Sunday, November 03, 2013

2012 Lexington Legends Update: Moving On

NOV 3rd, 2013-Baseball is a beautiful game. It's a play in nine innings on green diamonds and dirt fields, a traveling show making appearances worldwide. There's simply nothing quite like it.

But it's not all peanuts and Cracker Jack. There are parts of the game at the professional level which are hard to accept; the worst of these necessary evils is the premature end of a player's career.

Every year, dozens of players are handed their walking papers. Sometimes, they're players who have been in the game for years and never made it to the top; often, they've been pros for little more than one or two seasons. For many reasons, reasons which are moot from the player's point of view, they are sent home with the pieces of their broken dreams crammed into their equipment bags. Veteran or rookie, none are immune to the dreaded Unconditional Release.

Now that the 2013 season has drawn to a close (congratulations to the Red Sox; they certainly earned it), some of the boys who graced our field here at The Bank have suffered this very fate. The needs of the organization, and so on and so forth. Hardly matters when you're the one who's been told that your services are no longer needed. Some of this will be old news for you folks, but I like to catch up with the guys when I am able. (Note: some of these players were released before the 2013 season began.)


Jay Austin, CF
2013 Stats: none

Drafted in 2008 by the Astros in the 2nd round, Austin was a speedy outfielder who stole 54 bases in 2010 with the Lancaster JetHawks. However, he bounced between Class A Lexington and High-A Lancaster from 2011-12 and never truly seemed to progress with the bat. While he may still catch on with another team, his chances are now limited at best. He's a 23 year-old OF with no time above High-A; he'd have a long road ahead of him, if he came back now.

James Howick, SS
2013 Stats: none

A 21st round pick in 2011, Howick had a great deal of trouble adjusting to pro pitching. At times he seemed out-matched in the field, as well. One thing I noted about him, however, is that he could do the little things very well; hitting the runner over or laying down a bunt was well within his ability. I still feel like he could have progressed into a reliable utility infielder, but without his being able to produce offensively he won't get that chance with the Astros.

Zach Johnson, 1B
2013 Stats: 62 games, 232 PA, 12 R, 16 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 27 RBI, .271/.339/.440

Now here's one that I don't understand. Johnson was a bonafide run producer (38 2B, 15 HR, 108 RBI with the 2012 Legends), and he drew a lot of walks without sacrificing ABs or becoming too passive with the bat. He handled first base adeptly and I figured he'd at least project as an above-average DH in the Majors. With Houston now in the AL, he could have been a useful bat to have in such an anemic lineup. Just can't figure that one out. (Timothy De Block and the fine, fine crew at The Crawfish Boxes have info on this move on their August 9th podcast.)

Jordan Kreke, 2B
2013 Stats: none
(Obtained via trade with Atlanta prior to the 2012 season)

A 13th round pick by the Braves in 2009, Kreke appeared to be on his way to developing into a useful and steady glove off the bench. As often happens with middle infield specialists, the glove was willing but the bat was weak (apologies, Jordan). I felt like he could have been utilized a bit more than he was, but while his 49 PA in Class AAA Oklahoma City were promising (.273 BA, .347 OBP), he was a victim of the number crunch; younger players coming up, and no real place for him on the ML roster. I would like to have seen what he could have done with even half a season at Triple-A.


Tanner Bushue, RHP
2013 Stats (Low-A Tri-City ValleyCats): 3-4, 5.14 ERA, 13 G, 7 GS, 49 IP, 40 HA, 28 ER, 7 HRA, 13 BB, 40 K, 5 HBP

What The Heck, Bobby? reported on Bushue's voluntary retirement a few days ago. I know that he had struggled with injuries as far back as 2011 (strained hip, if I remember correctly), and it seems that he never was truly healthy after that. His overall numbers and peripherals weren't all that bad (7.3 HA/9, 2.4 BB/9, 7.3 K/9), but what concerned me about him was his slight build. Bushue has a smallish frame, especially for his height, but I think he'd be a great asset in the 'pen. He's still only 22, and if he chose to come back (assuming he is healthy, again) I think most any team would be lucky to have him in their system. Bushue had one of the best curves I've ever seen come through Lexington, and he could change speeds well.

Dayan Diaz, RHP
2013 Stats (AZL Cubs, Daytona Cubs, Tennessee Smokies): 3.00 ERA, 13 G, 5 GF, 21 IP, 16 HA, 7 ER, 9 BB, 29 K)

Diaz had an explosive fastball and a hard-breaking slurve, and lit up the radar gun at The Bank on a regular basis. A mid-to-high 90's heater will make you stand up and take notice. He pitched with the Cubs organization in 2013 but struggled with injuries for much of the season. If he could get his health back on track, he'd certainly be worth a second look. At 24 now, however, the numbers game is not working in his favor.

Nathan Pettus, RHP
2013 Stats: none

Another player with whom Father Time caught up, Pettus had his struggles with the 2012 Legends. While his overall numbers weren't great, I felt like he was a valuable middle reliever and occasional short man. His 37 walks in 63 innings tended to come back and bite him, but he was most certainly a fighter on the mound.

Scott Zuloaga, LHP
2013 Stats: none

Zuloaga is on the voluntarily retired list, having dealt with injuries throughout 2012. A lefty sidearmer, he pitched in only 5 games with Lexington. Personally, I'd love to have a port-side submarine slinger in my 'pen. He's only 23, so he could potentially sign on with another organization (assuming he's healthy). Again, the numbers game is against him.

This was just a tiny bit about the 2012 Legends who are no longer in the game. Some of it may come across as a little too frank for some folks, and I can understand that. I'm as big a fan of the game of baseball as anyone you're likely to meet, but sometimes the game can be cruel. There's no real way to sugarcoat a player's release or retirement. Every player who turns pro is aware of this fact, and for many of them there is a deep-seated fear that they harbor: the fear that their career will be cut far shorter than they ever imagined. That, unfortunately, is the nature of professional baseball. Some players are advanced, others are released, and sometimes there's no obvious reason for either transaction.

Whatever happens for these former pros, we wish them all the best in their future endeavors. If I could offer them any advice (if they were desperate enough to ask me), I would remind them that they are all far more than just baseball players; they all have their whole lives ahead of them, and I hope that they find success and happiness in whatever the future brings.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Royals' 1st Rd Pick Coming To Legends

AUGUST 13th, 2013-Hunter Dozier, the first round pick of the KC Royals this past June, has been promoted to Class A Lexington from Rookie-League Idaho Falls.

