I just want to give huge kudos to the Houston Astros organization for giving the “okay for liftoff,” and letting their Minor League hitting coach Stubby Clapp take a month hiatus this summer to play for Team Canada at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
It’s awesome enough that an active coach will get a chance to get back on the field … and let’s face it, no one gets on the field the way that Clapp does, via trademark back flip …
Currently the hitting coach for the Class A Lexington Legends in the South Atlantic League, Clapp has become a Minor League legend for more than just his catchy nickname (for the record, his given name is Richard Keith Clapp III but he was nicknamed “Stubby” like his dad and grandfather before him).
A longtime farmhand with the St. Louis Cardinals, his big league resume consists of a grand total of 23 games in 2001 but the impact he had on fans around the Minors lives on.
He played for four years for the Cards’ Triple-A Memphis Redbirds affiliate and in 2007 his No. 10 was the first number retired in that club’s history. Also, if you can get it (I am sure it is a collector’s item), he was featured — all 5-foot-8 of him — on a growth chart for kids during his Redbirds reign. And as if Memphis fans didn’t love him enough, he even married a lovely local lady.
But newly-planted Tennessee (and Kentucky) roots aside, the 35-year-old from Windsor, Ontario, has really been the face, the heart, soul and sense of humor, of Baseball Canada for years.
Back in 2004, when Canada made it to the Summer Olympics in Athens (while Team USA stayed home following a 1-0 loss to Mexico in the qualifying semifinals), it was Clapp who was the team leader as well as king of the arts and crafts club — when slugger Justin Morneau was promoted to the big leagues right before the Olympics, it was Clapp who found a Morneau bobblehead doll given away by the Rochester Red Wings earlier that summer and painted a Team Canada uniform on it. That became the lucky charm for the club, which played its way to the Olympics semifinals and actually led Cuba in that game before allowing the winning runs in the late innings. I know. I followed the game with my heart in my mouth online that day.
I was lucky enough to acquire a Stubby Clapp bobblehead doll which is one of my most prized collectibles (in case you’re wondering, left to right, that is the Phillies Phanatic Bobble-Belly doll, Stubby in his Memphis glory, Kevin Millar, Prickle the Dinosaur from Gumby, and, perhaps my most unusual collectible, my Tony Beasley nesting doll from when the current Pittsburgh Pirates third base coach was the manager at Double-A Altoona. Missing from the picture is my Mr. Celery bobble — um — stalk?)
Anyway … Now Stubby is a coach, and may I say an outstanding hire by the Astros organization. I can think of few people who could be more inspiring to young charges. So I do understand why the club was reluctan at first to lose him for a month mid-season.
But I am SO glad the decision was reconsidered and that Stubby will get the chance to be with Team Canada in what may be the final hurrah for baseball at the Olympics … even though he’s been plagued by a bad knee, it’s his heart that is so vital to that team.
Way to go, Astros!
While in Syracuse earlier this week, I was able to catch up with an old friend, pitcher Danny Graves who signed with the Minnesota Twins this past off-season and is pitching for the Rochester Red Wings.
The term “old friend,” however, is kind of a misnomer when you’re talking about “Gravy.”
I first met him back in the January 1996 when he was one of a dozen participants in the Cleveland Indians’ inaugural Winter Development Program. Just 22 at the time and one of the club’s top prospects, his gregarious personality stood out and made him an immediate favorite, kind of like everyone’s kid brother.
He went on, as you probably know, to enjoy significant big league success as a closer, primarily after being traded to Cincinnati (where he had four seasons in which he saved 30 or more games, including a 41-save campaign).
He also became the first Major League to have been born in Vietnam, a heritage of which he has always been very proud (his mom is Vietnamese and met his dad when he was stationed there during the war).
Because my job is — and pretty much always has been — covering the Minor Leagues, one of the weird downsides is that I tend to lose touch with some of my favorite guys when they become “successful” because I don’t get out to many big league games. So it’s sort of strange, then, when I DO see them, because on the one hand I am happy to reconnect but on the other hand, I’m sure they don’t really want to be in the Minors at this point.
