In this addition of 5 questions and 5 answers OPSN’s Shane Miller was able to sit down and talk to St. Louis Cardinals minor league outfielder Chris Swauger. In 2013 Swauger hit .251/.297/.379, 10 home runs and 51 RBI. In this article Swauger will talk about the strides he has made as a player, what he is doing to prepare for the 2014 season and his influences growing up.
Shane Miller: As a young ball player whose game did you try to emulate?
Chris Swauger: When I was young, I loved guys like Darin Erstad. The way he played the game and that “grinder” mentality was something that I could relate too and tried to model my game after. Another guy I was a huge fan of was Lance Berkman. All I ever read and heard was about the things he COULDN’T do well, yet he was always seemed to be a productive player and a genuine teammate. When I got to meet and play alongside him in Spring Training a few years ago, it was a dream come true.
SM: Growing up who was your favorite team and your favorite player?
CS: Growing up in Tampa, I didn’t have the Rays to root for until I was almost in high school. So, I pulled for the Braves. They were pretty close in proximity and their games were always on TBS. My favorite player was Chipper Jones. I loved his swing.
SM: Going into 2013 what dimensions of your game were you trying to improve? Do you feel like you were able to make strides in these areas?
CS: Since I’ve gotten into professional baseball, the one area that I’ve focused the most on improving is defense. I am most proud of the strides I have taken turning that from a weakness into an asset. I feel like overall improvement in every area is what has kept me in the game. That is what I went for in 2013 and what I will continue to work on going forward.
SM: What has been your most memorable moment in your professional career?
CS: Winning two championships (Batavia in 2008 and Springfield in 2012) would have to be right up there at the top. However, I’ve always been a “stop and smell the roses” type of person, so I’ve genuinely enjoyed the entire ride that my career has become in baseball.
SM: What are you working on in the offseason to improve your game?
CS: I try to focus on details in the offseason. Improving my body (strength, conditioning, and flexibility) is of paramount importance, because the season is such a war of attrition on my muscles and joints. Specific to baseball, I try to work on developing smoother more efficient mechanics in my swing, and better technique and footwork in the outfield and on the base paths.
SM: What goals do you have for yourself in 2014?
CS: My ultimate goal has always been to make it and stick in the big leagues. I have many step-stone goals to reach within the season, but one thing I have learned with the Cardinals is to set a goal and have a plan to reach it. Within that plan, the point is to worry about the process and the end game instead of about short-term results. That is the approach I have adopted with my career, as well as this upcoming season.
Outside Pitch Sports Network appreciates Chris Swauger for allowing us to conduct this interview. Follow OPSN’s Shane Miller on Twitter @ShaneMiller27
Outside Pitch Sports Network CEO Vince Lombardi Jr. had the opportunity to interview San Francisco Minor League Shortstop Bobby Haney. The past two seasons Bobby has played for the San Jose Giants. Bobby wrote the book From Kings Park to Omaha, which reveals his biography from growing up until being part of the 2010 National Champion South Carolina Gamecocks. Bobby discusses the National Championship, his coach and what inspired him to write his book.
Vince Lombardi: Starting the 2010 College World Series with the 4-3 loss to Oklahoma in a 9 hour game, seemed impossible to overcome; what were the main reasons as a team that you were able to keep focus?
Bobby Haney: You know one of the important things that helped us throughout the World Series and kept us staying on the right track was a visit to the children’s hospital in Omaha. Seeing the look on those kids faces when we walked into their rooms was like Christmas for them and we were honored to share that visit with them. We were playing in a baseball game on ESPN and these young 8-year-old children were fighting for their lives with no cure. Happiness was the cure for them that day and it made us appreciate the lives we are living even so much more. That children’s hospital was the turning point in the series and in our lives as well.
VL: How important was it to play for Coach Tanner your 2 years at South Carolina?
BH: Coach Tanner loves to win more than any coach out there. He cares about his players and his community more than himself though. He is a much greater human being than a baseball coach.
VL: What inspired you to write “From Kings Park to Omaha?”
BH: The reason why I wrote this book was because I was inspired by the National Championship, but more importantly I was inspired by an angel who passed away from cancer the night before the National Championship series, Bayler Teal. He was a true inspiration to our National Championship run and guided us like an angel in the sky.
