Results tagged ‘ New York Yankees ’

I Choose to Not Buy Centerplate Products

 

I am a huge dog  and overall animal fan. I have on numerous occasions told people that my pure black German Shepherd Hansel was my DFF (Dog Friend Forever). Animals have dotted my entire life and sometimes I do get an affliction of treating them almost like another human.

images (7)So maybe it is just me, but I’m appalled at the recent video surfaced on August 21st showing a man with his dog on a leash basically beating discipline into his dog while traveling in a closed elevator while staying at a hotel in Vancouver, BC.

Sure we all have disciplined our pets, but not while they are seated on an elevator floor and by kicks to their middle regions or applying foot to hind quarters. For me it was a newspaper slight pop and putting their nose near their badly placed deposits. And neither of these actions were done out of anger, frustrations or even a hint of hurting my beloved pet. 

Subsequently after the British Columbia SPCA viewed the actions a search warrant was issued for Desmond Hague the current CEO of Centerplate Inc., which is the largest food services vendor that provides food options for us locally at Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Lightning, Orlando Magic games and at many other major sports venues in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

images (5)Even though the investigation into the animal abuse case involving Hague is on-going, it will be interesting to see how this event will effect in-stadium sales for Centerplate for the rest of the baseball season and possibly hurt the conglomerate during the upcoming MLB post season.

Hague has issued an apology for his actions, but maybe it is a bit too late to possibly fend off the extremely negative effect such actions will have on devote animal loving fans and if the vendor will feel any significant financial pains while the case is open.

I can definitely see fans possibly making a choice in the coming weeks by possibly invoking an in-stadium silent protest and just stroll by the Centerplate booths instead buying their food items at Centerplate vendors located within your stadium or arena.

images (2)Centerplate also caters the Rays VIP areas like the suite area, Dex Imaging Home Plate Club, Hancock Bank Club, 162 Landing, Papa John’s Bullpen Box, Left Field Terrace, and new Back Porch group seating areas. They also provide food and beverage items for the Everglades Brewhouse and the Rays Press Club.

 But even if you feel Centerplate should feel some sort of financial pain because of their CEO’s disregard, the vendor might not be the only one to feel less dollars in their pocket because of this animal abuse.

A lot of the charities or team organizations also run booths that have to use Centerplate food and drink items and they could also feel a significant pinch to their fundraising efforts if fans decide to boycott buying in-stadium food or beverage items.

images (4)Even worse, the beer, ice cream and cotton candy vendors who patrol both the bowl and upper deck areas are independent contractors who do not work for Centerplate but work on a commission basis when they sell you that cool beverage or neon-colored cotton candy. Such a protest could affect them.

So if you do plan a silent protest of Centerplate please be sure decide individually who you want to hurt the most.

You are permitted to bring outside food into Tropicana Field as long as they fit into these parameters. All items must be for individual or single family consumption. The items should be wrapped, bagged or contained in individual proportions in a soft-sided container not to exceed 16 in. by 16 in. by 8 inches. Only sealed water bottles no larger than 1 liter and child single-serving juice boxes are permitted into the stadium.

images (6)I’m a firm believer in discipline in your animals, but not by forcing fear of physical retaliation into their training or projecting violent interactions with an animal that can’t defend or speak for themselves.  

My actions is in no way a negative reflection on the Rays overall organization, their staff and hope my stand is not viewed as a disapproval of their connection with Centerplate because no one could of seen this event coming without psychic ability.

But I feel strongly about this issue and have decided to partake in this action on my own, but if others want to follow my action……

As of this moment, and during the rest of the Rays 2014 season (which hopefully extends into October), I personally do not plan on buying a single food or drink item from a Centerplate operated stand.  

downloadI do however plan to show support for the volunteer fundraising organizations throughout the Trop. by donating to their cause via tips not food or drink purchases, the tips will never touch the hands of Centerplate and will be the sole monetary property of that organization.

The fundraising organizations should not be collateral damage for this event and hopefully will see a lot more tips coming their way.

I’m going to eat before I hit the stadium for a while and lug around a 1-liter bottle of Aquafina I purchased before entering Tropicana Field. It is as much in a sign of protest as it is cheaper on my wallet overall and will give me my own small sense of doing the right thing.

I worked with Centerplate for many years as their Pepsi representative and most of the employees, supervisors and managers are good people who would or could not do such actions privately.  

I am venting my disgust upwards way beyond their pay grades to the highest level who has done the unthinkable in my opinion. I am not an active animal right activist, but I do believe in the fair treatment of all creatures not mosquito, brown recluse spider or cockroach, but that is just me.

download (1)Unfortunately I do not have the means or proper media influence to let the visiting fans coming into the Trop know about this event. But hopefully the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Yankees and White Sox faithful are abreast of the Centerplate situation and will take their own actions.

Hopefully Hague will get what coming to him in the coming months, but even in Canada you can’t strike Hague in punishment with the same swiftness he hit his defenseless dog.

A Rod Should Tread Lightly Right Now

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We as a collective baseball world knew under no uncertain terms this cleat was to fall. That Alex Rodriguez would definitely pay some sort of penance for defying Major League Baseball, but none of us if it was to be an abbreviated sentence or seasonal exile. Now that we know the price ($25,000,000) and length (162 games + any possible 2014 post-season visit) such defiance will cost A-Rod, only time will tell if we have seen the last of the defiant one on any MLB diamond.

835675aa-904c-3cf7-b8b2-a4533bdea3c3You can speculate anything you want right now, but when A Rod finishes his “sentence”, he would have been off any regular season diamond within the MLB for almost 2 years. He has already flaunted the idea to the masses he will try and roll into the New York Yankees Spring Training site in Tampa, Florida this February hoping to put some mind at ease on his entire shenanigans, but the reality is the Yankees and most importantly MLB has time between now and mid-February to not only forbid such an arrival, but possibly shut A Rod out of an y rehab, conditioning or even a slight eye glance towards their Tampa facilities.

Right now with A Rod saying he will strut into Spring Training, the ball is in the Yankees court firsthand to either welcome him with open arms, or a clenched fist. It is actually a bit of a double-edged swords for the Pinstripes. The Yankees brass already know that the upholding of A Rod’ suspension by the arbitrator in essence saved them $ 25 million this season and some might view A Rod’s arrival as him accepting that final verdict and wanting to get his legal, and professional ducks in a row for  a possibly re-birth in the Spring of 2015.

Honestly I do not see a lot of olive branches and love being shown at this moment for Rodriguez, but there is almost 4 weeks between now and their report date for pitchers and catchers, so anything can happen…….and MLB could ultimately take any harmonious union between the team and A Rod firmly out of Rodriguez’s and the Yankees hands.

1d1fdcf4f545262900694855285dc0e3One serious roadblock besides the shunning of MLB upon any out-stretched hands to Rodriguez might be the simple fact A Rod will head to Tampa, Fl in about a month’s time with so much baggage you have wonder if the franchise really wants the spotlight off the 2014 team that will cross the chalk lines this April, or corral daily and with hesitation the impending the media circus that would definitely surround such an activity with the focus upon everything A Rod being in the crosshairs.

Such a move could be a blow to the formulation of a cohesive Spring chemistry of the Yankees squad as the focus would be squarely upon who mans the “hot corner” in any or all spring training games and if there is not a solid and viable candidate who can do so with defensive and offensive finesse, the media could end up baiting the Yankees to internally question someone or everyone above their pay grade.

