What it's like for the players who haven't been in October--and what it's like when that changes.
Though the day was certainly scripted and carried out to honor a Yankee (and sports) icon, Derek Jeter Day also doubled as an October baseball reunion. As the Wild Card era has expanded postseason opportunities for franchises, players, and fans, a select group of major leaguers have seen their dreams of competing in the postseason come true over and over and over again. Jeter has appeared in 158 playoff games, tops in MLB history. Also on the charts and in attendance at Yankee Stadium were no. 2, 3, 6, 7, and 10 on the postseason games played list: Jorge Posada (125), Bernie Williams (121), Tino Martinez (99), Mariano Rivera (96) and Paul O’Neill (85). Reggie Jackson had played in the most postseason games (77) before the addition of the wild card; he was there. Add Michael Jordan to the invite list and you’ve tallied another 179 playoff games of experience to the group, though he would carry the nickname “Mr. June” more fittingly. As a matter of math, the 14 athletes gathered at this on-field mixer share 1,252 games of postseason experience among them, which takes into account Joe Torre’s 142 games of managerial duty.
As we all looked on, a quick glance to the Royals dugout showed that day’s opposing team taking in the festivities from the top step. This gathering of onlookers were composed almost entirely of players who know what the playoffs look and feel like based only on stories they’ve been told and televisions they have watched. Sure, James Shields has battled six games, Omar Infante 30 and Raul Ibanez 44, but nearly every starter on that squad has had nary a sniff of October’s magical scent.
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For a nine-year span, from 1994-2004, Troy Percival and Darin Erstad were teammates and eventual champions as Angels. But this duo formed a bond well beyond that of cohabiting a roster. The former college catcher Percival and Erstad understood each other’s intensity, drive and discipline, which carried them to very memorable careers. They would share a daily ride to the ballpark on the road, a carpool that on most days would have them arriving long before their teammates. Percival will kiddingly tell you that he and Erstad were close because no one else had the courage to attempt to do so based on Darin’s dogged approach to the game and gruff personality. Then in the next breath Troy would say something like he said to me back in 2007 when both had moved on to other organizations:
“I can’t say enough. He’s given his body to the game. The guys could’ve probably played 15-20 years, but the way he played the game you have to respect it,” Percival said, while a member of the Cardinals. “I’ve told this to people a lot: I’d come in to get a courtesy inning the last inning with a six-run deficit or lead and he’s still diving in the gap trying to make a play to save his teammates, save me pitches and runs crossing the plate. That’s the type of guy you want out there behind you.”
Preston Wilson recounts his development as a raw prospect with a lot of power.
As of August 21st, MLB’s leaguewide slugging percentage in 2014 sits at .385. The last time the league slugged at that level was in 1992, when .377 was the number. Just for perspective, the peak came in 2000 at .437 and the valley occurred in 1968 at .340. Quick math shows where on the continuum we reside today; therefore, amateur power is at a premium. Whether it’s a polished, explosive bat like that of Florida prep shortstop Brendan Rodgers—ranked the no. 2 overall player in the United States by Perfect Game—or the raw slug ability of Luken Baker—who, despite being the no. 3 right-handed pitcher in Texas according to PG, has gained arguably more attention by winning several home run derbies on a large stages this summer—power gets noticed.
So it seems likely that more truly unpolished big bats could soon enter the pro ranks, simply based on their rare and coveted skill. So I thought I’d connect with a former player who fit the mold of “raw” early in his career, and get inside his head about the growth he experienced and the pitfalls he encountered.
Seeing the best amateurs in the nation play in the Perfect Game All American Classic last weekend in San Diego proved to be quite the preview for the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft. Nine prep pitchers touched 95 mph or higher, including San Clemente (CA) senior Kolby Allard, who put his name in neon lights high above the amateur landscape, partly because of a velocity bump to the mid-90s. That’s just one example of what occurred while the players were centered up in the MLB Network lenses. But in spending time up close with the prospects at the workouts, the meals, the awards banquet and the Rady Children’s Hospital visit, it was easy to see there were many who had solid and diverse foundations provided by families and coaches at home.
And if you coaches wonder how quickly the seeds you have planted, nurtured with baseball wisdom and guidance, might blossom, then many of these athletes were an indication that there are plenty of coachable, skilled players in the next generation. The instant coaching impact had me wondering about the lasting stories that might be told about player/mentor connections decades from now.
This year's All-American Classic will draw athletes who are as diverse as the country. It might be a precursor to demographic changes in the majors.
When one thinks of the elite African-American baseball players of the past, present and future, you quickly realize that these are many of the great faces of the game no matter their ethnicity. Jackie Robinson, Andrew McCutchen, Dazmon Cameron, Hank Aaron, Jason Heyward and Jahmai Jones are all front of mind when compiling that list. While you might not be aware of Cameron or Jones, chances are that you will be in the next few years. Both are top prospects as we draw closer to the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft, both are African-American and both are headliners in the 13th edition of the Perfect Game All-American Classic to be played at Petco Park on Sunday, August 10. The annual contest features a collection of elite players beginning their final year of high school. It will be televised on the MLB Network. Cameron and Jones also share the roster with 12 additional African-American players. That number can do nothing but encourage those that have been discouraged by the decreasing population of African-Americans on Major League Baseball rosters. It’s a stat that caught the suddenly optimistic eye of 04’ PG All-American and current Atlanta outfielder Justin Upton.
