Monthly Archives: January 2011

A Real Life Fairytale

You all heard the story of Beauty and the Beast and Jack and the Beanstalk, but did you ever hear the one about Matt and the Octopus?  No?  Well now you will. 

Once upon a time there was a baseball player named Matt Anderson.  Matt became known far and wide for his ability to consistently throw a baseball over 100 miles per hour.   His ability was so great that after college he was the first amateur baseball player in all the land to be selected by a major league team, even ahead of the mighty J.D. Drew.  In his first season as a professional relief pitcher he went 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA and 13 Saves in the minor leagues.  It was good enough for the Tigers of Detroit to summon him to the Motor City to see how he would do against the best baseball players money could buy.  In 42 relief appearances the young phenom won 5 games while losing only one time and he had an ERA of just 3.27.  Though it was a daunting task for someone with so little major league experience, over the next 3 years Matt managed to win 8 more games while losing just 4 times and also registered 23 Saves for the Tigers.  

Then came the 2002 season and that terrible day in the month of May when Matt and fellow pitcher Jeff Weaver participated in a unique pre-game promotion.  You see, there is also a hockey team in Tigerland known as the Red Wings.  For many years it has been a tradition in Detroit to throw an octopus (or multiple octopi) onto the ice during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  The tradition began at a time when a hockey team only had to win 2 best of seven series’, a total of 8 wins, to earn the Stanley Cup.  Since the Red Wings needed 8 wins and an octopus had 8 arms it made perfect sense to the people of Detroit to throw an octopus onto the ice for luck.  But, on this fateful day in May an octopus throwing contest was held not at the hockey arena, but at a baseball game in Detroit.  Contestants, including Matt Anderson and Jeff Weaver, had to toss a boiled octopus underhand into a bucket placed 20 feet away.  The winner of the contest would win tickets (complete with limo ride) to a Stanley Cup playoff game between the Red Wings of Detroit and the Colorado Avalanche.  All went well in the contest until the Tigers played their baseball game that night.  While Matt was warming up in the bullpen he felt something tear in the armpit of his pitching arm.  It was the beginning of the end for Matt and the 100 mph fastball.   Just 11 innings pitched for the Tigers in 2002,  23 innings in 2003 and his ERA was more than double what it had been his first few years.  The 2004 season saw Matt go 0-5 in the minor leagues and things didn’t get any better the next few seasons.  He pitched his final game in the major leagues on July 1, 2005 and by 2008 he was out of professional baseball entirely. While there is nothing to indicate that throwing the octopus had anything to do with Matt’s arm injury, one has to wonder since the octopus throwing contest happened on the same day he injured his arm and what good is the fairytale without the octopus casting his evil spell?  

Then, after being out of professional baseball for 2 years Matt decided to give it one more try.  He went to Arizona to see if he could regain his old form.   The fastball which had been a thing of the past was slowly starting to return.   First he was throwing 90 mph, then 92-94 mph and finally he was reaching as high as 97 on the radar.  Phillies scout Del Unser saw his workouts in Arizona and convinced Ruben Amaro Jr. to take a chance.   So, on January 14th the now 34 year old Matt Anderson signed a 1 year minor league contract with an invitation to spring training with the Philadelphia Phillies.  Spring training begins in just over 2 weeks and Matt and his new fastball will be there in Clearwater.  If everything goes well,  Matt could be a member of the 2011 Ironpigs bullpen on opening day.    Then maybe we’ll find out  if a kiss from the pig can be the magic potion that finally breaks the spell of the evil octopus and resurrects the baseball career of Matthew Jason Anderson.   It’s been a long hard journey for Matt and he really needs a happily ever after ending to his baseball fairytale.    Best of luck Matt!

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Grilli The Phillie?

Rumors have been circulating for the past few days that the Phillies were interested in signing free agent pitcher Jason Grilli.  Grilli was the 4th overall pick in the 1997 draft (SF Giants), the same draft that saw Matt Anderson taken #1.  In case anyone forgot, the Phillies signed Anderson to a minor league contract earlier this month.  Grilli’s twitter account had the following tweet on Sunday:  Great Sunday to everyone. This Italian Stallion is FIRED UP about the City of Brotherly Love! Balboa workouts paid off and READY TO GO!!!

His best big league season was 2008 when he went 3-3 3.00 in 75 innings of relief.  He was 12-9 as a starter for the Toledo Mud Hens in 2005.
Grilli was injured in spring training with the Indians last year and underwent right quadriceps surgery causing him to miss the entire 2010 season.    

