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Blog Review: I-70 Baseball

As the hot stove season heats up, I want to bring you more of my favorites from the world of baseball blogging. One of my favorites happens to be written about two teams that, while I am not particularly enthusiastic about, I have a great respect for and find myself rooting for quite often.

I-70 Baseball covers the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals. I don’t have a big affiliation with either club, but they bring back one of my earliest memories of baseball with the 1985 World Series. I have always had a great respect for the Cardinals and their fans who I think are some of, if not, the best in the majors. They are passionate and very knowledgeable which is, sadly, a unique combination in today’s environment. I am always rooting for the Royals as well, except when they play the Rangers. The Royals have a long history of winning, but recent years they have been the doormat of the American League since they are one of the small market teams. These teams that go head to head with the Yankees $200+ million payroll, I will always be rooting for.

I-70 Baseball is an affiliate site of Baseball Digest providing regional coverage of the Cardinals and Royals. And they do a great job. Despite not being a huge fan of either team, I enjoy reading the articles at I-70 Baseball as they give a good insight to both teams.

I-70 Baseball is led by Founder and Executive Editor Bill Ivie. A longtime Cardinal fan, Bill is a baseball historian who spends countless hours digging through the history of the game. This allows him to bring great knowledge of the game to go along with his passion. Bill is also a contributer to BaseballDigest.com and shortly after joining the team there he became the Assignment Editor. You can find him on twitter @poisonwilliam.

Mr. Ivie has a great staff as well helping out over at I-70 Baseball. As a long time Royals fan, Matt Kelsey serves as associate editor and senior writer. Matt has a background in the newspaper industry and is a published fiction writer which brings a great style to the site. You can find him on twitter @matt_kelsey.

Angela Weinhold was the first writer that joined I-70 when it was still just a concept.  Her work on the series “Cardinals In Time” has been almost novel worthy.  She has recently accepted an Associate Editor position with the site and frequently handles duties as a Chat Host during the radio show on Monday nights.  If you ask Bill, Angela has become his right hand in most of his projects and has quickly become someone he can depend on when he needs to get things done. You can find her on twitter @CardsChic

This is only the tip of the iceberg as well. I-70 Baseball has a bevy of contributers for both Royals and Cardinals coverage which is why they are the premier site for coverage of either team.

There are so many things to like about the site since they bring so much to the table. All too often blogs tend to forget the minors, but not here. One of my favorite things about the site is the farm reports. Whether it’s the Arizona Fall League or the Rule 5 Draft, these guys have it covered. They cover the old, the new, the future, fantasy, and so much more.

One of my favorite posts was just done a few days ago. The Balboni Line deals with the lack of power the Royals have shown over the years. I was amazed at the lack of power they have shown with not having a single player in their history to hit 40 home runs. With all the sluggers they have had over the years (Steve Balboni, Dean Palmer, Danny Tartabull, George Brett, Jermainie Dye, and so many more) I would have thought that 1 player in their long history would have gotten to 40.

This year was also the 25th Anniversary of the I-70 World Series. For the past few months, I-70 has brought updates from games and moments from that historic series. That has brought back a lot of great memories for me as this is the 1st World Series I remember watching as as kid. The articles ran on the anniversary days of the series, and you can find the game recaps along with commentary. It’s a great series.

But I-70 Baseball is more than reading blog entries. One of my favorite parts is the weekly hour long internet radio broadcast on Blog Talk Radio. Every Monday night at 10 pm CST Bill and Matt bring you interviews, insights, and so much more. I love baseball documentaries, and I was hooked on the internet radio broadcast when I found out they were talking to movie maker Tony Okun, the director of “Time in the Minors”. It was a great interview and highlighted some interesting information regarding minor league baseball.  I recommend checking it out here. After hearing the interview, I can’t wait to see the documentary.

