Ahead in the Count

Changing the Game

written by Ted Sullivan

About 14 months ago, in last line of the first post on this blog, I mentioned that I was getting back into amateur sports full-time through a startup company I had founded. That company, Fungo Media, Inc. has just launched it’s first product: GameChanger.

GameChanger provides mobile apps and web tools that collect, manage and distribute live streaming game data for youth, high school and college sports.

Beginning with baseball and softball, the free GameChanger iPhone app lets coaches and scorekeepers simultaneously score a game and generate dozens of stats in real-time, eliminating tedious post-game calculations.

As each play is scored, the GameChanger online tools deliver a live play-by-play “GameStream” to the web browsers and mobile phones of parents and fans — or to real-time scoreboard “widgets” hosted on the websites of local news outlets, leagues, tournaments, travel teams and schools.

I’ve written a blog post about the company, the team and our mission that includes a short video of GameChanger in action.

Please follow our progress on TwitterFacebook and on the GameChanger Blog.

January 4, 2010 Posted by | On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | , , , , , | Leave a comment

How do you Handle Pressure?

Many thanks to friend and former teammate, Dan Rouhier, for this guest post. Danny played baseball at George Washington University and is now a professional comedian based in NYC. Check him out at www.funnydanny.com.

How do you Handle Pressure?

It’s a common topic for sports reporters, columnists, and talking heads on nightly highlight shows.  You can also hear it in locker rooms, team buses, the post-game buffet, and even in the darkest reaches of fandom from the bleachers to living rooms.  ‘______ is clutch’, ‘________ always chokes’, ‘________ has never won anything in his whole life and is named A-Rod’ etc.

Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee's preparation breeds confidence

To the casual observer, this seemingly nebulous quality of strong performances in the most important moments is hard to quantify.  Either a guy has it or doesn’t have it.  Some used to have it and don’t, others didn’t but then got it, and this other guy named Eli Manning is just lucky.  To most fans and even players, clutch performers are just guys that have an innate ability to rise to the occasion and that’s all there is to it.  But is this really true?

After his dominant performance in Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, Phillies starter Cliff Lee was asked how he seemed so calm out there in this, the most pressured of environments, and he said (paraphrasing here. Apologies for not being able to find the exact quote) ‘I don’t really get nervous.  The reason you work so hard is to prepare you for games like this.  I trust my preparation and that gives me confidence.’

I wish every young athlete in America had seen that and taken it to heart.  I really believe this is one of the most important lessons for a young athlete as he or she advances in her career.  Your preparation gives you confidence.  We’ll get back to that.

First, let’s talk about pressure.  What is pressure?  You can’t touch it, hear it, or taste it (unless you count that ‘chalky-mouth’ taste that you sometimes get; where it feels like your haven’t produced any saliva since Reagan was president).  But why then can it have such a dramatic affect on our performance?  Pressure, without getting too scientific, is a manifestation of our most basic animal instincts.  The famed ‘fight or flight’ response that you hear about while watching National Geographic is the same force that causes us to feel pressure.  Your heart rate increases, you sweat, your senses are heightened, your muscles tighten and adrenaline pumps through your body.  This comes whether we like it or not.  The same sensation that took over a caveman when he wandered into a Sabre tooth Tiger’s lair is the same feeling that a 12 year old gets when he’s on the mound in a bases-loaded, full-count, 2-out, tie-game, bottom of the last inning situation.  So how do we deal with it?  How do we stare down the beast and throw a strike?

Here is where preparation comes in.  Cliff Lee can close his eyes and see himself running back in February when no one else is around.  He can think back to the hundreds of bullpens, the hours of exercises, and the time digesting the scouting reports.  Cliff can take a deep breath and remember all of his hard work and know, with 100% confidence, that he is prepared for this moment.  Can you?  You are the only one who knows if you gave everything you had.  You can get by on 90%, and sometimes even less in practice.  You can take a rep or 2 off and no one will notice.  But then, when the game is on the line, what can you call upon to calm the chaos surrounding you?  What will you think back on?