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First Lady of the Ironpigs / Winter Banquet

The Winter banquet (formerly Phillies Caravan) was nice last night. Just like last year, lots of good people, Charlie Manuel proved to tell some great stories and I even won a poster sized copy of Pork Illustrated featuring 2008 Ironpig Cedric Bowers. There was a lot of friendly faces we haven’t seen since September and notably missing was Ironpig’s General Manager Kurt Landes. Heard a rumor he is under the weather and best wishes and prayers that he recovers quickly. Also was able to meet Jeff Schuler who writes the Hog Blog on the Morning Call website. Charlie Manuel and Reuben Amaro hinted heavily that the Phillies right field spot was Domonic Brown’s to lose.

After the banquet, I was really impressed with Matt Rizzotti. He seemed to be lingering around and within minutes a group of small kids came running over and he enthusiastically greeted them with high fives, autographs and photos. Rizzotti looked comfortable in his place tonight with such a prominant staff of honored guests tonight. He should fill the shoes of our former first basement with no problem… even making jokes about random hecklers who made their preference of Andy Tracy known last season. I almost guarantee in May people will be saying, Andy who?
Good time and good cause.

***

What struck me harder last night was realizing that this season will be a first for the Ironpigs. Although PA Announcer Tim Chorones announced mascot FeFe as the first lady of the Ironpigs, we have a true first lady now with the arrival of Margaret Sandberg. As stated many times last night by Ryne Sandberg and others, Mrs. Sandberg has proven herself to be very community and charity oriented. This is an element the Ironpigs have lacked in the previous 3 years. I truly look forward to her efforts here in the Lehigh Valley.

OinK!

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Charlie Manuel Added To Winter Banquet Lineup

As announced by the Ironpig’s today:

(Allentown, Pa.) – Phillies manager Charlie Manuel — one of most accomplished skippers in the history of the club – has been added to the lineup for the 2011 Phillies Winter Banquet, presented by The Air Products Foundation and Coca-Cola. Manuel joins IronPigs manager and Baseball Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr., Phillies prospect and former IronPig Matt Rizzotti and Phillies Director of Public Affairs, Scott Palmer serves as banquet host. The annual event will take place on Thursday at Billera Hall on the campus of DeSales University. Manuel replaces Greg Gross, who will no longer be able to attend the event due to a scheduling conflict.

The Phillies Winter Banquet serves as the primary fundraiser for IronPigs Charities, a non-profit organization striving to provide educational and recreational opportunities for children in the Greater Lehigh Valley area. Since its inception in 2008, IronPigs Charities has donated over $250,000 to the Lehigh Valley community.

The main program for the Phillies Winter Banquet, featuring players and personnel from the N.L. East Champion Philadelphia Phillies, consists of dinner and an open bar, a sports memorabilia silent auction, raffles and an entertainment portion with the special Phillies guests. Tickets remain identical to 2010 and are $80 per person or $725 for a table of ten. Championship tables, allowing patrons entrance to a private pre-event reception that begins at 5 p.m. and the opportunity to mingle with event VIP’s are also available.

The event will begin at 6 p.m. with a cocktail hour and commencement of the auctions and raffles. Seat or table reservations are now on sale and available by calling (610) 841-PIGS. Interested parties must purchase their tickets by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, January 26.

Manuel, 67, was named as the 51st manager of the Philadelphia Phillies on Nov. 4, 2004, and guided the Phillies to just their second World Championship in franchise history during their memorable 2008 campaign. He has piloted the Phillies to the postseason for three consecutive seasons and in 2009 led them to the World Series for a second consecutive year for the first time in their 127-year history. A native of North Fork, WV, Manuel was the Cleveland Indians manager from 2000-2002 and led the Tribe to the American League Central Division title in 2001. During parts of nine Major League seasons, Manuel’s teams have gone an impressive 672-548 (.556) and posted winning records on eight occasions.

Sandberg, 51, spent the last four seasons as a manager in the Chicago Cubs’ minor league system with Single-A Peoria (2007-08), Double-A Tennessee (2009) and Triple-A Iowa (2010). He led his clubs to two first-place finishes and, overall, has a managerial record of 284-277-1 (.505). This past season, his first as a Triple-A manager, Sandberg was named Manager of the Year in the Pacific Coast League after leading the Iowa Cubs to a tie for the best record in the Northern Division (82-62).

A 2005 inductee to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Sandberg was a 10-time National League All-Star and won nine Gold Gloves and seven Silver Slugger awards during his 16-year career (1981-94, 1996-97). He was originally drafted by the Phillies in 1978 and made his Major League debut with the club in 1981, appearing in 13 games. Sandberg finished his career with a .285 batting average, 282 home runs, 1,061 RBI and 344 stolen bases in 2,164 games. At the time of his retirement, his 277 home runs as a second baseman was a Major League record.

