Thursday, August 29, 2013

Its the Saddest Time of the Year - Minor League Baseball is Ending

It’s the end of August and there are still four months remaining in 2013 but already I’m feeling nostalgic and thinking that it would be nice if tomorrow was New Year’s Day.  This feeling of malaise or melancholy comes about because now is the end of the minor league baseball season and other than pining for the first week of April 2014 to get here so minor league baseball can begin again, I have very little to keep my interest until then.

My home team, the Bradenton Marauders, had a less than auspicious season but it was not for lack of trying on their part.  There are some excellent players on the 2013 Marauders team and several of them will likely make it to the major leagues in the next couple of years (Greg Polanco, Gift Ngope, Willy Garcia immediately come to mind).  However as a team my team had trouble firing on all nine cylinders.  The 2013 Marauders reminded me very much of the 2009 Sarasota Reds – some excellent players but they could not bring it all together.  The Marauders had a scrappy new manager this year who unlike his timid predecessor wasn’t afraid to take chances with players running the bases or trying squeeze bunts or almost anything else.  In fact our manager this year was such a change from his predecessor that he got in a fist fight with the manager of the Fort Myers Miracle.  That’s the kind of manager I like to see

There were some high points for the Marauders this year including their league leading position in the most triples by a team (Taylor Lewis led the league in triples) and the most stolen bases.  Unfortunately they also led the Florida State League in the number of runners caught attempting to steal a base and in the number of strike outs.  However as any Chicago Cubs fan will tell you, “There’s always next year.”   

For me and the rest of the Marauders heckling section it was a memorable year on many accounts.  Personal highlights include:

  • The Tampa Yankees pitcher who yelled “fuck you” at me as he walked back to the dugout
  • The St. Lucie Mets outfielder who gave me the finger as he walked back to the dugout after I assisted him with his third strike out of the evening,
  • Having the entire Tampa Yankees team heckle me from the bench
  • Having the entire St. Lucie Mets team heckle me from the bench,
  • Having the Lakeland Flying Tigers manager (himself) heckling me from the bench,
  • Telling an outfielder for the Palm Beach Cardinals that he had “the penis of a small boy” (in Spanish) and then assisting him with his second strike out of the evening.
  • Watching that same Palm Beach player come to bat in the 9th inning in a close game with the Marauders and with runners in scoring position calling him (in Spanish) “my bitch” and then Dave Hilsheimer and I assisting him in a 3-pitch strike out.  His strike out ended the game and the Marauders won.
  • Annoying enough opposing batters that 16 of them slammed their bats against the dugout wall after assisting them in making an out.
  • Getting four opposing players to slam their batting helmet against the dugout wall (probably because they had already broken their bat) after assisting each of them in making a crucial out.
  • Heckling Casey Kotchman from the Miami Marlins who was on a rehab assignment with the Jupiter Hammerheads and doing so while his mother was sitting next to me.  I didn’t know it was his mom until she snapped at me “Why don’t you get your ass out there if you think it’s so easy.”
  • And in the best heckle of the year category – watching Palm Beach Cardinals manager Johnny Rodriquez giving hand signals to his team and me yelling “Johnny – is that the sign for them to masturbate?”   Johnny quit using that sign after being called out.

The nice thing about all the heckling is that in every case mentioned above the Marauders won their games and several times by large margins.  Time and experience have taught me that if you can get under the skin of a team they focus on those of us heckling and not what is happening on the field and we invariably win the games in those situations.  We will just have to do more of that in 2014.

On a broader scale than the Marauders I visited minor league stadiums and watched games in Akron, Columbus and Dayton Ohio; Salem, Lynchburg and Norfolk Virginia; Fayetteville and Little Rock Arkansas; Springfield, Missouri; San Antonio Texas; Omaha, Nebraska; Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Quad Cities and Burlington, Iowa; Augusta and Savannah, Georgia; and Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.   In these travels I got to see former Bradenton Marauder Catcher Eric Fryer playing for the Rochester Red Wings at a game in Norfolk Virginia, and former third baseman Jeremy Ferrell playing for the Winston-Salem Dash in both Salem and Lynchburg, Virginia.

A new passion this year was driving all over the state trying to see as many Rookie League teams (there are 16 of them) in the Gulf Coast League play games.  I ended the year having seen all 16 teams play in 12 of their 14 venues (the GCL Marlins and GCL Cardinals each play at the same field in Jupiter, and both of the GCL Yankees teams play on the same field in Tampa).  The only Rookie League fields I didn’t see games on this year were the GCL Mets in St. Lucie and the GCL Twins in Fort Myers.  They will be the goal for next year.

Which brings up the topic of next year.  For 2014 I will again have my season ticket for Box 3, Row 1, Seat 1 at McKechnie Field in Bradenton.  They will need to use dynamite to extract me from that seat.  However in my quest to see every minor league team playing in person I’m already planning some trips to see some teams next year.  One place high on my list is to spend time back in California (where I lived 20 years ago) watching the 10 High A level teams of the California League plus the two AAA level teams (Fresno Grizzlies and Sacramento River Cats) playing.  I’d also like to spend about 2 weeks traveling around Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia watching Rookie League up to AAA level teams playing.