In preparation for his promotion, IF Nick Cuckovich has been sent down to Rookie-League Burlington in the Appalachian League.

Dozier, who had been playing shortstop for the Pioneer League Chukars, was batting .293 with 6 homers and 35 RBI in 47 games. He also has an astounding 22 doubles in that short span, a sign of burgeoning power.

With Raul Mondesi firmly entrenched at short for the Legends and 3B Mike Antonio on the 7-day DL (hand injury), Dozier will likely pick up games at third. New addition Ramon Torres, the 2011 Royals Dominican Summer League Player of The Year, has been covering the keystone and pairing well with Mondesi in shutting down the middle of the infield defensively.

With Dozier now on the Legends roster, Lexington boasts four of the top position player prospects in Kansas City's system (himself, Starling, Mondesi, Gore). Along with the best pitching staff in the South Atlantic League, Lexington (30-20; 2nd half of season) is likely to maintain their firm grasp on first place and win the Southern Division. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

In Other Words: Jack Clark and 'The Accusation'

AUGUST 9th, 2013-Well, here we go again.

Former ML outfielder-first baseman Jack Clark, in his first week of co-hosting an afternoon drive show on St. Louis's WGNU (920 AM), decided to stir the PED pot a bit.

After his partner on the show, Kevin Slaten, mentioned the possibility that former Cardinals first baseman, current LA Angels' DL denizen and living legend Albert Pujols had used steroids in the past, Clark responded in the resoundingly affirmative:

I know for a fact he was. The trainer that worked with him, threw him batting practice from Kansas City, that worked him out every day, basically told me that's what he did.”

The four-time ML All-Star Clark, who played with the Cards from 1985-87, has now twice made this claim in his first week on the show. Slaten didn't even finish his statement about Pujols' alleged use of steroids before Clark jumped in. Commenting on trainer Chris Mihlfeld, who worked with Pujols (as well as Jason Grimsley, who was busted after being caught shipping PEDs directly to his own home), Clark said the following:

(Mihlfeld) had told me what he was doing with 'Poolie' (Pujols, in lame baseball nickname-speak). He threw him batting practice, worked him out, shot him up, all that stuff.”

OK. Let's start with the character of the man making said statement.

Clark was not one to shy away from expressing his opinions during his MLB career. For that matter, he seemed to engender negative feelings from his teammates from time to time.

In his time with the San Francisco Giants in the early-80's, Clark often complained about the playing conditions at old Candlestick Park. In fairness, I remember The 'Stick: it was cold, windy and damp. Frequently. But this sort of attitude, along with concerns from manager Frank Robinson and the front office that he was, perhaps, 'milking' his injuries, led to his trade to the Cards in 1985 for SS Jose Uribe, pitcher Dave LaPoint and 1B-OFs David Green and Gary Rajsich.

In 1987, Clark had managed to get on SS Ozzie Smith's bad side. In 1988 he had signed a two-year contract with the New York Yankees, but while he enjoyed playing for manager Billy Martin, he didn't much care for Martin's replacement Lou Pinella. At the end of '88, he was on his way out of The Big Apple and heading to San Diego, traded with Pat Clements for Ps Lance McCullers and Jimmy Jones, and OF Stan Jefferson. He took one last shot at NY and the American League, in general, saying “I hate that damn league. Every game lasts 3 ½ to 4 hours. No wonder the fans are bored over there.”

In San Diego, Clark's newest target for criticism was OF Tony Gwynn (of all people). Clark felt that Gwynn was more concerned about his batting average than he was about winning, and that he often bunted in situations which seemed inappropriate in order to preserve said average. “No one bothers Tony Gwynn because he wins batting titles, but the Padres finish fourth or fifth ever year”, said Jack the Ripper, ostensibly a nickname gained from his run-producing talent, though it could just have easily come from his frequent character attacks on other players.

As much as Clark (supposedly) hated the AL, he returned there in 1991 when he signed with the Boston Red Sox. Again, he took aim at one of his former comrades:

(Padres manager) Greg Riddoch is a bad, bad man, and he's sneaky. He's a snake. Well, not just a snake, but a s-s-s-n-n-n-a-ke.” well as firing off a few rounds at the Padres' fans:

Everything that they should cheer for, they'd boo for, and everything they should boo for they'd cheer for...Tony, he's perfect for them. He just plays the whole thing up, and the town is so stupid that they can't see (emphasis added).”

It was around this time that Gwynn decided he'd had quite enough:

Let's talk about him walking 104 times, being a #4 hitter. Let's talk about his not flying on team flights. Let's talk about him getting booted out of games on a called strike three.”

Clark had his own faults, beyond his need to point out the flaws of others. In 1992 his lavish spending habits led him into bankruptcy, driven primarily by his obsession with luxury cars. His bankruptcy filing stated that he was paying on 17 car notes at the same time. Seventeen. He would sometimes get bored with a car and simply get rid of it in favor of a new and different one. In the end, he lost his home (valued at approximately 2.4 million) and his drag-racing business, but was once again financially stable by the late-90's.

This leads us to thirteen years ago. In 2000, he was working as hitting coach for the LA Dodgers. It was in this season that he supposedly was told by the trainer Mihlfeld that he was giving Pujols steroids.

Now, the easiest flaw to point out in Clark's statement is that it's pure hearsay; just because Clark says that someone else said that so-and-so was being given steroids, that doesn't make it true. Granted, Mihlfeld was involved with Grimsley, who was most assuredly using PEDs. But this sort of 'guilt-by-association' strategy is what's being used against a number of former players even now, with reporters and fans alike making reckless assumptions (in some cases).

Beyond Clark's assertion that Mihlfeld said he gave steroids to the Angels first-sacker, what else does he have to offer to back up that claim? Not to mention this little tidbit, where he said:

...basically told me that's what he did.”

“Basically told me...”. OK, so did Mihlfeld come out and say it, point-blank, or did he simply allude to the possibility that he might be doing so? Either he said it or he didn't. This 'basically' crap is close to slander, the way I see it. At first, Clark says that he was told by Mihlfeld that the trainer was giving Pujols steroids. The follow-up statement says “basically...”. So which is it?

