The SportsTalk Shop: Bangor Baseball & More HS Spring Sports Notes

As we embark on the final month of the spring scholastic sports season, here are a few important news items you should know about.

One of the nice spring sports storylines—over the last two seasons, in fact—is that of the Bangor baseball team.

Last spring, the Slaters went on an almost unthinkable run of 23 consecutive victories, culminating with the school’s first Colonial League baseball championship since 1981.  While they lost significant talent to graduation, they brought back roughly half of their roster and were the odds-on favorite to repeat again this spring.

The league is clearly more balanced this spring; however, with many of last year’s up-and-coming prospects on other teams making the jump to becoming prime-time varsity talents this season.

The top of the standings have rotated schools almost on a weekly basis, with most every Colonial League game being very competitive—regardless of the competing teams’ win/loss record.

Despite many close games, Bangor clinched a berth in the playoffs last week with a 5-1 win over Catasauqua, thereby earning the right to truly defend its title in the league playoffs.

We had a chance to catch up with Head Coach Greg Hartman, pitcher Landon LaBar (who pitched a one-run complete game in the win over the Rough Riders, along with fellow senior, shortstop John Raub about last year’s record breaking season, the win over Catty, and the road ahead.

I’ve had the pleasure of being around a few of these athletes a few times over the last couple years, and they have always impressed me with their attitude, their obvious athletic talents and the way they pick each other up and grind out wins, regardless of the opponent.

The Colonial League baseball playoffs always seem to be very competitive all the way around, and the way the regular season has played out, I doubt very much this year’s post-season will be any less dramatic.
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Just a passing observation as I certainly don’t get a chance to see every game in person, but the local baseball games overall seem to have been have been much closer and more competitive than many of the high school softball games played this spring (“SportsTalk” co-host Keith Groller seemed to support this statement on last week’s show).

Both the Colonial League and the EPC have rotated different schools playing the role of “favorites” a few times, which defending Colonial champion Bangor falling as low as 4th at one point in their divisional standings.  Notre Dame, Wilson, Pen Argyl, Palisades, Southern Lehigh and Northwestern all have had strong springs and have chances to go deep in both leagues and districts.

By contrast, you could almost guarantee who wins the local softball teams in advance, with the top teams having their way with the rebuilding teams…and some significant territory separating the “haves” from the “don’t have just yets.”

Moreover, (again, it maybe just odd timing on my part), but every local baseball team I’ve seen has been decided by no more than three or four runs.

The “closest” softball game I’ve seen so far this spring was a 15-4 contest, although even that game was somewhat bizarre–the team that eventually lost initially had held a 4-0 lead going into the 5th inning, only to allow 15 consecutive runs in the fifth and loss by “mercy rule.”  Every other game I’ve seen has either had a wider margin of victory or some were even “mercy ruled” after just three innings of play.

Nevertheless, there have been some outstanding individual softball athletes this spring…the EPC just released its All-Star team this past weekend…

EPC Softball 2017 1st Team All

But now, records, individual accomplishments and margins of victory get placed on the back burner as we embark on the playoffs for most sports (tennis already started several weeks ago) and the excitement level and competitiveness start to rise this time of year.  It’s a great time to follow local sports!
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Also, the track and field post-season tournaments also have just begun.  Here’s the latest information received on our local boys and girls track athletes as they embark on the district, state team and individual playoff tournaments.

http://www.districtxi.com/spring/track–field-bg
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In addition, RCN’s full production schedule gets back in action this week.  Tune in for our high school baseball playoff coverage as Gary Laubach and Scott Barr will be calling the EPC semifinal games (on Wednesday) and the EPC Championship game live on Friday.  Remember to bookmark our broadcast schedule page here at RCN-TV and check back to get the latest details on RCN’s coverage of the District XI 6-A baseball championship coming your way in two weeks (weather permitting).

I’ll also be out-and-about over the next few weeks continuing to bring you high school sports and pro baseball interviews for “RCN SportsTalk” and here on the RCN-TV website!

Behind the Mic: More Kids Should Play Baseball

This week, I’ve asked RCN’s John Leone to guest blog.  RCN-TV viewers should recognize John from the Lafayette College basketball broadcasts on the Lafayette Sports Network.
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More kids should play baseball.

So I’m watching a game the other evening, and an ex-player by the name of Tim Flaherty was quoted as saying, “There are two kinds of baseball players – those who are humble, and those who are about to be humbled”. If you follow the game, or if you’ve played it, you know how true that rings.

In an age of highlights and swag, of touchdown dances and trash talk, it’s possible that baseball has become the last bastion of sanity. Patience is still a virtue and 162 games over six months demands persistence. To get to a safe space you have to earn it, and there are no consolation prizes for those who fail – and fail they do, most more than 70% of the time. Not everyone gets a trophy, at least a real one.

I know that football – a game I enjoy completely and follow religiously – has been called “the ultimate team sport”. And basketball – my one true love – requires a synchronization and non-verbal communication that can transform it into a ballet in sneakers. But baseball is different.

The whole team concept in baseball is more substantive, it can be argued, because it happens mostly out of the glare of the TV cameras and the crowd. A guy standing alone in the batter’s box and facing a 97 mile per hour fastball, shares a visceral bond with not only the guy on deck, but those other 23 teammates in the dugout who’ve been there, or are about to be sooner or later. They know to keep a respectful distance after a strikeout, and the hugs and high fives after a hit are genuine. He also shares a curious bond with the guy throwing a 97 mph fastball at him; a bond reflected at times by a simple tip of the cap, signifying a mutual respect.

An error belongs to one guy. And it’s actually called for what it is – an error.

There’s no sugar coating or camouflaging failure in baseball. A guy owns it and wears it, and his teammates know it. They’ve all walked in those same shoes, or understand completely that at some point, they will. A top young prospect who has dominated his way to “The Show”, suddenly can’t find his release point and can’t get out of the inning. The mound is elevated no longer for any advantage to him, but suddenly as a focal point for 30,000 partisans to voice their frustrations, or revel in his. It’s a long walk to the mound for his coach, and an even longer walk for him to the solitude of the dugout. There’s nowhere else to look but inside. What a concept.

Most of the lessons I try to impart on my kids come by way of sports metaphors, admittedly a narrow and sometimes myopic view of things. That’s on me, but for the most part, I’d like to think I’ve had some positive effect. And the more I watch baseball, the more I see parallels for good living. It’s hard, but as Jimmy Duggan, Tom Hanks’ character in “A League of Their Own” said, “It’s supposed to be hard. It’s the hard that makes it great”. How hard is baseball? Well, the mere fact that it’s the only sport where the offense doesn’t even have the ball should tell us something.

I’m not sure that we make enough things hard enough for our kids these days. I’m lucky to have lived long enough now – long enough to have listened to the stories of my father and grandfather who grew up in a very different time. Their hard times were real. These days what’s left for so many of us – those of us more fortunate –   are metaphors and games; facsimiles of challenges and opportunities. But you have to work with what you have. Sort of like ….in baseball.

Like life, baseball is a complicated game, and its rulebook seems to keep expanding as the game evolves. Again, a lot like life. But the fact that there seem to be more unwritten rules in baseball than in any other sport speaks to the natural, almost organic structure of the game, and a fundamental reason why it endures. After all, “habits are better than rules; you don’t have to keep them. They keep you”. And baseball is a game of habits. And good habits get rewarded.

Yeah, more kids should play baseball.

Behind the Mic: Strike Two – Y’er Out!

Play ball!  Major League baseball has begun.  And, once again, a new radical idea to shorten the length of games has surfaced.  Former Mets’ general manager Steve Philips recently suggested changing walks to three balls and strikeouts to two strikes – in other words every at-bat starts with a 1-1 count on the batter.  His research indicates that 40% of the time a batter faces a 1-1 count anyway.  This is drastic, to say the least, but creates interesting discussion.  There have been many other suggestions and some have even been tried in lower levels of professional baseball.

Do you like any of these changes?

  1. A pitcher must deliver a pitch within 20 seconds. The batter must be in the box for all 20 seconds and the clock stops the second the pitcher starts his pitching motion.  If the batter steps out of the box during the 20 seconds, the pitcher may throw an official pitch anyway.
  2. The batter must keep one foot in the box throughout the at-bat. There are some exceptions.  What would big Papi do?
  3. Intentional walks would require no pitches, just an indication from the manger to the home plate umpire.
  4. Some want to limit the number of commercials, while some want to put a between- innings time limit – 2:30. At the 2:15 mark, the batter must be in the box and the 20-second clock for the pitcher begins.
  5. Pitching changes must be completed and ready for play in 2:30. Failure to accomplish this would result in a ball being called by the umpire.
  6. Only three player conferences between pitcher-catcher, player-player, or manager-player would be allowed per game. This rule would not apply to pitching changes or player substitutions.
  7. Place a runner on second base with no outs to start an extra-inning game. Statistically, a game would end after ten innings 50% of the time and 75% of the time in the eleventh inning.

It is estimated that implementation of some of these rules could save between 10 and 15 minutes in the length of the game and games would average less than three hours.

Does baseball really need to drastically change to keep their fan base and, more importantly, to grow the base of the younger generation?  For now, I do not see any of these suggestions (with, perhaps, the intentional walk modification) happening soon.

And I, for one think that’s a good idea.

Play ball (as we know it!)

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. I lost around nine hours this weekend watching the Masters. If you are a golf fan, I’m sure you found both Saturday and Sunday riveting.  Thank goodness for TiVo – speeding through commercials helps, but the Masters limits the number of commercials so it doesn’t help much.  It sure was dramatic and Sergio’s emotional win was not to be missed.
  2. Speaking of golf, in the recently completed Western Intercollegiate golf tournament at San Jose University, there were five holes-in-one. They were by four players from three teams.  Hunter Epson of Pepperdine in a shotgun start made one on his very first shot in the tournament.  His teammate made one in the same round.  Daniel List made one during the final round, but the topper occurred when Cal’s William Aldred made one in the second round and another in the third round.  They all used a different club, did not shoot under par, nor finished in the top 20.
  3. Did you notice that Tim Tebow, former Heisman winner at Florida and NFL player, hit a home run in his first at-bat as a professional baseball player.

  1. I, for one, would love to see the Eagles draft Stanford RB/WR Christian McCaffrey in the NFL draft. The McCaffrey family – Aunt Monica, Uncle Billy, and father Ed all went to, and excelled in, basketball at Allentown Central Catholic and Ed, of course, also played football at Central.  He went on to play at Stanford and starred for the Denver Broncos in the NFL.  Bring Christian to Philadelphia!
  2. We found out this week that former Pitt and Dallas Cowboy Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett has been diagnosed with CTE, a degenerative condition linked to dementia and depression. This neurological disease has already claimed the lives of more than 50 former NFL players.  The players make a great deal of money, but there is a steep cost.

Behind the Mic: Watching Baseball

The Chicago Cubs have me watching baseball again.  And I would suspect a larger number of people will tune in to see if the Cubs can win their first World Series since 1908, 108 years ago. Teddy Roosevelt was the president.  They last played in the World Series in 1945.

The Cleveland Indians have not set the baseball world on fire either.  Their last World Series victory was in 1948 during the Harry S. Truman administration.  They did play in the 1997 Series and blew a ninth inning lead and lost in the eleventh to the Florida Marlins.

It will be very interesting to see if this storyline catches on with ALL fans.  World Series ratings have declined steadily, with three of the last four years owning the lowest ratings in history.  I, for one, became interested enough to watch the Cubs in their playoff games.  I enjoyed the games and was also frustrated by the sport.  There are things wrong with baseball.  With that in mind, I, along with many others, have come to some conclusions:

  1. There are too many playoff spots. Ten teams make the playoffs: five American League teams and five National League teams.  There are a possible 42 games that could be played to decide the overall champion.  42 games!  With the current set-up of three divisions, changing the format would be difficult.  Eliminating one wild card berth only reduces the playoffs by two games.  We are stuck with this system.
  2. The games take too long. This is the biggest drawback to truly enjoying baseball.  Pitchers take too long to pitch.  Batters take too long to get ready to hit.  Managers have too many options available that only slow down the game.  So, what is there to do?  Here are a few suggestions:
  • Hitters must stay in the batter’s box.
  • Pitchers must throw a pitch in 20 seconds.
  • 2:00 breaks between innings.
  • Three mound visits per game, not counting pitching changes.
  • Limit the number of pitching changes per inning.
  1. Start games earlier. I know this is an East Coast problem, but would it be bad to actually finish games BEFORE midnight?  Regular season games take around three hours.  The playoff games usually take around 3.5 hours.  Throw the first pitch at 8:00pm and the problem is solved.  Wait to 8:30pm and lose a big part of your audience.
  2. Young people are not watching. Because of reasons #2 and #3, young people have just not been turned on to the sport as far as viewership is concerned.  Sure the seats at the ballparks are filled for the most part and television revenue is up, but overall viewership is way down and the long-term outlook as far as interest has to be in trouble.
  3. The All-Star game winner gets home field advantage for the World Series. The team with the best record during the regular season should get home-field advantage.  The powers-that-be should not use a game that is so unlike a real game.  Enough said.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME WORLD SERIES MUSINGS) 

  1. The Cubs actually won back-to-back World Series in 1907 and 1908.
  2. The Indians lost three World Series match-ups in 1954, 1995, and 1997.
  3. Indians’ manager Terry Francona led the Boston Red Sox to a championship in 2004, following an 84-year drought. Ironically, he was hired by the Red Sox over Joe Maddon.  More irony in that Cubs’ General Manager Theo Epstein hired Francona over Maddon in Boston and hired Maddon in Chicago.  He seems to know what he is doing.
  4. Joe Maddon grew up in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. He attended Lafayette College and played baseball and football.  He received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Lafayette in 2010.  As a player, he was never able to go higher than Class A in his baseball career.
  5. On Friday, October 28, the RCN-TV crew will have the Parkland – Emmaus game LIVE at 7:00 PM. Emmaus can win the EPC South championship with a win.  That game will be followed by Easton-Nazareth.  That game is on at 10:00 PM.  The crew will have Georgetown at Lafayette on Saturday LIVE at 12:30PM.  Freedom-Liberty will be on at 7:00PM.  By the way, you can catch both of these award-winning bands on November 10 (8:00 PM), 11 (6:00 PM), and 12 (8:00 AM).

And that will end the regular season with District playoffs up next!

 

Gary’s Guesses: NFL Picks – (Last week – 9-4-1; Overall – 64-41-1 – 61%)

 Gary's Picks

Week Eight

TENNESSEE
SEATTLE
NEW ENGLAND
OAKLAND
CINCINNATI
DENVER
KANSAS CITY
DETROIT
ARIZONA
GREEN BAY
JETS
DALLAS
MINNESOTA

 

Behind the Mic: Hard to Believe

Today’s “Behind the Mic” blog is written by long time RCN personality Scott Barr. He has covered a wide range of sports, including kickboxing, track and field, lacrosse, soccer, volleyball, football, and baseball. Most of our viewers, of course, will know him for his work with District XI wrestling. Fans across the valley have heard him call “Give him six!” after a pin, while working with three legends of Lehigh Valley sports—Gary Laubach, Ray Nunamaker, and Jim Best. Outside of RCN, Scott helps small businesses set up retirement plans for their employees, and lives in Macungie with his wife, Melissa, and their four children.

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Hard to Believe

I have a secret that I have been keeping from wrestling fans for years.  When I discovered this about myself, I wasn’t proud, and it took a long time before I could even admit it out loud.  Nonetheless, it’s true.

I like baseball better than wrestling.

There.  It’s out.  I feel a little better now.  Because this is a blog, and there’s space to fill, there is definitely room for explanation.

Many of you know that I have a son who played baseball at a high level.  He had a great career at Emmaus High School.  He was named to various “all-conference” and “all-area” teams as a hitter and a pitcher.  He went on to pitch in college, and was actually a member of an NCAA championship team.  My love of baseball is a direct result of his career.  Each year on opening day, he sends me a “BEST DAY OF THE YEAR!” message, and we both know that it’s true.

As his career got more competitive, my understanding of the game grew as well.  I began to focus on every pitch and every movement of each player.  I even began to appreciate a team’s approach to pre-game rituals, and how they chased after foul balls that went out of play.  Baseball, played well, is a beautiful symphony of activity.  While the pace of the game is often reviled, I appreciate the time to observe, reflect, and consider what is going on.  I really do love it.

Now, baseball for the Barr family has entered a new phase.  I have a younger son—nine years old—who is playing.  From a baseball standpoint, he is NOT his brother.  Let’s just say that he plays for the love of the game.  And I have to tell you, it is an absolute joy to watch.

The little guy has taught me the pleasure of baseball without the pressure.  He, like the vast majority of nine-year olds, does not have a perfect swing.  He’s not interested in a perfect swing.  He doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, but sometimes he will make a cannon sound effect when he throws, just to be cool.  He plays to be with his friends, to get dirty, and to wear a jersey with his name on it.

He is not a future major league prospect, and would rather build Lego sets or play Minecraft if he had his choice all the time.  He truly has fun with the game, and he allows me to have fun coaching.  There is no fretting over an error, or a bad call by an umpire, or a stupid play—by either of us.  As a coach, of course, I will teach the right way to play the game, but it is not the “perfect” model that it used to be.  It is nine-year olds becoming better baseball players than they were yesterday, and that’s it.

Sometimes, while I am on the road for work, I will pull into a parking lot at an empty baseball field and have my lunch.  The scenery, and the memories, relax me.  Of course, I remember the glory of an amazing career for my oldest.  But now, as well, I chuckle to myself about some of the travails of my youngest.  It’s a true yin and yang.  I didn’t even realize that anything was missing five years ago, but it truly was.

I will always be a wrestler at heart, but as my boys and I say, “we will always have baseball.”

Scott Barr

The SportsTalk Shop: A Dimension of Versatility

While the jury will be out for some time on this year’s Phillies trades, one aspect of these moves is clearly developing.  In addition to getting highly regarded minor league players and prospects, the players they’re acquiring seem to be versatile—in terms of ability, skill set and potential roles they could have in this club.

This is even more important on a rebuilding team as it’s not locked in stone which players will be playing which positions as the team continues to evolve…and hopefully improve.

Can you imagine Ryan Howard playing another position?  Remember the failed attempts to move Chase Utley to third base?  How about the lack of quality catchers behind Carlos Ruiz the last several years?  The Phillies had to move Jim Thome and Placido Polanco to part ways with some valuable veterans in order to open up spots for the next generation of Phillies players.  The current crop of prospects in the Phillies farm system will find it to easier to reach the Major Leagues, not just because of the present holes on the roster, but also because a good number of up-and-coming players have the ability to play different positions.

Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez have had good seasons and look to have starting positions waiting for them in 2016.  Freddy Galvis—at least for the moment—has played well enough to hold down the shortstop spot until J. P. Crawford arrives.  But most positions going forward are very much up for grabs.

The advantage of the young players now in the Phillies’ fold is not just that they have Major League potential, but they have the ability to move around and play different roles, should the need arise.  Franco can also play first base.  Hernandez has played shortstop, third base and outfield, even though he looks more comfortable at second.  Newly acquired Darnell Sweeney projects as a utility guy, but has some pop and speed and played regularly at second, short, third and center field.  Galvis, too, has looked like an above-average defender, regardless of where he’s placed on the diamond.

Fans already can see the benefits of having different players’ ability to play multiple positions.  Interim Manager Pete Mackanin has frequently double-switched in games, allowing more flexibility with his batting order late in games, while not sacrificing anything defensively.

Here’s a look at the younger players in the upper-level of the Phillies farm system.  Top prospects are listed in BOLD, and players, at least at the beginning of the season, projected as “super utility” (or not quite everyday) players are in italics.

