Results tagged ‘ Babe Ruth ’

A Haunting Good Time

 

People have always questioned if there is something after this life. If there is an existence that follows between this physical life, and an afterlife or even a possible state of timeless limbo before we might finally be transported to another realm. It is one of those cosmic questions that each of us seek the answer to at some point in our lives. Each of us play and weigh the realities and possibilities within our own intelligence to hopefully come up with our own reality limits and beliefs.


With All Hallow’s Eve beginning in several hours, I thought it might be a bit interesting tonight to dig into the history and possible presence within my little township of St. Petersburg, Florida to bring out a few examples of paranormal or odd baseball-related coincidences within the city limits of a town where baseball might be played all year long, even beyond the human sightlines. With a city like this so rich in baseball lore, maybe you want to believe it is happening.. or maybe you have seen it yourself?

There are several sites I could bring into this discussion tonight from the downtown waterfront Ponce De Leon Hotel penthouse suites where New York Yankee legends Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig spent their time in this small hamlet while Spring Training with the Bronx Bombers. Where tales of the heavy footsteps and loud chuckles when no one is in the rooms with you echo at night. The smell of cigarette and smoke clouds when no one is on the porches or verandas during the early evenings.

 

Or maybe there is an unforeseen baseball tourney going on just down the street in a small neighborhood park just off 13th Avenue North along side a quaint city park that used to house a single field that used to be used by the Yankees and several other teams that have trained in this city in the past.


That to this day city employees still think the small baseball complex is still visited by unknown guests, possibly by Ruth and the Yankee Clipper, Joe Di Maggio. Where the smell of cherry scented cigars, a favorite of former Yankee Manager Miller Huggins s till permeates the early morning air as employees enter the locked building for a new days work.

 

That Huggins-Stengel Field, which is now the home turf of the St. Pete High School Green Devils baseball team might not be the only team taking batting practice and infield. Also watching might be a lone apparition sitting in a dugout just as he did with his Yankee players so long ago. Could former Yankee Manager Casey Stengel also be spending some of his afterlife viewing the game he loved, or still commanding his troops on the field during the eerie cloak of darkness?



Or could the Rays actually be getting some unseen help by the paranormal as visiting teams stay in a local hotel steeped in ghost tales even before the Rays existence in 1998. Most people outside of St. Petersburg would not remember the tales of the old Vinoy Hotel during its derelict days as vandals, the homeless and countless other unseen residents of the once swank hotel walked through its dilapidated halls and rooms after first closing its doors to the public in 1974.



But then another coat of glowing pink coral paint was applied to the hotel in the 1990’s as the discarded hotel property was purchased and restored to its old former glory as the Renaissance Vinoy Resort. And the swank hotel then became the hub for visiting Major League Baseball teams who came to play the hometown Rays, and were met by more than a few fans from beyond the baseball realms.

Since that time, visiting team players and Rays players experienced unusual events and happenings in their stays at the hotel, with a few players even balking at returning to their rooms at the 5-star resort .


My favorite visiting player event happened to former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons who rushed up to his room on the fith floor in the old section of the Vinoy hotel to catch an early night’s rest. Before he hit the sheets for the night, Gibbons set the alarm clock by the edge of his bed and went into the bathroom to wash up and get ready for his nightly sleep.

As Gibbons returned to the bed, he noticed the alarm clock, which he had previously set was now off. He immediately sat up to reset the clock and noticed that the power cord was draped over the clock . The electric plug was located near the floor area of the room and behind the nightstand. Gibbons ended up sleeping with the lights on that night.


But he wasn’t the only visiting player to get a rough night’s sleep from the Vinoy’s unseen staff. Former Toronto Blue Jays Manager Cito Gaston also had an event where his hotel room door, which was previously locked by him kept unlocking and swinging open during the course of the night.

I could fill a book with the names and events by countless players and staffers that have had the paranormal “touch” them by events in this hotel. Here is another one. Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts even had his own experience after he put some freshly dry cleaned clothes in the room’s closet and closed the closet door only to find those same clothes out of their plastic wrappings on his bed when he returned to the room. Could a courteous transparent chambermaid put out Robert’s clothes for the evening?

 

My favorite event actually involves a old Rays Bullpen player. Jon Switzer was a old left-handed reliever for the Rays who had his first brush with the presences at the Vinoy when he was first called up to the majors by the Rays.

Switzer and his wife stayed at the Vinoy on the fifth floor of the older section of the hotel and were both awoken by a scratching sound that seemed to be coming from within the walls behind their bed’s large headboard. The sound persisted for 15 minutes then disappeared, but returned later that evening even loud enough to awaken have have both of them bolt upright and turn on the night light to investigate the room.
 

It was at this time that the room’s presence quickly made itself known to both Switzer and his wife as they both viewed the painting above their bed seem to come to life. The painting was of a woman in a Victorian outfit with a basket of flowers in his right hand. The picture, which originally had flowers in the woman’s left hand was now showed the woman’s left hand scratching at the glass as if to find a way out of the enclosed glass. The couple stared in disbelief at the picture for several moments before finally bolting out of the room.
The stories about the Vinoy are so widespread among baseball players that when the Toronto Blue Jays once pulled up to the resort for an upcoming series against the Rays, ex-Blue Jay outfielder Jose Cruz Jr once got on the charter bus P A system and told the players, “Hopefully you guys got sleeping pills because this hotel is haunted.” 

Most people seem to have forgetten about this hotel’s sordid past. That during World War II, the hotel was been used as a military rehabilitation hospital where many soliders checked in, but not all took a final journey out of its doors on their feet. Death and suffering has lingered among these hotelhalls and rooms for a long time.


Combined with the years of neglect and decay following its closure for 20-odd years, residual energy seemd to have been stored among the pink coral and ornately carved wooden moldings. Countless unnerving events have been documented by other hotel guests besides the visiting baseball players. Unconfirmed deaths among the hotels while is disrepair, including a homeless person who supposedly drowned in a water-filled elevator shaft after falling and breaking his neck only help to fuel the legends.

Whether you believe or not, these events did happen and are happening today.


 

How many of you remember the photo I took this January of a pre-dawn Progress Energy/ Al Lang Field where an out of the ordinary blue hue interrupts the most darkened green background of the grandstands. I am of the belief that even if you do not actively believe or even acknowledge the existence of these events you have to respect the intentions that the past can be relived over and over again.

And on a night that will come in a few hours where the macabre and the unknown are to rule the activities, isn’t it at least wise to not taunt or treat them with disrespect…even in a small hamlet like St. Petersburg?


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. 
 
 
 

 

Are Maple Bats the True Bad Guys ?

This is the 2nd  installment of my little blog series on the epidemic of bat breakage in the MLB. If you did not read the first installment, I wrote it on 1/20/2008, and please feel free to check the archive for the blog.
 

