Category Archives: Sports

Mourning for Tony Gwynn. How About You?

Mr. Padre video highlights  at Petco's Park at the Park.

Mr. Padre video highlights, Petco’s Park at the Park.

 

Here I sit at Petco Park watching the action on the field between my San Diego Padres and the rival L. A. Dodgers.

It’s my first game at the ballpark since Tony Gwynn had passed away seven days earlier.

Mr. Padre was on my mind throughout the game. Many at the park talked of Tony to friends and strangers, including Dodger fans. We were all shocked and surprised by his death.

Fan among hundreds that paid their respects at Petco Park the day Tony died.

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On the morning Tony died, I drove down to the Petco around 10:30 a.m. to pay my respects. At least 170 others were milling around Tony’s statue perched on a grassy hilltop at Petco’s Park at the Park just beyond the outfield bleachers.

Many were dressed in Tony Gwynn jerseys while quite a few placed flowers and small placards at the foot of the legend’s likeness. And almost everyone had cameras.

People were tearing up, occasionally applauding his accomplishments that were shown on the giant video screen not far from Tony’s statue.

Most of us just watched in silence.

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It has been ten days since Tony passed away, and I continue to mourn. His life and death very fresh on my mind. Still saddened. People around town still talking about his passing. National and local media kept his passing in the news, partly because he died of cancer likely caused by chewing tobacco and primarily because of who he was and what he meant to millions of us.

No doubt emotions will stir once again at the ball club’s official memorial scheduled for tomorrow night at Petco.

Been a Padres fan since they joined the Majors in 1969. And had the great fortune to be able to attend Game Five of the 1984 National League Championship, both World Series matches at home against the Detroit Tigers, and both World Series home games in 1998 versus the New York Yankees.

Tony played an important role in all of those games. Even hit one out at Yankee Stadium during the ’98 Series. He called it his greatest at bat. And he said one of his greatest moments in baseball was the ceremonial pitch thrown at the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park. He didn’t throw it, but helped his idol and mentor, Ted Williams, toss it.

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Tony Gwynn, 1998

I had the good fortune to talk with Tony on two occasions and ran into him on another.

At Spring Training 1985, when the Padres were the defending National League champs, I was on assignment for Sport Magazine. Tony was one of several Padres I briefly interviewed about teammate Terry Kennedy. Despite Tony’s young age, he was quite poised and very approachable. Impressed the hell out of me.

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The second conversation with the legendary ballplayer came in the late Nineties at a community dinner where he was to be honored for his many community efforts.

He was there a bit early, just standing around, so I went up to him and chatted for a few minutes. I’m sure he didn’t remember me from our brief interview some 12 years earlier (didn’t expect him to), but always the nice guy, he pretended to recall our 1985 locker room chat.  While we small-talked before the community dinner commenced, he gave me his full attention, chuckled now and then, and never tried to end the conversation. We mainly talked baseball. Just made me feel special.

That was one of Tony’s many gifts. He made us feel special and his equal.

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Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, 2007.

Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, 2007.

A few years after Tony retired from playing the game in 2001, I was meeting one morning with a Padre advertising rep inside the Padre offices at Petco. We were conversing in a common area when Tony wandered in dressed in baseball garb. We greeted one another as the eight-time batting champ walked by, then I asked the ad rep what Tony was up to.

To my surprise, the man who was known for his tireless work ethic when he played the game, was there to practice hitting, presumably in one of the underground batting cages. Amazing!

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In the magical year of 2007, a close friend and I made the cross country trek to Cooperstown to see our hero inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. A rarity for a Padre.

Turned out to be most historic Hall of Fame Induction ever. The induction of Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. broke the attendance record by at least 25,000. Some 75,000-plus showed up.

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An extraordinary person who gave us so much – on and off the field. I will miss him.

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Tony Gwynn  honored @ Fenway Park.

Tony Gwynn honored @ Fenway Park.

 

 

Been to the Ballpark Yet?

“You should enter a ballpark the way you enter a church.”
Bill “Spaceman” Lee

Call yourself a true fan?  If blessed with a Major League park nearby, then should have made the pilgrimage to the ballpark by now. Certainly by May 1st.

In my opinion, the start of the Major League Baseball season is not fully underway until you feast on that first game at the ballpark of your choice. Through April 17, the 2014 league-wide attendance totaled 6,804,827, down 106, 906 from last year, according to www.baseball-reference.com. Check this website to see how much your team is drawing.

