A conversation about MLB, on the field, off the field.

Friday, April 6, 2007

From the basement - Lynx Media Day - April 05 07

Ottawa Lynx Media Day

April 04 I left the basement ( well, my basement ) and went to Ottawa Lynx Media Day. I pretended for a few hours that I am part of the media. Yep, first time in 14 plus years of watching ball at Jetform Park / Lynx Stadium that I've been in their basement ( so I didn't leave the basement in a larger sense ). Yep, deep in the underground bowels, in the locker room, Manager's & Pitching Coach offices. Had the pleasure of speaking with a guy who caught Nolan Ryan ( including one of his no hitters ) and another guy who pitched 12 years of pro ball. Really glad that I went and a big thank you to Riley Denver with The Lynx and all of his colleagues present that day.

The interview portion started and I was too nervous to speak to any player for the first 10 - 15 minutes ( and in fact I never did ). I started toward Ron Calloway but was intimidated. Fortunately, Riley made some conversation with me and then I bumped into André Cormier from Baseball Canada & we had a chat which included some talk about local RH Philippe Aumont who, as I've been blogging, is believed to have a shot at going in the 1st Round of the upcoming June draft. André told me that Aumont is going back to FLA soon to pitch in some extended spring training games with the Cdn Junior National Team.

So I found myself standing outside Mgr. Russell's office ( I think because I had left the locker room out of nervousness ) and thought "well I'm here now" and I walked in and started floundering. I fumbled with my recorder, mike and notes, I nervously told him that I was a virgin and hadn't done this before. I think he said "never?". I was ready to sit and chat for awhile but I realized after several minutes that I wasn't quite following the script. Obviously the team allots this time for the real local media to get some quotes / soundbites, photos / video for the local sports pages / reports, it's not really meant to be a time for me to sit down and indulge myself. I had my back kinda turned but I could sense some impatience from a few real reporters ( one I recognize from TV ) with the amount of Mr. Russell's time that I was allowing myself. ( Yep, my first baseball Q & A ever and I blunder into the office of the guy who everybody needs a quote from ) I understand the impatience, they're working, they have stuff to do, I'm an indulgent hobbyist. I also noted that Mr. Russell snuck a few peeks and was surprised at the number of questions I had typed out. I've no doubt that he was thinking " get this fucking geek out of my fucking office ", but he was a true pro and was very patient, cooperative and polite.

So I left Mgr. Russell's office with no idea of who I wanted to speak to next. If I turned left I went to the elevators to exit, so I turned right, walked several steps and on my right was pitching coach Rod Nichols' office and it was vacant, save for him. So again, I blundered in, same nervous MO. I was initially surprised by how big Rod Nichols is. I've seen enough pitchers charting in the stands over the years to recognize the pitcher body type, it ain't Rod Nichols'. He's a BIG guy, not super tall, but THICK, way thicker than most pitchers I've seen. We made a bit of chat, before I started recording, about Phillies fans ( he was online reading some Phillies stuff when I entered his office ) and then we had a 10 minute Q & A. This I thought went better, I started to relax a bit, to the point where I deviated from my notes a few times, more conversational. Mr. Nichols was thoroughly engaging.

And that was it, as I exited Mr. Nichols office, the last of the real press was leaving and the team was about to meet. I learned that I wasted way too much time researching. I wanted to be PREPARED, and I looked up every player on the roster on the web and wrote a question or two for a lot of them. I spoke to not one of them in the end. It's unlikely I'll ever go to another media day, I think it's a fait d'accompli that the IL is leaving Ottawa. But if I ever do, I'll know to prepare to speak with 2 or 3 people only. I also have to calm myself a bit and stop talking so much, maybe I should have a few beforehand, there's a history of that in sportswriting isn't there?

In the end I spent $200.00 on recording equipment, imposed on my wife to make me some DIY quality business cards ( of which I distributed 1, ok 2 if you count the one I gave to a mother of one of my kid's classmates later that day, after I scribbled out the references to my blog ), wrote WAY too many questions, researched WAY too much and shaved that morning ( most days I don't shave ). I regret none of it, I had fun.

THE JOHN RUSSELL & ROD NICHOLS CONVERSATIONS.

Rod Nichols pitched in pro ball for 12 years, several in the majors. He was a player on some notable Indians teams in 91 & 92. The 91 team was notable for futility, 105 losses, although Nichols told me that "anytime in the big leagues is fun". There was drastic improvement the next season when the Indians improved to 76-86. Nichols told me that they really turned it around in the 2nd half that year. There was a core of young players there that went on to form the nucleus of some powerful Indians teams in the mid 90's. Albert Belle, Carlos Baerga, Kenny Lofton, Charles Nagy, Greg Swindell & Bud Black amongst them. Nichols and I discussed how the Indians GM at the time, John Hart, was the first to sign his young players to long term deals before they became arbitration eligible. This has long become accepted practice throughout the industry, saving the rancour of salary arbitration hearings. I found it very interesting how Nichols describes his former teammate Albert Belle. Nichols noted that Belle was "reviled" by the press ( and I'll add fans outside of Cleveland ) but that he was an "awesome teammate", "great guy". Nichols portrays Belle as a player who was frustrated by the press's demands on his time, that Belle "just wanted to work", was a "perfectionist", "worked harder than anybody, took more notes". I see this as an example of something I've always thought about sports reporting. Too many of the reporters get too personal about it. Just because the press dislikes you doesn't mean your teammates do, and only teammates count.

