Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Golden Ball of a Gold Glover

Hey everyone, Drew back here! It already feels like the summer is beginning to wind down, but I'm far from ready for it to end. Unfortunately, I will not be flying to Chicago this weekend for the National, but I do plan on attending the East Coast National, hosted by JP's Sports, for the 7th straight year! They always make their lineup especially solid for their summer show, and I'm looking forward to getting three more Hall of Fame autographs in my collection that day. 

One of the players I planned to have sign a baseball for me was Brooks Robinson. Brooks is William's favorite player from everything I've gathered, and he seems like such like a wonderful man (not to mention one hell of a third baseman). My dad decided for my birthday to find something to spoil me with, and with his gift, I will have to find something creative for the Human Vacuum Cleaner to sign (perhaps a vacuum?).  

Yeah, that's right. For all of $25, my dad got me this awesome Tristar certified Brooks Robinson signed baseball; HOF Inscription and all! I researched the certification, which said that the ball was signed at a Houston card show in 1992; so it has a little bit of wear to it, but still looks great considering it's older than me! Robinson has one of the best signatures I've seen, especially among the Hall of Fame, and I've been wanting to get him on a ball for what feels like forever. He is now in my Hall of Fame ball case I got last Christmas, and after the card show I will have officially filled the case with nothing but Cooperstown's best.

Thank you so much Dad for the great surprise! Now, I ask you, the audience: what should I have Brooks sign for me at the show? I was debating between a bat or his famous World Series dive photo. Let me know in the comments below!

See Ya!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Overdue Mail from John H!

Hey everyone, Drew back here. Thank you for all the kind birthday wishes; I had a nice birthday although I spent the majority of it at work. I've spoiled myself enough this summer where I didn't feel too obligated in taking my birthday off, and luckily I was off today to celebrate anyway.

About a month ago, I was randomly sent a care package from reader John H. John was one of the many who claimed a team in my big giveaway earlier this year, and ever since he and I have spoken sporadically about baseball and what not via email. Here are the highlights of what John sent along!

I will always take "vintage" Jets cards whenever given the chance. Although the 1980's and 1990's are not generally viewed as vintage, it has sure felt like forever since they have been of relevance. Sure, they appeared in the AFC Championship game twice in a row, but let's be real; they haven't been a significant threat in a long time. The days of Mark Gastineau, Joe Klecko, and the rest of the Sack Exchange are long since gone, but hopefully Gang Green will improve in 2015 with all of their substantial defensive upgrades.

John sent along some Yankees as well, including a few Curtis Granderson cards I didn't have. I have always been on the fence with Grandy. I love him as a person, but I could never get on board with his home run/strikeout approach while he played in New York. His two 40 home run seasons are missed, sure, but I'll take what the Yankees are getting out of Gardner and Ellsbury (when healthy) any day over that. It's nice seeing him on the Mets now, because I can still somewhat root for him, but I don't get nearly as angry when he strikes out another 150 times a season.

We wrap up with some cool Jorge Posada cards. Posada was on my radar early on this summer when I finished reading his great autobiography, but ever since he's faded right back to how I've always viewed him. I gained a lot of respect for the Bronx backstop, but I can't help but always view him as the "Ringo" of the Core Four (John Lennon = Jeter, Paul McCartney = Rivera, George Harrison = Andy Pettitte; tell me if you see that as well or if I'm just crazy). Regardless, I'll always gladly take any cards of his that I can get my hands on!

Thank you so much John for the random act of kindness! I'm sorry I took so long to post it, but here it is now; better late than never!

See Ya!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Happy Birthday to Me!

Hey guys, Drew back here! My own annual holiday is tomorrow, and as always I like to buy myself one nice piece for my collection in celebration. I recently set up a PayPal and eBay account of my own so that I no longer have to bother my Mom with any of my hobbies, and sold some things in order to collect enough money to get something I really wanted. In addition, I was emailed a $15 off coupon ($25 or more) from eBay to use on my first purchase with my account, and I was sure to take advantage of that excellent opportunity to reap the benefits of having my own accounts (finally). Here's what recently arrived in my mailbox in honor of turning 19 for the first and last time:

This year, I bought a 2014 World Series baseball signed by my favorite current player and main PC, Joe Panik! With his autograph prices rising constantly on cardboard, I haven't been able to add to this collection as much as I would like, outside of one certified autograph I bought several years ago and a few TTM successes. The ball is PSA/DNA certified, and is the first unique signed baseball I've had the privilege of owning. Panik inscribed his number 12, and I debated whether to spend double the price to get a "World Series Champs" inscription, but chose to go simply with his name and number.

