Showing posts from March, 2016

Throwback Thursday: The Cactus League

Baseball history was made 70 years ago this month: On March 8th, 1946, the Giants and Indians played the first spring training game ever in Arizona. At Tucson’s Hi Corbett Field, Cleveland, with Hall of Famer Bob Lemon on the mount, beat the Giants 3-1, in the inaugural Cactus League contest. The Giants and Indians still train in Arizona -- now joined by 13 other franchises. Thanks to the New York Giants Preservation Society for the background info. I never got to Hi Corbett Field on my visits to Arizona. For the next best thing, let's get a look at Scottsdale Stadium, the Giants longtime spring training home. These are from 2010.  A friend who visited the Cactus League this year sent me the photo below... It's from a Diamondbacks/Indians game at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the impressive new complex in Scottdale.

If Your Birthday is March 30th...

Image share it with White Sox ace Chris Sale, who turns 27 today. The skinny lefthander (seen here against the Yankees in 2013), threw 5-1/3 effective innings Tuesday in his final tuneup before the Sox season opener. Of course, he ought to be focused on his pitching -- in sharp contrast to his outspoken criticism of club president Kenny Williams over the Adam LaRoche "retirement." It appears that Sale and the Sox have moved past that distraction. They need to, when they have to face division rivals the Royals and Tigers 19 times this season.

Are Big Numbers on Tap?

After exploding for three home runs in Sunday's Cactus League game, Robinson Cano made it four in two days with a shot that cleared the batter's eye in center field during Monday's game. Could this be a hint that the Mariners 2nd baseman is ready to break out and dominate the way he once did as a Yankee? Cano's first two Seattle seasons could best be called disappointing. 2015 ended with him preparing for hernia surgery. Now 33, with eight years remaining on his 10-year, $240-million deal, 2016 could be the last chance for Cano to return to being considered among the game's elite. As a Yankee -- surrounded by other strong hitters such as Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter -- Cano excelled and had plenty of help. It hasn't been as easy in Seattle.  A less hitter-friendly ballpark, and a weaker supporting cast a mountain of doubt on the wisdom of luring Cano to Safeco Park. Now with a new manager in Scott Servais and a GM in Jerry DiPoto, the Mar

Weekend Roster Moves

It's the time of year when teams pare the rosters in preparation for opening day. After four seasons when he fell shy of expectations, served a PED suspension, put on excess weight and noticeably regressed, the Mariners cut Jesus Montero . Remember when he made a splashy September callup to the Bronx in 2011?  He hit over. 300, took over as the Yanks' DH and appeared ready to become the next big thing in New York. But it wasn't meant to be. That winter, he was swapped to Seattle for Michael Pineda. Let's just say things never seemed as bright again as they did on September 19th, 2011 when I snapped these images -- as well as the one below. Montero didn't make the Mariners -- and (below)  Chris Parmelee opted out of a minor league deal/camp invite with the Yankees. On that September afternoon in 2011, when Montero's star was rising, Parmelee was also a rookie. And he actually secured a place in history -- he was the final out as Mariano Rivera nailed down h

If Your Birthday is March 25th

Image share it with a player you've likely never heard of before: reliever Kirby Yates. He pitched for the Rays in parts of the last two seasons, was sold to the Indians and then moved to the Yankees for cash last winter. Not much of a resume, but he's been impressive so far in Grapefruit League play for the Yankees. He's unscored on in four appearances, including March 8th, when I saw him work against the Cardinals. Yates, whose older brother Tyler pitched for the Mets, Braves and Pirates during the 2000's, is one of just three major league players ever born on the Hawaiian island of Kauai (the others are Tyler and former Reds and Pirates hurler Steve Cooke). Want some better known members of the March 25th birthday club? There's Lee Mazzilli, who starred for the Mets during their dark years of the late '70s and early '80s and returned to Flushing as a top pinch hitter on their '86 champions; Mariners catcher Mike Zunino; and infielder Jeff Kunkel,

Remembering Joe Garagiola

Yankee fans like me got to know Joe Garagiola in 1965, when he replaced Mel Allen in the broadcast booth. Actually, we got a preview of his work the year before, when he teamed with Phil Rizzuto to call the World Series on NBC (rotating with Harry Caray and Curt Gowdy). But it was a stunner to learn that Mel was being replaced -- he was The Voice for baby boomers (and our parents) -- by the funny guy from St. Louis. Ironically, Joe arrived just months after his lifelong pal Yogi Berra was replaced as Yankee manager by Johnny Keane, who'd just led the Cardinals to the World Series championship. Superstitious folks wonder if there might be a connection between Yogi's departure and the Yankees' descent to mediocrity. (Especially since they never made it back to the World Series until 1976 when Berra returned to the Yanks as a coach.) Hey, firing Mel likely didn't unleash any good vibrations, either. Joe joined a broadcast booth where everyone would eventually be

Cuban Switch Hitter

On a week we're thinking a lot about Cuban ballplayers, I found a couple of good images of Royals DH Kendrys Morales. (They came from a game last May against the Yankees.) 2016 will be the 10th major league season for the power-hitter, who belted 22 homers last year and led the World Champs in slugging percentage. The Royals are more a "team" than a collection of stars, so Morales doesn't carry the buzz one associates with Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis or David Ortiz. In fact, his enduring image has nothing to do with playing for Kansas City: back in 2010, he smacked a walk-off grand slam that pushed the Angels past the Mariners. Unfortunately, as he was greeting by his teammates at home plate, his leap to officially score the winning run resulted in an awkward step and stumble -- and a broken leg that sidelined Morales for a year-and-a-half!


In an effort to mark Spring Training as being more distinctive (and marketable as a separate season), Major League Baseball has introduced these Interstate Highway-style logs that have become omnipresent at games this month in Florida and Arizona. All 30 teams, regardless of their color scheme, wear a patch on their sleeve. (Above) Yankees third baseman Chase Headley (below) Mets instructor John Franco. There's one other patch on the Yankees shirts this spring -- the number 8 on the left sleeve honoring the beloved Yogi Berra. What do you think about the spring training patches? Smart marketing or overkill? A good idea, or just another way to sell more "merch?" Share your thoughts in a comment. Click on the comment link at the bottom of this page.

Cardinals Middle Infield

When I saw Kolten Wong (above) and Ruben Tejada (below) in the the Mets/Cardinals game at Jupiter on March 7th, I didn't expect they'd be teammates less than two weeks later. The Redbirds' fast-rising 2nd baseman, Wong could easily be playing along Tejada on opening day and well into June, as Jhonny Peralta recovers from a serious thumb injury. Over the winter, I bought a lens extender for my 55-250mm zoom. I love the way it brings you closer -- without the drawbacks of digital magnification. Look at the detail of Tejada's hand, from the stitching on the ball to the precise grip as he prepares to make the throw.

If Your Birthday is March 19th...

Image share it with one of baseball's best pitchers, the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw. Turning 28 today, the stellar lefty has already won three Cy Young Awards -- and like an L.A. ace of an earlier generation Sandy Koufax, paired his 2014 Cy Young with the National League MVP. He shares this calendar date with the most beloved Phillie of all time. Richie Ashburn was the star center fielder for the Whiz Kids, who beat the Dodgers on the last day of the 1950 season to win their first pennant in 35 years. Arguably the NL's third best center fielder of the '50s -- behind fellow Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Duke Snider -- "Whitey" waited decades before finally entering Cooperstown in 1995, two years before he passed away. This son of Nebraska spent his final seasons with Cubs and Mets, before returning to Philadelphia to spend 35 years as a Phillies broadcaster -- becoming an institution rivaling cheese steaks and Rocky Balboa. The outfield concourse at Citizen

Making It All the Way Back

Almost from the moment he arrived in the majors, Matt Harvey staked his claim as the Mets best pitcher. That intangible combination of performance and personality elevated his into starts events -- something Met fans remember from the days of Doc Gooden and Tom Seaver. The charismatic Connecticut native was sidetracked midway through 2013 by Tommy John surgery, but battled back to make 2015's opening day roster. While there were ups and down during the season, there was no doubt he'd found his groove by the post-season, when he beat the Dodgers and Cubs and threw eight shutout innings against the Royals in World Series game 5 -- before convincing Terry Collins he deserved the chance to nail down the complete game and running out of gas three outs from victory. No one doubts the determination of The Dark Knight. And Terry Collins certified that Thursday morning, by naming Harvey his opening night starter. And in a delicious matchup, the Mets begin 2016 against the World Cham

The Wearing of the Green

The Oakland A's are the only major league team currently wearing green during the regular season... (The Mariners' blue-green doesn't really count.) For St. Patrick's Day, let's focus on a couple of players who'll be donning blue during 2016: pitcher Scott Kazmir, now a Dodger; and outfielder Yeonis Cespedes, beginning his first full year with the Mets. These images are from Oakland's June 2014 visit to Yankee Stadium.

Throwback Thursday: Spring Training 2007

Miguel Cabrera  as a Florida Marlin... This was his final spring in Jupiter -- he'd be traded after that season to the Tigers, where he's remained one of the game's most feared hitters. And much has changed for the fish. They became the Miami Marlins when they moved to their own stadium a few years ago -- and ditched the black and white uniforms for a predominantly pastel look. (Below) Someone you probably don't associate with South Florida's team. Aaron Boone played 69 games for them in 2008.

