Showing posts from February, 2015

10 Years Ago This Spring

It's always nice to flash back to the understated charm of Dodgertown in Vero Beach. These are from a Dodgers-Marlins exhibition game in March '05. Looking over this photo of a pre-game meeting with the umps, it took me a while to identify the Dodger wearing #14. Do you recognize him?  (I'll have the answer on Monday.)

Throwback Thursday: Milwaukee

On one of the baseball trips I took around the Midwest while living in St. Louis, we took in a game at Milwaukee County Stadium. Renowned for its 1957 and '58 pennant-winning Braves clubs and world class sausages, it also had a massive parking lot -- maybe even bigger than Dodger Stadium's. Owing to its then-other status as the Green Bay Packers alternate home, it was the first baseball stadium I'd ever seen where fans tailgated before a game.

Healthy Seasons Needed

Both players pictured today -- Ivan Nova, pitching to Manny Machado in September 2013 -- need to return to health for their teams to have solid post-season chances. Likely to return sometime around Memorial Day, Nova underwent Tommy John surgery last spring, while Machado's last two seasons were stopped short by knee injuries. Nova at 28 and Machado, still just 22, should have long careers ahead of them. Both are the kind of homegrown talent clubs thrive for -- as long as they can stay on the field.

Guest Weatherman: David Wright

The Mets third baseman's uniform number matches this morning's frigid 6am temperature in New York. By contrast, former Yankee reliever Jonathan Albaladejo offers up the 6:00 reading in Tampa. I'm counting down to the first Grapefruit League games of the year two weeks from today. Aren't you?

If Your Birthday is February 23rd

Image share it with the Mets first All Star and Rookie of the Year contender. Ron Hunt ranks among the best "conditional purchases" ever. A Braves minor leaguer who'd never even played Triple-A ball, he impressed the heck out of Casey Stengel and the entire Mets organization during the spring of 1963. Winning the job as the everyday second baseman, his hustle and fundamentally strong play quickly made him stand out from the has-beens and rejects that made up the bulk of those Polo Grounds teams. Hunt finished second to Pete Rose in the voting for Rookie of the Year. A year later, when the Mets moved to Shea Stadium and hosted the All Star Game, Hunt was named the starter at 2nd base.  Though he only spent four years as a Met, Ron Hunt drew a line in the sand between the "lovable losers" and respectability.  This date has a definite Mets flavor. Hunt shares his birthday with the Mets second baseman on the Impossible Dream champs of 1969, Ken Boswell ; re

Weekend Bonus: For Rent

Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the longtime home of the Giants Triple-A farm club, and 1964, the parent club's Spring Training headquarters, had been the Oakland A's pre-season home since 1984. But not this year. The Athletics have moved on to Mesa, and "Phoenix Muni" shifts to college ball as the home for Arizona State University's varsity. While not quite on an historic par with Dodgertown or ever Fort Lauderdale Stadium (where Mantle and Maris got ready for their summertime slugging in the Bronx), the park hold a lot of memories -- including the light towers that were originally installed at the Polo Grounds in New York. And, to no one's surprise, Willie Mays hit the stadium's first home run.

Phamiliar Phillie

Through the off-season, the Phillies said goodbye to franchise icon Jimmy Rollins and have tried to trade other cornerstones of their recent championship run such as Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels. While Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro Junior are eager to rebuild around younger talent such as Maikel Franco and, perhaps a year from now J.P. Crawford and Aaron Nola, one veteran remains an important cog in the Philly machine: catcher Carlos Ruiz. He's seen here from April 2013 against the Mets at Citi Field.

Throwback Thursday: Veterans Stadium

For 33 years, Veterans Stadium was home to the Phillies. It represented a generation of rounded, multi-purpose parks, all of which have since been replaced. It also signaled an era of success for the club whose time in Connie Mack Stadium (Shibe Park) was known largely for losing. A collage (below) shows highlight moments from the Vet in color; with Connie Mack Stadium's black-and-white memories in the background. These photos are from Labor Day 2003, when the Phillies hosted the Red Sox on the oft-criticized artificial turf.

If Your Birthday is February 18th...

Image share it with the first great Yankee reliever I remember, Luis Arroyo. He gets 88 candles on his cake today. Seen here at 2012's Old Timers Day (with former 3rd baseman Dr. Bobby Brown to your right), Arroyo had his career year in 1961, on the most powerful Yankee team of the decade. Sure, the headlines were dominated by Mantle and Maris and their pursuit of Babe Ruth's home run record. But there were some other remarkable performances that year -- Whitey Ford, who won 25 games and the Cy Young Award; and Luis Arroyo -- who turned in one of the greatest years by a reliever in an era when the term closer hadn't been established. He won 15 games and saved 29 more with an ERA barely above 2. Go ask Whitey who helped him earn that Cy -- he'll give the big assist to Arroyo (keep in mind, Ford "only" had 11 complete games that season). The game has evolved over the decades, as the last guy out of the bullpen evolved into an essential part of every club. Whi

Palm Tree Therapy Continues

New York's temperature bottomed out at 4 degrees yesterday. My wife said the thermometer in her car read 1 below when she left for work. So it's on to the Cactus League and some March 2011 action between the Mariners and Royals. Below, Ichiro shows mid-season form sliding into score (that's Brayan Pena catching for KC).

