Archive | January, 2011

Movie Review: Time in the Minors

Time in the Minors

I have watched a lot of documentaries on baseball. My favorite ones deal with what minor leaguers do in order to reach the major leagues, and Time in the Minors delivers.

Time in the Minors is a film by Tony Okun that follows two minor league players in their quest to reach the major leagues through the 2006 season. The best part of this film is that it follows two players in different times of their career. The first was a 6th round pick out of one of the best college baseball programs in the country in Stanford named Tony Schrager. By this time, Schrager had been in the minor leagues for 8 years and had reached the AAA level, but had not reached the majors. The other player followed is a high school player drafted in the 1st round by the Cleveland Indians in John Drennen. With a million dollar bonus, Drennen heades to low A ball as he starts his professional career.

With each player you get to see different aspects of minor league life, the breaks you need to advance through the levels, and the hard work that has to go in everyday.

Minor League Life

Whether you are a 1st round pick that got a million dollar signing bonus or a 6th round pick who only got an $87,500 bonus, life in the minors is going to be similar. No matter where you get drafted, you aren’t going to make a living playing single A baseball. Pay is just not that much. In 1998, rookie league players got paid $850 a month. By 2005, rookie league players were only up to $1175 a month in pay. Then take in the fact that you only get paid during the baseball season, you aren’t talking about enough to make a living through the year. Plus they do not get paid during spring training. This is something that is often overlooked in different documentaries covering minor league baseball, so I was glad to see it addressed in Time in the Minors.

It’s a difficult time for the players, but also for their loved ones. At one point, Tony Schrager and his wife talk about some of the things they went through. I was glad this was included in the film because its the little things like this that are too often overlooked. At one point in the year, Tony was playing with Carolina but was promoted to AAA Albuquerque. He had to jump on a plane and get to the Salt Lake City where Albuquerque was on the road and leave everything behind. So his wife was given the task of driving from their home in Arizona to North Carolina, pack up everything, and drive it back to Arizona. This isn’t they type of thing that you hear about often if at all. But it gives you more insight of the difficult things a minor leaguer, and his family, can be put through.

Being a professional baseball player isn’t always glamorous. Most people see the Major Leaguers and see the glamor that goes along with it, but life in the minors isn’t so glamorous. Between the long bus rides, low pay, old ballparks, cramped dressing areas, and sometimes living with a lot of teammates or with a host family, life in the minors takes a tough willed player to keep going.

John Drennen

John Drennen with the Akron Aeros

Catching Some Breaks

Every year, 1500 players are drafted into the minor leagues. That means a lot of players are going to lose their jobs to newer younger players. You don’t make it to the big leagues without talent, and you might not make it without catching some breaks. But in the grand scheme of things, those breaks can go against you.

That is what happened to Tony Schrager in 2005. Schrager worked hard and made his way through the minor league system. Having made it to AAA with

the Dodgers organization, he was invited to spring training and told he was one of 35 guys they thought could help them in the big leagues that year. Tony got sent down to AAA to start the season but felt this was his year to be called up. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I don’t want to giveaway everything that happens, but as someone who dreamed of playing major league baseball as a kid, it’s a little hard to watch as Tony get past over after many solid years in the minors.

It just goes to show that the breaks don’t always go your way. Less than 10% of the players that play minor league baseball will make it to the major leagues. Sometimes it takes more than simply talent to make the big leagues.

Tony Schrager

Tony Schrager with the Carolina Mudcats

Work Hard Everyday

Perhaps the greatest part of this documentary is the inside look at just how hard you have to work everyday in the minor leagues.

When a player reaches the minor leagues, playing everyday might be the most difficult thing for him to overcome. John Drennen went from high school to the pros and you got to see his struggles which was an interesting inside look at a top prospect. Injuries, the daily grind, and simply learning how to prepare to play everyday are things that get shown in the movie. Drennen’s manager Lee May Jr. talks about the challenges that players go through. Learning how to pace themselves is key to becoming a better player. Drennen is a player who goes hard all the time, but learning how to pace himself to make it through that daily grind was one thing that he talked about.

Too many people think that being a professional player is just sleeping late, showing up to play a game, and partying all night. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The ones that work hard everyday are the ones that have a better chance to continue the climb through the minors. The documentary does a great job conveying that each time a player moves up they have to prove themselves again.

The documentary also shows the mental side of the game, which is one thing that is so attractive about the film. This might be the part of the game that separates the cream of the crop from the everyone else. Tony Schrager talks about have a bad day in the baseball business and the possibility of losing a job. That is not something that is apt to happen in the rest of the business world. If you have a bad day at the office chances are you will come back the next day without fear of losing your job. That’s not the case with a minor league player. On a whim a player can have a job one day and not the other.