A great coach once told me: ‘Clutch is born of preparation and opportunity’.  I really believe this.  As a player, before games, I would always remind my teammates of the hard work we had put in.  We challenged each other and didn’t let one another slack.  Those times are what gave us the strength to succeed and help us believe that we could accomplish our goals.  As a coach, I try to instill that same confidence into my players.  If you worked hard and did everything you could to be the best player you can be, you should feel ready to handle the most pressure packed moment.  When you sense that moment, when the opposing fans are rattling the fences, that’s when you can take a breath and hopefully call upon your preparation to quiet the storm.

The reason some of us gravitate towards youth coaching is that we believe sports can be an incredible teacher, chock full of life lessons at every turn.  Performing in a pressure spot translates into the world outside of sports.  In my life, every job interview I’ve had or performance in front of hundreds or audition in front of 3 sets of judgmental eyes has been a breeze.  Why?  Because I stood in against Angels starter Joe Saunders and hit a ball so hard off of him, it attempted to apologize.  I also struck out to end the game against an 88 mph Brad Lidge slider that I have still never seen.  The point is, after those occasions and others like them, everything else is a cake walk.  Hard work breeds confidence.

Thanks for reading!

Guest post by Dan Rouhier.

November 2, 2009 Posted by | On the Field | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Check that… THIS might be the most impressive and gutsy baseball player I’ve ever seen

written by Ted Sullivan

Adam Bender hustles down the line.

Adam Bender hustles down the line.

Back in August I wrote a post on a group of blind baseball players, calling them “the most impressive and gutsy baseball players” I had ever seen.

I stand corrected.

Check out this segment from the Today Show about nine year old Adam Bender.

Adam plays little league baseball, soccer and probably any sport he wants — all on one leg.

And he’s good! How many two-legged nine year olds can get around the basepaths with Adam’s speed?

I was watching this at the gym this morning — moments after whining to the trainer about how stiff and sore my two legs were from yesterdays workout. I’m such a wimp.

October 15, 2009 Posted by | Media Commentary, On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | , , , | Leave a comment

Baseball Gets Good

written by Ted Sullivan

Phillies, looking to repeat.

Phillies, looking to repeat.

My friends are often surprised when I tell them that I don’t watch that much baseball. As a kid I always preferred to be out on the field rather than on the couch watching on TV. And now that I’ve sat through enough meaningless minor league games to fill three lifetimes, I’d rather watch  The Wire, The Office or even 60 Minutes instead of a regular season MLB game.

I still love the game. I enjoy the highlights on SportsCenter and spend many spring / summer hours on the field coaching kids. But with the exception of the All-Star game I can honestly say I haven’t watched more than two consecutive innings on TV all season.

However my indifference to major league baseball on TV will end this weekend as the NLCS and ALCS begin.

I’ll tune in for these games because playoff baseball — when every pitch matters, when each decision by a manager is make or break, when stadiums are exploding with energy —  is the second best sports entertainment on television. (Duke hoops in March in a not-so-photo finish.)

I’m especially excited about this year because I think all four remaining teams have a legitimate chance at winning it all. The Yanks’ lineup is silly, the Angels are starving for a championship, the Phillies are consummate pros and the Dodgers have Torre, Manny and a legit pitching staff. If we’re lucky we’ll see Pedro vs Manny, Mo vs Vlady, an LA “freeway” series and all of NYC on suicide watch if the Yankees choke.

Let the games begin.

October 14, 2009 Posted by | On the Field, Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

Thoughts for the Sidelines

written by Brendan Sullivan

Some thoughts as we hit the fields (and sidelines) this fall…

As a young athlete, I was very fortunate to have two unwaveringly supportive parents. I firmly believe that this support was instrumental in my wonderful experiences here at home in DC, and also helped me take my love of baseball to the collegiate and professional levels. Parents play an enormously important role in the athletic development of boys and girls, but a parent’s impact on their child’s athletic experience can be positive or negative. Here are a few tips for being the sports parent that your student-athlete deserves:

Prepare your athlete

Athletes play better (and have more fun) when they are properly prepared. Make a commitment to get your son or daughter to practices and games on time, with all necessary SuperStock_867R-1315-FBequipment (this should be their job, with your help!). Players who are constantly late and missing important items rarely play up to their potential and begin to feel that they are letting their teammates down. Proper nutrition is crucial as well. Help fuel your athlete with good, healthy snacks and fluids before and after their events.