In the end you have to wonder if any spring arrival by A Rod will be to boost team morale or be a last plea to stroke his ego and importance until he has to fade into the background and possibly find play outside the MLB norms. Right now would be a great time for the Minor League Baseball governing unit to stand behind the MLB and the arbitrator’s decision by not letting any Yankee affiliate use A Rod on any of their rosters, effectively showing a sense of solidarity from Rookie ball to the MLB-level.

a4295222-28d3-3ea2-ae0d-d4614e86fb61Personally, I would not want a play who is facing such a negative circumstance aside me in the dugout. Rodriguez has no one to blame in this situation but himself and his legal commando squad. He could of admitted something, possibly gotten a reduced expulsion from the game, but right now him even showing up in Tampa, he would be a viable pariah and whose action could further burn both himself and the Yankees brass with any actions or unfounded counteractions. Best case scenario is either A Rod fades into the background for the 2014 season, licks his wounds and get physically in the best shape possible and make a return in 2015….or not at all.  What Rodriguez ultimately decides over the next 4 weeks will say as much about his ego and not his lost paycheck.

But then again, the Yankees could release him and he would be someone else’s problem come spring 2015……Hopefully Rodriguez does what is best for himself, what’s left of his reputation and possibly hopes and prays the Yankees dump him sometime this season. I mean everyone loves an underdog situation, and if A Rod is team-less and free to roam to whoever needs his services, a change of attitude and scenery might be the best thing ever to happen to him.

Hope A Rod makes the right moves for everyone involved.

Are You Ready for a Throwdown?

 

 

Within the next three hours Sports Radio from Manhattan in New York City to 9th Street North in the borough of St. Petersburg will begin their suggestive superlatives surrounding this upcoming weekend in Tampa Bay. Comparisons and similarities will be analyzed, scrutinized and media savvy sanitized to try and drum up any emotions still left dormant among followers of both teams. No matter if you are a card carrying member of the Pinstripe Platoon or the Rays Republic, this weekend will set the stage fully towards what might happen at the end of the 2010 seasonal journey.

This weekend will put one team in a small, but substantial advantage of having a numerical edge on their closest competitor, and the team that wants to take their dream away of October glory. No matter if you side with the Evil Empire , or the Rebel Alliance this weekend, the battle lines have been drawn, and the fun is just about to begin. In less than three hours, when the Rays Fan Hosts open the outer doors of Tropicana Field, a large segment of the baseball viewing World will be focused on this hamlet off the Gulf of Mexico eager not only for the First pitch, but the last.

This series will do more than give a little breathing room to a possible Playoff berth, it could be the difference between the Wild Card and the American League East crown. Each team thinks they are fighting the “good fight”, the fight that will deem them victorious, but the reality is that just as the Highlander, Conor McCloud once said, “There can be only one.” With the home team boasting a winning streak and the visitor’s holding onto the climax runaway game fresh in their minds, both teams approach this game as pivotal and a “must win” situation.

 

With both teams separated by only a small slip of the offense and pitching, this series, even if it is only 3 out of the remaining 10 contests between these two Major League Baseball giants. Those pesky Rays who the Yankees have not been able to get out of their rearview mirrors for most of the season have two 3-game series left in their “Pit” while the Yankees have only a 4-game slate in mid-September to their advantage. You want to give the immediate advantage to the Rays, but these are two titans who will not go down without a messy and bloody fight. No matter if it is a one-run game or a blowout, every inning, every movement, every sound could play a convincing role in the outcome of this series.


You wanted something magnificent Tampa Bay……Well, you got it this weekend. For the first time in the Rays 13 seasons, this series will be sold out, with possibly only Standing Room Only selections still left to buy at the Rays Box Office. The enveloping ticket scalpers that circle Tropicana Field will be eager and willing to project their price upon you if you did not choose wisely and pre-purchase your chance to see these giants collide. Boosted by the fact the Yankee faithful can see one of their own possibly hit a Major League milestone only adds fuel to the inferno already encircling this series. You wanted a showdown of epic proportions…..Well you got that too Tampa Bay.

Out of the loop this weekend will be attendance concerns, stadium issues and even the Trade Deadline may take a backseat to the living and breathing beat this is this American League East collision. Someone will come out of this whole series with bruises, battered emotional scars and maybe even a few less protractors. But there is also a good side. And that side is that for once this season, no matter what team you root for, the Tampa Bay area will be the center of the baseball World…period.

 

Two best teams in the game stroking it out mano-on-mano with the victor getting a leg up on their competition. This series can end only two ways. Someone will win and put a bit of distance or overtake the other, or someone will see their confidence rattled and have to rebound quickly to stay hungry for the home stretch. As always, I have my front row seat to seeing these titans battle it out just feet in front of me with each squad eager and willing to lay down personal sacrifices that go way beyond those committed using a maple bat.


This weekend will either be fulfilling another step towards a destiny, or establishing a dominance needed to secure, insure and procure a chance again to fight for the golden chalice with 30 MLB flags upon it. To say this is for all the marbles is too cliché`. To say this series will define a team is too vague. But to say the winner of this series has an edge….Well, that is just the Rays and Yankees ways of doing things in 2010.

 

I Will Miss “The Boss”, My Baseball Friend

 


 

I was sadden today when I heard of the passing of a true modern gladiator. A man who befriended me years ago, who always greeted me with a handshake and a smile. A great business tycoon who always had the heart of a true baseball fan. In life we sometimes meet people who leave a lasting mark on us inside forever just by their warmth and love for the game of baseball. I can honestly say that George Steinbrenner is the only Yankee fan I admire and respect for his devotion and strides to change the face of baseball for the betterment of the fans and the league as a whole.


Steinbrenner sometimes got a raw deal because of his deep and passionate drive towards his love of the game. His devotion and commitment to the game of baseball is as legendary as his strife within his own Yankee organization. I could easily see him being the man to quote, “You got to break a few eggs to make a perfect omelete”. But even through that period of strife, there was a respect and admiration for a man who could spin a simple blue pinstripe into Mida’s gold.

I can not imagine or fathom what the New York Yankees might have evolved into if Steinbrenner had not taken the team’s reigns and lead them through their rough years. But even with numerous stories of turmoil and bitter fighting, the team became a stronger unit, a beacon in the baseball marketplace, and ultimately, an International baseball icon. All of this was done under a shipbuilder’s watch, and we as a baseball nation are glad to have known him….even if it was from a distance.

I first met Steinbrenner outside the Sheraton Hotel on Kennedy Blvd before the 2001 Super Bowl held in Tampa, Florida. Steinbrenner had come down to see the owner of the New York Giants as the team assembled in the hotel foyer before heading off to Raymond James Stadium to take on the Baltimore Ravens. I was standing outside near the valet area when Steinbrenner walked out and commented on my Tampa Bay Rays hat.

I quickly acknowledged his comment and told him to please be nice to our ex-Rays guy Dwight Gooden, who had been working for the Yankees organization after a rough patch in his personal life. Steinbrenner looked at me and smiled and liked my sense of compassion for Gooden and asked if I was going to the Super Bowl. I commented that I did not have the funds to adequately acquire any tickets and Steinbrenner waved to his bodyguard/driver to come to us.

We talked for a few more minutes about baseball and the Yankees legacy, Steinbrenner asked me for my name and local address. He then excused himself for a few minutes and his bodyguard/driver got my information and talked to me for a few minutes himself. I remarked how great it must be to work for such a symbol of commerce and business integrity. The bodyguard looked at me and told me ” Steinbrenner is stern, firm but totally loyal to his employees if they showed the same qualities and respect to him”.

We both stood there a few minutes, then Steinbrenner came back with a envelope and handed it to me. He told me to have a great day and that he would be sending me something special soon. I was in awe at the moment and as he got into his car, I could only babble and say thank you a million times. But I had still not opened the envelope and he noticed that. Steinbrenner asked me why I had not opened the envelope yet.

