Tag Archives: Major League Baseball

Southpaw Flashback: The Curious Comeback of Scott Kazmir

Editor’s Note: In honor of Scott Kazmir being traded From the Oakland Athletics to the Houston Astros we take a look back at the curious rise and fall of the Houston native who rebuilt his career and became an All-Star when many thought he had nothing left in the tank in a column that originally appeared last July.

Hollywood, and the world of sports, both love a good comeback story of redemption.

Whether it is the story of a loveable group of misfits banding together and claiming a title, or a washed out boxer making one more trip into the ring, the Hollywood movie machine churns out film after film that tugs at the heart strings of movie goers and helps them believe in the underdog.

Of course occasionally the world of fact trumps the world of fiction when it comes to tales of redemption and making the most out of second chances.

For a real life story of redemption, that very well could have the stuff of a Hollywood blockbuster, let us consider the curious case of Oakland Athletics pitcher Scott Kazmir who was named to his third career All-Star team over the weekend, and first since 2008.

Kazmir was drafted by the New York Mets in the first-round in 2002 and was traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization two years later. Kazmir helped lead the Rays to the World Series in 2008.

Scott Kazmir made is Major League Baseball debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and his Atlantic League debut with the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson
Scott Kazmir made is Major League Baseball debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and his Atlantic League debut with the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

Following the World Series run the Rays traded Kazmir to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim midway through the 2009 season.

Following the trade Kazmir’s “True Hollywood Story” included some mighty struggles.

Although many players struggle to adapt to their new surroundings following a trade, the struggles of Kazmir were epic in nature.

After two extremely rough seasons in Southern California Kazmir was released by the Angels on June 15, 2011 despite having $14.5 million remaining on his guaranteed contract.

Kazmir failed to get picked up by another Major League club following his release from the Angels and his career seemed all but over despite being less than three years removed from appearances in both the All-Star Game and World Series.

History is full of players who seem to suddenly lose their stuff for no apparent reason. While injuries can often be blamed for declines in performance sometimes a player, such as Kazmir, just starts to see their performance fade without suffering the type of career ending injury experienced by many.

Of course sometimes the mental aspect of the game can be just as debilitating as an injury and players often have to struggle to overcome doubt and other mental factors to return to the top of their game.

Kazmir was out of Major League Baseball for two seasons as he continued to struggle with his mechanics and other factors that had rendered the once dominant hard to hit pitcher as easy to hit off of as a pitching machine.

The true rock bottom for Kazmir likely came when he signed with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League on July 7, 2012.

While the Skeeters represented a chance for Kazmir to play baseball near his home town it was likely a huge shot to the ego to be playing on a team that had no Major League affiliation.

While the Skeeters offer a competitive atmosphere, and the Atlantic League often has players who sign Minor League contracts with Major League ball clubs, the adjustment period for Kazmir likely was difficult as very few players on independent league rosters have World Series starts on their resumes.

Kazmir started 14 games for the Skeeters during the 2012 season and finished with a 3-6 record and a 5.34 ERA.

Following the end of the Skeeters’ season Kazmir signed with Gigantes de Carolina of the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League posting a 4.37 ERA while striking out 27 batters in 23 innings.

The time with the Skeeters and the Gigantes had gotten some attention and the performances earned Kazmir an invite to the Cleveland Indians Spring Training in 2013.

It is fitting in a way that it was the Indians that invited him as the Major League movie franchise focuses on the Indians being a place where players that seem to be washed out can find second chances.

Our Hollywood story could easily have ended right there with Kazmir getting a chance for one more Major League Spring Training before calling it a career after failing to crack the starting rotation of the Indians as a non-roster invitee.

But Kazmir did crack the rotation for Cleveland out of Spring Training and excelled with the Indians to the point that the Oakland Athletics signed him to a two-year $22 million contract prior to the start of this season.

In year one of the deal Kazmir has been the Athletics most consistent starter and earned a place on the All-Star Team.