I asked both Russell & Nichols about the 12 man staffs that are the norm now in the big leagues. I've always thought that the growth in size of pitching staffs resulted from increased emphasis on "match ups" over the years, as well as reduced pitch counts due to injury concerns (particularly when there can be millions of dollars invested). Analysis of pitch counts has become a sport unto itself in the baseball geek internet world. I have also subscribed to the theory that pitch counts & IP have declined because kids don't develop arm strength because they throw less due to the widespread use of pitching machines. Russell & Nichols see the growth in staffs as resulting from the improvements in hitting over the years, pitching is more demanding in this era. Nichols tells me that not only are the hitters bigger ( better nutrition, weight training, I can remember when traditionalists eschewed weight training for baseball players ), they're more skilled at their craft due to video training, the bats and balls are harder. The comment about the balls I find revealing. Every season I read conjecture about the balls, wound tighter? different cores? livelier? etc. MLB always doles out some press release replete with quotes from some science geek that the balls are tested every year to comply with strict MLB specifications yada yada. But over the years I have consistently read speculation that the balls have changed. I value Nichols opinion, pitcher / pitching coach for the last 22 years, he knows.

Nichols and I discussed Canuck Scott Mathieson's recovery from TJ surgery in September. I keep reading in Baseball America that he is way ahead of schedule in his recovery and they expect him to pitch soon, which I find astoundingly optimistic. Nichols confirms that yes his recovery is "way ahead of schedule" and that he thinks there is a real chance Mathieson could pitch for the Lynx later this season. That led to a bit of talk about Baseball America, I am an avid reader. I asked Nichols if "they know what they're talking about". Nichols thinks the BA coverage is good, he fields some calls from BA reporters and thinks them credible.

I've long thought ( with many others ) that radar gun readings on TV broadcasts are exaggerated. I think Nichols is in agreement. I.E. in Nichols' opinion it was "a little silly"..."Kenny Rogers throwing in the low 90's" during the postseason. Again, he knows, he's not in his basement.

Russell and Nichols talked to me about the drastic improvements in playing conditions in the Minors since they entered pro ball in the early 80's. Russell commented about some fields with no clubhouses, port a potties, light stands inside the fences. Nichols described the improvements as "unbelievable", he reminisced about dressing sometimes in gyms, school buildings and how bad some of the fields in the low minors were. Were the "good ol days" really that much better?

Russell told me a good story about managing Johan Santana in Edmonton in the early 90's and how in New Orleans he gave up a 3 run homer in the first, struck out 17 and lost 3 - 1. He told me that Santana still talks about the learning experience, that you can "lose a game as easily in the 1st as in the 9th."

With both Russell and Nichols we talked about Eude Brito. I was surprised to learn that Brito is slated to work out of the pen this season. In hindsight I shouldn't be surprised, the Phillies bullpen appears to be thin. ( And that has nothing to do with them being swept by the Braves to begin the season).

The conversation I wanted to have with Ron Calloway concerns the 03 Expos. Calloway had 340 AB's with that team, they finished 83-79 and on August 28 were in a 5 way tie for the Wild Card. MLB, which owned the team, refused to foot the bill for September call ups. I wanted to ask Calloway about that season and in particular, is he still bitter that MLB bailed on the team come September?

In retrospect I wrote some really dumb questions. The dumbest was a question to the Venezuelan players about the impact Chavez will have on baseball there. Pete, put away your bong. Do you know what I think their real concerns were on April 04? Finding a place to live, buying a toque, finding an Ottawa chick ( if they don't already have one here, there are a lot of IL vets on the squad ), the fit of their uni, where their locker is situated in the clubhouse and the really shitty weather.

The Lynx PR folks provided us with the Reading roster. I was surprised to see Joey Thurston is beginning the year there. Thurston was a key member of the Scranton team last year, .785 OPS in 479 AB's. I have to assume he'll be a Lynx very soon, encouraging news.

Fun to see Naete Sager & Carl Kiffner at Media Day. Naete publishes Ottawa's best 1 man sports section, Out of Left Field http://neatesager.blogspot.com/ Carl Kiffner blogs passionately about the Ottawa Lynx here http://ottawalynx.blogspot.com/

April 16 or April 17 I will post my Top 10 IL prospects that could be visiting Lynx Stadium this season. ( It's been written for a few months, what's a geek to do in the middle of winter? ) Please email me your list to toms1243@rogers.com and I'll post it.

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