But I have a feeling that Graves won’t be in the Minors much longer. After some struggles in 2005-2006 he regrouped in the independent Atlantic League last summer, leading the loop with 33 saves for the Long Island Ducks, and the Twins took notice.
Now, I KNOW that I look pretty much every minute of the 12 years that I’ve aged since I met Graves. But Gravy? Although the calendar says he’ll be 35 this summer, he looks exactly like he did at 22.
Except maybe a few more tattoos.
So as a newbie blogger I have made a stunning realization. The longer I go between entries, the harder it is to create a new one. You might think it would be easier … so much more to write … but instead it’s a little overwhelming.
I’d been slow on the uptake partly because I was (and this is really hard to admit) … *I was on dial-up* … I know, I know. Dinosaur. But now that I have discovered the joys of high-speed internet (thank you Comcast) I have no excuse.
So here I sit in Syracuse (again!) vowing that this time it will be different. You know, like all 1,876,342 diets I’ve been on in my (mumble/deleted) years.
I’ll take it slow. One blog at a time. Starting … now.
So, I’m ready to take bids from all of the communities across our great country that have been suffering from drought conditions. That’s right, bids for me to come to (YOUR PARCHED TOWN HERE) to cover a Minor League Baseball game. Because apparently all it takes to bring “steady soaking rain” to a town is for my bosses to send me there to cover a game.
I am buying stock in Pep Boys windshield wipers because I am giving mine a serious workout. So far, in the last few days, I have driven 11 hours. And I am not exaggerating when I tell you that it has rained for every single second of those 11 hours on the road.
Maryland to Ithaca (a detour en route to Cooperstown to visit my awesome sister), Ithaca to Cooperstown, Cooperstown to Syracuse. Rain rain rain rain rain.
But even in the rain, can I just say that Cooperstown is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been. If you are a baseball fan, it’s just nirvana. For those of you who are fans of “Twilight Zone” think of the episode about “Willoughby” (one of my favorites) … just a throwback in time about 100 years. But with streets lined with dozens of shops filled with everything a true fan could imagine. Not crappy cheap mass-produced souvenirs, but unique ones (for example, when I came here 20 years ago, I got a Seattle Pilots ashtray!) … and cafes, ice cream parlors, quaint B&Bs and inns all in a gorgeous pastoral lakeside upstate New York setting …
Oh, and did I mention the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum?
A day trip here is simply inadequate. It would take a few days just to experience the Hall of Fame on its own. To truly soak in the atmosphere, you need a few days. I am really hoping to get back here as a visitor and vacationer soon.
I also had the rare treat of sitting in on a chat with Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk, presented by the Hall for its members on Saturday evening. Though of course I knew Fisk’s awe-inducing numbers (24 years in the bigs and 2,226 games caught and he still has knees, not to mention at 60 years old an amazing head of hair!!!) I really had no clue to his personality before Saturday. The man is hilarious … self-deprecating (though not in a fake manner), funny, clever and very very frank. It was one of the most enjoyable Q&A sessions I’ve had the pleasure of attending in quite awhile.
Unfortunately, his subsequent appearance throwing out the first pitch at the Cooperstown Classic game this afternoon between the Syracuse Chiefs and Rochester Red Wings was not in the cozy confines of the Hall of Fame Grandstand Theater but rather on the cold and wet field at Doubleday Stadium.
The game was, as they say, banged in the second inning to be allegedly picked up Monday as a double dip between these same teams. I say allegedly because I am still here. Which means … well, you know.
Sorry guys, Enjoy your night off.
And hey, maybe next entry I’ll try to graduate to … graphics. And pictures. Woo hoo!!!
So I had a “mascot epiphany” of sorts last week.
I was at the (amazing, gorgeous, one of the gems of the Minors) DBAP — the Durham Bulls Athletic Park — and being a mascot geek, I was especially loving the “antics” (hate that word but can’t think of a better one) of the energetic and adorable Wool E. Bull.
Now, I know that Wool E. Bull, who joined the Durham Bulls as their official mascot in 1992, was named after the Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs oldie “Wooly Bully.” It’s even the song he has on his official MySpace.