VL: When the Phillies drafted you out of High School was it hard to make the decision to attend College?
BH: It was easy to make the decision to go to junior college instead of signing with the Phillies out of high school, because I was only a 17-year-old kid. My parents and I thought it was best for me.
VL: What is the best and worst thing about playing at San Jose?
BH: I have nothing bad or negative to say about the city of San Jose. It was home to me for 2 summers and the people out there are die hard giant fans and supported in the best way possible.
Be sure to tune into The Vig & Miller Show Tuesday at 7:30pm EST, as Bobby Haney will be a guest to discuss in more detail his book, his National Championship and playing for the Giants. Haney’s book From Kings Park to Omaha is currently available through Amazon.
Follow Outside Pitch Sports Network CEO Vince Lombardi Jr. on Twitter for more updates @Vlombardijr
Outside Pitch Sports Network’s Shane Miller had the opportunity to conduct an interview with MLB.com’s New York Yankee beat reporter Bryan Hoch. In the interview, Hoch discusses Alex Rodriguez‘s pending suspension, the emotion that was felt during Mariano Rivera‘s last appearance at home, Brian McCann‘s signing and more below.
Shane Miller: In 2013 Ivan Nova really took the next step in his career, is he going to be the Ace of the Yankees for the next 5 to 8 years or is there another pitcher to keep an eye on for the Yankees in their farm system?
Bryan Hoch: No, to be honest, I don’t see Nova as ace material, but that’s not to say he can’t be a useful rotation piece for the Yankees going forward. They continue to talk about how CC Sabathia is their ace, and I don’t see any reason why that would change. If you sketched it out right now, Nova would be their No. 2. He’s young, under team control and relatively inexpensive at this point. You can definitely look at his 2013 season and say that he was one of the team’s bright spots.
As far as younger pitchers to keep an eye on, Michael Pineda could wind up pitching in the back end of the rotation this season if he’s healthy. That’d be a big score for the Yanks. Expectations are being kept pretty low after Pineda missed the last two years, but when he was with Seattle in that first half of 2011, he was a promising No. 2 behind Felix Hernandez.
Hal Steinbrenner said that the Yankees have been disappointed thus far with the progress of Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, two guys that they were really counting on to help them get under $189 million this year. Betances may project better as a reliever moving forward, and if Banuelos comes back healthy, he can still make an impact. They’re also keeping hopeful eyes on guys like Rafael De Paula, Ian Clarkin and Ty Hensley, though they’re not factors for 2014.
BH: That was a very cool moment. All season long, you saw Rivera being celebrated in every city that the Yankees visited, so it was going to be a challenge for the Yankees to top their tribute to Rivera in their own house. They did hold a very nice ceremony for him the weekend before, including a surprise appearance by Metallica, but Mariano’s final game really topped them all. Joe Girardi executed it perfectly, giving up his moment in the spotlight to allow Pettitte and Jeter to come out and get the ball, and when you saw Rivera bury his head into Pettitte’s shoulder — wow, that was just raw emotion. I don’t think anyone who was there at the Stadium that night will forget that moment anytime soon.
SM: With the Alex Rodriguez suspension in limbo for the moment, what would be the corresponding move for the Yankees if A-Rod is suspended, would it be a trade or would Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi look in house, and if so who would that be?
BH: The in-house options don’t knock you out – you’d be looking at the likes of David Adams or Eduardo Nunez and being unable to patch it together from within after Kevin Youkilis injury was one of the Yankees’ big problems last season. I could see the Yankees using the savings from A-Rod’s contract to plow into guys like Robinson Cano, Carlos Beltran, Hiroki Kuroda and making a strong run at Masahiro Tanaka. Youkilis won’t be back, but then they could probably go re-sign Mark Reynolds or get a similar player for third base while coming close to staying under $189 million. I suppose Stephen Drew could also fill that need while giving them another choice to support Jeter at shortstop. The problem is that a ruling may not be heard on A-Rod’s suspension until January, and you’re already seeing some names come off the free-agent board.
