Category: Dailies

More Mike Marshall


1974 Cy Young Award winner Mike Marshall, who now resides near Tampa, researches the physics of pitching mechanics.

 

A year ago, I interviewed Dr. Mike Marshall, the 1974 National League Cy Young Award winner who later became a controversial advocate for a radical overhaul of pitching mechanics. You can learn more at his web site, DrMikeMarshall.com.

Since then, Dr. Marshall has contacted me from time to time for advice about video editing. He let me know yesterday that his first newly edited video is now available on YouTube. Click on the arrow below to watch the video.

 

 

I found particularly interesting how Mike put stripes or dots on a ball to make it easier for you to see in slow motion the rotation on a pitched ball.

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Keep the Cubs!

I just returned from a week-long trip to Phoenix to cover the Angels’ fall instructional league for my other web site, FutureAngels.com.

Driving around Mesa, I saw signs promoting or opposing Proposition 420, a ballot measure designed to keep the Chicago Cubs’ spring training and minor league complex in the city.

As with the Nationals here in the Space Coast, the Cubs have made noises about moving elsewhere. They threatened to leave Arizona altogether, courting business groups in Naples, but those interests finally decided to stop playing the game last July once the Cubs reached a tenative agreement with Mesa.

The Mesa scheme relies on a ballot initiative that would allow the city to sell 11,000 acres of surplus land in Pinal County which would help pay for stadium construction, with the Cubs responsible for any cost overruns.

KeepTheCubs.com is the web site for Prop. 420. The site claims, “Prop. 420 keeps $138 million in Mesa & Az each year; no new or increased taxes!” In a cursory search of the web site, I was unable to find any explanation of how the $138 million figure was reached, or assumptions made about the value of the land to be sold.

“A Yes vote Proposition 420 will boost Mesa’s economy by launching a project worth tens of millions of dollars in jobs and revenue to the city and making certain the Cubs stay in Mesa for another generation,” the site claims. Again, no explanation for how that conclusion was reached or what was the methodology.

An October 13, 2010 editorial in the East Valley Tribune endorsed Prop. 420.

As you’re deciding which way to vote on Nov. 2, ask yourself this: Which is greater, the amount of money the city wants to spend on a new spring training facility, or the amount of revenue it will generate? The answer is clearly the latter.

Again, no explanation for how they reached the conclusion that it would generate more money than it costs.

The complex would be surrounded by a retail district called Wrigleyville that is described by the paper as another Downtown Disney. But it’s unclear to me who would be the ultimate property owner — the City of Mesa, or the Chicago Cubs. If it’s the city, then it would appear the property will be leased to the Cubs, and therefore not generate any property tax revenue.

This is one of my main concerns with publicly-funded ballpark schemes. They promise untold wealth for the community, but such promises are often based on dubious assumptions, and rarely are other uses ever debated.

The opposition web site is VoteNo420.com, a domain name that links to a blog called Mesa Spring Training Stadium. It’s much more modest than the pro-420 site, lacking fancy graphics or any content other than a series of blog posts.

Driving around Mesa, I saw signs for both sites, but clearly the pro-420 people have larger and more numerous signs throughout the community. It would be interesting to visit Mesa City Hall to find out who is paying for the pro-420 web site and campaign signs.

The Mesa negotiations should be a case study for what may happen here in Brevard County as the Nationals start moving in the direction of their own ultimatum for a state-of-the-art facility, threatening to go elsewhere in Florida or even Arizona. I’ve never understood why a multi-billion dollar industry expects subsidies from local taxpayers. Does Wal-Mart expect a city to pay for their building? Of course not. But baseball barons can always find some starry-eyed elected official willing to compromise the public interest in exchange for attaching a professional baseball team’s name to their community.

A Teachable Moment

‘Tis the season for fall instructional league, one of the most overlooked and least understood annual rituals of the baseball calendar.

Instructional league is often confused with the Arizona Fall League, but one has nothing to do with the other.