With the Athletics currently holding the top spot in the American League West standings it is entirely possible that Kazmir will pitch in the postseason once again six years after tasting the postseason for the first time with the Rays.

It is even within the realm of probability that the Athletics could make it all the way to the World Series.

While the Scott Kazmir story of second chances is certainly still being written, a very strong footnote would be to have him hoisting a World Series trophy in October.

Yes, sometimes reality does trump fiction when it comes to the magical Hollywood ending and after several seasons in the valley, that featured stops through the Atlantic League and Puerto Rico, Scott Kazmir appears to be making the most of his second chances.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to practice my pitching in case Hollywood needs a southpaw to portray Kazmir in the movie of his life.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

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Hinchcliffe Wreck Shows Risk of Injuries are Part of Everyday Life for Athletes

Every day life is full of risks if one really stops to think about it.

There is the risk of stubbing one’s toe while fumbling in the dark all the way to the risk that someone will run into the back of your car while you are stopped at a light.

For professional athletes there are the every day toe stubbing risks that the average person faces along with the risk that in some cases they might be seriously injured or even die at work due to the inherent risks associated with what they do for a living.

James Hinchcliffe (shown in Winner's Circle after the 2013 Grand Prix of Houston) recently reminded people that driving Indy Cars is risky business. Photo R. Anderson
James Hinchcliffe (shown in Winner’s Circle after the 2013 Grand Prix of Houston) recently reminded people that driving Indy Cars is risky business.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, police officers, firefighters, and members of the military are among the many professions who also put their life’s at risk so in no way do I want to come across as saying that athletes are the only ones with risky professions.

There are countless men and women working tirelessly at dangerous jobs every day who deserve our thanks for keeping us protected.

Usually their jobs do not have them in arenas full of screaming fans while they perform the risky work though. In that way professional athletes really are in a league of their own when it comes to performing risky behavior in front of the masses.

One of those athletes who does risky work in front of the masses, Indy Car driver James Hinchcliffe, is in the Intensive Care Unit of an Indiana hospital following a violent crash during practice for the Indianapolis 500 Monday.

Hinchcliffe, or Hinch as he is known to many of his fans, suffered a puncture to the left upper thigh after a piece of the car’s suspension assembly pierced the driver cockpit, or tub, and went through his leg causing severe soft tissue damage and rupturing arteries.

According to some published reports after his car’s right front suspension failed, Hinchcliffe hit the wall with a force of 125 Gs and was likely traveling more than 220 mph when he hit the wall. It should be noted that G forces above 100, even in short bursts, can be fatal in some cases.

Unlike in other sports the same safety team travels to all Indy Car races. It is the quick work of that team that is being credited with saving the life of James Hinchcliffe following a wreck Monday. Photo R. Anderson
Unlike in other sports the same safety team travels to all Indy Car races. It is the quick work of that team that is being credited with saving the life of James Hinchcliffe following a wreck Monday.
Photo R. Anderson

Were it not for the fast action of the safety crew it is entirely possible that Hinch could have died from his injuries due to the blood loss associated with a ruptured artery.

While Hinch is alive thanks in part to enhanced safety features and procedures to handle injuries like his, it is likely that there will be new safety features added to the Indy Cars after the cause of the latest crash are revealed.

However Indy Cars will never be 100 percent safe any more than athletes in other sports can be 100 percent protected from the risks of getting seriously injured in their chosen fields.

Recent lawsuits from former NFL players show that injuries from playing sports can sometimes take years to manifest themselves as is the case with players stating that they are suffering from the effects of head trauma long after their playing careers have ended.

In response the NFL has new concussion protocols in place to try to lessen the risk of injury to current players from head trauma.

In baseball there has been a rash of injuries the last few years with batters and pitchers getting injured after having their heads and jaws make contact with a baseball traveling at high velocity.

