Archive | Interviews/Reviews

Movie Review: Spaceman

I have been looking forward to watching Spaceman ever since I saw someone post about it online. Unfortunately I was never able to find a place to watch it, until last night. I was rolling through Amazon Prime and saw it available to watch, so I immediately put it on.

But before I get into the movie itself, let me tell you a little about my fascination with Bill Lee. I had always heard of him from watching old baseball games and reading old stories. I never got to see him play since he played before my time. Then a few years ago I picked up the book, Have Glove Will Travel, and I was hooked. To me he is one of the most interesting people in sports history. A few years back I heard the question asked, “if you could have dinner with three people from history, who would it be?” Well I turned that into three people from baseball history, and my three would be Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Bill Lee.

So back to the movie. Spaceman is about Bill Lee, and apparently is based off of his book The Wrong Stuff, which I cannot wait to read. It basically tells of his story of being blackballed from Major League Baseball after he got cut in Montreal sticking up for a teammate. It is an interesting tale of one of the most interesting people ever to climb the mound in a Major League game.

The movie itself was okay. I thought Josh Duhamel played a great Bill Lee, but I felt the overall story line was lacking. To me it was a case of having so many interesting stories to choose from that I was hoping for more. So partly that is my own fault. Regardless of my let down, I still enjoyed it. It has some funny moments and even though I knew the end game I was still rooting for him, especially when he goes to Arizona. I don’t want to give away particulars of the movie to ruin it for anyone that has not seen it.

I think baseball fans might enjoy it, especially if they are Bill Lee fans. It is not the greatest movie in the world, but let’s be honest, most aren’t. Go into it with some optimism and I think you will enjoy it. It is after all a very interesting person/story.

I am not sure how you can see the film other than through Amazon. It is free if you have Prime. So if you do, it is definitely worth the time one lazy weekend to check it out.

While you are at it, if you are interested in Bill Lee check out the documentary about him going to Cuba, Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Fastball

With so much emphasis on the fastball in today’s game, there is a new documentary out that tries to answer the question of who was the fastest of all-time simply called Fastball. Scouts are looking for kids these days that throw in the mid to high 90s. Bullpens are built with guys that all throw near triple digits. It has simply become a game built on power arms.

The film Fastball does a good job at not only taking a look at the new guys in the game who throw hard. Guys like Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Justin Verlander, David Price and others are looked at and talked to about what it is like to throw hard. But what I liked about the movie was how the film went back in time to discuss the guys that came before the new breed of flamethrowers.

Man for man I do not think there is any doubt that the guys of today throw harder on average than any other time in the game’s history. However, there were guys like Goose Gossage, Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Bob Gibson, and Nolan Ryan that threw just as, or possibly even harder.

The most interesting thing that they did was some of the video and science behind it all. They compare a 92mph fastball with a 100mph fastball which is an interesting thing to see. If they were both released at the same time, by the time the 100mph pitch reaches the plate, the 92mph pitch still has 4.5 feet to travel. That may not seem like much, but it is a huge difference when hitting.

The film does some scientific calculations based on some old data to determine who exactly is the fastest of all-time. Aroldis Chapman has thrown the fastest recorded pitch at 105mph, but is that the fastest ever? I won’t reveal who they say the fastest of all-time is because I really think you should see the film. You can find it on iTunes, Amazon, or Netflix.

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Movie Review – No No: A Dockumentary

There was a lot of talk around the baseball world a little over a year ago when  documentary premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. No No: A Dockumentary was the film in question and was just recently added to Netflix.

Before hearing of the film I knew just a little about Dock Ellis. I knew he was a very good pitcher with the Pittsburgh Pirates back in their heyday of the early 1970s. I had also heard all of the stories of drug use. He has said many times, including in the film, that he never pitched without being under the influence of some drug.

When I first heard of the film I thought it was all about the game in San Diego in 1970 when he reportedly pitched a no-hitter under the influence of LSD. However, it was more than just this incident and in fact a documentary on Ellis’ life.

The story about the no-hitter was an interesting one and something that I can’t even imagine taking place in today’s game, or anytime for that matter. But what made the film great was the insight into his life during and after his playing career.

Before watching the film I looked up Ellis’ stats. I thought going into watching it that he was maybe close to a 200 game winner and had a solid career. That really wasn’t the case. He was good, but mostly for a short time. Perhaps it was the drug use that shortened the effectiveness of his career.

He did have a nice career. He pitched over 12 years in the big leagues, pitching for five different teams. Most of his success came early on with Pittsburgh, but he did have good years later in his career both with the New York Yankees and even a decent year with the Texas Rangers.

But the biggest thing I found from the documentary, and what was the most touching, was the work he did after his playing days were over. There is a good bit on that as well as he eventually got clean and began working with others that were in need of help. He had a lot of experiences to share and became quite a councilor from the sound of it.

Over all it was a great documentary and I really enjoyed it. It is one that will be added to my collection, and I highly recommend it to any baseball fan. It also reminded me that I wanted to read the book The Pittsburgh Cocaine Seven by Aaron Skirboll. Of course that is a story for another day and one that I hope to bring soon.

In the meantime, if you have Netflix watch No No: A Dockumentary. It is just under two hours and it is really good. You can also rent it on Amazon streaming.

Here is the trailer from www.NoNoADockumentary.com:

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John Fitzgerald at BaseballUnited.net Talks with Iran National Team Manager Toma Irokawa

A little over a month ago we wrote about Toma Irokawa taking over the reigns of the Iran National Baseball Team and a couple of days ago John Fitzgerald from Baseball United was able to get Irokawa on the phone for a short interview.

In the interview Irokawa talks about baseball in Iran, how he communicates with the players, and even mentions how many baseball fields there are in Iran (it was more than I expected although not many). He also touches on the youth of the country and a little bit about the West Asia Baseball Cup.

It is only six and a half minutes but well worth the listen.

Thanks to John for pointing this out to us.

Be sure to check out BaseballUnited.net as well.

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Book Review: Wrigleyworld: A Season in Baseball’s Best Neighborhood by Kevin Kaduk

Originally posted on BaseballJourneyman.com:

Wrigleyville is the well known area surrounding the ever popular summer spot of Wrigley Field. There are restaurants and bars and plenty of baseball fans to be found on a summer afternoon. Many baseball fans have wondered what it would be like living in the neighborhood surrounding Wrigley Field for a summer of baseball and fun. One such fan did so. And he wrote a book about it.

Kevin Kaduk’s Wrigleyworld: A Season in Baseball’s Best Neighborhood is the story of Kevin’s summer in Chicago. The former Kansas City Star sportswriter, and current editor of Yahoo’s Big League Stew blog, gives us a peak into life in Wrigleyville.

I admit I was quite excited when I first saw the book for sale. Although it came out in 2006, I did not find it until about a year ago. Recently I finally got the chance to pick it up from a used book store and give it a read. Sadly, I have to admit it was a letdown.

Kevin starts off telling us about how the idea came about. He was off writing about  high school sports in Kansas City, which he freely admits not likely very much although he liked who he worked with and for. I found it a bit annoying to listen to his complaining of a good job in a good city. I can fully understand the longing to be somewhere else though. He decided to take action.

Leaving Kansas City he took up residence a few blocks from Wrigley Field and set about writing about his encounters.

Some of the things I enjoyed reading about. Getting a glimpse about what it was like to deal with scalpers day in and day out was interesting. I’ve always found scalpers to be interesting people.

He also had run ins with the ballhawks out on Wavelyn and Sheffield. The ballhawks are the guys who wait for homeruns to leave Wrigley Field in order to collect a souvenir. I always thought it would be interesting to take in a game with the ballhawks. He was there the same season when there was a movie being made about them as well, Ballhawks.

However, what stood out to me the most about the book was it was more of a barhopping, girl chasing, conquest seeking journal. I was interested in learning about the establishments that surround Wrigley, and Kevin does a good job providing information on them, including some interesting backgrounds. That aside, there was a bit too much about drinking and chasing women.

If he was going to talk about the drinking, I would have rather heard some interesting stories from the bleachers. He includes a little of this, but not enough for my liking to be honest.

One thing I felt that was lacking, but I understand why, was the lack of information and stories about the rooftops overlooking Wrigley Field. He does try a few times to get onto the roofs, but in the end there is little information other than how hard or expensive it can be.

Overall it is a decent book. If you are a diehard Cubs fan, I would say go get it and give it a quick read. It isn’t that long and it’s an easy read. However, do not think that this is the book to read to gain valuable insights and secrets into the fabled Wrigleyville.