Panik has been as impressive as one young second baseman could be in not even one full 162 game season into his career. He helped his team get to and win last year's Fall Classic, and pounded the "Sophomore Slump" myth into the ground with a first half that awarded him a spot on the National League All Star team. I couldn't be happier for Hopewell's very own as he is batting .316 on the year and is on pace for close to 200 hits.

See Ya!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ten for Tuesday - Memorable All Star Game Moments

Hey guys, Drew back here! Is it just me, or was that Home Run Derby the best since Josh Hamilton made his mark at Yankee Stadium in 2008? I had initially picked Prince Fielder to top Joc Pederson in the finals, and after Fielder hit 12 home runs against Todd Frazier I thought I would be on to something. But, last night entirely belonged to Frazier and the impressive Cincinnati Reds fanbase. It was a lot of fun to watch, and I really enjoyed the new format (especially in comparison to what it was before).

I had been planning a different Ten for Tuesday topic for a few weeks now, but last night's event got me in the All Star Game mood I normally am in but wasn't quite yet this year. Without further ado, here are (in my opinion), the 10 most memorable moments in Midsummer Classic history!

Top 10 Memorable All Star Game Moments

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The All Star Game started in 1933, and has been one of the premier events of most every baseball season since. Over recent years, there have been some questionable decisions concerning the significance of the game, and I can't say I'm much of a supporter for the winner taking home field advantage in the World Series. However, it still is enjoyable seeing my favorite players called out one by one in the player introductions and facing off against elite counterparts across the country.

Honorable Mentions - 

- Stan Musial's Walkoff Home Run in the 1955 All Star Game
- Torii Hunter robbing Barry Bonds of a Home Run in the 2002 All Star Game
- Fred Lynn hitting the only Grand Slam in All Star history in 1983
- Dave Parker throwing out Brian Downing at the plate in 1979
- Bo Jackson's leadoff Home Run in 1989

10 - John Kruk Embarrassed by Randy Johnson, 1993

No matter how many times I watch HOF inductee "The Big Unit" completely overpower Kruk, I still can't stop laughing. I don't know if it's because I'd almost rather gauge my eyes out than have to listen to Kruk and crew call a game on ESPN, but whatever it may be, I'll never get enough of it. Johnson wasn't done though. In 1997, much of the same occurred against Rockies outfielder Larry Walker, who ended up batting from the right side (although he is a left handed hitter) and turning his batting helmet backwards.

9 - Bud Selig Calls a Tie, 2002

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Former Commissioner Selig may have been the culprit for all of the issues we currently face with this game. In 2002, both teams ran out of players on their respective benches, and Selig called the game a tie after 11 innings. This decision sparked the idea for the game deciding home field advantage in the World Series, and the game has not been as fun ever since. The Commissioner had his moments along his tenure at the top of the game, but this certainly was not one of them, as he was booed relentlessly by Milwaukee fans. "Let them play!"

8 - Ted Williams Walks Off, 1941

"The most thrilling hit of my life," proclaimed Williams; speaking of his bomb that put an end to the 1941 Midsummer Classic. It was a special year for baseball, as Joe DiMaggio collected the longest hitting streak to this day and a young, 21 year old "Teddy Ballgame" batted .406 over the course of the entire season. He batted .304 with 4 home runs among his 19 career All Star Games, and was one of the faces of baseball throughout one of the dark periods of the 21st Century in the US; World War II.

