Random Thoughts (August 3, 2014)

Some random thoughts this Sunday, some of them on baseball, some of them not:

1. I wish that that “double no-hitter” last night had continued past the seventh inning. That truly would have been a sight to see. Only once has there been a no-hitter both ways after nine innings, by the way.

2. I still can’t believe how bad Ruben Amaro Jr. is at his job as Phillies GM, at least as far as the last few years go. It makes the glory days of the late-aughts seem a million years ago, and the lack of prospects in the wings means it could be a long road back, especially if he continues to refuse to flip what few trade pieces he has left.

3. It’s good to see Manny Machado has once again become Manny Machado instead of that slumping guy from the first half who got hurt and threw his bat in anger. One of these days he will literally throw out a man at first while standing on the wall that separates the field from the seats.

4. It’s going to take awhile to get used to David Price being in a Tigers uniform.

5. A video you should see of a one-armed pitcher in a youth all-star game.

6. It’s over a week old now, but I still recommend “An Idiot in Exile” by Pat Jordan, on Johnny Damon’s post-playing days.

7. It is truly sad to see Jim Kelly as he is now, but also truly inspiring to see him continue on despite his cancer.

8. Guardians of the Galaxy is a fun (and funny) movie and I think you all should go see it.

 

Somebody is selling a trading card of Mike Trout in Little League

In yet another case of eBay providing mankind access to anything possible, we now see the ultimate souvenir for the discerning Mike Trout aficionado (which is, to say, everyone): a card of the Millville Meteor back when he was a Cub.

“When was Mike Trout a Cub?”, you ask? I can understand, after all, as likely as it is that the Cubs would be able to squander away Mike Trout, it feels like that’s something you’d remember, right?

Well, that’s because it’s not the Chicago Cubs, but rather the Steelman Photo Cubs of the Millville American Cal Ripken League. Yes, it’s a baseball card of 11-year-old Mike Trout:

 

And it’s all available for the low, low, price of $8,927.27! It’s signed too! Yes, somebody not only went through the trouble to somehow track down a little league trading card from 2003, but they got Mike Trout to sign it. As far as I know, there are only a few types of people who would have been able to do that:

A) Mike Trout himself.

B) Mike Trout’s immediate family.

C) Mike Trout’s Little League teammates and coaches.

D) The guy who was hired to make and print these cards in the first place, who keeps copies of them just in case any of the kids become the greatest player on the planet.

E) A local bully who beat up Mike Trout and then took his lunch money and baseball card, which Trout had signed because he believed that if he became a big-leaguer one day, he’d better have had practiced his signature.

F) Somebody who Mike Trout should really consider putting a restraining order on.

Logically, one of them is who put this up on eBay.

Sadly, whoever acquired this didn’t find the true holy grail, as something that needs to be noted here is that this card lacks Trout’s Little League statistics. This is very important. I remember when I was growing up (and I’m, alas, older than Trout), I got my statistics on the back of my card. But, nope, all we get for Trout is this:

All that we can learn from this is that Mike Trout, when he was 11, was 5’1” and weighed 102 lbs. So, guess what, folks? Young Mike Trout was not fat! In fact, he was a little slim! That’s nice and all, but I wanted to see what his stats were. Was he a Pablo Sanchez-level secret weapon? We may never know…

So, where exactly was this picture taken? AKA: Where the heck would they play baseball in Dubai?

You may have seen this picture online a few days ago (click to enlarge):

As you can see, it’s a baseball game being played outside of Dubai, with the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa (formerly known as the Burj Dubai) rising in the distance.

Of course, the United Arab Emirates isn’t exactly a baseball hot bed. So I was wondering where this picture was taken. So I did some research… and found it!