Amaro Jr., 45, was named Senior Vice President and General Manager on November 3, 2008 after 10 years as an assistant GM under Pat Gillick (2006-2008) and Ed Wade (1999-2005). In his first year as GM, the Phillies won the National League pennant for a second straight year and following the season Amaro was honored as Executive of the Year by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association (PSWA). Under his direction in 2010, the Phillies captured their fourth straight NL East Division crown and advanced to the National League Championship Series for a third consecutive campaign.

Rizzotti, 26, skyrocketed through the Phillies Minor League system last year, appearing at three different levels while leading the organization with a collective .343 batting average. The Floral Park, NY native spent a bulk of the year in Double-A Reading and for his outstanding play was named both a mid- and post-season Eastern League All-Star. Originally drafted by the Phillies in the sixth round of the 2007 draft, Rizzotti was hitting .362 with 16 homers and 61 RBI and led the EL in on-base percentage (.452) and slugging percentage (.635) at the time of his August 5 promotion.

The Phillies Winter Banquet beneficiary, IronPigs Charities, is a recognized 501(c) (3) non-profit organization on the state and federal level. One of the highlights of the 2011 Winter Tour event is the distribution of grants to local non-profit organizations. Nearly $150,000 has been distributed at this event.

To renew or order season tickets and mini plans for the 2011 IronPigs season presented by Capital BlueCross, call (610) 841-PIGS or visit Coca-Cola Park’s ticket office during normal business hours. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs are dedicated to providing family-friendly entertainment and are the only Minor League team to offer bubbles to fans entering the AT&T Plaza and balloons for all children exiting Coca-Cola Park.

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The Sandberg Game

I occasionally stumble onto a fun story that we can connect to our beloved Ironpigs….

It was June 23, 1984. NBC had chosen to nationally televise a game between long time rivals the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs at Wrigley field. The Cubs were playing well this season, and as a team that had been pretty bad over the years, the league hadn’t really taken them seriously yet. That would change with this game. The Cardinals were ahead by one run enterering the bottom of the ninth inning and pitching was their ace closer, Bruce Sutter. To bat was a young Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg tied the game with a home run over the left field ivy to tie the game at 9. The Cardinals responded with two runs of their own in the top of the 10th inning. Sutter remained in the game with a 2 run lead and again faced Sandberg, this time with a runner on base. Sandberg again took Sutter deep to tie the game. The Cubs went on to win the game in the 11th inning.

Although St. Louis’ Willie McGee had already been named the NBC Player of the Game, it was Sandberg’s feat that played the ultimate role.

The Cubs would win the Division that year with a record of 96 wins – 65 losses. They went on to lose to the Padres in the National League Championship Series. The Cardinals would finish in third place, 12.5 games back.

In 1984 Sandberg would earn his 1st All Star game selection, his 2nd Gold Glove, his 1st Silver Slugger Award and was named the National League MVP. He was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 2005. He is currently the manager of our Lehigh Valley Ironpigs.

Bruce Sutter was named the National League’s Rolaid’s Relief Man of the Year in 1984. Sutter’s 45 saves in 1984 led the league and he boasted a 1.53 ERA. He also made his last All Star game selection that year. Sutter retired in 1988 and was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 2006. He is currently a consultant to the Phillies minor league system.

When I heard about this game, my first thought was of these two baseball legends finding themselves together here in the Lehigh Valley. Is there any animosity between the aged warriors of the diamond? Could the young, up and coming Sandberg have played a role in the decline of a star more senior to him at the time? I doubt it. I could imagine there might be a little nudging and friendly banter but nothing that could host bad feelings.

Either way, the 2011 Ironpigs lineup, whoever might end up there, will have an advantage over teams in the past. They, we, have two baseball legends here to help. Here’s looking to being above .500!

OinK!

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For Your Amusement

Although this is for the Mariners… I still liked it :-)

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Ironpigs 2011 Part 5: Shortstop

“You gotta have strong defense up the middle.”   It’s one of those baseball clichés you hear all the time.  When I think of teams with great defense up the middle the “Big Red Machine” Cincinnati teams from the mid 70′s come to mind.   Johnny Bench, catcher, Joe Morgan second base, Dave Concepcion shortstop and Cesar Geronimo center field.  In  ’74, ’75, ’76 and ’77 they all won gold gloves.  You can win ballgames with a good offense and you can win ballgames with pitching and defense.   The Big Red Machine could do it both ways.   