Filmmaker Tony Okun talks with some big whigs from the baseball world which was a nice added touch. Getting to hear the insight of people like Indians Director of Player Development (now the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays) or advanced scout for the Chicago Cubs Brad Kelley was very interesting. These are the people making the decisions on who to sign, who to cut, or who to promote/demote in their systems. But one of the people in the film that I really enjoyed listening to was Kenneth Ravizza, PhD. He is a Professor of Sport Psychology from Cal State Fullerton University. He was able to talk about the challenges that players face playing everyday and some of the things that they must overcome in order to continue to advance through the minors. It was very interesting to hear from a professional point of view.

I think the quote from the beginning of the movie sums up a lot of things dealing with minor league life.

Every day is an opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.” Bob Feller – Hall of Fame pitcher, Cleveland Indians (1936-1956)

This is by far one of my favorite documentaries on minor league baseball. The contrasts from a player working to make the majors in his 8th season to a young kid straight out of high school makes for a great film. I would highly recommend to anyone who is a baseball fan to check out this film. It’s a great look at what it takes to make it to the big leagues. Life isn’t always sun and fun in the minors, but those that are mentally tough, willing to learn, and work hard have the upper hand to make it to the show.

You can purchase the film Time in the Minors here and you won’t be sorry you did. I easily give this film a Baseball Journeyman rating of 5 gloves.

Check out the trailer on YouTube –

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Blog Review: John’s Big League Baseball Blog

Today I am going to take a look at another blog I enjoy reading: John’s Big League Baseball Blog.

John Sharp is simply a huge baseball fan. He writes about his favorite players of each team, old school players/teams, and the history of the game. Hailing from Kalamazoo, MI, John tends to write a bit about the Detroit Tigers, and he does it well.

One of the recent posts that got my attention was John’s announcement that he will be awarding the Annual Bill Freehan Award given to the best catcher in each league. Freehan, if you do not know, was a catcher with the Detroit Tigers back in the 60’s and 70’s. He was also the first catcher to win 5 consecutive gold gloves in the AL from 1965-69. But the best part of the award is its not just 1 man’s opinion. John is going to ask readers on a weekly basis to vote for the best catcher. These votes will then be used, along with his own pick, to determine the catcher of the week. I look forward to this next season.

Another thing that I love about John’s blog is his radio show. John’s Big League Radio Show airs every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at noon on BlogTalkRadio.com. John talks a lot about all the Detroit sports teams and Michigan football. He will be integrating on Monday his “Game Balls” that he does during football season,  so drop by and check out his show. You won’t be disappointed.

John is also a contributer to Detroit Tigers Scorecard. He does a lot from roster moves, to opinion pieces. On of my favorites John wrote recently after the Hall of Fame induction announcement. John talks about why Tigers like Jack Morris and Alan Trammel are not in the HOF.

John is a fellow member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA), and does a great job covering different aspects of the game. I enjoy the history of the game, and what better team to talk about the history of baseball with than one of the oldest franchises the Detroit Tigers. Recently I enjoyed learning a bit about one of the greatest Tigers of all-time, Al Kaline. John brings a great perspective

You can find John writing at John’s Big League Baseball Blog, on Twitter @freehan11, or talking baseball 3 days a week on Blog Talk Radio. And don’t forget to add his RSS feed to your reader to keep up to date with each post.

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Interview: Minnesota Twins Scout Cary Broder

I am interested in all aspects of the baseball world. One that brings more interest than most is the world of scouting. After meeting the Chicago Cubs scout for Korea, Aaron Tassano, I was introduced to another scout living and working in Taiwan. Cary Broder is the scout for the Minnesota Twins scouting in Asia. Cary took the time to answer some questions for me about scouting. Here is that interview:

Before you started scouting, what was your baseball background?

Just loving the game and being passionate about it, taking in every game I could.  I was into Strat-o-Matic, roto,  reading what I could get my hands on, memorizing stats, baseball cards, all that stuff. Watching games in the dome as a kid with half empty stands and then seeing the Twins evolve and win the series in ’87 and ’91 was a big influence on me.  I used to watch Cubs games on WGN after school when the Braves and Cubs were the only teams on cable the 80’s.  So the game has been a part of my every day life in some form.  Later on, Aaron Tassano (a close friend of mine who scouts for the Cubs) and I co-founded East Windup Chronicle, which opened up some doors for us as well.

