BEYOND THE BOXSCORE … GETTING TO KNOW WHITE SOX OF JOHN “TREYBONE” SHELBY III

  I know there are a lot of people who envy me my job because I “get to meet a lot of baseball players.” And, of course, that’s true, I do.

  But the really best thing about my job? Getting to meet some amazing, awesome and, most important, incredibly nice people who also happen to be baseball players.

  And Chicago White Sox outfield prospect John Shelby III, aka “Treybone,” unquestionably ranks among the top guys on that list.

JohnShelbyIIIcopy.jpg  Admittedly, it’s taken “Trey” a little time to get used to that “outfielder” moniker. Since being drafted out of Kentucky in the fifth round of 2006 he’s gone from second base to outfield to second base back to outfield again, where he’s been learning the ropes full-time since the 2008 season at Winston-Salem.
 
  But as long as he keeps hitting the way he has the last two seasons, there is little doubt that his travel itinerary will see him keep moving up. 

  Named MLB.com’s White Sox Minor League Player of the Year after he hit .295 with 15 homers, 80 RBIs and a system-high 33 steals for the then-Warthogs (now Dash) last summer, Shelby finished eighth in the organization in batting, fifth in homers and second in RBIs.  He also tied a Carolina League record with a three-homer game. 

  That hot summer was not far removed from the numbers he put up in his first full season, 2007, playing for the Class A Kannapolis Intimidators, hitting .301 with 16 homers, 79 RBIs and 19 steals, while posting a 22-game hitting streak mid-season. 

  Likely bound for Double-A Birmingham when camp breaks next month, it might not appear at first glance like he has that much to work on offensively, but the 23-year-old has very definite goals to improve his game even more. 

  “Right now, I’m working on trying to hit the ball the other way,” said Shelby. “Pulling the ball is how I end up striking out a lot, I get beat on a lot of sliders I try to pull.”

  And, of course, he’s hoping to further improve his play in the outfield. 

  “Just looking ahead of me in the organization, there are a lot of good infielders in front of me,” he said. “The outfield picture isn’t wide open but I think there is a clearer shot to make it there, especially a guy like me. I think I bring something different to the table, a little power, I can steal some bags, whatever they want me to do.”

  If it sounds like he has a good grasp on the game and what it takes to get to the next level, that shouldn’t be surprising, seeing as how his dad, John “T-Bone” Shelby, Jr., was a big league star and is now a coach with the Baltimore Orioles. 

  The family name has always been important to Chicago White Sox outfield prospect John Shelby III. 

  The running joke in the family has long been that John III was following in his dad’s “cleatsteps” even before he could walk, turning whatever he held in his little hand into a ball. 

  “Ever since I was born I always had a glove or bat in my hand,” he said. “I hated toys. I just liked to throw things.”
 
  The oldest of six children (five boys and a girl), he talks to his dad pretty much every day, but there are actually more members of the immediate Shelby family that serve as inspiration to John III, who got the nickname “Treybone” from his uncle because they felt that “T-Bone” deserved to keep his nickname to himself.

  But ask him who he would trade places with for one day and he doesn’t hesitate: his 21-year-old brother Jeremy. 

  Jeremy, two years younger than John, is a redshirt senior on the baseball team at Grambling State, but he’s overcome more than just a few position shifts. 

  “He’s my ‘little big’ brother, and he overcame Hodgkins Disease in high school and it never fazed him,” Shelby said. “He got through it like it was nothing, and he really inspired me to be stronger as the oldest brother.”

  Jeremy is healthy and happy and continuing to be an inspiration to friends and family, dabblingon the side in singing Christian rap, among other things. 

  “He’s doing fine now, totally clean, nothing bothering him,” said Shelby. “He walks the walk and he talks the talk.”
.
MLB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest? 
John Shelby: A few things. Definitely getting engaged last year. Also, I love how my brothers look up to me, having their respect so I know it’s not about me, it’s about my paving the way for them. And as far as baseball, in college I only hit .291 as a junior so being able to bat over .300 in pro ball is a nice accomplishment. 

MLB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball? 
JS: I don’t even want to think about it (laughs). But I’m very involved in our church. I think I would finish up school and get married. What else can I do but play baseball?