 

Susan Rhodes is not a usual attendee to a baseball game. But why is it that on May 25, 2008, she was in the wrong place and the wrong time and met the barrel end of a tomahawking bat that shattered more than her jaw that day.  She was sitting 4 rows behind the Los Angeles Dodgers dugout, usually a safe place for everything but the occasional foul ball.  She ever saw the shard coming towards her, she was instead watching the play develop as the ball headed into the outfield. She suffered a concussion and the force of the bat fractured her jaw in two places. 
 

 

Broker bats have been commonplace ever since the advent of baseball, but the Rhodes accident along with Rick Hellings impalement and both players and fans injuries have brought a new danger to the game of baseball.  Even the men behind the plate, the umpires have not been ruled out as victims in this saga of wood and pressure.  So has America;s favorite pastime been invaded by a new dangerous trend, and is the maple bat the sole item responsible for this trend?
 

 

Babe Ruth’s hickory bats are long gone and now it seems that the old memory of those heavy and cumbersome pieces of lumber show a simpler time in the era of baseball. It now seems that the obsession with ash bats for the last couple of decades has dwindled and is almost a forgotten bat material to most major leaguers’. Thanks to the popularity of the maple bat during Barry Bond’s run to the home run title more and more players are opting for this potentially lethal bat type.  But we are not blaming Bonds for the recent problems, he did not design, test or even manufacture bat for a living, he just used them as a tool for his trade.



 


 

 

Atlanta Braves Manager Bobby Cox got a first hand account of the danger on June 19, 2008.  While Cox was sitting in the dugout, like Rhodes, he was watching the ball and did not see second baseman Kelly Johnson’s bat shard coming towards him in the dugout.  The bat ended up going above his head, but like Rhodes, he never saw the bat coming his way at any moment before it struck the dugout wall.
 

 

On June 24, players like Mariners’ pitcher Aaron Heilman and Royals catcher John Buck were members of a Major League Baseball committee to look into this new danger and try to decide what should be done for the safety of everyone in baseball.  Scientists and engineers have also been consulted on the ever growing problem.  By using the basics of science, they know the ways that according to MLB standards, a baseball bat should be shaped and hit. And they have studied the way it can react and also break under pressure.
 

 

Early in the annuals of baseball, bats also broke, but not at the regularity that they do today. The maple versus ash bat controversy did not exist because neither bat was developed at the time for use by baseball players.  As we mentioned before, at the time Babe Ruth was swatting balls into the grandstands, players used hickory bats every time up to the plate. During those days hickory was a common wood and it is still known today as a truly strong wood to use in industry.  But though time, batters wanted a lighter, more fluid wood to use for hitting, and the hickory bat became a dinosaur of modern bats.



 


 

 

Even though ash was not as strong as hickory, it did possess that lighter feeling in your hands, and could be sanded down easier to conform the handle to your touch and liking with simple sandpaper. The problem with most wood 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 heavier model because of the weight. And in simple contrast, if you go lighter wood, you get lighter overall weight, but you give up some levels of durability under pressure. 
 

 

It is said that in the 1990’s, Toronto outfielder Joe Carter might have swung the first maple bat, and his shot to win the World Series for the Blue Jays might have been viewed by opponents  as the key to power in that decade. Because he was using a maple bat, players began to look into its cost and usage and began to request them by the dozens.  With maple now as an alternative, it was appealing because it showcased more strength without the cumbersome bother of weight . And because of it strength, it quickly got a reputation as the tool that would let you hit farther and longer in games.

 
 


 

 

Ash had a tendency to produce flakes of ash that came off the bat like snow, but it held together better and did not separate at the barrel end. Because of the flaking, players did not go through bats as often, and that was the main reason they stuck to them for so long. But in 2001, during Bond’s display of power and strength, players became  obsessed and craved this new bat type, and quickly put ash bats in the dark recesses of the locker room or garages of the players. 
 

 

For 50 years, white ash was the preferred wood for baseball bats, but with over 50 percent of all players using maple now, it was a quick and revolutionary change for the game.  Maple and ash bats all break a certain way because of their unique 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 cell difference and the size of their pores within the wood.
 

 

Scientists agree that the tree pores, which transports moisture inside the trees before they become bats shows that ash has more flexibility to it than maple samples. Ash wood has what is considered a ring porous character. within its grains you will find more avenues and pores that can carry moisture throughout the wood. And of you went into the region of its growth ring, where the grain doesn’t exist, you would see that it is more or less solid fiber.

 
 


 


Because the voids in wood are 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 great indicator of the lessen density of the wood and its possibility of breakage and snapping while hitting.
   

 

Maple on the other hand is 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 that ash bats give you before they break apart while hitting.

 

 

 


Cracks form in both types of wood as a bat is used to hit a ball after ball after ball. But the same pore structure that makes a ash bat flake also produces cracks along the channel of the bat.  Meaning that it has a long way to go before a crack can materialize to actually crack a bat in half. And batters can see these cracks beforehand and exchange the bat before the process results in an explosion of the bat upon contact.   
 

 

I know we have all seen a hitter take the barrel end of the bat and bounce it off the ground or the plate to see if they get vibrations out of the bat that will be a sure sign of it breaking. It was an early warning sign of sorts for the wood to let the batter know it was about to take its last swing, or break apart during the hitting process. That made the ash bat a lot safer and more predictable before danger could happen. But it also could happen 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. 



 


 

 

Because of the maple bats diffuse pores, cracks in the wood can grow in any number of directions. This could make them more apt to hide the cracks and breaks  as they 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 sine they do not flake or ship, they do not ever send a warning sign to the batter that his bat is cracking or might end up in the stands or in the infield barely missing a opposing player.
 

 

But a culprit that might go unnoticed even by the hitter is that fact that the wood can take on different characteristics considering  how the bat was cut from the wood. A billet of  misaligned wood can  affect it subjectivity to breakage as well as force upon the wood.  A bat is considered stronger when the grain lines up with the length of the bat. Because of its dark nature, this grain is considerably harder to see in maple than in the light tones of the ash bat. Maple also has a tendency to not have as straight a grain as ash, which can be instrumental in fatigue and breakage when used to extremes.

 
 


 

 

If you do not have a bat that is cut with the grain, you will have a weaker bat. That might not be a scientific phasing for you, but it is a stark reality with baseball bats. But can that be one of the multitude of reasons that a maple bat and explode and send shards throughout the stands or infield.  Another factor take take into consideration is the fact that  the batter could hit the ball in a bad position and make the bat break upon his swing. Which would have nothing to do with the bats chemistry, or it’s compounds or porous material.
 

 

The bat comes into contact with the ball in a small area for only one thousandth of a second in most swings. The short time it takes to make that impact can sends upwards of 5,000 pounds of force through the wood.  If you hit the ball badly, or not within the are of the “sweet spot”  of the bat, you could get this stinging sensation in your hands. That is a visual sign from the bat that it is bending and vibrating to release the force without breaking in your hands.

 
 


 

 

If the bending is compacted into enough of an area, it can produce a bat break in any type of bat.  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. The bat that Todd Helton had in his hand on the day that Susan Rhodes got injured broke at the handle and sent the barrel tomahawking into the stands towards her.  This leads to another 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 every level of baseball.  Some say the advent of these small handles is a compliance to metal bats that are used at lower levels before players become professionals. Because the metal bats do not possess a thick, rugged handle players are unaccustomed to hitting with the extra meat on the handle. As time progressed, the handle also went through a series a changes to become more streamlined and comfortable to today’s players. 
 

