Behind the Mic: Two Weeks of Baseball Instant Replay

 

Instant replay in baseball was first implemented in 2008 for three reasons: 1) to determine if a home run was fair or foul; 2) did a batted ball actually leave the playing field; 3) did a spectator interfere with a batted ball.

The use of replay was greatly expanded for this season to include the following:

• Ground-rule doubles
• Fan interference calls
• Boundary calls (managers may not, however, challenge home run or potential home run calls)
• Force plays at all bases, except whether a middle infielder touched second base during the attempt to “turn” a double play
• Tag plays on the base paths—whether a runner was tagged or whether the runner touched a base (an appeal is still required ahead of the latter)
• Fair/foul calls on balls hit into the outfield
• Catch/trap calls on balls hit into the outfield
• Time plays (whether or not a run scored prior to the third out)
• Whether a runner passed a preceding runner
• Scorekeeping issues, including the count, number of outs, score or substitutions

Judgment calls not specified above, including, but not limited to, pitches called ball or strike, obstruction, interference, infield fly rule and check swings are not.

All games are monitored in New York City by a former umpire or umpire supervisor. Much like the NFL, if a replay is warranted, the crew chief at the game will go to a special monitor to view the disputed play. The umpire must see “clear and convincing” evidence to reverse the call. All of this is supposed to happen in 60 to 90 seconds.

So how is it working? The first challenge occurred March 31, when the Cubs disputed a double play call that their player was safe at first. The Cubs lost the challenge. The decision took 100 seconds. That same day, the first successful challenge was made when an initial single call was changed to an out when the Braves challenged. The first umpire-initiated review took place to determine if a catcher unnecessarily blocked the plate on an attempted score.

In the first 14 days of the season, there have been 21 overturned calls out of 64 challenges in 141 games. The average time is two minutes and 14 seconds. Missed calls are rare, but in a Yankees-Boston game this past week, a call was missed even after it was challenged.

So, after two weeks what can we conclude? Umpires make a wrong call every 6.7 games (not bad). For the most part, the right calls are made so the umpires do not adversely affect the outcome. There are many fewer old-fashioned manager-umpire confrontations.

Sounds good, right? Uh, not quite. I used to like the manager-umpire confrontations – dirt kicked on shoes, spit in face, baseball cap turned around for face-to-face jawing, etc. It’s a bit too civil now for my taste!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. One of the great stories (and more interesting ones) to come out of the Masters this past weekend concerned Jeff Knox. You see, Rory McIlroy, one of the favorites to win the Masters when the week started, was dead last after the cut going into Saturday. He was 51st and since players go out in twosomes, Rory needed a marker (normally their professional playing partner) to go around the course with him. Jeff Knox, a club member, was chosen to be the marker and had the option of walking with McIlroy or playing with him. Since Jeff held the course record of 11-under 61, playing from the members’ tees, he decided to tee it up. They were the first ones out, played in three hours and five minutes before a huge gallery. Jeff played very, very well. He finished with a two-under 70 and beat McIlroy by one stroke! Now, that’s cool!

2. Speaking of golf, statistics say that every year, around one million golfers stop playing. The reasons given are that it is too expensive, too hard, and too elitist. I love golf, but I have to say the quitters are right on all three accounts. The lords of golf (primarily rich, white guys) need to find a way to make the game more enjoyable and more affordable to more people.

3. If you need help in your NCAA bracket next year and if Villanova makes the tournament, choose a team that is in the Wildcats’ bracket. In the last 10 years, the NCAA champion beat Villanova five times.

4. Lafayette held their Football Banquet this past Saturday to honor the 2013 Patriot League champions. Each player received a championship ring. I have to mention Mark Ross, a senior wide receiver. Mark caught 198 passes for 2811 yards and 27 TD’s in his career and was the team MVP. In addition, Mark was on the PL Academic Honor Roll, the Dean’s List, and was the PL Football Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He had a perfect 4.0 GPA. He garnered a great deal of well-deserved hardware on Saturday. He is a true scholar-athlete!