MLB: Everyone has a “hidden talent.” What’s yours? 
JS: Everyone else in my family has a hidden talent, they can draw or sing, but I don’t have one. My hidden talent, I guess, is making people laugh. I have a dry sense of humor. 

MLB: What is the worst job you’ve ever had? 
JS: I haven’t had a lot of jobs but this off-season I got a job as a security guard for Kentucky basketball games. I thought I’d get to see the games, to peek in and watch them, but I couldn’t.
MLB: What is your guiltiest TV pleasure?
JS: The only thing I watch is “King of Queens.” I love that show. It always seems to relate to me. Other than that, I always have ESPN on but I’m not a big TV guy. 

MLB: Which aspect of life in the minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why? 
JS: Being away from family is the toughest thing. The baseball part isn’t tough, it’s what we love to do. But if you’re in a slump, you want someone to be there and give you a hug and you only have the phone.

MLB: If you were commissioner for a day, which one rule would you change? 
JS: They should have blood tests for steroids. You can’t fake blood. And there should be more off days. 

 

 

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BEYOND THE BOXSCORE … GETTING TO KNOW ATLANTA BRAVES LHP MARIANO GOMEZ

During the current World Baseball Classic mania, Team Netherlands has become the surprise poster child for countries who may not be associated with the words “baseball power” but whose players — young and not-so-young — have been getting the job done in a big way.

Honduras has a long way to go before it can compete in an international tournament of this caliber. But if it was represented, its own poster child, Atlanta Braves left-hander Mariano Gomez, surely would be a central part of the team.

Mariano.jpgThe 26-year-old, who signed with the Braves in the offseason as a Minor League free agent, was born and raised in San Pedro Sula in Honduras — a Central American country of more than 7 million and bordered by Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Honduras, like its Central American counterparts but unlike many other Latin American countries, has never been a baseball hotbed. In fact, only one Major Leaguer has been born in Honduras: outfielder Gerald Young, who played eight seasons with the Astros, Rockies and Cardinals.

The distinction there, however, is that while Young was born in Honduras, he was raised in California and drafted out of high school in 1982. Gomez, on the other hand, is actually Honduran. Think of the distinction along the lines of players who were born in, say Germany or Japan, because they had parents who were in the military and based overseas.

“He was born there because Honduras had a lot of banana-growing companies with a lot of Americans working there,” Gomez explained, and it should be noted that Young was born in tiny Tela, the home of the Chiquita Banana plant. “So we all know that he was the only player from Honduras to make it to the big leagues, but he was only really ‘Honduran-born.'”

Growing up in Honduras, baseball wasn’t the sport of choice for most young athletes, so it’s no surprise that the lanky Gomez played soccer with his friends. But when his cousin, who had moved to Texas, came home with bats, balls and other baseball equipment, he was a quick convert.

“He brought baseball back to his family whenever he came home on vacation, so me and my other cousins started playing,” Gomez recalled. “Every time we’d go to the soccer field, we’d start by playing soccer, but we’d finish playing baseball.”

It came so naturally to Gomez that by the time he was 17, he’d caught the eye of a Cleveland Indians scout who signed the lanky lefty to a contract in 1999. He spent eight seasons working his way through the Indians system, a move that started quickly but sputtered somewhat in 2003 when, while at Advanced A Kinston, he experienced pain in the middle finger of his throwing hand.

It took awhile before the injury was properly diagnosed, since it was a ligament injury almost unheard of in baseball (though, oddly enough, not uncommon among rock climbers). It limited Gomez to a handful of games in 2004, his first Double-A season, and eventually see him move from the rotation to the bullpen.

He spent the next three seasons bouncing back and forth between Kinston and Double-A Akron before eventually signing with the Minnesota Twins as a free agent for the 2008 season.

His Triple-A debut with the Twins’ Rochester affiliate was an impressive one as he posted a 2.76 ERA out of the Red Wings’ bullpen. And when he went into another offseason as a Minor League free agent, his agent had interest from 17 different organizations.

“Going to the Twins was an awesome experience, but I was disappointed when I didn’t get a callup, so I just asked my agent to try to find an organization that might need a lefty reliever,” said Gomez, who is still waiting to make his big league debut. “But when the time came and he had 17 teams interested, it was just too much information for me. So I asked him to pick the five best offers and explain to me why he’d chosen each one.”

After they went over the list together, the Braves stood out to him as the best opportunity. The fact that they were one of the teams he’d watched on TV growing up helped seal the deal in his mind.