For that matter, why are you bringing this up now? I would have to assume that your concern in this matter is that fair play and a clean game are paramount to the success and reputation of Major League Baseball. But if that's what you believe, then why are you coming out thirteen years after the fact with such an accusation, at a time in which you'd be hard-pressed to prove the the conversation even took place, about one of the biggest stars in the last 50 years? What could your motivation possibly be?

Actually, as I was researching for this post, writer Ray DeRousse had already written an excellent article about Clark's possible motivation for making such a (potentially) reckless comment. In this post, he noted that Clark seemed to be jealous of the success of both proven and suspected PED users, citing Clark's own words:

They got the money, that's what they went for. But when they get off the juice and that stuff's not around, their body starts breaking down and obviously you start seeing some results go away...The greed...they juice up, they grab the money and it's just a free pass to steal is the way I look at it.”

Well, now. That certainly clears up some things, doesn't it? At least it gives some insight as to why Clark might feel the way he does, as well as the timing in which he's chosen to make his accusations.

Granted, there has been some suspicion about Pujols since his earlier days with the Cards, but never has he even been remotely linked with anything in the way of concrete evidence of PED use. Yes, he was associated with Mihlfeld, who was actually cleared from involvement in PED distribution back in 2006 when Brian McNamee was instead linked to the Grimsley affidavit as the guilty party in question., on June 8th, 2006, also pointed the finger at Mihlfeld, going so far as to name Mihlfeld as the individual who connected Grimsley (and others) to a dealer who provided the players with “amphetamines, anabolic steroids and HGH”.

People in the sports media who play this sort of game, in which they may do no more than insinuate the guilt of a player, are on thin ice as soon as they start. Pujols has already stated in the press that he is planning to sue Clark and WGNU, as well.

Pujols told

It is irresponsible and reckless for Jack Clark to have falsely accused me of using PEDs. My faith in Jesus Christ and my respect for this game are too important to me. I would never be able to look my wife or kids in the eye if I had done what this man is accusing me of.

"I know people are tired of athletes saying they are innocent, asking for the public to believe in them only to have their sins exposed later down the road. But I am not one of those athletes, and I will not stand to have my name, and my family's name, dragged through the mud."

Of course, these are just words. We've all seen the 'Indignant Major Leaguer' card played many times before, and it's a pretty tired approach at this point. All that will matter in the end is whether or not Pujols used PEDs, and following the progression (or lack, thereof) of the libel suit that Pujols plans to file could tell a great deal as to whether Clark was right. Remember: it's only libel if it isn't true.

And Pujols has, to our knowledge, never failed a drug test. It will certainly be interesting to see how this plays out.

(UPDATE: Early Saturday morning, insideSTL announced the firing of both Clark and Slaten. The company is doing its best to distance themselves from the former co-hosts, as well as their comments. Best of luck with that. )

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Charging The Mound, For Beginners

AUGUST 6th, 2013-I'm not a guy who really cares for this sort of thing. But if you gotta throw down, throw down. And after hearing of Legends LF Terrance Gore's beaning at the hands of Asheville Tourists righty Rayan Gonzalez a few hours ago, I was 'inspired', shall we say, to broach the subject of bench-clearing brawls. (Note: Gore was the first batter Gonzalez has hit, this year, but he beaned him. And hard, too). I don't want to focus on that particular incident, though it got me a little hot under the collar to hear that T was potentially badly hurt (he's not, as far as I know).

Ty Cobb once said that baseball "is something like a war". Zack Greinke thinks he's dead right.

Greinke made the mistake of targeting Padres OF Carlos Quentin earlier in the year for something like the 15th time in his career, and Quentin decided to audition for the Chargers while he had the chance. Why, exactly, Greinke has such a need to drill the Padres linebacker/occasionally healthy outfielder, I have no idea. But lo and behold, on April 11th of this year the slightly-built Dodgers righty thought he'd send a message to the unfortunate batter, and that message was "I'm dying for a beat-down".

Quentin was happy to oblige.

As you can see in the above video, Greinke has a poor grasp of basic tackling skills (and physics), as he only slightly lowers his shoulder into the charging rhino that is Quentin. He got mildly stomped for his trouble, and suffered a broken collarbone to boot.

My personal feeling on this fight is that it never should have happened. Problem is, Quentin has been plunked by Greinke so often that I suppose he got the idea that Greinke had some sort of vendetta. It used to be that 'misunderstandings' like this were settled on the field; one pitcher would hit a batter (whether accidentally or intentionally), the opposing pitcher would respond in kind. End of story.

But it seems nowadays that most players can't just let it go at that. Some will even get bent out of shape when a pitcher has the GALL to pitch on the inner part of the plate. How dare they! As if that part of the plate even belongs to the pitcher!

What a steaming load of horsecrap. So many sensitive hitters out there. Makes me wonder if modern players have a full understanding of the game. But I digress.

Brawls have been a part of the game for as long as it has been played, at every level. One of the more famous was the Nolan Ryan-Robin Ventura bout back in 1993, in which Ryan instructed the young Mr. Ventura in the finer art of noogies:

In this instance, Ryan had 21 years on the 25 year-old Ventura, and it's believed (citation needed) that his love tap of a fastball to the White Sox third sacker's spine was merely his way of telling him that he had neglected to buy a ticket for the Ryan Express. Ventura was kind enough to offer the demi-god pitcher the top of his skull as payment for the ride. And had his fine motor skills beaten out of him, because of it.

Ah, the olden days. Hey, kids! Remember black and white TV? Course, you don't.

The date was July 22nd, 1986. The SF Giants were lost in the Busch, facing off against the Cardinals. RHP Frank Williams was the pitcher, OF Vince Coleman the batter. Williams was in the middle of what would be an outstanding season, posting a scintillating 1.20 ERA over 52 1/3 IP for the Giants. Of note is the 4 batters he hit, on the year. Four. Indeed, over his career he hit only 20 batsmen in 471 2/3 innings. Mr. Coleman would be one of the twenty.

As you see in the video, Williams had already come up and in (way up, way in) to the left-handed batting Coleman, and manager Roger Craig took some exception to this. As it turns out, so did Coleman.

On the very next pitch, Ol' Frank nailed him. Benches cleared, anger simmered, blah blah blah...

Next thing you know, C Mike Heath literally has to carry Vince off the field. This is just after Heath had to subdue him by wrestling him to the ground. So Vince was perhaps a little miffed by the whole experience.

