Ahead in the Count

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.

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

We Are Lucky

While the economy is showing signs of recovering (or at the very at least stabilizing), non-profit organizations that rely almost entirely on donations are still struggling mightily.

Little Leagues, of course, fall into this category and today’s article on CNN reminded me of the notion that getting to play youth sports is a great privilege – and certainly not a right.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/06/09/little.league/index.html

I feel it is extremely important for youth coaches, teachers, and parents to consistently remind kids that their time on the field should not be taken for granted and the very real possibility of entire leagues folding due to lack of donations can act as a very worthwhile teaching tool.

The silver lining to the economic meltdown that this country has experienced might very well be that we as a society start to appreciate all the little things that we once took for granted. If we can teach our kids to do the same, the next generation might act more responsibly (at least financially speaking) than we have.

June 9, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Jim Thompson: “LeBron James is Confused”

In Jim Thompson’s aptly titled post on his “Responsible Sport” blog today, he offered spot-on commentary on LeBron James’ behavior following the Cavs’ Game 6 season-ending loss on Saturday night.  It is worth a read.

For those of you who did not see what LeBron did, here’s a quick synopsis… As soon as Game 6 ended with Orlando having clinched the series, LeBron stormed off the court without offering any sort of acknowledgment to the Magic, a team that had earned every one of their four victories and the right to move on to the NBA Finals.  But LeBron wasn’t just frustrated and irrational in the moment.  Some minutes later, “King James” refused to address the media in the mandatory post-game press conference, and yesterday, when offered a chance to explain his behavior, LeBron brusquely addressed the issue, making no apologies.  In fact, he even explained it away by offering (not humorously) that he was a “winner” and a “competitor” and therefore did not see the value in congratulating his opponent following his team’s loss.

The good news is that the response to LeBron’s actions and words has been pretty much universally negative.  Even LeBron apologists, those who usually say he can do no wrong because of his other-worldly physical gifts, are questioning whether they can now root for him in the same way.

Personally, I don’t like watching LeBron play, and this is just icing on the cake.  Yes, he is no doubt a great athlete.  He distributes the ball and tries to involve his teammates in many facets of the game in a way that many superstars do not.  That is positive.  However, I believe strongly that these positives are negated (and then some) by his incessant whining to the officials – 82 games a year plus playoffs – and near absolute neglect of his opponents as worthy competitors.  I don’t like watching that kind of athlete, and I hope others will join me.

LeBron’s behavior shows an utter disrespect for the game and offers a challenge for any youth sports coach or parent who now has to explain why one of the best athletes in the world and perhaps one of the best basketball players of all time behaves in a way that is vastly different from what they expect of their own children.  How will they (we) respond to the first kid who refuses to shake hands with the opponents after a loss and then offers up, “if LeBron doesn’t do it, why do I have to?”  Good question, and the answer is that LeBron is still a young guy with a lot to learn.  Maybe he’ll eventually come to understand that he is not bigger than the game itself, at which point coaches and parents can point to him as not just a great athlete, but a great competitor.

Until he comes to this realization, however, I hope those who do Honor the Game will continue to offer LeBron more early exits from the playoffs and the opportunities to learn some much needed life lessons.

June 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

City Ball

I grew up in upper Manhattan – and was lucky to be exposed to baseball early in life despite the urban setting.  The West Side Little League was established in 1985.  I joined up the following April, at age 8.  The same year, I was fortunate that my parents sent me to what-was-then a brand new baseball camp during the summers where I was taught the game, albeit on the shaved infields of Central Park.  Had I been five years older than I am, I wouldn’t have had the chance to play baseball until High School (my junior high school had no baseball team).

I now live in downtown DC, a few blocks away from Banneker Public High School.  Washington DC’s Mayor Adrian Fenty (whose twin boys are both young baseball players themselves) has made restoration of parks and athletic fields in DC’s urban center a priority.  Banneker HS has been a flagship example on this initiative – and now sports ten beautiful tennis courts, a top notch quarter-mile track, and a college-quality baseball diamond at the center of it all (by far the nicest yard in the District save for Nats Park).