What originally brought you to Taiwan?

A combination of things.  I met my wife in the states (she’s Taiwanese) and when she returned to Taiwan I wanted to be with her.  Plus I got a master’s degree in Asian politics and economics and spoke Chinese and Japanese, so it made sense to relocate here.  I figured it would be the most sensible place to try to break into baseball given my background.  I turned out to be right!  Or lucky.  Plus, Asia is an exciting place to live in itself.

Did you do any formal training in the States prior to working in Asia?

I built up the base of qualifications I needed by learning the basics of Chinese and keeping my Japanese up to speed.  Language skills and an understanding of the culture here are just as important as being able to evaluate talent, so that put me in a position to get a job with a team.   Once I got to Taiwan, I found the people involved in MLB out here and made the connections I needed to get foot in the door.  I received solid training from a Pac Rim director based here, and once I was hired by the Twins I was fortunate enough to have an outstanding mentors in our International Director Howard Norsetter and Pac Rim scout David Kim.

Most people in the States have never seen or know little about professional baseball in Taiwan, how would you compare it to say the minors back home?

It’s tough to draw a straight line comparison.  Every player is unique and the range of talent is broad.  There are guys that could compete at higher levels or maybe even MLB in some capacity and there’s guys that wouldn’t get out of the low minors.  It depends on the career trajectory that brought them there in the first place.

The players that sign out of Taiwan, do they come mostly from high school, college, or the professional ranks?

Almost all of them come from High School and College.  Only one player has come out of the CPBL, Ni Fu Te who is in the Tigers system.

Do you cover any other areas of Asia other than Taiwan? If yes, how often do you travel to cover them?

I’m constantly traveling.  I cover Japan, and I’ve covered Australia and the US as well.  Next year there’s probably more territory on the horizon. There’s no set itinerary, it depends on what the organizational needs are from year to year and where the action is.

What is the off-season like for a scout?

What off season?

Are there many other American scouts roaming around Taiwan that you see often?

Not just Americans but scouts from all over the world–Canada, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, Korea among others.  Some teams have guys on the ground here (some are locals, some are foreigners) but almost every team is checking in at some point.   But yeah, there’s a regular cast of characters you see around.  It kind of reminds me of Cheers or the bowling league scenes in the Big Lebowski at times.

I am not as familiar with Taiwan as I am Korea, is there a similar mandatory military requirement for every male, and does this effect the signing process?

Yes and yes.

Do you have any recommendations for people like myself who like to see new stadiums on places that need not be missed?

Tien Mu stadium in Taipei has a beautiful view in the outfield, it looks like an old chinese brush and ink painting.  Some of my favorite fields are on the east coast of Taiwan–they’re remote and not the easiest to find but they have a kind of storybook quality to them.

I love high school baseball and watch many of the big tournaments in Korea. Are there any high school or college tournaments in Taiwan that would be worth watching for a die hard fan like myself?

There are tourneys year round here..  Baseball is a quasi-religion in Taiwan so there’s always something going on to watch.

I also love to follow minor league teams. Is there a minor league system in Taiwan?

There is.  There are only 4 pro teams though, so obviously its not like the U.S. minors.

Do you follow players progress back in the States that you signed? Have you signed anyone that might be fun for fans to follow the progress of?

Of course.  It’s not just a matter of following them passively–since it’s our evaluations that bring them to the states as scouts we are accountable for their performances on and off the field.   It’s in our interest to make sure they’re progressing.  Plus, in the evaluation and signing process you get to know the kids and the families very well and get to know the players as people, not just as players.

Signing a player is a team effort, it’s not just one scout acting on his own.  Last year the Twins signed a pitcher named Chen Hung-yi, a right hander out of high school.   He’s our second sign out of Taiwan, the first being outfielder Lin Wang-wei.  It might be my name on the sign, but the process involved several members of our international department.   And of course, the Twins recently added middle infielder Nishioka Tsuyoshi to the big club, and I’m proud to have been actively involved with that process. He was the MVP of the Japanese league last year and It’s exciting to be a part of bringing our first Japanese pro player to the Twins.

I’d like to thank Cary for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions. It’s always interesting to see a different side of the game from what you see on ESPN. And thanks to people like Cary, who take the time to talk to us about what they do, we can see some interesting angles to the game.

I’d also like to point out that the 1991 World Series was a big influence on my life, except my team was on the loosing end. When will I get over Lonnie Smith’s base running error?

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Amazing Catch in Japan

This is simply one of the greatest catches in a baseball game….ever! It comes from Hiroshima Toyo Carp’s Masato Akamatsu. He performs a “Spiderman” like catch and amazes the crowd.