 

The narrow handle makes a baseball bat made out of wood more prone to breaking and take away the sturdiness of the bat. To make modern bats more accustom to metal bats, did we make the breakage problem worse, or just provide another avenue for the bats to break upon force.  Because of the numerous injuries and episodes during 2008, the issue of the bats has come again into the limelight.

  
 


 

 

Again, another episode that happened in 2008, was on June 24, in Kansas City, as MLB umpire Brian O’Nora was hit in the head, while wearing his protective gear behind the plate during a game.  Think about this for a second. Here is a guy less than 3 feet from the epicenter of the bats explosion who had his protective gear popped off his forehead and sustained a gash upon his forehead. 
 

 

You do not want to think of the repercussions of him maybe not even having a safety device on and getting clobbered with that 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 splinters or small sharp wood chips from their equipment or their bodies. I think that kind of poll would not help the bat situation, because most catcher see that as part of the game, like a foul ball getting your fingers or cracking you in the inner thighs.

 

 


 

 

You have to wonder if engineers and scientists have a good theory on why bats crack and break. I know we see multitudes of bats breaking during games today, but is there any true data outsides of the hands of the MLB that can tell us . We know that the MLB has collected bats from 2008 and have analyzed and categorized their breakage and  the bats type of wood.  So is there real evidence that we have not seen yet that would show that bats are breaking now at alarming rates compared to the past.  And to what extent does the maple bat hold either a advantage or a danger as a bat of choice by the MLB players. 
 

 
Could there be a variable that since ash bats show their breakage points before breaking fully, that the safety factor of these types of bats provide more protection to hitters and others around the batter’s box. Whereas maple bats only show their weakness when struck and will not give any visual sign of breakage before the audible sign of the crack of the bat during a swing. There are probable a dozen of ways to reduce the number of broken bats that have either been suggested or advised throughout the years. 
 


Maybe the action of thicker handles, and the compliance of players to not shave down handles and make them customized after manufacture could be another solution. Maybe the MLB has to provide a maximum diameter for the handles of bats by the manufacturers. But would a thicker handle minimize the shards flying still throughout the stands and the playing surface.  If you thicken the handle you will make it safer.  But alone will this help some of the problem.  
 

 

Or is the fact that wood bats fail, that it is a part of the game to see bats splinter and crack. But some of today’s bats do not make a simple splintering or cracking, but produce a missile that takes on speed as it leaves the batters box.  So 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 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 specification on the grain alignment to help them stopping breaking in alarming rates in 2009or beyond.



 


 

 

Individually, the teams could set up more protective netting in front of the lower level infield seats in stadiums with the premise to protect their fans.  I know that Detroit Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson suggested such a measure on his ESPN.com blog.  Because players have their attention and eye towards the batter, they have more ample time to dodge and even see the shards coming towards them. While spectators in those front rows have a tendency to look in other directions because of the multiple attention getting sights and sounds of the game.  
 

 

That might be a way of protecting the fans, but those people pay good money to sit in those sections and most know the dangers firsthand from foul balls and errant throws to first or third base. To suggest that they are the only ones in the ball park to be protected might not be viewed as well by fans above the dugout, or further down the foul lines in stadiums. And 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. 

 

 

 


 
 

Ken Griffey Junior Adds a New Role to his Career……. Diplomat

 

 

 


If there is one player I wish we could have found space and money for him in Tampa Bay for 2009, it has to be the guy who will go into the Hall of Fame having played for my second favorite MLB squad. With the  Tampa Bay Rays recent signing of  former Phillie Pat Burrell, it ends that secret hidden deep in my heart to see Ken Griffey Junior play and succeed in a Rays uniform. If you really consider what this guy has done in such a long and productive carrer, he is a one of those guys who I believe will be a  sure thing first ballot Hall of Famer, without a question.  I was justing looking forward to watching that swing 81 games a year at the Trop., but I will just have to buy the MLB Package and watch him play maybe in my second city, Seattle again in 2009.

 


From the days at Moeller High School in Cincinnati, where he was a twice voted the best baseball player of the year, to at 19, being the youngest player in the major leagues. The guy has always been at the top of his profession. And to even imagine that he had the chance to do it side by side with his dad is beyond words. Now that is something that I find truly amazing to me. I know I would have loved to play baseball or even box against my dad, or his uncle as a kid growing up, and  would have really learned how it was to play the Philly type of street/ parking lot football and baseball. But Griffey Jr. got to do it along side an All Star dad, while playing for the team that made his dad a star, the Cincinnati Reds is truly amazing to me.

 

 


He is one of the first player to ever be on a major league roster at the same time as his father and playing in the MLB. And if that was not a huge event, he also got to finally play along side his dad after his trade from the Mariners to the Cincinnati Reds. Both Father and son did appear in several lineups that season. And his  outward enjoyment of the game of baseball is clear to see by anyone watching him before, during and after the games. For the art of baseball with all of it’s simple parts and complicated segments never seemed to get him down or stress him out at all. He has always been that care free and smiling figure on the sidelines signing autographs or posing for photos with the fans. He respects the game and pay homage to those before him for letting him have the honor of playing this great game.

 


He is the essence of what you want your teams’ professional baseball player to be, and what you might want you own kids to become someday. He might go out with the boys’ to nightclubs and dinner while on road trips, but he also has been clean and clear to others that he is happily married and loves his lifestyle. The Daily pressures and expectations might take a toll on him, but  doesn’t show the effects or even the worry because when he hits that field for Batting Practice, he tries to convey a sense  of fun and pranks, almost child-like play, and  does not take anything serious around the ball field before the first pitch of the game.  How can you not like a guy with that kind of idealistic joy.  And how can he not be on your list of people in baseball to admire and respect.

 


And people tend to forget he was the youngest player to ever hit the 350 home run mark. He also still hold one of the best  career batting average marks ever in All Star play by hitting over .571 in the mid summer classic. And if that was not enough, the guy also won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves as a center fielder in the American League. He also hit a homer in 8 straight games once during his career, and  has hit a home run in every ball park in the American League, and still will be in uniform to maybe hit one in 2009 in the new Yankee Stadium. Depending on what team finally signs him in 2009, he might still also have a chance to hit a home run in the New York Mets new dig, Citi Park this coming season. If he does sign with the Mariners, he will not get a chance in Inter-league play to go beyond the Mississippi River in 2009. But if he did resign with the Chicago White Sox, he as an option of going back to Cincy during the Inter-league series form June 19-21, 2009.

