Results tagged ‘ Ted Williams ’

American Legion & M L B, Two Peas in a Pod

 

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I was especially proud and honored this past weekend to hear that Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon decided to honor the “American Legion” brand of baseball spirit.

images (7)And adding a cherry on top of it all, Maddon picked St. Petersburg Florida’s own American Legion Post 14 just a few miles down the road from Tropicana Field as a focus point.

American Legion unique style of baseball was first proposed during a speech by Major John L. Griffith (then collegiate commissioner of the Western Conference or called the Big Ten today) during a state convention in Milbank, South Dakota back in 1925.  Griffith centered his comments towards the role athletics can play in the development of youth.

Griffith stated to the assembled American Legion members: “Athletic competition teaches courage and respect for others, fostering their growth into active citizens.”

images (4)The South Dakota convention agreed and passed a resolution urging the Legion to create an organized summer baseball league that started each June and ended with a World Championship series. American Legion’s 1925 National Commander James A Drain backed the resolution and was easily passed during that year’s National Convention in Omaha, Nebraska.

The American Legion held its first World Series in 1926 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where a team from Yonkers Post 321 defeated a squad from Pocatello, Idaho. A World Series was not held in 1927 due to the rising costs of attending the American Legion’s National Convention in Paris, France, but soon the Legion found a common ground benefactor to help nurture the development and funding of its young baseball program.

images (8)Early in 1928 the Legion’s Americanism Director Dan Sower had a plan to help keep the Legion baseball league solvent. Sowers attended an executive meeting of Major League Baseball hoping to catch a sympathetic ear of then Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.  The M L B Commissioner pledged a $50,000 annual donation and within 2 years’ time the Legion baseball program expanded to include teams from every state plus the District of Columbia.

During the lean years of the Great Depression, MLB had to rescind their $50,000 a year endowment, but as the economy rebounded so did their contribution that started again at $25,000 in 1935 and gradually worked its way back to the original donation amount. M L B now contributes about 3 % of the total budget.

images (3)Since its inception in 1925, the American Legion baseball program has grown tremendously to now sporting over 5,400 teams from all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Almost 100,000 young players ages 15-19 pull on American Legion jerseys annually. Nearly 60 % of all current college players are graduates of the Legion baseball program.

M L B has help fund American Legion baseball almost since its inception and Legion baseball has produced a huge bevy of M L B prospects. The amount of former Legion ballplayer who go onto the professional ranks increases with every season and it is estimated more than half of all current major leaguers have Legion roots.

From fresh-faced M L B rookies playing short season summer baseball to current M L B players and Baseball Hall of Fame members, many got their true starts towards a professional career by playing Legion ball.

images (6)Hall of Famer Yogi Berra played for the Fred W. Stockholm Post 245 in St. Louis, Mo and was once heard saying American Legion ball was” the most fun he ever had.” Ted Williams pulled on a Legion jersey for a post back in San Diego, California.

Frank Robinson helped lead his Oakland, Calif. Squad to the only back-to-back World Series win in Legion ball history.

Babe Ruth however never got a chance to play Legion baseball as he was too old to participate during its younger years but spent the final years of his life promoting the Legion program as its director of operations.

Even though Maddon chose Post 14 as his local Post, it is not one of the most prolific American Legion baseball programs in Tampa Bay. That honor goes to Post 248 in Tampa, Florida which produced such future M L B players as Luis Gonzalez, Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield.

images (5)Other Florida notables include David Eckstein who played for Post 53 in Sanford, Fl and Chipper Jones and Luke Scott both played for Post 6 out of Deland,Fl.

American Legion baseball even has another great ambassador who played on the gridiron in Bob Griese who played for the Evansville, Indiana post who were the American Legion champs in 1964.

Here is just a small list of some of the current M L B players who have their baseball roots firmly planted within the American Legion program: Cliff Lee (Benton,Ark), Justin Verlander (Post 201), Drew Stubbs and Will Middlebrook (Texarkana), Craig Kimbrel (Post 15), Jason Motte (Post 152), Chad Billingsley (Post 300), Jackie Bradley Jr. (Post 146), Brian Wilson (Post 27), Madison Bumgarner (Post 29) and many, many more…..

downloadI hope this shows some of the sheer magnitude of talent that has come through the American Legion system and are now inspiring members of the major leagues.    

American Legion baseball is something truly special and I was thrilled to be a part of it back in the late 70’s playing for Post 14.  And even though Post 14 never advanced to the World Series while I was playing Third Base, it solidified my personal growth and life foundation through competition, unity of team and created experiences I have used throughout my life.