And in his time as a non-roster invitee, before being reassigned to Minor League camp Sunday, Gomez may have helped seal the deal for his future as well, striking out three over four hitless innings in four games.

“I’m just trying to make a good impression because when you go to a new organization, that’s the most important thing,” he said. “I don’t want (Braves manager) Bobby (Cox) to have to think twice down the line if he needs a lefty.”

In the meantime, Gomez spends as much time as he can back home in the hopes that someday there will be more young Honduran kids who dream of a baseball career.

“I spent my offseasons at home there, working with the kids,” he said, “and hoping I can be a role model for them.”

There may already be one prospect in the making.

“I have a 16-year-old cousin named Orlando Castro, a left-handed pitcher,” Gomez said. “He has a tryout in the next few weeks and he’s going to be better than I am.”

MLB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest?

Mariano Gomez: I think being a father is the greatest thing to ever happen to me. Watching my son, Mariano Andres, being born. I’m proud to be a great father. (The couple just learned they will welcome a second child this fall).

Mariano and Son.jpg

MLB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball?

MG: My father owns a company selling pipes back home, so I guess I’d be working with my dad and maybe managing the company.

MLB: Everyone has a “hidden talent.” What’s yours?

MG: I love to fix my car. I’m no mechanic but love to get my hands dirty with the mechanics. Every offseason I go to this shop and spend hours with them.

MLB: Complete this sentence: It would surprise people to know that I …

MG: … Like to watch Spanish soap operas in my off time.

MLB: What is the worst job you’ve ever had?

MG: Carrying pipes. I was a driver and would drop off the pipes at the manufacturers. But it was my first time driving, so I was always nervous.

MLB: If you could trade places with one person for a day who would it be and why?

MG: I like to cook, so I’d trade places with a chef.

MLB: Which aspect of life in the Minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why?

MG: I think it’s moving out and living by yourself when you’re 16 … paying your own bills, being away from your family. You don’t make enough money to have money to send home. But the hardest part is being away from your family. I didn’t speak English very well and I’d come to places and couldn’t order food. I’d have to go to places that had the pictures of food on the menu so I could point at what I wanted.

MLB: Who is the most unusual character you’ve met in your pro baseball career?

MG: (Indians pitcher) Fausto Carmona. When the game starts he’s always the hardest competing guy, but when we’re off the field he’s the best guy ever to be around. He’s always happy and looks like he doesn’t have a worry in the world. I’ve really liked the time I’ve spent with Fausto in the Minors.

BEYOND THE BOXSCORE … VOTE FOR ANGELS C HANK CONGER!

  It’s certainly not unheard of for former athletes to end up running for office in the state of California.

  But Angels catching prospect Hank Conger has a head start on his predecessors:

  He’s already got a campaign video up on You Tube.  

  But before anyone gets up in arms about athletes speaking out on political issues, this particular video is obviously a joke, not a political statement.

  As an assignment for a class in government during his senior year in high school in Huntington Beach, Conger’s class held a mock election where he was chosen as one of the candidates.

  He selected a few classmates as his advisors and part of their campaign strategy was to create an election video that shows a side of Conger that most fans in the stands may not see, but his friends and teammates definitely do.

  “It would surprise people to know that I’m a big goofball once you get to know me,” he admitted, “because I’m pretty shy at first.”

  Conger was more than willing to go along with the offbeat assignment since the winner of the class election was guaranteed extra credit. And yes, he won the election and got that coveted A in the class.

  “It really was fun to make,” he said. “At first it was a little embarrassing when it leaked out but I figured, ‘whatever.'”

  Now, almost three years later, Conger has gotten a vote of confidence from the Angels as well, who made him their first-round pick in 2006.

  Though he’s been struggling to overcome a series of injuries that kept him from catching more than 10 games last summer and sidelined him for half the summer, when he has had the bat in his hand he’s been deadly.

Hank.jpg  While no one may be able to live up to the inspiration for his nickname, given by his grandfather in honor of Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, Conger (whose given name is Hyun Choi) has been more than impressive.

  The 21-year-old catching prospect got into four games, all as a pinch-hitter or DH, going 2-for-6 with three RBIs, before being dispatched to the organization’s Minor League complex on March 9. 