7 - Pedro Martinez Dominates, 1999

The turn of the century was a great time to be Pedro Martinez. Between 1997 and 2000, Martinez went on a historic stretch that included 3 Cy Young Award victories and some of the best pitched seasons of his time. Keep in mind that this was during the heart of the steroid era, and he was pitching in the AL East, one of the most fiercely competitive divisions during that span. The Yankees were on top of the world, winning the World Series in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000, and there was no shortage of energy in baseball during that time.

So when Martinez came to the mound in the 1999 All Star Game, I guess we couldn't have expected any less from the 5'11 Dominican flamethrower. He struck out 5 of the 6 batters he faced, which included now Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, and stars Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Jeff Bagwell. Muy bien.

6 - Cal Ripken Jr.'s Final Moment, 2001

This will perhaps be viewed as Alex Rodriguez's kindest gesture throughout his tumultuous career, but will forever be Cal's moment. Ripken had become a familiar face in the All Star Game, and in 2001 he made his 19th and final place among the elite. Ripken didn't necessarily deserve to be in the game statistically, much as Derek Jeter didn't last year, but out of respect for the man who played more consecutive games than even the "Iron Horse" himself, he was voted as the starting third baseman. As a nod to his excellent years patrolling shortstop for the Orioles, Rodriguez surprised Ripken and switched positions with him. Of course, Rodriguez would go on to play third base just a few years later when the Yankees traded Alfonso Soriano for him in one of the bigger blockbuster deals recorded.

But, back to Cal. In clutch fashion, Ripken led off with a home run, and was named All Star Game MVP in response. He couldn't have ended it any better than that.

5 - Babe Ruth Hits the 1st Home Run, 1933

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"The Bambino" had his share of firsts. From christening Yankee Stadium with its first home run to really being the transcendent figure in baseball history, Ruth was better at handling the limelight than any of his predecessors. He was exactly what the game needed to become the force to be reckoned with it is today (although it is currently being outshined by several other sports).

In 1933, who but Ruth stepped up to the plate in the 3rd inning against Bill Hallahan in the first All Star Game. He hit a two run home run, the first in All Star history, because, who else? Ruth only played in one other All Star Game before his retirement following the 1935 season, but we all know if the game debuted earlier he would rank among the very best.

4 - Carl Hubbell Makes History, 1934

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I could make a case for Hubbell being one of baseball's most underrated pitchers, but I'm going to hold off on that until the next edition of Ten for Tuesday. Instead, let's showcase the best pitching performance in All Star history, which hasn't been topped for almost 100 years. Pedro came close, but nothing could top Hubbell setting down 5 consecutive Hall of Famers by way of the strikeout: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin! Hubbell incorporated his lethal screwball to his advantage, working his way out of trouble and into the record books.

3 - Reggie Towers One, 1971

Chicks dig the long ball. And on that 1971 night in Detroit, everyone dug what Reggie Jackson displayed. Jackson's bomb off of infamous hurler Dock Ellis was the most famous of recent ASG history, as it not only landed on the roof but even turned off a light in the stadium! The ball supposedly traveled well over 500 feet, and was a perfect representation of what Jackson would become years later in New York. He could be a one man show when he was at the top of his game, and he certainly was at this Midsummer Classic.

2 - Pete Rose Collides with Ray Fosse, 1970

Pete Rose was not a dirty player. He played the game the way it was meant to be played. He may have broken the rules towards the end of his career, but nobody could take away from what was a brilliant career. One of his more notable moments came in the 1970 All Star Game, when he proved that the game was much more than an exhibition. In the bottom of the 12th inning, Rose came home at full force and crushed catcher Ray Fosse to win the game for the National League. "Charlie Hustle" missed the next few games with a bruised knee, but he shook it off rather quickly. Meanwhile, Fosse did not. He separated his shoulder and never was the same player again. He was certainly one of the best "What could have been?" players to ever step foot on a baseball diamond.

This year, Pete will be a central part of the All Star celebration. Prior to the game, there will be announcements for each team's "Franchise Four", and it is expected that Rose will be one of the Reds' selections. While he is out of baseball, he is currently seeking reinstatement although he previously signed his name saying he would never reapply to the game he did wrong in the mid 1980's. Fans have said that enough is enough, and despite breaking a cardinal rule of the game that once punished the entire White Sox team in 1919; they generally believe he has paid his dues. I'm not his biggest supporter, and do not always agree with his business decisions, but no player played harder and deserves to be in the Hall of Fame more.