After work tonight, I went over to Banneker to run on the track – and a game between Coolidge and Cardozo (both public High Schools in DC) was just starting.  The players were enthusiastic, energetic, and ready to play.  Unfortunately, the baseball was not very good (at all).  There were good athletes all over the field – but a lack of know-how really impedes the players’ ability to enjoy and excel at the game.

The home team’s pitcher provided a great example of the need for earlier exposure to baseball in cities.  The pitcher, a righty, had a very low elbow, derived very little power from his back side, and stepped way too far toward the first base dugout in his delivery.  Despite these significant flaws, the ball still left the young man’s hand with some good velocity, probably 80 mph.   Sadly, the pitcher left the game in the third innings, despite having given up only two runs… holding his right elbow.  He was clearly dismayed at the pain, and was frustrated because he didn’t know why it was happening.  If I were him, I’d rather play another sport too.

Based on what I saw at Banneker’s Field today, there is no shortage of enthusiasm for baseball in downtown DC (and presumably other cities).  But without early exposure to baseball  and its fundamentals, it will continue to be an uphill battle to make that enthusiasm stick.  I hope DC’s new jewel at Banneker High School will help.

May 18, 2009 Posted by | Overview / Background, Uncategorized, written by John Bramlette | , | 1 Comment

Manny…

How will this affect his Hall of Fame chances?

Will the Dodger’s make the playoffs?

Do you believe him that the substance he tested positive for was as a result of a legitmate medical issue?  Does it matter?

Does the fact the substance is often used to speed up recovery after a steroid cycle make him guilty of juicing?

Can we ever trust the offensive numbers from anyone over the last 10 years?

What do we now make of players like Albert Pujols, Jim Thome, and Griffey, Jr. (the only big time sluggers still playing who haven’t tested positive PEDs)?   Are they guilty by association? 

Discuss.

May 7, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Switch Pitching

Check out the latest Rick Reilly article.

http://sports.espn.go.com/espnmag/story?id=4145564

I found the article fascinating as a “switch pitcher” is just about the rarest thing in baseball.

The part I wanted to be surprised about (but sadly wasn’t) is that this 23 year-olds’ success as a switch pitcher is already leading baseball dads with kids as young as THREE to force their sons to start throwing with both hands in hopes of finding the lateset fast track to the big leagues. 

I’m not a father, so I don’t want to be completely judgmental, but I think something all of the bloggers here see regularly in youth sports is the issue of realistic expectations (or lack thereof).    There is nothing wrong with dreaming big – that’s something all kids should do, but that’s something they should do for themselves.   What’s greater than hearing a 7 year old say he wants to be an astronaut, or big leaguer, or President when he grows up?  But when these “dreams” are manufactured by mom and dad for their kids, it can cause problems. 

What happens when little Timmy turns 8 and doesn’t even like baseball?  What happens to the child who was “dreamed” to be a doctor turns 12 and has no interest in science but instead loves the theater and wants to be an actor?  Now the parent’s expectations don’t align with the child’s and this expectation gap can cause problems.

The point is we’ve got to let the kids do the dreaming.  Our job as parents and coaches should be to support those dreams. 

The other baseball coaches here may disagree and being a talent evaluator is definitely not what I do, but I don’t think it’s possible to project whether a kid will have a shot at making his high school team until he’s at least 12 or 13.  Then it’s at least 16 or 17 until we have a clear picture if college baseball is an option.  

How can we then, in good faith, begin putting pressure on our kids to acheive at a high level before they’ve even reached double-digits by asking them to switch pitch, etc?

May 6, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sugar

 

Go see this movie.

Go see this movie.

I highly recommend checking out the movie, Sugar. It’s a wonderful story of Miguel “Sugar” Santos, a Dominican pitcher struggling to get to the big leagues and pull himself and his family out of poverty. I’m usually (but not always) entertained by baseball-themed movies. Bull Durham is a favorite and Major League with Charlie Sheen & Co. is always good for a few laughs, but I think Sugar may be the best yet.

 

The tragic flaws of most sports movies are that they are horribly unrealistic and usually quite predictable.

Sugar is neither. 