  But that wasn’t a hasty demotion. It was just time for the young catcher to get to work for what they hope will be a healthy and happy 2009 season. 

  Conger didn’t let those setbacks set him back at the plate, though. The switch-hitter batted .303 with 13 homers and 75 RBIs in just 73 games, quite a pace, at Advanced A Rancho Cucamonga. And when the Quakes’ season ended, he was moved up to Double-A Arkansas to join the Travelers in their successful quest for the Texas League championship, driving in another 13 runs in just eight games for his new team. 

  Now it’s time to add the defense back to the package. Conger has been working hard on getting healthy during this off-season and is now at the point where he is long-tossing and almost ready to catch again. 

  “I’ve just been working out, going back and forth to our Arizona complex to work with the trainers there on my throwing program,” said Conger. “I feel good and my arm is good so I should be ready to go.”

  Conger has hit a combined .298 in three pro seasons, batting .319 in his Arizona League debut in ’06 and .290 with 11 homers and 48 RBIs in 84 games at Class A Cedar Rapids in ’07. 

MLB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest? 
Hank Conger: Up till now, probably winning the Texas League championship. All my life it’s always been about going to big tournaments and falling short, winning second place. I didn’t get to play with them during the regular season but coming in with that team working together as a whole was awesome. 

MLB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball? 
HC: I was just talking to my dad about that and to be honest I have no clue. Growing up, I just wanted to be a baseball player so I never had a fallback plan. I don’t know if that’s bad or not. 

MLB: Do you have other hobbies or creative outlets aside from baseball?
HC: I love golfing and hanging out with my friends, hanging out with my family. When I was younger, before I signed, I took hanging out with my family and friends for granted but it’s harder now. 

MLB: What is your guiltiest TV pleasure?
HC: The dramas on TV now that are so ridiculous but I still watch them like “The Hills” and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

MLB: What reality TV show would you kick butt on?
HC: “Tool Academy.” I saw a couple of episodes and thought it was a joke. 

MLB: Who was your childhood crush?
Carrie Underwood and Michelle Wii, right now. 

MLB: Who would play you in the movie of your life?
HC: Jackie Chan. (laughed)

MLB: Which aspect of life in the minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why? 
HC: Handling the downside of everything, whether it’s a slump or an injury. 

MLB: Which aspect of life in the minors has surprised you the most, in comparison to what you might have imagined before you turned pro? 
HC: It’s more business and company-organization oriented. 

MLB: If you were commissioner for a day, which one rule would you change? 
HC: The All-Star Game rule, with the winner getting home field advantage. 

 

 

A LITTLE CANADIAN FLAVOR …

  It’s got the makings of being the kind of story they make Hollywood movies about. 

  Toronto Blue Jays rookie pitcher Scott Richmond knows that. He also knows there would have to be quite a bit more written, added to his already-amazing saga, to bring the folks from Miramax or even Disney to his door. 

  “It’s such an outrageous story that it could be a movie one day,” Richmond mused. “First I think I need to get in 10 more years and win a Cy Young award, but for now, to even get here under my circumstances is good enough for me.”

  The 29-year-old right-hander has less than a year’s worth of affiliated pro baseball experience under his belt yet right now he’s expected to break big league camp with one of the Jays’ starting slots and right now is preparing preparing to represent Team Canada in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.

  His Canadian squad opened up their pool play this past weekend at home at the Rogers Centre in a tough-fought loss to heavily-favored Team USA. 

  Frankly, it’s all a little surreal for Richmond. 

  A decade earlier, Richmond had graduated high school in Vancouver, B.C., but opted to go to work in the local shipyards rather than pursuing baseball or college. 

  Still, he kept busy by playing recreational baseball while working for three years, and friends kept urging him to give the game one more try. He finally took their advice, heading to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, to play semi-pro ball and from there got a scholarship to play for a junior college team in Missouri. 

  He followed his coach there down south to Louisiana. His showings there got him a spot at a Division I school, Oklahoma State, where he graduated but went undrafted largely because of a lack of visas for Canadians citizens to play in the Minors.      

  Richmond wound up heading home and signing with the Edmonton Cracker-Cats of the independent Northern League, and pitched for them from 2005 through 2007. 

  Richmond won back-to-back Pitcher of the Year honors for the club and got to know several of the most established players in Canadian national baseball, names like Stubby Clapp and Ryan Radmanovich and Mike Kusiewicz and Mike Johnston. 