The experience is your child’s not yours

Remember that this is your athlete’s experience, not yours, and that she should take ownership of it. Encourage her to organize her own equipment and uniform, carry her own bag, and communicate directly with her coaches (about issues, absences, etc). This feeling of ownership will allow her to feel more in control and get more benefit from the season. You don’t need to hang on the fence and watch every practice. It is ok to pick her up and let her tell you about it on the way home.

Be the TEAM’s biggest fan

PCA_HTG%201The Positive Coaching Alliance provides research showing that young athletes perform better in environments that achieve a “Magic Ratio” of 5 positives for every 1 criticism or correction. As a fan, you can do your part to boost that positive column! Cheer for all team members, not just your own child. Also, cheer for players who hustle, help a teammate or exhibit strong sportsmanship as much (or more) as you do when your team scores runs or points.

Let the players and coaches worry about winning

The athletic culture in this country is extremely win-at-all-costs and we need to work together to change this. We are all competitive, especially coaches and young athletes. Parents and fans should focus on making the environments in which their children play as positive and fun as possible. Young athletes will play their chosen sports longer when they enjoy themselves and are surrounded by positive and motivational parents and coaches – not because their team goes undefeated.


The First Fan Brings Positive Energy on the Soccer Sidelines With the Wicked Witch of the East

September 18, 2009 Posted by | On the Field, written by Brendan Sullivan | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The most impressive and gutsy baseball players I’ve ever seen…

written by Ted Sullivan

Picture 2

(Note: I hope these links work. The WSJ can often be stingy with their content.)

When I picked up today’s Wall Street Journal I didn’t think I was going to read a story about the most impressive and gutsy baseball players on the planet. Then I watched this video and almost fell out of my chair. The WSJ front page human interest piece was about “Beep Ball” a version of baseball for the blind.

Yes, baseball for the blind.

Jim Abbott pitched in the big leagues despite being born without a right hand. And Cal Ripken played in 2632 consecutive games…

But these guys are unbelievable.

And I thought I was unlucky for being right handed.

Picture 1

August 18, 2009 Posted by | Media Commentary, written by Ted Sullivan | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mahoning Valley Scrappers — 10 years later

written by Ted Sullivan

Ten years ago this summer I was a member of the inaugural Mahoning Valley Scrappers, a short-season Single A team in the Cleveland Indians Organization. It was one of the most enjoyable athletic seasons of my life for a number of reasons but mostly because I was playing with a great group of guys for a team that was genuinely loved by the community.

mvscrappersThe residents of Niles, Ohio had been supposedly begging for a minor league team for several years. Finally the funding came together for a beautiful little stadium in the center of town, surrounded by (what else?) a gigantic shopping mall. Niles is about 60 miles from Cleveland and many fans followed the Indians draft and farm system closely. So while most low-level minor leaguers are essentially nameless players in the right or wrong colored jersey, we were rooted for as individuals. Coming from a college baseball program (Duke) that always took a back seat to basketball (and lacrosse, and soccer, and tennis… ) it was pretty awesome to sign autographs while waiting in the deli line for a sandwich.


C.C. as a Scrapper

Fueled by great fans, a new ballpark and a well-liked and respected Manager (Ted Kubiak), our team went on a great second half run and came within one game of winning the New York Penn League that season. We lost to the Tampa Bay Rays single A team, the Hudson Valley Renegades who where loaded with talent including that year’s first overall draft pick and 2008 MLB Home Run Derby Champ, Josh Hamilton.

I’m often asked, “Where are your minor league teammates now?” I’ve remained close with a few of my Scrapper teammates but have lost touch with most.  You can keep tabs on a couple by turning on ESPN: New York Yankee, C.C. Sabathia, was on that team for part of the season and is now the highest paid pitcher in the history of baseball.  Victor Martinez caught about 90% of my pitches that season and was one of my favorite guys on the team. Victor is now an MLB All-Star and was just traded from the Tribe to the Red Sox.