SM: What are the odds of Robinson Cano getting $300MM from the Yankees or do you think a team sneaks in and scoops Cano up like the Los Angeles Angels did with Albert Pujols?
BH: I don’t see Cano getting $300 million from the Yankees, since they refuse to discuss a 10-year deal. We’re hearing reports that Cano’s camp has already started to budge off that initial asking price, and that was to be expected. Hey, if you don’t ask, you don’t receive. Cano has to realize that the Yankees are moving on their other needs and might not have the kind of money he’s looking for if the stalemate continues. The Yankees’ original offer is believed to have been around seven years and $160 to $170 million, which isn’t the worst package in the world.
I could see the Yankees bumping it up a bit, but I’m not sure how much more wiggle room they’ll have to do it and still fill their needs. In general, I think teams have become wary of huge commitments like the Pujols deal you mentioned. When the Dodgers said very early in the process that they weren’t going to get involved, I think that calmed down what could have become a frenzied bid process for Cano. I’d still keep an eye on the Rangers as one possible landing spot.
SM: With the Brian McCann signing how does this affect the Yankee lineup and where does Brian Cashman go next?
BH: McCann is going to upgrade their lineup in a big way. Consider that their four catchers last season – Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine and J.R. Murphy – combined for just eight home runs. That was the lowest total of any team’s catchers. The Braves have counted on McCann for 20 homers each year, and I think putting him in Yankee Stadium with that short porch might make him more of a 25 to 30 homer threat. He’s a middle of the order bat and pitchers seemed to enjoy working to him. I think Yankees fans are going to like what they see from McCann in the next few years.
Beltran is the Yankees’ next target, and there’s mutual interest between the two sides. The only question is if Beltran will agree to a two-year deal or hold out for three; obviously the Yankees would prefer to get it done for two, and Beltran will be looking for more than $14 million annually. They’ll hope Kuroda re-signs and get involved heavily if/when Tanaka’s posting process is sorted out. Cano is still floating out there, and the Yanks probably will add at least one bullpen arm to complement David Robertson, maybe Joe Nathan or Grant Balfour.There’s lots of moves to make, and it’ll be fun to watch which names come off the board first.
Outside Pitch Sports Network appreciates Bryan Hoch for allowing us to conduct this interview. Follow OPSN’s Shane Miller on Twitter @ShaneMiller
Shane Miller : What direction do you see the Cubs management taking them in 2014?
Brian Corbin: The Cubs will remain true to their original rebuilding plans that began more than two years ago. That means concentrating on acquiring the best talent available in the June amateur Draft and building the major league roster from within the organization’s farm system. Perhaps down the line ownership spends big in free agency, but this isn’t the year. The hiring of Rick Renteria to replace former manager Dale Sveum is certainly a noteworthy change, but the big picture plans haven’t deviated course.
SM: With Jacoby Ellsbury‘s connection to Theo Epstein are the Cubs a logical destination for the OF?
BC: Ellsbury would be a welcomed addition in center field and the leadoff spot. Yet it’s hard to imagine the Cubs offering an injury-prone player, entering his thirties, the stacks of cash agent Scott Boras demands for his clients. If, however, the frugal spending Cubs have a splash signing up their sleeve this winter, Ellsbury might be it.
SM: Are the Cubs likely to trade Jeff Samardzija to the Blue Jays?
BC: Think of it this way: the Cubs will trade Jeff Samardzija to the team who offers the best package in return. Whether or not that’s Toronto, I don’t know. Of course it’s possible the Cubs avoid trading Samardzija altogether and ink him to a long-term contract this winter, although, this appears to grow less likely with each passing day.
BC: Chicago extended Starlin Castro with a seven-year, $60 million contract in August of 2012. It’s a team friendly deal that pays Castro, 23, through his prime years while saving the Cubs money in the long-run, especially if Castro blossoms into a superstar. But the two-time All-Star experienced a steep decline offensively in 2013 and is still prone for making absentminded plays in the field. Moreover, it’s important to note the exemption of a no-trade clause, which the Cubs may seriously explore should Castro’s development remain stagnant.