  They passed his name along to both Greg Hamilton, the director for Team Canada, as well as to Rob Ducey, a Team Canada coach who is also a scout with the Blue Jays. 

  Meanwhile, in the fall of 2007, Richmond and his good friend and Edmonton teammate Reggie Rivard, a pitcher who had played with the Rangers and Brewers systems, headed down to the warm climes of Arizona to hit the open tryout camps offered by several big league organizations. 
 
  “We’d go to the tryout camps and a lot of guys like me but there were no visas and definitely no room for a 27-year-old pitcher who had never been with an affiliated team,” Richmond said. 

  But Ducey passed his name on the Jays who invited him to a much smaller private workout, one where he was in a select group of just 20 or so guys. 

  “Instead of the usual ‘You pitched well, we like you but we don’t have room,’ which I’d gotten about 100 times, I heard ‘We like your stuff and we want to invite you to spring training,'” recalled Richmond. “I just smiled from ear to ear. A spring training invite! And then the next morning, Team Canada asked me to represent Canada in the World Cup in Taiwan. At that point, that was the best 24 hours of my life.”

  So Richmond, whose travels had pretty much consisted of low-budget road trips to tryout camps, headed to the Far East to wear the maple leaf on the diamond, after which he returned stateside for his first spring training with his new team, his Toronto Blue Jays. 

  “It’s Canada’s team, and being Canadian, that was always our team to watch,” he said. “I mean, the Orioles are Baltimore’s team and so on, but the Blue Jays belong to the entire country!”

  Richmond made his affiliated professional debut in the Double-A Eastern League with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, posting a 4.92 ERA in 16 starts and getting a promotion to Triple-A Syracuse. 

  He was also named to the Canadian Olympic team for the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. In fact, his family was with him on the road in Indianpolis in anticipation of joining him for a brief stint in Toronto where that team was going to be introduced to the crowd prior to a Blue Jays game against Tampa Bay on July 30. 

  They were there for the introduction. But they were there for more as well. Because he was introduced as the Toronto Blue Jays’ starting pitcher that night, rather than with Team Canada, the sixth Canadian-born pitcher to ever play for the home team. 

  “Well, I had been excited about the Olympics,” he said. “But the only other thing that could have made me not want to go to the Olympics was making it to the big leagues so that was a positive thing.”

  He pitched well in a 3-2 loss to the Rays and stayed with the club for several weeks, before returning to Syracuse for the stretch. He returned with the September roster expansion and overall finished with a 4.00 ERA in five games in the big leagues. 

  Throwing a fastball in the low 90s, a slider, changeup and curveball, Richmond is a favorite for one of the starting slots this spring.

  But first, he has a little unfinished business to take care of. 

  “This will be like my little Olympics,” he said. “Every baseball fan in Canada knows all the Canadians in the Majors. I mean it’s not like there is a ridiculous amount of us. So to be in the same clubhouse together, to step on the field at the Rogers Centre wearing that jersey … Well, you’re always proud to wear your flag but to wear it at home with all those Canadian flags in the seats …” 

  He doesn’t finish the sentence. He doesn’t have to. 

 

BEYOND THE BOXSCORE … GETTING TO KNOW TAMPA BAY RAYS OF PEDRO POWELL

  It may be the ultimate statement that you’ve “made” it in baseball: getting a bobblehead doll made in your own likeness. 

  So when outfielder Pedro Powell learned that not only had he been chosen to be the model for a Lynchburg Hillcats bobblehead doll, but that it would be given away on the team’s 2008 Opening Night, he was pretty stoked. 

  By that time, Powell was no longer playing for the Advanced A Carolina League affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. But Ronnie Roberts, the team’s assistant GM, made sure that Powell received several of the dolls, which featured him holding up a base. 

PedroPowell.jpg  It seemed the fitting post for the first man in league history to win back-to-back stolen base titles. 

  But in the case of Powell, who is currently in Minor League camp with the Tampa Bay Rays organization, the Hillcats’ decision to immortalize him in … well, whatever they make bobbleheads out of … was about more than just his place in league history. 

 It was about his place in the hearts of Hillcats fans. 