Steinbrenner told me “true fans sometimes need to be rewarded”.

As he rolled up his window. I clutched the envelope and walked out of the Sheraton foyer then walked across the street to a small shopping center where my car was located and noticed that Steinbrenner had pulled into the gas station. I went up and asked his driver if I might be able to ask Mr. Steinbrenner for a photo. He chuckled and told me “it might make his day”. I approached the car window and got more nervous as it rolled down.

I somehow mustered the courage to ask one of the most important men in baseball to take a photo with me. Steinbrenner was more than happy to take a photo with me and asked if I had opened the envelope yet. I told him I had not opened it yet, but was saving the moment until I got back to my car in case I was going to jump and scream like a schoolgirl. He laughed at that moment and the end of that laugh is captured on the photo of the two of us on that corner of Westshore and Kennedy, just a few miles from his old Tampa home.

It is still one of my most cherished photos, and one I enjoy displaying on my collectibles shelf. I was a bundle of nerves after that photo and decided to head to a nearby sub shop and have lunch.

After I ordered my food, I sat down at a small white table with my beverage and stared at the envelope wondering what might be inside. I quickly tore the top off the envelope. Inside that envelope was a note from Steinbrenner asking me to contact him during Spring Training at the Yankees complex in Tampa.

Tucked inside that note was also two tickets to the game and I suddenly gasped and someone in the shop asked if I was okay. I told them the greatest guy in the world had just given me two tickets to the Super Bowl and all I gave him was a few moments of my time.


I met Steinbrenner several times after that day while performing my duties as the Tampa Bay Rays Pepsi representative. He had a great suite on the 200 level at Tropicana Field, and when I saw he was in attendance, I used to go up and give a cordial welcome and shake his hand. I have a lot of respect for George Steinbrenner both as a man, and as an icon of stability in baseball. It saddens me that he will not be able to take in the splendor and the pageantry tonight as the 81st All-Star game commences tonight. I can just imagine the level of pride and honor that envelopes him during such events. 

Steinbrenner loved this game with  the same overflowing passion and honest commitment that millions of us attest to every day. The Yankees would not be as strong or as mighty without this man’s demeanor and devotion to achieving excellence. Steinbrenner was known by millions around the World as “The Boss”, but for that one moment in 2001 in Tampa, Florida, I considered him my true baseball friend.

Stickball- Ybor City Style

 


 

Stickball is a street game related to baseball usually formed in pick-up games in cities that border the Northeastern seaboard of the United States. The equipment is simple, you need a broom handle, and a rubber ball. Normally the ball will be a spaldeen,, pensie pinkie, high bouncer, or a normal tennis ball.  the rules of the game are governed by the area in which the game will be held. In most of the cities in the north, that might be the center of a street. If that was the case, then the bases would be manhole covers and cars, buildings and even tree lined sidewalks will act as foul poles.
 

But the surrounding did not look like the Bronx or Queens in New York on Friday. Could it have been the smell of fresh baked Cuban bread, or even using the background of an old cigar factory building in Ybor City, just east of downtown Tampa, Florida. This is a region not known for stickball the way they play it in the northern states, or is it?  On Friday afternoon, the city of Tampa shut down a small section of  9th Avenue between Republic de Cuba and 13th street for some fun in the sun,  Southern stickball style.

 
 

 

The event was the the brainchild of Yahoo sports!, who also had a film crew on hand to produce a 5 to 10 minute video that will run on the Yahoo sports website promoting their Fantasy Leagues.  On hand was first baseman Mark Teixeira of the New York Yankees, who is the Yahoo Sports cover player for the upcoming fantasy season.  Teixeira, who signed a  8-year, $ 180 million dollar contract with the Bronx Bombers this off season. He stated he played mostly wiffle ball growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, but did not participate in stickball as a kid.

 
When he asked the crowd how many strikes he could have, they yelled in unison “One!”.  the event rules stated that it was to be in a “fungo” style, or that the ball had to bounce at least once before he could swing at the pitch.  So as Teixeira took his place at the makeshift plate, he looked down the cobblestone street and smiled before bouncing the ball once and swung the long thin broomstick handle and crushed the ball out of sight on his first attempt. This sent the partisan crowd into a roar and the ball was ruled a home run.  the teams in this events were labeled “Old School” and “New School” and featured Florida stickball league players from Orlando, and Tampa’s own Lightings squad.

 
                   
 

Teixeria took his turns in the field playing first base, but in this version he did not have the usual mitt to use as the ball was fielded with your hands and sometimes bounces like a racquetball so wild hops and 90 degree turns can happen routinely during the games. Teixeira took a second turn at bat and again crushed the ball for his second hit of the afternoon. I can not wait to see this video up on Yahoo Sports! website, and I look forward to my northern brethren to see how we play stickball in the Dirty South!

 
 
Photo credits: 1-3) http://www.TBO.com ( Scott Iskowitz )

 

My Review of the 2009 New York Yankees

 

 
 

The next two days might be the hardest two days to write a blog about a review for a team in the American League East. Today’s subject will be the team that most people outside of the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and even Connecticut do not understand. they all know the symbols of the team, and maybe some of the legends who have come and passed through their great stadium. But sometimes the mention of just their name can bring about a avalanche of catcalls and opinions. Again, I want to stress that this blog is only my opinion and in such my views will try and concise and with merit. I expect blog comments, and I do not shy from them. So if you write it……..I will respond.
 

For years this team used to call Tropicana Field “Yankee Stadium South” when they into town for a series. But in the last few years, the Tampa Bay Rays have begun to take back their home stadium row by row until in 2008 you could hear both teams loud and proud in the stadium. So if you have not guessed by now, the third part of my review installment is on the” Evil Empire, the Bronx Bombers,” or simply “The Pinstripes” . Yes, it is time to try and review that team that everyone either loves or hates………the New York Yankees.
 

Several names have been deleted from the Yankee roster since their last game in 2008. Most have been erased because of  the team wanting to go in another direction for the future of the franchise. Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi are now going to play their ball on the west coast of the country, while long time starter Mike Mussina decided to hang up his spikes and watch his kids grow up. But that was not the only thing that left 2008 as the year the Yankees needed to forget about. The team suffered some pitching woes that tore the team apart and made their rise to the top again difficult. For the first time in 12 season, the Yankees were watching the playoffs from the outside. In the off season, the Yankee front office made a decision that this was only going to be a one-year vacation, and it was time again to rule from the top. 
 
 

Part of that move back into greatness was to fully open the checkbook and get some of the players needed to dominate for years again. With some of the team aging, the Yankees needed to get the young stars who were about to either come out with a bang, or were currently the cream of the crop. After all was said and done, almost a half a billion dollars changed hands for a handful of budding superstars that could again take the pinstripes back to the playoff for the next 5 years.  The three high priced free agents the team fought after did not come cheaply for the Yankees. With each player they had to trade and bid  for their services again and again. But the Yankee mindset is not to lose at negotiations, and in the end, they got their players.

 

 

           
 

If you begin to write a review for 2009 for the Yankees, you have to start with their newly revised rotation. Now, who can argue that Carsten Charles Sabathia was the crown jewel of the Yankees’ off season pitching makeover. The man came with a price tag as big as his trousers, but he also came with the statistics to back it up. He will be the experienced ace of the Yankees revamped pitching staff, and might  end up being the best investment the team has done in years. Sabathia is not just a power pitcher, but also an innings eater. His 253 innings in 2008 is not as impressive as his 251 strikeouts in those innings.  To provide such a statistic that you have almost a strikeout an inning, and you pitched over 250+ innings is remarkable in any league. Sabathia throws three pitches effectively, and uses his change up, which breaks straight to fool hitters because of his great arm action.
 