Meanwhile, Anthony Rizzo, 24, received a seven-year, $41 million extension in last May. The new ink immediately replaced his old deal and therefor the 2013 season counted as the first year of the extension (it’s basically a six-year extension). Rizzo appears poised to be the long-term answer at first base. He’s solid defensively but needs to improve his hitting against left-handed pitching, which produced a paltry slash line of .189/.282/.342 last season.
SM: What is the feeling around the organization with Rick Renteria as manager?
BC: Cubs fans had their hearts set on landing Joe Girardi as the new skipper. But when the former Cub re-signed with the Yankees (4-years, $16M), apathy stemming from a lengthy rebuild set in and resulted in dismal fanfare over the hiring of Renteria. We’re talking about an excitement level barely hovering above zero in Chicago.
Now, whether or not Renteria is embraced by the fans will ultimately rely on how quickly he can develop young prospects on the major league roster into a competitive group. Granted this was an underwhelming hire for Cubs fans, that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong hire, either. There’s a lot of promise in the Cubs’ minor league system, and if Renteria is as good as the organization feels he is, there’s a good chance he’ll be the guy who leads Chicago back to the postseason.
SM: What free agents are Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein likely to bring into the fold in Chicago?
BC: Rule out the big ticket free agents and instead look for the Cubs to plug roster holes with mid- to low-level players and low-risk, high-reward bargain deals. The bullpen is a top priority (as always) as is finding a backup catcher to Welington Castillo.
SM: What top prospects could make a difference in 2014 for the Cubs?
BC: Two players in particular: third baseman Kris Bryant and shortstop Javier Baez. Honorable mentions include outfielders Jorge Soler and Matt Szczur; infielders Arismendy Alcantara, Christian Villanueva, Dan Vogelbach and Dustin Geiger. For the time being I’ll focus on the big two, Bryant and Baez.
Remember the name Kris Bryant. USA Baseball’s Golden Spikes Award, Baseball America’s College Player of the Year Award, Arizona Fall League’s Joe Black MVP Award. That’s hardware Bryant’s earned in the past year. He was the second overall pick in last year’s amateur Draft and has already climbed to the No.4 prospect in the Cubs’ system. He’s as close to a can’t miss as you can get. He’ll begin the season in the minor leagues, but it seems inevitable the power slugger will be in Chicago by summer’s end.
Beaz is the organization’s top prospect. He has plus power, hitting 37 HRs between the Florida State League and the Southern League last year, and already has more than 200 minor league games under his belt. Although Baez needs to smooth out rough edges regarding his plate discipline and fielding, all indications point to his arrival in The Show by mid-season.
The real question surrounding Baez is what the Cubs will do with Starlin Castro once Baez arrives? A position change may be in store for one of the two players (second base) or a blockbuster trade that will send one of them out of town. This could prove to be a captivating storyline early in the season.
SM: Who do you see Cubs management bringing in to replace Dioner Navarro as catcher?
BC: The Cubs recently acquired George Kottaras, 31, from Kansas City for cash. He’s affordable, solid defensively and does a fine job finding his way on base via the walk. Kottaras hit below the Mendoza line in 2013 (.180 avg.) but still managed a respectable .349 OBP, which is meaningful to a Cubs lineup that ranked 28/30 in runs scored last season (only the White Sox and Marlins scored fewer runs than Chicago (602)).
In addition to Kottaras, the Cubs also recently signed Eli Whiteside, a 34-year-old journeyman, to a minor league contract. But he’s not much of a hitter posting a career slash line of .215/.273/.335 over parts of five major league seasons.
Another name on the radar is 30-year-old Kurt Suzuki. What he lacks on offense (career .253/.309/.375) he makes up for with a positive reputation for handling pitching staffs (Oakland, Washington).
Ideally the Cubs would love to have the breakout season offensively from Castillo they were hoping for last year. But the 27-year-old backstop is under question after hitting .274/.349/.397 with eight home runs and 32 RBIs in just 113 games. The bright side is Castillo made tremendous strides defensively, but the Cubs sorely need more durability and offensive punch from him to remain a starter.
Navarro’s 13 HRs in 89 games was a pleasant surprise last year. And unless one of the players mentioned above can reproduce Navarro’s .300/.365/.492 slash line, the light-hitting Cubs will desperately miss his offensive production from the catcher’s spot.
