January 2010

Sunday Rewind: “Are Maple Bats the Bad Guys?”

This is the 2nd installment of my past series on the epidemic of maple bat breakage within Major League Baseball. If you did not read the first installment, I wrote it on 1/20/2009, and please feel free to check the archive for the blog. As has been my custom during the off season, this is a posting of a blog written during the 2009 season. So hopefully you will enjoy this look into the past.
 

 

Susan Rhodes is not your usual attendee to a Major League Baseball game. But why is it that on May 25, 2008, she just seemed to be in the wrong place, and the wrong time, and met the barrel end of a tomahawking maple bat that shattered more than her jaw.  She was sitting just 4 rows behind the Los Angeles Dodgers dugout, which is usually a safe place at an MLB game. Rhodes never even saw the shards of the broken bat coming towards her, she was instead watching the play develop as the ball headed into the outfield. She suffered injuries that included a concussion and a fractured jaw in two places. 
 

 

Watching players break bats at the plate has been a commonplace sight since the advent of baseball, but the Rhodes accident along with Rick Hellings impalement have shown that there might be a new level of danger to the game of baseball.  Even the men behind the plate, the umpires, have not been ruled out as innocient victims in this saga.  So has America’s favorite pastime been invaded by this new dangerous trend, and could the expanded use of maple bats be the sole item responsible for this trend?
 

 

The hickory wooden bats used by hitters like Babe Ruth are long gone from baseball, and now it seems that those heavy and cumbersome pieces of lumber showcased a simpler and safer time.Thanks to the growing popularity of the maple bat during Barry Bond’s run to the Home Run title, more MLB players opted for this potentially lethal bat wood type. I am not blaming Bonds for the recent problems, he did not design, test or even manufacture any of these bats for a living, but just used them as a tool for his trade.


 


 

 

And Atlanta Braves Manager Bobby Cox got a first-hand account of the dangers posed by maple bats on June 19, 2008 while Cox was sitting in the  Braves dugout. Like Rhodes, Cox was watching the hit ball and did not see Braves Second Baseman Kelly Johnson’s maple bat shard coming end-over-end towards him in the dugout. The bat shard ended up going just above Cox’s head, but like Rhodes, he never saw the bat piece coming towards him before it slammed into the back of the dugout wall.
 

 

 

All throughout the annuals of baseball, bats have broken when hitters went to the plate, but not at the regularity they do today. The maple versus ash bat controversy did not exist back then because neither bat was fully developed at that time for use by baseball players.  At the time Babe Ruth was swatting balls into the grandstands, players used heavy hickory wooden bats. During those days, hickory was a commoningly used wood, and it is still known as a strong wood to use for baseball bats. But batters wanted a bat that uses a lighter, more fluid wood for hitting, and the hickory bats quickly became extinct like the dinosaurs.


 


 

 

Even though ash is not as strong as hickory, it does possess a lighter feeling in your hands, and the wood can be sanded down with limited sweat and pain to conform the bat handle to your personal touch and liking with just a fine grade sheet of sandpaper. The problem with most other woods is that its overall strength can be totally compatible with weight. So if you desire a strong wood to produce your bats, you will get a model bat that is heavier because of the woods density. And in simple contrast, if you go lighter wood, you get lighter overall weight, but you can give up some safety levels of durability under the constant pressure bats go through every time you go to the plate to hit in a game. 
 

 

In the 1990’s, Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Joe Carter might have swung the first maple bat, and his Home Run shot to win the World Series for the Jays might have been a key moment to the potential power of maple bats. Because Carter used maple as the wood of choice for his bats, players began to look into its cost and usage and quickly began to request them by the dozens from bat manufacturers. 

With maple now seen as an alternative to the customary ash models, it quickly became more appealing to hitters because it showcased more strength without the cumbersome bother of weight to quicken a player’s bat speed through the hitting zone. And because of it strength, it quickly got a reputation as the tool that would hopefully let you hit farther and longer in games.

 
 


 

 

Ash bats, which were currently the rave, had a tendency to produce flakes of ash that came off the bat like snow, but held the bat intact and did not separate at the barrel end like maple bats. Because of the flaking, players did not go through bats as often, and that might have been the main reasoning that many hitters stuck to ash bats for so long. But during Bond’s display of power in 2001, MLB players became obsessed with them and craved this bat type, and quickly put ash bats in the dark recesses of the MLB clubhouses. 
 

 

For 50 years, white ash was the preferred wood for baseball bats, but with over 50 percent of all MLB players now craving maple, it was a quickly changing the game.  Maple and ash bats both break a certain way because of their woods unique internal characteristics. Ash tends to flake or chip in smaller chunks and do not propel through the air, while maple has a tendency to break into larger jagged shards that are propelled by the stored up energy of the bat. But can the change in breakage patterns be attributed to their basic wood cell difference and the size of their pores within the wood, or is there another culprit?
 

 


Scientists agree that ash wood cell structure has more elastic flexibility than their maple wood cousins. Ash wood has a ring porous character within its grain where you will find more pores that can carry moisture throughout the wood. And if you ventured into the region of its overall growth ring, where the grain doesn’t exist, you would see that it is a more solid fibered wood than maple.

 
 


 


Because the voids in wood are usually confined to certain areas, the growth planes are considered a weak area of the wood. When an ash bat hits an object, its cell walls would collapse, and that would produce the chipping and the flaking experienced with ash bats. The barrel would just begin to soften and small flaking pieces would begin to fall off the bat. It makes for a greater visual indicator of the lessening density of the ash wood bat and its possibility of breaking or snapping when used while hitting.
   

 

Maple on the other hand are considered ring diffuse, meaning that its pore are more evenly distributed throughout the piece of wood. that makes the bat barrel more durable than any other part of the wood, and you do not get the cautionary flaking or chipping warning signs that ash wooden bats give you before they break apart while hitting.

 

 

 


Cracks do tend to form in both types of wood as a bat is used to hit ball after ball after ball. But the same pore structure that makes an ash bat flake, also produces cracks along the channel of the ash bat. This brings about a more durable bat type that has a long way to go before a crack can materialize to crack that bat type in half. And MLB hitters can see these visual cracks signals long beforehand and replace their ash bats before the end process results in an explosion of the bat upon contact with the ball.   
 

 

I know we have all seen a hitter take the barrel end of the bat and bounce it off the ground, or Home Plate to see if they get vibrations waves out of the bat that is a great signal of its breakage. It is an early warning signal by the wood to let the hitter know it was about to get its last swing, or break apart during the hitting process. That made the ash bat a lot more safer and predictable. But it also could happen to hitters during multiple times during a game, and the cost of replacing a box of bats might have been the deciding factor in hitters looking for alternatives to ash bats. 


 


 

 

Because of the maple bats diffuse pores, cracks in the wood can grow in any number of directions. This could make them apt to hide the potential cracks and breaks  as they slowly or instantly break out towards the barrel. That is the main reason that maple bats produce such a large chunk or shard when they finally do explode after cracking. And since they do not flake or show any form of chipping, they do not send any visual warning sign to the hitter that his bat is about to crack and might end up in the stands, or somewhere on the field barely missing an opposing player.
 

 


But each type of wood can takes on different characteristics considering how it is cut too. A billet of misaligned wood can affect it tremendously to produce an unexpected breakage. A baseball bat is considered stronger when the grain tends to line up with the length of the bat. Because of its basic dark color, the grain on a maple bat is considerably harder to see than in the lighter wood tones of an ash bat. Maple also has a tendency to not have as straight a groove in their grain as ash wood, which can be instrumental in early bat fatigue and breakage.

 
 


 

 

If you do not have a bat that is cut “going with the grain”, you can easily produce a weaker bat model. But can that be one of the reasons that a maple bat can just explode and send shards throughout the stands or infield?  Another factor to take take into consideration is the fact that the batter could hit the ball in a bad hitting position and make the bat break with his upward or ackward swing. Which would have nothing to do with the bats chemistry, or it’s compounds or porous material.
 

 

The MLB approved baseball bat models comes into contact with the baseball in a small area for only one thousandth of a second on most hitters’ swings. The short time it takes to make that initial point of impact can sends up to 5,000 pounds of force through the wooden bat. If you hit the ball badly, or not on the “sweet spot” of the bat, you can sometimes get that stinging sensation in your hands. That is a visual signal from the bat that it is bending and vibrating to release the force without breaking apart in your hands.

 
 


 

 

If the bending is compacted into enough of an area, it can produce a bat break in any type of bat, even ash wood. The bending of the bat can lead to its breaking usually in ash bats, at the point of the least material, which on an ash bat, is its handle area. The maple bat that Colorado Rockies hitter Todd Helton had in his hands on the day that Susan Rhodes got injured broke at the bat’s handle and sent the barrel tomahawking into the stands towards her. This leads to another area of concern about today’s bats. Could a narrower handle on the bat be a reason for the increase in bats breaking and exploding all over the ballpark?
 

 

Over 100 years ago, bat handles were a lot more thicker and more bulky than today’s bats used by any level of baseball.  Some say the advent of these small handles is a compliance to metal bats that are used before players become professionals. Because the metal bats do not possess a thick, rugged handle players are more accustomed to hitting without the extra meat on the bat handles. As time progressed, the handle was streamlined and made more comfortable to today’s players. 
 

 

The narrow handle makes a baseball bat made out of wood more prone to breaking and take away the basic sturdiness of the bat. To make modern bats more accustom to metal bat handle types, did we make the breakage problem worse, or just provide another avenue for the bats to break upon force.

  
 


 

 

 And could the events that happened on June 24,2008 during a game in Kansas City show that people on the field are not protected from these maple bat shards. In that contest, MLB Home Plate Umpire Brian O’Nora was hit in the head with a maple bat shard, while wearing his protective gear behind the plate. Think about this long and hard for a moment. Here is a guy, less than 3 feet from the epicenter of the bat’s initial explosion point who had his protective gear completely popped off his head and produced a bloddy gash upon his forehead. 
 