Former Houston Astros pitcher J.A. Happ was lucky and evaded serious injury in 2013 when he was hit by  a ball on the mound while pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays. Happ's hit and others like it have led Major League Baseball to look at ways to better protect the players. Photo R Anderson
Former Houston Astros pitcher J.A. Happ was lucky and evaded serious injury in 2013 when he was hit by a ball on the mound while pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays. Happ’s hit and others like it have led Major League Baseball to look at ways to better protect the players.
Photo R Anderson

In response to the increase in head injuries Major League Baseball is developing new protective head gear that can be worn by both batters and pitchers to help lessen the impact of a ball to the head.

The actions by the NFL and MLB to protect their players is certainly to be commended but no system can totally prevent injury when it comes to sports.

This is not to say that all motorsports and contact sports such as football should be deemed unsafe and banned any more than I should have to bubble wrap my home to avoid injury from bumping into things in the dark.

The trick is to make things as safe as humanly possible for the athletes involved so that they can live to play, or in Hinchcliffe’s case, drive, another day.

Sports are much safer today than they were 10 years ago and 10 years from now they will be even safer. Innovations will continue to evolve in the world of sports as well as other fields.

As long as people learn and improve from each accident and injury than they serve a purpose in helping the industry as a whole become safer. Failure to learn from the issues would be a far more devastating scenario.

In time the Mayor of Hinch Town will again be spraying the bubbly of victory after he heals from his injuries. Photo R. Anderson
In time the Mayor of Hinch Town will again be spraying the bubbly of victory after he heals from his injuries.
Photo R. Anderson

I had the opportunity to meet Hinch when I worked with the Grand Prix of Houston. While platitudes are certainly thrown around a lot, I can say that James Hinchcliffe is one of the most easy going athletes I have encountered in any sport and is one of those athletes who seems to really enjoy what they are doing and understands that it is a privilege to get to do what they do for a living.

The road back to driving an Indy Car will not be an easy one but Hinch has shown time and time again that he has an ability to handle those turns with the greatest of ease. I would not count the Mayor of Hinch Town out just yet.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to move a few things so that I do not bump into them tonight.

Copyright 2015 R Anderson

 

The Day When Even the Infield Grass Seems Greener

For those of you living under a rock, or perhaps more appropriately under a blarney stone, yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day.

St. Patrick’s Day is named after Saint Patrick, one of the patron saints of Ireland. The actual origin story and legends surrounding St. Patrick are varied and tend to depend greatly on the source material one looks at.

There is of course the legend about St. Patrick driving all of the snakes out of Ireland. However, most scholars and scientists agree that there is no evidence in the historic or fossil record of snakes ever being in Ireland to begin with so the likelihood of a single man driving them all off of the island is highly improbable.

Before he was Bond, James Bond, Sean Connery was chasing after pots of gold in a movie that has become a much see around St. Patrick's Day. Photo R. Anderson
Before he was Bond, James Bond, Sean Connery was chasing after pots of gold in a movie that has become a much see around St. Patrick’s Day.
Photo R. Anderson

I guess now is also a good time to mention that despite Walt Disney’s assurances and “documentary” techniques King Brian and Darby O’Gill also didn’t really exist despite assertions to the contrary made in Darby O’Gill and the Little People.

What is agreed upon is that St. Patrick was born in England in the late 4th century A.D. and was kidnapped as a child and brought to Ireland.

He escaped his captors after six years and returned to Ireland as a missionary combining Irish pagan beliefs with Christian sacrament while devising the Celtic Cross.

In the centuries that have followed St. Patrick’s Day has been less about the man and more about green clothes, green beer, green hats and pretty much anything else green.

Rivers and lakes around the globe turn green not from algae but from food coloring poured in by the gallon full as a celebration of the holiday.

Massive amounts of corned beef and cabbage will also be consumed as a way to celebrate the day.

Over the past couple of years the green movement has moved to the fields of Major League Baseball as well.

No, I am not talking about the grass on the fields.

I am not even talking about the number of teams who are now encouraging recycling and other “green initiatives” inside their ballparks.

What I am talking about is the green that is popping up on the players.