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Book Review: Slouching Toward Fargo

Originally posted on BaseballJourneyman.com

On the cover it claims it is “A Two-Year Saga of Sinners and St. Paul Saints at the Bottom of the Bush Leagues with Bill Murray, Darryl Strawberry, Dakota Sadie and Me”. The book is Slouching Toward Fargo by Neal Karlen, and I enjoyed every bit of the book except the “Me” part.

The book is about the St. Paul Saints of the Northern League mostly during the 1996 and 1997 seasons. The team, and league, were still in its infancy and full of interesting people on and off the field.

How the book started it seems was that writer Neal Karlen was sent by Rolling Stone to do a piece on Bill Murray who was part owner in the club. He was there to do a hatchet job on Murray and as fate would have it on Darryl Strawberry as well.

Over the course of the first year Karlen has some interesting run ins with Murray, Strawberry, as well as others. These stories are entertaining, but I got a little tired of hearing how Karlen was there to do the hatchet job.

The characters of St. Paul were amazing. You have the great Bill Murray who in my book is one of the funniest men of all time. You have Darryl Strawberry who is there trying to make his way back to the Major Leagues by showing that he is now a good guy. Then you have Mike Veeck the president and co-owner of the Saints who had been blackballed from Major League Baseball for things that happened years ago. Not to mention there is an outfielder with no legs, a pig that delivered baseballs, a blind announcer, the first woman player and a nun who gives massages at games.

It’s a cast of characters that would make any story interesting, and Karlen does a good job of writing about this. But what I didn’t like is how Karlen kept inserting himself in the story. As a reader I want to read about the Saints, not how the writer was burned out and didn’t love baseball anymore.

With that being said, the book is still very good. The people of this town and team make this book. Everywhere you turn there seems to be someone just as interesting as the last. You get a taste of what life is like in the lowest of the low minor leagues where people are working and playing for the love of the game.

Mike Veeck’s “Fun is Good” motto really shows through in the writing and you can imagine the fun that people had at the games. And even though the book was written about a time that is now more than 15 years ago, it’s still a great read.

The ballplayers, former MLB guys and career minor leaguers alike, are interesting, funny, and you even finding yourself rooting for some of them even though all this happened nearly two decades ago. There are just a lot of likable people that you will be looking up on Google and Baseball Reference to see how they performed after the time of the book.

So get past the part of the writer inserting himself a little too much into the story, in my opinion, and give this a read because it’s definitely worth it. It’s been out for some time so you should be able to find a cheap used paperback copy somewhere.

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Interview: Australian Pitcher Daniel Schmidt

Recently Australian native and Perth Heat pitcher Daniel Schmidt took the time to answer some questions for us.

Schmidt has been pitching for the Perth Heat and has pitched in a few different independent leagues in the US over the past few summers.

Here is what he had to say about pitching in Australia and the US:

For the past 3 seasons you have been pitching for the Perth Heat in your homeland of Australia. What has it been like pitching in the ABL since its reemergence?

Every player loves representing their state and putting the team colours on. The only thing that makes it more satisfying is playing in front of your large home crowds. With the re-emergence of the ABL it has brought some fans back to the game. It is becoming more recognized as a professional sport again as we play on a weekly basis rather than a once a year tournament played over a couple of weeks. There are a lot of new experiences for most of our players as we have been getting a lot more media attention which involves radio interviews, photo shoots, appearances and in some cases TV interviews. It makes me realize that we are professional athletes and are the most elite players in the country at our sport. That is a pretty awesome feeling when you look at it like that.

During the first two championships seasons the Perth Heat have had the chance to play in the Asia Series against some of the top teams in Asia. Can you tell us a little about how your experience has been in the Asia Series and how it has helped the ABL to be a part of this yearly event?

I consider myself to be extremely lucky to be part of a team that has enjoyed so much success over the past 5 years. To be able to travel to a different country and play against some of the best talent around the world was incredible. The Taiwanese and Korean fans were crazy! They cheer like no other fans around the world I believe. They bring out their horns, whistles and clappers, draped big banners from the top deck and stretched it out over the lower seating. They have cheerleaders and singers chanting and dancing around in between innings, it was just unbelievable. We were treated like celebrities with massive hotels rooms to ourselves, police escorts to and from the field, people waiting in the hotel lobbies for autographs and big buffet meals waiting for us each day. Pretty special memories.

Being a frequent part of the Asia series is dramatically helping increase the popularity of the sport in Australia. This year each team has included live streaming of games on the internet which means that we are getting a larger following, especially from the fans of the places we have visited from the Asia Series.

You have also pitched in the USA in different independent leagues. How has that experience gone so far?

It has certainly been an eye opener playing Independent ball! It is very cut throat as they have so many players to choose from. In the 3 seasons I have played Indy ball, I have been a part of 4 different teams in a variety of different roles. You need to be very adaptable as you aren’t always going to have the same role on each team. People seem to think that Independent ball is a lower standard of baseball then the professional affiliated leagues and it’s simply false. A lot of the players in Independent ball are released guys from Pro Ball. You have ex- big league guys, guys that were number 1 draft pics and others that have come straight out of college. It is a very good standard of baseball.You visit some places that you normally wouldn’t have on your vacation list……..let’s put it that way!! It was also the first time I had really lived away from home by myself so I had to adapt by learning to cook a bit and manage my money better. Overall it has been an awesome experience, loved every minute of it. I’ve met some lifelong friends and created memories that will stay with me forever.

How different is the ABL compared to the independent leagues you have played in the States?

One of the major differences I have noticed is the travel. We are very lucky in the ABL that we get to fly to all our away series games. Having played most of my career in the American Association which is spread out over a large section of central America, we used to have anywhere from 6-12 hour bus trips. We used to jump on the bus straight after a game and drive to our next destination usually all night. Get into town late in the morning, get a couple of hours sleep before having to go to the field and play. The other main difference is that most of the players in the ABL have day jobs. We don’t make enough money yet as the league is still developing. We only play 3-4 days a week which is very strange for some of the imports we have come down here to play as they have so much down time during the week between series.

Once again you are putting together solid numbers in the ABL for Perth. Are you looking to play overseas again somewhere during the summer of 2013?

I’d love to get back to the US to play another season. I am currently looking at going back to the American Association for Independent ball where I played in 2 of the past 3 seasons. There are a few teams in Texas that seem promising at this point with my old manager from Grand Prairie now managing in Laredo. There is also the chance that I could possibly go back and play with the Fort Worth Cats that I played with in 2011. At some point I would also like to go and play in Italy or Holland to see a different part of the world.

The game of baseball is still growing in Australia. How did you get started in the game?

I was actually trying all sorts of sports when I was younger, trying to find the one I enjoyed the most. I had played soccer, basketball, athletics, swimming and Australian Rules Football. While I was training for football I could see the baseball players training on the other side of the field and thought I would give that a go the next season. I was really tall for my age and looked like the coach on most teams because of how much I towered over people! I had a really good first season as I had the strong-arm. My coach told me I should stick with baseball as I could end up going places if I stuck with it plus I really enjoyed it. My dad also played baseball in High School so there was that family connection too.

Pitching with the Heat you have had the chance to work with former Major Leaguer Graeme Lloyd. Can you tell us a little bit about how he has helped your game?

Lloydy and I have known each other for a long time now. He used to coach me up at the Australian baseball Academy up on the Gold Coast in Queensland Australia which is a camp for young aspiring baseballers to try and get signed to a professional contract. He has a wealth of knowledge of the game based on his 10+ years of Major league experience. Speaking to a fellow lefty pitcher about the path he took throughout his career and the ups and downs he had, has given me a lot of hope and determination that you can actually prove the doubters wrong if you set your heart to it and give it 100%. He has helped me to keep things in perspective. Whether I am struggling to shake a mental lapse in the middle of the game or we bounce ideas back and forth in between innings about something that may have happened in that half inning. It’s been great to have someone like that to talk to.

You have worked with Teammates International in the past. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with them and why others should think about using their services?

Duane Erickson has done a fantastic job of bringing out quality baseball players to my local Perth state league club the Melville Braves for a number of years now. At the time I had been recently released by the Phillies and had been searching for a place to play somewhere overseas. I found it very hard to get my foot in the door being from another country as no one knew anything about me. Duane made contact and called teams all over the country for Independent ball, in Canada and in Europe to get my name out there. Without his help and Teammates International, I wouldn’t have had this once in a lifetime opportunity to play the game I love and meet amazing people. They made sure that I got the best deal possible, in a team that best suited me. It saved me so much money on international calls, dealing with the time difference and I was also kept informed of each teams thoughts and interests. I highly recommend to anyone that has the desire to see the world while doing something they love, to let Teammates International take care of you. They are professional, resourceful and informative which takes a lot of the stress out of organising something as important as this yourself.