Bill "Spaceman" Lee Retired BoSox Pitcher

Bill “Spaceman” Lee
   Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame Pitcher

Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, Petco Park attendance through April 17 totaled 280,861, an increase of nearly 26,000. Takes me no more than 20 minutes to reach this downtown jewel – with traffic.

Petco Park is first class, but the same cannot be said of its tenants, the San Diego Padres. Doesn’t matter.  Along with Fenway Park, Petco is my preferred place of worship. Fenway, of course, is the most religious of ballpark experiences. Eat your heart out, Chicago Cubs fans.

          Can’t beat sitting in a Major or Minor league ballpark, particularly when the serene moments of soaking in the ambiance are punctuated by lightning-quick plays, phenomenal displays of athleticism, and close, often controversial plays. Plays at the plate are the most exciting.

Frequently, people-watching is more entertaining than the game action. (See “Highlights” below.) Could do without the overpriced food and beverage, but almost always fail to do without.

And, of course, always expect the unexpected, from player and crowd behavior to your own. Bonus:  if you like dancing, you don’t need a partner.

Padre Trevor Hoffman 2nd All-Time   Career Saves

Padre Trevor Hoffman
2nd All-Time
Career Saves

My first 2014 game came April 16 under the lights at Petco. The Colorado Rockies were in town, sans Todd Helton for the first time in about 16 years. Good news for the Pads. But the Rocks did come armed with Carlos Gonzalez and the rejuvenated Michael Cuddyer.

Carlos Gonzalez Rockies Stud Outfielder

Carlos Gonzalez
Rockies Stud Outfielder

 

 

 

 

Highlights of April 16 Game…

 

Padre Yasmani Grandal

Padre Yasmani Grandal

  • Padres won!
  • Padres scored the winning run in the eighth without a single hit. Here’s how: Two leadoff walks, two fly outs, another walk, a wild pitch and an error.*
  • Pinch hit homer earlier in the game by journeyman Xavier Nady who returned to the Padres this season after playing for ten other MLB teams.
  • A pair of aging, supposed call girls – dressed allure — prancing up and down the adjacent aisle, posing for photos with four, ahem, middle-aged gentlemen in tow.
  • The almost-as-entertaining older gal dancing nearby between almost every inning while her husband didn’t budge from his seat. During the action on the field, she shouted words of encouragement to the home team’s players.
  • Lots of new food choices offered by popular local eateries, including a custom ice cream concession, an expanded Phil’s Barbecue, and Seaside Market for the health conscious. The tri-tip and Hodad’s burgers were especially notable.
  • Lowlights…
  • Plenty of craft beer concessions located just about everywhere.                                                             
  • Craft beer prices were raised.
  • My first ever veggie dog – and last.  Mustard, catsup, and relish didn’t help.
  • Five Padres left on base.
  • The five retired Padre numbers perched atop the batter’s eye in center were replaced with larger versions.**
  • The call girls, (pole dancers perhaps?), also make this list. It’s a long story.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      * Specifically, the hitless, game-winning rally went down like this… …Xavier Nady and Seth Smith walked to begin the Padres the 8th. Then with two outs first baseman Yonder Alonso walked to load the bases for catcher Yasmani Grandal. With Grandal up to bat, Rockies reliever Rex Brothers misfired a first-pitch fastball allowing Nady to score and tie the game. Then Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario’s overthrew Brothers who was covering home. Smith rounded third and scored the go-ahead run to give the Padres the 5-4 lead.
TONY GWYNN Hall of Famer San Diego Legend

TONY GWYNN
Hall of Famer
San Diego Legend

** Padres whose numbers were retired:  Randy Jones, Dave Winfield, Trevor Hoffman, and arguably the best pure hitter since Ted WilliamsTony Gwynn.  Whoops. Forgot to mention the fifth number. Belongs to Steve Garvey. Many San Diegans disagree with the franchise’s decision to retire his number because Garvey spent 14 years as an L.A. Dodger before joining the Padres for his last five playing years. No doubt the Padres retired the Garv’s number because of his heroic efforts during the five-game National League pennant series against the Chicago Cubs that catapulted San Diego into its first World Series. Note:  Dodgers have NOT retired Garvey’s number.

 

There’s No Secrets in Fantasy Baseball

Harry_Caray_1988Assume most members in your auction league are as adept or better than you at drafting.

And since there is an obscene amount of fantasy baseball news and analysis out there online, in print, on radio, and on TV, how in the Harry Caray do you draft a championship-caliber team on Draft Day with a measly 260 bucks?

Also assume your opponents have access to the same info as you do. Worse yet, the enemies may devote more time preparing for the draft.

