Watch as I discuss the 2015 Blue Jays with Cito Gaston, and we make connections to the 1992 and 1993 World Championship teams that he managed. The 3-part interview is posted below.
The Toronto Blue Jays Honda Super Camps kicked off this past weekend, starting in Guelph, Ontario. Boys and girls between the ages of 9-16 had the opportunity to attend the two or three-day baseball camp and receive instruction from George Bell, Lloyd Moseby, Devon White, Roberto Alomar, and Sandy Alomar Sr. I connected with a Jays rep and discussed the camps, and also spoke with an employee from the Royal Distributing Athletic Centre, where the camp was held. You can hear those interviews and more, here.
When discussing the importance of tradition in sport, baseball often tops the list, possibly being the most “traditional” of all. Yet in some cases, holding onto what is traditional can possibly hold the sport back, or even hurt it. Sounds and smells associated with the sport are, “the crack of the bat”, “the feel of the grass”, and “the smell of the glove”. That smell of course being a leather baseball glove. However, one man who has become a pioneer in the development of new baseball gloves is Scott Carpenter. His business is certainly located in a traditional baseball town, being Cooperstown, NY. That’s where the tradition ends though, as his baseball gloves that are made with synthetic materials are proving to be lighter, stronger, and superior to the traditional leather gloves used by most. But this isn’t just a gimmick or a fad. Many professional ball players are now starting to use Carpenter gloves.
So why are they better?
Most players are stronger and faster today than they were 20 or 30 years ago. While one can argue that performance-enhancing drugs are the cause of that, it is an argument for another day. It does mean that the balls are sometimes being hit harder, and players need to react faster. In baseball, timing and specifically reaction time right down to fractions of a second can be the difference between safe and out, a home run or a fly ball, and even be the difference between a catch with a glove, or taking a hard-hit ball of a body part or worse, the face. Baseball has seen some serious injuries over the past season or two, as a result of a pitcher taking a come-backer off the head, not getting the glove up in time to protect themselves. It makes sense then, that buy wearing a lighter glove, one’s reflexes can move the glove faster, which means more plays made and more balls caught.
Another advantage to using synthetic materials Scott mentioned, is that the gloves don’t “wear” or stretch as traditional leather gloves do. Carpenter gloves are not only lighter, but also stronger. That means the feel doesn’t change, and the comfort remains the same throughout the life of the glove.
Want proof they’re better?
As I mentioned, professional players are already using Carpenter gloves. Something more significant is that the Pro players are opting out (or are going to be opting out) of glove contracts (I didn’t even know that was a thing!) to wear Carpenter gloves. Scott stated in his interview with me that he doesn’t pay players to wear his gloves. So what does this mean? It means that players are choosing to wear Carpenter gloves over a glove they would be paid to wear. To me, that speaks volumes to the quality of the product.
Frank Viola III is the proud new owner of a Carpenter Trade glove:
If you’re looking to learn more, listen to my interview with Scott Carpenter here.
You can visit his web site at: www.carpentertrade.com
In the off-season, baseball changed some rules. The changes were meant to improve the game. The collision rule at home plate was meant to prevent serious injuries such as the one that was the beginning of the end of Ray Fosse’s career at the hands (or should I say helmet) of Pete Rose in 1970, and more recently (2011) the collision that ended Buster Posey’s season. While catchers blocking home plate has been a part of the game for so long, I can see the upside to the new rule.
The other change was implementing video replay to help overturn blown calls at pivotal times in the game. Traditionalists might say that you’re taking away a natural part of the game – human error. This very same human error cost Detroit pitcher Galarraga a perfect game in 2010, and also cost the Blue Jays a triple play in the 1992 World Series.
What video replay has done for the time being, is take away an element of the game which if for no other reason provides fans with entertainment value. When an ump blows a call (or appears to) in the past the manager would fly out of the dugout and argue the call. Sometimes, these arguments would turn heated, complete with yelling, swearing (one magic word supposedly gets you tossed instantly), kicking of dirt, tossing of bases (Lou Piniella), and ejections from the game. While I’m not an advocate of abusing the umpires, some might even say that a manager getting tossed can be a ploy to fire up his team.
Will we ever see these arguments again?
Over the course of the past few games, baseball has seen many calls challenged via video replay. Some calls have been overturned, which means the rule change was a good one, right? Sure, but what we’re seeing now, is a manager taking a slow stroll out to the ump, and talking about anything non baseball-related while waiting for a signal from his dugout (who are waiting for the team in their video-control room to let them know if the call was blown or not).
This slows the game down even more, and let’s be honest: it’s a really slow game already.