Coming in at the number 2 slot for the Yankees is former Toronto pitcher A J Burnett. He also came to the Yankees after a bit of a battle, but decided to finally become a Yankee. His familiarity with the American League East hitters will be  a premium for him in 2009. Because of his knowledge in the division, Burnett will already have a pitching style in place to combat each teams hitters. This will make his adjustment to the Yankees a bit easier.  But Burnett also posted some great numbers in 2008. He pitched in 221 innings and struck out 231 batters last year.  Burnett is mostly a power thrower, but his  hard curve is his magic strike pitch. After an injury to his fingernail last year, he began to play more with his change-up, and got the pitch to sink and tail more throughout the season.
 

 

Coming back from an injury can bring with it loads of expectations and pressure. But Chien-Ming Wang has dealt with the pressure pretty well the last few season in New York. His injury, which caused him to miss the entire second half of the season played heavily on the Yankees failure to secure a playoff berth. Wang had been a consistent member of the pitching staff, but only was able to piece together 15 starts before his injury shelved him for the year.  One of the greatest thing about Wang’s pitching style is that he relies on his sinkerball. His 2-seamer bores in on right-handers and  sinks past lefties. His slider is average, but if thrown correctly can be a knee bender.  He began to throw a splitter in 2008, and at times it looked like Jorge Posada was having difficulty with it. The pitch had a really late bite on the plate and made it a bit difficult in the last 3 feet to judge correctly all the time.
 

The top 3 pitchers in the staff have the experience starting games in the New York atmosphere either as a Yankee or a opponent. that will come in handy in 2009 when the new Yankee Stadium is opened and the roar of the crowd will seem to be a bit more focus towards the mound area. Joba Chamberlain did an effective job as one of the Yankees set-up men in 2007-2008.  After two seasons of setting up for Mariano Rivera, he will take his spot in the rotation in 2009. Chamberlain appeared in 42 games last season, including 12 starts. The one question mark in my mind here is if the reliever can quickly adapt back to starting a game after two seasons in the Bullpen. Starting games has a different mentality than relieving, and will Chamberlain be able to make that transition smoothly before the season starts. 
 

I think that he can become a great starter for the Yankees, but I will wait until the end of Spring Training to anoint him to the fourth spot. He seems to have the goods on the mound to transition without a hitch.  In the last few years, he has used his fastball, which hits 95 mph and above to set up people for his unbelievable slider.  Chamberlain has already been given a bit of a legend status as a pitcher even before he has effectively led the Yankees to the playoff promised land. Chamberlain used to use his change-up and curveball in the minors, but because of the dominance of his first two pitches, they are throw-in pitches to keep hitters honest at the plate.
 

Now we come to the fifth spot in the rotation. This player could also wind up in the fourth slot if Yankee Manager Joe Girardi wants to use him there. But in the fifth slot, he will face the opponents least experienced pitcher, which could play into a great Yankees mental game as they could dominate from the first pitch of the game. Yankee great Andy Pettitte is considered one of the great lefties to ever grace the mound.  His 14-14 record last season is no indication of the magic he still can provide on the mound. He still tossed over 200 innings last year, and still has one of the best pick-off moves in the major leagues.  Pettitte still relies heavily on his cutter, which resembles a slider and is effective in breaking bat when coming in on right-handers.  His fastball is pretty straight, but his command of it can catch the corners at anytime. One of the pitches he has in his arsenal that if it is going great, he is almost unhittable is his curveball. It can take a nasty dip fast into the ground if it is popping at the right time for him that night.


 
                

 

The Yankees might have the luxury of keeping up Phil Hughes in 2009 as a long reliever and also an insurance policy if something should happen to a starter this season. Hughes, who will be throwing today against the Rays in Tampa, struggled with injuries himself last year. This might be the make it or break it year for Hughes, and a good Spring Training showing might get him a slot in the Bullpen as the long reliever for the team.  The Bullpen will be the place where a majority of the Yankees game will be won or lost in 2009. Last season they were not the most effective Bullpen in the American League, and that might have cost them dearly before they got the ball to Rivera in the ninth inning. 

 

Coming back in 2009 will be Damaso Marte, who has established himself as the Yankee leftie specialist in 2008, will be counted on more this season. Marte has always been a fastball/slider kind of pitcher and should see more action in 2009 with Chamberlain going to the rotation.  Both David Robertson and Dan Giese will get chances early on to cement a spot in the Bullpen. Both pitchers throw mostly fastballs and curves, with Robertson having more velocity and a change-up to mix things up at times. Left-hander Phil Coke might be the guy to take Marte’s spot as the left-handed specialist in 2009. Coke throws a nice mid 90’s fastball and a slider that break heavy into the plate. Humberto Sanchez, who came back  strong in 2008 after Tommy John’s surgery in 2007, should get a chance to again to sit in the Yankees Bullpen. Sanchez throws a nice moving fastball in the 90’s and has an effective 12-6 break curveball. 
 

Jose Veras also might have a shot at making the Bullpen after a great 2008. Veras is a tall pitcher and uses his leverage to  produce really good strikeout numbers as a professional. He also has a nice split-finger pitcher that tends to dip below bats. But his downfall might be that he is a high WHIP pitcher. Edwar Ramirez is another guy who might make a decision difficult for the Bullpen slots.  Ramirez is basically only a two pitch guy, but he will occasionally mix in a tight slider to right-handers.


 
 

 

Jonathan Albaladejo is another right-hander who throws a great moving fastball and two breaking pitches. He has been great at mixing up his pitches, which includes a powerful boring fastball, and a slow bending curveball. His slider is his second breaking pitch, but in 2008, it stayed up in the strike zone too much. But the one guy who will not have to ever worry about a roster spot is closer Rivera. Even if he is approaching 40, the man is still one of the most effective closers in the game today. Was is more amazing is that he has basically thrown only the cutter in and out for most of his career.  85-90 percent of the time, you know you will see some sort of cutter to the plate.  He does have a four-seam fastball that he uses up and in to right-handers. Simply put, if the game is on the line, you want this guy on the mound.
 

The Yankees outfield has taken a huge turn since the end of 2008. Left field will still be the home of trade deadline acquisition Xavier Nady who hit a solid .305 average with 25 homers and 97 RBI in 2008. This will be his first full season in the American League, and he is out to establish himself early on for his defense and throwing ability. Nady  will occasionally share his position with Hideki Matsui, who had a wild injury plagued year and is looking to rebound in both the field and at Designated Hitter for the Yankees. Matsui had a down year with only 9 homers and 45 RBI last season. This year he reports to camp in shape and ready to play.   Johnny Damon, who hit  for a .303 average with 17 homers and 71 RBIs might be the man on the go this year.
 

Damon is actually expected to play at several positions during the season, which will include both first base and the outfield. But in center field, the Yankees will be holding their biggest battle for a spot in 2009. Melky Cabrera, who hit for .249 with   8 homers and 37 RBIs will be pushed heavily for his spot. Cabrera is trying to make the decision between him and Brett Gardner more difficult this spring. Gardner, who took over for a bit after Cabrera was sent to the minors, came on to hit only .228 in his 42 games up with the Yankees last season. These two players will be fighting it out as they are the only two who might be able to cover the massive outfield grasses of Yankee Stadium. There is a chance that Nick Swisher might be given a chance to take over right field for the Yankees since they signed Mark Teixeira to play first base. I think both him and Damon will get ample shots at manning the right corner in the new stadium this year. The outfield looks competitive with the rest of the American League East, but it is not the best athletic or most powerful in the division in 2009. They will get their licks in and  might surprise you with their arm strength at times. But that might not stop the run happy teams in this division who tend to run on even good flamethrowers.
 

