Monday, March 31, 2014

The 2014 Lansing Lugnuts

From the press release:
"In conjunction with the Toronto Blue Jays, the Lansing Lugnuts announced a loaded 2014 Opening Day roster headlined by center fielder D.J. Davis, third baseman Mitch Nay and frontline pitching talent.

Third-year manager John Tamargo, Jr. will direct a Lugnuts squad that features eight returning players alongside 10 of Baseball America's Top 30 Blue Jays prospects - including six of the Jays' 12 best minor-league talents. The top of that list belongs to the fleet Davis, drafted 17th overall in 2012 and rated #3 in the system, and the powerful Nay, a 2012 first-round supplemental pick rated #4...
Here's the roster in PDF form for your consideration.  To make it all clearer, though:
(Don't read anything into the order of the starting rotation.  There's no #1, #2, etc.)
SP:  Jairo Labourt/Alberto Tirado
SP:  Chase De Jong/Adonys Cardona
SP:  Jeremy Gabryszwski
SP:  Kendall Graveman
SP:  Tom Robson

BullpenCloser - RHP Jimmy Cordero
Lefties - Alonzo Gonzalez, Griffin Murphy, Scott Silverstein
Righties - Brady Dragmire, Roberto Espinosa
C:  Santiago Nessy, Jorge Saez
1B:  Matt Dean
SS:  Dawel Lugo
2B:  Dickie Thon (don't be surprised to see Thon at SS and Lugo at 2B)
3B:  Mitch Nay
UT:  Justin Atkinson, Jason Leblebijian
OF:  D.J. Davis, Derrick Loveless, Ian Parmley, Carlos Ramirez
(I suspect we'll see Davis in CF and Ramirez in RF)
We'll have much more info as the week moves onward.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Check the bulletin board

Anticipation is rising in Lansing, as it is across the country's full-season minor league sites:  A time is coming soon, perhaps today, when every team learns its 2014 Opening Day roster.  (For a few teams, that time arrived Wednesday.)  With us, we'll receive an email from the Blue Jays and leap into action -- putting forth an Opening Day roster and press release, creating game notes and player bios, and preparing for the team's arrival at the start of next week.  I am living on the verge of utter busyness.
That's our side.
The other side is the player's side.  They've been waking up early in massed conditions, drilling for hours upon days upon weeks, all under the heavy watch of coaches and rovers and executives.  They are side by side with their greatest competition, applying pressure to every pitch, let alone every at-bat.  Some players will be rewarded with a promotion to the next level, perhaps even skipping a level; some will be kept at the same level they played last year; and some will be released.  The writing is literally on the wall.
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Meet the Team is next Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.  The Crosstown Showdown, presented by Auto-Owners Insurance, is on Thursday at 7:05 p.m.  The home opener is on Tuesday the 8th.
Here we go.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hail, and farewell!

Farewell to Psych, one of my favorite TV shows -- favourite, for you awesome Canadian readers -- which signed off the airwaves last night with one of the funniest episodes of the show's run, including a remarkable, rollicking final segment.  No disappointing Dexter or Seinfeld finale here.  If you see it, you'll know exactly what I mean.  ("We Bought a Zoo lied!")  Pineapples for everyone.
If you don't, well then, continue on and don't worry yourself...
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It is hailing right now in Lansing.  I'm not complaining.  It's best to get this weather out of the way now because...
ONE WEEK FROM TODAY:
Also, the Lugnuts are looking for a Bat Girl / Bat Boy.  Here's the necessary info:
JOB SUMMARY: Bat Boys and Girls will assist with pre and post-game setup of balls and equipment, supplying and retrieving balls, bats and equipment during a game or practice, and providing ice,  drinks, towels, etc. to managers, coaches, trainers, players and umpires during a game or practice.  They are also responsible for returning or storing balls, bats and equipment in the dugout or  clubhouse after a game or practice, other cleaning duties such as sweeping dugouts every night  after the game, and taking out trash bags from the dugout and placing them in the compactor.
Bat Boys and Girls must be at least 16 years of age.

Apply to Josh Calver via jcalver at lansinglugnuts.com.
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Behold:  The MLB instant replay HQ!
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Source: Yahoo Sports. (Not Batman, or a James Bond villain).
Yahoo's Jeff Passan not only toured the area, he explains how it all should work.  I expect there'll be some kinks early, but they'll be getting everything right by 2024.
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I'm working on finishing up the Lugnuts' 2014 Media Guide right now, with it likely going to the printers next week.  The last thing that will need to get done:  placing the Opening Day roster in the team bios section.  (The soundtrack to my work, keeping me humming - and laughing:  John Mulaney and Anthony Jeselnik.)
Speaking of laughing, here's good ol' Nick Young, thinking he's knocked in a jumper:
Happy Thursday to you and yours!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A tour of Midwest League team colors

This isn't quite a quiz, since all of the teams are placed in alphabetical order.  In case you're not certain, though, click on the logo and you'll be taken to the team's website.
(After working with all of these colored squares, I felt like Mondrian's apprentice.)
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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Know Your Midwest League Mascots!