Playing Post ball helped mold me tighter and wiser as a person while also embracing the spirit of the organization and embracing as well as respecting and honoring for those who fought bravely for our freedoms.

images (2)Some people see the High Schools and college systems as the feeder systems towards a M L B career. I hope this post shows that the American Legion program has deep roots within the American game of baseball and its presence is only going to increase.

I am glad Maddon decided to embrace this past weekend as an American Legion weekend and that he rewarded those in attendance Friday night in Post 14 by picking up that night’s bar tab of over $550.

I wasn’t there that night but if I was, I would have raised my glass high and saluted Major Griffith for having the foresight to embrace a Legion baseball program and giving so many of us great Legion memories.

I mean as the banner said that was displayed in the Rays Clubhouse, Post 14 is “The Fun Post”.

Bob Feller Was a True Baseball Immortal

 

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Photo:Answers.com

There are always people you meet during the course of your life that seem to click with you. It can be a piece of their personality that makes you notice them, or even something as simple as a moment of respect and courtesy shown to you that puts them always in your mind. I felt that way about former Indians great Robert William Andrew “Bob” Feller.

I first met him at a MLB Players Association Alumni game at Al Lane Field several years ago and was immediately drawn to him like a firefly to a night light. Maybe it was the way he treated the kid of all ages who came down before and after the game to get his autograph and hoping to hear the story about how the Tribe won their last World Series title in 1948. And all three of his nicknames from the “Heater from Van Meter”, to “Bullet Bob” to his most infamous “Rapid Robert” only speaks to the legend that was Bob Feller.

I felt compelled to listen to him any time I saw him after those years whenever the MLBPA Alumni players their games either in St. Petersburg, or up at BrightHouse Field in Clearwater, Florida. Always dug into a seat just out of the crowd hoping to hear another Feller original story from either the past or present about his Indians.

I always admired Feller for so many reasons. For signing at a young age with Cleveland scout Cy Slapnicka for just a $1 and a baseball. The impression that Feller left on Slapnicka stayed so sharp in his min d that when Salonika was given the GM position in Cleveland, he tried to by-pass Feller’s time in the minor leagues and bring him straight to the Majors, which was a violation of the MLB rules at that time.

Legendary MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis conducted a 3-month investigation into the quick acceleration of Feller’s rise through the Indians system from Fargo-Moorhead to New Orleans to the Majors without Feller having even stepped within either minor league clubhouse concluded that it was a violation of MLB rules, but ruled for Slapnicka and Indians owner Alva Bradley even though he did not believe the team acted with good faith. Some say that the testimony of Feller and his father to Commissioner Landis helped pave his way to Cleveland.

Even if that tale is an urban legend, it solidified the legend of Feller being the ultimate team player. But how can you argue with a man who played 18 years for the same Indians franchise posted 266 victories with 2,581 strikeouts and threw three No-Hitters and 12 1-hitters during his career. Or maybe it was the exclamation point to his career of throwing a No-Hitter on Opening Day in 1940 against the Chicago White Sox that even today stands as the only No-No ever thrown on Opening Day in Major League history.

In the end I finally found out what attracted me to Feller. It wasn’t that Feller was once clocked officially throwing 107.6 mph in 1946 after returning from a few years of military service in World War II. It was for the level of respect and pride Feller had for the game and anyone who ever pulled on a pair of cleats.

I truly admire Feller for helping to formalize a petition along with fellow Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams that was then submitted to the Commissioner of Baseball back on January 14,1998. The document is signed by both Feller and Williams and went about asking for the reconsideration of a lifetime ban or a pardon for “Shoeless” Joe Jackson so that Jackson could be rightfully examined by his baseball peers for possible future selection by the Baseball Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee for consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I would have loved to see Feller pitch in his heydays, but I have only seen him in his later years at MLBPA Alumni charity exhibition games when fun had more of his attention that barreling that ball in there close to the ribs at his peak speed of 100 plus mph. What a joy it must have been to be a Indians fan back in the late 1940’s or even one of the Cleveland faithful today who ever got the opportunity to have a long and important discussion with such a baseball icon at an Indians home game.

 
 

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Photo: Commons.wikimedia.org

People want to throw out poetic phrases and resolute adulation at a time like this, but Feller was more than baseball. He was a war veteran, a father and a true image of everything that is right with the game of baseball. It saddened me a few weeks ago to hear of Feller being transferred from the esteemed Cleveland Clinic to a hospice unit after battling an invisible foe, leukemia for most of the 2010 season.