5. I hope you did well on your NCAA Frozen Four brackets office pool this year. You mean you didn’t fill out your hockey brackets? Obviously, there is a significant difference in national interest between the basketball and hockey championships. Union College beat the University of Minnesota 7-4 in the final. Union College has NO athletic scholarships and only 2,241 students. Union College is located in Schenectady, New York….but you probably knew that.

 

Behind the Mic: Take Me Out to the Ballgame

 

After the first week of major league baseball, I have a very clear (yeah, right) understanding of how the entire season will shake out. As far as I am concerned, there is no need to play any more games – let’s just get right to the Divisional Playoffs. I thought I would be so kind to tell you who will win the Divisions, the Pennants, and the World Series. I also think if you use any of these predictions, you are flat-out crazy.

American League

West
1. Oakland – I loved “Moneyball” and the system still seems to be working for GM Billy Beane.
2. LA Angels – Pujols, Trout and Hamilton could carry this team to the top, but won’t.
3. Seattle – Robinson Cano has to help.
4. Texas – The pitching staff is a huge question mark with all the injuries.
5. Houston – Manager Bo Porter told the team to “shock the world”. They would like to, but not with this lineup.

Central
1. Detroit – Tigers had the second-most wins (93) in AL last year. Another Miguel Cabrera season like last year and they could win more.
2. Kansas City – This team is on the rise – third last year means second this year.
3. Cleveland – They may have the best manager in the division; won 92 games last year; and could win it all. I am picking them third for no apparent reason.
4. Chicago White Sox – 63-99 last year. They should be better because they can’t be worse.
5. Minnesota – $24 million for former Yankee pitcher Phil Hughes – enough said!

East
1. Tampa Bay – I really like Joe Madden, the Rays’ manager – so much so, I have lost my reasoning power and picked them to win the Division.
2. Boston – Isn’t “Big Papi” now “Big Grand-Papi”? I do not think the Red Sox can possibly have the year they had last season.
3. New York Yankees – I wish the Blue Jays and Orioles were better so I could pick them lower!
4. Baltimore – Not bad last year – not good this year.
5. Toronto – Finished last in the East last season; they are better, but will still finish last in the East this year.

Tigers will win the AL pennant.

 National League

West
1. San Francisco – I know everybody is picking the Dodgers here, but Bruce Bochy is the best manager in the Division and he still has a good pitching staff.
2. LA Dodgers – Clayton Kershaw will win almost every five days and this team is solid. They are everybody’s choice (not mine) to win the National League West.
3. San Diego – In this spot last year; in this spot this year.
4. Arizona – Goldschmidt and Trumbo are not household names, but are good hitters and could move the D’backs higher in the standings.
5. Colorado – They will not improve on last year’s position because they did not improve on last year’s team.

Central
1. St. Louis – Great pitching; solid lineup; great organization. Nuts!! I wanted to pick the Pirates.
2. Pittsburgh – Needed more hitting prowess, but did not get any in the off-season. It’s hard to fathom that they will improve on last year’s record.
3. Cincinnati – They won 90 games last year and finished third. Could easily do the same thing this year. They need to switch divisions.
4. Cubs and Brewers will tie for the worst teams in this division.
5. See #4.

East
1. Washington – They do not seem to win the big games when they have to. However, they do have the best pitching staff in the League. If they don’t choke…
2. Philadelphia – Don’t ask me why. I just have a hunch and I think Ryne Sandberg will motivate this team the right way. Hold your breath, Phillies fans, that the old men stay healthy.
3. Atlanta – They always seem to find a way to win, but their depleted pitching staff will hurt them.
4. New York Mets – Hey, they’re the Mets and they can count their lucky stars that the Marlins are in this division.
5. Miami – Once again, they kept the payroll and the talent very low.

Dodgers win the Wild Card and the NL pennant.
The Dodgers will win the World Series, their first since 1988!

You heard it here first!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. “A tradition unlike any other”. That’s The Masters! And it will be unlike any other at least for the last 20 years because Tiger Woods will not be playing in it. Woods, due to his bad back, has played just 10 rounds on tour this year, breaking 70 just three times. So who will win? Well, Russell Henley, Patrick Reed, John Senden, Matt Every, and Matt Jones all have tour wins this year. Who???