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When in doubt, roll with these guys.
You know Big Lug is a Lugnut.  You'll see Michigan State's Sparty on April 3rd at the Crosstown Showdown, presented by Auto-Owners Insurance.  But can you name the hometowns of these other Midwest League mascots?
1.  Fang (bats/throws:  "Umm... not so well").
Often seen with Whiffer, who was found during 2013 stadium renovations.
2.  Crash (favorite food:  "pork chop sandwiches").
Often seen with Franky the Swimming Pig. I hope that doesn't get awkward at lunch time.
3.  Gem (favorite quote:  "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful").
Often seen with Heater and, more rarely, the lovable Wink.
4.  Rascal (favorite sport excluding baseball:  "There are sports other than baseball?!?!").
6.  Skipper (job if not baseball: "A movie star on Sesame Street").
7.  Louie ("baseball playing career shortened by a freak splinter accident").
8.  Lou E.  (The E stands for "Entertainment.")
9.  Swoop (fear: "public speaking").
10.  Ozzie (no bio could be found, but has his own Reading Club and Scholars and 5K).
11.  Johnny (dislikes:  "loggers, worms, and the off-season").
Loggers?  Then I guess this face must be Johnny's nightmare.
13.  Axle (lives in a cave, "the identity of which must be keep secret").
Often seen with Roscoe the Grease Monkey.
14.  Buzz (like Ozzie, has his own reading club).
15.  Snappy D. Turtle (favorite TV show:  is there any doubt?)
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Click the links, check your answer, and check your score:
0-5 correct:  San Francisco Crab attack
6-10 correct:  Big Red fist-bump
11-15 correct:  Sparty party

Monday, March 24, 2014

From ESPN's anonymous survey of Major League Baseball:

In your best estimate, what percentage of MLB players are still taking PEDs? 
AL outfielder: "Twenty percent. Higher for sure than the number of ones that got caught. Those guys only got caught last year because an employee leaked all the records, otherwise they would have gotten away with it. Look at Ryan Braun. He was on one of the most complex doping regimens there is, so just take that and you know there have to be more." 
AL slugger: "I think the number is probably about 10 percent, but that's not counting Adderall as a PED. If you included guys who are using Adderall, wow, that number would be through the roof."

Here's the link to the whole survey.

On the bright side, there's this fantastic video.  Full credit to you, Mike Polk.

It won't be long now

On Saturday, Detroit Consortium College Prep, led by standout 6'8 sophomore Josh Jackson, defeated Pewamo-Westphalia, 61-44, for the Class C Michigan state title.  An example from the game:


Full respect and congratulations to P-W coach Luke Pohl and his senior-led team on getting to Breslin Center, despite the disappointment of the loss,.  I called their postseason games with Erik "Doc" Love for Big Country 92.1, and we won't soon forget their successes.
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In a week's time:
1.  We will know the 2014 Lansing Lugnuts Opening Day roster, likely to be headlined by D.J. Davis and Mitch Nay.
2.  We will be mere days away from the eighth annual Crosstown Showdown, presented by Auto-Owners Insurance.
3.  The Major League season will be officially underway on United States soil.  (In case you missed it, the Dodgers took two games from the Diamondbacks in Australia over the weekend.)
4.  We shall have ourselves a Final Four.  (Everyone's favorite quartet of Florida / Michigan State / Arizona / Louisville still looks likely, but I'm rooting for more upsets.)
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Friday, March 21, 2014

Championship Bound

The Lugnuts will be on the road on Saturday, April 5th, but you should still be at Cooley Law School Stadium -- for Beerfest at the Ballpark!  Get your tickets now.
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The Pewamo-Westphalia Pirates defeated Muskegon Heights yesterday afternoon, 54-44, and are now heading to the MHSAA Class C state championship game. (Click here to listen to the game.)  It all had the Freep's Mick McCabe thinking Hoosiers... because, heck, why not?  In the final, P-W gets Detroit Consortium College Preparatory School, starring AP Class C Player of the Year Josh Jackson.
Jackson's an interesting sort of player.  He's 6'8, he's a sophomore, and he's so clearly the most talented player on the court that it becomes immediately apparent whenever he chooses not to do anything and let his (also skilled) teammates take over.
Watching him yesterday, he looked like Shakespeare in a 7th grade English class:  bored, occasionally annoyed, with flashes of genius.  It's tough to see how he'll get better on a game by game basis -- right now, his competition simply doesn't offer enough of a challenge.  It makes me wonder if Andrew Wiggins was also like this in high school.