Feller passed away from pneumonia finally losing the most important fight of his life. But I want to remember Feller for his virility and strength back in June 2009 when he was one of the starting pitchers in the inaugural Baseball Hall of Fame Classic at 90 years of age.

I want to remember him as the player who’s Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, Iowa was built by his own son Stephen, an architect. I want to remember him for buzzing the tower of “Mudcat” Grant during one of those MLB Alumni games then staring Grant down at the plate. I want to remember Feller as a fighter, a competitor, but most of all as a true baseball immortal.
 

2,000 Rays Memories in a Flash of Light

 


 
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Has it really been 2,000 Tampa Bay Rays game? Seriously, it seems like just a few brief moments ago that I witnessed the Rays first pitch thrown by starter Wilson Alvarez past Detroit Tigers lead-off man Brian Hunter to produce the first game photo opportunity for Rays fans. How long ago does that March 31,1998 5:08 pm start seems today now that it has been revealed that we (the Rays) have played 2,000 contests against some of the best who have ever played this great game of baseball. I really doesn’t seem all that long to me, but then again it has been a bumpy ride at time over the last 12 ½ Rays seasons.


I would be totally absentminded if I did not to note the great baseball dignitaries that were on hand to throw out First Pitches prior to Alvarez’s low and outside first Rays MLB offering. Baseball Hall of Fame members Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Monte Irvin and Tampa’s own Al Lopez were on hand to celebrate the beginning of regular season baseball in the Tampa Bay area. Even though the Rays did begin their history with a loss to the Tigers that night, every one of their 1,136 losses still cause the same aches and pains in my heart as they did in 1998. Even if the Rays record from 1998-2007 (645-972), their first 10 years of existence is the worst MLB club mark over that 10 year period in the majors, their current win-loss record since that time has been inspirational and shows the solid growth of the franchise.

 
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From 2008-2010, the Rays have the fourth best record in the Major Leagues providing a 220-164 mark and that record growing more impressive with every game.1998 seems so long ago now, but the memories I have witnessed sitting in my Rightfield corner seat has been amazing over that 2,000 game journey. I still remember during the last home game during the 2001 season, when Rays pitcher Brain Rekar sat with me and a few friends in the Bullpen Café during the ninth inning, just shooting the breeze during his last day as a Ray. I still have the hat he gave me that afternoon with the handwritten NYPD FDNY symbols in the brim of the hat honoring the men lost during 9-11.

Even thinking of that past moment has the memories suddenly began to flow like a waterfall, remembering moment after moment both at home and when I took my fandom on the road, like my first experience with the “rain delay” aspect of the game while in Cleveland on May 14,2004. Or hitting Safeco Field for the first time in years and feeling that wind gush through the stadium and wishing for my Rays warm-up jacket. Home or away, the Rays expansive memories keep piling up and for some odd reason, the stories seem to get longer now.

 

But the aspect of this team finally hurdling that 2,000 game plateau is simply amazing to me. A quick thought to the talent that have pulled on a Rays uniform over that time period, from Hall of Fame member Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, Tino Martinez, Bubba Trammel, Roberto Hernandez, Toby Hall, Jonny Gomes, Ozzie Guillen, Randy Winn, and hundreds of other great ballplayers who made Rays fans laugh, cry and cheer with the wins and losses. And the tears of sadness we expressed when former Rays players Joe Kennedy and Cory Lidle were taken away too early in their lives. Experiencing not once, but twice as Rays fans grimaced and reacted to the horror of starter Tony Saunder’s breaking his left forearm in front of the home crowds.


The countless snippets of chatter and conversation over that 2,000 game span with an army of former and current Rays Bullpen members about important things like the birth of a child, or just congratulating a Rays player after a great outing. This blog is too small to even attempt to relay and include the massive amount of memories associated with those first 2,000 events. I truly hope I am physically around to celebrate the 4,000th, and even 5,000th Rays game, but we know that the game is immortal, while we are skin and bones, and nothing is guaranteed past 30-90 days anymore. The Rays memories formed by myself and the rest of the Rays Republic within the Trop could fill up a computer’s memory banks within nanoseconds.

 
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Rays fans have seen odd and confusing moments like the odd multi-million dollar contracts of Rays (then) prospects Matt White and Bobby Seay, even before they threw their first professional pitch for the organization. Or the injury and contract craziness of Wilson Alvarez and Juan Guzman that still baffle the mind. But there have also been great Rays player finds like Jorge Cantu, Travis Phelps, Dan Wheeler and even the Bullpen reinvention of J P Howell that saved his MLB career. But we can not neglect the shock and horrors of Jose Canseco, Vinny Castilla and their “Hit Show” debacle that produced more ammunition to make the Rays a laughing stock team, than as a force to be reckoned with on the Trop’s diamond.