Outside Pitch Sports Network appreciates Brian Corbin for allowing us to conduct this interview. Follow OPSN’s Shane Miller on Twitter @ShaneMiller27
Outside Pitch Sports Network’s Andrew Vigliotti conducted an interview with Atlanta Braves General Manager Frank Wren. In the interview, Wren discusses the eventual move to Cobb County, the rotation with Tim Hudson out of the equation, the possible concerns of outfielder B.J. Upton and second baseman Dan Uggla moving forward, a Brian McCann update and more below.
Andrew Vigliotti: The recent news of the Atlanta Braves moving to Cobb County to begin 2017 was a shock to many, including myself. How will this move impact the Atlanta Braves in a positive light in the long term?
Frank Wren: I think it really centers for us the ability to move us closer to the majority of our fans base. Our fans have a destination that includes the baseball game but also allows them to come early and stay late. A lot more entertainment options for the fans. The final piece will allow us to be competitive for a long time. It gives us a couple ways to move the needle in revenue and to be competitive with the bigger markets in the division. It allows us to raise the attendance and gets us closer to our fan base. The fan base experience itself will raise revenue for the team and allow us to be competitive for a long time.
AV: Explain what Turner Field has meant to you as an executive of the Atlanta Braves and to the organization as a whole.
FW: I think Turner Field has served us well on a standpoint that it’s a nice park and it’s a perfect park for us strategically; a pitching-dominant organization. People come here and they look at the park being in great shape. But there are parts we couldn’t change: the location and parts around it. When we look at the necessary improvements it really wasn’t a great fit. It made a lot of sense to put the same amount of dollars we’d put into fixing to Turner Field into a new one.
AV: Is there a chance Brian McCann could return to the Braves? Also if he departs that means him and Tim Hudson are gone, two of the big leaders in the clubhouse for many years. Which players would fit the leadership role the best?
FW: First of all, we continue to have dialogue with McCann’s agent. Both Brian and his agent have been very good players. I can’t get into specifics, but we haven’t given up on re-signing him. He loves the organization and his roots are from here.
FW: That’s one of those things that players figure out. I can’t knight someone and make them a leader. Players will follow someone who they respect. I think we have a number of guys who have the characteristics and experience with the ability to lead. On the pitching staff, the Mike Minor’s of the world, Kris Medlen and Craig Kimbrel have been able to establish their success and have been around a while enough to garner respect.
FW: I think you said it well. We have two guys who were with us last year in Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird who, assuming Brian doesn’t return, will get the bulk of the playing time. How that will be determined will be in Spring Training and how things progress throughout the season. We love Bethancourt and how he continues to develop. He made great strides last year and if he can continue to develop, he’s just 22 years old and he could be our catcher for a long time. He has a special skillset.
AV: What were the underlying factors to Tim Hudson leaving Atlanta? Tim signed a two-year, $23 million contract with the San Francisco Giants.
FW: We had hoped Tim would come back, but we are a big believer in our good, young pitching coming up. We have six young pitchers who are homegrown. Not many organizations can say they have those resources at their disposal. We were aware as we went forward that we wanted these guys to be able to pitch. We we’re willing to offer a multi-year deal to Tim, but other clubs were more aggressive with the same amount of years. Tim was a great Brave. There is no animosity or hard feelings towards him in anyway. He had to do what was best for him and his family and we wish him all the success with the San Francisco Giants.
AV: On Hudson’s Injury?
FW: We were starting to play our best baseball when the injury occurred. Huddy’s injury was a turning point in the season. The biggest fear I had was missing guys at the top of the rotation.
FW: We’re open-minded to that but at the same time also excited about our young starters. I can’t get into specifics with players, but our young guys have enough experience that they are starting to become the new core of pitchers in our system. They know how to conduct themselves on the mound. In a perfect world we’d love to add a veteran starter, but if not we’re good.
AV: Are you concerned about the lack of production B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla showed last year?
FW: I think we have to be concerned but also encouraged by just looking at history. We’ve seen guys sign their first free agent contract trying to justify the deal. B.J. [Upton] is dedicated and working hard. He can come back.