For openers, the Arizona Fall League is, well, in Arizona.

Instructional league runs in the Florida or Arizona minor league complexes of major league organizations.

The instructs end around the time the AFL starts. While the AFL usually has many of the top prospects in the upper levels of minor league baseball, instructional league rosters feature mostly players who were drafted or signed last June.

The AFL was created as a finishing school of sorts for top prospects, an opportunity to showcase them and accelerate their progress to a major league roster the next year. The instructs are more like extra homework for selected students.

Official stats are kept by the AFL, although how much they mean is debatable. The AFL is a part-time job as everyone plays a couple times a week, but few play every day. The dry desert air turns these games into high-scoring affairs — Coors Field with cactii. Some players try harder than others, and quietly everyone hopes they don’t get hurt. Although the original concept was to feature top prospects, in reality many organizations send players who project as setup relievers, utility infielders, or backup catchers. Each team has players from five organizations, so to field a normal lineup a team needs “niche” players.

No official stats are kept or reported at the instructional league. The reason is the games are more like a glorified practice. Rules are loosely enforced. If a young pitcher falls behind in pitch count, his manager can simply call an end to the inning and the other team takes the field. It’s not uncommon to see ten-man lineups with two designated hitters. The DHs might take the field mid-game, with two position players becoming the DHs. Although the home team has won, the bottom of the 9th might be played anyway to get extra practice.

This year, the Oakland A’s are fielding two teams in the Arizona instructional league, the first time I’ve seen an organization field two squads. That’s another reason not to put any value in statistics. What happens when they play each other? Certainly players can move back and forth between the two rosters.

Stats are kept internally, of course, but under the above circumstances you can understand why they wouldn’t be “official.” Another reason is more basic — no official scorer is present at these games. There’s no neutral party to keep score and report it to Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which now keeps official stats for MLB and the minors.

I was at the Washington Nationals’ complex in Viera, Florida for their September 23 instructional league opener against the Atlanta Braves. Major league catcher Jesus Flores underwent shoulder surgery last fall and missed all of 2010. He was in the lineup but was scheduled to play only three innings. He homered in his first at-bat, but going into the bottom of the 3rd it appeared unlikely his slot in the lineup would bat in the inning. So the Nats simply sent him to the plate again, to get him an extra plate appearance.

Click here to watch video of Flores’ homer. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.

The game was also the professional debut of Bryce Harper, the 17-year old selected #1 overall by the Nationals in the June 2010 draft. Matt Lipka, chosen by the Braves in the supplemental phase of the first round (#35 overall) was in Atlanta’s lineup.

Click here to watch video of Harper’s debut.

Click here to watch other highlights from the September 23 game.

For many of the players, this is their first opportunity for intense instruction in the ways of professional baseball. The Nationals’ coaching staff is headed by Bobby Henley, the minor league field coordinator. He answers to others in the Nats’ hierarchy, including Bob Boone, assistant general manager and vice-president of player development. Boone was also present at the opener.

The Nationals schedule runs through October 13, with the last home game on October 9 against a team from China training in Vero Beach.

The experience is fascinating for a baseball fan, because a player’s day isn’t focused on winning the game that afternoon. It’s about teaching how to win. And it’s here on the minor league fields of an organization’s complex that the teaching begins.

For a fan, you can walk in for free and watch the training up close. You can learn alongside the players.

Nationals Play Chess with Brevard County

Florida Today baseball writer Mark DeCotis broke the story on August 6 that the Washington Nationals have contacted Osceola County about moving their spring training complex to Kissimmee.

If the Nats move, the irony is that it would be the second time Brevard County has lost a major league club to Kissimmee. The Astros left Cocoa Expo Stadium in 1984 for Kissimmee.

I wrote on April 3 about Florida Today reporting that Nationals officials were touring a facility in Ft. Myers that’s currently used by the Boston Red Sox.

Nationals officials have not commented publicly on their dalliances with Osceola and Lee Counties, but a letter obtained by DeCotis made it clear the Nationals were interested in exploring a move to Kissimmee.