More batted balls are hit to shortstop than any other position so it is imperative to have a good glove man at short.  I believe the Ironpigs have one.

Brian Bocock,  3/9/85, Harrisonburg, VA.  5’11″ 185.  B/T: R/R  
Brian attended Stetson University in Florida and was a 9th round draft pick by the San Francisco Giants in 2006.  He was selected for the 2007 Futures Game and he was the opening day shortstop for the Giants in 2008 due to an injury to Omar Vizquel.   Vizquel returned on May 10th and Bocock was optioned to AAA Fresno in the Pacific Coast League after hitting just .143 with the Giants.  On January 5, 2010 the Giants removed him from their 40 man roster to make room for Juan Uribe who was just signed as a free agent.  Two days later he was claimed off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays.  Just three weeks later the Blue Jays tried to slip him through waivers but he was claimed by the Phillies.  Bocock began the 2010 season with the Ironpigs and once Wilson Valdez was promoted to the Phillies, the starting shortstop job belonged to him.

Brian Bocock, Shortstop

 
Shortstop has always been my favorite position on the field and it’s no secret that I became a big Brian Bocock fan in 2010.   Although he has had his problems with the bat, there has never been any question about his defensive ability.  He is by far the best defensive shortstop to ever wear an Ironpigs uniform and you could make a strong argument that in 2010 he was the best defensive shortstop in the International League.   Bocock made just 12 errors at shortstop for the Ironpigs in 2010 and 5 of those errors came in bad weather games in the first month of the season.  That means from May 9 to the end of the season he made just 7 errors.   When the Phillies placed Chase Utley on the DL on June 29th, Bocock was called up to replace him but he was there just 4 days when he was outrighted back to the Ironpigs and Cody Ransom was promoted to the Phillies.  The brief promotion seemed to awaken his bat (or was it changing his number from #11 to #10?) because he hit .309 with 3 homeruns in July and hit .288 from the allstar break to the end of the season. Throw in 31 walks after the allstar break and his on base percentage from July 15 to the end of the season was an extremely impressive .401.  His 49 walks for the season was second on the team behind only Andy Tracy.   Bocock also hit a respectable .277 vs. left handed pitching in 2010.   Still, his strong finish only raised his batting average to .226.  His excellent work with the glove and strong second half earned him a September callup to the Phillies where he got to play in 6 games.  If Bocock could put together an entire season similar to his second half in 2010  you would be looking at a potential International League allstar.  No matter how well (or how poorly) he hits, I’d expect Bocock to get the majority of the starts at shortstop for the Ironpigs again in 2011.   Pete Orr was previewed at second base but he is also a very capable shortstop. If Orr is with the Ironpigs for the entire season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him play 40 or more games at 3 different positions.  With Bocock and Orr on the 2011 Ironpigs, no other shortstop is needed on the roster.   
 
Freddy “Toco” Galvis, 11/14/89, Punto Fijo, Venezuela. 5’10″ 170.  B/T: S/R
 
Freddy was signed by the Phillies as a non-drafted free agent on July 2, 2006 when he was just 16 years old.  He is the classic good field/no hit shortstop but he is still only 21 years. When you consider that he has been playing against older competition at every minor league level, there is still plenty of time for improvement at the plate.  In 2007 he hit .203 at Williamsport, and in 2008 at Lakewood he hit .238.  He followed that up by hitting .247 at Clearwater in ’09 and in 2010 he hit .233 with 5 homeruns with the AA Reading Phillies.   He was the youngest player on the Reading Phillies last year and he will most likely return to Reading again in 2011 where he can work on his hitting and general on-base skills. 
 
Carlos Rivero, 5/20/88 Barquisimeto, Venezuela, 6’3″ 200.  B/T: R/R.   
 
Carlos Rivero was signed as an amateur free agent by the Cleveland Indians in 2005.  The Phillies claimed him off waivers from the  Indians on November 3, 2010.  Depending on which website you look at, his weight is listed anywhere from 200 to 220 pounds.  That puts him in the Cal Ripken/A-Rod body style at shortstop.  The comparison ends there.   In A+ ball in 2008 he hit .282 with 8 homeruns.  Rivero played at AA Akron in 2009 and 2010.  In 2009 he hit .242 and then hit .232 with 6 homeruns and 43 RBIs in 2010.  In 107 games at shortstop last year he made 28 errors.  In his minor league career he has made 109 errors in 496 games at shortstop.   I’m not sure what the Phillies have in mind for him but he appears to be destined for his third straight year at the AA level.

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