Other highlights of this bout: IF Joel Youngblood in what appears to be a reversed sleeper hold, Cards skipper Whitey Herzog shoulder-blocked by Giants IF Randy Kutcher, and #43 of the Giants (who I can only assume is a coach) entertaining thoughts of causing mayhem in the stands. This one had it all.

Rewind even further to August 12th, 1984, Padres @ Braves. San Diego was on their way to a 92-70 finish, a narrow victory over the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS, and a 5-game elimination in the World Series which came courtesy of the Detroit Tigers. Atlanta, on the other hand, was fighting for its place in the annals of mediocrity; however, though they would finish tied for 2nd in the NL West with the Houston Astros, their record was a less-than-compelling 80-82, good for 12 games out of first place. So San Diego was the only team in their division to finish with a winning record in 1984. Baseball is a funny game.

Anyhew, the game starts off on the right (wrong?) foot, with human Jheri Curl and RHP Pascual Perez went right after the lefty-batting 2B Alan Wiggins, who would steal 70 bags that year and 242 in 631 ML games before his life was cut tragically short in 1991 at the age of 32. That, however, is another story.

Not a team willing to forgive and forget, the Pads waited all the way until the bottom of the 8th, when LHP Craig Lefferts decided to express his disapproval with the offender himself, laying a love tap on the right-handed batter Perez.

When I think about it, I can't remember the last time I saw a pitcher actually get plunked in retaliation. Hm.

That should have been the end of it, right? Wrong, again. Enter RHP Donnie Moore (another tragic story) in the top of the 9th. Moore ended up pitching to one batter, that man being 3B Graig Nettles. Did Nettles get a hit? Well, sorta.

So Moore, perhaps misunderstanding the meaning of 'turnabout is fair play', keeps the beanball war going as he makes Nettles the third victim of this game. That didn't go over as well as perhaps he had hoped.

Again, another fascinating exchange of testosterone-fueled man-love: Champ Summers gets assaulted by fans, one of the Padres (unidentified, but one of the balder ones) gets his jersey ripped off, and Perez gives the cameraman a long dramatic stare after attempting to fend off numerous Pads while still armed.

Yep. Perez never dropped his bat. But since when would a pitcher know how to use one?

Oh. My bad.
And last, but certainly not least, there's this little gem out of South Korea. They do things a little differently, over there. Uh...yeah. 

Professional athletes have a lot on the line, every time they take the field. There's tons of pressure, and some guys handle it better than others. There will always be moments when that frustration, anxiety and rage boils over. When that happens, there will always be some nameless fan, video phone at the ready, who will immortalize and capture the moment for the rest of us to argue over, analyze, or just plain laugh about, at our leisure. 

It's all part of the process.  

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Great American Ball Park, Great American Game

AUGUST 4th, 2013-I had the pleasure of spending a little time with an old Navy friend and his son, this evening, as the Cincinnati Reds took on the visiting St Louis Cardinals at the Great American Ball Park. My friend Jerry and his son Trey made the trip up from Florida, visiting Jerry's daughter Britney on the way, and were intent on catching a Reds game while they were up here.

 I've been to this park only once before; back in September 2011, I made the trip North to watch the Astros get creamed by Cincy. Of course, since our local minor-league affiliate was at the time connected to Houston, I was rooting for the beleaguered 'Stros. It was less than two weeks prior to this game that current 2B Jose Altuve had made his debut in The Show, and for me he and OF J.D. Martinez were the only reason I needed to show up.

Trey and Jerry
Altuve had made a meteoric (and somewhat unexpected rise) through the Astros system, having played for the Class A Lexington Legends in the South Atlantic League as recently as 2010 and producing a .308 BA with 11 homers and 45 RBIs in 94 games to go with his 39 SB and 75 runs. These were gaudy numbers for the short time he played in Class A ball, to be sure. Yet the odds, as well as the baseball pundits, were somewhat against him ever making even a minor impact in MLB. Being all of 5'5" probably didn't endear him to the scouting crowd. J.D. had owned SAL pitchers in '10, winning the batting title and pacing the league with a .362 average. He hasn't had the same luck as Altuve, yet.

In front of the "Original Nine" Mosaic
Returning to GABP for the first time since that 2011 game, I wasn't aware until shortly before game time that the Reds would be taking on St Louis, their despised division rivals. As I suspected would be the case, the game was sold out. We were fortunate to pass by a large family group who had 5 missing from their party, and as such were willing to hook us up with tickets. The alternative to this stroke of luck was standing-room only tickets at $12 a pop; hardly an acceptable option.

Anyway, as we made our way to our seats, it was nothing but a sea of red in the stands throughout the park. The vast majority of these red shirts were representing the home team, though there were some Cards jerseys to be found. The atmosphere was more akin to that of a playoff game, and the crowd of 41,000+ was hanging on every pitch and every play throughout the night. I even saw The Wave make a complete circuit around the stadium several times, uninterrupted. I figure that's the first time I've ever seen nearly everyone in a sellout game participate.

Tonight for the Reds, outstanding young lefty Tony Cingrani took to the mound to face off against veteran righy Jake Westbrook. The box score and recap can be found here; you really don't need me to go into all that. C Devin Mesoraco had two bombs in this game, while CF Shin-Soo Choo added one of his own, and the crowd went customarily nuts. Cingrani struggled a bit in the first inning, but ended up mitigating the damage somewhat, allowing 3 runs on 4 hits in 5 innings while striking out 7. The Ks are never surprising, when this kid's on the bump. Big-time talent, and one to watch for certain.

Anyway, it's hard to describe the feel of a game like this. This kind of thing has to be experienced, first-hand. I've been to so many games in the past, both at the major and minor-league level, where the fans all seemed like they had lapsed into a coma. This was far from the case, tonight. The way I've felt about baseball in recent months has been less than positive. There have been a number of reasons for that; part of it is due to general stress and anxiety over matters other than those related to the game. But this game tonight was, in a word, electrifying. Reds and Cards fans always crank it up a notch when their teams face off, and tonight was no exception. It was refreshing to see real, vibrant life in the stands, from first row field level to the highest rows of the upper deck.

I suppose it made such an impression on me because it's been so long since I've seen fans so into the game. I guess that's all I'm saying here. Maybe it doesn't seem like a big deal to others, but games such as the one tonight (even if it had little true bearing on the postseason) are not all that common. For me, they're even less so.