What are your plans after your playing days are over? Are you interested in coaching in the US or Australia?

I certainly want to get into coaching when I hang up the cleats. When I had my Tommy John Surgery back in 2007, I spent a lot of my rehab time coaching junior teams here in Australia. It helped me to feel like I was still involved in the game and also help me keep my sanity from all the repetitiveness of rehab!!! I coached my local clubs Under 16’s team for 4 years, went away to the national championships as the State Pitching Coach for the U14’s and U16’s and I also was the pitching coach for the women’s state baseball team. I get great satisfaction and enjoyment out of seeing the improvements in people when they put the hard work in. I would be thrilled to be able to coach in Australia or the US.

I’d like to thank Daniel for taking the time to answer some questions for us. He is currently pitching for the Perth Heat of the ABL who are in a playoff race. He pitches tonight in the midst of the race which you can follow online at www.theabl.com.

You can also follow him on Twitter at @Big_Lefty23 . We wish him the best the rest of the way for Perth and this summer wherever he winds up.

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Movie Review: Ballhawks

Recently I had the chance to finally see the film Ballhawks. The film chronicles the men who chase baseballs on the streets outside of Wrigley Field in Chicago.

Sheffield and Waveland are two of the most famous streets in sports as players, both Chicago Cubs and visitors, attempt to launch baseballs out of the stadium and onto the streets. Waiting, glove in hand, in those streets are men and boys alike. Some have been there for decades and some a new to the game on the streets.

The men who wait come rain or shine are interesting. There is Moe the “King of All Ballhawks”, Super Dave the “Bad Boy Ballhawk”, Rich the “Elder Statesmen”, and George the “Rookie”. They are all out there for different reasons. Some could no longer afford tickets to the games, so they took to the streets with their gloves.

The main characters have caught thousands of balls. They all have their spots and their routines. Their lives are as varied as any other group.

The film follows them through the 2004 season when the Cubs fell apart at the end of the year to lose out on the Wild Card spot. Then the following season as they also head to spring training, but not for the same reasons as most fans. They head to spring training and use it as their own spring training to get ready for the season of catching balls.

It’s an interesting film as you get an inside look at some of these Ballhawks. A few of them keep miticulous records of all the information from their catches.

However, not everyone in the film seems to think these guys are enchanting. Harry Teinowitz, a Chicago radio personality, seemed to think they were a bit more like losers than anything else.

I can’t say I fully agree with Teinowitz, but I did find I was tuning out after awhile of the film. It’s well made and even has Bill Murray as the narrator, but it seemed to go a little too long.

If you are a huge Cubs fan, I would say give it a go. It’s an interesting part of Cubs history, but the characters themselves weren’t as captivating as I had hoped.

You can find more information at the Ballhawks website or watch  it on YouTube’s movie channel. Check out the trailer below and decide for yourself.

Ballhawks Trailer 2012 from Mike Diedrich on Vimeo.

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Holiday Gift Idea – Stadium Journey Magazine

Thinking of holiday gift ideas can sometimes be a little bit difficult. Some people seem to have everything, but I’ve got an idea for you this holiday season – a subscription to Stadium Journey Magazine.

Stadium Journey Magazine is relatively new magazine that has done a great job covering sports all over the world. This is a great treat for the sports enthusiast.

The latest addition features 11 hidden gems of sports. There are some great places all over the world in the sports world that are often overlooked, and nobody does it better than Stadium Journey.

Stadium Journey is the leading website for information on stadiums around the world. With coverage from the US, to Europe, to Asia they have you covered in just about every sport. The magazine is just an extension of the great website the guys there have put together. It should be the first stop for anyone who is making the journey to a stadium for the first time.

The magazine is well written as well. With issues covering different sports depending on time of year, the magazine is a much have for any sports enthusiast. You can get it digitally or have it delivered to your door. A year of the magazine delivered to your home or office is only a modest $39.99 or get the digital edition for a year for under $10.

You can subscribe today or pick up a few back issues at Stadium Journey. While you are there, check out some of the great reviews that have been posted.

*Full disclosure – I write for the website Stadium Journey and have contributed an article to the magazine, but I receive no commission for you purchasing a subscription. I support this product not because I write for them, but because it is a quality product that I think my readers will enjoy.

 

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Interview: Filmmaker Philip Riccobono – ‘Fighting’: Cheering in Korea

Recently filmmaker Philip Riccobono stopped to answer some questions about his upcoming documentary on baseball in Korea.

What brought you to Korea to film your documentary ‘Fighting’: Cheering in Korea?

I knew South Korea as solid-baseball country and after living in Japan a decade ago, I thought Korea probably had some pretty intense fans.  I felt North American fans needed to feel this intensity and put them inside Korean stadiums to see and hear this brand of cheering, completely foreign to them.

What has been the most surprising thing you have seen so far from the Korean baseball fans?

I remember my first game in Japan 10 years ago.  The fans really impressed me: drums, horns, every pitch felt like a big moment, but after seeing KBO fans, I got blown away: synchronized cheers and songs; beautiful and talented cheerleaders.  If someone blindfolded you and dropped you in any given KBO stadium, you may think that the home-team needs a run to tie it in the bottom of the ninth.  Where in actuality, they might be in the first inning, scoreless or down by 10 in the 8th.  It doesn’t matter the fan intensity remains consistent throughout the game and as some North American fans my grow tired of it, Koreans don’t. Koreans as you know, have this mantra of “Fighting”- sort of motivational statement.  It translates into the stands.  After seeing them say it so much, I had to incorporate it into the title of the documentary.  So I named it “Fighting”: Cheering in Korea

Will you only film during baseball games or are you going to add in fans of other sports here like soccer?

Just sticking to baseball, but if you didn’t see the field at all in the documentary, you might think of them as soccer fans, based on their relentless cheering and passion- something that lacks in North American baseball. I also shoot some super fans in their everyday lives.  You’ll meet Harry Dean, “A fan of the people” and see him carving turkey on Thanksgiving for  a group of fellow Doosan Bears fans he invited into his home.  And guys like Ted Smith, honorary cheerleader for Nexen Heroes. He takes his act out to the bars after games, getting the fans pumped by leading cheers and dancing.  I haven’t seen anything like this from MLB fans; the closest thing you might compare these types of fans to is to college sports in America.

It seems the reaction has been great from the foreigners in Korea, but how has the reception been from the Korean side of things?

Yes, from fans to players, foreigners have embraced this project, but so have many Koreans.  Teams have not cooperated for the most part, but I hope they’ll come through.  Many of my contacts have come by way of a producer on the project, Dan Kurtz, of mykbo.net.  Danny has facilitated a lot.  Every foreign player I have approached has agreed and one has even stuck his neck out on the line, shooing away team officials when they tried to prevent me from shooting an interview.  Korean fans who I spoke seem really excited to share their brand of cheering with the world and a lot feel surprised and flattered by the interest from an American.

How would you compare fans here in Korea to fans in other countries you have been to?

The only country you might compare Korean fans to is Japan and on the richter scale I give Japan a 6, but Koreans go off the charts with a 12.  North American fans are more of baseball purists who like to take in the game in a more relaxed style, but in Korea most fans come to party and dance.  One MLB scout said it best:  “Welcome to the biggest outdoor, daytime disco!”

Have you noticed differences in the fans of the teams you have seen? If so, does one team stand out as a little bit louder or crazier?

Sure, Lotte Giants fans for sure.  They stand out aesthetically by blowing orange plastic bags and tying them around their heads in the later innings of each game.  Fans and players have given me several different reasons for this.  I recently went to the Asia Series which Lotte hosted at Sajik Stadium.  When the LotteGiants faced the Yomiyuri Giants of Japan, the hometown fans got a little territorial with the opposing fans for reasons that I can produce a whole other documentary on.  In any event, I captured some interesting tension between the two-sides.

What has been the biggest challenge in filming the documentary?

Lining up players to chat with.  After several attempts, Park Chan ho got back to me and agreed but I didn’t pick up the call and when I called back he left the facility.  I still hope to land him as he know how much Korean fans compare to North American and Japan’s fans.  He did the opposite of most Korean players by starting in North America and them coming here.  I wonder how much an adjustment  it was for him.  Park Chan ho are you out there?  (laughing).  Also time and logistics always create a challenge, but I feel fortunate to have a pretty good schedule as a university professor, and the KTX helps with getting me around the country.  I do most of the shooting on my own and it ties me up sometimes with getting other shots and reactions but you do your best.

Any future plans for more documentaries in either Korea or elsewhere?

The more I learn about the Japan-Korea baseball rivalry, clearly influenced by history, the more I want to do something with this.

When can everyone expect to see the finished product?

Production will probably wrap this upcoming spring and hope to release the project in film festivals by the end of next year.  People still have time to drop me a line if they have something interesting to add.  By all means, go ahead and email me: psricc@gmail.com or visit the project’s Facebook page and Twitter works too.

I’d like to thank Philip for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for us. Visit the film’s Facebook page to see some behind the scenes photos and keep up to date with its progress. I know I’ll be looking forward to seeing the film when it is finished.

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Movie Review: Knuckleball

I spent many hours in the outfield and on different mounds of baseball fields all over Texas practicing my knuckleball. Growing up in Texas in the 1980s, I was always Charlie Hough when pretending to be a knuckleball pitcher. It was a lot of fun, but my knuckleball was never that great.

Fast forward to the 1990s and I can remember watching Tim Wakefield pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates and pitching well. I’ve always been a fan of knuckleball pitchers. It’s a fascinating pitch that people think is easier to throw than it really is.

So when I saw they made a movie about the pitch, I had to see it. Knuckleball! was a great film. It is a documentary on the most unpredictable pitch in baseball.

The main stars of the film are Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey and it takes place during the 2011 season which was Wakefield’s last. I loved how the film documented the careers of both Dickey and Wakefield as neither of them started off as a knuckleball pitcher. Both converted to one in a last ditch effort to make it, or in Dickey’s case stay, in the big leagues.

They showed the path of both careers pretty well which made for an interesting story since both had completely different paths to big league stardom. They demonstrated that they are not only pitchers but good athletes. Sometimes knuckleball pitchers are seen as lesser athletes because they don’t throw as hard and many times are much older. I liked that they showed this wasn’t really the case.

I was glad they brought in some of the older guys to talk about the pitch including Jim Bouton, Charlie Hough, Wilbur Wood, and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro. The pitchers seem to have a special bond with one another that I found interesting.

What I didn’t like is they didn’t talk much about the history of the pitch. They talked to a few old timers that threw the pitch, but I would have liked them to go further back in time and talk about when and how it started and why some of the older guys started throwing the pitch.

With that being said, the film was very interesting. I was curious how they would show the pitch in they eyes of conventional thought. They basically had the pitch coming off as unreliable and a second tier pitch that is almost looked down on at times. I can understand that to an extent, but if it was so unreliable then guys that throw it well wouldn’t have lasted so long in the big leagues and gotten so many starts.

I’d definitely give it a look if you’re a baseball fan. It’s an interesting film about a pitch that not many people throw.

 

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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Movie Review: The Emerald Diamond

Originally posted on BaseballJourneyman.com

What country won its first international baseball game against a country that no longer exist and the first player to get a hit in international play was born in another country?

Ireland

I have always been fascinated with baseball played in countries other than the USA. Sure it’s the same game, but at the same time it’s not. Awhile back I came across a documentary on baseball in Ireland, and I had to see it.

The Emerald Diamond is a beautiful film. It chronicles the emergence of the Irish National Baseball Team on the European baseball scene. It is an interesting story told by film maker John Fitzgerald.

Up until 1995 there was no Irish National Baseball Team. It basically formed out of the desire of a few softball players who wanted something a little more. They continued the hope and formed a team that would eventually play internationally in 1996.

The European B Pool Championships were being held in England in 1996, so the boys in green got ready and made the trip.

Most of the players on the team had very little or no experience playing baseball growing up. For the most part they were far outmatched by their European counterparts, but they never quit.

After a successful trip to England, for a developing team at least, they received some help from an Irish-American. Peter O’Malley at the time was the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers but was a player in helping develop baseball globally. He helped build the  O’Malley baseball fields in Corcaigh Park in Clondalkin, West Dublin, Ireland which is considered the home of Irish Baseball. It also happened to be the first baseball field in Ireland.

The team continued to play in the European Championships gradually doing a little better each time as they gained more experience. However, it was when the team raised funds and took off on a trip to the USA that things really seemed to turn around.

In 2001, the Irish National Team and an all-star youth team took a two-week trip to the east coast of the States to play exhibition games. They learned a lot on this trip and it eventually helped them improve in the long run. Both the youth team and the National Team quickly learned from seeing other teams practice and play. They also received some help from coaches in the States that they met in the games. It was a great learning experience that helped propel the team to further heights.

However, the highlight of the trip had to be playing an exhibition game at Fenway Park.

Throughout the film you see the want and desire on every players face as they go through a learning curve. But that desire to compete and improve never leaves. It’s an infectious thing that no matter how bad the loss might have been would always creep back into the minds of the players and coaches.

That’s the beauty of the film. It’s great seeing the improvement of the team, and they really did improve but I don’t want to give everything away (you’ll have to watch the film). But the real beauty if seeing the growth of the game on every level. Not only did the adult program expand and improve, but so did the youth programs and that is really where the growth of the game will come from. The first adults to play the game will get old, but if the kids find a love in the game you will have baseball forever.

It’s a great film. Head on over to IrishBaseballMovie.com to read more about it and don’t forget to pick up a copy. You might be surprised how quickly the team went from nothing to winning games internationally.

I have to give this a 5 glove rating. It’s definitely one you’ll want to own.

Stay tuned for more reviews coming soon….

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Interview: Filmmaker Eric Soussanin of ¡Indestructible!: Baseball on the Isthmus

Today we sit down with Eric Soussanin who is producing a documentary on baseball in Panama called ¡Indestructible!: Baseball on the IsthmusThe film looks at the history and uncertain future of the game in Panama along with those who are fighting to ressurect the sport from the grips of crisis.

I’d like to thank Eric for taking the time to answer some questions for us about both the film and the game in Panama.

First of all, why Panama?

I chose Panamá because, as an avid baseball fan, I had heard that the Panamanians had a pretty good tradition of producing quality major leaguers, but I realized that I knew little else about their baseball history. So much attention was and is being paid to DR and Venezuela (and rightfully so), but Panamá just appealed to me as this kind of “mysterious” baseball powerhouse.

What sort of reception did you get from players and fans when making the film?

A pretty good one. The fans were surprised to see someone making a doc about their baseball culture. The overall reaction was sort of “Really? A movie about our baseball?” From the players, it was more of a mixed bag. Some were very warm and shared their experience easily (like minor leaguer José Camarena, who is featured in the film), and some were a little more nervous about my intentions (Bruce Chen, for example). Panama is a small country, and once word got out that I was asking tougher questions (about the politics, for example), it was understandable that some would act this way.

As the sport has struggled in recent years there, what is the people’s feeling toward the current state of the game now?

The die hards still love the sport, and for the games toward the end of the national tournament, the stadiums are full. But the issue is with the younger people, who in the last 10 years have suddenly become crazy for soccer. With young and old, however, there is totally a sense of almost self-deprecation around baseball, like “Great! Our politicans have mucked up the sport again. Another black eye for Panamá.” This is why we made the documentary, because this needs to be fixed if baseball in Panama is ever going to rise again.

What is the feeling of where the sport might be heading in the future?

Though there is a kind of cynicism surrounding baseball, there is also currently a new sense of hope for the future of the game. The work of former major leaguers like Omar Moreno and Olmedo Saenz has sparked a sort of ‘baseball revolution” there, which has woken people up to begin fixing baseball. Also, a budding relationship with MLB is reason for hope.

Was there any one thing that stood out to you when doing your research or making the film?

I love the different cultures within Panama that give the country it’s unique flavor. For example, you may have noticed that many of the Panamanian players did not/do not posses common Hispanic surnames (see: Carew, Oglivie, Kelly, Robinson, Stennett, Lee, Lewis). That’s because there is a huge West-Indian polulation that came to Panamá during the contruction of both the Panamá Railroad and the Panamá Canal, mostly from Jamaica and Barbados. You still see the massive cultural imprint of this migration, all the way down to the food, music and surnames.

How will the upcoming World Baseball Classic Qualifier being hosting in Panama City help the sport there?