For the past few years the Spring Training games on St. Patrick’s Day have included teams wearing green uniforms and hats.

Spring Training games will be a bit greener today as various teams get in the spirit with green hats and uniforms for St. Patrick's Day. Photo R. Anderson
Spring Training games will be a bit greener today as various teams get in the spirit with green hats and uniforms for St. Patrick’s Day.
Photo R. Anderson

The first team that I recall, going green was the Boston Red Sox.

The green uniforms and hats seemed an obvious choice based on the amount of Irish American fans in the Boston area.

Other teams followed the green trend and soon it became a league wide tradition as part of the day where everyone can claim to be a little Irish.

The teams that go green each year vary with some teams forgoing the green for their more traditional colors.

The first time I saw a televised game with the Red Sox wearing the green uniforms I actually thought there was something wrong with my televisions set since the sight of teams in colors other than their normal ones can take some getting used to.

The full circle marketing of St. Patrick’s Day to include green items for the fans was just a matter of time since Major League Baseball, like most successful businesses, has made a habit of capitalizing on every opportunity to make money.

While the green gear is popular with the fans it also allows the players to try something new in Spring Training.

There are special uniform nights throughout the season but green uniform day is the only one that falls during Spring Training.

So as a public service announcement next time March 17th rolls around do not adjust your set when you are watching that Spring Training game.

Your eyes are not playing tricks on you and the players really are wearing green.

Now if you’ll excuse me all of this talk about green things has me in the mood for some green eggs and ham.

Copyright 2014 R Anderson

The United States to Normalize Cuban Relations after Nearly 60 Years

The other day it was announced that after the United States would seek to normalize relations with Cuba after nearly 60 years of trade embargoes and other restrictions that have made it difficult for the average American to travel to the nation 90 miles south of Florida.

The closest I ever came to visiting Cuba was on a cruise ship in the late 80’s when the ship was heading back towards Miami from the U.S. Virgin Islands. As we approached the island the captain made an announcement along the lines of if you look out to our starboard side you will see Cuba.

I recall that the island was covered in a sort of rainy haze which made it both intriguing and beckoning at the same time. I also remember briefly thinking that I hoped the captain did not drift into Cuban waters by mistake and lead to an international incident.

Stories of the pre Cuban Missile Crisis and Bay of Pigs Cuba have always fascinated me. I was not alive during the tense days when the U.S. Naval blockade was in place to keep Russian ships from supplying missiles to the island so it is likely that my opinion towards Cuba may be different if I had lived through those tense days that almost led to World War III.

Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba is where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. Photo R. Anderson
Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba is where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.
Photo R. Anderson

Instead, for me Cuba represents a land where Earnest Hemingway and other figures spent their days fishing and their nights in smoke filled rooms, or crowded ballparks enjoying the freshest of Cuban cuisine and culture while getting from point A to point B in various cars from Detroit.

I guess one could say I want to experience the vision of Cuba that I have in my head. I want to sit and watch a baseball game played in a ballpark where the air and the accents are both thick and rich with history.

I want to sit in a road side cafe and eat my weight in Cuban pork and plantains while watching the hustle and bustle along the street.

I want to visit Finca Vigia, Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.

I want to see those old cars that were on the road when Hemingway walked the streets and are still being driven today due to the ingenuity of the Cuban people to keep those cars roadworthy for all these years.

I had always held out hope that the embargo would be lifted during my lifetime so that I could visit all of the sights and sounds of the island mentioned above and now it appears to be the case.

Of course normalizing relations with Cuba, and opening up a United States Embassy on the island, takes time and certain travel restrictions will still be in place for the foreseeable future so a trip to ring in the new year on Cuban soil is out of the question at this time. But it does seem closer to becoming a reality today than it did before the President’s announcement.

Cuban cigars that were once traded on the black market due to sanctions against Cuba will soon be available without fear of prosecution.  Photo R. Anderson. Photo R. Anderson
Cuban cigars that were once traded on the black market due to sanctions against Cuba will soon be available without fear of prosecution.
Photo R. Anderson.