But nearly all the others aren’t as easy to follow. Recently I have tried to track some down using Facebook and over the next few weeks I’ll make occasional  “Where are they now?” updates on this blog.

Stay tuned.

August 12, 2009 Posted by | written by Ted Sullivan | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Question of Curveballs

written by Ted Sullivan

Tim Lincecum. Nasty curveball.

Tim Lincecum throws one of MLB's best curveballs.

As a youth baseball coach I’m often asked if curveballs hurt young arms.

In the youth sports ecosystem it’s become almost an accepted fact that curveballs are bad for the arms of young pitchers. Recently Mark Hyman wrote a piece for the NY Times explaining that recent studies have contradicted these long-held opinions.

I’m not a doctor and  have no evidence to support or refute these findings.

What I do believe is that young arms (and any arms for that matter) are hurt by the following:

  1. Poor / inefficient / overly violent mechanics — on all pitches, but especially breaking balls.
  2. Overuse — but only when compared to what an arm is in shape to throw. Like any other athletic activity, if you aren’t in shape it is damaging to push to extremes. You wouldn’t run a marathon without training and therefore shouldn’t throw 100 pitches in a game unless you have built up the arm, leg and core body strength to do so.
  3. Lack of care after throwing (stretch, ice, rest, etc) and
  4. Lack of care and preparation in the days and hours before pitching (off-day workouts, pre-game warm up, etc.)

I don’t teach young pitchers to throw curveballs because it’s possible that these pitches hurt young arms. But the primary reason I don’t teach these pitches is that pitchers will quickly get addicted to them. Young batters have a hard time hitting anything that breaks — even poorly thrown curveballs. So young pitchers (and more likely coaches who are calling pitches — an issue worthy of another blog post) tend to rely too much on breaking pitches. This keeps young players from developing their fastball which is the foundation of any good pitcher’s repertoire.

August 3, 2009 Posted by | Media Commentary, On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | , , , , | 1 Comment

First trip to the new Yankee Stadium!… ho-hum.

by Ted Sullivan

I made my first trip to the new Yankee Stadium yesterday for the Yanks / Orioles afternoon game and thought I’d write a short review.

First, a few disclaimers:

1) I generally dislike the Yankees for all of the same reasons why anyone would dislike the Yankees. (Though I’m also a Duke Basketball fan so I can understand why Yanks fans may wonder “how the hell can you not like the Yankees?”)

2) I grew up watching the Orioles at Camden Yards and was at Fenway only a couple weeks ago so my bar is set pretty high.

3) That being said, I have no right to review MLB stadiums (or even calling myself a baseball fan) because I’ve never been to Wrigley Field. I know, I know… I’ll get there. Enough already.

The replica of the House that Ruth Built. Taken with my iPhone. (If Budwiser would like to sponsor this blog I'm willing to listen to offers.)

The replica of the House that Ruth Built. Taken with my iPhone. The foliage didn't do a good job of keeping Yankees fans from "unintentionally" dropping food on the Orioles' relief pitchers. (If Budwiser would like to pay me gobs of money to sponsor this blog I'm willing to listen to offers.)

Anyway, the “new” Yankee Stadium is structurally very similar to The House that Ruth Built (not necessarily a good thing) but with none of the history. The old stadium had the ghosts of Ruth, Mantle and Maris so it didn’t need a Green Monster (Boston), a big Brick Warehouse (Baltimore) or a pool in the outfield (Arizona). The designers also eliminated the tunnels from the concourse so you can’t get that feeling we all love of coming out from the darkness and seeing the field for the first time.

The place is huge. Granted, it’s New York City and they are the Yankees, and ticket revenue isn’t going into my pocket, but just under 52,000 seats is too many for a baseball stadium. Lastly, there are also some obstructed view seats in the outfield bleachers which is unacceptable for a new ballpark in my opinion.

The high def scoreboard is ridiculous. Absolutely enormous and amazing quality. But unfortunately the sound system doesn’t match it’s quality. I was in the outfield bleachers and could barely hear anything. Maybe PA announcer Bob Sheppard just needs to turn up the volume.

There has been all kinds of press about the super-high prices of the box seats. I wasn’t sitting anywhere close to them but there were plenty of empty seasts around home plate on a beautiful day when the Yanks are on fire and just took over first place. The most expensive seats are about 2500 bucks. This seems crazy to me but I know the Yankees aren’t the only guilty ones here. The comfy first few rows behind the plate at the National’s new stadium in DC could use a few more rear-ends too.

I admittedly didn’t test too much of the food. The basic hotdog I had was surprisingly good. Fries were average. Beer was cold but pricy ($9 for a bottle of Bud Light… expensive even for New York.)

Whatever “character” is lost in the stadium is gained back with the fans. Love ’em or hate ’em, the Yankee fans make themselves known. During the top of the first inning the right field fans chant each Yankees defensive player’s name in unison until they get a wave of the glove or a tip of the hat. And every player gives a wave when called. But as the alcohol flows some fans begin to cross the line. We sat right behind the Orioles bullpen and after about the 5th inning (and third beer) if any of the pitchers or catchers showed their face they would get absolutely abused by the pinstriped drunks in the bleachers.

Overall grade: C –

It’s a shame that the team and the city spent $1.3 billion for a place that really lacks personality. I’m looking forward to heading to Queens and checking out Citi Field. But if I want to see games in October it looks like I’ll be heading back to the Bronx.

July 23, 2009 Posted by | written by Ted Sullivan | , , , , | 4 Comments

One and Done

written by Ted Sullivan

This is my third and final post about my downtown Manhattan little league team. The first post discussed a series of conflicts I had in my head after a tough opening day loss. The second was an update written ten days later about a coach’s greatest pleasure.

We had a great regular season, finishing 11-3 and clinching first place and the first seed in the playoffs. More importantly, the kids improved tremendously, all learned to be great teammates, and I believe they all had positive baseball experiences.

But yesterday our season ended prematurely. After a bye in the first round of the single-elimination playoffs we were knocked out by the 4th place team who we had beaten all three times we played them this season. But they played flawlessly and deserved to win. There were several tear-covered cheeks in the post game meeting as all of the kids were sad we lost — but most of all I believe they were sad to have such a fun season come to an end. This morning I sent the following email to the parents and players:

Giants Family,

The gloomy, rainy day here in New York somehow seems appropriate. I’ve always felt sad on the day after the last game of the season. It’s not because the season usually ends in a loss for most teams, but because I always missed the game and my teammates. Today is no exception.

I’ve spent over 20 years in baseball and I’ve played with and coached thousands of players on teams and in camps. Yet this season was one of my favorites for several reasons. First and foremost I credit the players –for practicing hard, for listening, for being great teammates to each other, and for steadfastly taking on the emotional ups and downs that come with the game of baseball. Secondly I credit the parents. From my experience coaching youth sports, parents are too often a liability rather than an asset to a team and to their ballplayer’s experience. Yet this season the parents were outstanding — supportive without being too involved, understanding of the our desire to have additional practices and cheering positively at all times. And lastly, I’d like to credit Coach Kelly and Coach Brad. I don’t have kids so I don’t know what it’s like to coach my own son. I’m sure it is both exceptionally rewarding and emotionally challenging. I’ve seen the coach / parent role go terribly wrong but you two are the models for how it should be done. And not surprisingly, Sean and Will had fantastic seasons and clearly loved having the two of you involved.

Finally, I hope that the kids learned something this year beyond how to swing, throw or field a ground ball. I believe that baseball is a fantastic teacher of life’s greatest lessons and much of what the coaches tried to impart on them have will be applicable in everything they do on or off the field. Here are a few nuggets that I’m sure will sound familiar to them:

* Preparation + effort > results: If you practice hard and are proud of your effort, wins and losses don’t matter.
* Be on time and hustle: the easiest part of baseball and often the most distinguishable.
* Execute the next pitch: forget about the past and eliminate from your mind the things (“external factors”) that won’t contribute to your next pitch, your next swing, etc.
* Find that fine line between being relaxed and being aggressive, when you do you will perform at your best.


June 18, 2009 Posted by | On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | , , , , | 5 Comments