The ups and downs of this franchise have been both extreme and subtle at the same time. No one other than Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir predicted the magic that would ultimately unfolded in 2008. Kazmir made an honest comment that the Rays would make the Playoffs during a 2008 Spring Training interview. Most in the assembled media circle chuckled and pushed the comment as bravado and not a reality at the moment. But Kazmir’s brave comment that day turned into one of the Rays greatest moments as we saw the team raising of that banner to the rafter of Tropicana Field proclaiming the Rays the 2008 American League Champions.

 

We have seen former MLB greats like pitchers Hideo Nomo (2005), John Rocker (2003), Bobby Witt (1999), Norm Charlton (1999) and current Yankee Pitching Coach Dave Eiland (1998-2000) take the mound for the Rays. We have also watched the batting exploits of guys like Greg Vaughn (2000-2002), Julio Franco (1999), Travis Lee (2003, 2005-2006) and Aubrey Huff (2000-2006) taking their shots at the outfield seats surrounding the Trop. Highs and lows, like the tidal pools have plagued this franchise until in 2008, when it seemed the proverbial ship seemed to be destined for more smooth sailing than rough weather.

 

Spectacular catches and impossible throws have begun to become routine and common place to the Rays faithful. Walk-offs, stealing home for the lead, and putting down that elusive bunt to score or advance the runners were past and future hallmarks of these Rays. And the history grows again in a few hours.


Each of us had a unique perspective or thought process in remembering and reliving these great moments of Rays history. Not one of us sees any one action the same, or reacts with the same emotion on any given aspect of the game as it unfolds in front of us. But there is one general emotion and feeling that is felt by all of us daily about this Rays team, from that first moment on March 31,1998 to tonight’s contest. We are proud to be fans of the Tampa Bay Rays, and that pride shows on every one of our faces as we begin our trek through the next 2,000 Rays games…..Play Ball!

 

Could this be a Bromance?

 


Brian Blanco/AP

Anyone who knows me outside of the ballpark might say I am just having a “moment” with my increasing adulation for Rays uber player Ben Zobrist. There have even been whispers of a budding bro-mance (No, but I still wave), and that my respect and complete adulation for this budding MLB star might sometimes borders on downright obsession. Sorry to ruin it for the bromance police, but I see a lot of similarities between Zobrist and myself when I was playing sports, and I really admire those traits and sensibilities. I see the child-like wonder still on his face and eyes as he is getting ready to step on the field every day. And his community involvement, not only in his faith, but in his actions to bring the joys of baseball to kids, even during the off season just makes me like him more and more.

 
 

There is just something about Zorilla and the way he goes about his business both on and off the field that you want to point out to younger kids and hope they take a bit of his style, confidence and positive demeanor for the game of baseball home with them and hopefully carry it with them on the baseball diamond. Maybe it is the honest fact I might actually be watching one of the budding great role models for the kids forming right in front of my eyes, and I want to shout from the rooftops about it hoping that others outside our realm of the baseball world also hears my loud raves.

 

And I will agree totally that I seem to push this agenda a bit hard when it comes to Zorilla, but I see so much potential yet to be tapped, or even shown to the MLB baseball world and I am thrilled to be able to watch him daily. And maybe it is a bit creepy as it is written here, but it is done with the best intentions to publicize one of those MLB players I truly label one of the real “Good Guys” in baseball. But you do not have to look too far away from the game of baseball to see he is a great example of a good man and father as well as an excellent multi-faceted baseball player.

 

You only have to see him on the sidelines before games talking with fans, or shaking hands or hugs to other Rays fans who have grown to also know the inner “Good Guy” to know we are witnessing the ever changing growth of a great person. He always has time for the fans, either with a picture or signing a baseball. He truly knows just how blessed he is to be able to play this game for a profession every game, and it shows on his face. If you have ever seen him hold his young son Zion before games, or even seen the glances between Zorilla and his beautiful wife Julianna, you know this is a guy is grounded and supported at home as well as at the ballpark by thousands of screaming fans. I have to say I am a bit jealous of his relationship with his wife because he seemed to have found the perfect complimentary piece of the puzzle for his personal life.