  “When Ronnie told me I was such a fan favorite that they wanted to do something special for me, so they were going to give me my own bobblehead night, I was like ‘stop playing with me!’ and I figured I’d just wait and see,” recalled Powell, the Pirates’ 18th-round pick in 2003 out of Middle Georgia Junior College. “And then sure enough, Opening Night at Lynchburg was Pedro Powell Bobblehead Night.”

  Indeed, Powell was a huge fan favorite in his two years there, though “huge” may not be a word commonly associated with the fleet-footed Georgia native. 

  Standing (officially” at 5-foot-7 and weighing 150 pounds dripping wet, Powell is one of the more diminutive players in the game of pro ball but most of that 150 pounds may be his heart and hustle and even that is depicted in the doll. <p.
Pedro Powell.jpg 
  “It looks a lot like me,” he said. “It’s got my pants all dirty and everything.”

  Powell was making his brief Double-A debut with the Pirates’ Altoona club when 4,126 fans flocked through the gates in Lynchburg on April 11. He struggled with the move, hitting just .148 in 45 games before being released though his bat had seemed to finally come around in the week before the cut. 

  Within a week, though, the Rays had signed him and sent him to Advanced A Vero Beach for the season’s final few weeks, where he hit more than 100 points higher, at a .265 clip. He also batted .346 in August with 16 steals in 25 games.

  Powell had spent both the 2006 and 2007 seasons with Lynchburg, topping the loop his first go-round with 63 steals in 131 games while hitting .263 before returning for a second year and batting .241 with 67 steals. 

  He knows his game … in his 1.884 career at-bats in six seasons he’s had one home run, a two-run shot with Class A Hickory on July 28, 2005. In his tiny high school in Hawkinsville, Ga., the muscular mighty-mite was his team’s power-hitting heart of the lineup but he knew that wouldn’t fly in the pros. 

  “When I got into pro ball, it was a totally different game for me,” said Powell. “There were no more home runs, there were better pitchers, and I just have to learn to put the ball in play.”

  He also knows his chances of making it to the big leagues may not be very high but that doesn’t mean he won’t make the most of every minute he’s playing pro ball, both on and off the field. 

  He’s used his size to be an inspiration to the kids he visits at local schools, something he tries to do as often as he can, in-season and out. 

  “I let them know, “remember, never let anyone tell you what you can’t do in life,'” he said. “Always go for your goals. All through high school people would tell me ‘I don’t know how far you can go’ but I have a big heart.”

  Though, sadly, I do not yet have a Pedro Powell bobblehead doll (though I have cleared a special place on my bookshelf between my Wilmington Blue Rocks Mr. Celery bobble-something doll and my very precious Altoona Curve Tony Beasley nesting doll), GotMilb was fortunate enough to receive a photo of the collectible from the amazing Eric Marinbach, who is the foremost bobblehead collector. You HAVE to check out his blog and bobblehead calendar!

 

MLB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest? 
Pedro Powell: Off the field I like to go and speak to the kids in the community and try to give back, to reach out to them. They look at me see a professional ballplayer and want to be in my shoes and I try to let them know they can do anything in life they want. 

MLB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball? 
PP: I think I’d be coaching at some high school because I love working with kids. 

MLB: Do you have other hobbies or creative outlets aside from baseball?
I like to dance, I like to cook and I love bowling. I like spending time with my family, shopping at the mall with my mom and dad (he’s an only child) and going out and having a good time.

MLB: Complete this sentence: It would surprise people to know that I … 
PP: … am a big-time Georgia Bulldogs fan. 

MLB: What reality TV show would you kick butt on?
PP: I’d like to have my own reality show. I’d call it “The Love of Pedro.”

MLB: If you could trade places with one person for a day who would it be and why?
PP: Champ Bailey. I love football. He’s a well-respected young man that likes to give back to his community. And he’s rich (laughs). 

MLB: Which aspect of life in the minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why? 
PP: I think not moving up as quickly as you’d like to. And just playing hard and trying to put up the numbers but not getting where you want to be. But I believe if you keep playing hard good things will happen. 

MLB: What is the best minor league promotion or visiting act you’ve seen? 
PP: Well, my favorite was my Bobblehead Night. But if it’s anything to do with the fans, I love it, no matter what it is. 

 

HIYA BLONDIE, HOW’S YOUR OLD TOMATO?