FW: Dan [Uggla] got into a funk and a lot of it had to do with the vision problems. We tried to correct it with contacts in the middle of the season, but he had to have the surgery. If those guys are productive, I feel great about our club and have confidence a rebound season will happen.
AV: The Braves have one of the better farm systems in the majors. One of my favorite young players in the system is second baseman Tommy La Stella. Describe his attributes and if he has a future with the big league club?
FW: Tommy [La Stella] is an advanced hitter and has a really good understanding of the strike zone and has a good feel of putting the ball in play. He’s hit along the way and when you see a player like that put up those numbers with the plate discipline and hard contact, I think you know you’ve got someone who’s really advanced. He came into the season with elbow soreness and we had to be careful with him defensively, but when he got healthy he was able to start pushing that.
FW: I think he’s a player we can count on at the big league level. He’s an impressive hitter. I don’t know exactly when yet, but I think his skill set would be a welcome edition and compliment the lineup. We want some professional hitters who put up quality at bats. He would be a perfect fit.
AV- How confident are you in the organization’s ability of bringing a world championship to Atlanta after so many postseason disappointments?
FW: I think especially this past year we were poised to go further as we had the best record in baseball for most of the season. When you look at certain indicators about some things we had good records against good competition. We have a good team. The major hindrance was six of our 25 men on our roster were unavailable in the postseason because of injury. I’m not one to make injury excuses because every team goes through them, but those were some of our main guys. If we had them, I’d like to think we would have had a better finish. If you want to win it all you need to have a little luck with the injuries.
Outside Pitch Sports Network appreciates Frank Wren and the Atlanta Braves organization for allowing us to conduct the interview. Follow OPSN’s Andrew Vigliotti on Twitter for more updates @Andrew_Vig
The Los Angeles Angels had another disappointing season as they finished 78-84 and failed to make the postseason with high expectations. Outside Pitch Sports Network checked in with Angels’ beat reporter for MLB.com Alden Gonzalez to talk about the team’s disappointing season and what could be on tap for the future in our latest “5 questions & 5 Answers” segment.
1. Expectations were high with the Angels at the beginning of the season. It was another year of disappointment. What was most frustrating to watch from this club in ’13?
By far, it was the pitching. Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson simply could not hack it in the AL, Jered Weaver and Jason Vargas missed a combined 18 or so starts due to fluky injuries and they had no depth behind them. Early on, they were getting shelled and the bullpen basically had to pick up four to five innings a night. It was tough to watch.
2. Many thought the hiring of GM Jerry Dipoto would mean success for the Angels. He has brought in high-priced free-agents the last couple years which haven’t amounted to success. Should he be on the hot seat? Should the Angels consider replacing Mike Scioscia as the manager?
Guess I’m a little late on this, since they were both brought back. But I was always of the belief (and I wrote about it in a blog entry towards the end of the season) that the best thing for the Angels would be to bring back both Dipoto and Scioscia. I think individually they’re both very good at their jobs. They see the game differently, and they’ve bumped heads over this, but if they can come together, it can be a very good pairing. What’s hurt the Angels the most is spending so much money on Pujols and Hamilton, who have yet to provide what they expected. That doesn’t lie on Dipoto or Scioscia.
3. The Angels rotation failed to put up numbers it did in the past (4.23 ERA in ’13 ranked 11th in AL). Is there a starter they could acquire via the trade market or free-agency in the offseason that could fit in 2014?
They’re going to spend most of the offseason looking into this. It’s more likely that they trade for starting pitching help, since they don’t have much payroll flexibility, and they’re willing to give up offensive pieces for it. Dipoto wants cost-controlled starting pitching (everyone does), but that’s obviously hard to come by.
4.Albert Pujols’ foot injury plagued him the entire season. He is owed $23 million in ’14. Do you believe he can return to the vintage Pujols we saw with the St. Louis Cardinals?
I expect Pujols to have a very good 2014 season. He’ll be healthy and motivated, and I think he has a lot more left in the tank than people think. Will he be worth the $240 million deal at the end? Of course not. But nobody would be. I think that if he can get healthy, he’ll hit for a long time, because he’s never been a high-strikeout guy. Of course, though, that’s still a big “if.”