“I think it’s awesome,” Upton said Wednesday at Dodger Stadium. “The numbers have been down lately and the Perfect Game All American is a big event. To have African-American players playing at an elite level again is awesome. It’s very good to see.”
Joe Garagiola will be honored in Cooperstown this weekend. Daron recounts some of Garagiola's best stories.
For five and a half seasons, it was a true blessing and gift to be able to call major-league baseball games several times a month with one of the legendary voices of several generations, Joe Garagiola. Spending those unforgettable years with Joe, it was amazing how one of the game's greatest personalities of all-time still maintained a humility that allowed him to serve as a mentor and friend to everyone he encountered. This weekend in Cooperstown, Joe will be honored the third recipient of the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, a fitting accolade at the very minimum.
A Hall of Famer's remembrances of the Ted Turner years in Atlanta.
The view from the loge level this week has us seated in Atlanta. We’re not in Turner Field, though the Braves will grow roots there over the next month, with 21 of their next 29 on the corner of Georgia Avenue and Hank Aaron Drive. Instead our view is from Fulton County Stadium, aka the Launching Pad or the ‘Original’ Chop Shop. Your usher is one of my mentors and a man who taught the South and a nation about baseball, Braves Hall of Famer Pete Van Wieren. I was fortunate enough to be on the ‘listening-end’ of many great tales the legendary broadcaster shared with his much younger colleague, and a few times these stories managed to be documented. Most of you know at least a few of the details of these occurrences, but here are a handful of Braves’ memories through Pete’s eyes.
In our advanced media consumption world of ESPN, Fox Sports, Fox Sports 1, MLB Network, mlb.tv, etc., imagine the thoughts of a broadcaster in the mid-1970s when he realized that he would be calling games not in Atlanta, nor Georgia, but nationwide as his boss Ted Turner turned a local UHF channel into Superstation TBS and beamed it coast-to-coast into everyone’s home. The network’s most dependable daily program: the Atlanta Braves.
Tips and tricks for playing the infield, courtesy of the Nats skipper and former five-time All-Star.
This past holiday weekend, one would assume, was filled with barbeque, beer, baseball and fireworks. As family and friends gathered, the talk was about life, love, loot, and the Jeff Samardzija deal. Some families with baseball kids spoke of summer as a time of rest, while others shared tales of travel ball, tournaments, and Perfect Game. Meanwhile, Matt Williams concerned himself with his current foe, the Braves, and juggling his now deeper roster. So instead of cornering the Nats’ skipper on subjects of the day-to-day, let’s place the four-time Gold Glove winner in the middle of the Independence Day weekend family gathering and allow him to do some youth coaching, specifically infield instruction. The man who played nearly 16,000 innings on the infield in the big leagues shared with me some of the basics for those youngsters who dream of doing the very same thing.
First up is glove talk. How does one know what to select? What if my player might play both outfield and infield?
The Angels skipper reflects on what he's learned in close to 15 full seasons at the helm.
Do you happen to remember the catchy tune "Maria Maria" by Santana and the Product G? Not a bad blast from the past, at least not in my mind. The song was the top dog on Billboard’s Hot 100 the very week Mike Scioscia started his managerial career in April of 2000. Doesn’t quite give you perspective on Scioscia’s tenure? Fair enough…a gallon of gas would have run you about $1.50 based on the national average when the new skipper took the helm (about $0.50 more in California). This past Thursday morning, in the back hallways of the Angels clubhouse, just hours before he won his 1,277th game as a skipper, Mike remembered that 41-year-old rookie manager and compared him to the 55-year-old seated behind his desk today.
“You can’t help but change, I think,” Scioscia said. “It’s easy to say that everything’s the same and that your thought process is the same. I do think the process stays the same, but certainly I think the way information’s gathered has changed. I think the nuts and bolts of this game, as far as I’m concerned, haven’t changed, and haven’t changed in a century as far as the fundamentals and what you need to do. The way players are evaluated keeps evolving daily, and I think to be in tune with that helps you to make some cleaner decisions. So yeah, I would say that there’s been some growth in myself as a manager over that time and I think you’d expect that.”
Figures from Randy Johnson to Vin Scully remember what their fathers meant to them.
Here in Fort Myers, Florida, one can easily catch a glimpse of droves of nervous baseball players as they gather to show their skills at the Perfect Game National Showcase. And if you think some of the elite players in the nation are anxious as they run the 60, throw from the outfield or face a 95-mph fastball, you should eye the parents as their sons chase their dreams. It somehow feels very fitting that these gifted teenage ballplayers make their run at greatness on Father’s Day weekend. Many dads wear their soles, and souls, out as they pace the walkways and aisles with their boys on the green grass of jetBlue Park.
Watching these grown men as their stomachs churn and their pride beams makes one hope that all of these talented players remember who supported them in so many ways should they reach the “big time.” A small sample of conversations I’ve been able to have over the years says that the future stars will not forget their most loyal sponsor. Time and time again, when athletes open up, it seems to come back to dad.