If those words scream “BASEBALL” to you as much as, say, “pitchers and catchers report” or “strike three” or, of course, “Ball Four!” then you will LOVE the fifth episode of our podcast BASEBALL HONEYMOON …

bballhoneymoon2.jpgWe have three terrific guests this week, but the star of the show is the legendary Jim Bouton … also along for the “baseball book”-themed ride is MLBlogs superstar Jane Heller talking about her new book “Confessions of a She-Fan” as well as the amazing Howard Bryant, whose book “Shutout: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston” won the 2002 Casey Award for the best baseball book of the year …

But don’t take my word for it … read all about it here at Wayne’s blog entry … and then please go check out the podcast itself!

Snuggle up next to a nice lamp, pour yourself some cocoa and try not to fall asleep two paragraphs in, because Baseball Honeymoon is all about reading….baseball books! For our 5th show, we talk about the best in baseball lit, and we got 3 great authors to interview for you. Get ready to expand your summer reading list, kids!

As always, we kick things off with Bagels and Boxscores. Lisa has printed out the rosters for the contending teams of the World Baseball Classic, and intimates that some pitching staffs might be a little thin thanks to their MLB teams protecting pitchers from the tournament. Wayne lets all know that his knuckler is ready for the call, if needed.

Our 1st interview of the show (at 16:00) is a highlight for both hosts; a major figure from their youth consented to be on the show (thankfully our reputation did not precede us). Ex-pitcher, sports anchor, actor and, of course, author Jim Bouton (of “Ball Four” fame) gives us about 15 minutes of fascinating talk. Lisa stifles the desire to blurt out “You’re my biggest fan!!!”. Jim talks about the incentive to write the book, the initial very negative reaction he got, and the ensuing accolades. He also talks about his process, and some of the other projects he has been involved with. He gets Wayne’s vote for best guest yet!

At 30:50 we apologize for our destruction of “The Sandlot”, and award a BH mug to one of the many contest entrants. Then Wayne presents the new contest. Good luck, and no cheating!

Author Jane Heller discusses her newest book “Confessions of a She-Fan” at 33:21. It’s a very funny, very personal account of a season following her beloved Yankees around the country, husband in tow. Jane chats about her frustrations getting access to the Yanks, and about how a personal venting session morphed into a hugely entertaining work of non-fiction.

44:36- Music; “Black to Blue”, Jamieson Tobey.

The guests keep coming, as Lisa interviews author Howard Bryant at 46:40. Howard wrote about the history of racism within the Red Sox organization in his book “Shut Out; A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston”. Howard describes what it was like to grow up as a black man in Boston and how in his community, the Red Sox were ignored, while in others they were revered. He also gives us a preview of his forthcoming biography of Henry Aaron.

59:05- Music; “Everybody Feels The Same”, Jamieson Tobey.

At 59:45 we start our top 5 lists of baseball books. Lisa admits that she was stretching to find top 5 movies and songs, but had the opposite problem with books. She’s a writer, and we must give her some slack. Most of the crossover is on each of the hosts’ honorable mention lists, but you KNOW a book discussed on this show would be in the top 2 for both. By the way, all 3 guests also chime in on their favorite baseball books, so have a pen and paper handy for some great recommendations.

We had to hold off on Curly W segment due to the length of this episode, but Bill will return on the next show with more pith and vinegar.

1:11:50- Music; “Smoke”, Jamieson Tobey.

 

BEYOND THE BOXSCORE … GETTING TO KNOW TWINS SS TREVOR PLOUFFE

  Spring training numbers don’t necessarily mean much in the bigger scheme of things but still, Minnesota Twins shortstop prospect Trevor Plouffe had to be stoked when he walked into the clubhouse on his first day of his first spring training on the 40-man roster and saw what was hanging in his locker: 

  A uniform top with the number 1. 

Trevor.jpg  Last spring, when he was over in camp as an invitee, he was No. 93. So yeah, this is a nice improvement. 

  “I’ve always been a fan of single digit numbers,” said Plouffe, 22, the Twins’ top pick in 2004 out of high school in southern California. “So it was pretty cool to see that I’ve moved up 92 numbers.”

  It was also pretty cool for the laidback Plouffe to reunite with so many of the friends he’s made in his five seasons with the Twins organization. 

  “For a lot of the guys I’ve come up with, it was the first big league spring training for all of us, so we were all like ‘hey, we’re finally over here for good,'” he said. In the past, of course, he’d had the occasional at-bats with the big boys when they’d call over to the Minor League complex to bring over individuals for a given game, but this was different. 