  • From Wikipedia, that noted home of facts and accuracy, shocking news that I believe:  The Atlanta Braves are an older franchise than the Cincinnati Reds.  Whoa.
  • This might sound weird, but the 2014 Major League Baseball season is starting this weekend.
  • I don't know if I completely agree with Richard Justice, but this is still a darn fun column.  (I love baseball, but I've also seen plenty of slow baseball games.  I bet you have, too.  We just haven't had the opportunity to complain to John Schuerholz about it.  A huge contributing factor:  lack of pitcher command/nibbling, leading to an excessive amount of pitches per batter.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mr. Yuk, Pewamo-Westphalia, and Daniel Norris's van

Do you remember when Mr. Yuk was used as a sticker to indicate poison?  It turns out that the Pittsburgh Pirates might have had something to do with that.
Read this from Joe Posnanski on Louis Sockalexis, who gave the Cleveland Indians their name.
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In case you had not heard, the Boston Red Sox experimented with having their P.A. announcer declare balls and strikes in case fans were too wrapped up with their iPhones to pay attention.  (Literally, that's what the Red Sox said.  From executive vice president Dr. Charles Steinberg, "The unintended benefit that we saw today is that in our iPhone world, where your eyes are focusing on e-mails and texts, hearing the pitch and the count keep you posted and maybe your eyes go back up to the game when you hear it’s a full count."  Ah, those Boston fans and their short attention spans.)
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Hey, look -- it's Daniel Norris's van!
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Attribute - John Lott, National Post
Trivia question:  Which Scooby Doo character did Norris name his van after?  The answer is in Lott's excellent article, and it probably won't surprise you.
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Congratulations to the Pewamo-Westphalia boys basketball team, who shocked two-time defending state champion Flint Beecher and earned a ticket to Thursday's state semifinal at Breslin Center.  (P-W's a miracle team right now.  They were down by six to Shelby with 70 seconds to go, and down by seven to Beecher with 60 seconds to go, and won both games on a Nick Spitzley layup in the final five seconds.  Heart-stopping finishes, both.)
For those who are unaware, I broadcast Mid-Michigan high school football in autumn and high school basketball in winter for Big Country 92.1.  Pewamo-Westphalia High School is a senior-laden group out of the Central Michigan Athletic Conference playing in Class C, which lets you know how small the school is.  Their coach is Luke Pohl, who won his 300th game earlier this year.  (His postgame interviews recently have been a delight, a mixture of pride, joy, and astonishment as his team pulls out another victory.)  The star player is Spitzley, a 6'2 guard who is the school's all-time leading scorer, with over 1500 points to his name.  They play man-to-man defense for the full 32 minutes, denying the post, switching off screens, and it's a beautiful thing to watch.
In the regular season, they blew teams out by 40 or 50 points.  In the playoffs, they've won classics.  Up next:  Muskegon Heights in the state semifinal, led by star guards Eddie Tornes and Aaron Sydnor.  (The other side of the bracket features the looming presence of Detroit Consortium and superstar sophomore Josh Jackson.)
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Jake Marisnick went 3-for-5 yesterday for the Marlins, and is now batting a robust .375 in 14 spring games.  Here's hoping he keeps it up once the real season starts.
Aaron Sanchez has worked seven scoreless innings for the Blue Jays in spring training, striking out six while walking just three.  That sort of success has some folks thinking of an accelerated trip to the Majors for Sanch.  (Some folks = me.)
Meanwhile, Drew Hutchison has struck out 16 batters while allowing only three runs in 9.2 Grapefruit League innings.  Translation:  Hand him a Blue Jays starting rotation slot.
Noah Syndergaard was sent down to minor league camp by the Mets after surrendering five runs on five hits and five walks in 8.2 innings.  (He also struck out 10.)  Sub-head:  "If he succeeds in Triple-A, will likely be promoted in June or July."  Ooooh.
Happy day between the "first round of the NCAA tournament" and the real first round of the NCAA tournament!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Adventures in Dunedin, Part II

