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Movie Review – Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey

Bill Lee may be known as the Spaceman, but you could very easily call him Mr. Baseball. Lee has a passion for the game that really comes out in the film Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey. Bill Lee joins a team from San Diego on a trip to Cuba for a little barnstorming trip.

It’s an interesting ride in that you not only get to see a different side of Bill Lee from what you might see on TV in interviews, but you get to see a small insight on baseball in Cuba.

Nobody on the trip to Cuba from the US was ever paid to play baseball with the exception of Bill Lee. This is a group of adults who love the game. Traveling to a game on a bus and getting off together as a team is their major leagues. To do that in another country  has to be an absolute thrill. Throw in that you are doing it on an island that is baseball crazy and it has to be a trip of a lifetime.

All of the Cuban players are older adults who have played their entire lives, and it shows. They play good baseball and put the American team to the test in each game. Not only do the players show a love of the game, but you see people showing up to games as fans to watch that love it. Some show up to practice their English, some show up to see the former major leaguer play, and others simply want to watch baseball.

Everywhere the players go they are greeted by friendly people and most are fans of the game. It’s an amazing insight, albeit small, into a culture that has almost been closed off completely to Americans. The opposing teams and people on the streets are interested in talking about the old guys who played with Lee, and they know them. They remember Fred Lynn, Luis Tiant, Fisk, and others.  It’s amazing how much the casual fan knows there.

Another aspect of the movie that is interesting is seeing the fields they play at. Of course, they are all older but the field itself always looks like its in pretty good shape. You see some nice fields with makeshift fences at times or old concrete stands that were erected in the 50’s or earlier.

A lot of the movie is about Bill Lee and his history which is pretty interesting. I enjoyed it especially since I only know Lee from what I have read because he was out of baseball before I can remember watching. He had a lot of interesting things to say and was quite a character. I can easily see how he got the nickname Spaceman, but don’t get fooled into thinking he isn’t an intelligent man. He reminds me of a baseball version of Dennis Miller. He uses a lot of references that most people won’t understand which to me makes him even more interesting. In the day of internet and Google, you can actually search some of the references with the click of a mouse.

He’s also part Satchel Paige in that he is still playing into his 60’s (I believe he was 58 at the time of the film). He talks about Paige in the film as well saying he is his idol for having played so long at such a high level. The both have some interesting quotes as well.

You get some insight on Bill from some of his contemporaries and others that he was around in the game of baseball. Fred Lynn, Dick Williams, Luis Tiant, and others are interviewed about Bill Lee. They all have something interesting to say and when you combine that with some old interview footage it makes for an interesting look at the man himself.

This film has made me more of a fan of Bill Lee and has made me want to read some of the books he wrote. You can also catch Bill on another trip to Cuba in the Film Gift of the Game

I highly recommend watching this film. It’s only just over an hour long so its not a huge time commitment, but it’s extremely interesting. Take an inside look at baseball in Cuba, if only for a minute. And get a look at Bill Lee and you can’t help but love his love of the game whether you are a Red Sox fan or Yankees fan or anyone in between. I give it a rating of 4 gloves.

 

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Movie Review: Gift of the Game

In 1980, writer Randy Wayne White was in Mariel Harbor, Cuba to help a friend retrieve his family during the Mariel Boatlift. After the week plus that he spent under armed control in the harbor by the Cuban military, he swore he would never go back.

Twenty years later, White set out for Cuba to try and resurrect a children’s baseball league founded by Ernest Hemingway many years before. He set out to find a team to go with him to bring equipment to the kids where Hemingway taught the game years prior. His team would include a priest, his son, and along with many others two former Major Leaguers in Bill “Spaceman” Lee and Jon Warden.

It took them a year to get the people and equipment in place, not to mention talking the American government into allowing them to go. But with equipment in hand, they set off for Cuba and what took place showed how great this game is.

The original plan was to go to the same area where Hemingway lived to seek out the old players from Hemingway’s Gigi Stars team and try to resurrect the children’s league. Things don’t always go as planned, especially when you are in a place like Cuba.

After first arriving, they were denied by the Cuban government help in finding the former players and were told they couldn’t even play a pick up game. So White, with names of the old players in hand, wonders the streets looking for them and finds some of them. They are greeted by smiles and hugs from Hemingway’s former players who are eager to talk about playing baseball with the great writer. They meet with several of the team members and agree to return in 5 days with the equipment to give to the children and hopefully restart the league.