Coming into the infield, let start with the middle of the diamond. As we all know, Derek Jeter will again be manning the shortstop position for the Yankees. Last season he did not have a typical Jeter season, only hitting .300 average, with 11 homers and 69 RBI’s.  Jeter’s defense has also slipped a notch in the last few years, but is still the cream of the crop in turning the double play and getting base runners out at second base on steal attempts. He is till considered the heart and soul of this team. And how he responds this year might be a good indicator of the Yankee mindset.There is talk of maybe seeking a younger shortstop in 2010 and Jeter maybe moving over to second base to make that position more solid for the team. But in the present time, Robinson Cano will be the man at second base for the Yankees, Cano hit .271 for the year with 14 homers and 72 RBIs. With the Yankee infield having such high expectations by fans, Cano seemed to take a small step back in 2008.  It will be key to see him rebound this season and again post good number to even be considered for the spot in 2010.

 

                   
 

On the corners is where the Yankees will store their power in 2009. Third Baseman Alex Rodriguez will see 162 games of critical opinions and cat calls, but should still put up monster numbers in 2009. Last season he did not produce as expected, but still hit .305 with 35 homers and 103 RBI’s. He is considered one of the sports best players, but will also be feeling the heat in 2009 after his steroid allegations and confession. The first few months should be a good barometer of how the pressure and the voices from the cheap seats bother Rodriguez. He might get out of the gate a bit slow, but as things die down, he will again dominate the right side of the infield  both at the plate and on the field.
 

Coming into the Yankee fold after signing a huge off season contract is former Angel Mark Teixeira. He comes to the Bronx with the expectations of the team finally having another power alternative to Rodriguez.  Texieira, who hit .302, with 35 homers and 103 RBI’s is considered one of the best first baseman in the game. As good as he is at the plate, Texieira has just as good reputation manning  his defensive position. Texieira also bring into the Yankees fold the option of being a switch-hitter. This is something that the team has lack a lot of in the past few seasons.  
 

 

But he is not the only switch hitter brought in for 2009. Nick Swisher will also see time at first base and maybe Designated Hitter. Swisher needs to improve on his average, which was only .219 last season, but he does have better than average power, and can be a pest on the base paths. In the area of catching, the Yankees hope that Jorge Posada’s shoulder is fully healed and he can get back to his 2007 form behind the plate. Another hot spot in 2008 was the absence of Posada behind the plate after he went down with a shoulder injury.  He is getting up in age, and a move might be made in the next few years to get him time at D H or maybe first base, he has to cement the position for the Yankees in 2009.  The team still has Jose Molina back in 2009, and with another year under his belt with the team, Molina’s biggest concern is to get better at bats and produce when he is in the game for the Yankees.

 

 

 
So there you have the possible members of the 2009 New York Yankees. Not only are they trying to reverse the trend of missing the playoffs for the first time last season, they will have to impress the fans in their new stadium. Add the pressure of the usual expectations and the increased vocal noise towards Rodriguez, this team will need to mesh fast and stay tight the entire year. A pretty injury-less season could be the key for this team. Even though their outfield and their Bullpen are not huge strengths this season. the infield corners and the starting pitching might be the difference this year. As I have stated all off season long, the American League East will be a war in 2009. With each team playing 18 times against each other in the season, the winner of the yearly series will probably have the hand-up for the division title.  I can see this Yankees team win a minimum of 92 games if their  starting pitching stay intact. It is now up to the Yankees to again either prove or fail in becoming one of the premier teams in the American League.

photos credits for today’s blog go to: liciouscheery@Flickr.com, Garywilsong@Flickr.com, http://www.mnbc.msn.com, Packerfan@Flickr.com, http://www.sportsnet.ca.

My Views on the Steroid News

 

Update


When I first wrote this on Saturday I was not aware of the recent revelation by Alex Rodriguez to his usage of the stimulant from 2001-2003. I do not condone this action by him, nor do I fully condemn him for it. I am not at liberty to know his personal struggles or  mindset before he first injected a steroid into his body. But I do acknowledge the effort and the initial actions to coming clean on the past, and I respect the fact he is owning up to his errors in his past instead of hiding away until it dies down.

 

 

I have been thinking about this issue for a few days now, and either you will agree or disagree with me totally here. I really did not want to write anything pertaining to the Alex Rodriguez situation because I have  been guilty of the same crime, and I  was not proud of it at the time. I am not saying I am a steroid user for a long period of time, I only did it once like so many other athletes did in the mid 1980’s to just see what all the fuss was about.  I did it like some teenagers try alcohol before they are 21, for the reason that it was not okay and to see what all the fuss was about with it. At the time it was not condemned yet in the NCAA or even the professional ranks and was lightly viewed as a bad thing.
 

 
I am not going to try and justify anything he did in the past, or even try and justify my usage. Mine was out of ignorance and not education at the time. In that period of my life I was looking for an edge, a advantage over my competitors. I tried it that one time and then decided to flush the rest of the vial down the toilet. It did not seem to me to be an advantage. It seemed more mental that physical. My addiction was for more speed. To be faster off the line and stay with that gazelles that were playing in my league at the time. I also decided that it would effect not only my on-field life, but harm my off the field life if I used it for any amount of time.



 


 
 
This is my blog to say I understand the pressure and the yearnings and wanting to be the best year in and year out. But it  has always comes with a price. Alex Rodriguez is beginning to see that price in the headlines, blogs and the attention to everything he has done on the field since that 2003 positive test. I got lucky enough to stop myself before it got out of hand or was discovered, but A Rod now will  have to weather a pretty heavy hailstone storm of controversy and accusations for a long time. I was not a MVP type of player by a long shot, but he is, and will suffer for many years for his mistakes and people will always question his ability because of it all.
 

 
The person, or persons who will be hurt most by this is not even A-Rod. It is the little kids or teenagers who have idolized the guy for years, or who want to play just like him. I hope they discover the fact that this man made a mistake and we can learn from it and not venture into the same realm of confusion and misguided intentions.  But the reality is that some younger fans will find a justification for maybe trying them and then put themselves on a bad path to either ruin or major injury. The common fan has wanted to be like him for years, and with this positive test it brings with it a credibility for the choice to try, or even maintain a usage of the illegal drug.
 

 
The guy will not be the same after this, and he has no one to blame but himself.  The youth of this country already have enough role models who have failed them, this is just another long line of athletes who wanted the top spot and took their chances.  How many young girls idolized our  female Olympic hero Marion Jones before she was found out to have enhanced her abilities by using steroids. Baseball has been plagued with this demon for a while now, and if you really think about it, who are the other 103 members who failed in 2003 also. Could some of them be the hero’s and stars that we looked up to and enjoyed watching play the game, and are they just as tarnished by their tests.
 

 
 
 But will it  all of this make a young kid think he needs it too.  Will there again be a market in the lower levels of education that will sell and distribute these drugs to our kids. And will there be a justification now that steroids are the answer to playing at a top physical level? 
 


 


I really hated writing this. More for the fact that I am exposing myself and the  80’s culture I grew up with as underlying confused people who tried to find an answer in a vial of unknown substances. I know the pain it has caused me to wonder if I did the right thing, and if I didn’t, would the world shun me for it. I have come to the reality that it was wrong long ago and consulted with my coaches’ back then for their opinion. It was told to me if that was the only time, then forgive myself and work harder to gain the edge the right way and things would even out in the long run. That by working hard the right way I would cleanse my mind and soul in the long run. That consultation now seems a bit weird and vague to me, but at the time I only wanted to get back on the right path.
 