So do yourself a favor and head on over to I-70 Baseball. There are some great writers bringing some great baseball coverage to their readers. If you are on Twitter, you can follow and chat with the staff @i70baseball or you can follow them on Facebook too.  Don’t forget to subscribe to the RSS feed so you don’t miss another post.  That is my way of reading their articles every day.

Stay tuned for more of my favorite blogs.

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Movie Review: Out of Left Field

Out of Left Field: The Making of the Chinese Olympic Baseball Team

This is the story of how two former major leaguers worked for four years to turn China into a formidable team for the Olympics in Beijing. Former MLB manager Jim Lefebvre led the way in teaching these athletes the right way to play the game in order to become competitive with the best on the world’s stage. Lefebvre was helped by former MLB pitcher Bruce Hurst who acted as pitching coach for the Chinese National team.

This was a short (1 hour) PBS documentary of what the team went through in order to post a competitive team as they hosted the Olympics. They had a lot to overcome in the process and it was interesting to see how they progressed as a team.

Perhaps the main issue was lack of experience. Baseball is not a huge sport in China like it is elsewhere in the world. The Chinese players don’t have the same opportunity as players in many other places  have in learning the game. So the team set out to play a lot of games prior to the Olympics. They made several trips to the US, did a tour of Italy playing other international teams, and played in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

In their initial tour of the US, in 2005, they played a lot of junior college teams and some high school all-star teams. You would think a national team should blow these teams away, but they didn’t. They were still learning the game, but soon they would be able to field a team that could play with some of the best teams in the world.

They toured Italy in 2005 playing teams like Cuba among others. One of the big issues with this tour was food. I thought it was interesting how the movie showed how they fed the team during the course of the few years they were together. In the US they had places fix them special meals like what they would eat back home. In Italy, they had issues with finding food that the players liked. Apparently the noodles in Italy and China are very different and they did not like the Italian noodles. So, they resulted in eating at places like McDonald’s at times.

Another issue they had, as you might expect with American coaches, was the language barrier. They said the first translator knew so little about baseball that she was calling a bat the golf club. They finally got that sorted out, but it was still laborous at times to get their point across while coaching. Most of the players spoke no English, and the coaches didn’t speak any Chinese. They overcame it though and you could really see how the team became competitive. It didn’t happen overnight though.

China would go on to a 1-6 record at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Despite the bad record, many of the games were very close including a 1-0 loss to eventual gold medalist South Korea. They did manage to beat Chinese Taipei 8-7 in extra innings for their only victory.

I don’t think anyone felt China would be a medal contender in their first Olympics, but hopefully their run up to the Olympics only helped spread the game of baseball more in China.

I highly recommend anyone picking this up. I got it through Netflix, so I know it’s available there. You can also purchase through Amazon here – Out of Left Field.

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Baseball Bloggers Alliance

I am always searching for people to talk baseball with, and early this year I came across the group I had been looking for – Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

For me it was like finding home after being lost all my life. The Baseball Bloggers Alliance is just what it sounds like – a group of people who blog about baseball. There are over 200 blogs ranging from blogs about teams, to books, to fantasy, to just anything baseball. You can find it all here, and that was just what I was looking for.

I have had the chance to speak with some of its members, and its been great. I have had the chance to talk baseball, share ideas, and learn new things I wasn’t aware of. But its more than just of bunch of guys, and yes gals, talking baseball. We take the time to vote on league awards each year. Right now we are voting on our thoughts for the Hall of Fame inductions which will be released soon.

So if you are interested in reading, writing, talking, or listening (yep the BBA does a podcast too) head on over and check out the BBA. There are a lot of great blogs there with something for any fan. You can also check out this interview with founder and president (and Cardinals blogger) Daniel Shoptaw over at fellow BBA blog Misc. Baseball.

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Movie Review: Nine Innings from Ground Zero: The 2001 World Series

This was easily the most emotional documentary on baseball I have ever seen. Everyone remembers exactly where they were on that fateful day in September of 2001.  This movie (from HBO) did a great job of telling the story of NYC, and America, after 9/11 and how many people took refuge in the game of baseball at least for a brief moment.