It will provide a spotlight, however brief, on a nation that’s played baseball for more than 160 years, and deserves to be known on the world stage. Let’s hope Panama can get a win after going winless through the first two WBCs.

What are the former players doing to help the game out there?

Obviously, each of the current/former Major Leaguers contributes in their own way. Carew, Kelly, Mendoza, Rivera, Lee, Chen, Sanguillen, and the others have all given their time and resources to help the Panamanian game, and that should be recognized. However, the two undisputed leaders in terms of former major leaguers helping the cause are Omar Moreno and Olmedo Saenz. Moreno opened a free baseball academy back in the early-mid 2000s, and that was a huge deal at the time. He was the first to be very vocal against the politics that were suffocating the game, and he began garnering a lot of support. So much so, that in 2009, he was appointed by the President to run Panama’s ministry of sports (Pandeportes). In the years since, Olmedo Saenz has really become a ferocious spokesperson for cleaning up the game. He also runs a free baseball academy, and was instrumental in bringing professional baseball back to Panama. As far as non-Panamanians, Candy Maldonado and Elias Sosa both have been important figures in helping Omar and Olmedo’s cause.

What is need most in Panama to help the sport get back on the right path?

The fans (and tourists, for that matter) need to support the newly formed professional league (PROBEIS). Also, the politicians need to be distanced from baseball, and all sports there, so as to stop the in-fighting, and allow the resources to flow all the way down to the youngest players.

What can our readers do to help the film?

First and foremost, they can support our Kickstarter campaign, which only has a mere 13 days to go!!! This film likely will be delayed if funding is not secured.  They can also write to organizations like MLB network, and let them know that they want to see these kind of films aired. Additionally, they can reach out via social media to Omar Moreno and Olmedo Saenz, and let them know that world is watching them and routing on their cause. And lastly, visit Panama and take in a game! It’s really a great experience. Just watch out when they toss their beers : )

The film has less than 2 weeks left to secure the needed financing in order to finish the project. Take a look at the trailer and what Eric has been doing. If you can contribute even a few dollars, please visit their Kickstarterpage to help out. For a mere $10 you could get a copy of the film when it is complete.

You can learn more about the film as well as see the trailer on its website at PanamaBaseballMovie.com or follow what is happening with the film on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks again to Eric for taking the time to answer some questions for us. We hope the project is completed. We are very excited from what we have seen and can’t wait to see the finished film.

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Interview: Ted Smith – Performer with the Nexen Heroes

If you visit a Nexen Heroes game in South Korea, you will notice one particular fan that stands out. That fan would be Ted Smith, and he is becoming famous in Korea. Ted has becoming a performer who helps lead the cheering for the fans at the game which is a big part of the experience of baseball in Korea.

Ted took the time to sit down and answer some questions for us. So let’s see what Ted has to say about performing for the baseball crazed Korean fans.

What was your history with baseball and/or performing prior to coming to South Korea?

Baseball is not a very popular sport with my generation of Canadians, so growing up where I did, I had very little appreciation of the game before I went to college.  I minored in Japanese and spent my summers interning at a firm in Tokyo, and it was there that I got involved with a Seibu Lions cheering club and became a sort of baseball addict. After that I started doing baseball tours every summer to various locales all over Asia and North America.

What was your initial thought the first time you came to a South Korea baseball game?

My first game in Korea was in the summer of ’10 between the LG Twins  and the Hanhwa Eagles at Jamsil stadium. To be honest I was shocked at how empty the stands were, even for a weeknight. I kept wondering why they had these big beautiful stadiums if there was nobody to fill them with, right up until I saw my first game on a weekend and then I started to wonder if Koreans had never heard of a “fire code”. The cheering culture is very similar to that of Japan’s as far as the level of organization and use of cheering songs. But what’s really unique to Korea is the presence of digital PA equipment and the cheerleaders. In a sense the cheering itself is a lot more performative, compared to Japan where the “cheering brigade” sets up behind all the fans in the outfield bleachers and the focus is on the game. The Korean brigade tries very hard to engage the fans face-to-face and add to the spectacle. I really like that, it makes for a more diverse, theatrical experience at the ballpark.

Why did you adopt the Nexen Heroes as your team to perform for?

It was more like Nexen adopted me. Initially I was just attending games at Mokdong because it was the stadium nearest to my house in Singil, Seoul. After long I ingratiated myself with a group of the hard-core Nexen fans, and they welcomed me into their community with open arms and started to invite me out for drinks after games or to travel with them on road trips. I guess the real appeal of Nexen baseball for me was their indomitable fighting spirit. As both an athlete in high school and as a team manager in college I was more often than not on the weakest team in the league. I knew exactly what those guys were going through, and I always admired how they never gave up. They showed a lot of guts last season: scoring late inning runs, trying to fight back from huge deficits, putting out raging fires from the bullpen, and all the while still managing to look like they were having fun doing it. That inspired me to get on my jersey and stand up and get loud for them; let them know how much I appreciated their effort.

When did you first get up on stage and what was it like?

It was the second inning at a game at Hanbat Stadium, there were about two dozen Nexen fans there with me, and about half as many again Hanwha fans in the section immediately in front of the cheering stage. When I got up there everything stopped suddenly and I saw all these faces looking back at me smiling the way a parent does when his child’s on stage at a Christmas pageant. I think everyone who didn’t know me was really confused about who I was and what I was doing, but as soon as I raised the whistle to my mouth everyone (Hanwha fans included) joined in and cheered with me. I was really nervous because I’d never done anything like that in a foreign language, but at the same time it was exhilarating to have a small army of people at your command and to be able to direct their energy at whatever you wanted. Excuse the grandiose comparison, but it made me feel kind of like a rock star.

What was the initial reaction fans had toward your performing?

In Mokdong stadium, I went from being completely anonymous to instantly recognizable. The week after my first performance people would stop and point and say “That’s him, that’s the guy!” Total strangers would walk up and offer me food and drinks. People started asking to take pictures with me. I guess what surprised me the most though is other cheering groups somehow got a hold of my contact information and start calling me to ask if I could lead the cheering at their next outing.

Have you performed with the Heroes squad on stage?

In a sense, yes. At my first Nexen game in 2010, I was sitting down by the stage and I got chosen to participate in a dance contest and I was partnered up with a cheerleader and I won a six-pack of sikhye. Since I started performing on the road I was invited to dance again with the cheerleaders once last year, but I’ve never actually gotten up and lead. I’m hoping that one day I might have the honor, but I have a long way to go until I could actually compete with professional cheerleaders in this league.

What has been the reaction of the players? What about fans of other teams?

The players have been incredibly gracious towards me. They often stop and say hi to me when entering or leaving the stadium. It’s really weird to think that they all know me by name. Kang Byung-Sik, Son Seung-Lak, Jung Soo-Sung, and even Kim Byung-Hyun have all said really nice things about me in interviews. I’ve looked up to guys like them for my entire life, and for them to turn around and say they’ve taken inspiration from me is an incommensurable honour. The player’s families have also been more than generous to me. I got really sick back in April and a player’s mom took me to the hospital and saw that I got taken care of. Working in Korea has taken me really far away from my family, and having this much acceptance from the Heroes Family has helped a lot with the home-sickness.

As for fans of other teams, they’ve been more than just tolerant of me, I’ve generally found them to be very accepting and encouraging too. The one exception is Sajik stadium. I’ve been assaulted, pelted with chicken, and had some of my equipment stolen by overzealous (and often intoxicated) Lotte fans. That only encourages me to cheer harder the next time though.

Have you performed at any other sporting events in Korea? If so, how did it compare to baseball?

Yes, I’m the unofficial cheerleader of the Anyang Halla Ice Hockey club as well. Hockey is still a low profile sport in Korea so the scale is much smaller and the cheering culture is not as developed as it is in baseball. There’s no P.A. equipment, we just go out there with a couple drums and make all of the noise by ourselves (in that sense, I guess it’s no different then Nexen road games). On the whole, Baseball and Hockey have completely different paces and dynamics and the difference in cheering styles reflects that. Baseball cheering is very regimented: there’s a lot of routines and traditions, and a predictable order to the cheering songs. Hockey cheering is a lot more impromptu. There are certainly different songs for different game situations, but things change so quickly out on the ice one has to keep a very close eye on the game in order to match the cheering to the action.

Do you have any future plans for Korea or elsewhere as far as performing goes?

I’m not sure exactly, ever since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to work as an entertainer. I think that right now I have a really good opportunity in front of me so I need to stay in Korea and see where it leads me. I also speak Japanese fluently so I could also see myself doing something similar in Japan in the near or distant future. Who knows really? One thing’s for sure, I wanna stay as close as possible to the Heroes for the future.

We’d like to thank Ted for taking the time to share with us. You can learn more about Ted and follow his performances through his website at FamousInKorea.com or on his Facebook page or on Twitter.

 

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Movie Review: 10 Men on the Field

A crisis has happened upon Major League Baseball and the owners have decided to meet to discuss a possible solution. This is the basis of the short film 10 Men on the Field by Scott Essman.

The crisis is a fall off in attendance and a few of the larger market team owners have the solution that will revolutionize the game and put fans back in the seats. And that is to add a 10th man onto the field on defense.

There is a cast of eight owners, mostly of large market teams but others as well. The other man in the room is the assistant GM of the “other” New York team and he is the lone dissenter of this master plan.

I thought it was an interesting approach to what seems like a shot at some of the baseball owners. The assistant GM of the “other” New York team fights a valiant effort to find a way to bring the real fans back to the game that it is slowly alienating due to the high costs of attending games.

I found it a little humorous in the portrayal of some of the larger team owners. In no way do they resemble the present owners, but it really has the feel of a lot of fans these days in that the bigger teams sort of run the show for their own good.

They talk about the expanded wild card system and how it will bring more money to those who play in it each year. Only to have the Kansas City owner bring up the fact that it is only for those teams that play in it each year hinting at the fact that his team won’t be one of them.

The part I really loved was when the assistant GM brought up the salary cap instead as a way to rein in costs and help the average fan get back to the game by lowering the costs of attending. Of course, it was immediately thrown out by the big owners for two reasons. First, the player’s union is too strong and they would never go for it. Secondly, it would only help the big teams by lowering salaries and raising their revenues.

However, the assistant GM of the “other” New York team wasn’t dissuaded at all. He almost laughed at their notions when bringing up how the middle market teams in the NBA were doing under their salary cap.

There were a few other moments I really enjoyed but I don’t want to give it all away.

It’s a short film under 30 minutes, and it was entertaining. Most of it, 95% or more, it just owners sitting in a meeting room talking, but it was nicely put together. I especially liked its message which to me seemed to be make the game more affordable so the average person can get back to attending more games like it was in the past. And make the league more competitive top to bottom so every team can once again compete.

I’ve felt that way for a long time, which is why I think I really enjoyed watching this film.

So check out 10 Men on the Field. You can find more information on their website. If you would like to purchase the film, email Scott Essman at scottessman@yahoo.com. DVDs are $10 postpaid.

Below is the trailer. Check it out for a short glimpse of what it is about.

 

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Movie Review – Harvey’s Wallbangers: The 1982 Milwaukee Brewers

I grew up watching Robin Yount play for mostly mediocre and sometimes bad Milwaukee Brewers teams, but I always loved watching him play. I got to see his MVP season in 1989 and know him only as a center fielder as my baseball conscious didn’t start until after he injured his shoulder. I had only heard stories of the 1982 season.

I’ve never been a huge Brewers fan, but I always rooted for them when they had a chance for the playoffs because they always seemed to be on the outside looking in during my childhood. I admit to having my issues. I didn’t like their move to the NL. I’m not a huge fan of their former owner turned commissioner, but I have always been curious about the team I always heard about, Harvey’s Wallbangers.

I finally got the chance to view the video on the Milwaukee Brewers 1982 season, Harvey’s Wallbangers. It was a treat even for a non-Brewers fan.

I think the best description for the 1982 team was a softball team playing baseball. The pounded the ball with 5 guys hitting 20+ home runs (Molitor hit 19), 4 guys with 100+ RBI (Simmons with 97), and 3 guys with 200+ hits. It was a stout lineup that captured the imagination of a hard working city, and it made for a great story.

I learned a lot about the 1982 Brewers. I was glad the film talked about the previous seasons and how a lot of the players came to be Brewers. It was interesting to see how the team was built, and what brought Harvey Kuenn to manage the team.

The cast of characters on this team was amazing. It included four future Hall of Famers in Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Rollie Fingers, and Don Sutton. Throw in a good helping of colorful guys like “Stormin” Gorman Thomas, Pete Vuckovich, Jim Gantner, Ben Olgivie, and Cecil Cooper and you have not only a great lineup, but a fun group of guys.

The team started off slow, then they fired their manager and handed over the reigns to Harvey Kuenn. That’s when it all turned around. They stared pounding the ball in a fashion that would lead them to an eventual spot in the World Series.

What a great season 1982 had to have been. Unfortunately I was too young to watch any of it having been only 6 at the time. But the American League East came down to the final day of the season in a game that pitted two future Hall of Fame pitchers in Jim Palmer and Don Sutton.

The Brewers won that game, then defeated the California Angels in 5 games after trailing 0-2 to reach the World Series.

The World Series would go 7 games with Milwaukee leading 3-1 late in the game only to see it slip away.

It was a great film that had a lot of character and an interesting story. After all, can you think of another team that lost their major championship and the city still threw them a parade? That’s capturing the fans of a city.

I learned a lot about the Brewers of the early 1980’s, and it was nice to see some of the guys I grew up watching on TV.

If you’re a Brewers fan, I think you’ll love this. If you’re not, you’ll still love it. You can pick up a copy on Amazon.

 

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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book Review: Seasons in Hell by Mike Shropshire

Seasons in Hell: With Billy Martin, Whitey Herzog and “The Worst Baseball Team in History”-The 1973-1975 Texas Rangers is one of the best baseball books I have read in a long time. Former Rangers beat writer Mike Shropshire looks back on the trials and tribulations of what it was like covering the team during their early years in Arlington.

He covers the colorful owner who brought the Rangers to Texas, Bob Short, and the rise and fall of a Texas high school baseball legend in David Clyde. It’s a thrilling ride that will leave you laughing and wondering how some of the people in the story even survived their time with the Rangers.

Shropshire picks up coverage as the beat writer in 1973 after Ted Williams left as manager. The great Whitey Herzog took over for the 1973 season and looked to rebuild the team that had lost 100 games in ’72. Sadly, that wasn’t going to happen.

Instead the Rangers seem more like a traveling circus as times as David Clyde arrives. Herzog wouldn’t make it through the season as owner Bob Short looked to make a splash with a flashier manager simply because he was looking to sell the team. His goal in moving the team to Texas was to sell the team to make a profit, which he eventually wound up doing. In the meantime, he hired Billy Martin and things really got interesting.

Whitey Herzog summed up the team with a great quote. In a game against Baltimore, Jim Palmer was in the 8th inning against Texas with a perfect game going. After the game, Herzog was told by Shropshire that Ranger outfielder Rico Carty said he intentionally fouled off a pitch he thought was ball four because he didn’t want to see a perfect game spoiled by a base on balls. Whitey responded with, “Oh. What a bunch of crap. Besides. If anybody throws a perfect game against this lineup, they oughtta slap an asterisk on it.”

The 1974 season saw some drastic changes as the Rangers battled the Oakland A’s for the American League pennant. Billy Martin led the team to a strong finish behind eventual MVP Jeff Burroughs and AL ROY Mike Hargrove.

The Billy Martin tales are quite entertaining from the altercations to the drinking. I get the feeling that there could be another complete book on his time in Arlington.

In the beginning, the Rangers were a second class team and organization, at least that is how it seemed. They played in an old minor league stadium not really up to MLB standards even for the times. But perhaps the best part of where they played are the descriptions and stories of spring training from Pompano Beach, Florida.

Interestingly enough, the players weren’t the only colorful characters in the story. The writers have their fair share as well.

Overall, the story was a pleasure to read. It brought back a lot of old memories from players of the past as well as the stadium for me having grown up watching games there. This book is a must read for any baseball fan as Shropshire does a great job detailing life on the road as he covers the team. However, for those Rangers fans out there it’s a must own. This is one book I easily see myself picking up again in a year or two to hear the funny stories from the past once again.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Interview: London Majors Player Cleveland Brownlee

This week we bring you an interview with Cleveland Brownlee who has played baseball professionally for the past few years in London, Canada. Brownlee originally hails from Atlanta, but over the past few years has put up some very nice numbers in the Intercounty Baseball League for the London Majors.

He was nice enough to sit down and answer a few questions for us.

First of all, can you give us a little background into your baseball career and how you wound up in Canada?

