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.

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

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.

CC

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.

Best,
Ted

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

Let the Coach do the Coaching

Yesterday I got an email from a friend who coaches her son’s tee ball team. She was asking for advice for how to deal with an overly aggressive dad who spends most of the game coaching from the bleachers. The dad supposedly yells instruction at his son and sometimes at the other players, upsetting many of the kids and frustrating the coaches.

This is a pretty common issue — especially at the lower levels of youth sports where many fathers (and mothers… but usually fathers) believe that they can do a better job than the coach. I’m not a parent but I’ve witnessed scenes like this enough times to understand that there must be such an overwhelming urge to see one’s child succeed on the athletic field that normal rules of human interaction no longer apply.

Kids should learn at an early age that there are one or two authority figures on the field t0 whom they need to listen —  just as there are one or two teachers in their classroom. No parent would ever think that having 12 parents in a classroom — each yelling at their kid to color within the lines or finish their multiplication tables faster — would create a good learning environment. But somehow when sports and competition are involved, good sense is lost.

I encouraged my friend to have an admittedly uncomfortable conversation with the father. I told her not to single him out as the only one who does this and to use the analogy of an elementary school classroom. For further motivation, I explained that the guy’s child will be the ultimate beneficiary.

I look forward to hearing what happens. Maybe my friend will  comment on this post with an update.

May 4, 2009 Posted by | On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | 1 Comment

Update on “Opening Day” Post… and a Coach’s Greatest Pleasure

Ten days ago I wrote a post that addressed a dilemma I was facing with my little league team here in Downtown Manhattan.

I ended that post with the following summary of my concern:

Here are the series of conflicting issues in my head:

– League rules make for boring games.

– These kids need to have fun.

– Our team needs to get better.

– Baseball practice isn’t always fun — especially with limited field space.

So where do we go from here?

After reading a couple good comments on that post and doing some thinking I determined that the solution is short (1 hour) optional practices using very limited field space during which we work on basic baseball fundamentals mixed in with a little competition and lots of positive energy. Attendance at these workouts has been better than expected (and attended by different players than expected) and I’ve witnessed significant improvement in a matter of a couple weeks.

On Sunday we won our second game by 11 runs and the mercy rule. We got 12 hits and our best pitcher — and the leagues’s best player — dominated on the mound.

But our biggest challenge was still ahead of us. After two more optional (and fun) practices on Monday and Tuesday we had a game last night in which four of our better players (and our three top pitchers) were on a school camping trip. I admit that going into the game my hopes weren’t very high. We had to take two players from the “minors” to field a team but my primary concern was that I didn’t think we had enough kids who could throw consistent strikes.

Despite my fear of a “death-by-base-on-balls,” I was treated to one of the greatest pleasures a coach of young ballplayers will ever experience. Two inexperienced pitchers STEPPED UP with outstanding efforts on the mound and a display of mental toughness that was even more impressive than their physical performances. We made most of the basic plays in the field and had some clutch hitting that resulted in a 7-6 win in the bottom of the last inning.

It was fun to win but even better to see a bunch of multi-talented “super-kids” from downtown Manhattan begin to understand how rewarding baseball can be when you practice hard and execute when the game’s on the line.

But we still have a lot of work to do… so stay tuned for further updates.

(Lastly, an “Only in TriBeCa” sidenote: As I walked to the field yesterday from my apartment, bucket of balls in hand, I spent most of the 10 minute stroll next to Mike Myers of SNL, Wayne’s World, Austin Powers and Shrek fame.)

April 30, 2009 Posted by | On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | 1 Comment

Little League Opening Day… now what?

Yesterday was opening day for my 11 and 12 year olds in New York City’s Downtown Little League. The game was a tough one to swallow. Usually these games are forgotten by the time I walk off the field but I’ll admit yesterday’s hung with me for a bit — but not only because we lost a game we should have won. 

 

I had a few thoughts throughout most of the day — all of which seemed to conflict with each other. I’d love the help of any readers and my fellow bloggers as I try to sort them out. 

 

First, yesterday’s game was pretty ugly from a baseball perspective. There were a handful of great plays but in general, the game was determined by walks and strikeouts. I’m having my fellow coach calculate the following stat: of the total number of plate appearances in the game, how many ended in either a walk or a strikeout. Two league rules — strict pitch count limits and required batting through the lineup of all 13 players–  inevitably leads to this result too often: a young inexperienced pitcher throwing to a young, inexperienced hitter. The result is a strikeout or walk over 50% of the time. Now I’m not concerned with the fact that I have to watch this, or whether this is an advantage or disadvantage for my team.  My concern here is that games like that take the fun out of baseball — and most of our kids are at the critical time in their baseball lives where they need to fall in love with the game if they are going to keep playing after this season. This isn’t made any easier by the immediate gratification of video games and 1000 other potential ways they can spend their time. The bar is set pretty high. 

 

Ok, hold that thought. 

 

The other thing that kept going through my head after yesterday’s game is: we need to get better. After 20+ years as a player and coach my instant reaction after a game like that is practice, practice, practice.  When can we find field time? How can I work with our pitchers? How can we get in a cage? etc, etc. However unfortunately the type of practice this team needs — and more importantly, the type of practice downtown NYC field space provides — is not particularly fun for young players. We don’t have access to a full field other than our 1 practice per week (maybe) and our games on Sundays. We need pitching drill work. We need fielding drills, we need to break down our swings and build them back up.

 

But my fear is that I’m not sure whether the majority of the kids on this team really want to spend their time this way. This is rec league baseball in downtown Manhattan. These kids are going to be successful writers, bankers, musicians and movie producers. It’s not that they aren’t great kids and of course they want to succeed. But if given the choice I’m not sure they will want to put in an extra 20+ hours of practice time this season for the marginal improvement they might see. 

 

Here are the series of conflicting issues in my head: 

– League rules make for boring games.

– These kids need to have fun. 

– Our team needs to get better.

– Baseball practice isn’t always fun — especially with limited field space. 

 

So where do we go from here?

April 20, 2009 Posted by | On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | 4 Comments