I’ve spent time in both the DR and in the minor leagues and this movie stunningly brought me back in time to those experiences. The minor league scenes in particular were eerily familiar — yet they gave me even more of an appreciation for the Latin American players who were dropped into small town America and expected to overcome the physical, emotional and cultural challenges both on and off the field. 

I won’t explain why it’s unpredictable. Go see the movie and find out.

April 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Let’s Take a Poll

What’s worse: that the Nationals fined Elijah Dukes $500 for showing up 5 minutes late for a game because he was supporting a local little league’s Opening Day or that Dukes charged the local little league $500 for his appearance?

http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/blog/big_league_stew/post/News-amp-Notes-Elijah-Dukes-gets-lift-from-Li?urn=mlb,157945

Discuss.

April 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Nice Guys Finish First…And Second.

As I sit here typing, Angel Cabrera and Kenny Perry are walking back to the 10th tee at Augusta for their second sudden-death playoff hole.

I’ve seen some tremendous acts of sportsmanship from these two men today that I believe are worth mentioning. Perry and Cabrera started the day as the leaders and are now the only two men remaining. On numerous occasions, Cabrera has given Perry a subtle “thumbs-up” after a nice recovery or a good putt. When Cabrera made a 6-footer on the 18th hole to force a playoff, it was Perry who stood on the side of the green applauding Angel’s remarkable par after hitting his drive into the woods and hitting a tree on his second shot. While these simple gestures of acknowledgement and encouragement are fairly common among amateur golfers, to see two professional golfers root for each other on the final day of the Masters was a refreshing sight.

I love watching Tiger. He is without a doubt the greatest golfer of all time and is as fierce a competitor as we will ever see. However, he is also well known for his cold demeanor on the course – he would call it laser focus – and often goes entire rounds without uttering a single word to his playing partner or even acknowledging his presence. I’ve also started to grow tired of the Tiger putter toss followed by that incredulous look he gets after missing a putt as if it was the green’s fault that the ball didn’t roll the way he wanted it to. This is to take absolutely nothing away from Tiger – he’s a great athlete, an amazing competitor, and I almost always find myself rooting for him down the stretch of any tournament he plays.

However, it was great to see two genuinely nice guys root for each other for 18 holes and end up as the last two men standing. They clearly both love and respect the game and are both obviously ultra-competitive athletes with a tremendous will to win.

Today, Kenny Perry and Angel Cabrera exemplified beautifully how wanting to win and treating the game and your opponents with respect are in no way mutually exclusive.

April 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

April Madness

An interesting debate has sprung up around this weekend’s ESPN-sponsored National High School Invitational (NHSI) basketball tournament which will tip off at Georgetown Preparatory school in Rockville, MD.

The Washington Post’s high school editor Josh Barr wrote a nice piece today on the event, which highlights many of the issues that arise when shoe companies and television insert themselves into amateur sports. Definitely worth a read.

The tournament field includes perennial powerhouses Oak Hill Academy (check out their crazy website) and Montrose Christian (whose coach, Stu Vetter has referred to the event as “mini-March madness” and a high school national championship) but not a single public school (national rules prohibit their participation) nor DeMatha or Gonzaga, two excellent local programs, both of whom are currently ranked in ESPN’s national top ten. The principals of the WCAC (the conference that both schools compete in) overruled the league’s coaches, forbidding its members from participating.

Findlay Prep's Student Body

Findlay Prep's Student Body

 Thankfully, the NHSI – Coach Vetter’s National Championship – will feature Findlay Prep,a school based in Las Vegas funded by former UNLV player-turned-car dealer (and apparently turned meglomaniac) Clif Findlay. The school has 8 students, all of whom play on the team. The “school’s” website is hilarious.

While I’m still searching for even the slightest reference to academia on the site, one can find a detailed description of the living arrangements the Findlay “students” enjoy:

“The home has two big screens, all new furniture, extra long beds, four bathrooms, a study room with custom desks, wireless internet, full cable TV, two refrigerators kept full, a large backyard and patio, and walking distance to two parks.”

Right around the corner from the library, no doubt. Madness indeed.

April 3, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment