Book Review: Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere

Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere is not a book for fans seeking inspiration about the road to “The Show.”
Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere is not a book for fans seeking inspiration about the road to “The Show.” (Photo from Barnes and Noble)

Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere is not a book for fans seeking inspiration about the road to “The Show.” Readers that are brave enough to look beyond the depressing scenery overshadowed by an ominous corn processing plant will be treated to a better understanding of the stereotypical life that exists in a small town with a minor league baseball team.

Author Lucas Mann traveled to Clinton, Iowa in 2010 and he embedded himself in the clubhouse of the Clinton LumberKings–a Midwest League Class A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. Mann effectively portrays the city as a stop along the way for baseball prodigies like 19-year-old Nick Franklin while juxtaposing it as a baseball purgatory for struggling players.

Readers develop an interest and then an attachment to the minor league players whose experiences are chronicled in the book. Mann portrays these stories to readers the same way that he learned about them–as conversations over hamburgers at McDonald’s, in car rides home to crowded apartments and in noisy locker rooms.

His story telling makes readers realize that the players, who are idolized by a core group of fans referred to as “The Baseball Family,” are really just young men who happen to be playing baseball in Clinton competing for a promotion.

The narrative perspective allows readers to truly empathize with the athletes. Erasmo Ramirez, a hard throwing pitcher who left his home in Nicaragua, constantly tries to improve his numbers while finding comfort in the company of other Latino baseball players. The conversations with Ramirez will have make readers feel determined and they are left understanding how brave some players need to be to pursue a career in baseball.

They will feel also feel the excitement of Franklin’s journey toward a home record and his inevitable promotion. Mann never lets the readers feel too high as he also shares the stories of the players helplessly relegated to the bench awaiting demotion. 
The narrative culminates in an exciting postseason run for the LumberKings which will leave readers wondering how players have the focus to follow their passion as they compete in Clinton on a seemingly endless road to the majors.

Book Review: A Great Day in Cooperstown

Jim Reisler's A Great Day in Cooperstown will be the first of many baseball books I will review this offseason. (Photo from Amazon.com)
Jim Reisler’s A Great Day in Cooperstown will be the first of many baseball books that Nats Gallery Blog will review this offseason. (Photo from Amazon.com)

I cast my ballot on Election Day at the public library in Aurora Hills and went searching for the first of many baseball books to get me through the winter until baseball season resumes on Opening Day. Jim Reisler’s A Great Day In Cooperstown was a great book to start with because of its focus on the origins of baseball and the establishment of baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Reisler begins his 2006 book by describing Cooperstown, NY in 1939. Main Street was brimming with excitement. Major League Baseball All-Stars and legends fanned out across the town. Over 10,000 visitors packed the town to celebrate baseball’s centennial.

Fans flocked to the players for autographs and many players held court, telling their stories to anybody who was interested. Others cued up at the post office to purchase special issue postcards bearing a commemorative stamp and post office.

The book focuses a lot of attention on why the fanfare was centered in Cooperstown and Reisler debunks the myth that baseball’s rules were invented there Abner Doubleday during the spring of 1839. Reisler explains how the myth gained traction and became widely accepted in the lead up to the celebration of baseball’s centennial

Readers are introduced to each of inductees as they learn about a different aspect of the type of work that went into planning the celebration which included–speeches, the opening of the museum and a series of games played at a newly renovated Doubleday Field.

Resiler also describes the work of two little known figures–Alexander Cleland, a social worker from Glasgow, and Stephen Clark, a Cooperstown philanthropist–who were responsible for acquiring the memorabilia including the “funny old uniforms” and who worked with league officials to establish voting protocols for Hall of Fame ballots.

Washington Nationals fans may be particularly interested in the chapter about Walter Johnson. The chapter includes his brief remarks from his induction speech, the story about how he was discovered by the Washington Senators while playing for a semi-professional team in Idaho and the story about how he managed to throw three shutouts in four days.

The book concludes with a romantic description of the festivities that followed the induction speeches including a detailed recap of the game the Hall of Famers played in alongside the modern All-Stars at Doubleday Field.

I have not yet had the opportunity to visit the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but I would highly recommend this book as an essential read for anybody traveling to Cooperstown for Hall of Fame Weekend 2017.

Nationals Winterfest 2016: Player Photos, Autographs and Game Shows

The Washington Nationals hosted Winterfest on Saturday and Sunday at The Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.
The Washington Nationals hosted Winterfest on Saturday and Sunday at The Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

The Washington Nationals hosted Winterfest at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center over the weekend and it was a great opportunity for Nationals fans to meet and mingle with some of their favorite players. We highlighted some of the most exciting moments from Sunday in this blog post.

Meeting Players

One of the most exciting opportunities that fans have at Winterfest, that they are not usually afforded during the regular season, is the opportunity to take photos with players. There were two player photo stations set up near the main stage where players rotated taking photos with fans for thirty minute intervals. The meetings at the photo stations were not opportunities to get autographs, but they were terrific opportunities to welcome the new players and wish them well as they prepare for spring training.

There were five sessions at each photo station each day and fans interested in taking photos with players could meet up to 20 players each day.

Some of the players who posed at the photo stations on Sunday included: Chris Heisey and Wilmer Difo, Koda Glover and Max Scherzer, Trea Turner and Pedro Severino, Dusty Baker and Trevor Gott, Adam Eaton and Derek Norris, Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Grace as well as Michael A. Taylor and Matt Grace.

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These players were excited to meet their fans and they deserve major props!

Nationals players who were noticeably absent from Winterfest this season included Bryce Harper (who looked like he was enjoying himself at a Duke basketball game), Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon.

Getting Autographs

The best way to guarantee your autograph at Winterfest this year was to purchase an autograph voucher online as soon as they went on sale. A Nationals Insider email alerting fans that vouchers were going on sale at 10:00 a.m. on December 2 was distributed at 9:06 a.m. the same morning which resulted in many fans missing out an exciting opportunity. The vouchers were all sold out when I checked my email at 11:00 a.m. that morning, but someone, generously, gave me a voucher after they overheard me speaking about the Nationals in a conversation.

I redeemed my autograph voucher for a special bracelet and got in line for my autograph session featuring Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross. It was an amazing experience to meet Strasburg and Ross.

Player Interaction

Winterfest offers plenty of other opportunities to see players around the convention center floor at the different elements.  Eaton, Ross, and Scherzer stood with Santa Claus on Sunday afternoon for family photos.

Sammy Solis and Norris greeted fans at the top of The Slider.

A.J. Cole was also out and around the convention center. He started the clock for children at the steal home challenge.

New For 2016

There were a handful of new elements this year at Winterfest. The Ballpark of The Palm Beaches, the new spring training complex that the Nationals and Astros will share in 2017, had a presence behind The Slider. This area had a video playing about tourism sites in the area showcasing restaurants, spas and the beaches. Fans who stopped by also walked away with a koozie, spring training schedule, and pamphlets about new ballpark and other activities in the area.

An exhibit showcasing the Ballpark of The Palm Beaches was new for 2016.
An exhibit showcasing the Ballpark of The Palm Beaches was new for 2016.

There were also multiple new main stage events to complement the classic events like the gingerbread house contest. The games allowed fans to get a better feel for the personalities of their favorite Nationals.

Dusty Baker and Chris Speier teamed up against Strasburg and Tanner Roark for Smitten Mittens Duo Battle–a game show modeled after “The Newlywed Game.” The teammates took turns answering questions about their partners while one was behind the stage in a “soundproof room.” Some of the answers made the audience laugh including one where Speier said his favorite postgame meal was ribs when Baker predicted it would be salad. It was also funny to watch when Roark correctly anticipated that Strasburg’s favorite flight activity was to watch movies on his iPad.

X’s and Bows was another new game this year and it was hosted by Charlie Slowes–the veteran play-by-play announcer for the Washington Nationals. Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg teamed up with members of the audience to answer trivia questions about Nationals players to get three of their ribbons or bows in a row. Some of the highlights of the event included Ryan Zimmerman answering a question about where he went to college (University of Virginia) and Stephen Strasburg answering a question about the year he was drafted (2009). It was also fun to watch the players correctly answer trivia questions about some of their teammates.

Room For Improvement

Winterfest was a terrific experience, but there are definitely areas where there can be room for improvement. Two of the longer lines were for the video pitch exhibit and the batting cages. Adding an additional two batting cages and encouraging some of the younger attendees to use the rookie batting cages  would go a long way at reducing the waiting time for attendees.

Winterfest planners can also consider rotating out some of the exhibits such as the New Era cap exhibit and the snow globe photo station to make room for more popular or new exhibits for 2017.

Commissioner: NCAA Athletic Scholarship Rule Puts Baseball at a Disadvantage

Rob Manfred (left), the commissioner of Major League Baseball, answered questions at The George Washington University on Monday, December 6, 2016. Mark Hyman, an assistant professor of sport management at GW, moderated a discussion headlined by Claire Smith, Richard Justice, and Tim Kurkjian
Rob Manfred (far left), the commissioner of Major League Baseball, answered questions at The George Washington University on Monday, December 6, 2016. Mark Hyman, an assistant professor of sport management at GW, moderated a discussion headlined by Claire Smith, Richard Justice, and Tim Kurkjian (left to right).

The stagnation in the number of African American players represented in Major League Baseball is attributable to the increased competition from the Dominican Republic and the sport’s inability to effectively recruit multi-sport athletes, according to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.

