View From The Bleachers

March 23, 2005

Questions I have

Filed under: General — Joe Aiello @ 8:17 pm

As the season quickly approaches, there have been some questions I have been asking myself the last few days and weeks.

Why am I not excited about my favorite team in all of sports?

Sure we have injuries and a lack of big name acquisitions, but there is something deeper for me that just doesn’t have me excited. I like the team we have this year. I really do. I think we are better off in a lot of ways compared to last season. Yet, for some reason I just don’t have that buzz. Maybe it’s the fact that I have been working and not really paying as close to Spring Training as I would like. All I know is my national holiday, opening day, doesn’t seem all that exciting this year.

Why can’t the pitching staff stay healthy?

This one just baffles me. We have a good staff. No question about that. Yet, for some reason, no one but Maddux and Carlos can stay healthy and consistent for more than 1/2 year. Last year Woody & Prior went down. Clement was rock solid for the first half. We need 4 out of 5 guys to be solid for a full year if people are going to take the Cubs seriously as a World Series candidate.

Why are Mets tickets so dang expensive?

I know you have no clue what the heck I am talking about on this one. Dave and I, along with the wives are planning a weekend excursion. to beautiful NYC in August to watch the Cubs battle the Mets live from Shae. I was very disappointed to have to pay the amount of money we did and be sitting as far away as we are.

Why is Baltimore blacked out as my local market in NC?

I just purchased the MLB extra innings package 3 days ago so I can watch all the MLB games this year. When I was on the phone with the woman, she put me on hold while she checked on something. When she came back she said. “Sir, which team was it that you wanted to watch?” I immediately got nervous and feared the Cubs would not be shown for some dumb reason. In reply, she told me that Baltimore was blacked out due to local restrictions. I’m sorry, but Baltimore is 350 miles away. That should not be considered local market. Now I can’t watch my Hero, Sammy Sosa all year. =(

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March 21, 2005

What Happened?

Filed under: General — Joe Aiello @ 5:51 am

Everyone always says that Mark Prior has perfect mechanics. All through his first year and last year, we always heard that phrase. Now, I read Peter Gammons and he has a quote saying something a little different. Who’s right? I’m beginning to think that maybe Cub fans are so starving for a winner that we overhype these guys, then burn them out because they are supposed to be the saviors of the team. Maybe it’s just me being paranoid, but lately I’ve had this sinking feeling that Prior and Wood will never win 20 games in their career. Here’s hoping I am wrong.

They understand some of the skepticism, because Prior’s Achilles injury dragged on so long. “But it’s not like we’re trying to hide something and two weeks from now say, ‘Prior’s having surgery,’ ” Hendry says. Wood threw Saturday and threw well. They want to get Prior through the swelling in his elbow, then get him back on a mound in a few days.

“This is something he may have to learn to deal with regularly,” says Rothschild, who recognizes that the torque Prior creates throwing his curveball creates significant strain. “But it shouldn’t be a problem. Medication will calm it down.”

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March 19, 2005

This is the secret weapon we need this year.

Filed under: General — Joe Aiello @ 10:12 am

Maybe this is the cure for our lack of contact hitting.

ORT MYERS, Fla. — The Twins’ scouting staff accurately reported Mike Redmond’s formidable skills as a catcher and impressive hitting ability.

But all three scouts responsible for reports on Redmond made the same glaring omission, failing to grade the talent area that proved a major catalyst in the Florida Marlins’ World Series championship season two years ago:

Naked batting practice.

“I didn’t see that in there,” general manager Terry Ryan said.

In fact, to this day, few Twins seem to be aware of the secret weapon they acquired when Redmond signed a two-year contract in November to be Joe Mauer’s backup.

It started May 25, 2003, in Cincinnati near the end of a long and losing road trip. The Marlins had just fired their manager, had a 21-29 record and appeared headed for another nowhere season.

After a team meeting, in a somber, sleepy clubhouse the morning of an early afternoon game, Redmond headed for the indoor batting cages with his bat, wearing nothing but turf shoes, socks and batting gloves.

Twins infielder Andy Fox, a Marlins teammate then, looked up in disbelief as Redmond headed for the clubhouse door that opened into the cages.

“Are you serious?” Fox asked.

“Yeah.”

And the door shut behind him.

Redmond proceeded to hit soft tosses against a screen as teammates took notice, one by one, until laughter could be heard from one end of the clubhouse to the other.

“No one could really hit after that,” Fox said.

Until the game. The Marlins scored early and beat the Reds 6-2, with Redmond collecting two hits.

“And the next thing I knew, I was doing it seven or eight straight days,” Redmond said.

