Monday, March 31, 2008

CNBC tournament attempts to determine best minor league logo

Here’s a little tidbit for those who love the fun of NCAA tournament brackets but don’t really like basketball.

On his Sports Biz page, CNBC’s Darren Rovell set up an NCAA tournament-style bracket pairing off what he believes to be the 64 best minor league baseball logos.

The best part of the contest, which allows fan voting to determine which logos advance, is that Rovell included independent teams. They have shown well. Here is CNBC’s slideshow featuring the 64 contestants.

The Northern League’s Joliet Jackhammers actually grabbed a No. 1 seed. Though the Jackhammers didn’t live up to their billing, there may be an all-independent league final. The Frontier League’s Southern Illinois Miners have already advanced to the championship game. The Miners will face the winner of the winner of the current Wichita Wingnuts (American Association) vs. Clinton LumberKings (Midwest League) contest.

Believe it or not, the Lumberkings overcame controversy to reach the final four.

Their elite eight opponent, Quad Cities, sent out a press release questioning how the LumberKings logo became so beefy. The LumberKings new logo (gold crown) and old logo are at the top of this page.

“I’m not going to point fingers, but I’ve had a lot of people asked me if I’ve noticed a change,” River Bandits Vice President and General Manager Kirk Goodman said in the release. “I really don’t think it’s fair to comment on the issue. I haven’t spent much one-on-one time with Louie so I’m not going to speak to his personal habits or the obvious change in his physique, head size, and appearance.”

Louie the LumberKing quickly answered the criticism.

"I'd like to say to all Clinton LumberKings fans, Minor League Baseball fans, and the public in general that not at any time did I take any performance-enhancing drugs,” Louie told CNBC. “Yes, I do look a little different this year, but all I did was change my facial hair and roll up my sleeves. I've always been muscular, and I have been subjected to the same drug tests as all players and mascots throughout baseball. I have even been tested all throughout high school and my college years at Paul Bunyan University."

As for The Dugout’s favorite logo, well let’s just settle on a final four:

Modesto Nuts: the logo is so funny and odd that The Dugout used to sneak onto people’s computers and make the Nuts logo the main image on their desktop.

Casper Ghosts: The logo may not be the best, but it glows in the dark. Pretty cool. Look for more on that in a soon-to-be published story on the main site.

Chattanooga Lookouts: It’s a classic. Somehow didn’t make the CNBC tourney.

Dayton: Dragon logo barely beats alien of Las Vegas.
Honorable Mentions: Lake Elsinore, Toledo, Everett, Las Vegas, and Reno.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Of space suits and Pete Orr

VIERA, Fla – The Dugout starts the final week of spring training in, of all places, major league camp. Washington is hosting Detroit in Space Coast Stadium, which was originally built to be the first spring home of the Florida Marlins.

Washington (which at the time was still Montreal) traded spring training homes with Florida when Jeffery Loria traded in the Expos to take over ownership of the Marlins. Loria reasoned he put plenty of effort into building Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium wanted his new team’s spring home to be in Jupiter. Washington, which was being run by the MLB, really didn’t have anyone to argue, so the deal was done.

Today was NASA day at the ballpark. Though cold and windy, the Nationals didn’t scrap plans to have a man wearing a space suit throw out the first pitch. He missed the plate by a moon shot.

Prior to the start of the game, The Dugout caught up with Nationals utility man Pete Orr. It was the first time Orr saw his story in The Funniest Thing I’ve Ever Seen: More than 100 crazy stories from minor league baseball.

For those who don’t know the story, here it is:

You Put Your Right Hand In
Canada is not a hot bed for baseball talent but it consistently
provides players for the annual MLB first-year player draft. In 2004,
for example, 38 Canadians were chosen in the 50-round draft.

Richmond Braves second baseman Pete Orr is an example of a
Canadian making a living playing America’s past time. Orr, who
attended Galveston (Texas) Community College, signed with Atlanta as
an undrafted free agent in 1999. Since then, Orr has moved steadily up
through the Braves’ minor league system.

Growing up in Newmarket, Ontario, Orr had to struggle to get
recognition from scouts. The much shorter season in the Great White
North places players at a disadvantage, especially when compared to
their counterparts who grew up in Florida or the Caribbean.

“It’s a disadvantage, but you don’t even know it,” Orr said. “When
you are there playing you don’t even realize. When I got older – like 17
or 18 – we practiced indoors in the winter when we could. You don’t
realize how much of a disadvantage it is until you get older.”

Orr has overcome the disadvantage. In 2003, he was the Greenville
Braves lone representative on the Double-A Southern League’s postseason
All-Star team. That same year he was named the league’s “Hustler of the Year.”

He began 2004 with the Triple-A Richmond Braves, playing second and third base, shortstop, and the outfield.

Orr considers second base his best position, but doesn’t mind the
role of utility man if it gets him on the field.

The drive to play sometimes causes players to overlook other
aspects of their lives. Former Greenville Brave Billy McCarthy
committed just such an oversight in an incident that Orr recalls as one
of the more remarkable baseball stories.

Pete Orr: [The team] thought [McCarthy] had a broken hand. It
was his left hand. He went to the doctor to get an MRI and got the
MRI done on his wrong hand.

He had to pass the MRI to play. He was all excited. He thought
he was going to get to play. The trainer was like, “Wait a minute,
Billy, this is the wrong hand. You still can’t play. He had to go getanother MRI.”

Monday, March 17, 2008

Macon prepares to bow out shamefully

The Dugout was ready to give the Macon Music the benefit of the doubt. After all, Macon beat every other minor league team to the announcement of their promotion mocking Eliot Spitzer.

Hey, any politician who allows himself to be labeled “a fierce defender of ethics” by the New York Times; then is foolish enough to be caught with a hooker, pretty much deserves all ridicule.

Sure, it was odd that Macon would wait until several weeks after the start of their season to hold the June 13th promotion. It was almost cute that the front page of the Muzak’s web site referred to “mayor” Spitzer. And maybe they did plan to fly the winner to New York but have them stay in a hotel room in Washington D.C., as the story on their site haphazardly suggests.

The real red flag was paying for said room. As noted in the story on the main site, the South Coast League, which owns and operates all four SCL teams, already owes one of its road hotels nearly $40,000. Scott Adamson, who covers the SCL and the Anderson Joes for the Independent-Mail, is responsible for breaking that story a couple of days ago. It seems the league simply stopped paying many of its bills – never a good sign.

Now the Muzak say they’ve received so many complaints about the tasteless nature of the promotion that it’s allowing fans to vote whether the promotion will happen at all. The ballot is on the Muzak’s web site.

Any guesses how that will turn out? Consider it cancelled. And when that happens, fans of won’t have to bother looking for any South Coast League team to be featured in the highly-regarded “Promotion of the Day” section on the main page. Just can’t trust them.

Congratulations Macon, you got us. You made your splash.

The shame is, the idea was pretty good. Even if it was too expensive to go to New York or D.C., the Muzak could have sent the lucky winner to a cheap hotel in the area. Maybe even offer companionship.

Heck, why not dress up in the colors and logos of the former minor league hockey team from Macon – the Whoopee. Truth is, all of that costs money, which is something the league simply doesn’t have.

This statement from SCL vice president of sales and marketing Steven Tricarico is telling: “You tell me a single team out there that doesn’t owe somebody money.”

He’s right. Most do owe money. The difference is that most pay their debts.

Sadly, Macon probably could let the June 13th date stand. With the money issues the four-team SCL appears to be having, would anyone be surprised if the entire league went out of business before then?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Spikes-up Duncan can do damage in the pool, too.

Well those Yankees and Rays are having some fun in spring training, aren't they?

In case you missed it, New York was a little upset that Elliot Johnson decided to run over Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli in the ninth-inning of Saturday’s game. It would have been hailed as a spectacular play – had the game happened in August. Or May even.

But taking out the catcher Pete Rose-vs.-Ray Fosse style in a spring training game struck plenty of people the wrong way. Especially, apparently, Yankees manager and former catcher Joe Girardi. Though Girardi hasn’t taken credit (or blame) for the actions of his Yankees in Wednesday’s follow-up meeting, it’s hard to believe the ultra-competitive manager didn’t at least stir the clubhouse pot.

New York pitcher Heath Phillips plunked Evan Longoria in the first inning. In the following inning Shelley Duncan cleared the benches when he slid spikes-up into second, catching Tampa shortstop Akinori Iwamura in the thigh.

Duncan was ejected immediately, but that wasn’t good enough for Rays outfielder Jonny Gomes, who raced to second and tried to tackle Duncan. The benches cleared. Gomes and a couple of Yankees coaches were ejected. All good spring fun.

Why does The Dugout care about a major league dustup? Faithful readers know The Dugout holds a place for both Duncan brothers, Shelley and St. Louis outfielder Chris.

For those who don’t know this story, here is one of Shelley’s entries from The Funniest Thing I’ve Ever Seen: More than 100 crazy stories from minor league baseball.

Think The Explorer Would Be Proud?
Shelley Duncan has been around baseball all his life. His father, Dave, won two World Series rings as a catcher on the 1971 and ‘72 Oakland Athletics, before heading to Baltimore. During his playing career he caught three Cy Young award winners: Vida Blue, Jim “Catfish” Hunter and Jim Palmer.
Nowadays, the elder Duncan is probably better known as the pitching coach who helped develop a dominant Oakland staff in the late 1980s that included Dave Stewart, Mike Moore, Bob Welch and Dennis Eckersley. Those Oakland teams led the American League in ERA from 1988-1990. Duncan continued his success in St. Louis when he and manager Tony LaRussa moved there in 1995, coaching the Cardinals to a World Series berth in 2004. As a coach he fostered three more Cy Young winners: Stewart, Eckersley and Hoyt Wilhelm.
Dave Duncan knows pitching, making it a little ironic that his sons Shelley and Chris would become professional hitters.
The 24-year-old Shelley is a first baseman/outfielder in the Yankees organization and Chris, who is one year younger, is a first baseman in the Cardinals organization. The pair is close, talking almost every night. Shelly considers their time together playing high school baseball to be, “the best experience ever.”
Shelley came close to being a professional pitcher. He pitched at the University of Arizona, but a sore shoulder ended that career path.
Now the younger Duncans make a living with their bats, and Shelley gives their pitching-coach extraordinaire father plenty of credit for their success.
“We know a lot about pitching,” Shelley said. “He’s best at teaching a pitcher how to pitch; how to execute pitches, what to throw and when to throw, how to approach different hitters. That’s where we learned a lot of stuff too. It gives us a good idea of how to have an approach at the plate.”
The brothers don’t get to see each other much during the season. Shelley toils for the Class A Tampa Yankees in the heat of the Florida State League while Chris has advanced to the Class AA Tennessee Smokies of the Southern League. The separation may be a good thing for all involved, considering the last time the pair got together during baseball season.