5. Mike Trout is arguably one of the best players in the game today. Yankees’ second baseman Robinson Cano believes he’s a $300-million player. Could Trout be the first to eclipse that money plateau?
I don’t know if he’ll be the FIRST, because he’s still four years away from free agency and these contracts get more absurd every year. But I expect him to get there at some point, yes.
Andrew Vigliotti is the co-founder for Outside Pitch Sports Network and outsidepitchmlb.com and can be followed on Twitter @Andrew_Vig
In our third installment of the 5 questions, 5 answers I had the pleasure of having MLB Groundskeeper Consultant Murray Cook.
Murray started as a groundskeepeer in 1974 for the Salem Pirates class A Club in Virginia. Since 1989, he has worked for the Commissioners Office as a field and stadium consultant providing services in the development and management of numerous international MLB exhibition games, training camps, field maintenance seminars, etc.
As President of Brickman Sports Turf, he has provided services including field construction, design and maintenance services for the 2000, 2004, 2008 Olympics, USA Baseball, The International Baseball Federation, Minor League Baseball, Ripken Baseball and numerous major/minor/college/recreation fields around the world.
In 2005, he was one of the original MLB Pro Bloggers with groundskeeper.mlblogs.com, which is still active today.
Vince: Where was the toughest place to build and/or maintain a baseball field for an event?
Murray: It really depends on the era. When we built a baseball pitch on “the Oval” in London back in the 90”s that was tricky. The orioles vs. Cuba Series back in the late nineties in Havana was tough because of the lack of equipment and materials. The 2008 Beijing Olympic was challenging because the game is not a popular sport so training 100+ volunteers to understand what 1st base was or a pitching screen, drag etc was interesting.
VL: You have been all around the world for Major League Baseball developing and maintaining baseball fields, what city would you like the challenge of developing a baseball field?
MC: We are just beginning a project in Tel Aviv so I will let you know.
VL: As one of the original MLBloggers, how has your MLBlog helped with showing people the importance of your work?
MC: The blog is just a great way to share experiences and information with people around the world that are trying to figure out a way to develop a field for their city, team country etc.. I receive a lot of personal emails from people after reading one of the stories. One of my favorites was from a 14yr old in Zagreb Croatia that asked about how the grass changed color. He was referring to the stripping effect. It was his school project and the fact he chose this as a subject was pretty cool. One of my true passions is giving back and through this blog I’ve been able to help a lot of folks with their projects.
VL: Your first blogs were photos from the 2004 Athens Olympics, now that baseball has been rejected to be included in the 2020 Olympics, do you see this having significant impact on the game?
MC: Well first I need to borrow an old saying ‘It aint over till its over” There’s no doubt baseball and softball will eventually get back in the Olympics and I think with the new leadership at the IOC there is even a greater chance and the meantime we still have the WBC which is has been very successful and we have MLBI playing games around the world. Next week I head back over to Australia to assist my Ausie friends with the renovations for the 2014 MLB Opener between the dodgers and D-backs.That is going to be a really fun project
VL: As a die-hard baseball fan like me, what is the one moment that you can recite like it was yesterday?
MC: I have a couple:
1. Watching the Greek military pull a un-detonated world war II ordinance from the location of the main stadium field in Athens.
2. Building the first pitcher’s mound in the USSR in 1989. Ironically a year or so later the wall fell and some folks that took part in the diamond Diplomacy series like to think it was because of baseball .
Vincent Lombardi Jr. is the CEO of Outside Pitch Sports Network and outsidepitchmlb.com. He is also the Co-Host and Associate Producer of Outside Pitch MLB Podcast. He can be found on Twitter @vlombardijr
In the second installment of 5 Questions, 5 Answers, Boston Red Sox beat writer for MLB.com Ian Browne tells us how different this Red Sox team actually is in 2013. Browne has been covering the Red Sox beat for MLB.com since 2002. He also covered the Boston Globe from 1992-1996.
Shane Miller : The AL East has three strong teams at the top of the division, do you see all three being competitive in 2014?
Ian Browne: The Red Sox, Rays and Orioles all have teams that are built not just to win this year, but beyond. The Yankees are the interesting one. What are they going to do to rebuild an aging team that looks like it is making its last gallop?