 


But Griffey Jr. is entering a new phase in his playing career. Ever since 1995, when he broke his wrist while with the Mariners, small injuries and mishaps have taken him down a road he hates to admit might have derailed a lot of his career. Simple injuries have cost this guy a chance at maybe beating Barry Bond’s home run record. He was for years the heir apparent to the crown before his string of injuries cost him at bats and chances at homers over the years. In 2008, an errant foot locker left out in the area near his locker caused him to suffer a knee injury that plagued him the entire season. This off season he has taken measures to correct the injury and should be ready by the Feb. reporting date to again pratice and regain strength in the knee.

 


He is about to enter a second career of sorts for a few months in 2009, maybe setting himself up a bit with a life after baseball motivation.  I could see him maybe in a political role somewhere down the line, but did not think it would go hand in hand with his baseball career. Well seriously folks, for a few years there he could have ran for mayor of Tacoma or Seattle and won by a landslide vote. But recently, United States Secretary of the State Condoleeza Rice named Griffey as a Public Diplomacy Envoy. In accepting the honor, Griffey Jr. is challenged with a new goals and set of parameters. He is entrusted with the act of spreading the values of the United States by helping to spark interest  in America and  in our culture. Griifey also will share this honor with former figure skater Michelle Kwan and  former television star, Fran Drescher, better known for her role and voice as ” The Nanny.”



Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., who was appointed in 2007 to the same post will accompany the newly appointed envoys when they begin their adventures in January with a trip to Panama Since Griffey Jr. has played both on the U S Olympic and World Baseball Classic teams for the United States, he seemed like the logical and most visual player to ever be considered for the post.  ” Public diplomacy must be a dialogue” Rice said recently after a meeting with Griffey Jr.  “This dialogue must extend to every citizen in every country, especially to the young people.”  Because of his still boy-ish looks Griffey Jr. will convey a sense of All American values and be a great example of the type of person an American youth should use as an example for life. Griffey Jr. is excited about the position and is looking forward to his missions for his country.

 


Well-known athletes and celebrities, who exemplify the best in their sports and professions, and as a individual citizens, are appointed by the Secretary of the State to be American Public Diplomacy Envoys.  This special envoy not only reaches out to youth though sports and communications, but promotes the best aspects of American culture and democratic principles. So our latest diplomatic weapon to show people the values and great traits of our country has 611 home runs and has just reached 39 years of age. Griffey Jr is only the 3rd athlete to ever hold this position with the U S government.

 


He also got an honor a lot of people never knew about unless you lived on the west coast of America. In 1989, Ken Griffey Junior got to taste a chocolate candy bar named after him, and it sold over 1 million bars before they ceased production of the bar. Just another great fact about this very like-able baseball player. He has had countless  video games produced and released with his likeness and name upon the packaging. Who can forget the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 games with his name on them that we all played for hours in our family room around the country.


 

 


So what does the future hold for the great Griffey Jr in 2009?  You would think that during the World Baseball classic he would be doing the tours along the sites to promote and entertain the ideals of this great country, while maybe serving in some role for the United States team. But nothing is guaranteed for him in 2009 with the W.B.C. But what might be of concern now is where will he be reporting to after the classic is over in 2009? In a recent article online, it was stated that Tiger’s center fielder Curtis Granderson called Griffey Jr about his time in the 2006 WBC and asked his advice if he should play for the team.  It is not known what Griffey said to Granderson, but the player accepted a invitation to play for the U S team today, and he might be one of  the heir apparents to Griffey’s center field spot on the squad.

 


Now that the Tampa Bay Rays have signed Burrell, it seems that he will not be near home in 2009, unless the Rays can find a way to bring him on board at a reduced price, or maybe shave off some payroll in other areas of the team. Now personally, I would have been honored if the guy had chosen my Rays as his team for 2009. I think the guy is all class, and I got to meet him briefly before the ALDS becuase of an old friend who is playing for the Chicago White Sox. I found him refreshing and totally accessible, and he signed a ball for me without me even asking him for an autograph. We chatted a few minutes before he had to get into the locker room, but it  will remain as one of my best baseball moments. It will sit right along side of photo memory of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris  both holding me for a picture at Al Lang Field when I was young ( 1961 ).



No, the likely destination for Griffey Jr. might, and should be the place where it all began for him. He should be allowed to return to Seattle and help the Mariners during their rebuilding years and to finally play his last game in the stadium that he helped get built in the Emerald City. He has had that town in his mind ever since they drafted him in the First Round in 1987. He finally made it to the big leagues in 1989, and has not looked back since then. He was a part of the Mariners first post season berth, and still has a soft spot for the team’s ownership and the town in general.

 

 

I know I would love it if he was still playing in 2015 ( doubtfully, but I can dream) when I retire to Seattle to see this great player stride to the plate in his last at bat, in that last home game. I know it will be an end of a era of sorts not only in Seattle, but also in baseball. We might never see another player like Ken Griffey Jr. in our lifetime. There are a lot of ballplayers I grew up with that I see at Legends games and charity events throughout Florida during Spring Training, but the games I alsways have looked forward to were the contests against the Reds and the Rays to watch Griffey Jr. just hit the ball during B P . His troke is so pure and seems without effort at times. It is a wonder to just stare at the bat and watch it go through the zone to make contact with the ball.


 

 


Just as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig mesmerized and produced a baseball love affair  for my dad and millions of other fans who never even saw them play some 80 years ago, Griffey Jr. will be one of the true baseball icons we remember when we are sitting on the porch remembering the greatness about baseball in our old age. And you know the one thing I will remember most about this great guy…………..that boyish smile that starts at BP, and grows until the last out of the game. I have never, ever seen him get angry or even get ejected from a ball game, even though it  might have happened a few times in his career. 



Griffey Jr. deserves to be a first ballot inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame after his career.  I think the guy has a few more productive years in him before he might even think about hanging up his Nike spikes and spending the rest of his life in Orlando, Florida with his wife and kids. But, you never know with baseball. In all probability he will be signed before Spring Training and report as usual to begin another great year on the diamond. And to see him having fun in the sport that has given him and us so much to always remember.


 

 

Tampa Bay’s Pursuit of Basball..A Short History Lesson

 

                            

 

The pursuit of major league baseball in the Tampa Bay area began hard and furious in the  1988 after  the  proposed building of the Florida Suncoast Dome in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The area now had a viable baseball stadium within the  area, and also had an estimated 12,000 deposited Season Tickets on hand.  The area baseball group were tireless in their pursuit of either an existing team, or an expansion franchise for their new  domed stadium.

 


The local group them began to woo major-league baseball to the Sunshine State by visiting and trying to obtain ownership shares in existing MLB clubs that were in either financial trouble or wanted leverage to get stadiums or other breaks from their local city governments. Yet despite nearly eloping with several teams like the Minnesota Twins, Oakland A’s, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, and San Francisco Giants, the region had to wait until 1998 to field a team of its own.


 

 

Baseball first arrived in Tampa/St. Petersburg as teams began to flock to Florida for spring training. The father of major-league baseball in the area was Al Lang, a Pittsburgh native who had moved to St. Petersburg in 1910 and within a few years had joined the management of the local ballpark. After failing to talk Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss into having his team train at Waterfront Park, the future home of Al Lang Field,  ( Dreyfuss refused, calling the backwater a “one-tank town” ) and watching the Chicago Cubs move their spring operation from New Orleans to nearby Tampa.