Manfred told an audience, gathered at The George Washington University on Monday night, that there are added incentives that make sports like football and basketball more appealing than baseball to multi-sport athletes.

“You play football, you can go to the University of Michigan on a full ride…you can play on Saturday afternoons on national television,” he said. “If you’re really good, you can stay three years and go to the NFL.”

The commissioner also explained how a similar set of rules allow college basketball players to collect full scholarships. Basketball players, he said, also have an opportunity to leave school at a time when they can maximize their earning potential.

Baseball, Manfred said, has less to offer multi-sport athletes. High school students can sign professional contracts after graduating high school, but the life of a minor league baseball player is much less glamorous.

“Usually what happens there,” he said “is they put you on a plane and send you to play in a Florida State League where it’s about 102 in the shade and nobody’s in the stands.”

Manfred was critical of the NCAA rules that restrict college baseball programs to 11.7 scholarships.
Manfred was critical of the NCAA rules that restrict college baseball programs to 11.7 athletic scholarships.

Manfred was most critical of the lack of sufficient athletic scholarships that college baseball programs can offer student athletes.

An NCAA regulation limits baseball programs to just 11.7 athletic scholarships. This makes it difficult for coaches or recruiters to entice athletes to join their programs which carry 35 players who split scholarships or may be promised a scholarship if another player leaves the program.

The lack of available scholarships makes it even more difficult to attract a more diverse group of athletes who would prefer the certainty of scholarships in other sports, according to Manfred.

The evening’s discussion about a lack of diversity in baseball came just three months after Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones called baseball “a white man’s sport.” Jones, who is African American, made the statement when asked about why there had not been any protests among baseball players similar to those staged by players in the NFL during the National Anthem.

According to a study by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, just 8 percent of the players on 2016 Opening Day rosters were African American. The lack of involvement is also evident in college sports where just 2.9 percent of college baseball players in 2014-2015 were African American, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune.

Manfred asserted that MLB is making strides to promote the sport in African American communities. The youth baseball academies in Philadelphia, Compton, Houston, New Orleans, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C. are just some of the successful programs that are promoting sport. Two other academies in Texas and Kansas City are currently under construction and the goal, Manfred said, is to have academies in “every major league city.”

These academies along with programs like the Elite Development Invitational, a baseball training event that takes place in Historic Dodgertown, are geared toward popularizing and developing the sport among African American community.

The lack of a competitive NCAA scholarship system, however, may prevent these programs from achieving their fullest potential as more multi-sport athletes choose the free-ride and the fame.

Pitch: A Review of “The Interim” and Dusty Baker’s Support of Aroldis Chapman

Al Luongo, like Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker, had to face the media after making an insensitive off-the-cuff statement. (screenshot from Episode 2)
Al Luongo, like Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker, had to face the media after making an insensitive off-the-cuff statement. (Screenshot from Episode 2).

Ginny Baker did not make another start in the second episode of Pitch. “The Interim” focused, instead, on the San Diego Padres clubhouse and the team’s manager–Al Luongo.

One of the first scenes of the second episode involves a frustrated Al venting to team captain Mike Lawson in the clubhouse. Al quickly rattles off a list of the pressures that he is facing.

“My team’s broke. I’ve got pitchers taking swings at centerfields. I’ve got a girl getting dressed in a closet. I got a pissy owner. And on top of that, now I have psoriasis on my elbows.” Al then deadpans a solution, “So, I’m gonna fix my psoriasis. Your gonna fix the other stuff.”

This conversation makes it clear that the old-school manager is overwhelmed. Al lost control of personnel decisions in the Pilot episode when owner Frank Reid called up Ginny to make her debut. In addition to losing control of personnel decisions, Al’s team was seemingly “broken” by the decisions of the Padres players who were resistant to having Ginny on the team.

Before the audience can start to feel bad for the frustrated manager, a breaking news story on MLB Network revealed Al made a controversial statement about Ginny two years earlier. Al nervously looked back at Ginny when the video clip was played on the team bus.

Al was very embarrassed by a video surfaced showing him make crude remarks about Ginny. (Screenshot from Episode 2).
Al was very embarrassed by a video that surfaced showing him making crude remarks about Ginny. (Screenshot from Episode 2).

Al told a scrum of reporters, “Yeah, Well I hope she makes it to The Show one day. I mean have you seen her? Easy on the eyes. Sure a lot of the guys would love to have her in the locker room.”

The statement Al made was absolutely inappropriate. It undermined Ginny’s talent as an athlete and objectified her beauty as something that would keep the major leaguers entertained.

Al ends up making a very genuine apology to Ginny and then reads a statement to the press. Al made a reference to his daughter in his private apology and also added, “I’m probably missing something here. The world kinda passed me by when they made the Internet. Anyway, it won’t happen again.”