Washington Nationals President Stan Kasten sent a letter to Osceola County officials last month expressing interest in possibly moving the team’s spring training home from Viera to Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee.

Kasten sent the letter to Osceola County Manager Don Fisher. In the correspondence dated July 26, Kasten wrote to Fisher: “It was nice speaking to you last Thursday and it was very interesting hearing about the potential for a new spring training complex in Osceola County.

“I would certainly be interested in meeting with you and hearing more about your plans in greater detail, as we consider our own future spring training plans. In the event Osceola County is interested in moving forward, please let me know.”

If you’re of a conspiratorial bent, it would be reasonable to assume that Kasten knew full well any written correspondence he sent to Osceola would be a public document and potentially leaked.

The July 26 letter might have been intended to pressure Brevard officials into approving improvements for Space Coast Stadium. Florida Today reported on August 4 that county commissioners approved $316,000 in improvements for 2011. The letter was sent a week before the Brevard vote.

The Nationals’ lease runs through December 31, 2017, so if they leave “the club must reimburse the county for Space Coast Stadium construction-bond payments until another team moves in, said Shannon Wilson, assistant county attorney.”

As for Lee County, the Ft. Myers News-Press reported on August 6 that “the county remains interested in the Nationals.”

Jeff Mielke, executive director of the Lee County Sports Authority, wasn’t surprised to hear the Nationals are showing interest elsewhere.

“We all thought the Nationals would shop around,” Mielke said.

He believes it’s likely that the Nationals could leave Florida’s east coast. Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Vero Beach all had spring training teams but no longer do. That makes for few convenient road trips for the Nationals.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that the east coast is getting a little tougher,” Mielke said.

The Nationals are hardly the only major league team to play hardball with a municipal landlord.

Most recently, the Chicago Cubs played Mesa, Arizona against Naples, Florida, hoping to extort stadium improvements out of Mesa. But Naples withdrew in July, leaving the Cubs without their leverage.

In November 2003, Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno threatened to move the team’s spring training complex from Tempe, Arizona across the Phoenix valley to Goodyear, where Moreno was a partner in a residential and commercial development. The extortion worked, as one year later Tempe agreed to finance $20 million in stadium improvements, including a new minor league complex.

The local financial benefits are questionable for a municipality to host a major league baseball spring training.

Studies will often cite gross revenue and other indirect impacts. One example is this 1999 study by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council which concluded that the “Total impact of the nine teams on Florida’s economy is $227 million.”

But the study failed to look at the costs accrued by cities, counties and the State of Florida to build and maintain publicly owned facilities. Nor did they consider alternate uses of public land that might generate more revenue. Public land is not subject to property tax, while private land is.

Neither do these studies mention that most of these facilities include a minor league complex that will operate almost year-around, with games played from March through October. No revenue is generated from those games, as no admission or parking fee is charged, but municipal landlords are responsible for maintenance and rehabilitation costs unless otherwise specified in the lease.

Should the Nationals threaten to leave, Brevard County should conduct a thorough economic study that weighs these other options. In the long run, would the county receive more revenue from another land use at Space Coast Stadium? One scenario might be to raze the ballpark, and sell the land for residential and commerical use. The minor league complex might be preserved for use by amateur adult and youth sports.

The orphan in most of these scenarios would be the Brevard County Manatees of the Florida State League. The Manatees are a Milwaukee Brewers affiliate, not a Nationals affiliate. Space Coast Stadium’s 8,000-seat capacity is way too much for the Manatees’ needs. The Manatees are averaging about 1,300 per game in 2010; even in their best years, they rarely average more than 2,000.

The Manatees would be best served by construction of a 2,500-seat capacity stadium. An excellent location, in my opinion, would be the current site of Cocoa Expo at the I-95 and the 520 highway. But either the county would have to buy the site, or investors would, and neither scenario seems likely right now. So if the Nationals leave, it might mean the eventual departure of the Manatees franchise to elsewhere in Florida.

I’ve always felt that baseball teams should pay for their own facilities, but there seems to be an endless supply of municipalities willing to subsidize a multi-billion dollar industry for ego or pride. Many taxpayers think these facilities are paid by the same funds that pay for police and fire, but that’s simply not true. The typical scheme is the creation of a special enterprise fund that raises money from a local hotel tax, a slice of ticket sales and parking fees, perhaps state economic development funds. But regardless of the funding source, I wish more municipalities would tell these billionaires to stick it.

Fight Night at Cocoa Expo

I went to the fights, and a baseball game broke out.

— Old joke

Three Space Rockets players brawled with each other in the home dugout during Saturday night’s National Extreme Baseball League game, and were ejected.

At the time, the Rockets led 3-2 over the Orlando Dragons, but their ejections left the team with only eight players. The Rockets chose to continue playing, with only two outfielders to cover the shortage. When the vacant ninth position came up in the lineup, the Rockets were charged an automatic out. Orlando rallied to win, 8-3.

I’m not going to name names or get into what caused the fight. I was asked by many people — players, coaches, fans, management — if I videotaped the brawl. The answer is no.

I’ve always felt that internal squabbles should be kept private, even if the participants drag them into public (which is what happened Saturday). What happened was an embarrassment for the team, the league and especially for the combatants.

As many of you know, I came to the Space Coast a year ago from California, where I covered the Los Angeles Angels minor leagues for my other web site, FutureAngels.com. I’m used to being around a certain standard of professional conduct, so when I see fights, brawls, head hunting on the local adult amateur fields I’m a bit taken aback.

Many adult amateur participants have told me this behavior is not unusual for these leagues, and not to expect too much from them. These leagues are “pay to play,” meaning the players pay a fee to participate in the league. They play once a week for fun, to blow off some steam, to still be part of game they enjoyed in high school, college, maybe even professionally in the minors.

The Brevard County Adult Baseball Association championship game on June 27 ended prematurely after a Rockledge Rays pitcher appeared to throw deliberately — twice — at a Merritt Island Marlins batter. The pitcher was tossed by the home plate umpire after the first pitch, which bounced behind the batter. This left the Rays with only eight players, so the umpire called the game a forfeit. The Marlins, who were winning at the time, said they wanted to win on the field and begged the umpire to let them continue. The umpire relented and allowed the pitcher to return, but the next pitch plunked the batter in the ribs. He was ejected again, the game was over, and the Marlins won by forfeit.

Click here to watch the video. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.

I filmed this incident and posted it, unlike last night’s brawl, for several reasons. One was that it was between the lines. It was part of the game. It was also historic — this was the league’s championship game, and all the league’s players had the right to see what happened. That said, I did edit the video to remove actions of a personal nature that would further embarrass certain individuals and the league. The posted video told the story well enough without embellishment.

Personal ethics aside, I was shocked by what I’d seen, and by the Rays’ refusal to accept their second-place trophies at the post-game award ceremony. I was reminded once again that this is not unusual for adult amateur leagues.

Mind you, I’ve seen fights and head hunting and internal brawls in professional baseball. Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano was recently suspended for a dugout tantrum. Zambrano was suspended on Jun 28 and is currently at the Cubs’ minor league complex in Mesa, Arizona undergoing anger management therapy.

The NXBL lies somewhere between professional baseball and adult amateur ball. The league describes itself as “semi-pro,” in that it has a revenue sharing plan with the players should the league make enough money. But the players must pay to join the league, as with the amateur leagues.

The critical difference, in my opinion, is that those attending Saturday night’s game were paying customers. Yes, most of them were family and friends of the players, but they were paying customers nonetheless. They deserved to see a complete contest played between two teams fielding a full lineup of nine players, not one team handicapped because three teammates got thrown out for fighting each other.

The NXBL is struggling for credibility, and a very modest slice of the local entertainment dollar. I suppose some people might be more likely to attend if they knew they might see teammates fight each other, but such behavior might also turn off those such as myself who expect players to act like teammates.

Whether it’s professional or amateur or semi-pro, one constant I’ve always observed is that the goal is for the team to win. It’s not about individual achievements, or individual egos. What happened Saturday night cost the team the lead, and probably the win. And that’s the bottom line.

July 5 Manatees Photos

I shot photos and video during the Brevard County Manatees’ July 5 doubleheader with the Tampa Yankees. Below are samples of the photos; they’ll eventually show up in the SpaceCoastBaseball.com Photo Gallery.


Shawn Zarraga

 


Sean Halton

 


Brock Kjeldgaard

 


Erik Komatsu

 


Josh Prince and Matt Cline

 


Osprey nest atop a light pole behind left field.

 


Peter Fatse

 


Josh Prince

 


Josh Prince dives back into first base.

 


Matt Cline

 


Manager Bob Miscik and Josh Prince

 


Brock Kjeldgaard makes a throw from left field.

 


Wily Peralta

 


Angel Salome

 


Sergio Miranda

 


Mike Ramlow

 


Hitting coach Dwayne Hosey

 


Pitching coach Fred Dabney

 


R.J. Seidel

 


Michael Roberts

 


Steve Braun

 

FWBL 2.0

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

— Old Proverb

You may have read my earlier blog articles on the Florida Winter Baseball League. The FWBL was to provide an off-season venue for independent and affiliated minor league baseball players to demonstrate their skills in the hope of attracting a spring training invitation.

The league suspended operations on November 17, leaving players, coaches and other personnel without a valid paycheck. According to various reports, most were eventually paid in whole or in part, but stories abound about league ownership’s general ineptitude.

The damage caused by the FWBL left its impact on baseball in Brevard. Sponsors and advertisers well remember how the Space Coast Surge folded after just three weeks. The newly formed Space Coast Rockets of the National Extreme Baseball League have found potential advertisers who ask if they’re an attempted resurrection of the FWBL. (They’re not.)

When the FWBL suspended operations, president Mickey Filippucci promised to reorganize and finance his league, returning better than ever.

The general reaction among we observers was, “Yeah, right.”

Out of idle curiosity, I checked the old FWBL web site today and found this press release posted May 17:

FWBL planning next season!

Miami, FL – The Florida Winter Baseball League is pleased to announce that it is deep in the planning phase for its relaunch. The FWBL plans launch its next season in October, 2011. After months of working out the fine details, the FWBL has begun a plan to reorganize for 2011. “We take away many valuable lessons from our first season experience and have the confidence to improve on many aspects of our game,” said Mickey Filippucci, the League’s President. Plans include hiring outside accounting, human resources and legal firms to ensure that all past and future business partners feel comfortable supporting the FWBL. “We owe it to the fans, the cities, businesses, players and ourselves to get it right, and we are working hard to do just that” Filippucci added. Florida Winter Baseball League, where tomorrow’s stars play today!

With all due respect to Mr. Filippucci — and after what he did to his players, this writer has little respect for him — he’s got a long way to go to re-establish his credibility with Space Coast baseball fans.

I suspect the only way anyone in Brevard County will give this man a second chance is if he disassociates himself from the league, resigns as president, and lets a true baseball executive take charge.

I will actively discourage baseball players I know from participating in this league until Mr. Filippucci separates himself from FWBL operations and puts someone with a track record in charge.

Even if he does so, I remain deeply skeptical that winter baseball will succeed in Florida. The state’s sports entertainment dollar that time of year is fixated on college and professional football and basketball. We were told the league’s economic model assumed an average attendance of 750 per game, a number many observers thought was not just wildly optimistic but in fact delusional.

We were told privately that the FWBL was prepared to absorb two years of operational losses before folding. It turned out to be three weeks.

To quote the character Rod Tidwell in Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money.” No one is going to believe that FWBL 2.0 has a snowball’s chance in Miami unless it publicly demonstrates that this time it’s adequately funded.