“That’s a long time to be hitting naked,” Fox said.

But the Marlins kept winning, so Redmond kept the clothes off his body and his eye on the ball. They won six in a row. Then during another cold streak in August, he did it again in Pittsburgh, and the Marlins went 20-8 the rest of the season to clinch the National League wild-card playoff spot.

And the rest is World Series, New York Yankees-beating history.

“It worked,” Fox said. “We still talk about it.”

“Whatever it takes to win,” said Redmond, who has trouble explaining the inspiration. “It just came to me. We were really scuffling, and guys were putting pressure on themselves. I just thought I needed to do something that nobody really expected, to make guys laugh and relax.”

“He doesn’t have the most aesthetically pleasing body, either,” Fox said. “That’s just my opinion.”

Redmond brings more to the Twins than naked batting practice and a willingness to go to extremes to help a team win.

Dontrelle Willis, the young Marlins left-hander who was promoted to the majors that same May — and, by the way, was the beneficiary of the run support that first day of the nudist drill — said as much when he refused to pitch inside to his former catcher Monday on a day he was working on pitching inside.

“I didn’t want to hit him. He’s my boy. I’ll always have a soft spot for him,” said Willis, who won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2003, after he pitched in the Twins’ 4-3 loss to the Marlins on Monday. “Red took care of me. He definitely helped me to know how to play the game and to have respect for the game.”

The ability to relate to young players and a deep understanding of the game are major intangibles the Twins acquired in Redmond when they shifted to Plan B after abandoning efforts to re-sign Henry Blanco, last year’s backup.

Not only is Redmond universally regarded as a good teammate, but it also was common knowledge around the Marlins’ clubhouse that special 2003 season that he, not all-star starter Pudge Rodriguez, ran the pitchers-and-catchers meetings to prepare for opposing hitters.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Ryan said. “There’s a reason he’s been around as long as he has. That’s the kind of thing that makes him who he is. We thought he had that type of makeup.”

And now that they have him, they might even find out what kind of influence he can have on a team just by taking batting practice. At least one new teammate plans to find out the first time the Twins experience a losing streak this year.

“It worked with the Marlins; I think it can work for us,” Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said. “But I don’t think I’m going to go out and watch.”

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March 18, 2005

Good Fantasy Baseball Site

Filed under: General — Joe Aiello @ 4:56 pm

I’d like to take a minute to plug a friend of the site, DraftHelp.com. The senior editor of the site, Rick Morris has been gracious enough to host me on his radio show on three separate occasions so to not plug a great site would be a shame.

Here is a quick Q & A I did with Senior Editor of Draft Help, Rick Morris.

Q: When did Drafthelp.com come about and how did the project get started?

A: Drafthelp.com started in the spring of 2000 when our founder, Nathan Noy, decided to get the site underway as an extension of his correspondence with USA Today Sports Weekly columnist John Hunt. Nathan had contributed ideas to Johns column on the subject of holding baseball drafts via chatrooms and other Internet tools.

Although we have been fortunate enough to have some outstanding contributors, we have been primarily a three man operation. A few months after Nathan launched the site, he brought Pat Luft on board to serve as a columnist and also as our webmaster. In the spring of 2001, I was fortunate enough to meet Nathan through, what else, a fantasy baseball league! Nathan’s professional training is in finance and law, and Patrick is a software engineer, so my background as a journalist and writer helped round out our website. We have complemented each others skills very well.

Q: How has the site grown in the time its been around?

A: The most striking element about our website is how adventurous we are and how open we are to different opportunities. We started as a website covering fantasy baseball, and then fantasy football, but we have gone in some interesting directions since then:

Preparing for the eventuality of a baseball lockout after the 2001 season, Nathan and I wrote the book, STRANDED: A Guide to Life Without Major League Baseball.Fortunately for baseball fans, and somewhat unfortunately for us, the lockout did not materialize, but we enjoyed the experience of selling a few copies and were looking to revise the book for future use.

In the spring of 2003, I was approached by two longtime friends, Ron Glasenapp and Dave Adams, who had started broadcasting for SportsTalkCleveland.com. They were retooling the talk show Reality Check (SAT 11 AM 1PM EST) and invited me to be a co-host in my capacity as Senior Editor of Drafthelp.com. Our show quickly became a cornerstone at SportsTalkCleveland.com and led to my participation in several other shows, including Football Fanatics, Hockey Insider and the current show Life’s a Pitch with Ken Detwiler (Thurs 8-9 PM EST). Those shows have spawned other projects in and of themselves, such as the Life’s a Pitch with Ken Detwiler Up All Night Marathon.That show was near and dear to my heart because it was a fundraiser for my mothers memorial fund, The Carol Morris Scholarship Fund at Bowling Green State University (www.drafthelp.com/upallnight). Additionally, that show was our first association with View From the Bleachers, so we remember it fondly for that as well! We have expanded our relationship with SportsTalkCleveland.com in many ways, but none more important than the establishment of The Drafthelp.com Fantasy Insider, (Thurs 7-8 EST) which serves as a weekly one-hour audio version of what were covering on our website. Were very proud to have played a role in SportsTalkCleveland.com becoming the most visited sports talk radio website in the world (source: Alexa.com ratings).