It was just nice to see. And it was the sort of jolt I so badly needed. Never hurts to be reminded why you love something so much. We all need that, from time to time.

Monday, July 29, 2013

PEDS: Are Some Players Innocent, After All?

JULY 29th, 2013-The PED/Steroid/HGH scandal in professional baseball has been raging on for the past 6 years, now, not taking into account the years before it came to light in the public eye. 

In 2007, things came to a Congressional head with the Mitchell Report. MLB stars found themselves in front of a Senate sub-committee defending their actions (or lack, thereof) over recent years in the game. So named for the man who commissioned the report, US Senator from Maine George J. Mitchell, it comprised 409 pages and God-knows-how-many taxpayer dollars when it was finally complete. Released in December of '07 to the press (and eventually the public), it brought to light the misdeeds of many a star player:

Representative Dan Burton (R-Indiana) grilled Brian McNamee, former "trainer" for Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte and (apparently) an avid collector of used gauze pads and needles, over his confusing and sometimes-misleading testimony. Sammy Sosa forgot how to speak English, after what I can only assume was a minor brain hemorrhage affecting the speech centers of his brain. Jose Canseco got his 15 minutes, while various representatives tried to knock that huge chip off his shoulder. 

And former star Rafael Palmeiro wagged his finger sternly when asked if he had ever used performance-enhancing drugs. 

Then we come to New York Yankees pariah Alex Rodriguez. Peter Gammons spoke with A-Rod concerning the lies in which he was caught: 

"Back then, it was a different culture. It was very loose", said the embattled former shoe-in for the Hall, speaking as much truth in that one statement as anyone prior to him had even considered saying. 

He's right. It WAS a different culture. Steroids were used by many, many players, in open defiance of the league's 'regulations' concerning banned substances. Well, that's not entirely true: MLB really didn't have a process in place to address the use of PEDs. It was, in that sense, and in the sense that anyone with a pair of eyes and a functioning brain could see what was going on, encouraged by the powers-that-be. These are the same powers who then came to the game's 'rescue', attacking the epidemic of illegal PED use which had pervaded the game, doing their level best to save face while appeasing the MLBPA at the same time. 

Looking back on A-Rod's interview, something always stuck with me:

"There are substances in GNC right now which could trigger a positive result" on a urine test, he said. I always wondered what it was he meant, specifically. 

Well, as it turns out, and as much as I hate to admit it, he was right. In fact, he was more 'right' than he may have known, at the time. 

The FDA reported on Saturday that a Vitamin B supplement sold by GNC does indeed contain two controlled substances: 

"...Healthy Life Chemistry By Purity First B-50, contains methasterone, a controlled substance, and dimethazine, the Food and Drug Administration said."

Let me clarify that statement: a Vitamin B supplement showed positive (in preliminary tests) for methasterone (an anabolic steroid), and dimethazine, which is essentially a precursor of methasterone. B vitamins. And steroids. 

How many times have we heard that a player didn't take steroids, but actually only took a B vitamin? They then blame their positive test on said vitamin. According to the early reports from the FDA, some of them could be telling the truth. 

Adding to the problem is the fact that vitamins and herbal supplements are not regulated by the FDA. What this means, in short, is that there could be ANYTHING at all in that multi-vitamin or gingko capsule. Like the man said, "You pays yer money and you takes yer chance". This should be the official slogan of any company who produces an unregulated, nebulous (and sometimes dangerous) product for public consumption. 

So what are the legal implications of this latest development for the players who have had to suffer this embarrassment? What recourse do they now have? And how would a player prove that their positive tests were directly related to the use of these 'vitamins'? Even accounting for those who used PEDs knowingly, how would a player who was unknowingly using a banned substance ever clear his name?

While we await the fallout over this latest revelation, there is no doubt that this can and likely will change the current strategies in professional sports' battle against PEDs. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A-Rod and The True Cost (or Profit) of Professional-Level Hubris

JULY 26th-2013-With A-Rod in the news, of late, my thoughts are not as much about his 'alleged' PED use and pending banishment from the game, as they are about the contract under which he plays. More to the point, Rodriguez's contract is the perfect example of how far down the rabbit hole that MLB has allowed free agency to lead them.

In essence, the players finally gained financial power over their future and the teams for which they play, thanks largely to the work and eventual sacrifice of Curt Flood. This, in turn, caused the teams to fight one another for the services of free agents, at times upping the ante for the rights of a player and drastically increasing the costs of said services which they hoped to obtain. Rodriguez was able to manipulate the system so greatly to his benefit that he is now earning 20 million in a season which may not see him on the field for a single at-bat. According to Baseball Reference, he has earned over 353 million in his career to this point.

Keep in mind, he only used the system set in place by professional baseball to get to where he is, financially. Never mind all the PED nonsense; the Rangers and Yankees saw fit to pay him roughly the GNP of a small country to play for them, so that's on them.

However, I thought it would be interesting to note that he is not, in fact, the highest-paid player in the history of professional baseball, at least in terms of the total value of any single season. As much as he is 'earning' on his current abominable contract, his gains from it pale in comparison to one which is being paid out even now to a player who has been out of the game as a player since 2001.

That 'honor' belongs to Bobby Bonilla.

Bonilla had returned to the Mets in 1999, where his lackluster play (along with 'personality issues') caused him to wear out his welcome. In response to this revelation (whatever), the Mets actually paid him to leave.

Keep in mind that in his previous stint with the Mets in 1992, he had already threatened sportswriter Bob Klapisch with a beatdown, telling him that he would "show him the Bronx". I can only assume that one would not wish to see the Bronx, or at least not the part that Bonilla wants to visit.

Hindsight being what it is...
At the time, they still owed him 5.9 million bucks. In order to get him off their books, they worked out a deal which would defer the remaining money over a 25-year period. They already owed him 500,000 dollars per year, which started in 2004, that would continue over a 25-year period. This was separate from the deferred payments agreed upon for the 5.9 mil contract they were ridding themselves of from the beginning of the 2000 season.

Considering the payments beginning from 2004 of half a million per year, in addition to the 1.1 mil+ payments beginning in 2011 (which will continue to 203-freaking-5), all of which assumes an annual 8% interest rate, the Mets would essentially owe him a total of over 42 million for that one-year contract of 2000. The Mets will be paying Bobby Bo until he turns 73. Celebrity Net Worth has a much better explanation of this whole mess.

The annual interest rate comes into play because Bonilla was being paid from an investment account which the Mets set up for him. In short, what this means is that the Mets actually earned interest on the principal from Day One, from which they paid Bonilla (obviously), but also from which they increased their initial investment. That means (again, reference Celebrity Net Worth's page on this) that they actually came out ahead in this whole mess.

Of course, it also means that they were paying a player who no longer suits up, and hasn't done so for 13 years. And counting.

Convoluted, to say the least. And all to remove the cancer which had invaded their clubhouse. Sadly, no universal health care system can treat a Bonilla infection.

Nowadays, teams often back-load contracts in order to keep their annual budgets lower. That means there will be a number of players (potentially) who will be drawing paychecks long after they've either left the team or retired altogether. It takes a steady mind to keep all of this crap straight.

Gee. When I work, I just get a plain ol' check. Should have been a ballplayer.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Lexington Legends Update: The Hitters-July 20th, 2013

In the minor leagues, numbers really don't mean a whole lot.

Don't get me wrong; I should say that they don't mean as much as they would in the majors. Down here, it's all about developing talent, not reaping the rewards of the end product. 

With that in mind, there is much to like about this Legends team. 

While it is true that our offense has had its issues, the second half has been a stunning success overall. Not only are the Legends in first place in their division (17-9, 2.0 games ahead of 2nd place Greenville), they currently have the best second half record in all of the South Atlantic League. They've been able to accomplish this largely on the strength of an outstanding pitching staff and well-timed hits. No single hitter on this team has stood out this year, but there are a number of highlights of note. A quick look at some of the hitters:

Michael Antonio, 3B

86 games, 337 PA, 17 R, 14 2B, 4 HR, 32 RBI, 28 BB, 53 K, .195 BA, .268 OBP

Antonio has, like many of the hitters on this team, had a tough go of it at the plate this year. One of my favorite players to watch, I still see at least one issue with his approach. He has good natural power, but it comes from a sometimes-violent swing which could likely be shortened up a bit without his giving up much power. Until he's able to do that, he's going to strike out quite a lot. However, even with this approach, he's at his best in clutch situations (.246 BA with 2 outs and runners in scoring position). I would still like to see him shorten up a little. Being an aggressive swinger is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. But in his case, it's hurting more than it's helping.

Mark Donato, 1B-DH

38 games, 156 PA, 13 R, 8 2B, 4 HR, 21 RBI, 9 BB, 26 K, .292 BA, .333 OBP, .764 OPS

I did an interview with Donato near the end of last season in anticipation that he would be with us this year. I expected big things of him, and he has not disappointed. In 38 games with Lexington, he has either driven in or scored (or both) 34 runs, and he's on pace for 30+ doubles and double-digits in homers. He's hit significantly better at home (.339 BA, .938 OPS at home vs. .259 and .641 on the road), and has flagged off a bit in July (.233 BA in 12 games), but I expect this will balance itself out. He handles first base well, as he is quick on his feet, shows ample range to both sides, and is confident in every defensive scenario in which I've seen him, thus far. A full year here in Lexington could bring 20+ homers and at least 90 RBI, numbers which he could potentially meet this year even though he's only been here since the end of May.

Fred Ford, RF

87 games, 342 PA, 36 R, 13 2B, 4 3B, 9 HR, 32 RBI, 42 BB, 119 K, .207 BA, .681 OPS

Ford started out the year at first base, a position with which he was not nearly as accustomed as right field. He acquitted himself well filling in for an injured Mark Threlkeld, but I feel that his switch to first (along with this being his first year in Class A ball) likely affected his batting a bit. At 6'5”, Ford is always going to have to work hard to control the strike zone. He showed a notable improvement in this regard when in June he cut his strikeouts down to 26 in 22 games, as opposed to the previous month when he was rung up 40 times in 28 games. His BB/K ratio was significantly better in June than in any other month so far, and he posted a monstrous .912 OPS in that month. Ford will post strong power numbers in the future as long as he can make more frequent contact than he is now. Again, I think this will come along with time.

Cam Gallagher, C

40 games, 156 PA, 10 R, 11 2B, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 12 BB, 12 K, .230 BA, .647 OPS

Gallagher has played in only 40 games thus far, having missed a chunk of time when Asheville righty Shane Broyles plunked him in the arm on April 24th (Cory Hall returned the favor, with 1B Derek Jones being the victim), so he's had to deal with recovering from the resultant fractured forearm. Gallagher has been a prospect of note since he was drafted in the 2nd round in 2011, and he will certainly show above-average power when he hits his peak. Catchers traditionally take longer to develop, but he will definitely be worth the wait. I expect his CS rates to improve in the near future (he's thrown out 29% of basestealers, thus far), while he already handles the staff very well.

Terrance Gore, LF

86 games, 359 PA, 53 R, 5 2B, 2 3B, 20 RBI, (spoiler alert, T!) 50 SB, 41 BB, 73 K, .226 BA, .342 OBP

Gore is one of the fastest players I've ever seen, at any level. I've timed him at 3.9 or less to first so many times that I've stopped keeping track, and he continues to cover enough territory in the OF that the Legends could almost get away with two outfielders. He plays the field next to CF Bubba Starling, who is a speedster in his own right, and there are plenty of times when they arrive at a fly ball at the same time. It's starting to look like my preseason prediction about Gore will be, at least, pretty darn close (I said I'd expect 100 swipes out of him if he spent the whole year in Lexington). There's more to him than just speed, though; while he is a smallish player, he is powerfully built. When his bat catches up, he should be the kind of hitter who produces double-digits in doubles and triples, with 50+ steals in the majors. It all depends on that bat, however.

Raul Mondesi, SS

83 games, 357 PA, 38 R, 11 2B, 5 3B, 5 HR, 38 RBI, 16 SB, .261 BA, .680 OPS

Mondesi is batting .261, is helping a great deal to carry the offense, has a cannon for an arm and has invaded the right side of the infield as a shortstop. And he turns 18 on the 27th of this month. There's nothing I need to add to that. He's pretty good.