Ivan Nova Starts a Crucial Year

Ivan Nova started last Wednesday's Yankees/Mets exhibition at Port Saint Lucie. And he was back on the mound last night against the Red Sox at "Fenway South." Making his third start of the spring, he turned in four effective innings, striking out four. It's the final year before free agency for the onetime 16-game winner. Coming up on the second anniversary of his Tommy John Surgery, Nova looks to regain the form that made him look like a potential future ace. That could translate not only into another Yankee trip to the playoffs -- but a mega-payoff for the big righthander.

T.J. Rivera: Possible Future Met

Since the amateur draft was instituted 50 years ago, it's become rare to see a player suit up with his hometown team. The Mets already have one on their roster in Long Island-born pitcher Steven Matz. And they might soon have another. Infielder T.J. Rivera actually grew up in the Yankees' home borough, the Bronx. But the Mets signed him in 2011 after he went undrafted coming out of Troy University in Alabama. Steadily advancing through the club's farm system, Rivera has hit well everywhere he's played. Last year, he batted over .340 at Double-A Binghamton -- and then .306 in 54 games for Triple-A Las Vegas. Now, he's in camp with the Mets for the first time, and has opened some eyes. While Neil Walker, David Wright and Wilmer Flores rank ahead of him in the depth chart, an injury or trade could create an unexpected opportunity. If Rivera keeps hitting during the Grapefruit League, and when the minor league starts, he might find his way to Citi Field someti

David Phelps Tries to Make it in Miami

I got a good look at David Phelps during last Tuesday's Yankees/Marlins exhibition -- as he tossed a pair of shutout innings. This is going to be a crucial year for the former Yankees swingman. Traded to Miami a year ago with Martin Prado in the deal that sent Nathan Eovaldi to New York, Phelps worked primarily as a starting pitcher for the first time in his career; he posted a 4 - 8 before his season ended in mid-August with a stress fracture in his pitching arm. With a rotation headed by Jose Fernandez, free agent signee Wei-Yin Chen and the improving Tom Koehler, Phelps' 2016 status is a bit uncertain. He'll need to show Don Mattingly he's healthy and worthy of getting the ball every fifth day. About to turn 30, he could find himself losing a place as part of this youthful club's future.

Spring Training 2016: Walker's Bat Flip

After walking against the Yankees last Wednesday, Mets 2nd baseman Neil Walker casually tosses his bat before heading down to 1st base.

Spring Training 2016: Another Young Yankee

Catching prospect Gary Sanchez taking a practice swing before his first at-bat Wednesday against the Mets.

Spring Training 2016: The Mets host the Yankees

Third game in three days: the Yankees continue their Treasure Coast swing with a visit to the Mets at Port Saint Lucie. While a little early in March to be labeled a showdown, both teams made the post-season in 2015, and expectations on both sides are high. (Below) the ever-present Florida Spring Training logo. It's not just on uniforms, but painted on the field, but as a photographer-pal pointed out, it's even stamped onto the balls being used in exhibition games. Yankees manager Joe Girardi charts with his boss Brian Cashman during batting practice. (Below) promising Yankee outfielder Aaron Judge getting his pre-game swings in. The weather was picture perfect, partly sunny with a temperature in the upper 70s. (Above) The Mets trotted out another of their four aces, 2014 Rookie of the Year winner Jacob deGrom. He wasn't his sharpest, surrendering a run and five hits over three innings, but his trademark long hair was in prime form. (Below) Ivan Nova got

Spring Training 2016: Same Ballpark, Different Opponents

Back at Roger Dean Stadium on Tuesday, this time as the Marlins welcomed the Yankees. Another perfect early March day, with temps in the 70s and fair weather clouds mixing with the deep blue sky. (Above) C.C. Sabathia tossed two shutout innings in his first spring start. The only baserunner he allowed was Chris Johnson, who walked with two outs in the 2nd. (Below) The ageless Ichiro twisting out of the way of some inside heat.   Or maybe you prefer seeing him patrolling right field for Miami. He enters 2016 just 65 hits shy of 3000 in U.S. play. (Below) Few hirings generated as much over the winter as the selection of Barry Bonds to be the Marlins' new hitting coach. Is this the first step for him to rehabilitate his image? Or does he need to say more and demonstrate more before he can be accepted by the fans? (Below) One of Bonds' prized pupils will be Marlins 2nd baseman Dee Gordon. A terrific 2015 season made you wonder what the Dodgers brain trust was thinkin