What do you think is the best catch of all time?

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Blog Review: The Bleacher GM

I read a lot of blogs online. A LOT. So I thought it would be good for me to introduce my readers with some of what I read.

The Bleacher GM is one of those sites. I am a longtime fantasy baseball player, and Jeff and Jeremy at Bleacher GM bring their readers a lot of great information dealing with fantasy baseball. But they bring you more than just fantasy talk. Some of the gold on their site are the draft tools in the form of spreadsheets (my favorite is the multiple category hitters) detailing hitters and pitchers who lead different categories as well as mock drafts.

But that’s not all. If you are a fantasy player, you love rankings, and Bleacher GM brings you rankings. The position by position rankings that they bring you are well worth the look, especially if you are looking for that starting catcher after yours just tore an ACL.

Another part of their site are the stories they tell. I am an avid baseball traveler, and I want to eventually see every stadium. A series that has started recently by Jeremy, or JTM, was a road trip with some fellow fantasy addicts and beer drinking baseball buddies. I love stuff like this.  JTM is on part 2 of the story so far, and I am looking forward to more. It’s an interesting tale of 4 guys on a trip to see baseball along the east coast. It’s a funny tale about how they did not want to trip to be a gay-cation Thelma and Louise style with just 2 guys, so they invited more. I also learned about the “The Rule of Rollercoaster” which I thought was not only interesting and true, but funny at the same time.  This series will definitely be and entertaining read. So check it out.

The newest aspect of the site are the podcasts. I think this is a great idea. They are just getting started, but doing a great job so far. I caught the 2nd podcast they did to hear what they thought of some of the baseball moves this off-season. I enjoyed it and will definitely be back for more.

Both Jeremy and Jeff bring a lot to the table, and with their years of fantasy experience, they can help you field a winning team. They are always open to talking fantasy baseball, and are more than willing to answer any questions you might have. Whether you are a newbie that just started your first season or an experienced vet, their knowledge can always help. Besides, who doesn’t like to toss around trade ideas with fellow fantasy owners.

You can find them at BleacherGM.com or if you have questions shoot them an email. They are always looking to talk fantasy baseball. JTM can be found at jeremy.manning@bleachergm.com while Jeff, or Furtah as he is referred to at times, can be reached at jeff.furtah@bleachergm.com. Or find them on Facebook or Twitter and if you are like me and can’t live without something like Google reader you can get their RSS feed here.

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Movie Review: Road to the Big Leagues

Besides the United States, more big leaguers come from the Dominican Republic than any other country. For many in the poor country, baseball is their life and their only way off the island. This movie is a look inside the the world of baseball in the Dominican Republic.

Kids here learn baseball from an early age. They will play anywhere they can find a stick and something to swing at. In the movie, the game of choice was “vitilla” which was a form of stick ball, except there was no ball. Instead, they used the plastic cap from a water bottle. A “safe” hit was one where the fielder could not pick up the cap before it stopped moving, whereas an “out” was when they could pick it up as it still moved.

The kids would play anywhere they could. Many had practically nothing but lived with the dreams of making the big leagues. A glove or jersey was a prized possession, and a chance to play ball is all they wanted.

The film followed a few players for a while. One was Juan Cabrera. He was a 17-year-old kid who dreamed big. He followed the circuit of tryout camps hoping to get signed. And even though he showed some talent, it took him some time before he was finally signed.

Many of the major leaguers return home during the off-season to live and workout where they grew up. They showed two of these stars as they worked out with kids from their neighborhoods. The first was David Ortiz. He is from Santo Domingo, and he would return home during the winter months to work out. The man who trained him when he was 15 was training Cabrera, so we got to see what Ortiz thought of the young talented player. It was an interesting look at the hunger displayed by someone who is trying to make it, and at the same time the hunger and drive of someone who had made it but wanted to stay at the top of his game.

The movie also showed a bit of the ugly side of baseball in the Dominican as well. There are many players who try to use fake documents to show they are younger than they really are in order to get signed. One of those players was showcased in this film.

The player in question was the cousin of a major league star and was talented in his own right. However, he was caught lying about his age (saying he was 21 instead of 24) after he had signed a contract with the Red Sox. If someone is caught, they are immediately released and banned from the game. So here was this young kid who tried to cheat the system. He was out of baseball, had no job, and was hustling to make it day to day. It’s a sad reality, but one that does exist.