But could it be total sheer coincidence that one of the most hilarious and memorable scenes in the movie “Bull Durham” (other than the candlesticks mound conference) occurs during a road trip bus ride when the clueless Nuke LaLoosh strums away on his guitar, butchering the classic “Try A Little Tenderness” by singing “She may be WOOLLY … young girls they do get woolly …” (I had hoped there would be a YouTube clip of this scene I could link but sadly, there isn’t … if anyone wants to post one and let me know, I’ll edit this entry and give you credit!)
Coincidence? I think not.
I won’t go into TOO much detail about my 20 years of memories of Durham Bulls baseball, dating back to my christening as a Minor League beat writer in the Carolina League in 1989, simply because I plan to write an entire column about that this coming week (it hits the MiLB.com site on May 5!).
However, I think the Bulls and the film have so much to do with the incredible surge of popularity that Minor League Baseball as a whole has enjoyed in the last 20 years. And for that I have to give a huge thank you to the film’s creator (and former Minor League infielder himself) Ron Shelton.
The team is celebrating that 20th anniversary of the release of Shelton’s classic all season long at the DBAP, including one particularly awesome film clip they show on the Jumbotron screen that fast-forwards that bus trip scene several years (maybe decades) into the future, with Bulls “team ambassador” (that’s his title!) Bill Law as a “more mature” Nuke, singing about young girls getting woolly, and long-time radio broadcaster Ken Tanner as a slightly older Crash Davis tearing the guitar out of his hands.
Anyway, I’d only been to the DBAP once before, several years ago, with a group of family and friends on a rainy night sitting in the outer reaches of the left field stands, behind the visitors’ dugout. So I hadn’t really appreciated just how wonderful a stadium it was until this time through town.
It boasts the perfect combination of old-fashioned red brick charm and new-fangled comforts to provide the ideal night at the ballpark for anyone from a diehard baseball fan to someone who just wants to go out and enjoy a night in the warm Carolina evening air.
And when the game is over, the “entertainment district” is just across the street, with free indoor parking and several restaurants and bars scattered up and down “American Tobacco Campus.” I went to Tyler’s, with its friendly staff and fried pickle chips but there are plenty of other places to choose from, if you still have room after availing yourself of the concession stands at the park.
And with the wealth of talent in the Tampa Bay organization (in my opinion the most loaded organization in baseball right now), you’re pretty much guaranteed of getting to see some of the game’s top prospects in Durham anytime between tomorrow and, oh, the next several years.
So in case you hadn’t figured it out, I’m pretty much of a mind that anyone who calls themselves a baseball fan — or a film buff — needs to make a pilgrimage to Durham, NC. Catch a Durham Bulls game at the DBAP, and while you’re at it head a few blocks over to the original Durham Athletic Park where the movie was filmed to see what they’re doing there.
They just broke ground this week on a $5 million renovation and restoration project to bring the field back to its former glory, as the home of the North Carolina Central University baseball team and the site of a new Minor League Baseball training facility.
Go. Tell them GotMilb sent you. It won’t make a difference but it will make me feel good.
Than to be in Carolina watching baseball.
Coming to you live and in person (okay, in cyberspace) from Durham Bulls Athletic Park (fondly known as the “DBAP” to distinguish it from its predecessor, the “DAP,” Durham Athletic Park) as the host Bulls take on the Charlotte Knights in an all-North Carolina International League showdown. Blue skies, sunshine, about 70-something degrees.
A little slice of heaven.
But before I continue, please let me point your attention to the links on the right. They are there courtesy of my new best friend, Firefox. Someday I might learn to actually listen to people who are more knowledgeable than I am when they make technical suggestions. My co-workers and my husband have been trying to convince me to download Firefox for awhile, basically every time I whine about my slow computer and lousy connectivity. Of course, I’m still the dinosaur on dial-up (until Friday when Comcast comes to install high speed internet!).
However, I’d been baffling even our techiest techies with my inability to install/fix links. Until now. Firefox has freed me. I’m gonna be a link-adding fool, I tell you. PLUS it will apparently make it easier for me to watch our own MLB.com/MiLB.com games online. I may NEVER get out of my desk chair now …
So go check out some of my links! Nothing quite expresses your true identity like the links you post, right? Which makes me … um … a hot dog-eating, soy sauce-loving, snarky obscure music fanatic with a slightly necrophiliac tendency. All righty then.