 
But can A-Rod even be granted the same treatment. I think his location in New York city will be the worst location to even expose or come clean with this revelation. It is going to ruin whatever credibility he had with the local media and also destroy any hero worship he ever had with the young baseball fans in America.  I have not heard the extent of his usage with the drug, and I do not want to know about it. I just hope that he can come clean and admit the mistakes, like Andy Pettitte, and hope for the mercy of the media and fans. No doubt there will be signs that say “A-Roid” up in the new Yankee Stadium on Opening Day this year, and he will have to cope with the rumors of the past.
 

 
It is for this reason I can not cast a stone at him. I have been in that situation once in my life, and because of it, I am guilty too. I can feel for the pain and misery he will feel in the next few months and into the season. But if he is true to himself and the world, he will again get back on track and be the best in the game. The worst part of all of this is even his years in Seattle as a young shortstop will be questioned. All the records and the accolades he has received during his career are all being cast in a shadow of doubt now. And you know even his Hall of Fame appointment might be rising and falling like a barometer right now………..with a low pressure right now because of the impending storm of controversy to hit him for a long, long time.
 

Pictures  on today’s blog acquired from Getty Images and http://www.NewYorkYankee.com
 

C.C. is OK in N.Y.

 

                      

Baseball as always had a weird mindset in regards to a players’ weight. Certain players have been known to be able to gain tons of weight, and nothing has ever been said to them. A Designated Hitter could put on a few pounds of non muscle and people will value it as extra “hitting weight” or even leverage.  It would be regarded as a upgrade in the power behind the bat at the plate, not as a designated seat at the suspect Chinese All-U-Can Eat buffet down the street. When it comes to weight, the power guys are the ones who can get away with it. But why can’t a pitcher?

 


If you are in a skilled position in the infield, it could be the kiss of death for you to gain a  huge amount of weight. It would be viewed by these same people as a lack of focus and commitment to the team concept.That maybe your self control is anissue and you do not have the will power to push yourself away from the plate. If a second baseman should come in 15 pounds heavier, it better be in his arms and chest region, and not near the waist. For the skilled positions between the lines need to have their deer-like reflexes and players are expected to be jumping, leaping and scraping the clay to get to balls. Anything else would be a disaster.

 


So why is it that the odd call is coming from the media to bashing and badgering  the fact that C C Sabathia is a big man. Granted, at 6 foot 9 inches he will have to have some weight to just survive. But since he is about to hit the scales at a easy 300 pounds, do you think the Yankees might consider him for a Jenny Craig model, or even institute a eating program to help him maintain his weight in the 24/7 city like New York. Is this subject even coming up because of the amount of the pitcher’s contract, and New Yorkers are questioning something they all know can kill them, much less a pitcher on the stadium mound. Can the hounds of braodway really be so concerned with Sabathia’s figure even before he officially reports to Spring, or are they looking for a svior for the city to all lose weight?

 

 

             

 


But why is weight being thrown out so early in the guy’s New York tenure. It is not like he came into the first Press Conference at 220 pounds and he was seen at Serendipity III scarfing down a $ 1,000 dollars worth of fudge sundaes. He has not even  hit a scale, or even thrown a pitch, and the city is obsessing about a fact of life for him since he was a child. He is big and he always has been big, and he is proud of it all. But why now are people condemning or even questioning a wide girth in the Big Apple, it is not like he is the first big guy to hit the field for the Yankees.  Just because you have a few extra pounds on your bones doesn’t mean you will be open to injury or even performance problems with the size. Or is there a stigma to weight and the pitching performance in pinstripes. I always thought stripes made you look thinner and taller?

 


Come on people, Mickey Lolich, Rick Reuschel,Sid Fernandez and old Yankee “big boy” himself, David Wells, all carried a few extra pounds and performed pretty well for themselves and their teams. None of these guys would ever be considered role models for the obesity challenge for our youth today, but they are defintely performance role models in the way they played the game and competed in this league day in and day out on the diamond.


 

 


If you want to add another large guy to the fire, how about Fernando Valenzuela.  You have a list  above that did pretty well in the annuals of baseball. You have a heavyweight group that produced 17 All-Star pitching selections, a perfect game, a no-hitter, and  a few top  5 votes for the Cy Young award. But then you might also forget about a guy who was dominating as a big guy pitcher early in his career. A pitcher who had a 2.28 ERA before deciding that his bat had more power than his arm. Consider what Babe Ruth could have done if he stayed on the mound instead of want to hit every day. If he had continued to play both positions, would there be any debate as to if he was the best player to ever play baseball?

 


So why is it that a 28-year old pitcher, just maturing in his career, getting the ” what if..” treatment lately. Is it just the fact that he just signed a monster contract that might even dwarf the post-game meal table in the  Yankees’clubhouse, or is it a precursor to how he is going to be treated in the Bronx. Is this just a sample of the treatment he will get if he goes even .500 this season, or misses time due to injury?  C C Sabathia is coming to the Yankees with a pretty  solid set of  career numbers for a guy his age. He entered the majors  for the first time in 2001, and since that time he has accumulated statistics to put him in the  top 10 in innings pitched, strikeouts and wins since his first professional pitch. But as Janet Jackson once sang, “What have you done for me lately?”.


 

 


So why is it that the media is now putting up a  high weight issue so far into the off season. Can they at least wait until the pitchers’ and catchers’ report to Tampa, Florida for the Yankees before throwing out a cautionary yellow flag. Who is to say that  Sabathia is not at home right now in California doing some crunches or even a few miles on a treadmill getting into shape to impress the Yankees faithful. He has been called a fitness fanatic when it comes to training, or is the media just taking that as word speak and not even trusting anything right now. 

 


Who are these media guys who run for the Press Box buffet area and drink free sodas and coffee until it comes out their eyes. Seriously here people, can we give the guy the next 55 or so days to relax before you throw him under the microscope for the next 7 odd years. And with that in mind, do we expect him to go 11-2 with the Yankees, with a 1.65 ERA just as he did when he left Cleveland Indians for the Milwaukee Brewers in the middle of 2008. Will there be a lynchmob mentality if he even stmbles out of the gate and has a few bad outings. Will the media start to bring up names like Carl Pavano, or even Mike Hampton if a simple injury hits him early in the contract.

 


People forget it takes a bit of watching tapes and even facing a guy until you can get his timing and see his mannerisms on the mound. That might be one of the reasons he dominated so early in the National League. They are not used to a power pitcher like him barreling the ball in there. For years, the National League has been the finesse league, where a breaking ball pitcher can reign supreme. Most of the hitters’ in the American League still have scouting reports and even huge amounts of tape on Sabathia. We forgetr that he has only been out of the AL for a short period of time. Hitters have faced the big man before, and know what to expect out of his left arm. So why is it that people are questioning this guy because of his girth without even throwing a pitch in 2009. He has done great since 2001, think about that, that is almost 8 years up in the show, and they still treat him like a unknown at times.


 

 

Are they really expecting this guy to go into the New York summer without being in great shape. Come on people, this guy is a professional athlete, and if he struggles because of conditioning, are we going to blame him, of course you will.  Or is the Yankees strength and conditioning coach going to get a royal smack down for not keeping tabs on his players. Could we have a sweat-gate conspiracy because of a little heat fatigue. Do you really think this guy doesn’t already know what it is like to pitch in the 98 degree heat in New York or Boston. Seriously folks, he did pitch in it last season against the New York Mets, and he is still not a blob of  sweating jelly on the mound. Give the guy some credit, he has been here before.