 

 

Lang finally convinced Branch Rickey to bring his St. Louis Browns to St. Pete. In anticipation of the team’s arrival, financing was approved for a new ballpark, seating 2,000 fans. The first game at the new field saw the Cubs defeat the “hometown” Browns 3-2, behind a first inning homer by rookie outfielder Cy Williams.  Professional baseball  in the town was an instant hit, and soon became so popular in St. Petersburg that businesses began to close early on weekdays so that fans could attend games.

 

 

 However, Rickey’s players, unable to find any other sources of entertainment (movie theaters closed early, and alcohol was forbidden by town law) were bored silly. Embroiled in a financing dispute, the Browns left after their first year to be replaced by the Philadelphia Phillies, who moved to the town’s training facilities in 1918. In 1922, the New York Yankees and Boston Braves arrived in St. Petersburg. Babe Ruth, the Yanks star attraction, was once chased out of the outfield by alligators at Huggins-Stengel Park located near the center of town.

 

 

 

In 1928, the baseball-mad city helped Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert turn a $60,000 spring training profit. The St. Louis Cardinals arrived in town in 1938 and stayed until 1997, at various times sharing the city with the Yankees, Giants, Mets, and the Orioles. Tampa, too, has had its share of spring training tenants, having hosted six teams since the Cubs left after the spring of 1916.

 


Local interest in bringing a team to the Tampa Bay area first emerged after MLB expanded into Toronto and Seattle in 1977. While attracting major-league teams to the area for the spring was never a problem, luring a team on a permanent basis proved to more problematic. Most of the problems were a result of a lack of cooperation between the Tampa and St. Petersburg city governments. Although it was mutually agreed upon between the two cities that it was in their best interests to bring major-league ball to the area, Tampa and St. Petersburg’s local sports authorities independently courted dissatisfied major league owners while making plans for separate stadiums.

 


In 1984, a group of investors known as the “Tampa Bay Baseball Group” ( led by businessman Frank Morsani ) managed to buy a 42% stake in the Minnesota Twins, hoping to move the team to Tampa. But Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, acting in what he called “the best interests of baseball,” pressured the group to sell their share to Carl Pohlad, a local banker who intended to keep the team in the Twin Cities. Tampa was foiled again in 1985, when Oakland A’s president Roy Eisenhardt, after agreeing in principle to sell the team to Morsani’s group for $37 million, decided to keep the team after agreed to a new stadium lease with Oakland’s mayor.

 

 


In November 1985, both cities made separate presentations for expansion teams (amidst charges of plagarism ) to Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who was annoyed at the local community civil war. However, the rivalry continued. From 1986 onwards, St. Petersburg appeared to be the destination of choice for the Chicago White Sox, who were unhappy with Comiskey Park. The St. Petersburg group went so far as to break ground on the Florida Suncoast Dome in 1988, ostensibly the new home of the White Sox. Their neighbors across the bay steamed, and the Tampa Tribune opined that that the locale of the new stadium “puts one in mind of a particularly pinched Albanian village.”

 


However, hopes ended in 1988 when Chicago officials managed to pass financing for a new stadium at the last minute by unplugging the Legislative clock to get a resolution passed to keep the team in the South Side of Chicago. Even though the Sox ended up staying in Chicago, the Suncoast Dome was well on its way to being built, effectively ending the long rivalry between the two cities with regards to baseball; it was agreed that any team coming to the area would be housed in the new stadium.

 


However, opportunities evaporated as quickly as they appeared. Morsini’s attempt to buy the Texas Rangers in 1988 was foiled, MLB left the Tampa Bay area out of its expansion plans in favor of Miami in 1991. Then Seattle Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan had made a verbal agreement with the Tampa Bay baseball group, but decided to try and keep the team in the city by selling his team instead  to Nintendo in 1992. MLB again rebuffed Tampa Bay in late 1992, when National League owners rejected a agreed upon proposal that would bring the San Francisco Giants to the Suncoast Dome.

 

 


Finally, Tampa Bay was awarded an expansion team on March 9, 1995, ending what new owner Vince Naimoli called “a path of ten thousand steps, ten thousand phone calls, ten thousand frustrations.” Three years before starting play, the team named  former Braves executive Chuck LaMar as their general manager; LaMar, charged with the task of building a team from scratch, decided to build his club around veteran cornerstones. To that end, the team signed future Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs, slugger Paul Sorrento, and  Opening Day pitcher Wilson Alvarez. They then traded for Tampa Bay native Fred McGriff and Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Kevin Stocker. The trade for Stocker took the most heat as the team had picked young outfielder Bobby Abreu and then turned around and traded the young star to Philadelphia for the experienced shortstop.

 

 

 Larry Rothschild, who had never before managed a game but has always been a well-regarded major-league pitching coach, was named the team’s first manager.  So here we have a just a short history of the Tampa Bay area and their quest to obtain their MLB franchise. The area sweated long and hard to finally field a team in the local sunshine of Tampa Bay. And within 11 years of their first game, celebrated a playoff berth for the young team.

 


Tampa Bay’s pursuit of  major league baseball was a investment in the past and the future for the region. And the area is finally reaping the benefits of acquiring  a professional team to play in the confines of Tropicana Field.

 

 

St. Petersburg and the MLB Go Waaaay Back

 

                           

 

 It gets to me sometimes how people tend to wrap the “Tampa ” label on the city by the Bay more and more on national baseball broadcasts, ESPN Sportscenter and during post-game interviews. The St. Petersburg area is the 4th largest cities in the state,and would be a far bigger city if it was not for that body of water on three sides of it.

 

 But the media has a love affair and always get wrapped up in the  sheets and covers of  St. Pete’s brotherly city over the water  just east of them.  It is not easy to understand sometimes since this city has had a long love affair with baseball since even before the 1900’s. And to add to it all, the Minor League  Baseball office is located in our fair city in front of Progress Energy Fields box offices right down by the waterfront.

 

The City of St. Petersburg, Florida has always had the moniker of being a town where older people go to die. It has been affectionately called, ” Town of the Newlyweds and Nearly Deads” for as long as I have been alive. It is a town known throughout the world for the endless green benches, sunshine almost 360 days a year, and a bridge span that collapsed onto a tanker in the late 70’s.  But did you know that it was the last stop for President John F Kennedy before he left for Dallas, Texas?

 

The game’s Sunshine State history reaches back to amateur ballclubs of the 1870s. In 1888, major league clubs began putting down Florida roots when the Washington Nationals came to the Jacksonville area for spring training. St. Petersburg welcomed owner Branch Rickey and the St. Louis Browns in 1914, and new transportation routes in the 1920s drew still more springtime teams–many lured to St. Pete by businessman and former mayor, Al Lang.

 

 

Baseball has been in the  seasonal lifeblood of the region for over 100 years. And  with so many clubs using this area for Spring Training, it is about expected that residual energy and phantom sightings and events would blanket the area with a paranormal presence. I have heard all kinds of stories growing up about the early days of baseball in Florida. Sightings among the mist at ballparks and strangers sitting in the empty dugouts that vanish when you walk up to them. Mystery and baseball sometimes go hand in hand with each other. 

 

Stories of ballplayers’ like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig staying in local downtown hotels, like the Ponce De Leon and Don Ce Sar Resort.  And also unthinkable stories of events that today would cause an uproar, like how local innkeepers and restaurant owners would not let former Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson  and some other  african-american players eat or sleep with the rest of the team’s players due to beliefs that would be considered horrific today. In the 1940’s, racism was a social problem in the south, and ghostly reminders rear their heads at old haunts like Mirror Lake or  beyond the top of  “Thrill Hill” off 3rd Street South near Bayboro Harbor. 

 

 

                                 

 

I have heard rumors and enuendos about deep sea boat trips deep into the Gulf of Mexico to follow game fish like the Marlin and players missing baseball games because of losing track of time out on the high seas.   I actually saw a photo of Ruth and Gehrig deep sea fishing off the coast of Florida in of all places, the Diamond Club at Safeco Field. Take the stadium tour, you will see that, and an awesome photo of Babe Ruth as a Red Sox pitcher.  Also the stories ans urban legends of the elaborate shindigs and parties attended by some of baseball’s elite players in places like the old Hermitage Hotel, or the Detroit Hotel’s courtyard, which is now the Jannis Landing concert venue. 

 

With all that wild actitivites and the bold and brass characters of old-time baseball, you would think some of that would still be here, coasting within our eyesight. There are reminders everywhere in the city of baseball’s past here.  Little did I know how much of the past still is present in St. Petersburg until I made a pilgrimage to my local bookstore. I  went on a baseball book hunt to one of the classic bookstore, Haslems to try and find some old editions or volumes written about baseball.

 

Now I know I could have gone to Barnes and Noble, or any other cookie-cutter store with their coffee shops and muffins, but I wanted to have a literary expedition into the past. I do not know what it is about an old bookstore that makes you feel, well nostalgic. Maybe it is the smell of the aging pages and binders glue, or maybe the accumulation of dust and mildew on some collections, but you can always find somethnig to peak your interest.

 

If you have never heard about Haslems’ ,it is a huge collection and mish-mosh of books discarded and obtained from people and sources all over the world and  every book known to man seems to flow to them.  I came away with a few great books about our national pastime. They had a huge selection of autobiographies and collections of stories concerning baseball. I have to check out this book, ” The 30-Year Old Rookie” the next time I am in there. 

 

One of the book I chose was, Haunted Baseball, by Mickey Bradley and Dan Gordon. To start with, the authors are Boston Red Sox and New York fans, which puts them in good company with the bandwagon fans the Rays attract 64 games a year ( minus the 17 against the AL East foes ) tends to attract  at once to the Trop. this year. The book is a  fantastic collection of events depicting the ghosts, practical celestrial games, and unexplained phenoms concerning baseball and some oif the hotel, motels and Holiday Inns around the league and the minors. 

 

And to my delight, within the inside pages is a unique  insight and local history of apparitions, events and local  urban legends that only back up  old stories and  unwitnessed events I was told as a child. I have enjoyed reading this book. The authors have done alot of research with players, coaches and experts in the field of the unsual and the unknown.  From the first chapter based on events in St. Petersburg, and it peaked my interest to revisit and explore these places again and again.

 

 

 

The first chapter is dedicated to a St. Petersburg park that sits less than a few miles from Tropicana Field, the Rays current home.  I used to run around  this park as a child and fish in it’s lake and read under, and climb the huge banyan trees. The park has always had a eerie feeling to me,like someone was watching you from a distance, and I did not know why. Cresent Lake Park is also the site of Huggins-Stengel Field, which was  one of the Spring Training sites for the old Yankees, Mets, Cardinals Orioles, and the young years of the Tampa Bay  D-Rays..

 

Huggins-Stengel field located in the Southeastern corner of the park near the huge silver colored watertower that has served as a landmark since the 1920’s.  My grandfather used to live on 13th Avenue North between 5th and 6th Streets, less than a city block from the field. He used to take hours telling me about the legends both concerning the field and the playerd who called it home for many years. One of the wildest adventures into the bizzare world of the paranormal concerns former Yankee greats’ Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle .

 

 It is said that the spirit of the “Bambino” loved the Florida sunshine and the city so much that his spirit is still here,  Some say that occsionally a figure is seen sitting in the dugout at twilight wearing a Yankee jersey on the third base side of  Huggins-Stengel Field and can still be witnessed on occasions usually before the weather turns cold in Florida. Mikey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio patroled centerfield at the complex, and legend has it that the day after they died a brown spot turned up in the exact spots both of them used to play on the field.

 

Ruth also was playing in the outfield once and a bull gator decided to sun himself in deep centerfield and chased the “Bambino” from the field . Ruth also used to hit monster shots down the vine-covered leftfield area and kids used to clamor for the balls. Some say a lone figure is sometimes seen out there in the early morning mist just standing in centerfield as if waiting for a ball to be hit his direction. Most take this apparition to be Ruth, who loved playing at this quaint location better than the Yankees old facility in New Orleans. Truth be told, the Yankees moved the spring training site to St. Petersburg to keep Ruth from Bourbon Street and the late night life of New Orleans.

 

The old clubhouse is the scene of several unsual and unexplained happenings. It was like a second home to alot of the Yankee stars who spent plenty of late hours there before heading to the team hotel in town. After the D-Rays moved all their operation to the Ray Namoli complex in the Jungle area of town, the team turned the location over to the City of St. Petersburg, who converted the old clubhouse to an office space currently occupied by the St. Petersburg Parks and Recreation team TASCO.

 

 

 

At Huggins-Stengel Field, some also say the ghost of Casey Stengel is said to have been seen and felt in the old clubhouse. Two plaques in front of a building are dedicated to Miller Huggins and Casey Stengel and that it was the New York Mets spring clubhouse for more than 20 years are all that distinguishes it from the dozens of other baseball fields in the city. There are 3 ex-MLB training sites in the city that are still standing. Besides Huggins-Stengel, there is the Busch Complex ( St. Louis Cardinals ) off 62nd Avenue Northeast, and the Namoli complex ( Mets, Orioles, Cards, Rays ) next to the Walter Fuller Community center in the Jungle Prade area of St. Petersburg. 

 

Legend has it Ruth gave up shagging flies on the first day of spring training in 1925 because an alligator emerged from Crescent Lake to sunbath in the outfield. Ruth is said to be one of the few players to put a ball into the lake about 500 feet from home plate in right field. Among the others: Mets slugger Dave Kingman.

 

It is a series of wild tales of ghostly sightings and unexplained sounds and smells concerning the vast history that has graced this cement block building. The old Yankees clubhouse, built in the 1930s, was torn down and replaced by the current one in the early 1960s. Lockers from the original clubhouse were moved to the new one, and one of the wood stalls greets visitors in the entrance to the building now used for offices for a teenagers program, TASCO.

 

One of the wildest  and most interesting tales concerns a thick cigar odor that is strong in the AM when the TASCO workers come in the morning, and the strange and odd happening after dark in the building. It is said that former Yankee manager Miller Huggins was a huge cigar smoker and would often light up in the clubhouse or the surrounding areas. But the lone figure in the dugout near nightfall has more of a place in the local lore. Some say it is the shadows that play against the overgrowth in leftfield that give the dugout its errie glow and shadows right before sunset.

 

I used to deliver Pepsi product to TASCO as a Special Events Coordinator, and I always had an uneasy feeling in that building. If I knew about these events, I would have loved to stay the night or visit there at night. The park is patrolled by local police looking for  illegal activities, not ghosts during the night. The St. Petersburg Police Department has never had to respond to a burglar call or break-in at the complex, and the motion alarms have never been set off by the nightly escapades.   

 

 

The third chapter of the book features the  World famous Vinoy hotel where countless stories have victimized visiting teams, and newly promoted Rays players staying in the resort for Rays games.  The hotel was vacant for  over 20 years and fell into  major disrepair before the site was cleaned up and restored to it’s current state. It has been a long time since the hotel was a vacant shell on the waterfront, but true natives know how much the hotel transformed the Straub Park and Vinoy area back to respectability and extreme comfort for local visitors’.

 

The book goes into detail about the haunting and shenaigans of the spectres’ in the old wing of the hotel. I know of one death in the hotel from when it was an abandoned shell. It is of a homeless guy who fell into the water-filled elevator shaft and drowned because there was no one there to hear him scream for help, or rescue him. Legend has it that sometimes the walls of the elevators produce a banging sound and the elevator shakes like someone trying to get in from below or above the unit.

 

I have also stayed in this hotel  a few times on the 5th floor of the old wing and have not had a truly restful night  sleep . One time it was due to weird scratching noises outside my 6th floor window. I took it as a dove or bird trying to find a niche for the night. Never thought about a ghostly apparition or spectre causing the chaos. I also know of doors and windows that have been locked, then appear open to the outer halls during the night while people have been asleep inside of the rooms. The main ballroom has been said to have nightly ghost parties where voices and footsteps are regular occurrances to unsuspecting staff members.

 

It has a Rays’ twist in the form of a ghostly haunting involving Jon Switzer when he first got promoted up to the big club. You have to read the account to believe it. It is a tale you would not believe unless you read it. Other players and coaches have had events happen to them in this spirited hotel.  There is even one player from the Cleveland Indians who will not sleep in the hotel due to a bad night sleeping or the feelings he gest from the old haunt.

 

the paranormal is present so much that it was profiled  in an ESPN story involving the Cincinnati Reds reliever Scott Williamson. He says he was held down in his bed by an unforseen force in the night and in later research, it was noted that the former landowner of the Vinoy site before the hotel was built was also named Williamson.

 

As you can see, some residents of the past might have come back to St. Petersburg to check back into the hotel to rediscover  their glory days or even revisit the best times of their lives. The city has always had a southern charm and relaxing feel to it, but the bumps in the night have gotten a new meaning after reading that book. I recommend that anyone who enjoys tales of paranormal or unforetold strange happenings  should check out this book.  The authors’ also have a  blog page here on MLBlogs.com where they leave blogs entries from time to time. Here is the page if you are interested in either the book, or their blogs: http://hauntedbaseball.mlblogs.com .

 

Well, got to go run by  old Cresent Lake on my  morning jog, maybe I will see the figure in the mist, or an old bull gator that could to be the re-incarnation of Babe Ruth on the lake bank behind the centerfield wall……………wish me luck, I love the unexplained.

 

 

Rays vs Yankees Controversy………..or Just Hustle in the Yard

 

I have been reluctant to include my trivia questions in the past few blogs because no one seems to want to comment,or even try and figure them out.
Here is a Yankee/Red Sox teaser for your pleasure:


Who has the best lifetime win percentage as a starting pitcher against the New York Yankees?


Answer at the end of the Blog.


I have to weigh in my two pennies on the recent Rays/Yankees debate concerning new Yanks skipper Joe Girardi and a recent home plate collision. If you are wondering what I am referring to, it is the home plate car wreck between Yankees’ catcher, Francisco Cervelli and the Rays’, Elliot Johnson. I understand that most players are not up to par yet with the speed of the game in the early stages of Spring Training.


That the “rookies” or select Minor League players’ invited to the MLB camp, are seeking to open eyes or even earn a coveted roster spot with the big club. Because of this situation,they ( Minor Leaguers’ )might hustle or take a few risks with base running decisions.  They also want to show a willingness to do what is needed to win.
It is in that vein, that I personally feel that Elliott Johnson did what was needed at the moment of the collision. He went into home plate trying to jar the ball out of the catchers mitt to score another run, not with intent to harm,dismember, or cause such a ruckus out of the Yankee camp.


A few days earlier, All-Star Left Fielder,Carl Crawford bulldozed a catcher in a Spring Training game and there was not even a hint of controversy or bad decision making put towards his actions. Of course, in that collision,Crawford was able to jar the ball from the catcher, no one was injured or taken from the game,and the Rays earned a much needed run against their opponent.


Hustle and willingness to do what is needed is what secures these “invitees” a roster spot,or at least another weeks with the big squad before going to the Ray Namoli complex, which is the site of the Minor League camp.
Now Carl did not have to drive himself into the catcher and dislodge the ball on spec, but it showed he is ready to do whatever is needed to win this year. That is a veteran sign that he is here to play and take no prisoners.
And that, gets both the Rays’ fan base and Joe Maddon’s attention.


Earlier in the Yankee game, New York invitee, Bernie Castro was rounding third with Rays’ catcher Shawn Riggans squared up on the dish. Castro could have easily dusted Riggans off the plate, but Shawn left a nice hole for Castro to hook slide around his tag. Base running decisions have to be made in a split second. Both players had to assess the situation and do what was needed to score, or pervent a run. Castro, by sliding in under Riggans, scored the only Yankee run of that game.


He did not need to remove Riggans and ball to score. Question is, did Johnson have the same options?  Answer, No, the relay throw was going to beat him to the plate by a stride, and in a Pete Rose-Ray Fosse moment he buried his shoulder into Cervelli.
He could have slide and maybe gotten in there( doubtful),or he could become a Mike Alstott A-train clone and bulldoze the Yankees minor league catcher. We know what his decision was, and I am totally in his corner for what he did.I was an aggressive base runner also in college, and used to not look back when i had to come in rough on a second baseman or a catcher. I did it when I felt it was needed to help the team. Either as a enthusiastic moment, or a game-changing play, it was done in a split second and no regrets could stop the momentum.

 

I can see why new Yankees skipper Joe Girardi would be a bit flustered or upset about such a play involving two Minor Leaguer’s doing their all to make an impression on their managers.


But, Joe, this part of Spring Training is a time for these guys to show you what they got, and make you remember their names in your nightly meetings with your coaching staff. And all the Minor League guys know that the decision time is nearing for each of them. Johnson will probably not make the Rays’ final 25 man roster, but he made a huge impression on both teams.


Either you are for or against his actions, there is no middle ground here. In his playing days, Joe Girardi was a feisty and gutsy catcher with the Yankees.  He knows what it takes to hold onto the ball in a train wreck situation. That is what I find kind of “whiny” here about the Yankee skipper.  


Remember, this is the manager who told his Florida Marlins’ team owner to, “Shut up!”, when the owner was heckling a umpire during a game. Does that sound like the same guy who whined to the press about the event, and did not even consult or send a message to Rays skipper, Joe Maddon about the collision before the newspapers were printed and on his doorstep.


How many Yankee fans are thinking WWTD right now. (What Would Torre’ Do?).


I know that Girardi is in the infant stage of his managerial career, but is this the thing he wants to be remembered for this Spring?
He has a few holes in his team, and questions that needed to be addressed on personnel and setting his starting rotation.
And he pick this play to spouts off about this?



Both Joes’ have different opinions about the event. Joe Maddon,the Rays’ manager sees it as a rite of Spring basically.  Hard nosed baseball that unfortunately ended in a Yankee injury. (Francisco Cervelli could be out 8-10 weeks with an injury). What would either manager have said if the events was reversed. Johnson was hurt in that play, or Riggans in a prior home plate play.  If Cervelli had dropped the ball and the Rays scored another run to make it a 5-1 win, would it have been different or still have the same effect on Girardi.


I personally think Joe Maddon would not be crying to the heavens wanting the baseball gods to rain displeasure down on anyone. He would have applauded the effort and give kudos for the hard nosed-style of play of Johnson. I am including a video from that game,shot by a Yankee fan. It shows both home plate plays and you can make up your own mind on the issue of the collision.


In closing, I think the comments of Yankee savant and yoda, Don Zimmer speak volumes here: “Of all people – Joe Girardi’s a tough guy, a tough catcher. I don’t know what spring training’s got to do with it,” Zimmer said. “I think he was out of line. That’s the best way I can put it, whether he likes that or not. That’s the way I feel.”


Amen Yankee Yoda, Amen.

 

I am all for hard play and hustle on the diamond.  If Delmon Young had more hustle than his mouth, he would still be patrolling right field in the Trop for the Rays.

 

The answer to the Trivia Question is:

Former Yankee great, Babe Ruth. When he was first with the Boston Red Sox, he owned the New York Yankees on the mound.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Tampa Bay Rays Scribbles

I was trolling the Internet today looking for MLB news, and I found this great story about a prank pulled by Philadelphia Phillie’s Bret Myers pulled during Spring Training.  It happened in my hometown of Clearwater, Florida. This is the Spring Training site of the Philadelphia Phillie’s, and is located not even two miles from my home. 

It involves a young pitcher named Kyle Kendrick. The prank involved a few veterans like starter/closer Brett Myers and the entire coaching staff and some management. He also got punked by his agent in this prank. It is funny as all get out as the player was told he was traded to the “Giants” of the Japanese baseball league. His (pun) salary was $ 1.5 million dollars, thank god it was not Yen.

The next clip is a failed PDA by Philadelphia Phillie pitcher, Brett Myers. No, it isd not Brett Myer Day on my blog, just ran into a few really funny clips that I think can make your Monday feel better.Brett had a bit of problems up in Boston a while back during and Inter-league series with the Red Sox. He was out on the town, with his wife and made a bad character call. I do not condone what went down here, but I do know that he is making every step possible to help him in his situation.

I did my usual pilgrimage Friday morning out to the Rays Spring Training complex in St. Pete., and saw the pitchers’ and catchers’ come out in their new uniforms and greet the assembled fans and the new baseball season.
A few of the guys looked really eager to get out there and begin to finally throw some meaningful strikes and get set for “live” batting practice here in a few days. the first game of the spring is approaching fast.

Remember, we start our quest on Feb. 29th in our “turn-around” year.
Fitting we start playing on the Leap Year date, because this is the year we hope to change the national outlook on our squad. This is the year we hope to have a few heads pop sideways from Seattle to Miami. We are hoping in the next few months to finally have people at places like ESPN, love to show our highlighted without the jokes and puns included in the broadcast.

One of the guys I am keeping an close eye on will probably not make the Major League roster this year, but was a colorful addition to last years Southern Championship team in Montgomery, Alabama.Chris Mason is a major pitching talent for the Double-A Montgomery  Biscuits. He is known for his amazing pitching as well as his hair color.  Now everyone remembers the movie, “Summer Catch”, based on the Cape Cod Baseball League. 

In this movie, there is a hot shot pitcher who has his hair spiked in white and black to almost look like a Naruto character. Now Chris does not look exactly like this, but he did start the year as a platinum blond, shave it all off, go “goth” black, shave it off, and almost came out in a “pink caddy” look last year around the playoff time. Thanks Goodness his coach on the Biscuits vetoed that move. He wants to be on ESPN for talent, not showmanship.

Good thing this guy has some really great true talent, or this “hair statement” phase might not go well with the parent club. 

This next weekend is the 11th Annual Fan Fest at Tropicana Field. It is held only on Saturday and is a great place to get the vibe started for the upcoming MLB season.
Now, I have only missed 1 of these events, and that was by choice. It is a great time for kids of all ages.

It features a Pepsi/Rays Wall of Fame induction for the new class of fans that demonstrate a talent, special charm or endeavor for our hometown team. And yes, I have been on the wall for almost 5 years now. I am the guy who looks like a coach in his picture. It is a great time to see what spirit and commitment some of us have for our team. This is not a celebration of the “bandwagon” fan, but the true die-hard fans that can make or break the stands in a close game.

Along with this event, there will be baseball displays through the venue featuring items from Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb and other Rays notables like Wade Boggs. 

 Also, there will be tons of events for the kids. there will be a base running timed event, a batting cage area that looks like old Ebbetts field, and face painters and tons of events for all ages. There is also going to be a silent auction going on all day to benefit the “Rays of Hope” foundation. That is the arm of the franchise that awards grants and scholarships to deserving teams and players throughout the year in our community. I am a huge supporter of this cause and would love for everyone to also be a part of it in some way.

There will also be a tour of the Home Rays’ locker room. This will give you a glimpse of the area that these warriors get ready to face the likes of the Red Sox and Yankees’ firsthand.

Harold Reynolds of ESPN fame will be on stage in the Budweiser brew house taking questions and meeting with the masses. A few years ago, Peter Gammons was here before his injury, and he gave a fantastic speech on what he saw in our future as a team. It was a fantastic look into the mind of one of the greatest baseball writers, and recent inductee in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Last but not least, there will be an autograph signing involving the Rays players, and some veterans from the past. Players like Carlos Pena, Scott Kazmir, and Cliff Floyd will be signing for the fan.

If you have never been to this event, it is free parking and admission. Well worth the time and an experience the kids will remember for years to come. I will be there almost all day. Just look for the guy with the Cheshire cat grin, that would be me. See you there.

 

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