Obviously, our baseball coverage is of most interest to your readers, but we are proud to cover a wider variety of fantasy sports than our peers. In addition to baseball and football, we also feature fantasy basketball, hockey, various motorsports, golf, tennis, soccer, Triple Crown and Olympics. Also, we spotlight the NFL Draft and NBA Draft and offer coverage for NCAA basketball pools and NCAA football bowl pools.

Q: What assistance does the site offer to fantasy players around the world?

A: We feature columns, roster analysis, projected statistical leaders, depth charts, and player updates for fantasy baseball players. Additionally, we answer questions posed to us by fantasy owners and were working on expanding that to a full-fledged advisory service to premium members.

Q: As the upcoming baseball season approaches, what sort of publications does Drafthelp.com produce and where can visitors find them?

A: Regarding where materials can be found: the majority of content on the site is free and available to all some is premium content available in our Drafthelp.com store.

The content I described above constitutes our free features. In the Drafthelp.com store, first and foremost we construct statistical projection cheat sheets and draft boards. Also, we offer league management software, draft tracking cards and a trade analyzer service. Were extraordinarily happy with the content that we have in both the free and the premium areas and were going to keep both areas very strong.

Q: What are the plans for the future?

A: Given the audacious bent for expansion that we have shown in our first few years, I think that the future will be a wild and fun ride on Drafthelp.com. Were going to continue to expand our content partnership with SportsTalkCleveland.com and that will likely include a fantasy baseball contest.We are exploring every potential opportunity to take our shows to a larger audience, and that certainly includes syndication to over-the-air radio stations. I can also promise that well be coming back with the second annual Life’s a Pitch marathon this summer and I look forward to participation again from The View From the Bleachers.

The products in our Drafthelp.com store will continue to expand, as hardcore fans in search of every available edge can continue to count on us. Were continuing to take a worldwide focus as well, even expanding into covering cricket, which thrives in large corners of the globe. Our first book certainly whetted our appetite for moving back into the world of dead trees publishing, so were looking at any possibilities there. We have an unbelievable portal of links to so many essential websites out there, and were taking that to a new level in 2005, largely by delivering links to the best sites in the blogosphere.

And last but most certainly not least, I hope you will be flattered to hear that the success of blogs like yours has inspired us to join the blogosphere! Our webmaster is tooling around with the beta version and we will have it up this month. It will definitely be an outstanding companion to our message boards, which we established last year. We will have more information shortly in the form of an announcement of our 2005 expansion plans and I urge your readers to check it out. I appreciate greatly the opportunity to discuss the state of Drafthelp.com with you and your readers. I have now spent almost two years producing and hosting at SportsTalkCleveland.com and I have been a relentless promoter of the blogosphere during that time because of sites like yours. Its an honor to discuss our site with the good folks at The View From the Bleachers.

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Discuss among yourselves

Filed under: General — Joe Aiello @ 5:57 am

Hmm, not sure what to make of this one. It appears that maybe Baker is already planning on jumping ship if the Cubs do not win a championship this year or next year.

PHOENIX — San Francisco Chronicle columnist Bruce Jenkins wrote recently Dusty Baker would not return when his four-year contract ends after the 2006 season.

Asked if he’s happy with the Cubs, Baker said he’s just “happy to be breathing” after beating prostate cancer in 2002. He didn’t care to respond to Jenkins’ column, which he said he hadn’t read.

“That’s Bruce’s column, his opinion,” he said. “I like Bruce. I haven’t talked to Bruce but one time since I left [San Francisco]. … I can’t comment on what somebody else says.”

Baker pointed out he has two years left on his contract and didn’t want to speculate on his future in Chicago after that.

“I have a lot of winning to do—a lot of winning,” he said. “If you ask me about something two years from now, I can’t answer that.

“This is the first time I’ve been on a contract longer than two years since I’ve been managing. … I wouldn’t have signed for four years for the first time in my career if I didn’t have that [championship] goal in mind.”

Lately I have been liking Baker less and less. He’s on my hot seat list.

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