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 1.26.41 PMAt Al Quoz Pond Park south of Dubai’s downtown is the site of the Dubai Little League. To be more specific, the picture of the game with the Burj in the distance was taken at the large, adult-sized north field. As you can see below, this Little League facility is definitely close enough and in the right direction relative to Dubai’s downtown where the view in the top picture is what batters would see:

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 1.31.21 PMSo, there you have it: Not only are there baseball fields in Dubai, but at least one of them has a killer view.

TwitchplaysPokemon, Fan Managing, and the wisdom (?) of the crowd

Over the past few days-okay, almost a week now- I have been (stupidly) riveted to the tale of “TwitchPlaysPokemon”. It is a social-experiment/massive-game in which tens of thousands and sometimes over a hundred of thousands all trying to control the main character of Pokemon Red. In theory, you would think this would mean good things: thousands of players, most of them having beaten the game at least once, joining forces to send commands to Red, the game’s player character.

In practice, however, it’s a mess. You see, usually it isn’t a democracy, it’s an anarchic mess of random button pushes, with the game more-or-less randomly selecting what ones it’s listening too. So while having the majority of people saying that the character should go right makes it more likely that he’ll go right, sometimes all it takes is one jerk or confused person pressing down to make Red jump off a ledge and forcing you to walk all the way back and start again. Even the “democracy” mode than occasionally kicks in is screwed up, since lag between you and the server means you are at times voting not for what to do but rather what to do next.

As a result, what an average player might be able to finish rather quickly has taken, at last count, at least 12 days…. playing every single second.

So what does this have to do with baseball? Well, as amazing as it sounds, stuff like this has been tried in baseball. With… mixed results.

The first, and most famous, example of the fans doing the manager’s job was “Grandstand Manager’s Day”, held on August 24, 1951 by Bill Veeck and his hapless St. Louis Browns. The Browns won, defeating the Philadelphia Athletics 5-3. At various points in the game, a question was flashed to the fans, who could then determine (through the use of signs) what they should do: should the infield play in double-play depth, should a runner go, etc.

The rest of the American League was less than happy with the stunt, which probably explains why we’ve never seen it again on the major league level.

So, fast-forward to August of 2004. The Brockton Rox, then of the indy Canadian-American League and with Mike Veeck (Bill’s son, perhaps best known for his role in Disco-Demolition Night) as a consultant, recreated the stunt. It was less successful, as the Rox lost 8-2.

But two years later, a team went even farther. You see, in the second half of 2006, the independent Schaumburg Flyers let the internet dictate parts of their team for a web-based reality show. While the show, “Fan Club: Reality Baseball”, has long disappeared from the web, a Los Angeles Times article from that glorious era and a USA TODAY article from the same time gives us a view of the madness that ensued:

  • The team, which had won their division the first half of the split-season, was in last for the second half.
  • One lineup dictated to the manager had the usual 9-hole hitter leading off, a slow catcher batting second, and the clean-up man hitting sixth.
  • Another lineup- the second one ever handed in- had the team’s best hitter riding the bench, the center-fielder at first, and the backup catcher at third base.
  • The longest losing streak in the team’s history happened.

Ouch.

Of course, there are several key differences between a video game and baseball. And there is the biggest one: You can’t control real people. You can’t tell a baserunner to slide a certain way, for example. And even if you can…. they might not listen.

Still, it’s an interesting thought, and, especially considering the rise of Twitter, it is likely only a matter of time until somebody, presumably in the Indy leagues, tries it again. After all, you can’t keep a crazy idea down.

GREAT MOMENTS OF 2013: The Pepsi Max Field of Dreams Game

This was cool, and is from May 19, 2013:

You may have heard of the Pepsi Max Field of Dreams game, probably semi-heard during commercial breaks of MLB Network. Well, basically, it’s part old-timers game, and part fantasy camp. Two teams play a 6-inning game… with the catch being that each team is half made up of former MLB stars (almost all of them either Hall of Famers and ones that one day will be) and the other half is made up of ordinary Joes who won a contest. There are also some ringers (mainly guys who either play or coach locally and had professional careers) thrown in to fill spots in later innings. This year, it was was in my home town of Rochester, New York, and myself and 13,715 of my closest friends were there to see it.