My second full day at Blue Jays Spring Training would also be my last.  I flew down on a late Thursday, missing Friday for my first day in Florida.  I needed to thus fly out early Sunday in order to return for work on Monday morning.
How to spend this last day?  At the Bobby Mattick Training Center.
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Pictured: baseball field heaven.
The Blue Jays' Minor League complex contains three clubhouses, an enormous workout room, a cafeteria/dining hall, a training room, a front office, and probably a lot of other rooms, too.  It was built to serve some 160 players or so, if not more, in addition to dozens of coaches, instructors, athletic trainers, and strength and conditioning folks.
When I arrived at 9:30 a.m., what looked to be just about the entire Blue Jays minor league organization was gathered for morning stretch on a rectangular artificial grass field, which looked very much like a smaller gridiron.
This, it turned out, was not the entire minor league organization; it was just a normal group of pitchers.  Another herd of pitchers came jogging along the path behind me, working their way from one field to another.  The position players were spread about farther, ranging from taking their cuts in the cage to speaking with performance coach/scout Steve Springer on the mental side of the game to working on their baserunning (with Tim Raines watching carefully to see with which foot they touched first base).
And then all of the groups changed locations, with position players heading this way to work on their sliding, and pitchers heading that way to work on a conditioning and agility drill involving cones.  If you've ever been to a conference involving different workshop sessions, you get the picture.
I walked away from the gridiron and the conditioning drills, down a long path beside the complex building, and discovered a clustering of four baseball fields (with a fifth not too far off), surrounded by chain-link backstop/fence, where pitchers were working on their pickoff moves.
A brief moment of hilarity:  A sea gull swooped in and snatched up a pitcher's towel, which it carried up a nest atop a stadium light.  Said Dane Johnson, Toronto Blue Jays roving pitching instructor, "Towel drill."  (Inside joke alert!)
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There' s a nest up there... and who knows how many towels.
In any case, this was exactly where I wanted to be, surrounded by baseball fields.  This was also where all sorts of other fans had congregated, including Andy Burns's parents and grandparents and Matt Dermody's mother.
I joined the knothole gang (chain-link gang?) and watched happily in the warm sun.
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My view of the the chain-link fence... but you'd rather see the ballplayers, wouldn't you?
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There you go.
With the arrival of position players, infield practice began in earnest on the near fields, displacing the pitchers to the far fields.
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I went down the third base line, stood in the open dugout, and watched -- with a careful eye toward future Lugnuts third baseman Mitch Nay.
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That's him.
Through pickoff drills, infield drills, rundown drills, and more, the players were put through their paces.  When this concluded, live batting practice began, with a series of pitchers facing batters on each field -- the pitchers carefully watched by a pitching coach, the batters carefully watched by a hitting coach (or two).
To the left, the young field of D.J. Davis, Matt Dean, and Mitch Nay, all of them likely headed to Lansing, lined up against Drew Permison.  To my right, the experienced Brad Glenn, Kevin Nolan, and Brett Carroll, all of them likely headed to Triple-A, tried their luck against knuckleballing Tomo Ohka.  (No one made solid contact.)  On the other two fields,Lugnuts alumni like Nick Baligod, Emilio Guerrero, and Chris Hawkins took their cuts against their fellow Jays.
When it was all done, approaching 1 p.m., all of the players headed in for some well-deserved lunch before the afternoon's activities.  I was invited in with them, so I waited in line next to Seth Conner and L.B. Dantzler, picked up a plate, grabbed island rice, rolls, and salad, and sat down to eat between 2009-10 Lugnuts pitching coach Antonio Caceres and 2011 Lugnuts outfielder Marcus Knecht.
That was when Byron Buxton, on the tv screen in the corner of the dining hall, did this against Drew Hutchison.  (I dare say it's the only mistake that Hutch has made in Spring Training so far this year.)
Reminded of the Blue Jays game, I bid farewell to my Mattick Center hosts and headed back to Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in time to watch the rest of the game with Blue Jays broadcasters Buck Martinez and Jerry Howarth, calling the game in a TV/radio simulcast.
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Buck's on the left, Jerry's on the right, and the view is terrific.
A word about the Martinez/Howarth combination:  I most admired their ease and comfort in handling the game.  This is Grapefruit League baseball, not high drama, and so they peppered wonderful stories throughout each half-inning.  You can value whatever you choose in a broadcast.  I prioritize listenability:  Do the broadcasters sound like they're enjoying themselves?  Are they providing entertainment at the benefit of the game (rather than at the game's detriment)?  Check and check.
Back to the game:  The Blue Jays walked off with a victory, thanks to former Lugnut Kenny Wilson.  It was a fine way to punctuate my visit.
(I suppose the true final way that my visit ended was with a lovely sunburn, but what can one do?)
I write this from back in Lansing, Michigan, where the temps are back up to the 20s... and we might very well be pulling tarp for the first time in 2014 today.  My thanks to Tyler Murray, Michael Nielsen, Charlie Wilson, Mike Wilner, Tom Young, Jerry Howarth, Buck Martinez, Neil Solondz, Al Hernandez, and Shelby Nelson.
I am officially ready for this 2014 season to start.
If only the weather would agree...