Tag Archive | "Gregg Zaun"

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Part 2: Life On The Road, 30 Days of #GiveASpit and baseball (The journey)

Posted on 10 September 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

 

“It ain’t never been done ‘cause we ain’t ever done it.

You’ve got to stop thinking so negative, son!”

Bo “Bandit” Darville

(as performed by Burt Reynolds)

Smokey & The Bandit

 

 

ONCE THE TRIP WAS FINALIZED and it was decided that I’d be flying more than originally planned, the only real concerns we had about the voyage were the not-so-remote chances of some catastrophic weather or travel issues that could derail the goal: getting to 30 MLB games in 30 days without interruption or too much drama.

We also couldn’t afford to get sick or injured. Carrying bags around the continent would suck with a bad back or a bum foot. As we learned in 2014, your health is everything!

Would all the planes arrive on time? Would weather cooperate? Clearly, a few poorly timed storms and the trip would be a mess. You can only truly plan so much and then fate determines the outcome.

And if you’ve listened to my radio show at any point over the past quarter of a century, you know that I despise rain delays. Nothing good happens when it rains in baseball.

I’ve dedicated some time on the radio over the past few months discussing the trip and some of the comedy, drama and sights I saw on my unique journey. Most of my guests along the route joined me afterward to talk about it on the radio.

I’ve also joked that no one prepared me for 30 straight days of airplanes, airports, hotels, stadiums, restaurants and their various brands of cheap toilet paper.

There were many statistics and “over and under” side bets I was making with my wife on the 30-30 trip regarding beer consumed, hot dogs inhaled, hangovers, bad hotel pillows, crappy showers, lost/forgotten items, etc. And as much as we prepared to travel light and packed as little as we’d need, we never thought we’d really succeed in our goal of never having to check a bag for 30 days. But, miraculously, I literally lived out of one suitcase, one backpack and carted a giant cotton swab “prop” in a long tube through every TSA checkpoint in the United States. (By the way, TSA Pre is a wonderful thing!)

Toward the end of the 30-day journey, most mornings I was torn by an extreme coffee situation. I’m a coffee nerd but it became a daily decision about whether to caffeinate before a flight at 5 a.m. (and not sleep) or afterward, in the next airport or city after a plane nap.

And there were several days at the end where I was extremely loopy and working on three or four hours of sleep and moving from hotel bed to shower to car to highway to parking garage to shuttle to TSA to gate to plane to seats to sleep…

Some days – like in Dallas, San Diego and Denver – I was running on fumes and took a few hours to sleep. In others, like Los Angeles and Milwaukee, we were full of energy and put almost 20,000 steps on my wife’s Fit Bit.

You can see my 30 ballpark rankings here at WNST.net but to be honest there are no truly awful experiences in Major League Baseball in regard to stadiums. And the beauty is all in the eye of the beholder. As I wrote in my preview blog for the rankings, many of these stadiums – or is it stadia? – provide a pretty similar experience. Whether it’s hot dog races, presidents or sausages, it’s all kinda the same thing. They all do “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” in the 7th inning. They all bluster “God Bless America” every night. They all have “walk up” music for individual players.

Most have the most annoying item in modern sports – the P.A. or music or scoreboard imploring the crowd to “make some noise” with various cues and sounds. Nothing more cheeseball than that.

Every team has a team of people trying to make the “game day experience” something memorable. Every team wants to do something special when you come to the ballpark to lure you back and attract you as a lifer baseball fan.

Or at least they should.

But that part is a mixed bag – market to market, team to team, brand to brand.

Some teams always win. Some teams almost never win.

Some have vibrant fan bases. Many are a distant second citizen to the NFL.

Some teams treated me well. Some treated me like garbage.

Certain ballparks have a “wow” factor and some don’t. Some have good teams right now and some are in the midst of having awful seasons this summer so the experience wasn’t as rich. Seeing Toronto or the New York Mets in September would be far different than having seeing them in June. And seeing Houston and Kansas City this June was far different than anything they’ve seen in those ballparks in many Junes.

I had some “wow” moments and memories of my own on this tour and that’s what the rest of this essay is about: the stuff that’s worth telling you about.

Let’s start with the MVP of the 30-30 MLB #GiveASpit tour: artist Mike Ricigliano. The skinny dude with the funny hats has been drawing cartoons of me (and virtually everyone else in the sports world) in Baltimore for 30 years. I met him at The News American in 1984 on the weekend my son was born. He’s one of the enduring friends in my life and we’ve had a lot of laughs over the years. His son was originally responsible for dubbing me “Nasty Nestor.”

Here’e the story of the giant cotton swab – the enduring item from the 30-30 #GiveASpit tour.

On April 8th, I attended a Washington Capitals game with an NHL fan from Edmonton, Alberta named Rob Suggitt – a kindred spirit in hockey fandom.

While Caps Senior Manager of Community Relations Peter Robinson was giving Suggitt an incredible tour of the Verizon Center on the 27th night of his 30 rinks in 30 days mission for Make A Wish, I was telling them about my similarly arranged baseball tour.  Robinson said: “You should get a giant cotton swab and take it everywhere you go! That would help you get people on the registry.”

You know what?

He was right.

By request, Ricig made the fabulous cotton swab that started in the hands of Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson from Rush along with Randy Johnson the night before the tour started.

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It was an instant hit at the United Center in Chicago that night.

Every stadium we swabbed in – except Minnesota – we had Ricig’s giant cotton swab leading the way to get folks to our booth to learn about the bone marrow registry and get on the list for There Goes My Hero and Delete Blood Cancer.

Some of the looks we got from fans were priceless. Dude in pink shirt waving giant cotton swab in stadium bowl! But it was a lightning rod to get folks to our table for education, swabbing and success.

It also caused some attention we didn’t want. We were pulled up by Comerica Park security in Detroit and forced to take it to the car. They thought it was a weapon. I told them it was a weapon to save lives.

The gate agent at the St. Louis airport forced us to check it on a one-hour flight to Milwaukee but “The Swab” made it successfully onto 21 other flights in 30 days on the road. I guess if you get on airplanes every morning with a third carry on that’s a giant Q Tip, eventually you’ll encounter the wicked witch of Southwest.

People have repeatedly asked me what the highlights of the tour were over the 32 days on the road. It’s impossible to recount everything we saw and every person who was kind to us but I hope this essay captures the essence of

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Gregg Zaun says Wieters conditioning might be soft for position

Posted on 29 May 2012 by WNST Audio

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Gregg Zaun Says Birds Have Put Too Much Pressure On Young Pitchers

Posted on 13 April 2012 by WNST Audio

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2010 MLB Draft: MacPhail has already made a few mistakes before it has even started

Posted on 07 June 2010 by WNST Interns

Build the farm system through the draft. Grow the arms, buy the bats. Sound familiar?

I am on board with all of that, but in order to do that you need draft picks and Andy MacPhail has made some poor moves that will now work against him. In MLB, you cannot deal draft picks as in the NFL, but you can have picks added or taken away based on free agents that you acquire or lose.

Free agents are broken up into two classes: Type A and Type B. The class is determined by the Elias Sports Bureau, which ranks each player by position. If a player is in the top 20% they are type A and if they are in the 21%-40% range they are type B.

Signing a type A free agent will cost a team their 1st round pick as long as it is not in the top 15 or it will be their 2nd round pick if it is in the top 15. The team that loses the free agent also gets a “sandwich” pick between rounds 1 and 2.

When it comes to a type B free agent, the team that loses them only gets a “sandwich” pick.

Also, tying into this is the fact that the team losing the free agent must offer arbitration to the departing free agent in order to receive compensation.

What did MacPhail do in the past year to affect this?

First, he dealt Gregg Zaun for Rhyne Hughes. I’m sorry, but Rhyne Hughes was not a prospect when he was acquired. He was a guy that started last year in AA, at age 25. At the time of the deal he had struck out 149 times in 440 AB’s between AA-AAA.

Sure, we didn’t have a spot for Zaun with Wieters, but he only logged 94 AB’s with the Rays before becoming a Type B free agent and declining arbitration from the Rays. This move netted the Rays the #42 pick in the 2010 Draft.

Basically, MacPhail chose Rhyne Hughes instead of the #42 pick. Do you really think Zaun would have accepted arbitration to stay on this horrible team?

Next, it was the signing of Mike Gonzalez. Let’s just forget the fact that Mike Gonzalez has been a disaster on the field. The Orioles had to give up their 2nd pick which was #53 overall (Gonz was a Type A FA) to acquire a closer for a team that wasn’t going to be in contention anyway.

Two moves that cost the team two picks they surely could have used. Was MacPhail thinking ahead? Or better yet, is he currently thinking ahead?

The Elias rankings do not come out until year end, but there are people who have “reverse engineered” their formula to get up to date rankings. What will he do with Kevin Millwood who could potentially be a type A player? If he chooses to deal him, he had better get something solid in return or he could keep him and offer arbitration which he would surely decline.

I want to give MacPhail the benefit of the doubt but his recent track record suggests he will make more short sighted mistakes in the near future.

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A Long, Hard Look At Nolan Reimold .....

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A Long, Hard Look At Nolan Reimold …..

Posted on 03 March 2010 by WNST Interns

As we sat around on March 3rd, 2009, our respective outlooks on a lot of things looked differently …..

Aside from the sting of absorbing another Steelers Super Bowl victory and a Terps basektball team that served up frustrating and disappointing performances with regularity, baseball fans wanted to believe the Orioles would break their streak of losing seasons.

And, why not? The birds were sporting a brand new look ….. full of retreads.

The starting pitching staff included Adam Eaton, Mark Hendrickson, Alfredo Simon and Koji Uehara. We thought they would perform poorly – yet, they still managed to be even worse.

The bullpen was a mess – and, that’s a polite way of putting it.

And, Gregg Zaun anchored the starting catcher’s position with a .111 batting average throughout the first month.

Still, Orioles fans had HOPE. Regardless of the above listed pile of “misfit toys” nobody else wanted anywhere near their bench, we still hoped things would get better before getting any worse. In fact, I distinctly recall the theme beckoned by many …..

“If the veterans can just tread water until the KIDS arrive ….. after the All Star break.”

Well, we all know how that pipedream ended …..
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As predicted, the pitching was absolutely horrible and those veterans who we hoped could “tread water,” ended up drowning. Indeed, the young prospects started streaming through Bowie and Norfolk, enroute to their ultimate destination, BALTIMORE, a little earlier than expected.

Brad Bergeson pitched very well. And, the heralded arrival of our savior, Matt Wieters, turned out to be a success, too.

Yet, as the orange carpet was being rolled out for Wieters’ first big league at-bat, on May 29th, another prospect was settling comfortably into the lineup, after making his debut just a couple weeks earlier.

One of the first players to struggle, in 2009, was the opening day left fielder, Felix Pie. Touted as a five tool, CAN’T MISS prospect throughout his minor league career, Pie was doing something the experts said he wouldn’t (or should I say CAN’T ….) do, with his impressive talents.

Through the month of April, Pie struggled at the plate with a .157 batting clip. And, if you recall, he looked even worse …..

By mid-May, the Orioles had seen enough – so ALL OF US thought. On May 14th, a move was made and another rookie was added to the lineup …..
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Nolan Reimold made an immediate impact upon seizing the role as starting left fielder. Heck, his first homerun came off Mariano Rivera – and he went deep another 14 times, in just 400 at bats.

It was an impressive rookie campaign and it fueled a starving fan base that has waited beyond rightful understanding to see the “Baby Birds” develop before our eyes. And, to a point Reimold’s success and overall “splash” was kinda unexpected.

While we awaited the eventual promotions of Wieters, Matusz, Tillman and Hernandez, seeing Reimold’s impact was certainly the promising surprise of another dreadful season. And, after those 400 at-bats, everybody is ready to annoint the streaking sophmore part of the long term future of Baltimore’s baseball landscape.

In fact, as the 2010 season is fast approaching and the Orioles assemble the makings of their most promising roster, in more than a decade, many experts and casual observers are penciling Nolan Reimold’s name in the left field slot.

Better yet, most enthusiasts are writing Reimold’s name with a SHARPIE.

I hope we’re right. I will never, EVER root against any player wearing an Orioles uniform. That included, Reggie Jackson, Albert Belle and most recently, Aubrey Huff. So, I absolutely hope to see a less-heralded guy like Nolan Reimold make it.

Nothing would make me happier than to see #14 on Birdland highlight reels for years to come …..
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But, admittedly, I have some reservations. Call me a pessimist or detractor, if you wish. Yet, I’m just trying to be honest with myself, and YOU.

Most observers are hoping Nolan Reimold’s name accompanies Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis into the long term future of the Baltimore Orioles franchise.

However, I have real concerns.

Did you know Reimold is older than all of the above mentioned players? Yeah, yeah, he’s only a month older than Markakis. But, he’s going to be 27, this year. Not the optimal age for a sophmore season, huh?

Here’s a piece of future trivia for developing an eventual question – Nolan Reimold was born on the day the Orioles won their last HOME World Series game.
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Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissuaded from hoping Reimold can be a fixture in this town, for a while. He’ll turn 27 AFTER the season – but, I still acknowledge he’s not that optimal aged prospect, if you know what I mean.

To compound my doubts or overall concerns, Reimold has a pretty consistent injury history. In fact, he’s been on the Disbaled List during 4 of his 5 professional seasons. The injuries have been varied and, at times, substantial. He’s had back issues – which concern me with anyone.

Say what you will, players tend to fight the injury bug as they get older.

My final cautionary consideration on Nolan Reimold is I’m not 100% certain he’s the best left fielder on this Orioles team. Being open minded, I believe he has some competition from within the 25 man roster.

Last August, I witnessed a DIFFERENT Felix Pie. He was disciplined, yet, aggressive at the plate. And, that HUGE hole in his swing was gone !!!! Pie looked comfortable and confident whenever he stepped in the box; heck, he looked like he was having fun …..
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While Nolan Reimold probably offers a little more power, Felix Pie has speed on his side. He’s more dangerous on the basepaths and covers more territory in the outfield. He’s been widely touted as the “5 Tool” player, as I’ve mentioned. And, the man who first took a chance on him (Andy MacPhail) hasn’t abandoned hope.

The intangible factors favoring Pie is he’s a little younger (so we think ….) and his injury history suggests he’s a healthier player. Pie has been on the DL only 2 times, in 8 seasons.

Look, I’m not trying to initiate a positional feud – I just think the Orioles are still very much within a phase where long term projections and in-house competition are a GOOD THING.

Heck, in a perfect scenario, Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold both make the most of the respective situations and opportunities. If so, I’d reckon Luke Scott will lose playing time – if anybody does.

As I said during yesterday’s show, I think Nolan Reimold has the makings of a potentially solid big league career. But, I also think Felix Pie might be one of those “diamonds in the rough” or “late bloomers,” if you know what I mean.

If either has a sliver of SUPERSTAR potential, I feel it’s safe to say it’s Pie. But, he could also end up being the biggest disappointment.

Regardless, I don’t think we’re anywhere near approaching a situation similar to the most famous outfield platoon, in Orioles history …..
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I’ll just be happy if Nolan Reimold or Felix Pie translates into a solid, everyday left fielder for this Orioles team. Heaven forbid they’re both successful – that’s a GREAT problem to consider.

I just hope they both get a REAL shot …..

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5 W’s and 1 H

Posted on 22 June 2009 by Luke Jones

The Orioles certainly didn’t show the Phillies any “Brotherly Love” by completing a three-game sweep this weekend.

I attended the first two games of the series on Friday and Saturday night and had a great time.  Citizens Bank Park may lack the charm of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but the wide-open concourse is an excellent feature for those wanting to grab a snack or cold beverage without missing a pitch.

It was a pleasure meeting many of the rabid Orioles fans on the WNST/Miller Lite Bus Trip, and it was even better high-fiving and celebrating the closing moments of Saturday night’s comeback win with them!

Here are the 5 W’s and 1 H for the week:

1.  Who will be the best player not named Blake Griffin to come out of this year’s NBA Draft?

The 2009 NBA Draft takes place on Thursday night, and the Los Angeles Clippers have already committed to taking power forward Blake Griffin (Oklahoma), the surest thing in this year’s draft class, with the No. 1 pick.

After Griffin, there is plenty of talent but many question marks.  From Connecticut’s Hasheem Thabeet to international point guard Ricky Rubio to Davidson’s Stephen Curry, there is potential, but none are regarded as a sure thing.  Some NBA executives are calling this one of the worst drafts in recent memory.

If I had to choose a rookie from this class other than Griffin, I’d take a chance on Curry.  His heroic run in the 2008 NCAA tournament put him on the map, and he followed it up by leading the nation in scoring last season (28.6 points per game).

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9vmoQ5WABU[/youtube]

Though Curry lacks the ideal size (6-3) and athleticism for the NBA, his strong pedigree—he’s the son of former NBA player Dell Curry—and fundamentals will allow him to become a successful pro.  He won’t become an All-Star, but Curry will be a solid addition to an NBA team.

2.  What was the best Orioles game you ever attended?

Saturday night’s win has to be one of the top five or six Orioles games I’ve ever attended.  Yes, that’s pretty sad, but when you consider I was two weeks old when the Orioles last won the World Series, you can probably begin to understand.

My choice for the best game I’ve attended was a 7-5, 10-inning victory over the New York Yankees on June 3, 1997.  The Orioles were in the midst of their wire-to-wire run for the American League East title, and Rafael Palmeiro hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning to put the Orioles ahead by 8.5 games in the division.

Walking out of the ballpark while gloating among the Yankees fans was a great feeling—and is nearly a forgotten one 12 years later.

3.  Where is the best starting rotation in the Orioles’ organization?

Though the starting pitching in Baltimore has improved, I am still eagerly looking at the rotation in Triple-A Norfolk.  The Tides currently have four of the top pitching prospects in the organization with Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, David Hernandez, and Troy Patton.

While it’s doubtful that all four will crack the starting rotation by season’s end, I wouldn’t be surprised to see these four, along with Brad Bergesen, making up the starting rotation by this time next season.  Obviously, there’s no guarantee—and it’s quite unlikely—they’ll all become successful big league starters, but it’s clear the Orioles have come a long way from the days of counting on one prospect like Rocky Coppinger or Matt Riley to save the rotation.

We’ve heard quite a bit about these names over the last two years, so it’s exciting to see them at the Triple-A level and on the verge of making the jump to the big leagues.

4.  When was the last time the Orioles earned an interleague sweep on the road?

Before this weekend’s sweep of the Phillies, the Orioles last completed an interleague road sweep against the Atlanta Braves in June 1999.

The Orioles completed the three-game set by beating the Braves, 22-1, on a nationally televised Sunday night game.  This was Cal Ripken’s famous six-hit game that earned several standing ovations from the Turner Field crowd over the course of the night.

Mike Mussina earned the win over Atlanta’s John Smoltz, capping off one of the few highlights of the 1999 season.

5.  Why did Dave Trembley allow Danys Baez to pitch to Ryan Howard in the seventh inning on Saturday night?

I certainly was celebrating the exciting comeback win on Saturday night, but it didn’t excuse Trembley’s terrible decision to pitch to Howard with a base open and two outs in the seventh inning.  Yes, walking Howard would have put the go-ahead run in scoring position, but the pitcher’s spot was on deck, and the Phillies sent Carlos Ruiz to the plate after Howard’s three-run shot.  Howard is hitting .299 against right-handed pitching, so the matchup against Baez wasn’t favorable in that regard either.

Just a hunch, but I’d take my chances facing Ruiz with the bases loaded instead of Howard.

I was sitting with Nestor Aparicio and my friend Mike—two of the most knowledgeable baseball fans I know—and all three of us immediately said it was the wrong move.  A few moments later, Howard confirmed our fears.

Saturday’s win was a great example of a team bailing out its manager.  The decisions to allow Gregg Zaun and Oscar Salazar to hit in the ninth inning worked out, but they did not cancel out the decision to pitch to one of the best power hitters in the game—whether he had the flu or not.

I hope Trembley personally thanked Brian Roberts for saving his bacon.  Regardless of the big win, it was the wrong decision.

6.  How likely are the Ravens to make a serious play for Brandon Marshall?

Not very.

John Harbaugh, Ozzie Newsome, and the Ravens are very serious about avoiding players with questionable character, and Marshall—regardless of his immense talent—fits that description.  When you also consider the team would have to surrender high draft picks and doesn’t have the salary cap room to afford the $7-9 million per year Marshall is seeking, it really becomes an easy decision.

Marshall’s dispute with the Denver Broncos is different from quarterback Jay Cutler’s, because it is not based on a conflict with new head coach Josh McDaniels; it simply comes down to wanting more money.

The Pro Bowl receiver is scheduled to become a free agent after the season, but an uncapped year in 2010 would change his status dramatically.  Since an uncapped system would change the number of years before free agency from four to six, Marshall would remain under the Broncos’ control for two more years—as a restricted free agent—and would not become an unrestricted free agent until after the 2011 season.  The Broncos hold all of the leverage in this situation, so Marshall desperately wants a new deal before that happens.

When you consider all of these factors, I would be surprised to see Marshall in Baltimore—or anywhere else other than Denver—this September.

*****

I hope all of the fathers out there had a great Father’s Day.  This is a tough day for me after losing my dad in 2004, but I have numerous great memories—many centering around the Ravens, Orioles, and Terps—to cherish.

He deserves more credit than anyone for cultivating my passion for Baltimore sports.  I’m sure he would have loved this weekend in Philadelphia.

Have a great Monday.

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5 W’s and 1 H

Posted on 14 June 2009 by Luke Jones

The Orioles’ team-wide offensive drought has mercifully come to an end, as Orioles’ hitters accumulated 21 runs and 41 hits over the weekend in their series win over the Atlanta Braves.

As is often the case, the Orioles’ offense starts with Brian Roberts at the top of the order.  The second baseman went 6-for-10 over the weekend, driving in four runs, walking three times, and stealing two bases.

The offense will try to keep it going against the New York Mets who were trampled by the cross-town rival Yankees on Sunday, 15-0.  Luckily, the Orioles will not face Johan Santana, though the southpaw gave up nine earned runs in the series finale in the Bronx.

The series begins Tuesday with Jeremy Guthrie (4-6, 5.52 ERA) taking the ball against the Mets’ Mike Pelfrey (4-2, 4.68 ERA).

Here are the 5 W’s and 1 H for the week:

1. Who would have thought rookie Brad Bergesen would be the Orioles’ best starting pitcher when pitchers and catchers reported to Ft. Lauderdale in February?

In his last four starts, Bergesen is 3-0 with a 1.69 ERA and averaging eight innings per start.  The right-hander continues to throw a heavy sinker, keeping the infielders busy with ground balls.

Bergesen fields his position well and maintains his focus, something many young pitchers have failed to do in Baltimore over the last few years.  Even after being staked to an 11-0 lead after five innings on Sunday, Bergesen continued to show poise, going the distance for the victory.

Former Oriole and current MASN analyst Rick Dempsey has been praising the 23-year-old as a legitimate starter with star potential for several weeks, and he is certainly looking the part in June.  Before we pencil him in for a spot in the rotation beyond this season, he needs to produce when teams have seen him a few times.  Whether he can do that remains to be seen, but Bergesen is doing an outstanding job in an otherwise–at best–shaky starting rotation.

2. What is the reason for Matt Wieters getting so many days off?

Counting Monday, the rookie phenom will have received six of the last 12 days–not games–off.  You obviously can’t allow your starting catcher to go out there everyday, but after Wieters received the night off on Thursday, I fully expected him to be in the lineup on Sunday, especially with Bergesen on the hill and a day off on Monday.

While Bergesen pitched tremendously with Gregg Zaun behind the plate, Wieters is showing signs of breaking out, collecting multiple hits in three of his last four games.  The best prospect in baseball needs to be playing more, plain and simple.

3. Where will Shaquille O’Neal be playing his basketball next season?

Though only in preliminary discussions, the Cleveland Cavaliers have talked with the Phoenix Suns about the 37-year-old center.  The teams discussed a trade prior to the February trade deadline, but no deal was reached.  The Cavs have reportedly dangled Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic.

The Cavs will need to show LeBron James they’re serious about putting a better supporting cast around him.  The league MVP will be a free agent in the summer of 2010.

While Shaq would be a nice addition to the Cleveland frontcourt on paper, does he have enough left in the tank to provide big minutes to a championship team?

4. When will we ever see another .400 hitter in Major League Baseball, if ever?

For all of the talk over the last 15 years about steroids, expansion teams, juiced baseballs, and shrinking strike zones, no player has seriously challenged the .400 mark, outside of Tony Gwynn’s .394 average in the strike-shortened 1994 season.

Even the great Ichiro Suzuki’s career-best of .372 in 2004 is a far cry from the prestigious mark.  Of any player today, Ichiro would figure to have the best chance to do it with his superior bat control and plate discipline.

Twins catcher Joe Mauer is hitting .414 in 152 at bats this season, but it’s difficult to envision a catcher maintaining a .400 average, given the wear and tear of the long baseball season.

The legendary Ted Williams remains the last man to hit .400 in the big leagues, batting .406 in 1941.  It’s a phenomenal accomplishment that hasn’t been reached in almost 70 years.

5. Why is Felix Pie still with the Baltimore Orioles?  And, no, it has nothing to do with his 1-for-4 performance on Sunday, only filling in for Adam Jones who was a late scratch with a bruised shin.

Prior to Sunday’s start, the outfielder had only three plate appearances in the month of June.  While I’ve made my feelings pretty clear about Pie and his future in Baltimore, he needs to play more if he’s going to remain with the club.

One of Earl Weaver’s biggest strengths was his effective use of the bench.  I don’t care if it’s Felix Pie, Gary Roenicke, or Babe Ruth, you cannot expect a hitter to produce if he’s only getting two or three at bats every two weeks.

If Pie is not going to play, expose him to waivers.  If he clears, send him to Norfolk; if not, cut your losses and find a reserve outfielder in which manager Dave Trembley has more confidence.

Pie rotting away on the bench does nothing for the Orioles or the young outfielder.

6. How else could an uncapped year produce a harmful effect in the NFL?

Ask the retired players that paved the way for the league’s immense success in the 21st century.

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith has revealed that benefits to retired players in need could be reduced in an uncapped system.  While the league claims it has no intention of reducing disability benefits, this figures to be a hot button issue as the two sides try to work out a new collective bargaining agreement prior to next spring.

With the highly publicized stories of poor benefits for retired players–including Baltimore Colts tight end and Hall of Famer John Mackey–over the last several years, it would seem the league and the union would not want to garner any more criticism after improving conditions for retired players under commissioner Roger Goodell’s tenure.

After the slashing of coaching pensions led to the retirement of Indianapolis offensive coordinator Tom Moore and offensive line coach Howard Mudd this offseason, the league and union need to tread carefully to protect the retired players.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King did some great work covering these issues last week.

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Another listless effort at the Yard, O’s fall 6-3

Posted on 11 June 2009 by Luke Jones

Another missed opportunity and another series loss.

Despite jumping out to an early 2-0 lead, the Orioles fell to the Seattle Mariners, 6-3, losing two out of three in their return to Camden Yards.

The wait for the Orioles’ offense to snap out of its two-week long funk is nearly as long as the seventh inning bomb Russell Branyan hit off Brian Bass that still hasn’t landed yet.

The pitching has performed—or not performed—just as we expected entering the season.  Despite ranking 13th out of 14 American League teams in ERA (5.17 entering Thursday night), young pitchers such as Brad Bergesen and the recently-demoted David Hernandez have shown glimpses of hope.  The bullpen has been solid—and at times, exceptional—when starters have been knocked out early over the last few weeks.

What we didn’t foresee was the mediocre performance from the Orioles’ bats, expected to be a strength in 2009.  The offense ranks ninth in the American League, hitting .264 entering Thursday.  Orioles’ hitters are batting just .222 in the month of June, leading to the recent collapse into the lonely, deep cellar of the AL East.

So, how did the Orioles respond tonight with a chance to gain a much-needed series win?

Inexplicably, the savior Matt Wieters was not in the lineup after posting back-to-back two-hit games against Seattle.  Yes, the returning Koji Uehara has a comfort level with backup Gregg Zaun, but isn’t it more important to get Wieters going offensively?

Unless Dave Trembley plans on sending Zaun behind the plate to catch Uehara every start, there’s no point in delaying Wieters’ first encounter with the Japanese pitcher.  Even if Zaun made miraculous use of the acclaimed Rosetta Stone software, it couldn’t have made that much of a difference tonight.

If he wasn’t going to be the catcher, Wieters should have been in the lineup tonight as the designated hitter with Luke Scott playing first base.  Ty Wigginton (hitting .222) has done nothing to warrant playing time at this point.  With a struggling offense, Trembley needs to go with any hot bat available—especially when it’s the top prospect in the big leagues trying to establish himself.

It makes little sense to sit Wieters after catching two games, especially with the rookie appearing to be on the verge of breaking out.

With former Orioles pitcher Garrett Olson taking the hill for Seattle,—having not started a game since May 31—the lineup figured to feast off the former prospect, but wrong again.  After a 27-minute rain delay, Olson settled down and pitched five solid innings, his only blemish being a two-run homer by Luke Scott in the first inning.

After watching Olson pitch his way right out of Baltimore over the past two seasons, it was frustrating watching him stifle the Orioles’ bats.

At this point, I’d love to see what Radhames Liz could do against this lineup, but, alas, he’s still with the organization, being pummeled in Norfolk.

The offensive famine won’t last forever, but the team-wide slump could not have come at a worse time attendance-wise.  The good vibes from Matt Wieters’ promotion less than two weeks ago have completely vanished—quite apparent with the sparse crowds for the three-game series with Seattle.

Perhaps the appeal of interleague play will draw some more fans to the gates over the next week, but the Orioles are providing few reasons to hand over the money to watch them play—even if it’s to watch Matt Wieters.

After all, there’s no guarantee he’s going to play anyway.

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Who’s this Matt Wieters kid?

Posted on 26 May 2009 by Luke Jones

Matt Wieters

I suggest checking out http://www.mattwietersfacts.com/ to get an idea of what kind of hype—and pressure—this 23-year-old kid is facing as he makes his major league debut on Friday night.

While we all hope the above plaque will one day be a reality in Cooperstown, let’s just enjoy watching him grow as a big league catcher without expecting him to turn water into wine—this year anyway.

When was the last time an Oriole rookie’s debut received this much attention?  You would have to go back to Jeffrey Hammonds in 1993 (fourth overall pick in the 1992 draft) or Ben McDonald in 1989 (first overall pick earlier that year).  It would be hard to top the hype for Big Ben, but Wieters is certainly in contention.

The organization handled the Wieters’ situation correctly.  As much as Orioles fans wanted the instant gratification of seeing the young catcher on Opening Day, Andy MacPhail likely saved millions of dollars and an extra year before free agency by waiting to promote him.

And remember, don’t feel too badly for Wieters through all of this.  Critics easily forget the Orioles gave him a straight $6 million signing bonus in August 2007—the highest up-front payment in draft history.  The organization has more than taken care of him financially.

>  Tonight’s win has to make you feel good as an Orioles fan.  It’s well and good when players like Melvin Mora or Gregg Zaun—veterans with no future on this team—are the big offensive contributors, but the key performers tonight were all below the age of 26 and figure to be in the future plans of the organization.

Jason Berken looked like he belonged—already an improvement over Adam Eaton—and picked up his first major league win.

Adam Jones continued to pound the baseball, hitting his 11th home run of the season to put the Orioles ahead in the fifth inning, 3-2.

And not to be outdone, Nolan Reimold hit a two-run shot to the right-center bleachers to add to the lead in the sixth.  The young outfielder has shown very impressive power in his first two weeks of big league ball.

Quite a change from the meaningless wins of the past few years when Steve Trachsel would pick up a stray victory with Jay Payton and Kevin Millar hitting home runs.

At 20-26, it’s obviously been a frustrating year and doesn’t figure to get much better record-wise, but these types of wins have to make you feel hopeful.  It’s one thing to see the younger players in Baltimore, but it’s even better to see them actually contributing.

>  Please come out to Padonia Station tomorrow night at 7 PM for the Coors Light King of Baltimore Sportstalk Finals.  It’s been a fun and challenging competition, and I’m sad to see it come to an end.

I would like to thank Nestor Aparicio and the WNST staff for their vision and creativity in giving amateurs like me a chance to talk sports with the great city of Baltimore.  I’ve also enjoyed meeting the other competitors and wish them nothing but the best of luck tomorrow night.

From the time I was a little boy turning down the sound on the TV to broadcast the Orioles game and then writing an article about it for my dad to read, I’ve always had a passion for sports and media—and more specifically, Baltimore sports and media.  WNST has given me enough of a taste to continue pursuing this passion beyond tomorrow night.  There’s no doubt that it’s very hard work—especially in the dramatically evolving world of journalism and media, but if you truly love sports and love communicating, I cannot think of a better job in the world.

I hope to see you tomorrow night at Padonia Station.  It should be a lot of fun!

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5 Ws and 1 H

Posted on 10 May 2009 by Luke Jones

I wanted to take a moment to wish all the moms out there a very Happy Mother’s Day.  In the sports world, we tend to overlook Mom in favor of Dad taking the kids to ballgames or coaching the little league team.

In my own childhood, my dad often had the glory, taking me to Orioles and Ravens games and coaching many of my teams, but my mom was right there at every game as my No. 1 fan.  I sincerely thank her for that.

Now, on to the 5 Ws and 1 H for the week.

1.  Who really deserves to be the Orioles’ closer at this point?  The closer-by-committee idea sounds logical, but relievers have to be effective in order for it to work.  The struggles of George Sherrill against right-handed hitting are well-documented (right-handers are hitting .378 against him), but no one else is emerging as a viable option.

Chris Ray (7.20 ERA) still doesn’t look right after returning from Tommy John surgery, Jamie Walker is really a one or two-batter pitcher at this point in his career, and Jim Johnson gave up the demoralizing three-run homer to Johnny Damon this afternoon.

Danys Baez has been the best of the bunch, but the team is hesitant to throw him into the role of pitching on consecutive days at this point.  He has done a great job filling the role held by Matt Albers last season before he went down with a shoulder injury.

Then again, the club really doesn’t need a closer when the bullpen can rarely hold a lead into the ninth inning.  One thing is for sure—the bullpen has been a major disappointment after looking like it might be one of the team’s strengths entering the season.

2.  What do you think was going through the mind of Alex Rodriguez on Thursday when the news broke that Manny Ramirez was being suspended 50 games for failing a drug test?

Was A-Rod happy to have the attention deflected away from him, or did it bring more scrutiny for his return to the Yankees lineup?

3.  Where will the Ravens go with the wide receiver position after trying out Jerry Porter, Kelley Washington, and Tab Perry this weekend?  None of the three will be a savior, but it certainly seems more crucial to find another veteran option after learning Derrick Mason could miss the preseason after undergoing shoulder surgery.

Washington reportedly had the most impressive showing of the three, but Ozzie Newsome will continue to see who else might shake loose from the other 31 NFL teams between now and late July.

Anquan Boldin’s agent Drew Rosenhaus claims he still expects his client to be traded, but don’t look for the Ravens to make the move unless they can sign Terrell Suggs to a long-term extension.  Suggs’ $10.2 million cap number makes a Boldin trade and subsequent new contract virtually impossible.

4.  When will we see the next high-profile minor leaguer in Baltimore?  Rich Hill—though not really a prospect—pitched six scoreless innings and picked up his first victory for Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday.

We’ll have to wait and see on the status of Luke Scott (shoulder) and Lou Montanez (thumb) during Monday’s off day.  Nolan Reimold (.381, 8 HR, 25 RBI at Norfolk) would figure to be on Andy MacPhail’s speed dial and is more than deserving of a promotion.

Matt Wieters is now hitting .301 despite only hitting one home run this season in Triple A.  At this point, it seems the Orioles are content waiting until early June to promote the 22-year-old catcher to avoid Super 2 Status, preventing him from being eligible for a fourth year of arbitration before free agency.  The recent hot streak of catcher Gregg Zaun—hitting .478 in May—makes the situation a little easier to swallow.

5.  Why won’t Brett Favre just stay or go away?  I have no problem with one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history wanting to continue his career; however, I grow tired of the drama over whether he will return or stay retired.

Here’s an idea:  simply WAIT and THINK before making a life-changing decision, and stick with it when you finally decide.  The drama that has unfolded since he retired from the Packers is more annoying than compelling.

Favre should have taken a lesson from Jonathan Ogden in handling a retirement.  Though the circumstances were different with Ogden nursing a chronic toe problem, he waited and really thought about his future before finally retiring last June.

6.  How are we going to make it to late July for the start of Ravens training camp?  This weekend’s minicamp feels like such a tease for those of us craving football season.

It would certainly help if the Orioles could play competitive baseball until then, but it’s becoming more and more difficult to enjoy watching a team that’s 13-19 and cannot pitch at all.  The promotion of young players like Wieters and Reimold will spark some interest, but will it be enough?

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