  “When you come over for the day, you don’t really feel like you belong, you’re more like a guest,” said Plouffe. 

  Plouffe had been anticipating the trip to Fort Myers since he got the autumn phone call telling him he’d been added to the 40-man roster. And while, as a first-round pick, it wasn’t totally unexpected, that didn’t make it any less exciting, nor did it calm those “first day” butterflies. 

  “I guess you could kind of compare it to the first day of school,” said Plouffe, “but obviously I’ve been over here a few times during previous spring trainings. But we have such a foundation of guys who have come up together through the system that whenever I went over there in the past, I already knew a lot of guys in the clubhouse which made it easier.”

  Ironically, his best friend in the clubhouse is not a longtime Twins prospect but rather a young star who came over via trade, former Tampa Bay Rays top pick Delmon Young. The two have been buddies for more than a decade since they played on elite travel teams together in California, and are rooming together this spring. 

  The Rays nabbed Young with the first overall pick in 2003, a year before Plouffe went to the Twins with the 20th pick. The right-handed hitter combined to bat .260 between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester last summer, adding six homers and 39 RBIs in 124 games while seeing time at his usual shortstop slot as well as second and third to add to his versatility. 

  He hit .274 with nine homers, 50 RBIs and 37 doubles at New Britain in 2007 after spending full seasons at Advanced A Fort Myers in 2006 and Class A Beloit in ’05. 

  The spring training stint has been a positive learning experience so far for Plouffe, and he’s soaking it all in before his likely return to those backfields to prepare for a 2009 start with the Rochester Red Wings. 

  “It’s realizing that though to the casual eye spring training seems relaxed and like everyone’s taking it easy,” he said, “the truth is everyone is working really hard, especially at our camp.” 

  And for future reference, though his last name has become a little more a part of the public lexicon thanks to President Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe (no relation as far as he knows), it is pronounced “ploof.”

  “People get it wrong about 90 percent of the time so when they get it right I’m so surprised that I actually congratulate them,” he said. “But I have noticed they’ve gotten it right more often since Obama’s campaign.”

MLB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest? 
Trevor Plouffe: I’ll go with something off the field, because family is important to me. I was best man at my brother’s wedding and oversaw all the things a best man oversees. Beforehand we went camping up and down the California coast in my uncle’s RV. And I nailed the speech. 

MLB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball? 
TP: Obviously I’d be in school somewhere, but as far as work I think I’d fit somewhere in the music industry. My friend’s dad owns a recording studio and I’ve always been intrigued with everything he does there, the whole music aspect of that. I love that whole business. 

MLB: Everyone has a “hidden talent.” What’s yours? 
TP: I’m probably the best hacky sacker in pro ball. That stems from going to an all-boys school. At lunchtime that’s what you do because there are no girls to look at. 

MLB: Do you have other hobbies or creative outlets aside from baseball?
TP: I think you have to. I love the outdoors, fishing, camping. And I love playing music.  I play guitar. Last year in our house in (New Britain) my roommate Dustin Martin played guitar and Toby Gardenhire was our singer. We called ourselves The Beach Bums. I have all the pictures saved up. Maybe I’ll use them on the blog (Plouffe will be blogging for MLB.com this summer at MLBlogs). 

MLB: What is the worst job you’ve ever had? 
TP: I used to work with my dad, who is a pool contractor. One day we had to cut through this old iron sand filter and shovel the sand out of it. It was about eight feet tall and six feet wide. And he decided to put the truck in drive without knowing I was back there shoveling and I fell out of the back of the truck so that was the worst day of work I’ve ever had. 

MLB: If you could trade places with one person for a day who would it be and why?
TP: I would have loved to have been (Led Zeppelin’s) Jimmy Page in his heyday. I was trying to get tickets to go see them in London when they play the tribute concert, I put my name in the raffle but didn’t get picked. 

MLB: Which aspect of life in the minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why? 
TP: I think the first challenge you encounter is being on your own and away from everything you’re familiar with. Once you get used to that, it’s just about sticking to a routine. When I first started, a lot of times I found myself sleeping and waking up because I didn’t have a set schedule, and when you do that you get tired more frequently so you have to learn to stick to a good routine.