Shelley Duncan: I was playing in Greensboro in the Sally League. I broke my hand with about two weeks left in the season. I was done for the year, so they said I could go home.
I went up and surprised my brother at one of his games. He was playing for the Peoria Chiefs in the Midwest League. I went to Burlington to one of his [road] games. I was screaming and hollering and being a goof. That’s when he noticed me.
We went back to Peoria the next night. He had an apartment complex right near the hotel. It’s called the Mark Twain. It’s a hotel that has apartments that they rent out and they have maid service. He’s living there. So I got a room at the Twain.
It was someone’s birthday on his team so the whole team went out. His team that year was just crazy – the whole team went out. Everyone was getting hammered. We didn’t get in until like 5:00 in the morning.
My brother decided to stay in my room because his roommate snored. We come crawling in at 5:00 in the morning. We’re dead asleep. Let me just explain that this was one of those hotels where it’s indoors, there’s a pool in the middle and the rooms are all around the pool.
We wake up to the sound of, “Marco. Polo. Marco. Polo.”
We feel like it’s 7:00 in the morning when in reality it’s like 11 o’clock. But still, we were sleeping. Chris gets pretty upset about this. He opens the door and yells, “Thank you, everyone. We really appreciate it. You woke everybody up. Good job. Thank you very much.” He was thinking that would shut them up.
We tried to go back to bed. We close our eyes. About 15-20 seconds after we lay down we hear, “Marco. Polo.”
I was like, “Damn it, Chris, I’ll show you how it’s done.”
So I stick my head out and yell, “Shut the fuck up!” at the top of my lungs.
All the kid’s parents were right around the pool, too, and their eyes were bug-eyed to the top [of the hotel]. I slammed the door and went back to bed. They were quiet, too. I said, “That’s how you do it, Chris.”
A minute later there’s a knock on the door. We just let it go. They just kept knocking. I got up and went to the peephole. It was the hotel manager.
I opened the door and said, “Yes.”
“We heard that you yelled profanity at these little kids at the pool.”
I said, “No, no – it was the people next door.”
I shut the door on her and laid down in bed. You could tell she was really, really upset. She turned around and yelled, “All right kids. Go ahead and keep playing. And be louder.”
All the sudden you here “MARCO! POLO! MARCO! POLO!” They are going nuts.
So I get up on the bed. I look like I’m getting crazy.
Chris said, “Shelley, what are you doing? What are you doing?”
I said, “I’ll take care of this.”
I put my shorts on and I storm out the door. I walked down the stairs and went straight to the pool. I jumped in the pool – a cannon ball. The kids all scattered off and the parents were all sitting around the pool.
I started yelling, “Yeah, let’s play! Let’s play!” I started splashing water all over the parents. The kids were scared to death. They didn’t know what to do. The parents were treating me like I had a disease or something.
I started yelling, “Marco!”
My brother is up on the second story. He started yelling, “Polo!”
I’m yelling, “Marco!”
He’s yelling, “Polo!”
The next thing we know the manager runs out. She starts screaming, “I called the police. You better leave immediately.”
I got up. Walked upstairs. Went into the hotel room. Me and my brother are laughing in the hotel room. I’m drying myself off.
A minute later the police are knocking on the door. They know Chris because he’s been on the Chiefs for about two or three years. They said, “What happened?”
We told them exactly what happened. They couldn’t help from laughing at the whole thing. They said, “That’s hilarious. We can’t really do anything except ask you to leave because that’s what the manager says; but, did you really start yelling ‘Marco Polo’ in the swimming pool?”They were just dying laughing in the room. All they made us do was go back to Chris’ little apartment. He got a couple laughs when he told his team that story.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Minor Leaguers are back at the ballpark

JUPITER, Fla. - Ahh, the first days of spring training.

The Dugout is a little late arriving, but at least it's in the ballpark. Am currently sitting at Roger Dean Stadium watching a titanic clash between the unknown Florida Marlins and the barely-known Washington Nationals.

It may be what Ben Folds was talking about in his song “Battle of Who Could Care Less.” But that’s beside the point. It’s March and there’s real baseball being played.

Today is the first day of full workouts for Cardinals minor leaguers (They share the spring training complex with Florida). Saw Dugout favorite Matt Pagnozzi. The catcher was in major league camp until yesterday. He hopes to begin the season with Triple-A Memphis.

Former Palm Beach Cardinal managers Pop Warner and Gaylen Pitts are still with the organization. Pitts will return to Palm Beach for his second Florida State League season.

As good as it was to see some of the younger guys, today was more about the big leaguers. The Dugout is writing a couple of stories for Junior Baseball magazine. Today’s feature is on former Arizona Diamondback and current Florida Marlin Luis Gonzalez.

Did get the opportunity to talk a little minor league ball with Gonzo. One of his more bizarre memories involves the strange toilet location in the middle Auburn’s clubhouse.

“In between the lockers there was actually a stall and it looked like a horse stall, so when a player was taking a poop their head was sticking up above the partition,” Gonzalez said. “It was kind of weird. A lot of times people don’t realize that things aren’t as glamorous as everybody assumes they are in the minor leagues.”Pooping conditions aside, it’s good to be back at the ballpark.