2. I am writing this before the championship game, but how about the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship featuring Notre Dame and Connecticut? The two teams go into the final with combined 76-0 records. No final has ever featured two undefeated teams. Connecticut has won 44 straight, since losing on March 12, 2013 to Notre Dame.

3. “This first week of baseball will give us an indication of how bad the Phillies are or how good they just might be.” I wrote this in my blog last week. Well, the conclusion after the first two series with the Rangers and the Cubs is “no clue”. I thought they should have won every game against the Rangers (1-2) and did just fine against the Cubs (2-1). So, they were not so good and then pretty good. Stay tuned.

4. In case you are beating yourself up about your NCAA pool (and I am, for sure, since my administrative assistant TIED me!), let me offer a little solace. Out of 11 million brackets submitted to ESPN, only 612 had the Final Four. That is 0.00005%. I don’t even know how to SAY that percentage!

5. This year three teams were added to the Blue Mountain League and one left. Two of the new ones came over from the Tri-County League, which broke up after last season. They are the Northern Yankees and the Limeport Bulls. In addition, the Roseto Bandits entered as an expansion team. The Vynecrest Reds dropped out. The teams will each play 30 games, with six teams making the playoffs. Martins Creek won it all last year. RCN TV will cover the BML again this summer, assuming summer EVER gets here.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies Minor League Outlook

 

Much has been made about the “advanced” age of the Phillies as the 2014 season commences. Regardless of the degree of success of the parent club, it is essential for the long-term success of the organization that the team produces major league talent through its farm system.

Here are some thoughts and expectations from some of the Phillies minor leagues players themselves and then more insights on players within the Phillies organization to watch this summer.

Here are more opinions on the Phillies’ prospects…

1) Maikel Franco has spoken often about working hard and doing what’s necessary to improve and become a major league ball player. While he is the most advanced, top prospect within the Phillies organization, he is very focused on trying to improve his overall game. He showed no preference to which position he will ultimately play and said he feels comfortable at playing both first and third base, stating that footwork and improving his mechanicals for the pitchers’ throw-overs are his main defensive goals to work on this season. I was impressed by the lack-of-ego persona he’s exhibited in our conversations this spring and he is a very likeable future star that Phillies fans can easily root for.

2) There is now a sign in the Philadelphia Phillies’ clubhouse that says “Respect the Game”, and that message is being echoed by the players throughout the team’s farm system. Cameron Rupp, Steve Susdorf and Andres Blanco have all repetitively made mentions to me about playing the game the “right way” and the need to make good decisions and to play hard at all times.

3) Barry Enright is one of the “older players” (28) that the Phillies brought in to add starting pitching depth. While his numbers last year were not impressive (a ERA north of 7.00 with the Angels’ Triple-A team last season), I was struck by how much he talked about a young pitcher’s ability to pitch when he doesn’t have his best stuff. Instead of complaining or using that as an excuse, he stressed (and I have a feeling new pitching coach Bob McClure has emphasized) the need to try to throw strikes consistently even when you don’t have good stuff on the mound. Eliminating walks is a major need for this organization’s pitchers, and it’s important that the players seemed to be getting that message.

4) The Phillies look to be in good shape behind the dish. At many levels of the organization, the Phillies can boast two solid catching options. Rupp heads the list of catchers and spoke about the importance of having competition to make everyone better. He also identified some solid goals to work on defensively this season, to go along with his impressive offensive potential. Veteran Koyie Hill also started the year at Triple-A and has major league experience with several teams. Two former blue-chip prospects, Tommy Joseph and Sabastian Valle, still have potential and will share time at Double-A. Andrew Knapp has perhaps the highest ceiling of all the young backstops in the organization and Deivi Grullon is looking to build on a solid season in the Gulf Coast League last summer.