 
 

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=9364818&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1

Thanks to Ryan Bodies films/RaysIndex for videos

From the ground up Zobrist has solidified what each Major League player goes throughout their careers before finally busting through the barrier and getting the plate appearances and the playing time to impress and bring shock and awe to the fans and his teammates. Considering most Rays fans had Zobrist penciled in at shortstop going into 2007 off season before the Rays traded with the Twins to bring in shortstop Jason Bartlett. And some players might have taken a step back, but Zobrist was confident and poised and if not for a thumb injury sustained early in Spring Training, it might have prevented an intense battle between the two. But in reality, the healing time spent nursing that thumb injury might have been the perfect antedote to give Zobrist more time to experiment and hone his swing into the power tool it is today.

 
 

By Zobrist going back to basics after this injury to his thumb, it might have helped him develop his swing to incorporate his hips sooner into his swing and bring his power element to the forefront. And it is simply a treat now to watch him hit and because of his fielding versatility, he adds a different dimension to this Rays squad. I actually think he made the Rays a better team by being so versatile both at the plate and in the field so that the Rays are able to pencil him into multiple positions without fear of a decrease in productivity or defensive ability.

 
 

And most people look at 2009 as Zobrist’s banner year, but I truly think we are just starting to see the edges of a career that just might explode with more plate appearances and a possibility of position stability in 2010. If there truly was a “10th Man” award in Major League Baseball, then without a doubt, last season it would have ended up resting in Zobrist’s hands. And if you look at his final totals for 2009: a .297 batting average, 27 HR, 91 RBIs and a monstrous .948 OPS, you know we might only be seeing the start of a long career. And that is what is great about the reporting date next Friday down in Port Charlotte, Florida. It is the time for the next chapter in the Zorilla tale to begin.

 
 

 
Chris O’Meara / AP

And it was refreshing in the attached video to hear Zorilla and his wife discuss candidly the upcoming Rays 2010 season and the high expectation goals each see on the near horizon. Neither of them was shy in their opinions and both honestly saw the potential for a great year with more surprises and more Zorilla All-Star chatter. But what I really liked visualizing in that video was the basic fact you saw that these two people really liked and wanted the best for each other. I know that sounds corny and a bit insane, but sometimes you can be “in love” with a person and not like them, but with these two people, the love and the connection between them just shines through in a bright shining beam of awesomeness. Okay, maybe that was a bit much, but you get the idea.
 
 

I have gotten lucky enough to talk to Zobrist a few times while he has been with the Rays and he an intelligent and very open guy who truly loves talking about baseball. Even during one of the plays that seemed to have burst his name upon the ears of fans outside Tampa Bay, I was standing right there asking if he was okay and beaming with pride on the extreme effort he took on the play even before making impact with the low Rightfield foul line barrier. And when Zobrist came over the next day and signed his name on the broken piece of the wall, he genuinely thanked me for making sure he was okay. And maybe that is when the bromance from afar started. Because I finally saw a bit of myself in Zobrist and it forged an instant bond.

 
 

One of my friends once commented that my new found attention towards Zorilla was my self actualization that we both carried so many of the same values in life, and in that I found solace and respect for him. But I also find solace in the fact he is a “team guy” totally. So many times you hear about players who are “me” guys, well Zobrist is far from a “me” guy, and that fits perfectly into the culture of the Rays clubhouse. I got the idea to write this blog after reading a fellow Rays blog, Rays Index today and seeing Zobrist and his wife compared to Milly and Jimmy from the movie “Bull Durham”. And in reality, Zobrist does fall into that realm of the spiritual team mate who is always smiling and in a positive frame of mind. And that is infectious to a team’s chemistry and always a good guy to have around during the solemn moments. I might not personally throw “Milly” in with Julianna, but I do agree on her love of the game of baseball and for embracing Jimmy and his personality.

 
 

Zobrist is one of those budding players among the ranks of the MLB that we can be proud of knowing, watching play and showing our youth the positive things about the game of baseball. I imagine the Rays might have seen some of those special qualities when he was traded by the Houston Astros to the Rays back on July 12,2006 in exchange for slugger Aubrey Huff. And what he has brought to this Rays roster is a lot more than just his steady play and always improving bat. Zobrist answered in one of the attached videos he would love to play the rest of his career with the Rays.

 
 
And that is a good thing, because this team could use a guy like him on their roster not just for his play on the field, but for his motivation and character off the field too. As maybe I do spend a little bit too much time talking about Zobrist right now when discussing Rays baseball. And maybe I do have a bit of a bromance rising because of it. But is any of that so different than the man-crush our parents had with the play of Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle or Ted Williams? I actually think it is a healthy way to be, but then again, I am a Zorilla fan!

 

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