But back to baseball. Drove about 300 miles down I-95/I-85 with the torrential rain following me pretty much every tread-track of the way. Spent the last two afternoons/evenings over at Five County Stadium in Zebulon, home of the Double-A Carolina Mudcats, to work on a feature package on their outstanding center field prospect, Cameron Maybin, which you’ll be able to read at The Farms Almanac starting on Friday, April 25.
Five County is definitely one of my favorite stadiums. Sure, it doesn’t have quite the same architectural charm of, say, a DBAP. Sure, location-wise it doesn’t have quite the downtown appeal of, well, a DBAP. But it has a soft spot in my heart for several reasons.
For one thing, Five County may have the best ballpark food in the Minors. As far as its concession stands go, it has everything from fantastic Carolina barbecue (my weakness) to catfish sandwiches (their logo is a catfish) as well as all of the more traditional favorites. But it also features a gourmet-quality full-service restaurant called Cattails which is open year-round.
For another, you gotta love their mascot Muddy Mudcat. You might think there really isn’t anything cute and cuddly about a catfish but they managed to make Muddy adorable. On Tuesday night, as the torrential rains dwindled into scattered showers, he roamed the stands wearing a jaunty yellow poncho and rain cap.
I also got to witness something I have heard about for years but thought was one of those urban legends until Tuesday night: a batboy being sent out in search of the key to the batters’ box.
It’s one of those rites of passage that I thought might, by this point, be apocryphal. Could anyone still fall for such a ruse in this day and age? Apparently so. For several innings, I watched this kid running back and forth between the dugouts, between the clubhouses (located at the far end of each outfield foul line), up to the radio broadcaster’s booth, even to the chef at Cattails, in search of that elusive key. I won’t mention his name here and I won’t out the player who sent him on his fruitless search (though I will say it WASN’T Maybin, who himself was a batboy for the Asheville Tourists for three years as a teenager).
But at one point, I saw him carrying a small box down the right field line and could not figure out what that was about. Turns out, when he asked the Mudcats clubhouse attendant for the key, the clubbie told him he didn’t have it but asked him if he could please find him some left-handed curveballs and handed him the box to collect them in. Double whammy.
I wasn’t around when he was finally let in on the joke. But I am told he took it like a good sport. I am hoping the players tipped him well last night, Especially … well, player that sent him on the search, you know who you are! And so do I.
To save your eyes and sanity, I am going to sign off for now, but will return to blog tomorrow all about Durham, since the parks, old and new, deserve an entry of their own.
But in the meantime, HAPPY BIRTHDAY FERNANDO PEREZ!!!
Just want to get caught up on my first road trip of the season before I’ve forgotten too many of the details to share (don’t laugh, this will happen to you someday as well).
I won the “Opening Day First Game” lottery this year and got to see the first pitch of the 2008 season thrown in Syracuse … and no, even though it may sound that way, I’m actually not being sarcastic about that.
For one thing, it was a great game, a true pitching duel between a pair of 2004 first-rounders whose names were called just nine picks apart: Louisville Bats ace Homer Bailey, taken with the seventh pick by the Reds, and Syracuse Chiefs southpaw David Purcey, taken with the 16th pick.
Both pitched brilliantly with Purcey getting the win as Syracuse prevailed, 2-0. Coming back from elbow trouble which cut short his 2007 season, Purcey started his comeback in Arizona Fall League last year and was one of the top pitchers in that league, so he was really picking up where he left off in November with his six innings of shutout ball. And though Bailey took the loss, he looked great. He has the most effortless motion and seemed like he could have easily pitched another 10 innings beyond the seven he threw (I kid, they’d call the ASPCP if he did that).
I didn’t get to see as much of Syracuse and that “CNY” area as I would have liked, however. We were slated to drive down to Binghamton the next night and catch a game between the B-Mets and Trenton Thunder (the Yankees farm team) but the cold rain washed out both that game and what would have been the second game of the Syracuse-Louisville series as well, leaving us to look out our hotel windows at what I presume was downtown Syracuse.