Back in 1980, White had heard about a pitcher nicknamed “the man with 100 moves” and he was anxious to see if he could find him, so he set off to see. Finding the area where he lives, White was told he was not home but to come back the next day. Little did he know that would not be necessary as Perfidio (sp?) Perez would come find him after hearing they were looking for him.

Throughout their trip, White and the guys saw kids playing baseball everywhere with homemade bats and balls. The bats would be hand carved out of tree limbs and they would fashion balls out of anything they could find. It was amazing to see the love of the game there. They don’t have cable TV, Nintendo, and things like malls that take up so much of the attention of kids in other parts of the world. Seeing the looks on the kid’s faces when the guys would stop their bus and hand out equipment was priceless. Holding a real ball or bat in their hands their smiles would light up the night sky.

Twice White, Lee, Warden, and the rest of the guys play pick up games. They were usually out manned but everyone involved always had a great time. After every game a party would spring up and dancing, eating, and drinking would spring about. Just the simple happiness seen in the people of the land was infectious. But it wasn’t always the case.

In downtown Havana things were quite different. There people were much more aware of the police presence around them and were quick to quiz the Americans if they were some sort of police. On one hand you can see the passion for the game and the pure simple joy they get out of it, and the next minute you can see the oppression and fear that these people experience on a daily basis.

Perhaps the best example was from the former players themselves. After returning to hand out the equipment, they were told there would be no game and no party. The joy in their faces had gone and they were very serious. It turns out that higher ups had deemed it wasn’t going to happen and they had no choice but to follow suit. A compromise was soon had that there would be no game, but there would be a party.

The government had allowed the guys to play one sanctioned exhibition game with the Cuban Over 40 team. These were all ex-players who could still play a bit. While the game highlights and banter were fun to watch, the real excitement came after the game. This is when a government official came with armed soldiers to take all the equipment they had brought. They took everything from the bus that they had on them. Luckily they were smart enough to pay someone to hide a lot of the equipment for the kids so when it came time to give it out it was there.

I really enjoyed this film. Bill Lee is always fun to watch. He is a great ambassador for the game and always funny. I was not familiar with Jon Warden but the grew on me very quickly. He is a fun-loving and funny guy who just wants to make people smile. But the best part of the film was the kids. They benefited in the form of equipment and were very excited anytime a hat, ball, glove, or bat was handed out. It’s a shame that they are unable to get the proper equipment needed for the game. There is, and always has been, a wealth of talent there.

I highly recommend anyone who is a baseball fan to watch this film. I was able to rent it through Netflix, but was unable to find it on Amazon. I give it a rating of 4 gloves:

If you enjoy this film, you might also want to check out Bill Lee’s journey to Cuba to share the game in Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey.

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Book Review: Boomerang Baseball by Nicholas R.W. Henning

I am always looking for books on baseball to read, but rarely do I run across one that is fiction. That was the case when I came across Boomerang Baseball.

With the Australian Baseball League (ABL) restarting this year, I got hooked on trying to watch some of the games online. It has been a great way to get my baseball fix during the winter, and the ABL has been a lot of fun to follow.  While doing a little reporting on the ABL at Baseball de World I was able to meet, through his comments, Mr. Henning. This has been a blessing as it has not only introduced me to baseball fiction, but Mr. Henning has provided a lot of insight on the league.

When I found out Mr. Henning was an author, I was anxious to read one of his books. So I picked up a copy of Boomerang Baseball. I read about half of it on my trip to Charlotte late last year, then lost the book on the flight home, so I picked up another copy.

The book is about the early life of Trent McKnight. Told in an autobiographical style, it’s an interesting ride as Trent battles with his on-again, off-again relationship with baseball as well as the little problems that each of us go through during our formidable years.

I picked up this book mainly because it dealt with baseball, and I hoped to see some insight about a country, Australia, where baseball isn’t played as much as other sports. And I wasn’t let down. I really enjoyed reading about Trent taping baseball shows on TV and watching them over and over. This brought back a lot of memories of when I was young and staying up late, with the volume nearly all the way down as to not wake my parents, to watch baseball on ESPN. Or Trent finding somewhere to buy baseball cards or find equipment. I grew up in a small town and can remember the days when I got to go to a bigger city to a large sporting good store. Seeing all of that baseball equipment was like Christmas all over again.

But the book is more than baseball. Being a bit older now, I can look back on Trent’s struggles knowing I went through a lot of similar things. Ever since I can remember I wanted to play professional baseball and there comes a time when you find out that that dream just isn’t going to come true. That isn’t an easy thing to deal with. Trent goes through this same ordeal over the years as he struggles with finding out he isn’t the elite player required to continue on with a baseball career. But that’s not all he struggles with.