SM: This 2013 Boston Red Sox team has seen a significant turnaround from 2012, what has been the main factor for this turn around?
IB: Everything. It started with the front office completely changing the tone of the clubhouse by acquiring high-character players. The starting pitching has probably been the biggest factor, and always is when you determine the difference between winning and losing. Also, the team has stayed healthier than in recent years.
SM: Entering Wednesday Xander Bogaerts has 25 plate appearances since being called up to the show. Once he truly gets his feet under him in the Majors what kind of impact could he have on the Red Sox lineup?
IB: He could be a megastar. Bogaerts is just 20 years old but has all the talent and demeanor to be a franchise player. Think Hanley Ramirez, but with a more humble attitude.
SM: Drake Britton has pitched well out of the Red Sox bullpen, but do you think Britton could be an effective arm in the starting rotation and if so where would he slot in the rotation?
IB: I think the Red Sox project Britton more as a reliever than a starter. Lefties are always key for a bullpen, and he can just worry about his top two to three pitches rather than needing to have four or five. He has adapted well to the role.”
SM: What has John Farrell brought to this Red Sox team that Bobby Valentine couldn’t just a year ago?
IB: Organization and direction. Farrell has a way of making every player know exactly what their role is, and feeling good about that role. I think he learned a lot from Terry Francona in the time they were together, but he also has his own strengths. Farrell’s knowledge of his pitchers, and what makes them tick, has been a key to this season.
Shane Miller is the director of on-air talent for Outside Pitch Sports Network. Follow him on Twitter @Shanemiller27
This is the first segment of my new Q&A Blog called “5 Questions, 5 Answers”. I will be interviewing a variety of baseball personalities, over the next weeks and months, in which I will ask them 5 questions and get 5 answers.
In my first segment I had the privilege to have Tom Haudricourt, who has been a beat writer covering the Milwaukee Brewers, for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, since 1985.
Vince: Ryan Braun received a 65 game suspension for the remainder of this year, for a team that was not in a pennant race at the time of suspension, and he will be able to collect his full salary starting in 2014 until 2020 that is estimated around $120 million. Do you think the MLB penalties for PED use need to be greater?
Tom: I think everybody agrees they need to be greater, including members of the players union. It will not surprise me if the drug policy is changed in the near future to include a year ban for a first-time offense. I’m not sure one strike and your out will be a reality but you never know.
Vince: Last year you maxed out your Hall of Fame Ballot (10 players), and none of them made it, you included Bonds, Sosa, Piazza and Clemens. Now with the additions of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas, do you see yourself having an even tougher time including them?
Tom: The ballot is certainly going to become congested with players to consider. I might have to back off some of the “steroid” players and go with the new candidates because I think Maddux, Glavine and Thomas are sure Hall of Famers. I’d like to see Craig Biggio get in as well. The others present an ongoing problem (and headache) for voters.
Vince: You started as a beat writer for the Brewers in 1985, who was your favorite player to cover and why?
Tom: It will be difficult to top Robin Yount because he was the epitome of a true professional on the field and a class individual off the field. In his retirement, he has become more outgoing and that has made him even more fun to be around. He is a true icon.
Vince: Ryan Braun’s MVP year and Miguel Cabrera’s MVP Triple Crown year, they both had Prince Fielder batting behind them. Do you think Prince doesn’t get enough credit for how good he is?
Tom: No, I think he gets plenty of credit. The $214 million contract the Tigers gave him certainly put him among the elite players in the game because you don’t get that kind of money if you’re a secondary contributor.
Vince: The NL Central has three strong teams at the top of the division. Do you see them being competitive next season?
Tom: Yes, I do. The Cardinals find a way to be competitive every season. The Pirates have built a strong team that should be good for a while, barring major injuries. The Reds have a nice mix of pitching and hitting. I don’t see any of those clubs falling off much if any in 2014. That’s what’s going to make it tougher for the Brewers and Cubs to get things turned around.
Vincent Lombardi Jr. is the CEO of outsidepitchmlb.com and Co-Host and Associate Producer of Outside Pitch. He can be found on Twitter @vlombardijr