President's Day

The above photo -- from Nationals Park -- sets the pace for this day. Just curious, if you've ever thought of the best ballplayer sharing a name with a President. Backup infielder John Kennedy , had an interesting career -- playing in Washington in the early '60s when his namesake was in the White House. And he later played in JFK's hometown for several seasons as a Red Sox. There was also an earlier John Kennedy -- the reserve infielder whose promotion enabled the 1957 Phillies to belatedly become the last National League club to integrate. 90 years after his near-namesake's administration, Johnnie Tyler had a brief run as a Boston Braves backup infielder (honestly, until I did my research, I'd never heard of this player. Had you?). Zack Taylor spent parts of 16 seasons in the majors, catching for the Dodgers and Cubs -- and then spent 5-1/2 years managing the St. Louis Browns. Among those three, I'll take Taylor -- who also had the experience of

If Your Birthday is February 13th...

Image share it with a pitcher who'll be one of the most scrutinized Yankees this coming season. Traded by the Marlins to New York over the winter, Nathan Eovaldi steps into a Yankee rotation loaded with question marks. Masahiro Tanaka's fragile elbow tendon, CC Sabathia's creaky knees, Michael Pineda's litany of media issues, Hiroki Kuroda's return to Japan, and the trade of the promising Shane Greene for shortstop Didi Gregorious put a spotlight on this newcomer from the NL. I first caught him in action during Spring Training two years ago in Jupiter. There are a few other notable baseball birthdays on this day-before-Valentine's: Hal Chase , a sweet-swinging 1st baseman who spent most of his career with the Yankees' predecessors, the New York Highlanders, and Sal Bando , the standout 3rd baseman on the Oakland A's early-'70s dynasty. And then, there's Drew Henson, someone considered a can't miss player in both football and baseball

Palm Tree Therapy: Jeter's Final Spring Training

So much of the Yankees 2014 pre-season -- as well as regular season -- marketing was geared to it being Derek Jeter's final year as an active player. Above: the replica Monument Park is located in the plaza just outside the main entrance of George M. Steinbrenner Field. What year do you think number-two will join those of the other Yankee legends? Below: the larger-than-life image of the Captain on the outfield video board.  Below: I like the light moment with Derek and 1st base coach Mick Kelleher

Palm Tree Therapy: Spring Training Memories

From March 2013: Mets host the Tigers at Port Saint Lucie. The ballpark, built in the late '80s was one of the first in Florida to feature outfield seating on a berm beyond the outfield fence. Working out before the game: Marlon Byrd, who made the Mets roster that year as a non-roster free agent, stretching. Justin Turner (2) and Ike Davis (29) in the background. Below: Turner and Davis playing catch. Below, Tigers manager Jim Leyland signing autographs for some young fans.

More Palm Tree Therapy

March 11, 2010 - Padres and Cubs in Peoria, Arizona

Are Palm Trees Therapeutic?

With the New York area being hit by a winter storm for the third Monday in a row, a good long look at the deep blue sky and palm trees of Lakeland, Florida's Joker Marchant Stadium is more than a relief. Pitchers and catchers report about 10 days from now; 10 days later, the call of "play ball" will again be heard across Florida and Arizona. With my front and back yards covered with hard-packed snow, I can't get enough of this imagery. How about yourself? Had it with Old Man Winter?

Knee Trouble Again

Coming off the best season of his career -- in a walk year -- the Tigers re-signed Victor Martinez to a four-year/$68-million contract last fall. Despite being 36 and just two years removed from a serious knee injury that cost him all of 2012, Detroit didn't want to risk losing the player that had become their best all-around hitter. Yesterday's news had to make GM Dave Dombrowski shudder. In what they hope is a less-serious rerun of his previous injury, Martinez tore the medial meniscus in his left knee during a workout last week -- and will undergo surgery next week. While we're hearing this time it will only cost him two months -- likely shelving him for all of spring training and possibly the start of the regular season -- it does question the wisdom of signing a player, even a gifted one, to a multi-year contract when they're on the other side of 35. Martinez doesn't catch much these days. And he was never a speedster. But one has to wonder how a knee tha

Throwback Thursday: Kansas City

From an early 1990s visit to Kansas City, we're at the Harry S. Truman Sports Complex. It' several hours before a Royals game, with the round beauty of Kauffman Stadium in the foreground and Arrowhead Stadium (home of the Chiefs) in the background.

Back With the Champs

Ryan Vogelsong  -- seen here last August at AT&T Park -- doesn't put up the numbers or garner the same attention teammates such as Madison Bumgarner or Jake Peavy do. But he was a reliable back-of-the-rotation starter in 2014 -- especially in the post-season, where he started three games, all of which San Francisco won. After testing the free agent waters, the veteran righthander re-upped with the Giants for 2015, as they try to become baseball's first back-to-back champs this century. (The last team to take consecutive titles was the "three-peat" 1998, '99 and 2000 Yankees.)

Rising Young Ranger

From July 6, 2014 at  Citi Field: Rangers 2nd baseman Rougned Odor shows how difficult it is to check a swing. Below, just a fraction of a second later, he's pulled the bat back just enough. Turning 21 today, the Venezuelan native showed a lot of promise during 2014, when he had to jump to the majors after several Rangers infielders were injured. Odor shares his birthday with longtime Red Sox and Angels star Fred Lynn, Skip Schumaker (most recently of the Reds) and two players in our "name's the same" category: Mike Wallace (the Phillies pitcher not the 60 Minutes correspondent or Dolphins receiver) and Terry Bradshaw (a Cardinals reserve outfielder in the mid-'90s and not the quarterback-turned-broadcaster).

Four Weeks From Now

We have turned the corner in the sports year. With the Super Bowl behind us, I'm counting the days until pitchers and catchers start reporting to training camps. (Be honest, aren't you doing that, too?) And the first exhibition games in Florida and Arizona take place the first week of March. These images are from a Mariners/Royals game in Peoria, Arizona in March 2012.