day:

10:00 AM- Wake up
Wake-up time varies more than any other time on this list. Depending on the player, this 10 o’clock awakening is likely on the early side. The previous night’s bed-time and social activities are directly proportional to every morning’s start time. After working a desk job for five months, I gotta admit I’m looking forward to not having to set an alarm clock every night. (Although you’d be surprised how often kids sleep through 2 PM meetings or 3 PM stretches. Yep, that actually happens.)

10:30 AM- Breakfast

Most guys on the team find a particular breakfast place and stick with it. For me, it was IHOP. Almost every morning- if I was awake and if I didn’t have the great idea of ‘cooking breakfast to save money’ that hits me every few weeks- I would head to the International House of Pancakes with the regular breakfast club. We’d have our regular waitress, sit in our regular booth, and order our regular meals. It was borderline embarrassing how predictable it all was, but hey, it’s the routine.

We’d become friendly with the entire staff within a matter of days and we’d be putting them on the ticket list for free admission to games after about a week. We were there so often that they could tell when we were on a road trip and when our home stands were simply based on breakfast attendance. The food got old, but Cheers was definitely onto something: we all wanted to go where everybody knew our names.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

MLU's HAT OF THE WEEK: Montgomery Biscuits

Looking for a fresh new look? Introducing MLU's Hat of the Week. Every Sunday we will showcase a favorite lid from the Major League, Minor League, or College ranks. These are personal favorites, sure to catch the attention of any baseball fan or female observer.

New Era MiLB 59Fifty Caps

I cannot look at this hat without smiling. The Montgomery Biscuits alternate hat is hilarious, take a peek: it's literally a biscuit- buttered in the middle, of course- with eyeballs, big white gloves, and a pair of spikes. Come on, that's classic.

The logo is fun and I like the navy and yellow combo: eye-catching, but in a subtle way. Most importantly, this hat is a conversation-starting machine. Who is going to see this hat and not 1) chuckle, and 2) ask what team it is? Better yet, anyone who knows what hat you're wearing, regardless of whether you know the person or not, is gonna greet you with a "Montgomery Biscuits!" and a high-five. It simply can't miss.

*The Montgomery Biscuits are a Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

(In case you missed it, check out SMALLS TALK: Minor League hats are the way to go)

Friday, January 7, 2011

MiLB LIFE: Being the 'K-Man'

The whole concept of the K-Man is hilarious- well, unless it’s you. It’s a tradition that gets the crowd involved with a vested interest, and it’s a smart way to boost concession sales- not to mention it initiates some good-natured ribbing among teammates. The pitcher is battling on behalf of the collective stomach and wallet of the home crowd. The batter is working to maintain his pride and prevent the long walk back to the dugout, bombarded with mock cheers and demeaning Thank-You’s. Strikeouts are never fun- but there are certain ballparks where striking out is just plain embarrassing.

During pre-game warm-ups in particular opposing ballparks, I always keep an ear out for the announcement of the starting lineups- that’s usually when the bomb gets dropped. “Batting 5th for the Bloggers, Number 22, Center Fielder, Scotty Smalls!” Wait for it… “Folks, Smalls is tonight's ‘K-Man’- if he is to strike out during any of his at-bats, all beer will be sold for $1.00 for the rest of the inning. Be sure to make some noise!” Shit.

Sure the name and prize may change- I’ve heard ‘Fry Guy’ striking out for free French fries, ‘Beer Batter’ punching out for discounted brewskies, and one stadium even had a ‘Go-Nuts Hitter’ getting rung up for, you guessed it, free peanuts- but regardless of the incentive, the crowd wants it. They want it bad.

You try to flush it out of your mind, and you’re doing a pretty good job of it- but then you get to two strikes. The crowd that hasn't made a peep all night is now going crazy. In one pitch they went from comatose to fanatical- when did it suddenly become Game 7 of the World Series? You step out of the box having never known a free hot dog could mean so much to 5,000 people. It’s funny- you always try to avoid striking out, but it’s like now you’re really trying. Trying too hard, perhaps. Strike three! The place goes crazy, stadium employees start running around distributing the free prizes, and your walk back to the dugout is longer than ever.

Hey, you may be embarrassed, but to thousands of people, you’re a hero.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


I cannot put my finger on this guy. Brian Wilson was the most dominant closer in Major League Baseball last season. He led the league in saves, was named an NL All-Star, and won a World Series.

He was also the most entertaining and unpredictable guest on several interview-style talk shows, such as Jim Rome is Burning, The Cheap Seats, and the Tonight Show. I personally think this guy is out of his mind. Or he's just a funny guy. Or he's just putting on a big act for publicity. Or he's just a genius. Yep, I'm almost positive he's one of those.

One thing I'm sure of is that if there's a Brian Wilson interview on television, I am not turning the channel. The things that come out of this guy's mouth range from absurd to extremely absurd:

- He claims he became a certified ninja after a 12-minute dream he had.

- He credits his transformation from starter to reliever as his own idea, based solely on his hatred for "doing the bucket," the job assigned to starting pitchers during batting practice the day after their start.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

SMALLS TALK: Tim Kurkjian is a Man Among Boys

Tim Kurkjian is total baseball geek- and I mean that with the utmost respect. This guy is a human encyclopedia on all things baseball- even Hall of Famer Peter Gammons has been heard crediting Timmy as the most knowledgeable baseball person he knows. Having never played a second of competitive baseball after high school, TK has cemented himself as the go-to guy in the world of baseball media. Quite frankly, TK plays chess while everyone else is playing checkers.

Surrounded by former MLB stars and managers on the Baseball Tonight stage, Kurkjian is able to hold his own through research, experience, and love of the game. He is the definition of 'Stat Rat'- there's not a quirky stat out there he doesn't know, it's borderline embarrassing. Do you know Griffey's lifetime batting average during day games on turf after seeing a first pitch fastball? Kukjian does.