I was actually rather sentimental about being in Syracuse because my very first Minor League game was a Chiefs game, way back in … oh, okay, I’ll admit it. 1987. I was up there with a few co-workers to cover the annual Empire State Games (think New York State’s version of a mini-Olympics) and we decided to sneak out and skip the big opening ceremonies to see the Chiefs play the Maine Guides. (I guess I can admit that now as well, more than 20 years later, right?) The fact that we could walk into a ballpark 15 minutes before a game and get front row seats right behind first base just gobsmacked me.
So I didn’t see much of Syracuse (or make my first trip to Binghamton for that matter) this trip but as far as giving my faithful readers a brief travelogue, I DID see a lot of my hotel and can’t recommend it highly enough for anyone who might be making a trip up to the city … the Renaissance Syracuse is awesome. For one thing, it’s round and I’m still easily impressed by that sort of thing. The rooms all have huge plasma screens (the better to watch America’s! Next! Top! Model! while working) and great showers (though, sadly, no bathtubs). And the hotel bar (The Library) is cozy and friendly and has a wonderful bartender and free wireless internet (hey, I had a late flight out and had several hours to kill and a rotisserie draft the next day to prep for).
I actually have two more swings through upstate New York on the docket in the next month (Rochester and Buffalo at the end of April and then the Cooperstown Classic between Syracuse and Rochester in mid-May) but first I’ll be heading down to North Carolina for a few days next week, to see the Carolina Mudcats host the Tennessee Smokies before heading over to Durham for a few days. So if you see the GOTMILB-mobile, be sure to come say hi!
I’ll be the one stuffing my face with Carolina barbecue!
Just barely, though. Normally that span of a week or two between road trips is a chance to chill a little bit. Sure, I get caught up on a lot of writing, including the written features that will run on the site (this week I had the Louisville dynamic duo of Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey, for example), and try to bring myself up to date on all things baseball but in a less frantic way than when i’m on the road.
This year, the very nice powers that be were kind enough to let me add a new weekly feature into the mix, one I’m REALLY excited about. We’re calling it “Movin’ On Up” and given all the extra work my friends and colleagues on the copy desk have to do to give it its bells and whistles, I hope you all will take a look at it here!. It will go up on the site every Friday and will feature the Major League debuts that were made in the receding week … what transaction led to the promotion, what the player did in his very first taste of the bigs and some news and notes about him. PLUS it will link to hs MiLB Player Page which means readers will have pretty much his life story and full stats at the click of a mouse!
Back in the days when I was at USA Today Baseball Weekly I handled the debuts as well and although it was labor intensive, it was in a good way. It made me very aware at all times who was on the 25 and 40-man rosters (there used to be a game they played on this overnight radio sports show locally where they’d try to stump the caller as to whether a player was up or down and I ALWAYS knew the answer!!!) and also more aware of how the newbies would factor into their teams.
AND it was a hugely popular feature. On the weeks when they’d decide there wasn’t room for it (because, you know, we’d have to run ads for Russian mail-order brides or something), I’d get a LOT of unhappy phone calls wondering where their debuts were (although I guess it could have been worse — they could have been calling to find where their Russian mail-order brides were). So when my bosses here agreed to let me give it a shot I was delighted and apparently I am not the only one …
Many thanks to those of you such as my friend/reader Jimmy in Richmond who wrote in to let me know how happy they were to have the Debuts back!
In the meantime, all hell seems to be breaking loose at home. None of it catastrophic (knock wood) but just enough that I’m like “OK, NOWWWWWWWWWW what?” every time the phone rings. All I want is, like, 24 hours of nothing. Just nothing. Maybe a hot bubble bath and a good book. Tom Perrotta’s “Bad Haircut” has been sitting there calling my name since I got home (It’s the last of his books that I haven’t read. He is just brilliant). Or even some reality TV. I’m sure I could find reruns of “America’s! Next! Top! Model!” or even “Rock of Love 2.” As long as it keeps me from angsting.