I think I can safely say we have all had issues with the opposite sex, and Trent is no exception. Seeing him go through different phases of becoming a man was really entertaining. He struggles with playing baseball with girls, and then later going through a lot of the normal growing pains of a teenager/young adult. There are a lot of other issues Trent runs into like overcoming self-doubt, a temper, bullying, and failure. These are things that everyone must deal with at one point, and Mr. Henning does a great job incorporating all of this with Trent’s baseball life.

I also learned a lot about Australian baseball. There are a handful of Aussies that have made the major leagues like Grant Balfour, Damian Moss, Peter Moylan, and David Nilsson. But did you know Graeme Lloyd was the first one to win a World Series title with the Yankees in 1996? I didn’t until I read the book.

The ending was perhaps the best part of the book. I don’t want to give it away, because I think you need to go out and read this book. It’s a feel good story of a kid who goes through his struggles and successes. But the book is more than just baseball, it deals with life too. I really enjoyed the book and think you will too. So go out and pick up a copy. I got mine off of Amazon.

Mr. Henning also has a 2nd book that deals with baseball. The American Dream: From Perth to Sacramento is a story about an Australian ball player traveling to the US to pursue his baseball dreams as he plays in the minor leagues. After reading Boomerang Baseball, this has gone into my “must read” list.

You can find all of Nicholas R.W. Henning’s book on Amazon and you can follow his blog at http://nicholasrwhenning.blogspot.com/. I would highly recommend picking up one of his books as I thoroughly enjoyed mine. In my own personal way of rating, I would have to give this book 5 gloves.


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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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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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Movie Review: Touching Home: Baseball in the Bushes

Noun 1. bush league – a league of teams that do not belong to a major league (especially baseball)

Touching Home, Baseball in the Bushesis a short documentary about life in the minors and the 2004 Chillicothe Paints.

Located in Chillicothe, Ohio (population 25,000), the Paints are one of the founding members of the Frontier League (the team is now apart of a top collegiate summer league). The area in Ohio has a long history of baseball, and this documentary brings that out which was very interesting. Using old photos and newspaper articles, they show baseball stories going back to the beginning of baseball in Chillicothe in 1884.

The makers of the movie did a great job blending the rich history of Chillicothe into the modern day team. The chronicled some of the older players whose numbers had been retired for various reasons over their 14 year history. Talking to some lifetime fans in the area who had seen it all was a very nice touch. You got stories from someone who was there and new most of the players instead of just someone who had heard stories.

What I really liked about this movie was how they took you behind the scenes of the club and talked to you about some of the financials dealing with an independent minor league team. For instance, each team in the Frontier League had to carry 11 rookies, and each rookie was to be paid $600 a month. That is not a lot of money to live off of which is why the team has to rely on host families to provide the players with meals and a roof over their heads.

Chillicothe was the smallest market in the league, and was the only remaining original member. They were able to do this because of things like the league salary cap. MLB could learn a thing or two from this. Veterans were paid up to $1200 a month. This was for someone who had a few years of affiliated ball under their belts which wasn’t the case for most of these players.

Leagues like the Frontier League are always bringing in new players. A slump in a league like this could cost you your job and perhaps a chance to make back to or into affiliated ball. So players play hard because they know they are always close to being cut which makes this level of play, while not the highest in professional ball, some of the more interesting. There are no bonus babies who let their ego go to their head. Those players wouldn’t cut it at this level. They would be cut before they knew what hit them. Hustle is key, and to me that always makes for good baseball no matter what the talent level.

There were 3 players that they talked to. You got a good feel for their stories and lives in the minors which was nice, but I would have loved to have seen a little bit more actual baseball action. Most of that was done in the background of the stories they were telling. I understand this can be a difficult balancing act, and I am not one easily pleased when it comes to a baseball documentary. But with all that said, I really enjoyed this movie.

Sure it would have been nice to hear from more players but they did include the manager, the pitching coach, the general manager, and some long time fans which was a nice touch. Overall I thought they did a really good job with it. It’s short, but I am always going to want more no matter how long or short it is.

I would definitely recommend watching this, especially if you like minor league baseball. You get a little feel for the history of baseball in the area, and you get a good look at what life can be like for a struggling independent league ball player. I would rate it a good 3 gloves*:

*Rating system:
5 gloves: A must see/read and something you will want to own to see/read again and again.
4 gloves: A must see/read but something you may or may not want to own depending on the topic.
3 gloves: Really worth seeing/reading but perhaps something you can rent or borrow
2 gloves: Watch it or read it if you are into the subject matter (i.e. minors, a certain team/player, etc…) but don’t purchase it.
1 glove: Don’t waste your time.