Nick Williams (acq. in the Cole Hamels trade) – projects to be a left fielder per Baseball America, but has played all three outfield positions and has a blend of speed, power and the ability to hit for average.

Roman Quinn (drafted by Phila, 2nd round) – Despite an injury, Quinn had a great season at Double-A after making the transition from shortstop to the outfield.  MLB.com suggests he can be an above-average defender in center field with more experience.

Cornelius Randolph (draft by Phila., 1st round) – An MLB “Top #100 Prospect” who has bat speed, strength and patience (according to MLBPipeline.com), coming on a solid season in the Gulf Coast League.  Randolph has played the middle infield positions with some believing he could play 3d base, but with Franco occupying that position, he saw time in left field this past summer.

Jorge Alfaro (acq. in the Cole Hamels trade) – The key piece in the Hamels’ trade, boasting perhaps the greatest potential of anyone acquired in the deal, was hurt for much of the year.  With raw power, he’s currently listed as the #2 catching prospect in all of minor league baseball.  However, he can also play first base and some feel he could also be an everyday right fielder, or even play first base.  This is important with the development of Phillies’ farmhand Andrew Knapp, who had a strong second half in Double-A and might be closer to the Major Leagues than Alfaro is at present.

Odubel Herrera (Rule 5 selection) – Per his Rule 5 status, Herrera had to stay on the Big League roster all season or be offered back, but the Phillies had no problems finding a spot for him, and even felt comfortable moving Ben Revere for him at the trade deadline.  He’s a quality MLB bat and seems to be improving as the year has gone along, both offensively and defensively.  However, if Quinn has another big season in 2016 and makes the jump to the Big Leagues, Herrera can also play left field and is a natural infielder.  The Phillies should be able to find a way to get plenty of “ABs” for him going forward.

Aaron Altherr (draft by Phila., 9th round) – While not everyone in the Phillies organization viewed him as a blue chip prospect, I was impressed from what I saw in Altherr’s play in Triple-A this season.  More importantly, some of the guys who saw Aaron play on an everyday basis said they felt he could be an everyday MLB outfielder—at least on the current Phillies team.  He has nice range and a strong arm, which lends him to playing all three outfield positions.  Offensively, he was one of the top hitters at Lehigh Valley.  Supposedly, the Phillies wanted him to continuing playing every day and was not promoted once Revere was traded.  I am glad he received a “pre-September” call-up and hope that he gets even more of a chance to showcase his skills (and hope he doesn’t turn into another Darin Ruf, who really never did seem to get an extended look).  If he continues to play as well as he has at the Major League level, he may force the team to have him in the lineup every day.

Cody Asche didn’t exactly shock and awe anyone with his offensive outputs.  But if Asche and Ruf remain on the team beyond their arbitration years, both can play a couple different spots defensively and could see themselves as platoon or bench options as the other young players develop.

Trying to predict an everyday lineup is nearly impossible at this point, which is a good thing.  The future Phillies manager (whether it’s Mackanin or not) will have many different options where to bat and position players in the field.  This will also help the front office in trying to improve the team.  If/when they assume the team is ready to challenge for a playoff spot, it will keep options open in trying to acquire additional players through trades and free agency.

Even the most skeptical Phillies fan has to be impressed with the moves being made by the Phillies front office over the last several months.  While it might still be a stretch to be in playoff contention next summer, outgoing CEO Pat Gillick’s ominous warning that the team may not be a contender until 2017 or 2018 may not be correct after all.

The SportsTalk Shop: Three Phillies Issues

Last week we took a look at the Nationals’ first 30 games of the season, analyzing their first six weeks and previewing the road ahead.  Clearly, the Phillies have a different set of priorities and goals for this season.  There has  been some positive news…and the next few months still could be very interesting as we watch the franchise’s “future” unfold.

Here are three observations about the Phillies season:

  • Despite the record, there is reason for optimism, among both young and older players!  First, the play of Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera has given fans hope that examples of a future winning ball club is not years off in the distance in the prospects currently in the lower-to-middle minor league levels.  Galvis, Hernadez and Herrera all found themselves entering spring training in various “play-well-or-go-home” modes.  Galvis struggled mightily offensively last year—even struggling at the plate when he was sent down to Triple-A.  Yet he has not only proved he can hit at the Big League level (currently leading the team by far with a .816 OPS), he’s become one of the most productive shortstops in the league (his batting average and on-base percentage currently lead all National League shortstops).  Hernandez was out of options and was one of the last players assured a spot on the Opening Day roster.  So far, I’m been impressed with his working counts (his .390 OBP is second on the team) and he’s hitting a very respectable .270 despite not getting regular at-bats.  Herrera was a Rule 5 pick who had never played above Double-A and has to remain on the roster all season or be returned.  Even though he’s learning to play a new position at the toughest level, he has a great looking swing and has been able to handle Major League pitching so far.  All three players have made the most of their opportunities and should warrant more playing time for at least the rest of this season.

There’s also been quality performances on the mound by young Ken Giles, Luis Garcia, Justin DeFratus and Elvis Araujo.  All four look to be key pieces of the bullpen going forward and the first three have weathered pitching in higher-pressure situations.  While a slow start by southpaw Jake Diekman has been disappointing, the Phillies feel he can bounce back and strengthen an already strong—and young—core of relievers.

  • The fireworks may not be far off.  The play of veterans Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang, Jonathan Papelbon, Ben Revere and even Ryan Howard have not only helped the Phillies win games this season, but more importantly has enhanced each player’s trade value, which potentially could fetch more young prospects as we move closer to the trade deadline.  We’ve already seen the Phillies make some minor moves, optioning Dom Brown, David Buchanan and Cody Asche (although Cody was sent down to learn a new position) to shake things up a bit.  If Asche transitions successfully to left field—as I believe he will—it will make for an ultra-crowded outfield, and the Phillies will have to start making some more significant decisions.

Their potential outfield would then consist of Asche, Revere, Herrera, Brown, Grady Sizemore, Jeff Francoeur and Darin Ruf.  Clearly, not all of these players will be on the roster throughout the summer, and I’m not sure if more than two or three of these names have a future in the organization.  With one of the few outfield prospects doing well in Double-A (Roman Quinn) and a promotion to Triple-A probably looming before too long, it’s obvious that the team will look to move one of their outfielders before season’s endif not sooner.  Revere is the most likely candidate to go, as he’ll command the most in return.  Between Revere, Hamels, Harang, Papelbon and perhaps one or two others, there could be some trades made over the coming weeks—and a chance for the team to pick up another young piece (or pieces, if you deal Hamels) of the puzzle for future seasons.

  • The “Chase” may be coming to an end.  I truly am not saying this just in passing or to be in vogue with what others are now saying.  In fact, in all my years as a sports journalist, I probably got more angry messages over a minor criticism I made about Chase Utley several years ago, and I’m sure I’ll take a hit again this time.  But unless he starts swinging the bat with more success—and soon—it does NO ONE good to see him continue to play every day…and that includes Utley himself. 

The biggest issue for the current team is that he is blocking the road of young talent.  Is Hernandez the Phillies second basemen of the future? Probably not, but we have no way of knowing until he gets a chance to play at least 75% of the time, something they can’t do with Utley playing five nights a week.  The questions remain about Brown, Ruf and a few other players that right now look like role players but do you really want to give up an extended look at these players, and possibly lose them at season’s end, to have them go somewhere else and have success (and haven’t we seen too much of that over the last several years?).  Furthermore, continuing to play Utley every day with his batting average light-years below the Mendoza line is a disservice to Chase himself.  There is no way he’s going to take himself out of the lineup—he has too much pride.  Heck, he’d probably fight to stay on the roster even with a torn ACL.  But someone – Ryne Sandberg, Ruben Amaro Jr., Pat Gillick – anyone in charge of this franchise, is seriously going to have to take time very soon and have a chat with this greatest second baseman to ever wear a Phillies uniform.  Right now, his legacy is taking a beating, and if things don’t improve over the next few series, his mighty image might be weathered for a longer period than it should be.

Here’s a look at the upcoming schedule for Philadelphia, with a few additional important dates that are really more significant to the team’s future than who their opponents will be.

May 18-21       at Rockies
May 22-24       at Nationals
May 25-27       at Mets
May 29-31       vs. Rockies
June 2 – 4        vs. Reds
June 5-7           vs. Giants
June 8-10         MLB DRAFT*
July 2               International Free-Agent Signing Period Begins
July 31             Non-waiver Trade Deadline
Aug. 31            Final Trade Deadline

*Programming Note: We’ll have a preview of the MLB Draft on the June 4th edition of “RCN SportsTalk” (Thursdays, live, 7-8 pm), which will include an ESPN analyst breaking down the top draftees, along with insights on what both the Phillies and Nationals will do in this year’s draft.

Which Phillies players have you been impressed with so far?  Which do you feel will be the first ones to be traded?  Email you sports opinions to us at rcnsportstalk@rcn.com at any time.  We’ll continue to provide updates on both the Washington and Philadelphia franchises throughout the summer here at the “SportsTalk Shop” and on our weekly “SportsTalk” program.
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A quick reminder, be sure to come out to see “RCN SportsTalk” as we broadcast live from Buffalo Wild Wings on Grape Street in Whitehall, PA, this Thursday from 7-8pm.  This will be the first of several live shows we’ll broadcast from Buffalo Wild Wings this summer.   Keep checking the RCN-TV website for updates on these special programs as SportsTalk “goes wild” this summer!

The SportsTalk Shop: Technology in Baseball

Technology is all around us, and the sports world is no different. But one may be surprised to know to what extent modern day electronics—whether good, bad or indifferent—are impacting high school sports today.

I have to admit I am certainly on the fence with using so much technology when it comes to sports. I think there are definite advantages when used correctly (television graphics, instant replays, a certain amount of statistical information). I also think graphics, replays, statistics should have its limits and frequently feel bombarded with national networks trying to overplay all their toys, often taking away from the game itself.

But on a local level, there are quite a few advancements that people may not be aware of, and some benefits that local baseball fans may find quite appealing.

Here are some local great baseball minds talking about the advancement of technology in baseball on both the local and collegiate levels, and then we have a few more ‘tech tips’ you might find interesting.

A few other items concerning technology in baseball:

• HS coaches can now stand on the field (many managers are third-base coaches) and, with a click of their fingers, can input data, trends or unique facts that can be used later in the game (e.g., there are programs that track pitching trends what can tell you watch pitch a pitcher is more likely to throw in certain situations, and where he is going to throw it)

• Coaches—again while on the field of play—can look up histories or past tendencies of a given player and, even if they’ve never seen him before, notices an opposing player’s strengths and weaknesses

• Parents and other family members who normally work during baseball games (most high school and college games start between 2 and 4 pm) can follow along with in-game statistics, scores and highlight updates, thereby getting real time results, which is especially helpful if he/she wants to get to the game in-progress

It is a bit bizarre to occasionally see coaches or even players glancing down at their cell phone in the heat of the action. There are also a few old school coaches that still ban cell phone use entirely when they are on the field of play and insist that it is more of a distraction for young people, which far outweighs any positives from using technology.

What are your thoughts on technology in baseball? Is it good for the game, or does it distract you from enjoying America’s Pastime? Share your thoughts with us via email (RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com) and tune in to talk sports with us every Thursday live at 6pm on RCN-TV.

 

Behind the Mic: There’s No Clock in Baseball

I have heard many times from baseball fans that the reason they love the game is that “there is no clock in baseball”. That has never been more evident to me than this past Friday when RCN-TV was producing for the 14th consecutive year the PIAA Baseball Championships for the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN). The games are played at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park in University Park. Yes, the same location where Penn State fans enjoy watching the Nittany Lions play football at nearby Beaver Stadium. So, for me and the crew, it is a three hour ride on Thursday to the motel so that we can prepare for the four-game marathon on Friday. We discovered the next day that “marathon” was not a strong enough description of the day.

Friday begins with a RCN team breakfast at the hotel. Up at 7:00, meet at 7:30 AM. Everyone is to be ready to head to the venue at 8:00 AM. Game One is to begin at 10:30. The crew worked meticulously the day before to have everything ready to go when they arrive. They must confirm that everything is working Friday morning. I organized all the materials that I had gathered during the week from the coaches on Thursday in the motel and gave packets of that information to my fellow announcers to go over prior to the games. Upon arrival at the ballpark, our job is to meet with the coaches of the first game, confirm lineups and pronunciations, and become familiar with their teams. All is normal at this point and we are ready for Game One. We all agree that it is imperative that this game moves along in normal fashion to help the time frame for the rest of the day. That did not happen. Game one featured eight hit batsmen and five walks. Throw in only two “1-2-3” half innings and the first game and post-game festivities ended at 1:20 PM.

Game Two was scheduled to start at 1:00 PM! It was pushed back to 2:00. This game featured the big schools – labeled as the AAAA schools and usually featured the most talent. We needed a quick game from these guys. That was not to be. This game went extra innings! It took them eight full innings to decide a winner. It concluded at 5:00 PM. Game three was supposed to start at 3:30 PM. Are you beginning to get the picture?

The 3:30 game was announced that it would begin at 6:00 PM. Twenty minutes later, the stadium personnel decided that a rain storm was on the way. They would cover the field with a tarp and delay the start of the next game. The delay was approximately one hour and game three began at 7:00 PM. We could only pray that this one would have no delay again, just cruise along and we could get to Game Four as quickly as possible. Not a chance! Game Three went two extra innings and was won in the bottom of the ninth on an error. I think the whole crew wanted to hug the kid who did not catch the ball!! That just wouldn’t be right!

The 6:00 game, it was announced would start at 9:40 PM – over 3 ½ hours later than scheduled. Those two teams had been at the ballpark since mid-afternoon. This one moved along rather nicely, took only seven innings and the final medal ceremony and the awarding of the trophies ended at midnight. We just finished on the same day we started!

So, you say, you only worked a 16-hour day. No. No!!! The crew now had to pack up all the wires and the equipment that it takes to do this event. Imagine the amount of wire to run cameras to first base, third base, up high behind home plate, down low on the field for the ceremonies, and way, way out into center field. Imagine carrying very, very heavy cameras from those locations. Another hour or more for sure.

And me? Well, I always figure the games will end at 9:00 PM so I do not make arrangements to stay another night like the crew does. I always just jump in the car and drive home. Which I did. The 185-mile drive took another three hours. I finally pulled into my garage at 3:00 AM Saturday morning. My day ended after 19 hours!!

So, at least for a couple of months, please don’t tell me you love baseball because “there is no clock”. I may just punch you in the mouth and, after hearing my story, I don’t think any judge would convict me of assault.

Check out some of the game highlights below:

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
No musings this week. I’m catching up on my sleep!

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Ways to Fix the Phillies

Last week I gave my trimester grades on a season-gone-wrong for the Phillies through the first two months of the season. Today we take a look at how the team should proceed from here:

1) Trade AT LEAST one of the core players
I know this will be extremely painful to the Phillies front office to part ways with one of their most marketable players, but it has to happen. The Phillies have to change the mentality and the look of this franchise and show everyone – the fans, the community and the players themselves – that no one is untouchable. The debate over trading Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Marlon Byrd and others is gaining the momentum of a runaway freight train. The Phillies should be open to seeing which of these players would bring you the greatest return value for next year and pull the trigger on a deal. You need to improve this team in multiple ways, and with very few minor league options on the horizon, the only way to start accomplishing this is by dealing a major piece NOW.

2) Acquire a “dirt-baller”
Think Larry Bowa, Pete Rose or more recently, a Randy Ready or an Aaron Rowand. A high-energy guy, perhaps not the greatest talent, but someone who understands the game and will play it the right way. I’m not a big fan of the “WAR” statistic (wins-above-replacement), but those numbers do have some merit. You need to bring people that will help you find ways to win ball games and the Phillies need to find players who at least have a positive number in that category (eg., Ben Revere has a -0.4 WAR as of last week, Cesar Hernandez a -0.6, Tony Gwynn Jr. is a -0.8, Dom Brown is a -1). Each season the St. Louis Cardinals have rosters littered with players who know how to play the game and execute the fundamentals. I’m hard pressed to find very many younger players on the Phillies’ current 25-man roster who have shown the ability to do the same, and someone must be brought in to start doing that.

3) Stop evaluating with rose-collared glasses
John Mayberry, Jr. last year had a WAR of -1.2 and the organization REWARDED him with a near $ 1.1 million raise. He’s had three different seasons to prove himself as a starting outfielder, a platoon outfielder, than a fourth outfielder, a capable pinch-hitter…and has not delivered in any of these roles on a consistent basis (despite a dismal first eight weeks, Mayberry fans would argue he’s deserved more money based on the red-hot June he’s having offensively). The Phillies say Darin Ruf is not an everyday player…fine, then show me a young player who is. Sticking with Revere, Brown and the like when you no longer have reasons to believe in these players is fool’s gold that the team has continued to purchase for three years now.

4) Stop tolerating mental mistakes
Jimmy Rollins made a innocent comment about preseason games being meaningless and he was benched three days IN SPRING TRAINING. If Mayberry can’t shag a fly ball against the fence, then don’t put him out there anymore until he can. If Revere doesn’t remember to tag up on a fly ball with less than two outs or isn’t taking the appropriate lead off a base, then bench ‘em, outright ‘em or option them to Triple-A. Granted, there’s not many major league available players waiting in the wings right now, but giving these guys repeated chances and watching them fail multiple times with mental lapses is not working. I’d rather see Triple-A players Steve Susdorf or Clete Thomas try to fight their way to remain on the big league roster than to see listless players (Brown) not running hard to first base.

There’s another issue to address here: Ruben Amaro, Jr. The current Phillies general manager is pretty much in a no-win scenario, of which he is responsible for creating. If he conducts a massive fire-sale over the next two months, he’s admitting that his five-year plan of sustaining what was a World Series contender has failed miserably, thereby inviting a changing of the guard to take place. If he does nothing, or next to nothing, during the next few weeks, then he could be fired for not being proactive in correcting this out-of-control team. There’s no easy road here and accomplishing the above-listed tasks will not be easily achieved mid-season, but actions must start coming…and soon.

I do believe Amaro’s hands were tied somewhat in trying to rebuild this team a few years ago. Remember that in 2011 Ruben stated that the team needed to take a different direction: produce more runs, work counts, play more fundamentally sound baseball and similar comments. The moves that have transpired since that time are mostly contrary to that belief. Like him or not (and I certainly have not agreed with very many of his decisions over the last three years), Amaro is still an intelligent man with a solid baseball background. I don’t believe he completely gutted this team without outside influence, whether it be pressure to keep popular players in town, bad advice on player evaluations, poor scouting reports, or a combination of all three.

Full disclosure: I backed Amaro when he was making the trades for Lee, Doc Halladay, Hunter Pence, et al, while ravishing what top prospects were a part of the system. I don’t believe I was the only one in the Delaware Valley that enthusiastically bought in to the ‘win now’ mantra and threw caution to the wind when making those deals. I remember the euphoria that ensued when the cash vault was opened and we woke up hearing of Lee’s triumphant return to the Phillies. We all salivated over the “Four Aces” rotation during the thrill ride that garnished 102 regular season wins, and no one back then was worried about Jonathon Singleton, Kyle Drabek and the other prospects exiled to acquire those major chips. I for one was prepared to sacrifice several years of bad baseball for one more World Series championship….a second title that never materialized.

What in-season moves to you think the Phillies should (or will) make this summer? Do you think Amaro will be retained or even make it through the 2014 season? Post a comment below or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com. We’d love to hear your thoughts on this year’s Phillies team.