 

But then you also get the self-fitness  sportswriters’ who themselves have not lost a pound since  their 20’s, who think that a slimmed down Sabathia would be a huge upgrade for the Yankees in 2009.  So what you are telling me sports gurus is that weight can be a factor for injury considerations?  You mean that you are willing to state your reputations and jobs on correlating size with injury? Really now, and where are you going to dig up this information. Will you devise a secret, totally unknown source in the fitness world who will swear a slimmed down Sabathia will prevail in pinstripes.

 


Do you forget that it is not just your size, but the  extreme measures of lean body mass, training, conditioning, power, endurance and above all strength that can be the cornerstones of a great fitness program.  Just because you might have a spare tire around your waist doesn’t mean you can’t run a mile, or even dunk the ball through the hoop, people do that every day in their respective leagues. Former NBA star Charles Barkley comes to mind real fast here. Don’t you think that mass might just be a part of the puzzle, but not the sum of all the parts here. So you are telling me that a well trained athlete, even if he is a pitcher of wide girth, can not control his mass and properly coordinate his muscles to maximum effort. I thought that was what off season conditioning was all about for baseball players. But for you to even suggest a slim down, or even a change in body proportions, it comes with some warnings.



 

 

Who are we to even question Sabathia’s off season training yet. He had probably been doing the same routine for years and he has done just fine so far. Or is it because he is about to hit the major microscope center of the free world that it is even being questioned now?  And even if the team and Sabathia wanted to maybe drop about 30 pounds, could that effect his performance, or enhance it.

 

If you go by a past big guys results, you might want to even rethink having Sabathis even look at a Slim Fast shake. If you remember, Fernando Valenzuela was pressured while with the Los Angeles Dodgers to lose a few pounds because his waistline seemed to be growing.  Valenzuela lsot the weight and could not seem to get anyone out at the plate. 

 

 

It is said that sometimes losing weight after you have systematically gotten your body used to throwing within a certain mass can effect the pitching sytle, and might even ruin your old natural throwing style. So would you want your newest millionaire pitcher to lose 30 pounds, then become another batting practice dummy up there throwing gopher balls to the masses.  I am not aying that will happen to Sabathia, but the situation is totally not out of context.

 

By losing weight, a pitcher can lose vital mental spots in their delivery. You might not have the same follow through to the plate, or might seem to be rushing your pitches when in fact it is the same delivery you have done for years. So is it an advantage to be a slimmer pitcher after you have had a paunch in your middle?  The answer is no. Now that is not to mean that a gradual slim down could not benefit you, but then you have to adjust your mechanics to fit your new body or risk injury.

 

 

So when Sabathia hit the scales in Tampa in a few months and might show a few pounds off, should you worry. I do not think you need to worry, he will always be a big guy.  And you got to remember, that he has gotten bigger since his debut in 2001, and he has made some pretty good adjustments in his game.

 

Even if he did lose 20 pounds, you have to be happy that he is taking this  huge contract on  with conditioning, power and endurance. So as we get close to the beginning of the 2009 season, are you really worried C C will not be able to take a huge bit out of the Big Apple?

 

 

New York, New York in Las Vegas, Vegas

 

                           

 

 

The MLB Winter Meetings 2008 are now up and running, both Yankees head honcho Hank Steinbrenner and Met’s guru Omar Minaya are hunting for big game and will be seen all over the Las Vegas strip in small cubbieholes and behind the green curtain at your favorite steakhouse looking for that prized piece to their team’s puzzle. It is interesting that the meetings are in Vegas, not for the show and the flash, but for the bet big or leave philosophy.

 

And these two teams are the optimus primes of the 2009 seasons. People come to the city in the desert for different reasons, to make it big on the Strip, combine their luck with some skill to gain some cold hard cash, or maybe even leave with a prize beyond beliefs. Whatever your reason to come to the neon city, sometime what you do in Vegas can haunt you an entire season. And during the next several days, both these men will try and hone, piece together and ride the winning team to their goals. Or will both of them crap out and go home losers? That is doubtful, but this city can turn dreams in dust as fast as a roll of the dices.

 

 

 

Vegas has never been known as poor mans’ town. Not even in the early days of the Flamingo Hotel and the Golden Nugget did the town have a soft spots for losers or the weakly-rich. It is a town built on the riches of others and is not a forgiving town in the least. Wealth has always been thrown around the strip either for power or control. This years MLB Winter Meetings will  not  be any different.

 

The  filthy rich are throwing contracts at the  player du jour like a man with a gambling problem. Two of the biggest bets this season are pitchers’  C C Sabathia and Francisco Rodriquez. Both are considered the “aces” for both of the New York teams’ folly into the neons lights of Vegas. Both can either make the town smile or leave everyone in the state of disbelief that baseball fails to secure the prizes for the city. This is not to discount the power-hitters like Mark Teixiera or Raul Ibanez, or even shove under the table any discussions about them. But these two pitchers are the “make ot or break it” commodities of the two New York franchises.

 

Alot of poker is left to play in the Hot Stove season. Pots are boiling all over the place and people are starting to ladle out their favorites and make moves to secure their new seasons. After these two high end players either get signed or walk away from the tables, the rest of the cards will fall into place around the league. The benchmark salaries or contracts might be sitting in a Las Vegas hotel right now gaining dust or being prodded like cattle to search for loopholes or advantages. The next few days are critical for baseball, becuase as soon as the big boys leave the tables, the rest of the teams will put in their antes and see what they can get for their money.

 

 

                           

 

 

To say that whoever brings joy to the New Yorks’ will need al least a Brinks truck or a few Pinkerton guy’s to help them out of town. But would be an insult to the fabric that made Vegas a dreamers’ town if neither team got there man here, but in the works a contract or deal within the cinfines of the Bellagio Resort area.  But who out of the two giants in the Big Apple  will come away with what prize , and what price? 

 

Who will bet it all hoping for magic, and who will go home with their tails between their legs?  That will be a huge 2009 story, and it is so early in the game. Who has the guts and confidence to twist the hands of fate to the extreme  and test their will against the odds. Or who is winning to throw the dice and hope their number comes up with all their money on the table? This might be the true story of the next 4 days in the desert.

 

 

                             

 

Both teams’ might come home with a fortune in talent and could bankroll a great advantage going into the new season. The American League East will again be a 4-man race until someone seperates themselves from the pack and takes over that division. The Yankees do not want to be the team looking up at three teams again this season, and might make significant moves to illustrate their desire to agin be the top dog not only in the league, but in the city. The Mets on the other hand are in the division with the current World Series Champions. All they have to do is talk to the Rays players about the  stigma attached to chasing and passing the 2008 kings and gaining control, in the National League East race.

 

Both the Yankees and Mets have high hopes for these meetings, and both bolster full confidence they will come away as winners when all is said and done. Most of this bravado might be a illustration of the city’s personality and it’sinternational state of confidence, they get what they want, and then go on and conquer. That might have been the mindset in the past, but in today’s culture and today’s baseball, the best do not always rise to the top. Just because you spend in the 100’s of millions doesn’t even guarantee you a playoff spot in today’s parity league. To be the king of the hill, you have to remain consistant, which neither have done for years in their respective leagues.

 

Both teams have sparkling new stadiums that need to be filled nightly for there to be any signs of financial rewards and playoff glory again in the city,  I would honestly expect the Yankees to be the ones to put it all on black and try and pull out a near miracle to gain some face-time and again become the franchise to fear in the near future.

 

The Yankees have not had fate on their side the last few seasons. The team is in the payroll penthouse area, but almost slipped to the American League East basement last year with injuries and assorted offensive mis-alignments.  If not for a late season splurge, they might have fallen below the lowly Baltimore Orioles for 5th in the AL East. And that is not the place for a team spending money the way the Yankees have for the last 5 years. As Janet Jackson says in her song “What have you done for me lately?”