5) I continue to have the same opinion of Jesse Biddle as I did midway through last season. Like in the limited times I saw him pitch at Reading last season, he needs to develop that consistency (there’s that word again) in throwing strikes to reach the parent club. I don’t believe he will be the next Cole Hamels, as I’ve heard some fans assume, and I think he’ll be more of a #3 or a #4-type of pitcher in the major leagues. I would love to be proven wrong as the lefty does have impressive stuff.

Which players do you think can be future stars with the Phillies? Which players would you like to see playing at the Big League level right now? Post your comments below or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com with your opinions and baseball observations.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies Pitching Projections

 

Phillies Pitching Projections

Last week, we examined what I hoped the Phillies’ lineup and position players roster would look like. This week, it’s the pitchers’ turn.

Starting Pitchers
• Cole Hamels
• Cliff Lee
• Matt Garza / Ricky Nolasco / David Price
• M. A. Gonzalez
• Doc Halladay (only on an incentive-laden contract)
• Kyle Kendrick
• Jonathan Pettibone
• Zach Minor (or another free agent “swingman”)

The Bullpen
• Closer — Jonathan Papelbon (if he’s not traded)
• Set-up — Joe Smith
• Lefty Specialists — Antonia Bastardo & Jake Diekman
• Long Men — B.J. Roseberg & Justin DeFratus
• “On the Bubble” Guys — Michael Stutes, Luis Garcia, Ethan Martin, Cesar Jimenez

First of all, you’re probably asking yourself why I listed eight starting pitchers when there’s only five starting slots. When I covered the Phillies back when Larry Bowa was managing, I remember him prophesying that the game was changing, stating teams need to have eight reliable Major League arms entering a season. His words have become commonplace for most teams, as evidence by the ten different starting pitchers (not including their “bullpen games”) used by the Phillies in 2013. The team needs to be proactive in acquiring enough talent going into the season. They must avoid sending out mediocre Triple-A hurlers in (what will hopefully be) meaningful July and August games, as they were forced to do in 2013.

Secondly, Garza is the best available free agent pitcher available, but there are a few other options I would pursue, both via trades and free agency. As stated in my analysis of the position players, I think you listen to offers for Dom Brown. Coming off an All-Star “breakout” season, I think you could package him (and additional prospects not-named Mikael Franco) to get a long-term “number-3” starting pitcher whom you can have under club control for the next couple of years.

Thirdly, for fans calling on Adam Morgan or Jesse Biddle to start the season with the big club… cool your jets. Morgan had injury problems throughout 2013, and each time he came back he pitched less effectively. Biddle also looked stellar at times, but battled with his control, and you simply CANNOT rely on a young, unproven arm in a year in which so much is at stake.

Finally, I would not simply hand Ethan Martin a spot on the roster. I know fans salivated at the mid-90s fastball and knee-bending curve he put on display in Philly this past season. However, I saw him battle the strike zone while with the IronPigs and think he has to develop some consistency in throwing strikes before becoming a later-inning reliever.

What do you think of my ideas for Phillies 2014 pitching staff? What players do you think the team will add before spring training? Post a comment and let us know what you would do if you were the Phillies’ general manager this winter!

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies Position Player 2014 Projections

 

Phillies Position Player 2014 Projections

Back in September, I gave my annual suggestions on what moves the Phillies should make for the upcoming winter trading and free agent season. With the World Series completed and offseason moves in the works, I want to give my take on the Phillies’ projected roster for position players, given the latest news, rumors and insights.

CF Jacob Ellsbury / Curtis Granderson
SS Jimmy Rollins
2b Chase Utley
1b Ryan Howard
RF Mike Morse / Nelson Cruz
C Carlos Ruiz / Dioneer Navaro
3b Cody Asche (might alternate with the catcher depending on if a right or left-handed pitcher is starting)
LF Ben Revere
Right-handed PH — Darin Ruff; Kevin Frandsen, Mark Reynolds or Chris Young
Left-handed PH — Cesar Hernandez or a Free Agent—preferably an outfielder and a ‘power bat’
Utility IF — Freddy Galvis
Backup C — Erik Kratz or Cameron Rupp