The film also showed life inside the academies of the Dominican. When players are signed, they are assigned to that teams academy. There they are trained as ballplayers. They eat, sleep, and drink baseball. But they also learn another important aspect for many of them, English. Here the players will compete with one another to improve enough to be assigned to a minor league team in the United States. From there they will begin their journey to the big leagues.

There are a lot of success stories from these academies, and this is why they run them. In the film, one of the big prospects at the Mets academy was Carlos Gomez who is now a major leaguer having played 2010 with the Milwaukee Brewers. There are countless stories of kids coming from poor backgrounds to the majors, and this is what motivates and drives these young kids. They see the success stories, and they want to fulfill that dream.

The academies are realistic though. They know not everyone is going to make it, but they are hopeful that they are around the average which is about 5 players in 100 reaching the majors. That’s not a great percentage, but its enough to keep the kids playing hard and the teams looking for more talent.

It’s a never ending cycle it seems but there is a lot of talent to be found. Players coming out of the Dominican Republic are some of the best in the majors. They are aggressive (the other MLB player highlighted might be the most aggressive in Vladimir Guerrero), and as the old saying goes, you can’t walk off the island.

I really enjoyed this movie, and would recommend it to any baseball fan out there. It is only 52 minutes long, so it is not a huge time commitment. I was able to stream it on Netflix, so check that out if you have it. Or you can pick it up on Amazon Road to the Big Leagues (Rumbo A Las Grandes Ligas).

I am going to give it a rating of 3 gloves.  It’s a good film to see, but it just doesn’t go into a whole lot of depth an any one subject which is really the only complaint I have.

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BBA RECOMMENDS ALOMAR, BLYLEVEN FOR HALL OF FAME

Today MLB will announce the newest Hall of Fame class. As apart of the BBA (Baseball Bloggers Alliance), I wanted to share with you who we chose to be inducted.

BBA RECOMMENDS ALOMAR, BLYLEVEN FOR HALL OF FAME

Second baseman Roberto Alomar and starting pitcher Bert Blyleven were named today as the recommended 2011 Hall of Fame class by the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

Alomar, who is on the ballot for his second year, and Blyleven, looking at his fourteenth time, both finished just shy of the BBA’s recommendation in 2010 at just a fraction under the 75% threshold.  As was the case last year, both Alomar and Blyleven received the same amount of votes from the BBA membership in 2010, but this time it was enough to push them into the recommended status.

Both players received 117 votes out of the 154 ballots cast, resulting in a 75.97% approval rate.  Again echoing the vote taken at the end of 2009, shortstop Barry Larkin was the third man in the balloting, missing selection by being named on just 70.78% of the ballots.

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s vote has no impact on the official vote taken by the Baseball Writers of America and the members of the Hall of Fame.  However, the BBA has been often a predictor of awards granted by the writers, matching their selection in fourteen of the sixteen major awards in the last two postseasons combined.

The final voting results are as follows:

Roberto Alomar, 75.97%
Bert Blyleven, 75.97%
Barry Larkin, 70.78%
Jeff Bagwell, 62.34%
Edgar Martinez, 59.09%
Tim Raines, 54.55%
Mark McGwire, 44.16%
Lee Smith, 38.96%
Alan Trammel, 35.71%
Don Mattingly, 33.12%
Larry Walker, 31.17%
Fred McGriff, 27.27%
Jack Morris, 25.97%
Rafael Palmerio, 20.78%
Dale Murphy, 16.23%
Dave Parker, 12.34%
Harold Baines, 10.39%
Kevin Brown, 9.09%
John Franco, 7.14%
Tino Martinez, 5.19%
John Olerud, 5.19%
Al Leiter, 4.55%
Bret Boone, 3.90%
Juan Gonzalez, 3.90%
Marquis Grissom, 2.60%
Benito Santiago, 1.30%
Bobby Higginson, 0.65%
Charles Johnson, 0.65%
Kirk Rueter, 0.65%
Carlos Baerga, 0.00%
Raul Mondesi, 0.00%
BJ Surhoff, 0.00%

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance was established in the fall of 2009 for the purpose of fostering collaboration and communication among bloggers from across baseball.  The BBA has quickly grown to its current membership of 256 blogs, including some of the most prominent blogs on the internet, spanning all major league teams and various other general aspects of the game.

More information about the BBA can be found at their website, www.baseballbloggersalliance.com, or by contacting the founder and administrator of the organization, Daniel Shoptaw, at founder@baseballbloggersalliance.com.

This is an official press release from the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

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New Era (eFashion Solutions)

Quote of the Month

There are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family, and baseball. The only problem - once baseball season starts, I change the order around a bit. ~Al Gallagher, 1971

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