Plus it’s a safe bet that a chunk of the time you plan for draft prep will not always come to fruition, thanks to life. It always seems to get in the way. Inevitably, the wife/girlfriend/parent/sibling/boss make unexpected demands on some of that precious time you had set aside. Before leaving the nine-to-five grind behind, I would either call in sick or spend a vacation day on the day before our draft. Most of the time, the buffer day helped my Draft Day performance. At least it felt that way, and it certainly made my stress level a lot more manageable.

Nothing worse than showing up on Draft Day without feeling battle ready.

Back to the $260 question:  How do you draft a serious contender?

Carlos_Santana_ 2010Best answer: be disciplined, do your homework, and know your opponents strengths and weaknesses.  Simple advice, right? Tough to follow? You bet. Especially in auction leagues.

Take the case of Moe, a guy you have competed against for over a decade and have hoisted a few with many times. But just when you have Moe’s draft bidding tendencies figured out, he zigs instead of zags.

And then there’s Larry, the homey. He openly roots for his hometown Cleveland Indians. So you keep bidding up Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Trevor Bauer, Justin Masterson, etc., figuring good old Larry will pay way over value.

Not necessarily. Larry knows that you know he’s a diehard Tribe fan, so he bids you up, and then throws you a Clayton Kershaw-type curve, leaving a gaping dent in your Draft Day payroll.

Feel like quite the stooge?  But at least you landed Kipnis and Santana. So what if they cost you $40 apiece.

Every February, I vow this year’s draft will play out differently, yet most years, my behavior is similar.  Rarely to my liking. Bad habits die hard. So does that nauseating post-draft feeling. That’s when I come away exhausted and second-guessing myself.  But then again, we are own worst critics.

Thus far, there’s been one draft prep change for me this season.  I started my research on February 28, a month later than usual. If it helps, I’m a freakin’ genius. If not, I’ll probably go back to hitting the fantasy books much sooner, likely resulting in over thinking my research.

When I begin studying players as early as late January, I end up targeting guys included in my earliest wish lists. Then the mind games ensue.

Let me clarify. My mental health is just fine, but my ego-driven opinions of baseball players are hard to shake. In other words, this year I need to be more objective. Trust your instincts, except for the impulsive ones.

An extremely important part of fantasy is facing reality. Just because you covet a player’s performance at the plate or on the mound, make sure he helps improve scoring category balance for your team and comes at either fair market value or lower.  Easier said than done.

At the same time, of course, the harshest reality is in your face for the entire draft. We’re talking salary cap. As in most auction leagues, our Blue Moon Mesa has  the $260 cap to fill a 23-player roster.

In my opinion, the cap limits your purchasing power to a pair of elite players and perhaps two near-elite guys. Which is why we all spend an inordinate amount of time (relative term) mining for breakouts, bounce-backers, and sleepers (BB&Sers)

Another harsh reality: The tsunami of fantasy expertise available makes it extremely difficult to discover a BB&Ser that hasn’t been reported by the experts. Same holds true for top prospects. But then you know all this, as long as you are paying attention.Clayton_Kershaw

Expert Rankings/Commentary/Strategy.  Leading up to the draft, I check out three websites on a regular basis, but subscribe to only two. Sites I visit the most include CBS Sports (manages our league), ESPN, BaseballHQ, and RotoWorld. On occasion, I scan MLB.com and Yahoo! and assorted fantasy blogs. Baseball Prospectus doesn’t get much of my attention. I find the annually published BP epic overwhelming, particularly since it’s primarily designed to assist people in the real business of baseball.

Unfortunately, the websites and publications all “sound alike,” despite the great pains taken to sound unique. But if you keep a multiple of services within your sphere of influence, one or two will likely resonate. Maybe it’s the visual presentation or the content. For me, it’s a combination of the two, with content reigning supreme.

If I can navigate a website or publication with relative ease, and a majority of the site’s content is helpful, then I tend to rely on those sites more and more. I don’t care for sites that assault the senses.

PODCASTS:  I find the banter by the so-called experts tedious, especially when they trying to Yuk it up like ESPN and MLB Network commentators.

Don’t really watch the PODs, but I do listen. Typically run them while taking care of mundane tasks, like fixing a meal, driving, or contemplating my navel.

Last bit of advice: Keep draft prep and Draft Day in perspective. For an insightful read on this subject, check out Steve Gardner’s piece in the March USA Today Fantasy Baseball Special Edition. Of course, what Gardner has to share is no secret.

Neither is this:  The experts admit their player projections are wrong 60 – 70 percent of the time. What’s your batting average?