Al’s statement to the media was more “boiler-plate” and seemingly ripped right out of a book by a professional PR agency. At the end of his statement he is barraged with questions about the state of affairs in his clubhouse and he relents, “Geez..can we just go back to talking about how pretty the girl is?”

These statement about the Internet and his slip at the end of the statement were both revealing. The statements show that although Al may be a good manager, he struggles with the added burdens of managing in 2016.

Managers may have been able to get away with speaking with more candor to the media during the early stages of his career. Less eloquent or poorly phrased statements may not have been printed. The times, however, have changed and managers are expected to be able to speak to the media with the knowledge that raw video of their statements will be released to the public.

This episode incident may have resonated with baseball fans who tuned into coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee.

During a press conference with reporters, Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker made a statement about Aroldis Chapman–a free-agent closer who was under investigation by Major League Baseball for a domestic violence incident.  

Baker, who was in his first months as manager at the time, is known for his years of experience in the sport as an All-Star outfielder and as a manager. He is very relaxed when he speaks and he speaks with candor. The relaxed nature of his interviews can be seen in his body language during post-game interviews where he can be seen scratching himself or adjusting his jersey while answering questions.

Baker defended Chapman, his pitcher from when he managed the Cincinnati Reds, from accusations that he “pushed” and “choked” his girlfriend during an October altercation. He said, “I don’t believe the reports,” and he questioned whether or not Chapman was the aggressor in the altercation.

Baker elevated his support by calling Chapman, a “heck of a guy.” He added, “I will go on the record and say I wouldn’t mind having Chapman.”

Baker who speaks off-the-cuff during his meetings would later walk back his comments and slip the same way Al did at the end of his interview by insinuating that African and Latin American players throw the ball harder than white players and that acquiring Chapman would help make the game more diverse.  

The fictional incident in Pitch is another great example of how the TV series is doing a great job at reflecting reality in Major League Baseball. Baseball is not like a movie script. Players and managers are fallible and Pitch continues to do a great job by not romanticizing the game.

Nationals Magazine Digest: Postseason 2016

The latest edition of Nationals Magazine is on sale at Nationals Park
The latest edition of Nationals Magazine is on sale at Nationals Park.

The final issue of Nationals Magazine for 2016 featuring the Washington Nationals celebrating a walk-off victory is now on sale at Nationals Park. The latest magazine includes a vibrant series of photographs featuring “Signature Moments” from the 2016 regular season and two short articles written by the radio broadcasters.

Nine “Signature Moments” are featured in the magazine. Fans should definitely pick up a copy of the magazine to relive the moments by checking out the photos and reading the recaps. Video clips celebrating the “Signature Moments” were featured on NatsHD before the previous postseason games.

  1. April 4 – The Pursuit Begins – The section celebrates the success of Harper on Opening Day and the arrival of Daniel Murphy.
  2. April 14 – One Hundred Grand – Bryce Harper hit his 100th career home run in style.
  3. April 24 – The Roller Coaster – I never leave games early because of games like these. Bryce Harper delivered a game saving pinch-hit home run and Chris Heisey delivered a game winning home run in the 16th inning agains the Minnesota Twins.
  4. May 9 – The Accidental Walk-Off – In a game most notable for Harper’s ejection and subsequent outburst against home plate umpire, Brian Knight, Clint Robinson hit a walk-off home run without knowing the inning of his pinch hit appearance.
  5. May 11 – 20th & K – Max Scherzer had, arguably, the most dominant games of his career when he struck out 20 players in a nine inning game. Strikeouts are sexy.
  6. June 15 – 2 Legit 2 Quit – Jayson Werth told his critics that they could kiss his ass after he delivered a walk-off against the Chicago Cubs.
  7. June 30 and July 3 – See You L-8-R – Danny Espinosa won NL Player of the Week honors after an offensive outburst against the CIncinnati Reds. His most notable achievement was hitting home runs from both sides of the plate in both games including two grand slams.
  8. July 29 – Rule of Three – This one took place late at night on the road in San Francisco. Dusty Baker made a triple switch and substituted in Danny Espinosa, Ryan Zimmerman and Sammy Solis. The result was the first 3-3-5 triple play in MLB history.
  9. September 9 – The Perfect Ending – Trea Turner could probably be elected Mayor if he wanted to put his baseball career on hold. The two time NL Rookie of the Month belted two home runs including a walk-off home run to center field to top the Philadelphia Phillies.

In “You Never Know,” Dave Jagler writes about how the Nationals can very feasibly have a successful postseason run. Jagler describes how anything can happen in October and that teams with the most elite hitters, starters and bullpens are not guaranteed the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Charlie Slowes echoes a similar sentiment in “Hero Time.” Slowes describes how players like Daniel Murphy, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner can each play a role in a successful postseason run.
The magazine also contains a large (two-page) scorecard which you can use Thursday to score the game.