 

You do not want to think of the injury repercussions of him not even having a safety equipment on himself and then getting clobbered with that same maple bat shard.  I would love to have a poll done of MLB catchers to see how many of them have to have trainers or medical personnel during or after the game take out maple bat splinters or small sharp wood chips from their catching equipment or from out of their bodies. I think that any kind of poll like this actually would not help the bat situation because most catcher see this as part of the game, like a foul ball getting your fingers or cracking you in the upper thighs during an at bat.

 
 


 

 
You know engineers and scientists have a common theory on why bats crack and break. We know that the MLB has collected hundreds of wooden bats since 2008 and have analyzed and categorized their breakage and  the bats wood type. But is there any real evidence that we have not seen that would show why these bats are breaking at alarming rates compared to the past.  And to what extent does the maple bat hold either a  hitting advantage or a personal dangerous weapon as a bat of choice by the MLB players. 
 

 
Or is just the true fact that wooden bats fail. That it is a part of the game for bats to splinter and crack. But the reality is that some of today’s bats do not make a simple splinter or crack, but produce a missile that takes on speed as it leaves the batters box. And with that in mind, we have to face the reality that bats fail, and that maple bats will fail far more times than ash bat in the future. 

MLB could possibly be doing a study right now on wood types and maybe implementing restrictions on certain wood types that display more brittle properties in them. Or maybe even think of implementing a gideline to the  specifications on the grain alignment by bat manufacturing companies to help stop bat breakage in alarming rates in 2009 or beyond.


 


 

 
Individually, the MLB teams should set up more protective netting in front of some lower level infield seats in stadiums with the premise to protect their fans.  I know that New York Yankee center fielder Curtis Granderson suggested such a measure on his ESPN.com blog back in 2009.  Because players have their attention and eyes trained towards the batter, they have more reaction time to dodge, and even see bat shards coming towards them. While spectators in those front row seats have a tendency to look in other directions because of the multiple attention getting sights and sounds of the game.  
 
 
Some might view this as the ultimate steps to protecting the fans in those exposed sections, but those fans also paid good money to sit in those sections, and most know the dangers beforehand from foul balls and errant throws to first or third base. To suggest that they are the only ones in the ball park  that might needed to be further protected might not be viewed so well by those fans above the dugout, or further down the foul lines in stadiums. And as anyways, who want to sit there on the front row and have to look through a net the entire game. If I wanted to look through glass or netting, I would go to an NHL game, not want to watch the greatest game on dirt. 
 
 
 

 

St. Petersburg City Council Begins Rays Stadium “Chess” game

 


Peter Masa


As so many of you might heard by now through my past entries, the ABC (A Baseball Community) Coalition, which was formed to collaborate and conduct research and possible recommendations for a new Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium has made their final reports available on their committee’s future thoughts and location proposals about the possible financing and construction of a new stadium. And the Coalition were completely open to discussing these findings in depth with the St. Petersburg City Council, before a memo sent by the City Council makes the proposed meeting moot and pointless at this stage of the game.
 
 

For about the last 18 months, the ABC Coalition, which was composed of 11+ selected Tampa Bay community leaders and power brokers have met throughout that time to whittle down the expanding list of the potential “Who, where, when and why?” of the stadium issues and proposals before finalizing their report earlier this week. that might come up in future discussions and gave their opinions and finding to these matters. And just as the Coalition was ready to embark on a long Public Relations mission to discuss the finding with the St. Petersburg City Council, Pinellas County Commission and the Pinellas Visitor’s Bureau, and possibly the Hillsborough County governing bodies, the St. Pete City Council decided to send the first volley across the Coalition’s bow to show their disapproval of the Coalition’s final report.

 
 

Most people outside of the Tampa Bay region might not know that the two counties, Pinellas and Hillsborough, have fought back and forth for the last few decades on this entire baseball issue from Day 1. And because the Coalition expanded their site locations to include possible Hillsborough/Tampa stadium locations in their findings, this was considered a blow to the initial formation plan of the St. Petersburg city officials for the group to conduct their studies on possible St. Petersburg locations, with no mention of including Hillsborough County sites in their discussions.

 
 

It so offended the basic premise of the initial formalization this study group that St. Petersburg City Attorney John Wolfe and St. Petersburg Senior Administrator co-wrote a stern recent memorandum to the ABC Coalition stating the ” any relationship the city( St. Petersburg) may have had with ABC has been effectively severed.” And as I stated before in previous blog posts, this Chess match is just beginning to show it’s first moves and this issue is considered far from over, and the memo and cancellation of the group’s presentation to the St. Petersburg City Council might just be the first “Pawn’s movement” by local government on this issue.

 
 

Because the St. Petersburg City Council considers the Coalition a “third-party” representative in this manner, they may have openly invited discussions or discussed their findings possibly with the Rays before finalizing their report. That is a direct violation of the Rays lease with the City of St. Petersburg to not have a “third party” do the talking for the team. By contract, the Rays are forbidden from discussing any possible moves before their contracts expires “officially” in 2026. Because the Coalition liberally discussed possible stadium site and issues with the Rays.

 
 

And this might have put a bump in the road to further discussion by the Coalition with the City Council, but they are still more than willing to have discussions with the Rays in the future as to the team’s stadium requests….But not through a “third party” voice like the ABC Coalition. But what might also be irritating the St. Petersburg City Council might be the simple fact that there are no recorded minutes or notes of a possible discussion with the Rays to see what input or secondary requests the Rays might have requested from the Coalition to slip in their findings.

 

 

But this same ABC Coalition did not heed the constant warnings from the St. Petersburg City Council over the past 18 months to not discuss or even include possible Hillsborough County sites since this could be considered a direct violation of the Rays Tropicana Field contract. The memo sent by St. Petersburg City Attorney Wolfe also stated: “No third party should be interfering” with the Tropicana Field contract, the memo said. “The city should not condone or permit, directly or indirectly, any such third party interference.”

The fact that the Coalition took on the possibilities of including the Hillsborough County sites showed the true fact that the group extended their reach beyond the first scope of the Coalition and might have been possibly pushed that direction by another party, possibly the Rays.

 
 
 

St. Petersburg City Council Chairwoman Leslie Curran said she would not even consider putting the ABC presentation on the upcoming City Council’s meeting agenda. She stated to the St. Petersburg Times recently that the coalition “kind of took on a life of its own,” she said. “The purpose of it to begin with, as far as I understand, was to focus on St. Petersburg, and I’m not willing to bring any idea forward that goes outside the city.”

People outside this region forget that the formulation of this Coalition actually came on the heels of the Rays and the City of St. Petersburg trying to find common ground after opposition to the sail-inspired Rays stadium plans for the city’s waterfront which was met with a hailstorm of mixed reactions on the proposed stadium, and it’s site along the waterfront. This present ever expanding stalemate with the St. Petersburg governing body is just another setback for the Rays possible stadium ideas, and the inclusion of the two possible Tampa sites has both parties balking and searching for a suitable compromise.

 
 

This is just the first folly to come to light in the ever growing drama that will encompass the Rays seeking a possible stadium location and construction agreement in the next 5-10 years. Who knows if the Coalition’s finding are a non-evasive play by the Rays to see what opposition or bridges they might need to mend in further discussions with groups on either side of Tampa Bay.

If indeed it was a silent message sent by the Rays exploring options beyond St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, the St. Petersburg City Council made sure to let their legal and personal opinions ring loud and clear to the heavens. I have to say I am proud of the City Council standing up and not letting the ABC Coalition perform a “song and dance” routine in front of the City Council without full disclosure or upfront acknowledgement of their intentions.

 
 

Www.TBO.com

Many times in the past we have seen civic groups bow low and take it on the chin for sports teams, or their hidden ploys to poke the bear in the room and see how angry he will get. Well, the ABC Coalition got their slap-in-the-face by the City of St. Petersburg. It will be fun to see how they readjust and either re-commit or fade away after this latest folly. Next up is a possible Pinellas County Commission whose bonds helped finance half of the initial funding for Tropicana Field via a Bed Tax. ABC is hoping for a presentation to this Commission possibly in March or April 2010. Who knows, maybe the PCC might also see a set of hands poking out from the back of the ABC Coalition’s spokesperson and call “foul” themselves. …. Anything is possible in politics.

  
 
 
 

Sometimes I take it Personally

 


Why is it that this odd-shaped protruding region of the United States has always had to defend itself from the media attacks and the scattering writs of the uninformed. Why is it that Tampa Bay has been cubby-holed by countless comedians as the “Armpits of American society” for the far-fetched tales of wild and bizarre events that seem to ooze daily out of the entire state of Florida?

I have come to the mindset personally that I do not get offended anymore because I am here by choice, and have lived in some of these same cities that now mock us, and I moved away from those metropolitans because of their crime rates, community angst and the general frustrations of living in a city that broke its city pride into mini sections or boroughs.

 
 

To me, fractured city pride and invisible borough loyalty boundaries seem just as comedic in nature as any tale told from within the “Sunshine State”. Simply, just ask anyone from Queens what they think of someone from the Bronx and you quickly get the picture. For some wild reason, people from outside the South tend to grasp this section of Florida and have comedic nicknames for it’s cities like ” The City of the Newlyweds, and Nearly Deads “, “Redneck Junction” or even “The Geritol Ghetto”.

How is an area suppose to raise any form of positive respect when most folks outside this region do not show a hint of wanting to know the true essence of what normalcy is within Tampa Bay. They just know from the mindless treks and ill-fated journeys of relatives or friends who have wandered down to this alligator infested, Hurricane influenced handful of communities and spun their tall tales without regard to truth or factual integrity, and this region has suffered from it.

And I think I have been more than fair when I have read and even commented on columns and blog postings written by people outside this area of the country who have portrayed this particular Florida region for their ever-growing lack of financial or physical show of support by the surrounding communities to stand behind their Rays baseball team.