Here’s what I propose: give the manager a challenge flag, like in football. Give them a time limit in which they are allowed to challenge a call (say, before the next pitch). And if a manager is still looking for a way to get tossed, they can argue balls and strikes. That way we’re not having more conversations about what to get Jimmy for his wedding, because you can only talk about candle sticks for so long before things get awkward.
Click here to listen to my interview with Malcolm MacMillan. We discuss highlights to visiting various major and minor league ballparks, as well as the current pitching situation with the Toronto Blue Jays.
For many baseball fans it’s a dream. Some never realize it. Some chip away at it, year by year. Some accomplish it all in one big season. I’m talking of course about seeing a baseball game in each of the 30 major league ballparks. There’s something exciting and special about visiting a new (to you) stadium. After all, baseball is one of those rare sports where each venue is somewhat different. Different field dimensions allow teams to make a statement – to be unique. As an example, Yankee Stadium has the short porch in right field, a mere 314 feet away, heavily favourable to left-handed pull-hitters. The same right field in Fenway, “Pesky’s Pole” measures a mere 302 feet from home plate, and hitters in Chicago’s Wrigley Field have to muscle-up to hit a shot in right, a good 353 feet away. If you start examining various centre field designs, each features various quirks, such as Houston’s Minute Maid Park which has Tal’s Hill, a 30 degree incline (which reminds me of some of the local fields I play on) toward the wall, complete with a flag pole in play. Each stadium has various other attractions beyond field dimensions, too many worth noting here.
When one starts researching, possibly planning a road trip, there comes the “ah-ha” moment, realizing that there are way more minor league ball parks, many also worth visiting and each with their own unique attractions (plus tickets are always more affordable). In a recent interview, I caught up with Malcolm MacMillan, the owner of www.theballparkguide.com, who to date has visited 53 major and minor league parks, writing a review on each and making notes for fans on what not to miss. Listen to the interview here.
Back in 2008, I was fortunate to take a road trip to New York, and see one of the last games in old Yankee Stadium. Even more fortunate for me, was that it was a Jays-Yankees game in which the Jays won. It was hard not to feel nostalgic, thinking about how many legends had graced that field over so many years. I wasn’t the only one feeling emotional, I noted, as following the game more than several Yankee fans could be seen with tears streaming down their faces. While I wanted to believe it was due to the tough loss my Jays had just handed their home team, it was more likely as a result of the realization that a stadium where they had formed many wonderful memories over the years was soon to be reduced to dust. Sadly, this is the inevitable fate of most parks. Fenway has been around for over 100 years, and while traditionalists would like to think it will stand for 100 more, that is not likely. All good things must come to an end eventually. So why not plan a road trip this summer, and visit some of these beautiful structures while you still can? The parks may not last forever, but the memories will last a lifetime.
Spring training games are upon us, and while they mean a lot to the players fighting to make the 25-man roster, one could argue that the outcome of the games are somewhat inconsequential. Statistically speaking, the Blue Jays ‘won’ spring training in 2012, and finished one game under .500 last season, only to end up second-last and in the basement respectively at the end of the regular season. Last year’s World Champion Red Sox only had a .500 record last spring.
But on Saturday, as the Baltimore Orioles faced off against the Blue Jays, they only had one thing in mind – win. An unusual goal for a game that statistically has no meaning. However, this game meant a great deal to many Oriole players, the managers, and the organization.
I accidentally came across the Baltimore broadcast when settling in to watch the game yesterday. During the first inning, while Orioles skipper Buck Showalter was being interviewed, he revealed that the Orioles PR Director, Monica Pence Barlow had passed away the previous morning from cancer. Describing what a big part of the Oriole family Monica had been, Buck finished his interview by saying they were going to try to beat the Jays, and win this one for Monica.
In a statement earlier that day, Showalter had released the following statement:
“We lost a feather from the Oriole today. Monica embodied everything we strive to be about. Her passion, loyalty and tenacity set a great example for everyone in the organization. She was so courageous in continuing to do her job the last few years despite her pain. This is an especially tough day for those of us that worked with her on a daily basis. It was a blessing to have her in my life. She made our jobs so much easier. We won’t be able to replace Monica. We will only try to carry on. I am going to miss her as a colleague and a friend. She was a rock.”
Some of the Oriole players wore arm bands during the game, in memory of Monica. As Baltimore regulars exited the game, they were interviewed and asked about special memories of Monica. Slugger Chris Davis reminisced about pouring champagne over Monica’s head after clinching the 2012 Wild Card.
While the focus in professional baseball is usually on the players, the statistics, and the big-money contracts, it can be easy to forget how many people behind the scenes are instrumental in so many important elements of the game. Monica was one of those many.