(By the way, any picture you see in this was taken by me, and can be enlarged if you click it.)

Go below the jump for more, this is a photo-heavy post.

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GREAT MOMENTS OF 2013: Ham Fighters, Grandserows, Sleepwalkers and Robots of Doom: Great Names of International Baseball

From March 1….

As the World Baseball Classic starts, people are writing articles about it, usually falling into two camps: telling people they don’t know what they are missing, or telling everybody they think the tournament is stupid. You know what camp I am in, and another person who is in that camp is Emma Span, who recently wrote an article over at Sports on Earth about it.

And she finished her article by mentioning this:

Did you know there’s a team in the Netherlands’ Honkbal Hoofdklasse called the Hoofddorp Pioniers?

Yes, I did. And as awesome of a name that is, it but scratches the surface of great names in overseas baseball. Oh, sure, we have fun names here in America (such as the Albuquerque “Named for the plot of an episode of The Simpsons” Isotopes), but for some reason, none are quite as charming as those we find overseas.

They don't fight ham, but it'd be funny if they did.

Take, for example, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of the NPB (the logo is to the right). They are perhaps the most well-known of great international baseball team names, and the fact that they have have their names not because they fight a porcine menace but rather because they are sponsored by the “Nippon Ham” corporation does not lower the greatness of that name.

Although none of the other NPB teams have a great name on par with the Nippon-Ham Fighters, other parts of Japan’s baseball structure have tried to do so. An independent league in Japan called the Baseball Challenge League, for example, has such great names as the Shinano Grandserows*, the Gunma Diamond Pegasus (shouldn’t it be the Diamond Pegasi?), the Fukui Miracle Elephants (they aren’t just elephants, they’re MIRACLE elephants) and the Ishikawa Million Stars. Another independent league in Japan, based out of the Shikoku Islands, also has excellent names, like the Tokushima Indigo Socks (INDIGO! And they spell it with a “-cks” instead of an “x”!), Ehime Mandarin Pirates (“Mandarin” as in “Mandarin Oranges”- check out their logo) and the Kagawa Oive Guyners**, which make the other team in that league, the Kochi Fighting Dogs, look downright normal.

Let it not be said that Japan holds a monopoly on great names in Asia, or even the Pacific Ocean. Korea has the KBO’s NC Dinos and the Futures League Goyang Wonders***. Taiwan has the Lamigo Monkeys, Brother Elephants and the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions. And, well, those are just teams that are currently around. Earlier in history,

Down in Australia, the Perth Heat are sponsored by the “Alcohol. Think Again” program. So, guess what you see when you go to their website? Well, you see “Purchase your Alcohol. Think Again Perth Heat tickets today!” and similar sentences. In other words, the Alcohol. Think Again Perth Heat, in addition to being one of the most confusing grammatical team names in the world, are also presumably what the bizarro version of the Milwaukee Brewers would be named.

But it is in Europe, where those Pioniers are, that some of the best baseball names are. There, so far away from American eyes, there are some great names, either intentionally or unintentionally. From the Hoofdklasse‘s Mr. Cocker HCAW**** and the lower-division honkbal club called the Tex Town Tigers, to the Regensburg Buchbinder Legionaere in Germany*****, Europe is the center of awesome baseball names, with some of them especially being fun when said aloud.