I started playing at the age of four. Played all the way through high school and college. Played varsity for three years in high school at Cedar Grove High School in Ellenwood, Ga. thats about 15 minutes outside of downtown Atlanta.  I went to Clark Atlanta to play baseball. There I played four years and hold our College record for most home runs in the 4 Years. We did not have a great college team. I played division 2 baseball in the SIAC (Southern Intercollege Athelitic Conference.) I hit over .300 all four years with a total of 46 hrs in those four years. We had a struggle program that sometimes we only played 30 game seasons. I earned All Conferece first team player and school MVP. After graduating from Clark Atlanta University in 2007, I went to a few open workouts and that was where i signed my first pro independent contract . From that I was invited to spring training workout with the phillies in Clear Water, Fla. I have bounced around from indy leagues all over and ended up in Canada after Duane heard a few good things about me and decided to give me a chance.

You have been playing for the London Majors in the Intercounty Baseball League in Ontario, Canada for the past few years. What has the experience been like playing in Canada?

My experience playing in london canada has been like no other. It has been nothing but good to me. I call it my second home. The fans love me there and I have put up great numbers for the past few seasons. I’ve been nominated as fan favorite for the past three years. There is also great baseball being played there. I was under great ownership in the league. I couldnt have asked for a better team to play on. We had the best of facilities, uniforms and just overall great environment to play baseball in.

Have you played in any other foreign countries over the years?

No

You briefly played in the Continental Baseball League in Alexandria a few years back. Was this your only stop in independent ball in the US? What was that experience like and how is it different than playing in another country?

This was where I received my most at-bats in indy ball. I was traded to that team from the Laredo Broncos. I came into a bad situation only because they were alredy half way into there season. I came in not hitting too well and that’s when I got released.  It was a really good league but i dont think that a person can prove himself in only 20 at bats.

I read a short snip it that you were recommended to play for the Laredo Broncos of the United League in 2009 by former MLBer Cecil Fielder. How do you know Cecil and how has he helped you on the field in the past?

I met Cecil at a baseball work out in Atlanta . He saw me take batting paractice and came over and talked to me for awhile. Said that I reminded him of himself on how far the balls were leaving the field. He asked if I wanted to work out with a few more pro guys that he trained and I said yes. I went thru lessons 5 days a week with him not hitting less than 300 balls a day. Me and Cecil became great friends and he called around to help me get tryouts. He is a great teacher . I still call him to this day and mess with him or we talk about other talent around Atlanta that I send his way.

What was it like working with Teammates International and why should others looking to keep playing think about utilizing their services?

Working with Teammates International was a great experience for me. It opened up a door so that the world could really see what I could do. Duane was a straight up guy telling me that he was new to it and that I would be his first real client.  I think that it is a great option for young kids wanting to go furthur in baseball to try. He has multiple contacts now and lots of opportunty for you to go places.

You have had a great career with the London Majors. I understand you are retiring after this year. What are your plans after baseball? Will you enter coaching or get out of the game entirely? Will you stay in Canada or return home to the States?

I always say that I am done playing after every season but I only seem to get better every year. I was teaching high school and doing a lilttle coaching  so I might go into coaching when I’m done but not for sure yet. I would love to stay in canada and start a life there,  but Atlanta has always been my home.  So its still undecided on where I’ll live and start a family and career yet, all depeneds on how long I continue to play.

As a veteran of playing in another country, what is one bit of advice you could give someone who didn’t get drafted but wants to keep playing?

To me being drafted has alot to do with politics. I have played with alot of guys that have been drafed high and ended up playing indy ball or up in Canada. I have proven time after time that I was just as good but most of the time better than those guys. It all depends on how much you want to keep playing. I had something to prove and I worked hard on my craft to let the world know that yes I did deserve a a chance .. so I would tell any kid to keep playing, never give up, and sometimes it takes a little longer to get where you going..

Cleveland Brownlee has put up some great numbers in the IBL over the past few years. In 2012, he blasted 12 home runs and drove in 38 in only 32 games while hitting .326. His 12 home runs were 2nd in the league and he ranked 3rd in RBI. In 2011, he hit .387 and was named a First Team All-Star. You can follow Cleveland’s baseball pursuites on Facebook.

We’d like to thank Cleveland for taking the time to answer some questions for us, and we wish him luck in his future pursuits.

Photo courtesy Wayne Brown

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Interview: Gothenburg Sharks American Import Matt Winter

Today we get the chance to visit with Matt Winter, an American playing in Sweden. Matt was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about how he got to Sweden and what’s its like to play overseas.

Tell us a little bit about your baseball background. How did you wind up in Laredo, Texas playing college ball?

My baseball background goes as such, i began playing the game at 5 years old and haven’t stopped since. I played all the way from t-ball to high school and then received a scholarship to Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, Iowa. I was there for 2 years and then got a scholarhship to Texas A&M International University down in Laredo and took it! I chose tamiu because it was in the south and its every Iowa junior college baseball player to get out of the cold and get to warmer weather and high quality baseball. I graduated from Texas A&M International University in May of 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

In 2011, you played in the Arizona Summer League. What was that experience like?

The Arizona Summer league was a big step for me in my baseball career. After college i still wanted to play and had something to prove, going undrafted i wanted to break into the independant leagues. I went to a tryout in Detroit, Michigan called the Indy pro showcase, i was invited to the Arizona summer league after completing the showcase. Once i arrived in Yuma and begain playing against some of the best amature players in the world i knew i had what it takes to play baseball at the next level. I hit .343 for the summer and I was on my way.

After leaving college, you started playing overseas. What made you decide that was what you wanted to do?

Playing baseball overseas was my only option at that time to continue playing. I didn’t have much going at the time as far as a job and  and i was ready for an adventure, i was ready to go do something special. I love the game of baseball and as a young man having alot of success in the game i knew there was a spot out there for me. It has been one of the best decisions i have ever made.

You used Teammates International to help find a position overseas. Tell us about your experience with them?

Its as simple as this, if it wasn’t for Duane Erickson and Teammates International I would have never gotten the oppertunity to play overseas and my life would be completely different right now, my career would have been over. I am very thankful for Duane and everything he has done for me as a player. He has been there for me the whole way and I have nothing but good things to say about him.

Your first stop overseas was in Sydney, Australia. Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like to play in Australia?

Australia was an incredible experience for me both on and off the baseball field. I learned so much about myself and about life. It was my first time outside the U.S. and i had to adapt and changing the way i looked at things. The baseball was great, very competitive and a higher level than college ball. Sydney was a great city i had alot of great times there and it’s an experience that i will never forget. There were alot of ups and downs during my time there and I have grown alot as a baseball player and as a person.

This season you are with Goteborg in Sweden. Tell us a little bit about that. How did you find your way to Sweden and how has it been so far?

I found my way here to Sweden again through Teamates International. They set me up with the Gothenburg Sharks and the rest is history! Sweden has been absolutley great, i have loved every minute of it. It really has been a special summer for me and I’m very happy over here!

You are having a nice season with Gothenburg so far. What is the competition like there?

The competition is good, we play at the elite level which is the highest level of baseball in Sweden. Alot of teams here rely heavily on there imports but as a whole the level of baseball is pretty competitive. I have been able to play at a high level all summer and it’s really made things that much better! Sweden is not known for there baseball but i’m enjoying it alot here!

What do you do when you are not playing? Do you have responsibilities to youth programs or do you get to do a lot of traveling?

I coach the Gothenburg regional team which is made up of non elite series players, as well as coach junior players, i do that twice a week! I do have time to travel around I just got back from the Swiss alps and have done alot of traveling throughout Sweden.

What are your plans in the future? Do you hope to continue around the European circuit like many others?

My plans are really up in the air right now, i’m just taking it one day at a time and seeing what happens! Its been alot of fun this summer and I have been doing this international baseball thing for a year now and if i get the oppertunity to keep playing i believe i will keep going!

We’d like to thank Matt for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us. If you are interested more in following Matt’s season with Gothenburg, you can follow him on Twitter at @MattWinter17.

We wish Matt good luck the rest of the season and wherever the rest of 2012 and beyond might take him on the diamond.

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Interview: Wiener Neustadt Diving Ducks Player Ryan Kroko

Last week, the Wiener Neustadt Diving Ducks foreign import Ryan Kroko sat down to answer a few questions about playing in Austria. Here is what he had to say.

You grew up in Georgia and pitched in college in South Carolina. How did you wind up in Austria?

I was training at a place called American Baseball Institute in Tampa. The pitching guy there, chris holt actually came over and played a couple years ago. The player personal for the ducks asked chris if knew any pitchers that would want to come play over here.