Bubba Starling, CF

85 games, 343 PA, 41 R, 14 2B, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 12 SB, 36 BB, 89 K, .217 BA, .656 OPS

By now, most Legends fans know that Bubba started the year having great difficulty picking up the ball while at the plate. There's a 100-point difference in his BA between day and night games (.289 in day games, .189 at night), and that was a big red flag from the get-go. He has since had LASIK surgery to correct that. There has been concern in the past from fans who felt that he was too raw to ever reach his full potential in baseball, and that he should have gone the football route. Those fans were premature in their assessment. Starling will, at the very least, develop into a plus defender with above-average power and speed, and even if that's all he gives the Royals then they should be more than happy with it. Fans should also keep in mind that he doesn't turn 21 until August 3rd, so I think taking a 'wait and see' approach is the best way to go, here. He has already made strides in the past month, though he does continue to strike out a lot more than you'd like to see. He may always record a lot of Ks, but he'll offset that with extra-base hits in bunches. Worth it, I'd say.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bobby, Oly and The Crewser: Twenty Years After Little Lake Nellie

God, it seems like a million years ago. And yet, the day is still so clear to me.

It was 1993, and I had been a baseball fan for 4 years strong. Four years, never once had I been a 'casual' fan of the game. When baseball took hold of me, it meant to never let me go. Even today, as I type and peck away on my keyboard, the game means as much to me as it ever has.

I can't imagine ever being anything less than completely taken by the artistry and the symphony that I see on every baseball field, at every level, everywhere in the world. I guess you could say I'm a terminal case; baseball will probably be the last thing on my mind when I shuffle off this mortal coil:

Son: “Dad, are you ok? Do you need me to get the doctor? You're not looking so good...”

Me: “Lord, no! Get me the box scores!”

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Anyway, it was 1993. Twenty years seems like an eternity when you're pushing nineteen. That was me in the Spring of '93, pulling out a chair and sitting down to breakfast on a sunny and mild morning. I think it was a Tuesday.

Funny, the things you remember. I can't tell you what I had for lunch two days ago, but I can tell you what Rogers Hornsby batted in 1924 (.424, by the way).

I was, by design, too young and naive to think that it was even possible that the players who I saw in the headlines and highlights of the news every day could ever be mere mortals. Some lessons you learn by harsh and unpleasant means. This day would change the way I saw my heroes, permanently.

As I sought out that day's paper, seeking out the sports section as if my day depended upon the scores and standings listed within (it did), I unfolded the pages and looked to the front page headline.

The next thing I remember is feeling like someone reached inside me and squeezed my guts in a vise-like grip, growing ever tighter as I read the words:

Indians' Olin Killed in Accident

The words may have been somewhat different than I remember, but it didn't seem to matter at the time. All I could see is “Major League Pitcher and One of Your Favorite Players, Mr. Riddle, Is Now Dead”. I couldn't even comprehend the implications. For a moment, I barely knew what it was I was reading. It seemed that I suddenly had lost the ability to understand my native language, as if I had taken a blow to the head from the ink and paper lying in front of me, sprawled out over the kitchen table next to the sausage patties and scrambled eggs in which I now had no interest whatsoever.

It got far worse, as I read on.

Steve Olin, a young and successful relief pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, was just coming into his own in his past two seasons as the Indians' closer. He was a submariner, a rare sort of pitcher whose arm angle and delivery wreaked havoc with opposing batters, and the numbers certainly seemed to suggest that he was making it work for him. He was popular with the Cleveland fans, and had at least one fan in Nicholasville, Kentucky; I had followed him since his rookie year in 1989, the same year I had begun my love affair with baseball. I think that this made me even more of a fan; even now, I find that the players to whom I was first exposed in that season have held a permanent place in my memory, regardless of their stats or awards or any of that nonsense.

My mind raced: what could possibly have happened to cut down this vibrant young star in the early years of his prime? How could that even be true? This has to be a mistake.

But the words remained. “Indians Olin Killed”.

Lord, I didn't even know the man. Why did it matter so much? Why did I even care?

I forced myself to read the article, and each word seemed more challenging than the last. It was as if these words were daring me to continue further, to take in the reality of a world of which I knew almost nothing.

1993 was a pivotal year for me. I began my active duty stint in the Navy in 1993. I had graduated high school that year in May. My grandfather, my father's father and a man who meant more to me than I would come to realize in those early years, passed away in November. I was in the midst of my Hospital Corps School training in Great Lakes, Illinois, and I was offered a trip home to attend his funeral from the Red Cross. I declined; I wanted to remember him the way I saw him last, still fighting the brain tumor and lung cancer which would eventually take him from me. Sometimes, I regret not going home, but only briefly.

The details of Olin's death were more than I could accept. I couldn't rationalize the severity and the violence involved in his death, not at that age. I still struggle to recall that day, and reading what was written after that tragedy is literally painful for me.

It was after dark, around 7:30 PM. That's what the police report had said. Olin, along with fellow hurlers Tim Crews and Bob Ojeda, were in a boat on Little Lake Nellie, a vacation and fishing spot in Lake County, Florida.

It seemed at the time that they were moving at a high rate of speed. The darkness had settled in on the lake, and it was surmised that none of them could see where they were going, or at least not very well.

They were approaching an area on the lake in which a dock extended far into the water. Two hundred and fifty feet, it stretched.

The three Indians never saw it coming. They hit it, and hit it hard. Olin was decapitated. Crews suffered severe lung and head injuries and lost a significant amount of blood at the scene. Ojeda's scalp was peeled back like the skin of an orange and he lost a significant amount of blood, but he would survive.

Crews was taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center in critical condition. He would succumb to his injuries. Later on, blood tests would reveal that Crews, the operator of the boat at the time of the accident, was legally drunk. His blood alcohol level was .14, and the news coverage after the incident would end up focusing on that factor.

In an instant, two lives would be lost, families and friends devastated. Ojeda, who survived the accident, could not even discuss it for years afterward. When he finally did recover, at least in a physical sense, his grief was more than he could bear. And for a little while, he ran from it. He ran far enough to have left the country altogether.

Ojeda: “I certainly went through the 'why am I here?'. Certainly. That's a given. I left the country for a while. I had a lot of money in my pocket and I wasn't gonna come back”.

I would have done the same, I think.

As the details revealed themselves over the days following the accident, and especially when I read about Crews' drinking before he took the helm of that boat, I found myself infuriated at Crews. How could he have done something so irresponsible? For that matter, he's a MAJOR LEAGUER! They don't do things like that!

Do they?