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Book Review: Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit

Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit, by Matt McCarthy, is a tale about a Yale graduate spending a year in the low minors.  It captures the essence of the game played out of the spotlight and headlines of the major leagues and gives an insight to the life of a minor leaguer.

McCarthy was a left-handed pitcher who played for some of the worst teams in Yale history. He starts briefly with his days in high school in Orlando. He talks about his days at Yale playing with his friend and future major leaguer Craig Breslow, and chronicles his year in rookie ball in Provo, Utah.

Playing in rookie ball is one thing.  Playing rookie ball in Provo, Utah is a whole other experience. With the strong Mormon presence, and the fact they play their home games at BYU, they are unable to do certain things like have home games on Sundays. It’s an interesting and entertaining look at the lives of minor league players.

From roommates to host families, Matt does a great job showing what the life of a struggling minor leaguer is like. The low pay, sometimes bad living conditions, trying to make it in a very competitive environment where your roommate might be fighting for the same job as you, to long bus rides to the middle of nowhere Canada, this book delivers. If you want an honest look at the life of a minor leaguer straight out of college learning the ropes of being a professional ball player, this is the book for you.

McCarthy does a great job throwing names you will recognize. He played with future major leaguers and even a future NFL wide receiver. The stories about the players and their sometimes crazy coach will keep you laughing. I couldn’t put the book down. Matt does a great job telling the story in an easy to read, understandable (after all he is now a Yale and Harvard Medical School graduate), and entertaining way. The stories and characters are memorable and likable at the same time.

The book was released several years after Matt’s year in the minors. There have been questions raised about the validity of some of the stories and/or quotes. I think when reading this type of book it is important to remember that some things might be embellished. Not everyone in the book is presented with a glowing seal of approval. There are talks of racist teammates, steroids, and a circus like atmosphere led by their coach. Do I believe everything in this book to be 100% true? No, but I don’t believe that in any book I read. Do I think everything I read could have happened? Yes, and I doubt that the stuff that was disputed might not have been far from the truth. Anytime someone is not painted in a pretty picture, they are going to fight it. All in all I think this book is a great read.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is a baseball fan. The stories are enlightening and funny, and I loved the inside look of the low minors where you can be unemployed as quick as the wind changes direction. So do yourself a favor and pick this book up. It’s been around awhile so it is affordable and a great easy read. You can pick it up at Amazon – Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit or anywhere where good books are sold.

I give this book a rating of 5 gloves:

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Movie Review: Bottom of the Ninth

I try to watch any and all documentaries on baseball especially ones about minor league baesball. I found this one on the web some time ago but never pulled the trigger on getting it. Recently I found it on Netflix, so I had to get it to watch.

I have seen some good ones of the years on minor league baseball. I am fascinated by the life the guys in the minors go through on their journey to the majors or obscurity. So when this one came in the mail, I immediately sat down to watch it. I think my expectations were a little too high though, and I was disappointed.

Bottom of the Ninth tells the story of the 2001 season of the New Jersey Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League. There are a lot of characters on the team managed by the great Sparky Lyle, who is a character himself. There are some former major leaguers on the team like pitcher John Briscoe. Through in some guys who put up amazing stats some years (Billy Hall stole 104 bases in 2000 with 66 in a row without being thrown out) and you have a great cast of characters. But the story was lacking with life in the minors.

The movie talked more about their run for the championship, which in itself was interesting, but I was really looking for more on life in the minors. The best part of the movie was the championship series which really was thrilling, but I wanted to see more about the players lives and how many of them have adjusted to play at the lowest level of professional baseball.

I would not say don’t watch this, but I would not recommend spending $25 to purchase it. Instead, if you have Netflix toss it in your queue and watch it when it comes. But if you are like me and have seen several of the other really good ones, don’t get your hopes up. But if you go into it knowing that it is good for other reasons, you will really enjoy it.

With a lot of other reviews on books and movies coming, I am implementing a rating system. I will rate from 1-5 gloves (I have to keep it baseball related so no stars like everywhere else). Below is my rating system:

5 gloves: A must see/read and something you will want to own to see/read again and again.
4 gloves: A must see/read but something you may or may not want to own depending on the topic.
3 gloves: Really worth seeing/reading but perhaps something you can rent or borrow
2 gloves: Watch it or read it if you are into the subject matter (i.e. minors, a certain team/player, etc…) but don’t purchase it.
1 glove: Don’t waste your time.

For this movie I would give it:

Stay tuned for more reviews in the coming weeks and Happy Holidays!

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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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