 
 

But that is also where I personally think so many have crossed that invisible line, and I want to go full bore on the offensive against them. Artillery, tanks and even maybe a air invasion by a legion of mosquitoes, but it would make no difference in their opinions. I have read articles and postings about how Tampa Bay will be soon losing their Major League Baseball squad teams to New Jersey or Connecticut and it produces another nerve twitching in my neck. It seems like an endless sea has opened up and swallowed this region whole after just one author seems to hit that magical “Enter” button.

For some reason this region goes from seemingly showing signs of being supportive to a Janet Jackson knock-off wondering “What have you done For me lately?”. This influx of negativity needs to be squashed for what it is……most of it is mumbo jumbo hearsay with no regard to the honest truth , and other seems to be a blanket test balloon sent out to see if a certain Northern community to test their constituents interest or even evoke future planning to evolve into multi-sports towns.

 

 
MattSolomon/Flikr.com 

But not all of the volleys have come from outside the Florida state lines. Some like the political landmines set by our regional neighbor, Orlando have set-up for itself along with the exploits of snake-oil salesman/politician Armando Gutierrez to boost his own political future by getting locals into a frenzy for Orlando to try and secure a MLB team via the establishment of their own Facebook page. That is not the total extent of the Orlando effort, but it is comedic that they are seeking 10,000 members before petitioning anyone with eyesight of their intentions to get credibility to their region too.

But I also find it a bit interesting that a majority of these same authors might not have even ventured within hundreds of miles of Tampa Bay unless it is for covering the Rays during a series, or even a family vacation. Florida is as foreign to them as Arizona or even a third world country. I just sometimes get sick and tired of constantly defending this region from attacks outside the region. I have to tell you that the image of this area being populated with country bumpkins or even being considered a backwater town is as insane as the possibilities of New York City sinking into the Atlantic Ocean.

But people outside of the state tend to gain a sense of tunnel vision when something bad happens in this region of Florida and the media dwells upon it even past a normal point of involvement. But then again the reality that for over 100 years, Major League Baseball teams have flocked to Tampa Bay to hold their monthly rituals of Spring Training, ever since Branch Rickey brought the Boston Browns to town so long ago.

 
 

 
BearspawCC.com


And the Spring Training homes of the past two World Series Champions are situated within the locales of Tampa Bay. But sometimes it simply amazes me just how fast and furious public opinion can head spiraling downward with just a simple mention of bad news and Tampa Bay in the same sentence. But how many people can tell me the original cities involved in the first commercially scheduled flight in the United States?

Sometimes I think that it is the general consensus superiority by some locales to always think they are better than other based on past events or even the city’s P R spin doctors who effectively propelling shots at their communities like darts off a wall, with minimal physical image damage and no collateral damage to their cities reputations or perceptions by outsiders. Guess I got to get used to some times being the “Redheaded Step-Child” of the United States with me always sounding off in my Southern drawl trying to fend off the sometimes obnoxious perceptions and views of other’s to my hometown area.

But I guess when you region is situated on a piece of land mass that protrudes from the bottom of the United States like a growth, and you then also live on a secondary out spurt of land mass, you have to sometimes just sit back and laugh too. But do not be secure in me smiling or even laughing for you forget, this collar does hide a redneck…just kidding (maybe).

 
 
 

Lone Pinellas Site Perfect for Rays Stadium

For years during my many roadtrips to and from Tampa, Florida back towards Pinellas County and St. Petersburg my eyes have always seemd to focus towards this dense and swampy parcel of land just outside my passenger window always questioning why some developer had not previously built something amazing on this prime real estate parcel.  And it simply astonished me that this parcel of tall grass was not being held vacant because of the salt water intrusion or the mangroves thickets lining the southern most edges of the parcel, but for some other cosmic solution. 

Sure I had seen a few scattered rental communities and office buildings spring up just off this uneven and water-soaked parcel, but even with the distant encroachment of modern civilization, this one huge pact of land has remained pretty consistant and dormant for several decades. And even as I stare quickly scanning this large parcel, my wild imagination used to rush a bit and tried to envision what could one day be built upon this land and maybe  become a welcoming beacon of this community to any traveler cruising Southbound on I-275 just beyond the Ulmerton Road and 9th Street exit ramps towards the hamlets of mid Pinellas County or St. Petersburg.

Why had this massive singular parcel with stood the rush of greed and money and had somehow been sparred by the decades of real estate speculation and explosions to remain clear and free of development? Had there been a wise or (hopefully) missed decision by someone stuck somewhere within an office building without windows to not build, sell or even excavate and level this lush green segment just off the southern tip of the Howard Franklin bridge. Was it held instead by a sly developer or real estate mastermind for the future, and an endeavor of great magnitude unforseen by the region’s citizens for so long.

Could someone had visualized so far into the past that this same parcel could one day  be the site of a great architectural symbol of this Florida region built upon its sandy soil and forever be known throughout the  baseball world for its construction on this very site? That it would house the benchmark in green technology and also embrace the surrounding mangroves and oyster beds to showcase that man and nature could co-exsist, even with the intrusion of sports just beyond the tide pools?

And maybe it was a blessing that finally on Monday, the A Baseball Community (ABC) coalition began to finally bring to light some of their year long discussions and meetings to finalize their detailed report to the local Tampa Bay communities on the future of  Major League Baseball and the Tampa Bay Rays franchise in this area. And it was real big surprise to me and maybe most of Tampa Bay, that two out of the three recommended locales for a stadium were within the confines of Hillsborough County.  

It really did not surpise me in the least that the lone plot of land even being considered for a recommendation by the ABC Coalition on the Pinellas side of the bridge was this lone sandlot of land that might have been held for just this purpose in hindsight. That the miracle that this plot did not go under the blades of a bulldozer or excavator before now is simple unimaginable to me. And for the sake of total honest here, this same parcel of soil was my personal choice for the building of a baseball stadium site back in the late 1980’s when the discussion first came up for the site of the then Florida Suncoast Dome/Thunderdome/Tropicana Field.

Finally it is so wild that this little preserved parcel of land might some day  might be considered to produce the centerpiece building or stae-of-the-art facility this region has been seeking for the Rays and this community as a whole for so long. And it is still a bit mindboggling to me that this parcel of land has stood the test of time and is still standing here, undeveloped and might just prove to be the perfect location to make both sides of the bay again embrace baseball with a open arms from both sides of the pristine blue Tampa Bay waters.

It is simply unimaginable that at this very location lies some great infrastructural groundwork already being done to improve the area’s roads and provide additional external ramps for future usage.  That this parcel might neeed a bit more subtle tweaking and upgrading compared to the other two sites to take on the extra burden of game day traffic and even ground transport to and from all points around Tampa Bay. This parcel of land sits smack in the middle of a ever growing section of Pinellas County that can support such a complex being built on this site, and should flourish beyond present expectations as both an entertainment center and transportation hub.

And  even the odd thoughts of reliable forms of alternative transportation options might have been done by accident in the past, but could prove a bright shining star to  showcase this parcel. Because of the local business district at Carillion Parkway, there is an already established Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) bus route that serves the surrounding neighborhood office complex/condo community to the west of this parcel of land that could be greatly expanded to ease the transportation burdens of fans or  might even be more fine tuned to the needs of the stadium complex.

Sure there will need to be additonal road construction or even off ramps or remote parking lots to take full advantage of the stadium, but they could be effectively designed to take the additonal stress off of  the usual I-275 traffic going towards other Tampa Bay regions. And I personally like the idea of a year round Convention Center being constructed on the parcel to help bring a burst of activity to the stadium year round.  But the biggest priority will have to be to build a great infrastructure supporting system to ease the demands by the I-275 traffic returning from Hillborough County at the 5 pm rush hour on game days.

And if you really want to look into the future about possible traffic solutions, maybe the PSTA and Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit Authority (HARTA) could combine or share some resources and produce a traffic alternative to bringing fans to Rays games from satellite parking lots or pre-destined pick-up locations throughout the Tampa Bay area. But because this parcel of land, to me, is so perfect for this future Rays stadium, my imagination is already running a mile a minute with ideas and future personal idea recommendations. Guess that is why they did not consider me for a post on the Coalition(lol).

And it is great to be finally have the ABC report coming out and we can get a bit of closure towards all of the ideas and proposals thrown up in the air over the last two years considering locations for a future home for the Rays. And it finally puts the obsurd idea of refurbishing Tropicana Field or even considering the distant Tampa Fair Grounds out as choices for final stadium consideration, and we can quickly move onto the three best locales.

And the Pinellas County choice is simply ideal as it is also situated within a critical epicenter of the cross-county area to give more access to Tampa residents and upper Pinellas and Pasco-Hernando county citizens, but might prove a bit of an added driving burden for people traveling north from Sarasota or Manatee Counties. But if it is a state-of-the-art stadium with all the bells and whistles to entice corporate America to expand their involvement and support with the Rays, then we are all going to be winners in the long run, not just the Rays.

This beautiful parcel of land was left in it’s present state for some reason. It has withstood the Florida construction booms to stay true and unbuilt upon for decades. Could this be the ultimate locale for the Rays future proposed stadium? Can we finally put to rest the echoes of discontent by the citizens of Tampa to their “bridge phobia” or the hour long commute to games and finally bridge this stadium location into a unified show of community support by the  Tampa Bay region on this one proposed site.

Next time you rush down Ulmerton Road on your way home from Tampa, look to the northwest and check out this parcel of land and see if you can see what I see…. A beautiful retractable roof stadium with a natural grass surface situated right off a main span of highway, but with a distant flickering lights of the downtown buildings surrounding Tampa Bay from the sight points on this tract of land.

This debate might be destined to go back and forth for the next few years with each side proclaiming some thin sliver of a slice of advantage to their location. But this location to me is perfectly suited to entertain the notion and the construction of a new masterpiece stadium for baseball. People soon forget that the first drawings of Tropicana Field had the stadium open to the elements on its southern side.