Names like:

Paderborn Untouchables (Germany)

Barracudas de Montpellier (France)

Dohren Wild Farmers (Germany)

Jimmer’s de Saint-Lo (France)

Brasschaat Braves (Belgium)

Rättvik Butchers (Sweden, now defunct)

Therwil Flyers (Switzerland)

Tempo Titans (Czech Republic)

Espoo Expos (Finland)

Oslo Pretenders (Norway)

DOOR Neptunus (Netherlands- yes, DOOR is a sponsor, but the idea of Neptune playing for a door is too good to pass up)

Szentendre Sleepwalkers (Hungary)

Pops CB (Spain, long defunct)

Nottingham Thieves (UK, possibly defunct)

But all of these are nothing compared to perhaps the greatest, best-of-the-best name for a baseball Behold it!team anywhere in the world: The UK’s Bolton Robots of Doom. Look upon it’s logo and despair at the sight of a Killer Robot that has taken up hardball to bring doom to the enemies of the Bolton 9! Look upon it and know that no team anywhere in the world will ever be able to top this. None.

What is truly impressive about the Bolton Robots of Doom is not that they have such a name, but because they went so all-out on it. They could have just stuck with “Robots”, or kept their old name, the “Blaze”. But, no, they had to have the robot be OF DOOM. And that, my friends, is devotion to coming up with an awesome nickname.

Although the team may not have done well last season, finishing 0-16 in the AAA North Division of British Baseball. They’ve been relegated to a lower league. But none of this matters.They could have gone 0-17 or 0-1000, but with a name like that, they will forever have a place in my heart, and the Robots of Doom will forever strike fear into the hearts of their opponents.

So, enjoy the WBC, or you could go to sleep instead. But remember: The Bolton Robots of Doom never rest.

* A Serow is a goat or antelope-like mammal. The Japanese variety looks like this. Presumably, Shinano is meant to be one of those, only more… grander.

** As far as I could tell from research “Guyner” is a slang word in the local dialect for a strong person.

*** Do you think they were originally called the “Oneders”?

**** The “Mr. Cocker” is from a sponsor, before you ask.

***** That’s “Bookbinder Legionnaires” in English.

Extreme Baseball Fields (Geographically, at least)

…and we’re back! And today, we’re doing a little bit of a geography lesson, finding the most extreme baseball fields in the United States! No, I don’t mean that they are “extreme” as in “radical”, I’m talking extreme as in geographical: the highest, lowest, northernmost, etc.

Northernmost Baseball Field in the USA:

By definition, this has to be in Alaska. Presumably, it would be in Barrow, Alaska. Barrow is the northernmost town in America, and, guess what? They have a diamond! Oh, it’s all dirt and gravel (it’s hard growing grass in the arctic circle) and looks like it’s also used for softball as well, or perhaps Little league, but I’ll count it. It’s not far from Barrow’s schools, which makes me think it’s for their use. It can be found at 71.290189,-156.75865.

Here’s how it looks on Google Maps:

And here’s a “bird’s eye” image of it from Bing:

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 3.18.21 PMNorthernmost Baseball Field in the Lower 48:

Due to a quirk of history and a mapmaking error, the northernmost part of the Lower 48 is the Northwest Angle in Minnesota. However, not many people live there, and based on looking using Bing and Google Maps, I couldn’t find any baseball fields. This doesn’t mean that there definitely aren’t any, of course, merely that I couldn’t find any sort of permanent structures. If you live there or have visited there and are willing to correct me, let me know.

Instead, it’s likely that the Northernmost Baseball Field in the Lower 48 is in one of the border towns of Washington State. For example, there is this group of diamonds in Sumas, Washington (Bing calls these “Howard Bowen Memorial Park”):

The northernmost of these is at about 48.989888 degrees north. On the other hand, though, Blaine, WA has these High School fields ever so slightly more to the North, at around 48.992121 degrees north:

There are no doubt plenty of other fields in border areas that are ever so slightly north, and it would likely take awhile to find where, exactly, the northernmost ballfield in the lower 48 is. Still, you now have two good candidates.

Southernmost Ballfield in the USA:

Hawaii is by far the southernmost of the United States, with Naalehu being the southernmost town, located on the Big Island and being home to about 919 people. And guess what you can find there, at about 19.06045 degrees north?

A baseball diamond! Bing calls it “Naalehu Park” and it looks like this from the air:

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 3.53.19 PMGiven that basically everything south of Naalehu is fields, farms, parks and scientific facilities (radio antennae, etc.) this is almost certainly the southernmost ballfield in America.

Southernmost Baseball Field in the Lower 48:

While there are some small softball fields (as in, so small there’s no way they can be used for baseball) more to the south of it, I’m going to say it’s this field in Key West:

Easternmost Baseball Field in the USA:

None of the Aleutian Islands that jut past the 180th meridian have ballfields, or even much as far as inhabitants, so far as I can tell. So the easternmost field is in Maine.

One possibility are these all-dirt fields (seen here in the dead of winter, so you have to look closely for them):

These are near an Elementary School, so it’s likely that, in addition to being softball fields, they serve as baseball fields for kids.

Westernmost Baseball Field in the USA:

The westernmost parts of the USA are in Alaska, in the Aleutians. There is a small field near Adak, Alaska, not far from an airport and a school, meaning it likely is used by school kids for baseball and softball. Another possibility is this field in Unalaska.

Westernmost Baseball Field in the Lower 48:

Probably this diamond in Port Orford, Oregon:

Highest Baseball Field in the USA:

Probably one of the fields in Leadville, Colorado. I don’t know how to check altitudes on them in a quick and accurate manner.

Lowest Baseball Field in the USA:

Calipatria, California is the lowest city in the Western Hemisphere, 180 feet below sea level. And, guess what? It’s local High School is the site of what is likely the lowest baseball field in America, unless there’s some place in Death Valley I don’t know about:

Have any corrections? Let me know. Also let me know if you live at or near those places- I’ll put up any pictures you send me.

Your Offseason Baseball Viewing Listings for November 4, 2013

I remembered this time! Also, I’m including some specials that will be on either internet or TV, in case you are interested:

First off, a reminder that ALL OF THESE TIMES ARE EASTERN:

11:30 PM (of Sunday): JWBL “Japan Cup”, streaming here.

2:00 AM (Monday): JWBL “Japan Cup”, streaming here.

5:00 AM: JWBL “Japan Cup”, streaming here.

7 PM: “MLB Comeback Player of the Year”, ESPN2 and WatchESPN website and apps.

8 PM: “Players’ Choice Awards”, MLB Network

 

(DO YOU KNOW ANY LEGAL AND/OR SPONSORED/ENDORSED FEEDS FOR BASEBALL DURING THE OFFSEASON? LET ME KNOW!)

How scouts saw young Todd Helton

Todd Helton, as you no doubt heard, is retiring at the end of this year. I decided to look up what the Diamond Mines Scouting Reports database had to say about what he looked like as a young prospect.

The first in the database, from Expos scout Ed Creech in 1992, looked at him as a senior in High School. Creech didn’t seem too impressed, as projected him as having below average hitting ability.

Another Expos scout, Pat Sullivan, was more optimistic, seeing him as having an average future at the plate but noting he was still “crude” and had a ways to go with the bat.

There are a bunch of ones from later in the decade. One of the more interesting ones include a 1995 one by Russ Bove of the Brewers, which projected Helton as being a .265 hitter in the big leagues. Note that Helton has only four times in his 17-year career been under .265 hitter, and three of those times have been in the past four years and the other one was during a year where he had injury problems. Another one, by George Bradley of the White Sox, is interesting if only for the fact it compares Todd Helton’s physical form to an old man and not a big-name school’s quarterback (Helton infamously was replaced by Peyton Manning at the University of Tennessee). Of the reports, perhaps the one that came closest to seeing Helton’s potential was Ed Pebley, also of the White Sox, who saw him as being a .280-.300 hitter.

In other words, none of the scouts really saw Helton’s career- one that may land him in the Hall of Fame- coming. At least, they didn’t see it as being a possible Hall-of-Fame one.