In the 8th inning the Blue Jays were up 7-2, yet I had a funny feeling about Baltimore staging a rally. Sure enough, they started chipping away – for Monica. Fast-forward in the inning to two out and the Orioles back within one. A ground ball to second that should have ended the inning but was an error by the infielder Chris Getz, loaded the bases and kept the momentum going. The next batter with the bases loaded, smacked a triple to the gap in right-centre, completing the 7-run rally and putting the O’s up by two. For the first time in my life, this hardcore Jays fan (I bleed blue) was ok with the opposition beating my hometown favourite. I’m certain, after hearing the stories from numerous Oriole players, that Monica had Oriole-orange flowing through her veins.
It’s not uncommon for a player to dedicate a game to the memory of a passed loved one. Many Toronto fans remember the emotional home run by John McDonald on father’s day, following the passing of his father. And then there’s the even more incredible feat of promising a home run for someone during a game. Babe Ruth hit not one, but three HR’s for a sick child during the 1926 World Series. But this was different. This was an entire team playing in memory of someone who was family.
Toronto aims to be playing “meaningful baseball games” this September.
The Orioles, as a team, played what was possibly the club’s first meaningful baseball game in March.
Regardless of the time of year, or how high the stakes are, every game has meaning to someone.
This game had meaning to many.
Rest in peace Monica.
At roughly this point in time one year ago, Toronto baseball fans were excited.
Way too excited.
Following a series of moves and acquisitions, Alex Anthopoulos had put together a group of players that immediately moved everyone’s perception of the Blue Jays from a struggling franchise to not just a playoff contender, but a favourite to win the World Series. ESPN’s Dan Shulman wasn’t fooled. I discussed the Blue Jays collapse with Dan last year, you can find that interview here.
Oh how excited we all were.
Ticket sales were up. Merchandise sales were drastically up. New, royal-blue caps became very noticible throughout Toronto streets, bars, and of course Rogers Centre. Spring training was a media frenzy, with much focus being on the two biggest names Anthopoulos had acquired, being Reyes and Dickey. Suddenly, it was cool to be a Blue Jays fan again.
And then the Toronto Blue Jays won the 2013 World Series, we all held hands and sang Kumbaya, THE END.
…sorry, where was I? I must have been daydreaming again…
Obviously we all know how 2013 really ended for the Jays, and I find it painful and pointless drudging up the past. However, we can all learn something from history. The past gives us something to measure progress against. And progress is what the Jays could use, having come off a 74-win season (sorry, sometimes I rub salt in my own wounds).
Fast-forward to Spring training 2014. This off-season has been drastically different for Toronto. The addition of Dioner Navarro as AA’s only significant off-season acquirement pales in comparison to what he did last year. And as a result, the Blue Jays are now flying somewhat under the radar.
Florida is quieter this year, as far as the Jays are concerned. I spoke with Sportsnet’s Jamie Campbell, who said that there are significantly less reporters covering the Blue Jays this spring training. He also said it’s a welcome change for the players, considering the circus they dealt with last year. To listen to the entire interview with Jamie, click here.
Does less media mean fewer expectations?
Hardly. This is almost the same team fans were ecstatic about last year. Only healthy…so far. Think about this scenario: Brett Lawrie, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, and R.A. Dickey stay healthy for the majority of the season. Let that sink in. Now feel the warmth of the Florida sun across your face as your smile grows bigger. Let us consider one more scenario: Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ also stay healthy. Suddenly the rotation doesn’t look so bad, does it? I know, there were so many big-name starters available this off-season, of which Toronto acquired none. But perhaps they didn’t need to. At the 2014 State of the Franchise, Anthopoulos suggested it might be a possibility to add another starter late spring. That possibility seems to be slipping away. Jamie Campbell doesn’t see it as a concern. He and I discussed the expectations from Toronto fans regarding acquiring Ervin Santana, but he pointed out that Ervin has been battling injuries. Combine that with Ervin’s expectation of a $50 Million commitment, and suddenly Toronto’s current options seem somewhat more attractive. Waiting in the wings are a handful of hungry pitchers, with a significantly smaller price tag. Toronto also had a very dominant bullpen last season. Delabar and Cecil both had All-Star worthy performances through the first-half. And who doesn’t like a fairy-tale/David-vs-Goliath style story that could be Marcus Stroman?
Yes, I know I just painted a very colourful picture with a rather optimistic brush. What can I say? I bleed blue.
But “worst-to-first” isn’t an impossibility. Ask Boston, they know all too well (jeez that still stings, doesn’t it Toronto?)
So get excited again.
Why not? It’s baseball season.
Anything can, and usually does happen.
For more on Toronto’s current pitching situation, listen to my interview here with Sportsnet’s Jamie Campbell. We also discuss the home plate collision rule change by Major League Baseball, which should prove to make for some interesting calls this season!
Follow Jamie Campbell on Twitter: @SNETCampbell