Instead it was enclosed and with Minnesota opening their new open-air stadium in 2010, the Trop will be the last of the totally domed stadium in Major League Baseball. So maybe it was  a sort of locale devine intervention that left  this parcel vacant for so long and loudly screams “baseball stadium” to me. And hopefully it will be heard loud and long enough for even the multitudes of Rays fans in both counties to conclude….This has to be the new home for Rays baseball.

Sunday Rewind: “Bat Changes…They are A-Coming”

 
 

 

Recently I wrote about the recent maple bat controversy and the possible moves and mandates by Major League Baseball to  try and better secure the safety of its fans and players in the future. With the advent of the maple bat came  previously unknown problems that baseball did not think would induce injuries or harm to their fan base or affect MLB field players with large shards of bat coming  directly at them during breakage.

After the increase in  both fan and player injuries and incidents in the last few seasons in connection with the maple bats, something had to be done before a real tragedy happened in the stadiums. The Frontier League took it upon itself to ban the maple wooden bats from league play until they could be made safer for everyone in the ballpark. Along with this same line, bat manufacturing companies and the MLB commissioned studies and inacted procedures to try and help eliminate a lot of the past problems with the maple bats.

MLB instituted a mandate that all types and styles of maple bats will be tested from time to time from today forward to check for unusual seepage and grain damage before they leave the  manufacturing plants and are delivered to any minor league or Major League player or team. If the bats are not deemed to be ” certified ” by the inspector at the manufacturing plant, then they will not be able to be used in a baseball game. This is just a first step by both the bat companies and MLB to try and unify to secure the safety of everyone within the stadium, and to again bring back confidence in the safety procedures used by teams and leagues around the game.
 

 

It is truly only the first step as the MLB scientists and bat company engineers and future development teams further try and discover and update bat designs and shapes to eliminate this current terror from the field. With further safety developments and new techniques. The bat producing factories and MLB will further study the upgrading of the current bat designs and institute mandates and rules to insure the safety of everyone around the game. But there are also private sector inventors’ outside the realms of the whole baseball community  who might some interesting solutions and innovative inventions that could also speed up the changes and revolution of the wooden baseball bat.
 

 

Inventors like New Jersey native Ward Dill, who is also a MIT graduate and designer of a bat that is said to be almost unbreakable by today’s baseball standards. Okay, so the wooden bat is not totally unbreakable per se, but it is guaranteed not to break, crack,or shatter in any form for an entire year, or Dill will replace it free of charge. What current MLB bat manufacturing company can or would back-up their product like that in a contract? Dill first invented this bat as an alternative to the current metal bats used in the college ranks and below, but with maple bats exploding all over the place, maybe it has other applications at the MLB level.
 
 


 


With the MLB never ever going to even consider the metal bat as an option ever, it gives a great wooden bat alternative to teams that have players who might be professional baseball projects right now to help them develop and fine tune their hitting skills for the next level, where wooden bats are the mandate. As stated before, this model wooden bat is guaranteed not to break, shatter or crack for an entire year, which on a minor league salary could be a blessing. This revolutionary maple bat consists of 12 wedges of wood bond by specially developed space age polymers and bonding adhesives and employing a unique clamping technique to help promote safety. 
 
 

The result is that it is very strong, and as a result of it being strong, it is safe.” Dill boasted at a news conference to promote his innovative wooden model bat. ” It is impossible for this maple bat to shatter in the way the maple bats shatter in the Major Leagues today. The worst thing that can happen is a crack.” To solidify his unique claims, Dill conducted an exhibition where he had a player taking his usual pre-game batting practice using just a single wooden bat. After performing a usual batting practice segment, the bat was examined and there were no cracks, or signs of wear and tear on the model. And most importantly, the bat did not break even after a change in grip and facing  the “sweet spot” of the bat into the area of the pitched baseball. 
 
 

The bat also plays upon the baseball like a traditional ash or maple wooden bat. A sweet spot on this bat is still a sweet spot. It also resonated with the same crisp sound upon impact that current bat models make with contact with a baseball. Dill currently has his wooden bat model out in independent sporting goods stores in the New Jersey, New York area. The bat would have to undergo extensive MLB testing before it can be released and approved for game use by any of the leagues minor league or major league clubs and players.
 


 

 
 

But that just might be the next step for this “bat of the future”, but to some people the price tag might seem high as the bat is currently on sale for about $ 100 dollars for an adult model. This would be a considered a luxury for most baseball players, but considering that most metal bats are going for way over that amount, it might be a bargain in the long run. Another fact to consider is that since it is guaranteed for one year, and breakage or defects found within that year will get that bat replaced without cost.

The usual bat prices for a wooden maple bat are between $ 50-75 dollars a bat. Considering you might need at least 12 extra bats per year, the saving are huge for a minor league or amateur player trying to learn to hit after years of using a metal bat for hitting.
 

 
Another inventor in the northeast also thinks he might have an additonal solution to the MLB increasing problem with a type of wood that is currently unavailable in the United States.  A retired History professor who still plays baseball in the amateur ranks, has an invention that could possibly eliminate the current bat breakage problem. George Preston is not your typical museum curator. He currently runs a small museum on 162 street in Harlem,New York, but his first true love is baseball. Even at 69, Preston still plays Rightfield and Second Base on his amateur fast-pitch baseball team.
 
 

But it might be his current invention of a type of wooden bat, made from a wood product unknown in America for current bat production that might be his greatest discovery. Preston began to notice in 2008 that bats were breaking in the Major Leagues  with more frequency than ever before. And with more MLB players having their bats made from maple instead of ash because of the insect attack in ash trees in North America by a wood-boring beetle, and the common fact most MLB hitters seemed to think that the maple manufactured bats produced a harder and lighter handling piece of lumber to use at the plate.

 

But maple bats are also have a tendency to be more brittle. Hitters have complained that their bats can sometimes simply explode on impact, even when the ball connects with the thickest part of the bat barrel. The result has sent players and fans ducking for cover in more games than you can imagine in the last few years. Preston, who had recently retired from teaching Art History at City College of New York in 2006, began looking towards the thord-world country of Ghana for trees and  a type of wood that could be used to make bats that wouldn’t break as easily, or splinter into shards or projectiles. He found a tropical hardwood tree that grew straight skyward and had the right weight and density to produce a quality wooden bat.


 

 


He then began to teach craftsmen in an Ghana village the art of how to spin the massive tree’s logs into bats and dry them in kilns, and now he currently brings home a load of bats after each trip to West Africa. He’s sold a dozen of them to players in his own league (they’re $90 each), and he uses one of his model himself every time he steps into the batter’s box. He’s applied for a patent for the design and hopes to have MLB test and ultimately approve his model for league play. Preston has used this type of wooden bats for several years and has mounting proof that the bats crack, but do not fall apart or even project dangerous shards like the current maple wooden bats. 

He even remarked that even when they do crack, they can still drive the ball into the field and do not just fall apart upon impact like some of the current maple models used in the MLB. Preston finishes each bat himself with a Danish clear varnish that give the bat a dark red tone. He then hand-stamps each bat with the same logo, ” Made In Mamfe-Ghana Baseball Ltd.”  and is enthusiastic about the Fine craftmanship and details that go into each bat, with the final inspection falling upon his own shoulders before he ships or delivers bats to local players or teams for use in games. 

“Major League Baseball needs to do something about all these bats breaking before something really bad happens,” Preston said. Preston held one of his bats on his shoulder  as he looked out over the Bronx, towards Yankee Stadium. “I’d like to sell these to one Major League club and let the battle with the fastball begin,” he said. “This bat would be great for Johnny Damon. Damon’s always breaking bats.”


 


 

 

So as we can see, America is starting to get more involved in the move to make the MLB ballpark safe again for everyone. People in all walks of like want to feel safe and secure when they enter and watch a baseball game. Until 2008, the people in the front rows and above the dugouts in baseball did not have much to fear except for the odd foul ball coming their way. But over the last few seasons, they have had a new reason to fear, and have to maintain constant field vision during MLB baseball games. MLB and the bat producing companies are doing more and more research and testing to secure the confidence in the public again to come out to the ballpark.
 
 
 

But it might be that lone design or invention somewhere out there in America that might finally produce a safer option and conclusive answer and final solution to this maple wooden bat controversy. Maybe it will be the independent baseball bat manufacturer/inventor who is currently scoffed at as a fluke or crackpot who finds a viable solution. Or maybe it will be someone like Wade Dill or George Preston who will develop a effective bat solution, then find themselves deep in involvement with MLB or another bat manufacturer and turn a present nightmare into a plausible secure dream of a safe haven at the ballpark for everyone who enjoys both playing and watching the great game of baseball.
 
 

 

Post Golf Classic Times at the Courtside Grille


               
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I stood there at 6 pm just chuckling while viewing one of the wildest sights of my life just coming into focus from the golf course. I had just gotten back  to the Bayou Club clubhouse area after going over to the post-celebration hot spot, the Courtside Grille, to help set-up some of the preparations for that nights Toby Hall & Friends Golf Classic awards presentation and silent auction event. And coming into focus was the wild pack of fastly approaching golf carts screaming at full speed towards our tiny segment of concrete at the final Check-In point.

It looked  more like a massive invasion of dark polo shirted special ops guys, minus the face paint, who had taken off just six hours earlier from this very spot. Between that moment there were chances to win a 2-year FREE lease on a brand new Range Rover with a Hole-in-One on the 16th hole, or a prize by winning the Closest To The Pin ball placement on Hole # 3.

And there was the extra bonus holes of beverage offerings and samples to mix with great conversation and tales of mishaps and great shots upon the golf course that afternoon.

But now just around the bend from the putting green, I could see a few golf carts playing an impromptu game of cart tag, but the mad adventure ended up with laughs and fond memories and no injuries or carts accidently finding the water or a sandtraps during a great day of golf.