Make no mistake there are serious issues that still need to be resolved in Cuba and lifting an embargo that was either effective, or ineffective, depending on what side of the fence you are on, is merely the first of many steps.

The news of normalized relations was met with both elation and protests within the Cuban American communities of Florida.

Throughout the embargo many people have risked their lives to escape Cuba and build a better life for themselves and their families in America. Countless more lost their lives making the journey or were intercepted and sent back to Cuba.

The issues that led to those harrowing water crossings will not change overnight and should not be forgotten. But, normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States could lead to grass roots changes that take shape in the decades to come.

Another huge issue with the announcement that has yet to be fully fleshed out as a result of the open relations with Cuba is the impact on Major League Baseball.

Shortly after the President announced the change in posture with Cuba, Major League Baseball issued a statement of its own stating in part that they were actively monitoring the situation and would respond when appropriate.

Just as I am sure there are regular citizens on both sides of the issue of opening relations with Cuba I am sure there are people in the ranks of baseball that are on both sides of the issue as well Cuban.

The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team in 40 years to play a game in Cuba in 1999. With normalized relations with Cuba coming it is likely one will not need to wait another 40 years for another game in Cuba involving MLB teams. Photo R. Anderson
The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team in 40 years to play a game in Cuba in 1999. With normalized relations with Cuba coming it is likely one will not need to wait another 40 years for another game in Cuba involving MLB teams.
Photo R. Anderson

For years baseball players from Cuba have risked their lives and left their families behind defecting in hope of finding greener pastures elsewhere. And while it has become easier for MLB teams to sign Cuban player over the past couple of years there are still hurdles that only impact Cuban players.

It is entirely possible with the normalized relations that Major League Baseball teams will set up academies in Cuba similar to the ones that are in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other countries to evaluate international talent.

Major League Baseball has a history in Cuba with the Giants, Dodgers and Pirates all having held their Spring Training camps in Havana at one time or another. Additionally, the Havana Sugar Kings were the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds from 1954 to 1960.

After a 40-year absence Major League Baseball made a brief return to Cuba in 1999 when the Baltimore Orioles and the Cuban national team played an exhibition game in the Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana. The Orioles won 3-2 in 11 innings.

With many issues left to resolve it will likely be years before the floodgates open wide to Cuban players leading to additional competition to be one of only 1200 players to be on one of the 30 Major League Baseball teams’ roster.

Realistically in the near term, it will be far more likely that one will still need to travel to Cuba to see a roster filled with Cuban baseball players. A day will likely come though when almost every team in the Major Leagues has some sort of Cuban influence.

Of course the Cuban influence I would most like to see return to American Ballparks is some good quality Cuban pork. Are you listening Minute Maid Park?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to try and find an authentic Cuban sandwich.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Derek Jeter Walks off into the Sunset at Yankee Stadium

Yesterday, Derek Jeter, long time shortstop for the New York Yankees, played in his last game at Yankee Stadium.

Yankee Stadium is the second to last stop in the farewell tour that began at Minute Maid Park against the Houston Astros in April to honor the career of a man who played two decades in pinstripes.

At each stop along the way teams have paid their respects to Jeter by bestowing gifts upon him, and making donations to his charity.

The final stop on the tour will be Fenway Park this weekend and it will be interesting to see what kind of tribute Red Sox Nation has for the Captain.

Last night the Baltimore Orioles, American League East Champions,  lost to the New York Yankees in Derek Jeter's final game at Yankee Stadium. Photo R. Anderson
Last night the Baltimore Orioles, American League East Champions, lost to the New York Yankees in Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium.
Photo R. Anderson

While fans throughout baseball have saluted Jeter all season long, yesterday was about saying goodbye to the hometown fans at Yankee Stadium.