 

 

                             

 

To say it can not happen in 2009 would be an understatement. George Steinbrenner finally passed the mantel to his older son, and we are going to see if the elder Steinbrenner got any of Dad’s genes when it comes to building a competitive network and administering a firm hand on the roster.  “Big H” has to have all the cards and gamble his finest china to get the prizes of this years free agent crop. The prize knows his intentions and has already voiced a few odd comments to maybe put up a bluff before finally going for all the cash and playing in the Big Apple. But sometimes people do things for reasons other than money, so Sabathia might just go the “better judgement” route and not only stunn the NY crowd, but the nation as a whole.

 

After losing two starting pitchers, one to arrogance and the other to retirement, and maybe losing a vital cog in right-field, “Big H” has to toss the bones like a gambling’ whale and show the money or leave the Vegas strip as a loser going into Spring Training. The Yankees might have already played their first hand giving their top prize,  C C Sabathia their first offer, but you can be sure that this deal, if it interests the big guy will take a bit to complete. they might get a hand shake out of it all, but at this junction of the season, that can make the difference between night and day for a team.  A funny comment out of the Sabathia camp says the big guy hated Spring Training in Florida while he was with the Cleveland Indians, that might be a small cog in the road, but sometimes a better organization can mend that fence without too many problems.

 

The Mets on the otherhand, might have  a few  face cards up their own sleeves. They have already shown pitchers’ like K-Rod and Brian Fuentes that they have both the money and the reserved parking  spot for them just waiting for their signatures. The check waiting for the new closer of the Mets will have a few zeros behind it, and might even be the biggest payday of their career if they played their own cards right. 

 

 And with an offense that drawfs the Yankees squads, the Mets might have the leg up in the Big City. And with their own new sparkling stadium going up, they also have to win big now and secure some of the best talent to showcase their new digs. These two might not be the only high cost hauls of the Mets at the meetings, but it would be a nice centerpeice to showcase their new digs to have a starter who can command the game, and a closer who can execute with the best of them on board.

 

With the starter in mind, there are many floating on rafts  on the poolsides in Vegas waiting for a call from Minaya wanting to speak to them about a New York opportunity. The starting pitcher situation is actually alot cloudier than the closer or even right-field positions, becuase until the first few are off the board, the pecking order is out of kilter and might need to be rearranged by a Met’s signing. Do not be surprised if a name like Oliver Perez, or maybe even Edwin Jackson becomes the 5th starter for the Mets and outperforms the some of the best in the game.

 

 

 

Both teams have also selected  secondary targets who would be great prizes to obtain during the meetings, but might not be considered the “house favorites” right now.  The Mets have also set up back-up plans into effect if K-Rod decides to take his toys and go home without a Mets contract in hand. The team has also begun preliminary talks with Fuentes and wily veteran Trevor Hoffman for the vacant closers’ role. Both might not be the top shelf potential the Mets seek, but both have experience and might come at a discount considering the asking price of K-Rod services. Bott also might be a economical move as sure bargains considering the financial climate of  America and baseball. Another name that will be circling the shark tank is ex-Cubbie, Kerry Wood. He might have a busy week in Las Vegas shaking hands and eating expensive lunches and dinners while being courted all around the strip by interested teams.

 

Here is another thing to consider before shelling out  all the dusty money from the safe. Just how secure are we that the money will come back into the team’s coffers during this financial crisis. Will the fans be as eager to shell out up to $ 100 a visit to either of the pearly gates to see their New York teams play in 2009. Now tickets might not cost a hundred, but when you consider all the extras like food, beverage and maybe parking or transportation and a few after game suds, a hundred might even be a bargain. Teams might be looking for value in the fast lane this year and might even produce a few incentive laden contracts to help in case of a financial meltdown at the turnstiles and concession stands around baseball. People will still come to game no matter what, but the amount of expendible currency and the consistancy of that money might be watered down a bit at first in 2009. As fast as the nation rebounds, sports will shows an increase in revenues and sales of merchandise. But until then, it might be a buyers’ market for a short time.

 

I truly think the Mets might have the upper hand here in getting a few of the prized free agents based solely on the team’s current assets. What pitcher would not want to have a David Wright or Jose Reyes behind him makiing him look good. Those two guys on their own could be the best “face cards” to show for a prospective starter or closer signee. But of course the Yankees have their own cornerstones who can command respect and admiration in Jeter and A-Rod, but you never know how long those two will be together before age and injury finally takes them to the turf.  So we have a case of old guard and new guard in both the middle of the New York infields. One has been style and elegance for years, while the other has been power and speed. Sorry Yankees, I have to give this bet to the young turks on the Met’s roster based on potential after the fact.

 

 

                  

 

The next week will truly show if the worldly belief that you can bring home a fortune in Las Vegas holds true. Either team can be winners in this sweepstakes, but might also be smart to consider the penalties for thinking too far beyond the box.  Minor phrases and comments by Sabathia and by K-Rod might be indicators of just how fast all of this will be done. Sabathia might drag this out a bit and the Yankees might  just move onto A J Burnett or Ben Sheets because of less stress and more straight talk. But Burnett’s familarity with the division might be worth the extra dough to steal him out of a Braves uniform.

 

If this was 2008, and the economy and the job situation were bright, all power to the players for getting everything they can for their services. Prudent behavior has never been a strong suit of the ownership of either the Yankees or the Mets.  I have also heard recently that they will again petition for more bonds to secure the finishing touches to their stadiums beyond the Billions already spent on stadiums for both teams. Being financially prudent might also be the “river” card that could make or break their next few seasons.

 

By playing smart and studying the enviroment around them, they might come away with a minor player who will become a major contributor. High dollar doesn’t always mean high value.  Both these franchsies know this very well. Do we have to remind each franchise of their last high dollar low output signings. The Yankeess still cringe when the name Carl Pavano is heard in public, and the Mets might feel the same about Pedro Martinez and his ever changing body aliments. So it might be smart for both teams to take a step back and even re-evaluate a few things before sticking their heads back into the fire.

 

 People forget that baseball has always been a way for Americans to forget about their problems. Each World War was a huge emotional time for the country, and baseball helped ease the pains and the stress of life. During the Great Depression, baseball also served as a every man’s fantasy world that for a single nickel, they could watch 9 innings of guys working their hearts out for the common man without the stress of their own everyday life.

 

 Personally, I think that baseball keeps my head above water. Baseball is my primary solitude in a hectic world. And to think that the two giants in New York are struggling with success is almost too much to take at times. I am not a fan of either of these two teams, but I have a huge amount of respect for the organizations. And for that reason, I think the fan base deserves a winner, or at least a team that plays hard and nasty until the end of the 162nd game.  I always expect a New York team to come out bold and brash and carry their voice loud and proud into the night. But in 2008, for the first time in a very long stretch, both voices went silent in October. That is a silence that neither team can afford in 2009.

 

 

 

 

The cards are dealt and the bets are in………………Do they both win, or do they both lose?  

 

Does the play of the dealer and the teams bring out a push, or do they split the cards and find their glory in the end. The odds are in the favor of the house always, and the “house” in this matter is the players. Based on the climate of today, do they go to the penthouse, or do they give the team a chance and maybe back-load a contract a bit. The decision is about to come to light. No one knows but the guy holding the cards if it will be  a blow for a defeat or triumph.  A bit of gambling advice I was once given by a well known gambler, you never bet blindly on a sure thing, that only leads to a huge disppointment that neither you nor your dreams can ever rebound from….ever.

 

 

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.

 

 

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