I heard a great tale about how Murph, who most Rays fans know as one of the head security guys at Rays games trying to hit a ball off the edge of a sandtrap and ending up rolling head over heels into the sandtrap with the ball a few feet away.

Or of Classic golfer who had a set of furry golf club tops that looked exactly like the gopher from “Caddyshack” and also carried with him on the course an animated plastic Carl the Greenskeeper statue that played snippets and lines from the movie. And during this Scramble event, he was known to hit the red button and send a loud vocal message like “It in the hole!” just as his fellow pairing members were beginning their backswing or even putting.

I heard about a multitude of shots slicing or hooking with the impromptu wind gusts, but was glad to learn that there were no broken windows or extreme shots near pools or trees lining the golf course.

Instead I heard the echoes of plans and pleas to their fellow golfers’ to come out to the Courtside Grille for some 19th hole post-event fun and relive the great golf stories told by the other pairings in the tourney. I was standing at the epicenter of the conclusion of the physical part of the Toby Hall & Friend Golf Classic, and within thirty minutes, this same group of golfers would again converge and reconnect with a celebration of the day, and a fond rememberance of the windy drives, missed shots or unexpected birdie putts.
 

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There were pleads to some golfers to come out and have fun for a few hours, and others who eventually caved in and put on the red wristband and showed up to actually enjoy themselves laughing and conversing with the crowds at Courtside Grille. And for me it was another amazing chapter to this ever unfolding day.

I talked a bit with Matt Gieger, the former NBA star and one of the owners of the Courtside Grille, and he even remembered meeting me a long time ago when I was a Evening Independent Sports Correspondent doing High School Basketball games, including interviewing him  after a game at Countryside High School.

This golf classic provided me with an opportunity to reconnect with an old friend who I used to sit with in the Checker’s Bullpen Cafe for years shagging B P foul balls and actual Rays game balls. Keith and his girlfriend Rose actually introduced me to Tovy Hall for the first time. Keith was even featured as a caddy during a Rays commercial segment featuring Rocco Baldelli and the Happy Heckler a few years ago.

I learned that night that Rose’s son, Tommy will be working with Guy Gallagher in the Visitor’s Clubhouse at the Trop. during 2010, which should be an amazing opportunity for him to gain some valuable experience as he goes on to pursue a possible career in Sports Medicine.


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We reconnected while waiting for the Golf Classic to begin in the clubhouse, and he called another mutual friend of ours, Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi, who was now sporting some new chin hairs up to Courtside Grille for some of the post event fun. Cursi told me about his recent wedding and honeymoon down in the Carribean and how amazingly warm and a perfect setting to get away from baseball and the cold streak Florida was hit with back in early December 2009.

Got a chance to talk with Rays reliever Dan Wheeler about his 2-week vacation to Italy this off season and how it was an experience beyond words and the ultimate trip of his life. Got another opportunity to chat with ex-Rays fan favorite Jorge Cantu, who just got a nice raise from the Marlins about his excitement over his team’s chances and that he should be with the then Miami Marlins when they play their first game in that new retractable roof stadium and finally put an end to those dastardly rain delays that had become commonplace in past Marlins contests.

I talked a bit about the city of Seattle with new Mariner’s First Baseman Casey Kotchman who was traded to Seattle this off season and is really looking forward to playing in Safeco Field because of his past success playing in that stadium. We also chatted about his time in Boston and playing in historic Fenway Park before getting back to the wide variety of dining options in Seattle like the Metropolitan Grille, the great abundance of fresh seafood,or a simple late night breakfast adventure at Beth’s Cafe.

And with our talk, I began to miss these types of events and the great times associated with them that I  sometimes used to frown upon in my football past.

I had a few years of doing a lot of charity fundraising activities when I was playing football, but I was not an avid golfer beyond a little putt-putt, and that put a crimp in the  social fabric of spending times like these with some of my fellow players back in the late 80’s and 90’s.

But I still contributed to events and went to other events featuring billards or bowling tourneys. But now I really regret becoming distant and unattached over the last several years and missing the great times playing or even attending fundraising tournaments set-up by fellow players for their charities or foundations.

The night was filled with great moments like the announcement that boxer Winky Wright and Jorge Cantu’s pairings won First Place in their respective golf flights at the days event. With both groups hooping and hollering for a re-match between the two pairings for total supermacy. 

After the presentation, it was onto the fun business of an vocal auction for a pair of celebrity-signed Cornhole boards made just for the Golf Classic. I got to admit, I had never seen these types of boards up close before today, but I am going to figure out how to construct a pair of my own very soon.

If you have not seen them, they are a set of two wooden  rectangles with a circle cut out in them for a beanbag to fall through. I had seen them on television at Ohio State and Gator tailgating parties before games, but had never been brought into “the culture”  of the Cornboard before that night.


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 Toby Hall served as the Master of Ceremonies and Auctioneer, and he began first by thanking everyone involved in the Golf classic and gave out the plaques to the Golf Classic winners. Then began the bidding auction of a Cornhole board set. Each board piece had the identical signature of every celebrity participants of the golfing event in black Sharpie upon its flat surface. The bidding started at $ 250., but quickly rose higher and higher as the adrenaline began to build in the room.

There was one guy, who was a member of one of the pairings basically bidding against one athlete on the other side of the bar wanting that signed Cornhole treasure. Back and forth they both went until finally at that golden $ 500. threshold, the bidding quickly ended, and the excited winner bounced triumphantly up to claim his new prize.

The funniest part of it all is that his wife was more excited than he was to win it, and was screaming and jumping up and down kissing the board and him simultaniously as he paid for the item. I actually did bid on one of the silent auction items, a set of GH Mumm’s champagne glasses that would go great with my signed 2008 Rays Playoff signed champagne bottle. Sure I got something that will add to my  ever-expanding clutter of Rays stuff, but I also wanted to somehow give something back after spending such a great day with some great athletes.

The true winner of the night was the Miracle League of Florida who got the proceeds of this Golf Classic to help build a state-of-the-art field in Hillsborough County. I learned that night that there are currently 100 Miracle League fields completed in the United States, and another 100 are currently under construction and the league now serves over 80,000 chldren and young adults with disabilities a chance to enjoy the game of baseball.

And the Miracle League has a awesome overall goal of establishing 500 fields and expanding to help over 1.3 million  league members around the world enjoy  the thrill of baseball and some physical interaction with fellow players. I love their organization’s motto: “Every Child Derseves A Chance to Play Baseball”.


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As the night drew to a close, the same wild man who had been such a whirlwind of activity on the golf course had some how commandeered the use of a digital camera and was taking expose’ photos of the crowd of guests lining the bar area and the surrounding tables. With his vocal pleas of “Work it girl” or “Show me sassy” he brought the event back to an instant state of reality that we were celebrating a fantastic day and forming some great memories to tell again and again during the season.

But it will be moments like this being told in clubhouses all over MLB that will garner extra exposure and attention to the Toby Hall & Friends Golf Classic and hopefully lead to expanding the field in the coming years. The players going back to their respective teams talking about this event will bring it to gain more prestige in the coming years.

I want to thank Toby Hall and Tracey Ringstaff for letting me get close with some old friends and helping out during this great event. I truly forged some great memories that day/night. I  learned after I got home about Hall’s deal with Texas, but I know he would rather remember that night as a celebration for the Miracle League, and not about his Rangers signing.

Showing local support for the charities/foundations of our athletes is very important in this time of economic struggles. The usual revenue resources have begun to stretch extremely thin and the numbers and amounts of contributions some times trickle down slower and prolong the goals of these events. but events like this Golf Classic help re-establish a network of helping other organizations and leagues within our local communities. 

                              
                                   
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I ask only of you that the next time you come to a baseball game and a group of anxious kids in baseball jerseys asks for a single dollar donation, please give to them so they can enjoy playing this great game. So you might have to drink a medium instead of a large drink…It is no biggie, but to that group of kids, it could be the difference in going to an out-of-state baseball tournament or staying home and missing out on a lifetime adventure, or a character building moment…..

I guess the Toby Hall Golf Classic got me to remember that even a small amount of time volunteering, or even change from my car ashtray can build to fulfilling dreams and goals…. and that might be the best treasured moment from this event for me.

2010 Toby Hall & Friends Golf Classic

 

                                      
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Have to say I had a more than a fantastic time yesterday during the 2010 Toby Hall Golf Classic. Saw a lot of old baseball friends, and met a few new ones during the event and the social times later at the awards presntation and silent auction at the Courtside Grille. It is funny how I was just standing there helping both the participants and the celebrities get their correct size Addias shoes for the event, and so many people just seemed so glad to see me at the event. And that what makes that day an instant classic memory.
People were fast to extend their hand for a handshake or do a little chatting with me about a multitude of subjects before heading out for a round of golf. I felt like I belonged yesterday in that environment, and I thank everyone for that. But then again, I never been known to be a isolated hermit and I do tend to be a bit too outgoing at times.

But there were also some people missing that I had hoped to check up on and see how things were going with them, but they had to take a “rain check” on the event because of some great news and unexpected events. Within the first few minutes I learned that ex-Rays slugger Jonny Gomes was going to miss the classic because he had just joined the exclusive “Dad’s Club” after having a baby girl. And that former Ray Rocco Baldelli was going to to miss the event after some travel fatigue following his recent trip to Europe.

And  that Rays centerfielder B J Upton, who also has his own golf event this week was actually  currently up in New York filming a segment on the MLB Network that is  making the video rounds on the Internet today. But also former WWE wrestler and Rays fanatic Brian Knobs was also AWOL for the event because of scheduling conflicts. But the classic also had some very familiar faces to local Tampa Bay fans such as World Champion boxer Winky Wright and former players of the Tampa Bay Bucs like Mike Alstott, Anthony Becht,Matt Bryant, and Matt O’Dwyer. 