ANALYSIS:
First of all, I know you are saying: “Wait…where’s Dom Brown?” I think it’s very possible that the Phillies look to trade Brown for a quality starting pitcher (perhaps included in a package for Tampa Bay’s David Price?). The Phillies’ needs include improving their outfield defense, adding a consistent bat and improving both their bullpen and starting rotation, all at the same time. You have to trade somebody and Brown’s stock will never be higher. I saw him play for years in the minors, and he was very inconsistent, both at the plate and in the field. With the Phillies this year, he hit over .270 with 24 HRs the first half of the year, then hit under .250 with 4 HRs the second half. His defense? Spectacular one minute, botching routine plays the next. You can’t improve this team while keeping it the same, and Brown can get you the most among the trade-able players.

Ellsbury is a guy the Phillies have coveted for some time. Although he’ll be EXTREMELY expensive to acquire, he adds power and a consistent bat to your lineup and is less likely to get resigned by his former team than some of the other free agents the Phils are looking at. Granderson is a cheaper option to play center field, and he should require a shorter deal if the Phillies want to go that route. Cruz is a question mark coming off his PED suspension and his offensive numbers in pitcher-friendly parks are dramatically lower. Morse is a quality clubhouse guy and is coming off a down year—meaning he’ll be affordable and allow you to add a right-handed power bat while allowing you to still spend money elsewhere. Young could also be a right-handed addition who is not a liability defensively. Adding any two of these players improves your outfield defense in THREE spots (moving Revere to left field helps solve his “weak arm” issue that he had in center field).

I’ve heard several other media members strongly suggesting the Phillies will trade Revere instead of Brown, but consider this: what did the Phillies give up last season to acquire Revere…and is that what you really want to have back in return? Trading Brown is not a popular move, but one that must be considered for the right value in return.

The Phillies could also kick the tires on free agent outfielders Carlos Beltran (who I suggested on RCN SportsTalk two years ago when he was available) or Corey Hart, but both have injury issues and the Phillies have enough health-questions already on the roster.

I think the Phillies will try to upgrade by adding a better left-handed bat of the bench than Roger Bernadina, although he did add speed and quality defense. The Phillies were hoping that Bernadina could rebound from his sub-Mendoza batting average in September, but weren’t exactly impressed with what they saw. Because of the lack of outfield depth, I kept Cesar Hernandez off my projected Opening Day roster for now. Major League baseball ruled that he can have an extra option and therefore be sent to Triple-A for the upcoming year. The Phillies were impressed by his bat and the way he adjusted to center field. The plan is to send him to winter ball to see if he can play shortstop. If he can adjust to another new position, he might give Galvis a run for the backup infielder spot.

Ruff still needs to learn to better handle breaking pitches at the major league level and will provide insurance at both first base and the corner outfield positions. In extended playing time, Frandsen didn’t exactly have an explosive second-half at the plate. The Phillies could look to add an extra bat if they have money available, but Ryne Sandberg did talk glowingly about Frandsen’s approach at the plate on several occasions, and his double-digit pinch-hits this year were among the best in the Majors this season.

In an upcoming blog entry, we’ll take a look at the projected Phillies pitching staff. In the meantime, send us your thoughts on the Phillies lineup and position players for the 2014 season and post your opinions on what you think of my roster projections.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Connie Mack Baseball

 

Connie Mack Baseball

It was our pleasure for RCN SportsTalk videographer Mike Kingsley and myself to attend the Connie Mack All-Star Game at Limeport Stadium. This year was a little extra special due to the league’s season-long anniversary celebration for its 60th year of existence. It gives young athletes a place to play under-the-lights (which is still a big deal to many 14 to 16 year-olds) and to play in this special venue. While the score itself is not important, it definitely had more-than-the-normal number of highlights—both offensively, defensively, and on the mound—in addition to some unique experiences. A few of them include:

* Lehigh Township’s Matt Miller coming through with multiple hits in clutch situations to give the “Green Team” a lead it would not relinquish.

* Pen Argyl’s Zach Luke striking out the side in his one inning of work (to allow for more pitchers getting into the game, pitchers were limited to just one inning).

* The “bull-rush” of players who stormed the pizza guy when it arrived later in the evening. I gave a heads-up to stay out of the players’ way when it was delivered, and quickly realized the warnings were on-the-mark when the entire dugout of 27 players (per side) emptied on-mass to gobble down the complimentary meal.

* The “thank you’s” we received for coming to this event were not necessary, but very much appreciated. We’d love to spend more time at community events and try to cover as many local organizations as possible. It was our pleasure to showcase the kids who work so hard at this wonderful game of baseball

We’re going to have more highlights and be talking in much more detail about Connie Mack’s 60th Anniversary season on the July 25th edition of “RCN SportsTalk” (which will be live from 6-7 pm on RCN-TV). It would be great if fans of this organization would contact us with their support for the league and thoughts on Connie Mack’s past, present, and future. Below is a sample of the video we shot and comments from the “winning” All-Star Team members:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZkERjewD0lU

Feel free to post a comment or question on Connie Mack baseball and send us an email at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com. Tune in on July 25th at 6pm on RCN-TV as we’ll be reading and responding to your comments, as well as talking more about America’s Pastime and this special youth organization.

The SportsTalk Shop: Blue Mountain League Thoughts

SportsTalk Shop: Blue Mountain League Thoughts

It’s always good to sit down and chat with the people of Blue Mountain League, as we had President Bob Varju, Secretary/Treasurer Tim Fisher and Orioles Player/Manager Dave Stoudt on our most recent “RCN SportsTalk” show. In addition to talking about the first half of the season, their charity All-Star event and previewing what looks to be a certain horse race for the top four playoff spots this summer, we had to spend some time talking about the man the league was dedicating this season to, the legendary Ron Punkin Miller, and how much he meant to the league and to this area:

www.youtube.com/embed/Ifp2jniZZzQ

The entire show is available on RCN’s Video-on-Demand for free for the next several weeks.

A few other items we discussed during the program and in-between segments during our commercial breaks (when Fisher wasn’t chopping me to bits:)

 • If you haven’t been following along, this is one of the most competitive BML seasons in recent memory; as recently as this past Tuesday, there were four teams tied for first, and two more teams no more than a game-and-a-half back.

• Although rain has been a major issue and most team are very backed-up with numerous games left to be played with less than a month left in their season, pitching on most nights as been very solid. We had a nice 2-1 pitchers’ duel last Tuesday on RCN’s “Game of the Week” and there have been a bunch of young pitchers stepping up and performing well.

• Speaking of youth, how about all the major contributions of the rookies and one- and two-year players this season! It used to be rare for more than one rookie on a team to earn even a regular starting role, but the talent of the league this year has really been on the rise with multiple rookies per team making significant contributions. This should make for some great careers to come for individuals and for the league.

• Northampton Giants’ first baseman Dave Gulick has been making bats, not just for the BML, but also for local teams, minor league teams, and even bats that were used in the World Baseball Classic. If you want a good deal, get in contact with him.

What are your memories of Punkin? What BML teams have impressed you so far this season, and which squads are most likely to make the playoffs? Post a comment or email them to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com.

Behind the Mic: Pennsylvania State Baseball Championships

The Pennsylvania State Baseball Championships

Preparation
On Friday, June 14, the RCNTV team broadcast 4 games for the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN). There was plenty of work that occurred prior to the games themselves in order to be prepared to do the best job possible. The crew and office staff took care of all the logistics to get 15 people to the site, set up, fed, and housed. This is our 13th year of doing these games so the process was pretty much set.

For me, however, the process was greatly disrupted this year. The semifinals were to be played on Monday, which was the case for the past 12 years. This year, however, 15 of the 16 Monday games were postponed until Tuesday. One full day of preparation was eliminated. Everything was moved back a day. After Tuesday’s games were played and the championship finalists were known, a conference call was held on Wednesday morning informing all the teams of their responsibilities to the games and to me. I needed information and I needed it fast (coaches, rosters, starting lineups, statistics, human interest stories on the players and teams, historical records for the programs, coaches’ histories, etc.) The normal process allows two days – one day for gathering the information (Tuesday) and one day for organizing the information (Wednesday). There was only Wednesday this year. It all got finished with the last school to respond getting with what I needed by 3:30 on Wednesday afternoon. Additional information kept trickling in from the schools throughout the evening.

Driving to Work
The crew left for Penn State, the site of the championship games, at 9:00 and I left at 11:00. They needed to get to Medlar Field at Lubrano Park to lay all the wire, set up all the cameras, run the audio lines, and prepare the graphics for the next day. I needed to get to the hotel to sift through all the information I had gathered and prepare packets for each game for my fellow announcers. Their work is very physical, mine is mental. We all met in the hotel lobby, went to dinner and discussed the elements and concerns for the next day. Crew call was 7:00 AM; announcers’ call was 8:00 AM.

Championship Friday
Everyone was at the field by 8:30; 2 hours prior to Game One. The crew tested all the equipment; the announcers talked to the teams and their coaches. Everyone took their positions in the stadium and in the press box by 10:00 AM. “Let the games begin”. I have attached a highlight video summarizing the baseball highlights of the day. Tim Kafer put the piece together; and the musical background is from “The Greatest Game in the World” by Fran Kovalski.

There are 664 high school baseball teams in Pennsylvania; 39 District Champions; and just 4 State Champions. Congratulations to the winners!

As for our gang – We came on the air at 10:30 AM and said, “Good night, everybody” at 10:10 PM – 11 hours and 40 minutes later. In between, there were 4 games, 30 innings, with the final game of the day (naturally) going two extra innings to decide a champion. All of us believe we “hit a wall” sometime during Game Three, persevered, and got through it. It seems to happen every year. I had plenty of time to ponder the day with the 3 ½ hour ride home that followed and there are always the same two thoughts, “Job well done” and “I’m glad that’s over”.

Behind the Mic: Why not baseball?

This past Saturday night, second-base umpire Mike Estabrook called pinch runner Kyle Kendrick of the Phillies out at second base on a pick-off play in the ninth inning. Replay showed that the Milwaukee Brewer shortstop tagged Kendrick without the ball. No one saw the ball come free and roll into the bare hand of the shortstop. The Phils were down 4-3 at the time and the next Phillies batter doubled, but was left stranded. Right call = tie game; wrong call = lost game.

Baseball only uses replay for home run calls and, within the last two weeks, the umpires even got a home run call wrong. In the American league championship series last year, a Detroit player was called safe at second and TV replay showed the runner was out and the inning would have ended. Detroit scored two runs in the inning and won 3-0. There is a remedy to these bad calls. The NFL, NBA, NHL, major tennis tournaments, and some NCAA sports all use a form of instant replay. Why not baseball?

A subcommittee made up of Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa, and Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholtz will make recommendations for 2014. At first, consideration was to use replay only for a trap play and fair/foul. Now, all plays are being considered.

Baseball Instant Replay Concerns

  1. Do you allow a challenge system by the managers, much like NFL football?
  2. Do you use a replay official in the booth?
  3. Do you use replay for all situations?
  4. How much will replay disrupt the game?
  5. Will it add even more time to a game which most people think takes too long now?

All these questions will be answered soon. Eliminate the arguments, take some of the pressure off the umpires, and get the call right. After all, isn’t that the most important element?