Had you visited Europe before making the move to play in Austria?

No this was my first time out of the country. I had to get my passport before I came here.

You are about a month into the season so far. What has it been like so far?

It gone really fast actually. I am really enjoying it here, everything from the food, people and lifestyle.

With league games on weekends, how do you spend the rest of your time?

I have gotten into a routine for the mornings of either working out or running. I started reading a little more once I got over here also. I just finished Tim Teebows book.

Have you met any of the other foreign players in the league? What advice or insights have they given you if any?

Actually one of my good friends plays for the Wanderers now. They needed a shortstop and a week later he was here. But most the teams we play I’ll talk to their import player after the game and see where they are from. Chris was actually really good about telling me about what it was going to be like here.

There are many players that are sort of on the European circuit so to speak bouncing from country to country. Is this something you are interested in?

Yeah I am interested in that for sure. Any chance that I get to put on a uniform and play I’m going to consider.

How has the level of competition been so far?

It’s been pretty good. I have had to pitch out of some situations.

How has the level of communication been so far being as Austria is a German speaking nation?

I have learned that either the people know english and I can have a conversation with them or they don’t know any at all. I have learned some of the basic words though.

Many of the players in Europe are also managers. Is this something you would be interested in getting into one day?

Yeah I would be. I have been blessed to have some good coaches over the years and I want to pass some of this knowledge on to younger players.

I want to thank Ryan for taking the time to answer a few questions for us. If you want to learn more about what it’s like to play in Austria, you can follow Ryan on his blog at Baseball in Austria, or follow him on Twitter, @rkroko

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Interview: Goyang Wonders Player Stephen Yoo

South Korea’s first independent baseball team started playing this year. The Goyang Wonders are playing in the Korea Futures League. Each of the other teams are either affiliated with one of the KBO teams or the police/military. On the roster of the Wonders is Stephen Yoo. Yoo was born in the States. He has played with two of the top Division I collegiate teams in USC and TCU, and he has spent some time in the independent leagues in the States. Stephen was kind enough to take a minute and answer some questions for us about playing in Korea.

First of all, how has your baseball experience been so far in Korea?

It’s been interesting. There’s a lot of things that I expected and a lot of things that didn’t expect. But for the most part, it has been very positive and I know I’m gonna get a lot of good things out of it.

You played for two top collegiate programs in USC and TCU. Back then did you ever think you would be playing baseball in South Korea?

Not really. Coming from two top programs, you would figure I would get my opportunity in the US. My dad is a huge baseball fan and he always told me to keep an open mind and just to expect the unexpected. I always thought I would play in the US and finish my career there. But being in Korea has made me more open-minded and a much better player.

You’ve had a few stints in the American independent leagues prior to making the move to Korea. How does this independent league compare to those in the States?

Well it is very very different. I was very fortunate to play for some really good independent teams/leagues but also for some great/popular managers. Independent baseball has such a wide range of talent and so does Korean baseball. Korean basebal alsol has different values and strategically plays a different game compared to the US. So in general, it has a lot of differences but the same entertainment. The fans seem to enjoy it! Haha.

How is your Korean? Is communication an issue at all, especially with you being a catcher?

I’m fluent in Korea. That’s part of the reason why a lot of people around me and including myself thought it could be a great opportunity to play in Korea. I don’t have a language barrier and especially being a catcher, I feel like that’s an enormous advantage.

You are playing for the only independent team in Korea, the Goyang Wonders. How has the reception been for the new team?

It’s been interesting to say the least. My teammates treat me the same but differently at the same time since I grew up in the US. But since I’m so fluent they don’t really perceive me any differently. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to interact with the fans as much. But from the few that I have interacted with, they have been great!

Your parents are Korean by birth but you were born in the States. Had you visited Korea prior to this year? How do you like living in Korea?

I used to visit often when I was younger. But prior to baseball, I haven’t been here for about 8-9 years due to college and pro baseball. I’ve always enjoyed Korea and all that it has to offer. I really enjoy it.

I have read in other articles that you are hoping to get the rules changed to allow foreign-born players of Korean lineage to be considered “Koreans” for the purpose of the draft. It was not passed this winter. Is there any hope that the issue will be discussed this coming winter?

I hope they do. From the info I got, they will try again this upcoming winter. The main reason I came to the Goyang Wonders is to show the other teams and the league that an American born Korean player can come here and adapt to the Korean culture and play.  Hopefully my attendance and performance will help the league reconsider my eligibility.

How long do you hope to play in Korea?

As long as I can. I enjoy it here and I would play here as long as a team offers me a contract.

When your playing days are done, do you hope to get into coaching either here in Korea or in the States?

Haven’t quite thought about the coaching aspect quite yet. But if the opportunity comes, I would definitely consider it.  Coaching in either Korea or the States would be a priviledge.

I’d like to thank Stephen for taking the time to answer a few questions. We here at Baseball de World wish him the best of luck this season. You can follow Stephen as he plays in Korea on Twitter, @38StephenYoo.

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Video of the Week: Little Leaguer Goes Off on Dad

I thought this video was pretty funny. A little leaguer turns the tables on his dad. Enjoy.

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Website of the Week: Ben Rouse’s Brewers Mission 162

Ben Rouse has an interesting story. The Milwaukee Brewers’ fan, who has  Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia, is on a mission to see all 162 Brewers games this season. Ben received a bone marrow transplant and doing great ever since. He isn’t out of the clear yet, but things are looking better every day.

In 2011, Ben decided he wanted to see all 162 Brewers games and thus began planning. With a little help from the Brewers he is making it come true this year. On his season long journey he is raising awareness for Be the Match Registry.

It has been fun so far following Ben, and I can’t wait to see how the rest of the season goes for him. I think you’ll like the site as well, so head on over and check it out at Ben Rouse’s Brewers Mission 162. Ben does a daily blog which has been fun to follow as he meets new interesting people along the way. You can also donate to Be the Match on his site and I encourage you to do so.

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Book Review: Have Glove Will Travel by Bill Lee

Originally posted on BaseballJourneyman.com

I have never seen former MLB pitcher Bill Lee play in person. I was too young to see him pitch during his prime, but I am a huge fan.

Bill Lee has played baseball for what I am guessing is 50+ years now. In his book Have Glove, Will Travel: Adventures of a Baseball Vagabond, Lee tells tales about his days after being blackballed from Major League Baseball.

This was one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a long time. Bill Lee is quite easily one of the most interesting players to come along in the last half century. He has openly talked about smoking pot, run for president, and even became friends with a guy who was notorious for hating pitchers in Ted Williams.

The stories Lee tells in this book give an interesting perspective on the game of baseball. He still plays to this day because of his love for the game. After his release from baseball for his outspoken comments regarding the Montreal Expos, he was never able to return to the elite league where he once dominated. Instead he took his show on the road, literally.

He tells of going to Russia during the Cold War to play baseball which is a good story but mostly for what happens off the field. Lee has never shied away from talking about his partying, and he didn’t disappoint when heading to Russia.

He has taken his game to Cuba several times, and has a love for the people of the island there that shows in his writing about his trips. They love the game in a similar way he does, for the joy of playing it. It seems Lee was born a few decades too late as he would have been a great fit in the era of the barnstorming teams of the 1920s.

Lee was a fabulous pitcher with the Red Sox, and he touches on the Curse of the Bambino giving his thoughts. He always has some interesting viewpoints and when you bring up exorcism it can be pretty entertaining.

Most of his stories are humorous but not all of them. He tells a touching tale of a poor woman in Cuba who is generous by giving him fruit from her tree when she has nothing else to give. All because he was kind enough to come in and say hello to her shy little boy. It’s a touching tale that is moving, especially the second time he returns a few years later.

Despite many people thinking he might be a little crazy or “off his rocker”, Bill Lee is a pretty down to Earth guy. He knows that athlete heroism is overblown, and he points out there hasn’t been a single athlete that kids should look up to except one, Jackie Robinson. He also points out that there are other true heroes out there, and he points to the men and women who stood tall and helped others on 9/11. Those are the real heroes that people should look up to, and I’d have to agree with him.

This is an easy read, and once you get into it you won’t want to put it down. I’d highly recommend it to any fan of the game, even Yankees fans. You can pick it up almost anywhere, including Amazon. So pick up a hard copy or the Kindle version and enjoy.

If you are interested in Bill Lee, you might also like Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey about one of his trips to Cuba.

Using the BaseballJourneyman rating system, I give this book 4 gloves:

 

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