Archive for July, 2012

The Vice President of Player Operations (cont. - 2)

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Larvell’s first year with the Orioles had been tougher than expected. Five years ago he had taken the Cubs from last place to first to win their first World Series since 1906, this in his first year running the team as its general manager. In his first year with the Orioles the team was on the road to the basement. They had finished in last place before he arrived and they were about to finish in last place his first year at the helm. The local press was showing him no mercy for the Orioles lack of progress under his realm.

While the Cubs roster had been littered with some talent when he inherited it, the Orioles roster had none. With the Cubs he was able to sprinkle in a few role players who performed better than their careers up to that point. When combined with the current roster of players the synergy of these collected player’s skills resulted in improved performance. All it took was a perceptive manager to put those skills together in a lineup. If Larvell didn’t think the manager fashioned the lineup to accentuate those skills he was not afraid to communicate this to the manager, though it would always be through a third party. Larvell made it a point never to communicate directly with his players or his manager. It might influence his decision to release or fire them in the future if he felt they were not performing to expectations.

The Orioles had no talent when Larvell inherited the team. Even if Babe Ruth at his prime, a Baltimore native, played on this team it wouldn’t make them a winner. Too many selfish players concerned with their individual stats. Or older players with declining skills. Larvell was never going to find that synergistic mix he had found with the Cubs. At least not this year. Maybe not even next year the way the roster looked.

It was getting to the end of the year. Larvell knew he would be firing his manager, but not for anything he did wrong. Firing the manager was what Larvell had to do to show the fans he cared. It wasn’t right, but it was the culture of the game. After all, he couldn’t release all 25 players.

Eventually he would weed out the 25 players. Replace them with a more cohesive group. It just wouldn’t be done in one year. Larvell didn’t believe in creating a team with stars. Stars always wanted top dollar, to be paid more than the rest, but their production never equaled what a team eventually paid them. Stars were also selfish players, concerned mainly about their own production rather than the wins and losses they could provide to the team. Give him a player who is hungry for wins. He would take that player over one who had more skills, but became too fat and happy with his inflated salary to exercise those skills. Larvell believed in team, in chemistry, where the individual was secondary to the team. There were too many players on this team who had a misguided perception of their skills.

The owner of the Cubs had hired him shortly after his brief minor league career had ended. He was impressed with his intelligence “despite your Harvard education” the owner had joked with him. The two had met at a bar. The owner was there to meet a friend. Larvell was there to drown his sorrows after being released from his second minor league team. The friend never showed and Larvell’s sorrows were replaced with tales of franchise building. His playing career ended that night. The owner invited him to come to the office, submit his resume and he would make sure he was on the team in a front office capacity.

That kind of life suited him better. Larvell went from intern to scouting director to assistant general manager to general manager all within three years in the Cubs organization. This alienated a lot of traditional baseball people along the way who were jealous with his fast rise. The newspapers were shocked at his selection as general manager and attributed it to the fame of his father. There was also some talk about his relationship with the owner’s daughter. His Harvard education didn’t hurt either. Three years was just too fast to climb to the top within an organization.

Larvell proved the critics wrong with a World Series win during his first year as general manager. Anger was replaced with smiles. He became a genius after that accomplishment. A miracle worker. Who his dad was or who he was dating became secondary to the championship he gave the Cubs.

If the World Series win during his first year wasn’t good enough Larvell followed it up with two more. A three peat. After the third World Series win Larvell just quit. He submitted his resignation and disappeared for a couple years. The challenge was gone. There was nothing more he could achieve with the Cubs without looking like a failure. Eventually they would have to slide down into second place. Third place would follow. That is the order of things. Success doesn’t last forever. It is always followed by failure. Just like life is followed by death. He had to quit before he could face that slide.

Tale of Two Lefthanders

Monday, July 30th, 2012

They were traded for each other but couldn’t be more different.  One throws a fastball in the low 90s while the other is lucky to hit 90.  One has trouble finding the plate while the other thows a baseball with laser like precision.  The two were traded for each other, but not straight up.  Compare the two players and see who you would rather have in your rotation.

Player A - 13-5, 3.27 with 124 IP, 89 hits, 52 walks, 137 K’s and a WHIP of 1.137

Player B - 9-7, 3.51 with 128 IP, 127 hits, 26 walks, 93 K’s and a WHIP of 1.192

Obviously, looking at the stats one would take player A, which would be Gio Gonzalez.

However, player B, which is Tommy Milone is not too far off from being superior to Gio.  And the Athletics got three other players to improve the deal.

Olympics - Nothing to Report

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Because there is no baseball.  Myworld occupies one of the many empty seats that are seen throughout the event.  The same thing occurred in Beijing.  Organizers are happy the events are a sellout because businesses/corporations buy up all the tickets, but then they are embarrassed when no one shows up to occupy those seats.  Myworld wonders how many tickets are held by scalpers.  There has to be a better way to sell tickets to those fans who really want to attend an event.

The Vice President of Player Operations

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Chapter 2

The Vice President of Player Operations

September 13 – The Government of China announced 25 of their citizens who were employed by Sysco Energy Department were kidnapped in the country of Nigeria. It is unclear who is behind the kidnappings. As of yet, no group has taken responsibility and no ransom demands have been made. The Sysco Energy Department is responsible for one of the many oil pipe lines that run through Nigeria.

Larvell Blanks could not hold the anger inside him any longer. The papers in his hand went flying through the air, floating to the floor in front of his desk like giant shards of confetti. His right hand balled into a fist, slamming the top of his desk.

“This is crap. Utter crap. What am I looking at here? The hitters with power all have difficulty with the breaking ball, and the speed guys have a challenge reaching first base. Pitchers can’t break a pane of glass with their fastball. This is not good. Nobody here deserves a September promotion. We need to get some athleticism here. Some baseball rats who want to play the game.” He ran the sleeve of his shirt over his mouth. When Larvell got angry spittle rained from his lips, spraying all those with the unfortunate fate of standing in front of him during one of his periods of rage. The longer he spoke, the harder it rained.

Fortunately for the three men in the office, they sat far enough away from Larvell to avoid the moisture. They kept silent, bowing their heads in a furtive attempt to keep a low profile, not wanting to fuel the boiling cauldron sitting in front of them. They had seen this temper many times and knew when to remain silent.

The outburst was rhetorical but it allowed Larvell to blow off steam. Despite the veins straining to pop from his neck Larvell Blanks was not a mean man. Most would define him as a gentleman if they had never witnessed his temper, a temper that visited him way too often since taking over as vice president of the Baltimore Orioles.

It was a temper he thought he had inherited from his father, but that was unclear. His father had a temper supplemented by a diet of synthetic pharmaceuticals to enhance his professional baseball career. It was unknown whether these steroid induced outbursts could have been passed on genetically to Larvell or what kind of temper his father had before ingesting his body with steroids. Larvell always wondered how much of those synthetic elixirs taken by his father had transferred to his blood stream through the whole genetic process. His father was on this diet of chemicals prior to his birth. He could have passed these same chemicals that raised his anger over to Larvell during his birth.

Those chemicals had given his father a freakish look as he got older. His head had gotten way too large for his frame; his shoulders growing wider than a doorway. He became a monster of a man whose temper Larvell feared. It was all the traits associated with a man on steroids but when Larvell was young he had just attributed the outbursts to an angry man who was impossible to please. Fortunately for Larvell, he did not inherit his father’s freakish characteristics.

They play the game under a different set of rules now. His father would not have become such a deformed freak of chemical induced musculature if he had played in today’s game, provided he could have played under those restrictions. The technology for testing for performance enhancing drugs was now so advanced the amount of aspirin you swallowed in the morning to cure you from the hangover from the previous night of alcoholic imbibing could be measured, the residues still floating through your blood stream for at least a day.

During his younger days Larvell wished he could have resurrected some of those steroid residues he was not aware were trapped floating through his bloodstream, the tiny cells transferred to him during birth by his father, so he could have used them to his advantage during his college and brief minor league playing career. Whatever drugs may have been transferred through the genetic process had long gone dormant, neutered like a broken down blender at a frat party. Larvell had no major league career.

Throughout his minor league season he had taken a few drug tests. He passed them all. It appeared the only thing he inherited from his father was his raging temper.

The temper was not the only reason for Larvell to dislike his father. The main reason Larvell hated his father is because he blamed him for the death of his mother. The life of a professional baseball player is filled with absence. His father was never around when she needed him. Even when the baseball season was over it was the banquet circuit that kept him away from home. That alone she could tolerate. What she could not tolerate was his cheating, the midnight phone calls she received on her cell phone ordering her to leave him because it was the other woman on the calling side who he loved. He didn’t love her anymore these strange voices would tell her. Later, Larvell wondered how much of that banquet circuit was just an excuse to get out of the house and live another life.

She left home one day. Never came back. His father told him she had gotten in a terrible automobile accident. It was only later as he got older his mother’s grandparents, who raised him when his father was gone, told him she had committed suicide. She couldn’t stand living with the embarrassment of being married to his father anymore. That had hit Larvell pretty hard. He had loved his mother. He thought he had loved his father.

With his father constantly on the road and his mother dead Larvell saw more of his mother’s parents until his father remarried. That would be wife number two. There would be more. His mother’s parents sued for and won custody rights to Larvell so he only lived with his father for half a season, a season he rarely saw him. He spent most of that time living with a stranger, a woman who was always drunk and didn’t like having him around. Once he moved back with his grandparents his father had the opportunity to visit but he rarely took advantage of those opportunities.

The old timers would tell him stories about his father. ”The women were his biggest distraction. They would wait in bushels by the parking lot where the players parked their expensive rides. Your father William usually drove the most expensive ride. They would wait for his sports car to pull out of the gate of the parking lot, dressed in their most provocative attire, waving and blowing kisses at him to draw his attention. If your father found one to his liking he would open the door, point to her and she would scream with joy, hopping in the passenger seat of his souped up sports car for a ride that would finish in the back seat. William could have been a Hall of Famer if it had not been for all the distractions of the female variety that got in his way.”

They would burst out laughing reliving those memories. Larvell’s blood would boil. He did his best to control his anger. He didn’t want to discourage the old timers from telling him what a prick his dad was.

Lee Reaches 500 homeuns

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Seung-Yeop Lee hit his 500th homerun.  He hit it off Andrew Van Hekken, a third round pick of the Mariners a number of years ago, who saw one year in the major leagues.  Lee has hit 17 homeruns this season, 341 while playing in Korea and 159 while playing in Japan.  His last two seasons in Japan playing with the Yomiuri Giants he was relegated to more of a backup role, so his homerun totals could be greater.

Lee becomes the first Korean to reach 500 homeruns.  At 35 years of age he has a few more years still ahead of him.  In 2003 he broke the KBO record with 56 homeruns and 144 RBIs.

After Lee had played nine years in the KBO his hope was to play for a major league team.  He had played for the Marlins major league team in spring training as an invite player where myworld saw him hit a homerun.  He still had a couple years left in the KBO before he could become a free agent, but he showcased his skills well.  His Wikipedia page states he almost signed with the Dodgers, but the Dodgers balked when he tried to include a clause in the contract guaranteeing he would be the starting first baseman.  Note to foreign players negotiating major league contracts - that is a non-starter.

After two years with the Chiba Lotte Marines he participated in negotiations with the Yankees, but ultimately signed with their Japan counterpart, the Yomiuri Giants.  He led all players in the 2006 WBC with a .333 average with five homeruns and 10 RBIs.  He also hit a 2-run homer against Japan in the semi-finals of the Olympics to get Korea into the finals against Cuba.  He hit a 2-run homer in the gold medal game, leading Korea to the last gold medal for baseball in the Olympics.  He chose not to participate in the 2009 WBC, preferring to focus on what had been a down season, a mistake since he had another down season.

When Lee hit his 400th homerun only Alex Rodriguez and Sadaharu Oh were younger when they hit their 400th homerun.  As a foreign player in Japan struggling to hit he had trouble his last couple years with the Giants making their playing roster.  In Japan only four foreign players can play on the roster at any one time and with no DH there was no room in the lineup for Lee.  He played his last season with the Orix Buffaloes, but still struggled to hit and was allowed to break his contract to return to Korea.  In his second through fouth year in Japan he hit 101 homeruns.  In seasons 5 through 8 he only hit 44.

Chen Establishes Major League Record

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Wei-Yin Chen established a major league record with his 12 strikeouts in the Orioles 6-1 victory over the Athletics.  The 12 strikeouts were the most ever by a major league pitcher born in Taiwan.  He also improved on his personal best of 10 strikeouts and became the first Baltimore Oriole to ever strike out 12 hitters in less than six innings.  Chen struck out the side in the first and fourth innings.  He was removed in the sixth inning with two out and the bases loaded with a pitch count of 108.  The 12 strikeouts and four walks helped to increase that pitch count.

Travis Blackley, from Australia via the KBO in Korea got the start for the Athletics.  He no longer throws a mid-90s fastball the last time myworld saw him pitch when he was in the Mariners minor league system.  The Orioles got to him in the third with Omar Quintinella getting the inning started with a drag bunt single on the first base side.  An errant pickoff throw moved him to third.  After a walk to J.J. Hardy, it was Adam Jones to drive in the first run with a line drive double that one hopped the wall in centerfield.  Matt Wieters turned the game around by launching one into left center for a 3-run homerun.

The Athletics committed an error in the fifth on a double play grounder, Jemile Weeks throwing high on the pivot, allowing the ball to clank off the glove of Chris Carter.  It was a catchable ball if Carter was not in his stretch.  This allowed J.J. Hardy, who had singled to start the inning, to score from second.

The Athletics got to Chen in the sixth, but a Quintinella error put runners on first and second with no out.  After Josh Reddick became the 11th strikeout victim it was announced over the scoreboard that no pitcher born in Taiwan had ever struck out this many hitters in a major league game.  The crowd gave Chen a standing ovation.  Instead of stepping off the mound and tipping his cap to the crowd and then focusing on the hitter, Chen threw a pitch to Yoenis Cespedes, who lined a single to right center, his second hit off Chen.  This ended the shutout.

Chen struck out his 12th hitter in the inning.  He ran the count to Brandon Inge to 0-2, but Inge lined a single to left field to load the bases.  That finished the day for Chen.  Darren O’Day came in and got Derek Norris to pop to third to end the inning.

Omar made up for his error by driving a ball over the right field pavillion for a homerun in the bottom frame, his first for the Orioles.  That upped his average since being acquired from the Mets to .417.  In the bottom of the eighth Wilson Betemit stroked a 2-out single to give Omar an opportunity to hit a triple to complete the cycle.  He struck out.

Game Notes: Wei-Yin Chen hit 94 miles per hour in the sixth.  For most of the game he was between 90-92, throwing up and down and in and out with his fastball.  The Athletics were swinging and missing at a lot of his pitches.  The O’s fans gave him a standing ovation as he left the field in the top of the sixth.  There were a number of fans from Taiwan who attended the game and had to be proud of his performance…Travis Blackley was more 88-89 miles per hour.  Myworld believes he is living on fumes and the major league hitters will catch up to him once they see him a second time or get enough film on him…Lew Ford made his debut with the Orioles.  The fans must miss Luke Scott.  He was immediately greeted with the chorus of Leeeewww - extended cheer.  He has some speed and appears to play some solid defense.  He cut a ball off in the second inning, preventing it from going into the corner and threw a strike to second to get Yoenis Cespedes sliding into second…Johnny Gomes was pinch hit for in the seventh with another left handed bat against a right handed pitcher.  That must mean an injury to Damon, who didn’t race home after the Inge single the previous inning…Pedro Strop gave Cespedes a 97 mile per hour brush back pitch.  Myworld suspects Cespedes doesn’t see a lot of those in Cuba.  Strop was born in the Dominican Republic, but the Dutch lay claim to him.  The game was finished by Luis Ayala from Mexico.  Where else can you get a game started by pitchers from Australia and Taiwan, with the Orioles finishing with a Dominican/Dutch and Mexico combination.

Japan Update - NPB Pacific

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

The Pacific League always seems to be the more competetive league.  Below is a summary of the season a little past the All Star break.

Chiba Lotte Marines (41-33-11)

Overview: This is Bobby Valentines old team.  He took them to a surprising NPB championship, but the team had progressively worse years after that until the team fired him.  The fans didn’t like it but the team finds themselves in first place.  To help them compete they have signed two American players Wil Ledesma and Doug Mathis to help their pitching staff.  Hayden Penn went back to the United States to get his elbow looked at and Josh Whitesell is not hitting.  So they have plenty of available foreign spots among their allocated four.

Top Hitters: They have no players in double digits in homeruns, but many may remember Tadahito Iguichi, who played second base for the White Sox a few years ago.  With the Marines he is hitting .276, 8, 43.  The 43 RBIs are tops on the team.  Katsuya Kakunaka (.308) is one of only seven players in the Pacific League hitting over .300.

Top Pitchers: Yoshihisa Naruse (10-4, 1.88) is one of two pitchers who has had quality starts in all of his 17 starts.  Masahiro Tanaka is the other pitcher.  Naruse is second to Tanaka in ERA and he has five complete games with two shutouts.  Yasuhiko Yabuta (1-3, 3.00) leads the Pacific League in saves with 17 while Naoya Masuda (0-1, 2.20) leads the Pacific League in holds with 27.  Tatsuya Uchi (1-1, 0.76) has done a little of both with 4 saves and 8 holds.

Foreign Aid: Josh Whitesell has been a real disappointment with his offensive production (.218) and has been up and down the minor leagues, spending more time on their minor league roster.  He has hit more catchers on his back swing than homeruns.  Seth Greisinger (6-4, 2.65) has provided the Marines with solid starts as the number two starter.  Hayden Penn (1-2, 3.98) is back in the States to get his elbow examined.  That is the reason for the Marines to sign both Wil Ledezma and Doug Mathis.

Nippon Ham Fighters (44-37-7)

Overview: They allowed Yu Darvish to leave for the United States and he has struggled more than he did in the NPB.  While he is not as talented a pitcher and stands six inches shorter, the Fighters have an ample replacement to draw the crowds in Yuki Saito (5-7, 3.40).

Top Hitters: Kensuke Tanaka (.313, 3, 28) and Atsunori Inaba (.309, 8, 42) are second and third in the NPB in hitting. Sho Nakata (.205, 11, 41) is the only player in double figures in homeruns, but needs to improve that average. Despite the homeruns he only has a .631 OPS, but he is second to Inaba in runs driven in.

Foreign Aid: Dai-Kang Yang (.281, 5, 35) put up numbers good enough to make the All Star team. He was born in Taiwan. Micah Hoffpauir (.292, 6, 13) has not driven in a lot of runs with his six homeruns. Judging by his at bats and games played most of his action is being seen as a pinch hitter. Termel Sledge (.232, 5, 23) is out for the year with knee surgery, as is Bobby Keppel (0-1, 9.00) with shoulder surgery. Brian Wolfe (5-7, 2.60) has been providing some quality starts, despite his lack of wins.

Seibu Lions (40-38-5)

Overview: The Yankees did not sign Hiroyuki Nakajima (.326, 9, 40) but he has been one of the hottest hitters in the NPB. He had four straight games of three hits or more and now leads the Pacific League in hitting. He will be a free agent next year. There is bound to be a team in the major leagues looking for a shortstop (at best) or utility player (at worst).  Next year he won’t be limited to just the Yankees to sign him. Myworld bets the Orioles will snag him for second base.

Top Hitter: Other than Nakajima you have Takeya Nakamura (.238, 15, 48), who only had one homerun entering the interleague play and then slugged 13 or so homeruns during interleague play. An injury slowed the homerun pace and his average needs some uplifting. Takumi Kuriyama (.302) is one of the seven players hitting over .300 which has resulted in him scoring 44 runs, second only to Nakajima.

Top Pitchers: Ex-major leaguer Kazuhisa Ishii (7-3, 2.30), Takayuki Kishi (7-8, 2.29) and Kazuhisa Makita (8-5, 2.45) make for a formidable troika. Ishii is the only lefthander among the trio. The two top bullpen arms seem to be Shuichiro Osada (1-0, 1.88, 12 holds) and Randy Williams (1-2, 1.69, 9 holds).

Foreign Aid: Esteban German (.271, 1, 39) has been a pretty good tablesetter with 24 stolen bases and a .349 OBA. Chris Carter (.297, 0, 8) lost much of the start of the season to knee surgery. So far only three of his 11 hits have gone for extra bases, resulting in a rather vanilla .398 slugging percentage. Jose Ortiz (.244, 0, 12) is a recent June signing that has not provided much offense.  With all those offensive players it doesn’t leave much for the pitching roster but Enrique Gonzalez (1-4, 6.91) was not putting up the numbers to stay on the roster.  Randy Williams is their only foreign pitcher.

Rakuten Golden Eagles (40-41-4)

Overview: They lost one of their top pitchers to the Mariners in free agency.  Hishashi Iwakuma has only recently been given some starts by the Mariners.  Masahiro Tanaka (6-2, 1.81) had replaced him as the ace on the staff and is considered by many to be the top pitcher in the NPB with the departure of Darvish.  They also started mining Mexico for their foreign quota allotment, but that has seemed to be a dud to date, with all the players signed underperforming when you compare their results against their Mexican numbers.

Top Hitters: Leadoff man Ryo Hijirisawa (.289, 0, 27) ignites the offense from his leadoff spot.  His 35 stolen bases lead the Pacific League and his 44 runs scored leads the Eagles.  Other than Ryo, their offensive production has been rather quiet.  No player has hit over five homeruns or gotten an RBI production of more than 36.

Top Pitchers: Masahiro Tanaka is their ace and perhaps the top pitcher in the NPB.  Back problems have forced him to miss a chunk of time limiting him to just 11 starts.  A finger injury has limited Wataru Karashima (3-2, 0.86) to six starts, but he appears healthy now.  Koji Aoyama (3-3, 2.45, 12 saves) appears to have taken the closers job away from a less effective Darrell Rasner.

Foreign Aid: The Mexican sluggers Luis Garcia (.238, 4, 17) and Luis Terrero (.153, 1, 22) have bombed.  Terrero is no longer with Rakuten.  The veteran Jose Fernandez (.246, 2, 36) has been their most effective hitter, but they want more than his .319 slugging average.  They have had a little better success with pitchers Jim Heuser (1-2, 3.38, 12 holds) providing good relief in a set-up role and Darrell Rasner (1-1, 3.74) moving to the setup role after beginning the year as the closer.  Kelvin Jimenez (5-7, 3.04) has been one of their more effective starters.

Softbank Hawks (39-43-8)

Overview: The defending champ Softbank Hawks were decimated with the loss of three of their starting pitchers, two going to the Giants and the other to the Orioles.  They also lost their starting shortstop to the Mariners.  They did pick up Terry Doyle after failing to interest Brad Penny in a career in the NPB.  They also released Alex Cabrera, who spent more time on the disabled list than in the lineup and gave his uniform number to Brandon Allen, who hasn’t had a lot of success in the major leagues, but has been a minor league slugger.  They have the Yankees to thank for releasing Hideki Okajima, who has yet to give up a run in relief.

Top Hitters: Nobuhiro Matsuda (.306, 8, 53) is still one of the big RBI producers for the Hawks.  Most of those RBIs are a result of his 27 doubles.  Wily Mo Pena (.244, 13, 45) is the only player with double figures in homeruns.

Top Pitchers: With the departure of their top three starters Kenji Otonari (7-4, 1.88) has taken over the aces role.  He has the second lowest ERA in the Pacific League.  Tadashi Settsu (9-5, 2.08) and Hiroki Yamada (6-7, 2.97) are two other starters the Hawks have relied on.  Hideki Okajima has yet to give up an earned run after 36 appearances covering just over 30 innings.  He leads the team with 18 holds.  Brian Falkenborg (0-1, 2.12, 12 saves) has had some shoulder discomfort and Masahiko Morifuku (1-3, 1.02, 12 saves) has taken over the closers role since July.

Foreign Aid: Terry Doyle had an effective start in his NPB debut, picking up the win and giving up only one run in five innings of work.  Much more effective than Brad Penny (10.80), who lost his debut, complained of arm trouble and then was allowed to bolt to the major leagues where his arm is suddenly healthy.  Falkenborg has missed significant time because of his shoulder injury.  Alex Cabrera gave the Hawks one homerun in his 29 at bats.  Now they hope Brandon Allen can give them the power that was missing from Cabrera’s bat.  Taiwan rookie Tu-Hsuan Lee (.385) is earning more playing time with that average.  Korean Mu-Young Kim (1-1, 1.75) has been used in a set-up role.

Orix Buffaloes (35-46-6)

Overview: Orix has a large Korean population so when Orix signed Dae-Ho Lee it was met with a lot of excitement.  That has not led to a lot of victories with the team established firmly in the basement.  The Buffaloes are also taking a look at Italian Alessandro Maestri, who pitched in the Reds minor league system, but signed with a Japanese independent League team.  The Buffaloes have nothing to lose to give him an opportunity.

Top Hitters: Dae-Ho Lee (.302, 15, 57) has not disappointed with his power and production.  Hamstring problems have limited Takahiro Okada’s (.314, 2, 18) playing time.  Not a lot of offense here outside of Lee.

Top Pitchers: Yuki Nishi (6-2, 2.78) has been their most effective starter.  They hope to see Kei Igawa (2-3, 2.73) resurrect his career.  He was also released by the Yankees, thankful to finally be over his albatross contract.  Mamoru Kishida (2-2, 2.31, 16 saves) is their stopper while Yoshihisa Hirano (4-4, 2.89) is their set-up man with his 18 holds.

Foreign Aid: Aarom Baldiris (.275, 7, 39) provides what little protection in the lineup Lee has.  Bobby Scales (.258, 3, 12) is a bat that has been low on offense.  Evan MacLane (4-4, 2.79) has been good in the rotation.  Alfredo Figaro (0-4, 2.70) has been going back and forth between the ni-gun roster and the major leagues.

The Discovery (end)

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

Again, the Asian kid said something to the old man in a language the carnival man could not understand. The crowd got a little larger around the pitching booth. The group of kid’s excitement had drawn some interest. Smaller frames tried to peer over larger frames.

The older man handed the Asian kid another ball through the netting. The young Asian didn’t need any more stretching. Once he got the ball he went into his windup, his arms again rising to the sky, falling to his belt like an axe splitting a tree stump, his left knee lifting high in the air, pausing before in a synchronized motion the body lunges forward with the right arm sending the ball like a bullet from a rifle striking the center of the catcher’s mitt again, in the exact same spot it had struck the throw earlier.

“Bang” came the sound off the catcher’s glove as the ball pounded against the wood. The radar reading on the screen began flashing strange characters. They were not numbers. An ampersand and pound sign had replaced the numbers. When the carnival man purchased this equipment more than 5 years ago he was told the gun could only go as high as 99. If a pitch hit 100 or more, it would not read properly with an ampersand and pound sign replacing the numbers. “But who is going to throw 100 miles per hour,” the salesman had told him. They had laughed about it then. The carnival man was not laughing now as he fixed his eyes at the screen amazed at what he was witnessing.

This kid, the carnival man said to himself as he thought back to the conversation with the salesman. The indentation in the catcher’s mitt had grown deeper.

The crowd was now building around the pitcher’s booth with people shoving and pushing to get a better look at what the others were attracted to. The buzz around the pitcher’s booth was getting louder. The carnival man had never seen this many people surrounding his pitching booth in all the years he had opened shop. Not even Yankee fans could attract such a crowd.

The older Asian man said something to the tall Asian kid in an incomprehensible language, handing him the third ball. The Asian kid repeated the same methodical wind up, threw the ball and “Bang, Crack” echoed the wooden frame, and this time the ball went through the catcher’s mitt and to the back of the netting, shards of wood exploding from the cardboard, flying through the air like firecrackers in the sky. Again the radar gun could provide no reading but the ampersand and pound sign.

The crowd clapped with excitement. The young Asian kid stepped out of the booth. One of the younger kids went up to the tall Asian youth and asked “Can I have your autograph?” The youngster was so short his head barely reached the waist of the Asian kid. His small arms reached high in the air to hand him his glove.

The young Asian kid smiled. He couldn’t understand what the child had said to him but it sounded friendly. The old man said something to the younger man in that strange language they spoke and they both laughed. “Do you have pen to sign?” said the white haired older man.

The small kid reached into his pocket and pulled out a pen, his small hand reaching high into the sky to give the pen to the tall Asian, his other hand shielding his eyes from the sun as he tried to look at the tall man’s face. At first the pen did not work, but with enough repetition it began writing and the tall Asian kid signed his name the only way he knew how, in Mandarin characters. He returned the glove to the youngster who stared at the Chinese characters clueless to what they said. “Are you famous?” he tried to ask.

By the time he looked up again from staring at the Chinese characters written on his glove the older man had whisked the young Asian kid away. The carnival man, the young kid and the fifty or so others who had all gathered around the pitching booth to watch in amazement the ball fly out of the kid’s right hand and shatter through the catcher’s glove shifted their stares from the hole in the cardboard glove, to the two figures walking farther away. Turning left, they disappeared into the parking lot, going in the opposite direction of the people coming to the game.

Beyond them, thunder could be heard rumbling in the background. The carnival man thought that was strange. Normally, that sound would be a call for rain and he would pack it up to cover his pitching machine to save it from further rust. There was no rain in the forecast and no clouds in the sky. He ignored the rumbling and went in search of further customers.

end of Chapter one

Shohei Otani

Friday, July 27th, 2012

A player from Japan to remember.  They get pretty excited when anyone can hit 100 miles per hour with a fastball.  When a high school pitcher hits 99 for a punch out that makes some pretty big news.  You can see a video of the 99 mile per hour pitch here http://baseballdeworld.com/2012/07/21/japan-high-school-pitcher-throws-160-kmh-99-mph-pitch/ and the reaction from the players and the fans after the reading of the pitch.

There is also an interview with the pitcher here: http://yakyubaka.com/2012/07/26/nikkan-sports-shohei-otanis-post-game-press-conference/

As you can see from the interview, his team eventually lost a game in the tournament, but that was secondary compared to what he accomplished.  He stands a nice 6′4″.  Another Yu Darvish in the making.

According to the interview he hasn’t decided on his career choices.  High school players have to declare themselves for the draft.  If they do not it means they plan on attending college.  Junichi Tazawa created a hornets nest when he declared his interest to pursue a major league baseball career, but he was a player who had been passed up by all the NPB teams and made a name for himself pitching in Independent ball.

European Playoffs

Friday, July 27th, 2012

The European baseball playoffs have begun and you can read all the action at http://www.mister-baseball.com/ or http://baseballdeworld.com/

Netherlands

The Honkball tournament delayed the playoff action, but the four teams to qualify are L&D Amsterdam playing Vaessen Pioniers while the DOOR Neptunus go against Corendon Kinheim.

Italy

They are down to a final four with Rimini playing Bologna and Nettuno going aginst San Marino.

France

The final four for France sees Savigny play the Rouen Huskies and Paris UC square off against Templiers Senart.  Rouen Huskies have won their league almost every year.

Germany

Paderbon, Solingen, Regensburg and Heidenheim all advanced to the final four.

There are probably other countries that are also in their playoffs.  Webmasters trying to keep track of all the European countries championships have a tough task.  This would be equivalent to the United States trying to report on every minor league affiliation playoff, which the minor league baseball does well, but very few people are interested in the results of all the affiliations.  They tend to all get lost in the numbers with only the better leagues getting most of the attention.

There are financial conssiderations that probably prevent this, but Europe would be better off creating a European League, with the best team in each league representing a country, or forming a group of All Stars with each of the teams to represent their country.  The league itself within that country could then act as a minor league for their national team.  You might get more of a following.

Europe does have a championship where the better teams play off.  They also have a European World Cup with players representing a national team.  It all gets very confusing to track.  We’ll leave that up to the experts.