I'm very anxious to see how tonight fares for the Hit King.

1 - All Century Team, 1999

It wasn't perfect. Anything voted by the fans is not perfect. I can imagine Brian Kenny picking apart the team sabermetrically and completely recreating it. But, picking the right guys wasn't necessarily the point of the All-Century Team. The All Star Game has been a celebration of the most enjoyable players to watch for over 80 years, and the All-Century Team was no different. Once again, Pete Rose was at the forefront of discussion when the nominees were revealed at Fenway Park prior to the Midsummer Classic. Rose was nominated, and there was controversy surrounding whether he should be allowed to be in the stadium despite being banished from Major League Baseball.

Sure enough, Pete was allowed to come, but at that point, nothing mattered more than the touching salute given to the Red Sox' finest player, Ted Williams. Williams was not in good condition at the time, and it would go on to be one of his final public appearances before his death in 2002. He had never been graceful to the Boston fans, but being carted out to an unbelievable ovation brought out the emotional side of perhaps baseball's finest contact hitter to ever live. All of the current players watched in awe and eventually joined Williams in the center of the diamond to speak with him. The late Tony Gwynn was right by his side, along with Nomar Garciaparra, Mark McGwire, and several others.

That was what baseball is all about. History embraced in its most beautiful form. Between the crowd screaming and chanting and the players so in tune with seeing their favorite players stand before them; that was a moment even a diehard Yankee fan like myself couldn't argue against.

Here's to a night filled with memories that can hopefully one day join this list.

See Ya!

Monday, July 13, 2015

My Midseason Report - NL Preseason Prediction Update

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Hey everyone, Drew back here. Today holds one of the more fun events of the baseball year: the Home Run Derby. Love it or hate it, the derby still manages to bring an extra element of fun to the game that kids love to watch. I had the pleasure of going with my friends and Dad when it took place at Citi Field in 2013, and it was a blast. Hopefully, this new bracket style competition featuring stars from Albert Pujols to Kris Bryant will live up to the hype!

Last Tuesday, I looked back on the predictions I made in March about the 2015 season in the American League. I was way off on many of my calls in the AL, but did manage to say a few things that have reflected three full months into the year. Today, I bring to you my thoughts on how National League baseball has played out.

If you wish to read my initial predictions and make fun of me, here they are:

NL East

My Preseason Prediction -
Washington Nationals, Miami Marlins, New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies

Predicted Division MVP - Giancarlo Stanton
Predicted Division Cy Young - Max Scherzer
Playoff Teams - Washington, Miami (Wild Card)

Current Standings (as of July 13th) -
Washington Nationals, New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies

Division MVP - Bryce Harper
Division Cy Young - Max Scherzer
Playoff Teams - Washington

The East has been the least competitive of the 3 National League Divisions this year, with only two teams over .500. The Nationals are in control and are one of the better teams in baseball despite playing through plenty of injuries, especially on the offensive side. The Mets have been impressive considering their lack of impact bats, and have provided some fun bringing up future stars Noah "Thor" Syndergaard and Steven Matz. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of picking the Marlins to win a Wild Card spot; which may take the cake as my worst prediction. Their front office has been laughable, as their GM is currently doubling as their manager (with no managerial experience, of course). Giancarlo Stanton can't catch a break, and even with Jose Fernandez back at full form, I can't fathom any way this team makes the postseason.

For Phillies fans sakes, I'll leave them out of this (but they really should trade Cole Hamels now rather than later).

NL Central

My Preseason Prediction -
Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers

Predicted Division MVP - Andrew McCutchen
Predicted Division Cy Young - Johnny Cueto
Playoff Teams - Pittsburgh, St. Louis (Wild Card)

Current Standings (as of July 13th) -
St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers

Division MVP - Todd Frazier
Division Cy Young - Gerrit Cole
Playoff Teams - St. Louis, Pittsburgh (Wild Card), Chicago (Wild Card)

Perhaps the most fun division to keep track of in baseball features teams with different styles, from "The Cardinal Way" to Joe Maddon's unpredictable, young Cubs squad. I said in my predictions that I wouldn't be surprised if the Cubs were Wild Card contenders, but I liked the Marlins too much to let that happen (pretty embarrassing, I know). Chicago has plenty of flaws, but they do have a good chance of holding onto their spot as the second Wild Card team. If indeed the Pirates play the Cubs that day, I know for a fact that I'd be glued to the TV.