           
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Current Bucs players Clinton Smith, Kevin Carter and Sheldon Quarles also came out to support the classic which was working closely with the Miracle League of Florida to raise $ 250,000 to help construct a state of the art facility in Hillsborough County(Tampa area) for physically challenged kids to get the opportunity to enjoy the game of baseball. But mostly it was the Major League Baseball contingency, that included a lot of local home grown MLB talent coming out to support the cause and to have a great round of golf with their fellow MLB players. 

And the Rays had several players come out and show support like Dan Wheeler,Andy Sonnanstine(who was late, but got into speed mode and completed the course),and James Shields. The Rays Coaching staff also had golfing fanatic (Third Base Coach) Tom Foley out representing the Rays staff. Former Rays players showed up and support their former Rays catcher in his foundation’s drive to help the Miracle League of Florida reach their goal.

Former Rays players like Trever Miller (Cards),Miguel Cairo, Jorge Cantu (Marlins) Chuck Hernandez (Coach), and retired Rays players like Doug Creek, Roberto Henandez and Jason Romano were all on hand to play in the Scramble format classic. Local baseball talents like pitcher Jesse Litsche (Toronto),Casey Kotchman (Seattle),Boof Bonser ( Boston), Gavin Floyd (Chicago White Sox), Denard Span (Minnesota). Also in attendance was a excited and totally gung ho Yankee prospect pitcher Christian Garcia that was loving the day on the Bayou Club Golf Course even with it wild conditions. 

       
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The media was also not forgotten as local radio host Fisher and the Rays own Todd Kalas were on-hand to show that the Rays voices in the poressbox and on the air waves were also represented in the classic. Former MLB players Darnell Coles and Casey Cox  were also playing for the great cause. And during the event I found out that Romano had actually retired and was now working closely with Speed Gel, which is a cream that can help reduce inflamation, help heal injuries and relieve  common musle pain.

But Span, who doesn’t play golf, actually stayed in the clubhouse and we spoke on a always expanding round of subjects, some not baseball related. Span actually chuckled when I mentioned where I sat and remembered me and how persistent I was to get his autograph. Always a compliment if a fan can leave an impression on a player. Well, I think so. 

I asked Span about the new Twins digs set to open up this Spring, and we both were in agreement that the turf might be rough until May before it has some give and take while playing on it. He also acknowledged that the Twins might lose some homefield advantage for a few homestands until they also got to know all the nooks and crannies of playing this new stadium. But I also found out he also played football as a wide reciever before he was drafted into the MLB. Span actually laughed when I told him I took the football route and should have picked baseball.  

And it was a great day on the links and in the clubhouse getting to know Span and other golfers’ in between holes chatting about the game and  things outside the game. And even if the day did stay a bit blustery with huge wind gusts, it was  a great event I will never forget. From the  game of cart tag near the end of the event, to the congestion of golf carts at the check-in point where everyone seemed more than happy to stay around  and talk or make post-classic plans at Courtside Grille, the day just seems to fly by in no time and the classic was over
on the links for 2010.

And I have to say I have not volunteered for  a golfing event since I used to help out with the Emerald Coast Golf Classic (Senior PGA) up in Milton, Florida. But I would be more than willing to give time and my energies to events like this anytime and anywhere. Sure I might have started out just being the guy who help get everyone in their Addias golf shoes, but by the end of the day, I was part of the great day and wild times that will live on inpictures and conversations. 

                  
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And that is what these events are really all about. Letting go and just enjoying the day and the wide variety of athletes chasing a small white ball and bringing a possible life changing moment to children of the Miracle Leagues of Florida to experience teamwork and being teammates while enjoying playing baseball themselves.

Several times that day Hall made sure to come by and thank me for my time, but in reality I did not need thanks, I was more than happy to give what I could to this former Rays that I  will always consider a “baseball buddy”. Hall is the type of player I would give up almost anything to help him achieve his goal, or get that dollar amount for his cause.

 
So hopefully in 2011, I can again get a call or email from his foundation, and I will be more than eager to help out a “buddy” reach the ultimate goal for his foundation. Oh, and Toby, I am the one who needs to thank you for such a great off the field memory that I will cherish forever.

Upton is heading to Arbitration Avenue

 


Chris O’Meara/AP

As I  could hear the bell chimes ringing from the old church near near Williams Park in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, at high noon, you know that the echoing sound  could also be heard in the Rays front office on the third floor of Tropicana Field and provided a nice musical end the team’s revolving series of conversations with their remaining arbitration eligible player centerfielder B J Upton.

For it was now time for the Rays organization to regroup and prepare for their next meeting between them and Upton and his representation at his arbitration hearing. It was time for both parties to again refocus on the future where a single mediator will decide the future dent made by Upton in the Rays 2010 payroll. And at this time you can envision that there will be no winner in this round of talks, the Rays have a distinctive advantage going into this final round of discussions about Upton’s possible 2010 salaries.
 

And I kind of thought the arbitration situation might ultimately pan out this way only a few short weeks ago. Sure there was a chance that the Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman might have extended a multiple year scenario and salary figure to Upton’s camp, but in reality, he was always the one player who might have been banking on going through with arbitration during the entire unfolding of the process. Upton might have been the one Rays player who thought it was his time to be heard in private about his worth to this franchise…..And now he and his representative will get that chance sometime this Spring.
 

And some people call this entire arbitration mess more like taking a load of your potential future earnings to Las Vegas and playing a single hand of Blackjack, but never being able to doubling down, or even slightly predict the outcome  before the cards hit the table. And you have to admit it is always a crap shoot that your production numbers and potential earnings would mesh perfectly so that this process could be avoided at all costs. You end up put your  total expected earnings amount up for grabs and hope that the mediator finds your figures satisfactory and in-line with your request.

But you always  like your chances and gamble that the last minute paperwork to flow off that fax machine could  be acceptable to you as it was the the last communication from the Rays after their team imposed high noon deadline. And because the Rays have enjoyed a stellar arbitration track record (3-0) in hearings since Stuart Sternberg took over the team, you would think the “house” has the strongest chance to win here. 

The whole process is not made any easier in the fact that Friedman is getting comfortable in his Rays role in this arbitration process by using his risk managment style scenarios with  pin-point percision and submitting the right collection of statistics based on comparative peer player performances to end up  snatching  large amounts of moolah away from you as you stare blindly at him as Friedman sits at the other end of the table.



And it is not personal, it is business, the Rays business model in fact, to secure the lowest salary rewards to fine-tune and effectively reduce payroll and give some breathing room to the organization heading into the Spring Training reporting dates. Friedman has chiseled his own path to financial victory in all three of his prior arbitration hearing over his four seasons with the Rays. And that might make it seem  more like a “no-win” situation for Upton, but he is also left standing alone with a better performance based situation for a nice raise in pay than former Rays catcher Josh Paul, who fell victim in two of Friedman’s four past arbitration hearings. 
 

         
          RRCollections


You would think that the Rays would consider Upton is one of the face’s of their Rays 2010 team and placed  somewhere front and center in a collage on the cover of the Rays Season Ticket Information folder given out in December 2009. But the funniest thing happened here in the fact that the top four pitchers in the Rays rotation grace the cover of that folder, and not long time stalwarts Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford or even the arbitration eligible B J Upton.

Upton was the only player who I realistically thought was headed to his first arbitration setting long time before the Rays team imposed deadline. And both parties might have made some headway in their negoiations with the Rays before high noon, but the deadline passed without Upton batting an eye. As most of the long time Rays fans know, since Upton has been up with the Rays at the Major League level, he has let his  Major League contract be renewed automatically with a small raise every season before 2010, and Upton has not been open to public discussions about any multi-year salary extensions since the long gone era of ex-Rays General Manager Chuck LaMar reign over 5 seasons ago.

It might be a bold move, and one that might have to be calculated closely as Upton will submit his first arbitration numbers to the Rays at some point today. I think Upton will be seeking a huge increase in salary considering his 2009 $ 435,000 salary was sandwiched closely between Garza and Howell’s 2009 salaries, and both could get sizeable increases for 2010. This will be the first chance for Upton to get his significant increase, and I could see him submitting a number around $ 3.5-3.75 for 2010 season.

Upton is the one member of this season’s Rays arbitration class that was not going to give a local discount to the Rays, or even consider an extension before getting his first chance before an arbitration mediator this Spring. But sometimes a situation like this can back-fire on a player and it can get pretty messy if personal feeling get twisted during discussions. With some members of the Rays Republic and even the media thinking that this could finally be Upton’s break-out season, this series of salary negoiations might be critical to his survival as a member of the Rays.


Mike Carlson/AP

But then again, it could be a nice tactical situation by Upton to just see how important the team think he is to their future, and his position with the team in their future. I think his refusal to discuss his salary away from a mediator at a arbitration hearing has nothing to do with respect.  But it will certainly be a war of wrds and sharp minds backed up by volumes of pages of statistics and future output projections both met and missed by Upton over the past two seasons that could decide this issue.

Not playing at all into this he
aring will be that nice shiny American League Championship ring upon Upton’s finger as he  personally stepped it up a notch during the 2008 playoffs. But what is sure to surface is his step backwards in production after his shoulder situations in 2009, and his presumed attitude problems while playing in games. I can definitely see this hearing getting personal at times, and it might end up becoming a clear indication of the Rays hopes and Upton’s future plans with the team. The Rays could go hard on the megative factors in this hearing, or just sit and wait and see if Upton toots his horn a bit too loud, then come in and crash the party.

The funny thing about arbitration hearing is it should be about the player in relationship to his contributions on and off the field to his team. And should be a showcase to shop his ability to step up and and take it to another notch for his team, which would equal a request for an increase in salary. But most of the time it is a room full of lawyers and accountants with a pile of papers arguing for or against a matter as if in ta court of law. 

Upton should play a major role in the Rays  success during the 2010 season. He could end up being saddled with a salary that Upton doesn’t totally agree with, but still produce a stellar season and prove without a doubt he deserve some substancial coinage during his next arbitration round in 2011. But the reality of it all is that if Upton sees his arbitration salary as a  Rays power play and as a way for management to control him, he could produce either a break-out season or have another bust season and possibly be gone by the July Trade deadline.

But there is always hope. The Rays thought Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett ($4 million),Rays starter Matt Garza ( $ 3.35 million) and reliever J P Howell ($ 1.8+incentives) might be all heading also towards arbitration  before all three candidates agreed to contracts  in the last 24 hour period. Their multiple phonecalls and faxes ended up with a series of deals that please both the players’ and the Rays front office.

So the Rays last minute dealings have cut the field to one lone survivor and they no longer intend to try and convince Upton to see it their way. And with Upton basically announcing he will submit his numbers, the arbitration clock stops ticking for 2010. And with it last tick, it makes Upton the lone Ray player to step into the mediator’s office during the 2010 Spring Training. 

And the worst part is that all the information and all the number floating up at that meeting will have nothing to do with Upton the person, but be totally about Upton the team employee being considered for a huge fiscal upgrade. It will not be about handshakes or even hugs after winning key games, it will be about business, and that is something Friedman and his crew of fiscal mercenaries are pretty good at……..or so Upton will find out soon enough.

   

Red Bull= Possible Red Flag as Stimulant

 



                   
                       Www.Waldboth.at/

There has been an ever increasingly dangerous activity rising amongst the Major League Baseball community over the past several seasons. MLB has been actively very proactive during recent years to try and remove the toxic stimulants and addictive presence of chemicals that can cause harm to its stable of athletes. But there is  still one group of stimulants in the beverage form, that they have thrown a blanket over and cosidered them safe enough to excluded from their list of banned recently substances since 2006. And maybe because of this items high commercial profile, this addictive stimulant beverage has been left totally alone and  just might be the stimulant of choice by MLB players right now.

And I know firsthand all about the increasing battle as I was an active battle participant during their ever increasing FREE samplings and the multiple public ingestions of this addicitve products for so long as a Pepsi salesman. But in recent years, I have seen more and more MLB players and staffers beginning to show a more addictive reaction by ingesting more and more of this product, amd sometimes in plain sight of kids and their parents attending MLB games. And since these same players are the positive examples that our kids look up to, could that shiny tin can buldging out of their back pockets be an invitation to our kids to also sample the beverages and wanting more for themselves?

And I personally did not have the adequate information on the dangers of what I was selling to the public and promoting to teams like the Tampa Bay Rays while with Pepsi. I was even so naive enough about the possible side effects of the product to provide FREE cases of the product to members of the team wihtout hesitation. I always knew that someday I might get a high jolt of reality  that would bring me back my senses  and the real life consequences that the beverage I was peddling might be doing more harm than good. But that is how it is with most salesmen right? We sell things without regard to the future effects.

I knew some of the potential dangers, as they were told to me via the Pepsi promotional materials, but these same pamphlets did not include any scientific information about the chemicals contained in that small can. And yet I still sold the product without a moments hesitation, not knowing the actual nutritional value of the beverage was a shallow shell, and that possible side effects could someday pose difficult health situation for the consumer.

And to be totally honest, I might have sampled a total of two cans in my lifetime as I did not need that “rush” of energy or boost of power as I am normally high strung and these beverages just took me to the state of jitters and nervous energy. But then again, the first group of salesmen to condone the sales of Coca Cola might not have been privvy to the true contents of their high volume beverage, or the honest fact of the extent of traces of cocaine swirling around in that 8 ounce bottle either.

But that should be no justification for myself or other salesman to promote a product with  an unknowing zeal. I should have done some side research into the product, and not let the company’s common justification/belief system bounce around in my noggin that as consenting adults, we all know the possible risks of what we were doing when we purchased this drink, and took on the full boat of responsibility of any future suffering from the ill effects, or lifetime health pricetag we might pay for our beverage addiction. 

                 
                    Www.cartoonstock.com

But the one segment that I might have used my personal tunnelvision on was seeing the multitudes of kids who were steadily watching these same role models and athletes down a 20 ounce can in a single gulp and then go back to playing the game a few moments later. Lost somewhere in translation in my mind was the fact that kids also idolized these players, and if they drank Red Bull or another brand of energy drink, then maybe they should too. MLB took steps in 2006 to outlaw a huge segment of stimulants, but this one beverage has been on the stimulant frontlines for a long time with no opposition from the league.

I have to say I am in total opposition to this beverage ever setting foot in plain sight again  anywhere on a MLB field. I do not want to personally see these cans being drained into a Gatorade bottle by a player sitting in the Bullpen, then sucked down like a energy cocktail within eyesight of young kids. I would like these drinks hidden from view or eliminated from the field of play, or outside the clubhouse as a secondary stimulant that could cause harm to our fine tuned athletes, or  used to promote their use by our children. I hate to say it, but in this case, “Out of sight, out of mind” might be the best formula.

Granted, I know that MLB will not eliminate these beverages totally from the game, but their inclusion on benches or within sight of the fans and the kids in attendance should be stopped right now. And that is why I feel that the energy drink industry could potentially be the next level of stimulant disaster for the Major Leagues. For it is the energy beverage of choice in the MLB’s clubhouses and Bullpens and is a stimulant that promotes only a short-term rush of instant energy, but can also bring about a increasing level of addiction to the instant rush of the beverage as it flows through the body. And maybe it has taken this long for me to get the courage to consult and advise the fans and some of the ears around baseball about these potentially dangerous beverages.

And the worst part is that some of the beverage companies like Red Bull actually furnish their products FREE by the caseloads to teams like the Rays for consumption before, during and after games. And the availiability of these beverage within an arms length only  increases their level of consumption. Lost in all of this is the  quick letdown and fatigue factors that follow the massive consumption, and the odd bodily sensations experienced after the effects of the beverage  start to wear off.

It is easier for an ex-salesmen like me to preach to you the bold taste an
d boost of energy you get from these chemical mixtures and forget the fact it is providing a mish-mosh concoction of good and bad chemicals within this single beverage to put into our bodies, and sometimes abused by excess in large quantities.
This is a part of my old saleman’s position I do not hold in high regard. I sometimes felt like an old snakeoil salesman on the plains of the Old West. For I did not think of the possible reprecussions or possible adulation of the kids under 18 also screaming and wanting this beverage because they saw so and so drink one on the bench or before a baseball game.

I learned a long time ago as an athlete myself that I can not trust everything told to me or given to me as a “helping agent”. I had to do some of my own “legwork” in the past because I wanted to be responsible as an adult and potential role model to people who saw me use a product. I have to admit, I am a huge Dr. Pepper addict, and that same basic additive of Caffiene is also a huge component of every energy drinks. But I also know that a single small can of Red Bull or AMP has about a 8-packs worth of sugar and caffeine nestled within that 20 ounces of golden fluid.


BassplayerKeithHall@Flickr.com

Small eyes of our kids see everything that happens on a MLB field, or just beyond it. And the constant influx of people on ads joyfully enjoying a jolt of energy from these drinks or the one-gulp tasting swigs of this product bring about  truth problems for our younger growing fans. Energy drinks are made for the basic stimulation of our adrenal glands to produce extra energy and open our blood vessels to circulate more oxygen throughout our system.

But when is the price is too much to feel that rush or boost of energy for that brief segment in time. Energy drinks are currently legal in every MLB ballpark, even in the stadium bars as additive to our cocktails. But shouldn’t someone really look long and hard into these beverages and see if their addictive and short-term “highs” might be damaging more than just the athletes bodies… they might also be harming our future fan base? I think so, but then I used to “push” this product for a living, so can you even trust my words here?

Sunday Rewind: “Maple Bats are a Major League Problem”

 

   

 

 


The distinctive crack made by contact of a Major League baseball striking the surface of a wooden bat at a baseball game is one of the purest, and richest sounds to hear echoing throughout the stands during a game.  It can be one of the simple reasons we come to the games, to hear that blast of power upon the wood propelling that white sphere deep into the day/night with a  fighting chance for a Home Run.

That same crackling sound of the bat is evolving into a beehive of opinions and safety discussions in the hallways and lockerrooms among Major League Baseball. It has set up a false menagerie of potential actions and mis-guided precautions to  try and keep fans, players, and even the umpires safe from a new menace that is beginning to plague the game of baseball. 
 

 

Some have called for action concerning this plague, while others think it is just the ever expanding revolution of the modern game and its  feable equipment. And some are led to believe that in-house measures are being done to correct the presumed dangers and possible injuries from it’s creation. Some think that  slugger Barry Bonds  might have ushered in this evolving revolution and took it to the center stage after his  home run hitting display several years ago.

It is the opinion of many that the extra power and  long distance hitting ability that Bonds got out of his own series of maple bats might have been the first public recognition that power hitting might have evolved beyond our present generations hitting materials. But at what cost do we make those  revolutionary changes, and do we expand into other woods or even grainy materials for our future solutions?

Do we endanger our kids and even ourselves while seeking these answers, or do we go about our “business as usual” until a horrific accident happens or a player is impailed on live television before a change is addressed with vigor. Do we put the burden of our protection upon the highly paid players to know what is right and wrong,and do we personally have the right or the audacity to hold them strictly accountable if disaster does occur with that instrument of hitting in their hands.

 

 

Here is a short story I heard a while back from a news wire service like the Associated Press that might open all of our eyes wide and make use take a more concerned pont of reference that we, as fans, might be on borrowed time here if we sit within 150 feet of Home Plate during any level of organized or professional baseball. The incident occured during a Class-A game in Modesto California, a hitter for the Modesto Nuts swung at a pitched ball and cracked his maple bat into several flying shards during a line drive. 

A baseball team’s crowd normally would have followed the flight of the hit ball as it fell into left-center field for a single, and they would have been oblivious to the fact that the projectile from the spinning end-over-end shard of the broken maple bat as it headed towards the stands. Most fans would have never even thought of trying to catch a glimpse of the 24-inch, 26-ounce projectile that was hurdling towards a group of eight kids sitting in the front row at John Thurman Field on that play. But the would have been alarmed to see that the bat ended up cradled in the permanent netting that surrounds the seating area just behind home plate.

The kids sitting directly beyond the netting were severly frightened by the incident, but no worse the wear, and were quickly chanting again for their ball club. But what was more amazing is that the game’s crowd did not follow the ball, but that bat shard during its complete flight until it got caught in the netting. Most of the fans in attendance did not even know it dropped in for a single until after the entire event unfolded.

 

 
 

 

 

So you have to wonder what the bigwigs at Major League Baseball are doing to prevent a accident, or even a possible death from a bat shard hitting a body  during a game. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and his appointed MLB’s 16-member Health and Safety committee met for the first time on June 24, 2008 to discuss just this kind of destructive force that has entered the baseball world.

But why did it take so long for the obvious to become a immediate problem for baseball? Did the panel sit idle until the April 15,2008 game at Dodger Stadium when Pittsburgh Pirate Hitting Coach Don Long was cut through his left cheek by a shard of bat off his own hitter Nate McLouth. Or maybe ot took an incident against long time MLB Umpire Brian O’Nora, who was slashed across the forehead by a bat shard during a Kansas City Royals game in the same season.

O’Nora was removed from the game after a large gash appeared on his forehead, but the injuries were treated and O’Nora was released later that night from an area hospital later that night, but you got to remember, as an Umpire, he was wearing some pretty well designed protective gear and still got injured by the explosion with that defective maple bat.
 

 

Or maybe it was when it got close and personal to one of the MLB team owners  during a regularly scheduled game that the danger multiplied instantly. During an Arizona Diamondbacks game on May 15th, Diamondback CEO Jeff Moorad saw a piece of Rockies hitter Matt Holiday’s bat come within a few feet of him and slam into the railing right next to him. Or could it have been the highly televised on camera episode and injury sustained by Los Angeles fan Susan Rhodes during a Los Angeles Dodger home game. 

 

 
 

 

 

On April 25th, Rhodes decided to attend a Dodger game with a group of friends and was sitting only four rows up from the dugout when Colorado First Baseman Todd Helton came to the plate. Helton,who uses a maple bat, swung on a pitch from Dodger reliever Cory Wade and the ball was struck cleanly on the surface of the bat, but the maple bat exploded upon impact and sent a shard directly into the stands in the eaxact location of Rhodes.

 

Rhodes was watching the play as the hit ball fell into centerfield and did not see the bat shard tomahawking towards her in time to ward off its impact with her face. When she finally regained consciousness, she immediately asked her friends what had happened to her.The Dodgers game day staff alertly dispatched paramedics to her side and took her to an on-site medical facility for evaluation.

Once stabilized, the on site medical staff offered to give her a ride to a local hospital Emergency Room, but she quickly declined, and wanted to seek medical attention from her personal doctor closer to her home in Sherman Oaks, California. It was at her local doctors that a CAT scan revealed that she suffered two seperate jaw fractures, one on the upper-left side, where the bat struck her, and the other in the lower right-side, where the force reverberated through her facial tissue. 

After three agonizing days to relieve some of the swelling, she underwent surgery to repair the damage and upon completion of the surgery, had her jaw wired for her protection and for a quicker response time for the healing of the injury. A post script to this disaster is that Helton was not even using his own bat, he had borrowed one from Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki before heading to the plate during that game.

Could Helton’s only error in this situation be the fact he was using a bat that might not have been to his usual specs and he might have found the accidental “soft-spot” on that bat, or could it just be as simple as Helton was not accustom to swinging that weight and length of bat, and the extra torque of the hit might have caused the bat to shatter?

 
 

 
 
Now this brings about a fine line about the always present dangers of attending a baseball game. Rhodes was considering legal action, but after finding out that the Dodgers insurance carrier will not cover  a single penny of her medical bills due to that famous paragraph hidden on the back of every MLB game ticket.

But that leaves the unanswered question if the assumed ticketholder then takes on the entire risk of attending the game and possibily being a situation where the actions of a MLB player using a bat or thrown/hit ball that can bring about the possible harm and damage to anyone sitting or standing in the stadium that day. Warnings are printed in black and white on the back of game day tickets and numerous signs are usually posted throughout the seating bowl to specify that bats as well as balls are dangers to spectators.

 
(Sign posted in Tropicana Field as you come up the stairs towards Section 138) ” PLEASE BE ALERT TO BATS AND BALLS ENTERING THE SEATING AREA. PLEASE DO NOT INTERFERE WITH BALLS IN PLAY. VIOLATORS ARE SUBJECT TO EJECTION”).

The real problem here is, the less attentive fans- those watching the flight of the ball- that become “sitting ducks” for the possibility of maple bats spinning off into their direction. Yet, in terms of whether a bats or ball are equal in terms of risk to spectators, a local Ohio court attempted to conduct a viable legal determination on the case brought by a woman hit during the 1998 playoff game between the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees in then Jacobs Field. 
 

 

That brings up another subject here, can a legislative body take it upon itself the try and force or enforce actions to extend or even mandate that a certain area of the ballpark be screened in for the protection of it’s local constituents. Legislators could conceivably pass nonsense binding legislation that will require a facilities upgrades, but such an effort and cost would be stymied by about 100 years of possible case laws siding with owners of the baseball team, and not the government or fans requests. 

Because of the “limited-duty” rule, the ball park owners need to only protect fans in the areas of the ballpark where injuries are “most likely to occur”, and do not need to expand those screens or netting beyond a position that would be deemed “safe” by their own appointed experts.

 
 

 
 
This old rule might be  a bit outdated since this rule was established before the advent of the more “lively” baseball after the 1920’s. The possible effects of continuing development and power producing ability of today’s hitters combined with changes in basic baseball equipment (maple bats) and the overindulgence of the five senses during games from the increasing scoreboard noise to crowd induced items like cowbells seem to add to the notion that the typical fan’s attention regularly gets take away from the action on the field.  And the combination of some or all of these present game day elements make today’s stadiums more dangerous than the venues of the past.
 
 

It is said that in 2008 about 65 percent of all Major Leaguers use exclusively maple bats during the season. It is said that 52-55 percent of the bats made by Louisville Slugger for the MLB players in 2008 were maple. People within the industry have said that if the maple bats are dried correctly and designed with precision, that the standard maple bat should last a long time.

But what can be done to make sure the drying process is not skipped, or that the bats not subject to high humidity or extreme temperature changes after they leave the producing company’s job site. Does the bat endure as well if it is shipped from a cold locale to a hot and humid location like a Spring Training site? 

Do we maybe have to install bat humidors in a large scale like a cigar humidor in every Major League clubhouse and only pull out two bats at a time for game day to use in the dugout and leave the rest to their humidity rejuvenated hotbox?
 

 

People around baseball have said that a horrendous and maybe deadly encounter with a maple bat might happen in the near future. Is baseball and its players playing a bad game of Russian Roulette with themselves and their fellow teammate and the fans. Or will the industry become more safety-oriented and begin to redesign or re-manufacture the prototypes of the next generation of maple bats with more safety in mind.  At the June 24,2008 MLB Health and Safety committee meeting, the bat manufacturers were not invited to attend the meetings. the MLB 16-man panel wanted to establish parameters before heading deep into the issue.

Things that were under consideration were the additional netting down the baselines. If the players might actually be illegally modifying the weight-length ratios of their personal maple bats by sanding them down, or even planing off the varnish off their bat’s wood surfaces. And a primary discussion on if the kiln drying process might be making the maple bats too light for the highly explosive collision between the maple bats and hard tossed baseballs.

 
 
 

 
 
 
The last time that baseball changed the allowable bat specifics was back in 1893, when they outlawed the flat-sided bats. Some people have suggested that Selig should consider a temporary restraining order on maple bats, banning them until safety assurances can be put into place. However, such a plan would be met by huge opposition and be a logistical nightmare to enforce with any regularity. With the majority of MLB players having maple bats in their possession, short of the league wide participation of every player sharing ash bats, Little League-style, there may not be enough bats to equip them for their games.
 
 

The dangers are real, and will increase as the hitter become stronger and the pitchers increase their velocity to the plate. A disaster will happen somewhere, sometime within the ranks of baseball. I am not sure if it will be a player, a coach or even a fan, but a major injury will call to arms this discussion again and call for reform. Baseball is trying to be proactive here and research and discuss the problem before it festers, but will it be too late.
 
 
 

 
 
 
Or will it take an action in the majors like what happened to minor leaguer right-handed pitcher Rick Helling. While pitching in the game for the Nashville Sound, he was impaled by in his left arm by a 15-inch shard from the maple bat of New Orleans hitter Craig Kuzmic. The shard penetrated three inches into his arm. The wild part is that the pitch was fouled off and did not even enter the field of play, but split into four shards and propelled out of the batters box towards the mound. Helling was taken to an area hospital. The injury was not considered life threatening and Helling did return to pitch later in the season for the Sound.
 
 
The maple bat, because of denser internal cell structure, did not break like an ash bat. Helling was taken from the game and was lucky to not have it hit any other part of his body. But shouldn’t that be the ultimate wake up call for change?.

A pitcher standing on the mound is one of the most vulnerable players on the field to a hit ball being slammed up the middle, but now he is also in danger from a possible bat impaling him too. Change will come, and hopefully it will evolve before a horrific injury set up a chain of events that will lead to mass hysteria and not to the practicality of rules changes or  a maple bat evolution . It is in the hands now of Selig, along with the MLB Health and Safety committee to bring this situation home….safe and sound.

Play Ball!

 

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