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. Speaking of baseball, as of May 15, there were 21 weather-related postponements, the same total as all of last year.
  2. Did you know that no other state has hosted more USGA championships than Pennsylvania? The number is 80 entering 2013. Merion golf Club, the venue for the US Open in 2 weeks and Oakmont Country Club in Pittsburgh are the top two. They are the only two to host more USGA events than our own Saucon Valley Country Club which has hosted six. Saucon Valley will host their seventh in 2014 when 264 players converge at the club’s Old Course and the Weyhill course from September 5-11 for the Mid-Amateur Championship. 4,000 golfers attempt to qualify for this event. These are “true amateurs” who are over 25, with handicaps at 3.4 or less and have real jobs like the rest of us. The winner has an exemption for the Masters.
  3. The NHL hockey playoffs are experiencing some good ratings for NBC and, particularly, for the NBC Sports Network. The May 29 Western Conference Semifinal Game 7 between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings posted a 2.07 rating and averaged 3.354 million viewers, making it the highest-rated NHL game ever on NBC Sports Network, and the most-watched Semifinal game ever on cable.
  4. Congratulations to Parkland, Tamaqua, Salisbury, and Tri-Valley for winning District XI baseball championships this past week. On to states for them and for us. We have the PIAA state championships LIVE on PCN, Friday, June 14, beginning at 10:30 AM.
  5. I am hosting Sportstalk this Thursday (June 6) and the panel will be discussing the best 5 high school football players at various positions. Dick Tracy, Dennis Laub, Jack Logic and Joe Craig will offer their lists. I am putting my list together. There have been some great ones over the years Join us with your opinions. I am sure there will be many.

The SportsTalk Shop: Local Baseball Championships

While most of the RCN crew was broadcasting the LVC Baseball Championships, “SportsTalk” cameraman Mike Kingsley and I had the privilege of reporting on the Colonial League Championship in Limeport. It was a special night for a few reasons.

First … what a tremendous turnout! I decided to drive my personal car to the event and allowed Mike to have our “press spot”, not realizing that I would end up parking about a quarter-mile away due to the tremendous turnout and a completely overloaded parking area. Needless to say, it was a beautiful night and I NEEDED some exercise, so everything worked out fine. Too often, baseball (and other spring sports) are hurt by having to play games in the afternoon when parents/family members/friends, etc. are working and can’t see their kids in action. With this event, the under-the-lights atmosphere of the historic/unique Limeport Stadium (complete with cows in the right field “bullpen”) was heightened by the jammed-packed stands. It was great representation for the Colonial League to have so many people in attendance.

Second … thanks to the fans who came up to me and had so many nice things to say about the spring sports season, the kids, the teams, the great ball games and the numerous complements our “SportsTalk” team members received for our coverage of local teams and players. There are so many wonderful people in this area. It’s always good to talk about the positives in the community when dealing with high school athletics.

Third … Congratulations to the championship-winning Falcons, who are getting used to quality performances in big game situations. The Salisbury baseball team won their second consecutive league title, and fourth championship in the last five years (3-leagues & one district title). The “kids” were great to speak with and truly handled themselves with class and respect for the runner-ups, a very good Southern Lehigh team. The Falcons know how to play the game and appreciate their accomplishments, without letting it inflate egos or affect their focus.

Salisbury Baseball

You can view the segment at http://youtu.be/Wt3wS3W8isI

Justin Aungst had a particularly spectacular night; keeping hitters off-balance all evening on the mound, while providing the only offense the team would need–a first-inning, two-run home run over the left field fence. The team made some great plays behind him and they didn’t hurt themselves with mental errors (this team rarely does under Manager Mike Pochron). Their “celebrity” status (see the number of Youtube hits for their basketball game’s last second playoff win over highly-touted Wilson) hasn’t affected the players during their near-perfect baseball season to date (ironically, their only loss thus far was to Wilson). This group of underclassmen, most of whom have played together since third-grade, look for even higher goals the rest of this season.

Likewise, we had produced a feature on the Whitehall baseball team a few weeks ago on our “RCN SportsTalk” show (available on video-on-demand), and they, too, have envisioned some lofty goals thanks to their very workmanlike approach and success. Here are some of the highlights from the Zephyrs’ LVC championship win.

Lehigh Valley Conference HS Baseball Championship 2013 Highlights

You can view the segment at http://youtu.be/WwU7R1cQ1RE

Post below who you would like to win the District XI baseball playoffs. Can any teams from the RCN viewing area make a run in the state playoffs? Selfishly, I hope so. Gary Laubach, Scott Barr and I will once again be working with the RCN crew to broadcast the PIAA state finals at State College again this year. While I find it interesting to meet and interview new people every year at this event, it’s also nice to see some familiar faces in the title games.