If I do say so myself, I did a nice job choosing the order of this division. I went with a personal favorite choice of Pittsburgh to win, but the Cardinals to make the playoffs as well. St. Louis got off to a hot start, but the Buccos are only within 2.5 games of first now. Otherwise, the rest of the division was predicted correctly, so for once I get to breathe a sigh of relief and survive another day.

NL West

My Preseason Prediction -
Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks

Predicted Division MVP - Troy Tulowitzki
Predicted Division Cy Young - Clayton Kershaw
Playoff Teams - Los Angeles

Current Standings (as of July 13th) -
Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies

Division MVP - Paul Goldschmidt
Division Cy Young - Zack Greinke
Playoff Teams - Los Angeles

One of my bolder calls early on was picking the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants to miss the postseason. It is an odd numbered year, after all, so I thought it was somewhat justified. As of right now... I was right. I wouldn't be surprised to see them make a run, though, and they are my favorite NL team so I would love every bit of that. The Dodgers have been off to a fantastic start, even though their ace hasn't quite been ace-level all year. Zack Greinke has stepped up amid Kershaw's inconsistency, and even earned the starting gig for the All Star Game tomorrow night.

The Diamondbacks are out of the cellar for the time being, which is one of the better stories in the league. They field a young team with plenty of potential, and although I still can't see them contending for a playoff spot, I've been pleased to see them succeed.

Award Predictions

NL MVP - Giancarlo Stanton
NL Cy Young - Clayton Kershaw
NL Rookie of the Year - Kris Bryant
NL Manager of the Year - Clint Hurdle
NL Comeback Player of the Year - Matt Harvey

Once again, I made sure to keep my Award Predictions as safe as possible because I knew my other predictions would fall apart in some way or another. All five award picks I made are at least contenders for the awards, although it would take a huge second half to give Kershaw his 4th Cy Young Award. Stanton's injury may take him down a few pegs in the MVP race, and my Dark Horse pick, Bryce Harper, has been living up to the hype we all have been excited for since he was old enough to get his driver's license. Considering he's still younger than phenom rookie Kris Bryant, I think we still haven't seen Harper's best yet. He's the MVP, no question about it. Paul Goldschmidt is having a spectacular season as well, helping the D-Backs into the playoff hunt, but without Harper the Nationals offense would be mediocre. They are both enormous difference makers, and should continue to be just that into October (knock on wood).

Preseason Playoff Picks

Wild Card Game - Miami vs. St. Louis
My Pick - Miami

Division Series - Pittsburgh vs. Los Angeles
My Pick - Los Angeles in 4

Division Series - Miami vs. Washington
My Pick - Washington in 5

Championship Series - Los Angeles vs. Washington
My Pick - Washington in 7

Pennant Winner - Washington

Outside of my horrific Miami pick continuing to haunt me throughout this post, I still feel pretty good about most of these choices. I think we'll see something along these lines, just perhaps with Chicago or San Francisco in the Wild Card game rather than the Marlins. Washington will have a lot of pressure to succeed after their huge offseason, but the Dodgers will too. History has shown that both teams struggle under pressure, but one of them will have to overcome these struggles if they end up playing each other. The winner of this series (if it happens) will win the World Series.

What's great about baseball is that it gives fans the opportunity to explore all sorts of possibilities, and the debate never stops. I could be flat out wrong, as I have proven time and time again, but it's okay to be wrong here. I'll continue to stand by my picks, outside of Miami, and I'm pumped for another equally awesome second half of my favorite game in the world. But for now, I'm going to kick back, relax, and watch some of the best stars in the game go head to head. Home field advantage or not, it's not often that all this star power gathers in one place.

See Ya!