This was a touching movie. I am a Yankee hater.  I hate the evil empire with every fiber of my being, but this documentary put them in a light where they could at least be tolerated for a short time.  And I think that is how all Yankee haters felt in 2001.  They were a symbol for the mighty city that had taken a blow, but would not quit.

The interviews in the documentary were very moving. That time is very emotional for all Americans, but as someone who only saw it from the outside looking in, it is much more emotional when I hear someone who lost family members talk about it. There were some sad stories, but they were stories of heroes. Heroes that must never be forgotten.

I would strongly recommend this to any baseball fan. It chronicles the immediate aftermath of resuming play in MLB, and the 2001 World Series which was one of the greatest ever.

Seeing this reminds me of just how much I love this game. How it can be many things to many people, but in the end it is the same to everyone, a great escape from the harshness of everyday life. You could see and hear about people who lost themselves in a game, even if for only a few hours, to help themselves deal with the enormity of the situation. To see them so caught up in the game that has brought happiness to so many during such a difficult time was great to see.

I thought the story tellers did a fine job of combining not only what the fans were going through, but what the players were going through as well as people like the mayor and his staff.

And perhaps best of all, you got to see how everyone pulled together. Seeing the heroes on the field become the awestruck was a good side to see. It reminds us how precious life is, and how baseball, while not being a healer necessarily, can help ease the pain of the time.

I got my copy from Netflix.  So go out today and pick up your copy.  It’s well worth it if you haven’t seen it yet.

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Movie Review: Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball

Each year in Japan, 4,000 high schools compete for the national championship known as the “Koshien”.  They compete in regional tournaments for a chance to be one of 49 teams to make the “Koshien”. Kokoyakyu is a look at what 2 teams go through on their quest for the championship.

This movie, from PBS’s POV, follows 2 teams on their quest.  One team is a public high school in the Osaka area with the other being a private school that won the Koshien the previous year.  It’s a great look into the differences of the two types of schools and how baseball effects the rest of their daily lives. You get to see how hard it is for the public schools to compete on the same level as the private schools in terms of practice time, fields, and school work.

Not only do you get a look into how hard they practice and how dedicated they are, but you get to see other sides of the story.  Cheering is a big part of Asian athletics, and the cheer squads for the teams are no exception. They take their job very seriously and practice very hard. It’s nice to see more than just how things affect the baseball team, but seeing how the parents, the students, and the coaches are affected as well. There are some moving scenes where non-players are very emotional.

One thing I really liked about the movie was seeing how ritualistic, and on a certain level spiritualistic, the baseball culture is in Japan. When the season is over you see just how much the games mean to the players and coaches alike. There are some touching moments that I am not sure you would ever see in America. I guess that is one of the big attractions to the Asian cultures for me. They are extremely committed to excellence and their love of the games is so pure.  It’s great.

The movie also gives a look into just how difficult this tournament is and how important it is. I can’t think of a more difficult baseball tournament.  Perhaps this is why it is so well known, and it has only strengthened my desire to see some of the tournament.

I can’t stress how much I recommend this film.  I watched it on Hulu and I am sure it is still available there. The only complaint that I can think of is that is was too short.  It was only an hour long, but I understand it was made for TV, but I would have loved to see much more.

It’s a must see.  Go check out Hulu.com today.  Find it and watch it.  You will not be disappointed.

Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball

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Movie Review: Fantasyland

Fantasyland takes a look inside the world of fantasy baseball. It is based on the book Fantasyland: A Sportswriter’s Obsessive Bid to Win the World’s Most Ruthless Fantasy Baseball by Sam Walker.  The book has gotten good reviews, and I would like to read it. However, the movie is absurd.

The fantasy baseball league in question is called Tout Wars which pits some of the foremost experts of fantasy baseball. Sam Walker, writer for the Wall Street Journal, played in 2008 as he wrote his book.  This time they wanted to try and even more ridiculous scenario with an amateur coming in for a year.  Normally I think this would be a great idea but great ideas are destined to fail at times. This was one of them.

The problem did not lie with having an amateur enter the league.  The problem lied with who that amateur was. Apparently there were auditions with people sending in tapes of themselves, and how the winner was picked I’ll never know. They must have played cow patty bingo or something. The winner was Jed Latkin, a financial analyst from New York.  He put the “fanatic” in fantasy.

You could tell throughout the movie the regular players were annoyed with him to say the least. Almost immediately after the draft he was wanting to do trades, and often.  He would go to spring training to talk to the players he picked which is just absurd. He felt he could get a feel for how they would play by talking to them, when all he did was make himself look like a lunatic for telling players he drafted they were on a winning ‘fantasy’ team. He even handed out shirts with his team name on them to the players as jerseys for a fantasy team.

He would make a few trips during the season to various stadiums to speak with coaches and players in hopes of getting some insights.  Perhaps the best part of the movie was when he asked Trey Hillman if he could change his lineup so one of his players could get more at bats.  Hillman was having none of that.

After receiving an email from another team in the league about possible trades, he persisted to not only send that person hundreds of emails with trade possibilities, but he drove to his house over 7 hours away when the emails went unanswered. Can you say crazy?

I think a lot of it was staged for the movie, or he was told to go overboard with it to make it more interesting.  But it didn’t work. It just made the movie worse. I struggled to get through it because of him, and I love fantasy baseball. He was trying to make a trade when his wife was in labor with their first children, twins.

I think the book is a good premise, and it is on my reading list now.  However, this movie needs to be given a pass. It’s not worth the time you will put into it. So go pick up the book which I see has gotten very good reviews, and stay away from this (staged?) movie.

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Blog Review: BaseballReflections.com

One of the blogs I read on a daily basis is BaseballReflections.com.  Peter Schiller, and his wife Mishael who also contributes, brings a unique perspective to the world of baseball.

What initially drew me to BaseballReflections.com is the coverage of baseball everywhere. They do a great job of covering your normal MLB happenings through Fantasy reviews, Hot Stove issues, along with all the happenings in each division, but they also do some international baseball as well. One of my favorite recent posts was on baseball in Japan.

They also cover a wide range of topics.  There are a lot of helpful reviews of books, movies/documentaries, and even stadiums. I wasn’t aware of the documentary on University of Texas head coach Augie Garrido until I saw a post on BaseballReflections.com.  They did a great job reviewing the documentary as well.

Like interviews? I do, and they have some good ones at BaseballReflections.com.  Whether it is an interview with Steve Garvey (my brother’s favorite player as a kid) or some great interviews from people around baseball. One of my favorites was the interview with a female umpire from professional, international, amateur, and Div I games. Peter and his crew always do a great job bringing you not only big names from baseball (Tommy John anyone?) but people who bring a different perspective and passion to the game.

This is all in addition to the great coverage they provide year round of what is happening in MLB. So get on over and check out BaseballReflections.com and check out some of the great stories, interviews, and insights.  Peter provides some great writing, but so do his other contributers. His wife Mishael writes under the name Pete’s Rose providing a great woman’s perspective.  Bill Jordan also contributes some great articles.  Bill is also a contributer to BleacherReport.com.

Peter is also  affiliated with a great cause, a children’s book with a great message called, “A Glove of Their Own”. For every purchase of this great book using the promotional code WBO, a $3.00 donation will be made when purchased through the Franklin Mason Press website for World Baseball Outreach at checkout. You can purchase a copy by following the link at their website www.agloveoftheirown.com. So go on over and contribute to a great cuase.

You can find BaseballReflections.com on Twitter @BbalReflections on Facebook and be sure to subscribe to the RSS feed so you never miss another post.  You won’t be sorry you did.

BaseballReflections.com

I plan to bring you some reviews of some of my favorite blogs over the next few months. These are all blogs that I read on a regular basis and suggest you do as well. You can find all of these sites linked on my blog directory as well.  I will continue to update my directory as I review sites.

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Book Review – Batting Stance Guy: A Love Letter to Baseball

After seeing Gar Ryness, aka the Batting Stance Guy, on MLB network prior to the start of the 2009 season, I was hooked.  Not only could him imitate the stars of today, but he could imitate the stars of the 70s and 80s that I grew up watching.  But one thing stands out more than any other.  The simple fact that he had down pat a batting stance of a little known catcher from the Houston Astros, Tony Eusebio.  When I saw that, I knew I was watching something special.

Earlier this year Gar came out with his book, Batting Stance Guy: A Love Letter to Baseball. I knew I had to pick up a copy and I was glad to find a bookstore in Seoul that could get me just that.   Gar is great on YouTube where he became a hit, but his writing style, along with friend Caleb Dewart, really struck me as unique, funny, and it brought back so many memories of my childhood.

The book takes you through the 50 best stances of all time where none other than Red Sox slugger Kevin Youkilis stands alone at the top.  The book is chalked full of names you will know and remember like Cal Ripken Jr., Rickey Henderson, Pete Rose, Albert Pujols, and Joe Morgan.  But the genius in this book doesn’t lie with the stars, it lies with all the others like Tony Eusebio, John Wokenfuss (the only player I was not familiar with), Phil Plantier, and Mickey Tettleton.

I was constantly reminded of being in my own backyard as a kid with my own wiffle ball bat.  I would go through lineup after lineup, but one thing remained the same.  Dale Murphy would always have the winning hit in my games.

This is a great book, and a must read for any baseball fan.  It reminds us again that baseball is a game and should be fun.  The stories he tells from childhood to young adulthood are quite humorous.  I mean how many people break into a minor league stadium to reenact the 1992 NLCS game 7 after a wedding rehearsal?

Do yourself a favor.  Pick up this book and take a relaxing stroll down memory lane.  You’ll laugh and remember what it is to be a kid again enjoying the great game.  Don’t forget to head over and check out the Batting Stance Guy’s website as well.  There are a lot of great videos to watch.  From the classic moments, to the best of lineups (an all-temper team anyone?), to past and present great stances, Gar Ryness will have you laughing and wanting to pick up your own wiffle ball bat to practice with.

You can pick up Batting Stance Guy: A Love Letter to Baseball anywhere books are sold.

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Manic Monday – The Bullpen Gospels

Another one of my new segments is Manic Mondays.  I plan to bring you the crazier side of baseball.  Today I want to start with a book review.

I recently found a bookstore in Seoul who carries a large selection of English books and better yet, baseball books.  I was excited to find out they had the new release The Bullpen Gospels by Dirk Hayhurst.  I ordered it right away and it has not disappointed.  Hayhurst spent several seasons in the minors with the San Diego Padres and wrote about his time in the minors.

This book is a must read for any baseball fan.  The stories he tells are more than just about long road trips in the minor leagues.  Hayhurst also hits on the life of a minor leaguer and how its not always sunshine and roses.  But don’t get me wrong, there are some lough out loud stories as well.  I was reading the other day in my local coffee shop and getting all sorts of funny looks from the fact I could not stop laughing while reading this book.

Currently Dirk Hayhurst is with the Toronto Blue Jays but on the 60-day DL. Hopefully he will return to his 2009 form that made him a valuable reliever for the Jays.

So give it a chance and check it out.  I don’t think you will be disappointed.  It’s the funnies book on life as a professional ballplayer since the classic Ball Four.  It should be available at any local bookstore, or if you want to help me out click on the Amazon.com link below to order and have it shipped to your door.

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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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