Even unfavorable weather forecasts that threatened to move the game to Monday, or cancel it altogether, could not dampen the spirits of fans who paid well above face value on tickets to be able to say that they were there when Jeter said farewell to Yankees Stadium against the Baltimore Orioles.

In the end the rain stayed away, and the Yankees defeated the Orioles 6-5 thanks to the retiring bat of Derek Jeter.

While Derek Jeter’s career was certainly full of big moments, one could argue that securing a victory in his last game at Yankee Stadium with a walk off single was one of the biggest, if not one that he will remember the most.

There are those fans of conspiracies and hats made out of tin foil who are sure to claim that the fix was in to allow Jeter to hit that game-winning walk off single since a) baseball loves happy endings and b) Orioles Manager Buck Showalter was Jeter’s first manager with the Yankees.

Could the fact that Derek Jeter drove in the winning run in his last at bat at Yankee Stadium be called just a little too convenient? Sure.

But as Peter Parker’s uncle Joe would say “With great power comes great responsibility” and for Jeter that responsibility is helping his team win when placed in positions to do so.

It also helped that the Yankees bunted a runner into scoring position ahead of Jeter’s at bat to avoid risk of him hitting into a double play.

While the ending was certainly worthy of a Hollywood sparks falling on the field from the lights kind of thing, to those tin foil loving conspiracy fans I say that there is no way that the game was fixed to allow Jeter to win it.

One need only look at what happened to Charlie Hustle himself, Pete Rose, to see what baseball thinks about game fixing.

For those too young to remember, Rose received a lifetime ban from baseball for betting on games he managed since it was believed that he could somehow manipulate the results in a manner favorable to his wagers.

Another example of what Major League Baseball thinks about throwing games, further back than Rose, is the Black Sox scandal where several players of the Chicago White Sox were banned for life for fixing the World Series.

Beyond the threat of being banned for life for throwing a game, another issue that shoots holes in the “they let him win” argument from the tin foil hat society is the fact that, while Buck Showalter may have managed Jeter for 15 games 20 years ago, his current team, the Baltimore Orioles, are trying to secure home field advantage in the playoffs.

Orioles manager, Buck Showalter, was Derek Jeter's first Major League Manager. Despite that history Showalter's Orioles did not let Jeter's Yankees win despite what some might think. Photo R. Anderson
Orioles manager, Buck Showalter, was Derek Jeter’s first Major League Manager. Despite that history Showalter’s Orioles did not let Jeter’s Yankees win despite what some might think.
Photo R. Anderson

A team looking for home field advantage in the playoffs does not intentionally lose games, even if it makes for good Hollywood stories.

So to be 100 percent clear the fix was not in last night to allow Derek Jeter to score the winning run of the game.

It just worked out that way and gave Derek Jeter another lasting Yankee Stadium memory.

Much like Mariano Rivera did during his farewell tour last year, Jeter has said that he wants his final on-field memories to be from Yankee Stadium despite the team still having three games left in the season.

Jeter will be available as a designated hitter during the series against the Boston Red Sox, but fans expecting to see him standing at the shortstop position at Fenway Park will be greatly disappointed much like the fans at Minute Maid Park were last year when Rivera decided to stay in the bullpen and not make a curtain call appearance against the Astros.

While Derek Jeter’s career will end with a few plate appearances in the designated hitter’s role against the Boston Red Sox, instead of in another World Series as many had hoped at the start of the season, few other players in the history of baseball have had as much success or had the type of fan base as number 2 had.

While Derek Jeter’s career is ending the debate regarding whether he will be the first unanimously chosen member of the Baseball Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in five years is just beginning.

Between now and the time the Hall of Fame voters fill out their ballots in 2019, Derek Jeter will try to become a normal person and do the things that he put off during a 20-year career in pinstripes. Only Derek Jeter knows what that next chapter will be.

What is known is that for 20 seasons, in one of the most intense environments around, by all accounts Derek Jeter played the game of baseball in a way that he can be proud of and in a manner that many would be wise to duplicate.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get ready for the last weekend of the regular season.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson