I rode the metro link from my hotel and got off right at the foot of the stadium. It was the night before the Cardinals home opener, as well as the official ribbon cutting for Ballpark Village’s Museum and Cardinals Hall of Fame. There’s something special about a baseball stadium at night. It could be the stories it holds. It could also be the excitement in the air, and the anticipation of another potentially successful season for the baseball-crazed city.
I took some time to admire the bronze statue of Stan Musial, then continued my walk and stopped to check out more statues honouring Cardinal greats, some of whom I would be interviewing the following day.
Upon approaching Ballpark Village, I heard a familiar voice. ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball was being broadcast on the giant outdoor screen, so of course it was Dan Shulman I was hearing. Dan was a guest on my show last year, you can listen to that here. What a terrific spot to watch ball games, especially when the weather is nice!
There was a brief press conference the following morning, and the official ribbon cutting for the museum. After being the first official group to tour the museum (along with the inductees), I had the opportunity to interview Tony La Russa, Lou Brock, and Ozzie Smith. I made friends with a local photographer, Robert Rohe, who was kind enough to snap these great shots for me.
I even managed to grab former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher, and Cardinals 2006 & 2011 World Series Champ Chris Carpenter for an interview. Following my interview, he bravely ventured downstairs and through a sea of Cardinals fans. Can you spot him? It’s like playing a giant game of “Where’s Waldo”.
Despite the steady rain that had been falling all day, the Cardinals home opener commenced. The “Cardinals Nation” boasts a strong following of some pretty serious fans. In St. Louis, baseball is #1. After what I witnessed, I would say it’s really a culture. Cards fans take their baseball seriously. One group of young fans I made friends with snapped this great shot for me from a balcony in Ballpark Village. You can see what a terrific view you get of the field from across the street.
Overall, I would have to put Busch Stadium & Ballpark Village toward the top of my list of “must-see” baseball destinations. Regardless of whether or not you are a Cardinals fan, touring through the museum and Cards Hall of Fame is a real treat, and you can grab a frosty beverage from any number of happening spots to watch the game live, or on any number of ridiculously large televisions.
On April 15th every year we celebrate Jackie Robinson day. Jackie was a pioneer of the civil rights movement, as a result of breaking major league baseball’s colour barrier in 1947. To say that Jackie was an incredible baseball player, is just listing one of his many significant accomplishments, as his brave actions paved the way for other civil rights activists, where Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. followed suit years later. Worthy to note is that Jackie was really just one of many talented ball players who made sacrifices far greater than most of us have experienced, and endured racism and hatred far worse than what most of us can even fathom. Several weeks ago I did an interview with the President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Bob Kendrick, which you can listen to here. I had the pleasure of meeting up with Bob recently and he took me on a tour through the museum:
John “Buck” O’Neil, was the first black coach in the Major Leagues, and discovered the eventual Hall-of-Famer Lou Brock, signing him to his first big-league contract. In a press conference for the Negro Leagues Baseball “Hall Of Game” Ceremony on April 12th, 2014, Lou said jokingly that, “Buck thought he was my father”. Truth be told, Buck was a father figure to many, especially Brock, as well as another Hall of Fame player, Ernie Banks. He was also instrumental in signing Toronto Blue Jays World Series hero, Joe Carter.
If it weren’t for Jackie making the sacrifices he did, when he did, who knows how different the history books might have been. It’s possible we could be much further behind in both baseball and human civil rights.
Some of the greatest ball players to have ever played the game had reached the end of their careers before major league baseball started signing black and Hispanic players. Bob Kendrick stated that Buck always used to say, “the Negro Leagues Museum represents the men who built the bridge over the chasm of prejudice in our country”. Indeed then, it was Jackie Robinson, and many others following him who would be the ones to cross over that bridge.
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.
Through tragedy comes opportunity.
Joe Siddall is the newest member of the Sportsnet broadcast team, taking the booth alongside longtime play-by-play man Jerry Howarth. Joe recently had lost his young son Kevin to cancer, and when Jerry reached out via email to express his condolences, an opportunity presented itself, almost by accident.
Joe said in an email reply to Jerry, “I look forward to seeing you in Detroit…or maybe I’ll see you in the broadcast booth one day”.
Not even really knowing why he typed those words, suddenly he was looking at a reply from Jerry that read, “How about right now?”.
The rest as they say is history, and now Blue Jays fans have the perspective from a former catcher in the broadcast booth alongside Jerry, replacing former pitcher Jack Morris who has returned to his hometown of Minnesota to broadcast Twins games this season.
So why is it former catchers make the best broadcasters and managers?
I’m sure there are figures that might show my broad statement is exactly that, but I choose not to ignore that Mike Scioscia and Joe Torre had successful playing careers behind the plate before becoming managers. Tim McCarver and Bob Uecker are broadcast favourites of many, who also spent time behind the plate. Heck, even Crash Davis at the end of Bull Durham was considering a managing gig with a minor league team.
I asked Siddall what he thought the reason was. Drawing on experience from his own catching career, he mentioned that his manager Felipe Alou liked having him around because “it was like having another coach on the field”. It either comes naturally, or catchers are trained to make note of opposing hitters strengths and weaknesses, in addition to keeping track of their own pitchers. Essentially, it is a management role in itself.
So what does this former catcher think of the Blue Jays current pitching situation?
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It happened before Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, in 1963. It happened before Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus, in 1955. It was in 1947 that Jackie Robinson broke the major league colour barrier, when he played baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was this single event that is said to have been the catalyst of the modern-day civil rights movement, paving the way for Parks, King, and many other great civil rights activists.
So who paved the way for Jackie Robinson?
It is hard to say that just one person was responsible for laying the foundation. Surely there are far too many to mention. In 1920 the Negro Baseball Leagues were formed, led by Rube Foster, owner and manager of the Chicago American Giants. One player/manager named Buck O’Neil was indeed instrumental in the development of players and talent, and eventually the formation of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Buck, Jackie, and too many others to mention are celebrated in the Museum, and I discussed the history of the leagues and formation of the museum with the President, Bob Kendrick in an interview you can listen to here.
On April 12th, 2014 the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is launching an annual awards gala called the Hall of Game, to honour former Major League Baseball greats who exhibited the same passion, determination and swagger that the heroes of the Negro Leagues did. James Timothy “Mudcat” Grant will be recognized at the gala, receiving the Jackie Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award, and the inaugural class will also include Joe Morgan, Lou Brock, the late, great Roberto Clemente, and Dave Winfield. Surely Toronto fans remember Winfield’s heroic two-run double in the 11th inning of the 6th game in the 1992 World Series.
As a result of the kindness of many contributing to my indiegogo campaign for the book I am writing, I can say that I am fortunate and excited to be attending the Hall of Game ceremony in Kansas City in several weeks to cover the event and conduct interviews. I look forward to visiting this world-class establishment, expanding my baseball history knowledge, and sharing the stories of legends with all of you. The Hall of Game awards event and gala is April 12th, 2014, and you can learn more about the event here and purchase tickets directly here.
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Follow the Negro Leagues Museum President, Bob Kendrick on twitter: @nlbmprez
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.
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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: @SportsnetJamie
At the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays State of the Franchise, season ticket holders had emailed in questions ahead of time for Paul Beeston, Alex Anthopoulos, and John Gibbons.
Full Q & A session in the video above explores topics such as the Blue Jays playing on a grass surface at home, Roy Halladay joining the Level of Excellence, the ownership’s level of financial commitment and concerns surrounding financial obligations towards other sports (Maple Leafs and Toronto FC). Other topics discussed included Gibby’s predictions for players who will have break out seasons (spoiler alert – expect a lot from Melky, Lawrie, and Morrow this season), and Anthopoulos discusses the current position on pitching and if they plan on adding more before the start of the season.
For other videos such as the introductory speeches for this event, click here.