And 'Kurk Gems'- his segment on Baseball Tonight- is simply can't-miss television. Kurkijian uses about five minutes every week to cover the records, firsts, and otherwise strange happenings that occurred in the world of baseball over the previous seven days- bombarding you with so much useless knowledge and countless irrelevant stats that you can't even see straight. I once heard him go on a passionate rant about sacrifice flies- sacrifice flies! He was practically giddy discussing the numbers and record-holders of this rather unexciting, routine play- a topic that he claimed was his favorite to discuss. That's when you know you love baseball.

And it's that passion and hard work that has gotten this guy to where he is today. Little Tim Kurkjian has taken his love for baseball and become one of the most respected baseball personalities in the country. He has given hope to all unathletic pencil-necks out there who have a passion for sports. I like to think of him as baseball's more knowledgeable and likeable version of the NFL's John Clayton- too harsh? 

Timmy K, he's the best.

Book Shoutout: Is This a Great Game, or What? by Tim Kurkjian - 272 pages of Kurk Gems baby!

*I heard that while doing research for a story, Kurkjian spent a day in Big League camp and actually wasn't half bad.

Baseball Movie All-Star Game: Starting Lineups
Walk-Out Music
Pre-Draft Medical Questionnaires
The Ryan Howard Namesake
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?

MOVIE RANT: For Love of the Game

Despite serving as a secondary plot to the love story, the baseball aspects of For Love of the Game are pretty accurate. It's the little things, like the Tigers having home and away hats and the time Billy Chapel spends on the bike at Spring Training- that stuff is authentic. Costner's a baseball guy- he knows it's in the details.

One of the most ridiculous, yet usually overlooked, scenes shows John C. Reilly wearing his New Era 59/50 Tigers hat up to Costner's hotel room. You're a Big League catcher and you wear your game hat struttin' around New York City? I stopped wearing my team's game hat in public in Little League, and even then people gave me crap for it. Hey, better the hat than his catcher's helmet forward I guess. (Kinda ridiculous he's even in a movie where he's not screaming "Shake'n'Bake!" or wearing a Chewbacca mask.)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Baseball Movie All-Star Game: Starting Lineups

With all the baseball movies that are out there, I have always wondered which characters are the cream of the fictional crop. Now Ray Kinsella might look up at me and sarcastically ask, “What’s a crop?” – but I digress. Baseball movies often tell the story of an entire team, but each team has their usual cast of superstars, and now is their time to be recognized among baseball’s fictional elite.

I have broken up the All-Stars into two teams, American League and National League- groundbreaking stuff, I know. There is no rhyme or reason behind which team a guy ends up on- there are even teammates that find themselves on opposing sides. I was trying to model a competitive game, and these are the players that I felt gave their squad the best chance to win. Now I must warn you, there will be some snubs, along with some head-scratchers, but that is merely a consequence of baseball movies featuring mainly catchers, pitchers, and outfielders as their stars and main characters- essentially zero middle-infield love.

Also, this list consists of all fictional characters, although I was tempted to place the two main characters from *61 in each team’s cleanup spot.

So without further ado, here are your starting lineups. (We will assume the game is being played at an NL park: no DH's.)

Monday, January 3, 2011

SMALLS TALK: Walk-Out Music

Baseball is the only sport that offers its players the opportunity to pick their own personal soundtrack. All players, pitchers and hitters, get to choose the song that plays over the stadium speakers as they walk to the mound or batter's box - every WWF fan's dream. Before each season, players search iTunes and YouTube for that perfect song, asking themselves: which song best fits me? Which song gets me goin'? Which song will bring the fans to their feet and have the players in the field thinking, "That's a pretty sweet walkout"? These are the thoughts a player runs through before finally deciding on a walkout. It could last all season, it could be changed weekly - it depends on the player - but no walkout is chosen without thorough consideration.

I'm always torn when deciding on a walkout. I do my best to think of a song that's original and has a unique sound: the impossible mission to discover a jam that's never been used before. I usually end up coming up with two or three good candidates, and figure I'll just use one for a month or so and then move on to the next one - or perhaps go the superstitious route and stick with whatever song has me hitting well. But then I think of the legends who have their whole career defined by one song - how cool is it that Mariano Rivera has pretty much monopolized "Enter Sandman," or the fact that no one can hear "Hell's Bells" without picturing Trevor Hoffman jogging out of the pen. It's that song-player recognition. I want that.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

YouTube SENSATION: Minor League Manager's Tirade

This is just too much. Sure it's entertaining and yes I would have loved to have seen it in person, but there's a difference between sticking up for your players and drawing attention to yourself. This was a spectacle. I'd be shocked if Phil Wellman's last words before running out of the dugout weren't "Check this out. Five bucks I get on SportsCenter." Maybe he just took the 'getting ejected to spark some life into your team' strategy to a new extreme, but this just seemed to me like he'd spent years of his life as an unknown minor league manager and he wanted his time in the spotlight. He'd paid his dues through a life of anonymity, now he wanted the crowd to cheer for him for once. He wanted six-digit YouTube views, and well, he got it. Hey, good for him.

This whole tirade was entirely way too long- did anyone else find themselves continually clicking 10-15 seconds ahead on the video: "Ok I got that, so what'd he do next?" If you're gonna get tossed then I guess you want to get your money's worth, but once you dig out third base, we get it, you're mad. Ahw man, now you're going to dig out second? We're gonna be here all night. And you're gonna exit through the Right Field wall, the longest possible route for you to slowly waddle your way out of here? Ok, I'm gonna go to the bathroom and grab a hot dog, you guys want anything?