My naivete, as I look back upon those days, was all-encompassing and intransigent. I would slowly come to realize that my idols had feet of clay; that they would always, ultimately, let me down.

In the years that followed, I would read about scandals and various dark blots upon countless other professional athletes. I would come to understand that they were every bit as human as I, and thus they were also just as fallible. And perhaps more importantly, they could be taken from us at any time. Just like you or me. Just like my grandfather. Rich or poor, young or old, death does not discriminate. 

But no matter how fans and writers would come to view Tim Crews and the tragedy that occurred at Little Lake Nellie, the fact remains that two young men were taken well before their time. Nothing can change that. 

It's been twenty years since that day. Twenty years seems like an eternity when you're pushing nineteen.

And now? It seems like only yesterday. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Player Interview: Murilo Gouvea, RHP, Houston Astros (MiLB)

MAY 28th, 2013-With the introduction of the World Baseball Classic, there have been a number of memorable performances. On the biggest stage imaginable, players who many of us have never seen before have made amazing defensive plays, slugged moonshots against dominant pitchers, and carved up batting orders like your Dad carved the turkey at Thanksgiving.

On that subject (pitching, not Thanksgiving), one such pitching performance in this past WBC tournament was especially memorable for fans of the Lexington Legends. That performance came during a pivotal game in the qualifying round for a team who had yet to make it to the Tournament proper: that was Team Brazil, an emerging baseball power with a great deal of talent on its roster, already. Indeed, the Seattle Mariners have just signed Brazilian 17 year-old RHP Daniel Missaki to a minor-league contract (terms are thus far undisclosed), who pitched in the 1st round of the WBC vs. Team China. While he made only one appearance in the tournament, it was one in which he entered the game with the bases loaded and two outs. Missaki induced a ground-out from China RF Yanyong Yang to escape trouble (more on other Brazilian signees, later).

Gouvea brings it for the Legends
For you Legends fans out there, the big moment came in the qualifying round when RHP Murilo Gouvea hit the mound in relief against a heavily-favored Team Panama, who Brazil had already narrowly beaten in the first game of the round by a score of 3-2. In fact, Brazil was considered least-likely to advance beyond the qualifier, but strung together three straight victories against favored opponents to advance for the first time, ever.

Gouvea had already dealt properly with Panama once in the first game, when he went 3 1/3 strong innings, allowing only two hits and striking out three in shutting down Panama's offense entirely. He threw 29 of 48 pitches for strikes in this outing, recording 8 of his 10 outs on either grounders or strikeouts. In their second time around against the Panamanians, Gouvea held them scoreless for 2 1/3 innings, striking out two and inducing 4 ground-outs before giving way to to closer (and Mariners prospect) Thyago Viera, who allowed a single from Carlos Ruiz. This put runners on first and third for Viera, who had only made it so far as rookie Venezuelan ball in the States (this being his first pro season).

Viera then struck out Carlos Lee and Ruben Rivera to save the game, and push Brazil into the first round of the WBC.

Perhaps I should place as much importance on Viera's appearance as I do on Gouvea's, but I am admittedly bias toward Gouvea in this case. After seeing him here in Lexington in 2011 and 2012, I have to say that I think the Astros have a solid pitching talent in him.

However, every player will hit a bump in the road here and there. Gouvea has hit that bump this year; coming out of Spring Training, he has experienced some soreness in his pitching elbow which has held him back in extended. The team has worked with him to help him past this issue, recently ordering an MRI to rule out serious injury.

Murilo is, as Legends fans already know, a class act. He's shown that he can handle the pressure of world-wide audiences, as well as being an integral part of the success of his nation's team. It's my feeling that he will be remembered in Brazil (and by international fans, as well) for his contribution to a history-making year.

Murilo was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time, yesterday, to update his fans here in The Lex on his recent injury, his experience in the WBC, and his most memorable moment in pro ball in the US:

Can you tell me about your latest progress? Just something about what you were doing before you got posted to Lancaster, and what happened before you were to report?

Well, I played on the WBC first , but after that I was just practicing normally in Spring Training, got to pitch in a few games and my arm started to hurt. I was supposed to go to Lancaster , but I stayed in Florida for rehab, then got better, started to pitch again and when I was about to leave my elbow hurt again.

Have they told you anything definite about what's going on with your elbow? Any official diagnosis? Or are they saying it's a strain?

Not yet. I had an MRI and I'm waiting for the doctor to tell me what's wrong and what's gonna happen.

Well, it's good that they're going to have an answer soon. About the WBC: what was the atmosphere like in Brazil when you beat Panama to qualify for the tournament?

It was an amazing feeling. Nobody expected that we were gonna beat Panama and Colombia, and it was really important for us and for the sport in Brazil to have the opportunity to play (in) the WBC.

Brazil is certainly an emerging power in the world of baseball, as they are in so many other areas. Playing the role you were in will be something many Brazilian fans talk about for years to come. However, how would you compare it to your time and potential future in American pro ball? Are there parallels between the two?

I think one helps the other....playing for my country on a big championship like the WBC can inspire other players in Brazil and also everybody (elsewhere), or every team here in the States can see me playing and I think that helps me to show them what I'm capable to do.

That's a smart answer. It's the biggest stage in the game, the WBC, and a precursor to a true World Series in the future. As for your time in the Astros system, what would you say has been your most memorable moment so far?

I would say when we won the NY-Penn League in 2010, but also last year, that I had more chances to pitch and in more pressure situations.

Who has made the greatest impression on you as far as coaches are concerned, so far?

Theres some of them...Gary Ruby was a good one when i was I in (Rookie League) Tri-City.

How do you like to pass the time when you're not on the field?

Getting some rest mostly of the times. Go somewhere to eat, or something like that.

Any favorite movies, books or music?

I like almost everything; I could say comedy and action movies a little bit more.

I'm a sci-fi guy, for the most part. Saw the new Star Trek recently. Two and a half stars, at most. Seen The Hangover Pt III yet?

No I haven't seen yet, but i really want to.

The first one was the best, I think. But supposedly the third is even better. One last question: If you had any one thing to say to future baseball stars in Brazil, what would it be?

Just , if they really want to play pro ball, keep working hard and they'll have their chance. And if there's anything I can do to help, I'll do it

You'd probably be a great coach, something I hope you consider doing in the future.


All the best to you, and thanks for taking time to do this!

Thank you and no problem...anytime.