One of the teams I saw in 2013 was the West Virginia Power when they played the Charleston River Dogs in Charleston.  The Power are the Low A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the natural progression for the Power is to play in Bradenton the following year.  The Power I saw this year was a scrappy bunch who I hope provide lots of great baseball watching when they get to town next year and I look forward to getting to know them.  

However what am I going to do with the next seven months of no minor league baseball?  One thing that will ease the pain is knowing that throughout the off season each Thursday night the tiki bar in center field at McKechnie Field will be open for fans to come have a few adult beverages and talk about baseball.  I think every so often while I’m there on a Thursday night, and while nobody is looking, I’m going to sneak off on my own and walk back to Box 3, Row 1, Seat 1 where I spend my summers behind home plate, and sit there and fantasize that I’m heckling umpires and annoying the St. Lucie Mets and trying out new heckles that I dreamed up over the winter.  Yup. That might ease the pain a little.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Thank You Sanford Florida Police Department

The Sanford Florida police department has received a rash of bad publicity ever since the horrible incident involving the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.  I don't know how much of that criticism and bad publicity is warranted and how much is hyped however there is one thing I know for a fact.  Last night one of their officers went out of his way to help me when I was stranded with a flat tire near the Sanford airport.  As a token of my appreciation for his actions I wrote an email to Cecil Smith, the Chief of the Sanford Police Department to tell him how much I was impressed with his officer. That email follows:

Cecil Smith, Chief
Sanford Police Department
Sanford, Florida
Dear Cecil
I returned to the Sanford International Airport about 11:00 p.m. last night and on exiting the parking lot discovered that my left rear tire was flat.  I pulled off of Airport Boulevard at Carrier Street and called AAA for assistance.  As I waited, one of your officers (whose name I never got but you could probably figure it out from records of who was near that intersection at that time) came on the scene, stopped, and asked if I needed assistance.  
I informed the officer that I had a flat and had contacted AAA.  He asked if I needed any assistance from him and I asked if there was a 24-hour tire repair service nearby. He thought a minute and then said that he had a portable air compressor that might work to at least fill the tire with air. Did I want to use it?  Thinking it was in his car I said yes and the officer said "I'll be right back."  He then took off to a nearby police storage facility, retrieved the air compressor, and about 10 minutes later returned.  He hooked up the compressor and we chatted while the tire filled with air.
When it was filled I thanked the officer profusely and told him to tell his captain that he is a saint.   Now with a tire full of air I dashed back to Sarasota (never exceeding the speed limit of course) and this morning took the tire in for repair.
I'm writing to tell you about the selfless actions of your officer and to let you know how much I appreciated him going the extra mile to help me in the middle of the night.  Most people would have vacated the scene once they knew that I had contacted AAA for assistance but your officer chose to stay. Then on telling me about the air compressor he went out of his way to retrieve it and then hooked it up to refill my tire.  In all your officer spent more than 30 minutes taking care of me.  He could have spent that time tracking down bad guys but instead he wanted to make sure that I was ok and wasn't going to abandon me until he knew that I was.

I hope you can figure out the officer's name and pass on this message to him.  As a token of my appreciation for him going above and beyond I'd like to suggest that you send him home a few hours early some Friday afternoon (without charging him vacation time) and tell him its because the guy from Sarasota with the flat tire was impressed by him, his concern for my dilemma and for his professionalism.

Craig Faanes
University Park, Florida 34201

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Art of Baseball Heckling

Before every Bradenton Marauders home game I spend several hours going over information about the batters for the opponent team that day. Almost all of the information is gleaned from the opposing team's website and from that treasure trove of information I pluck little gems that can be used to heckle the batters that night.  I look for things like how long the batter has been in the minor leagues (an indication of whether or not they will ever make it to the major leagues), their batting average and whether or not its rising or falling, the number of strike outs the batter has endured and any other thing that might be useful in getting in their head and more importanly under their skin.  The key to heckling is to distract and / or annoy the batter to the point that he does something stupid like listen to me rather than pay attention to the game. When that happens then my team has an advantage because Batter A is thinking about me and what I'm saying behind home plate and not what's happening on the field.  All of the information I glean I put in a one-page heckling information data sheet that I use throughout the game.  Copies of the information sheet are handed out to several other heckler friends to help them get ready for the game.

Sometimes heckling works and some times it does not and there are certainly times when you know you're getting to the batter and its affecting their performance.  Like the night in 2009 when I assisted a St. Lucie Mets batter (from the Dominican Republic) through two strike outs in his first two at bats.  Then in the 7th inning with the count 2 balls and 2 strikes I bellowed out at him just before he swung at a pitch that was obviously going to be called a ball "Tiene le pene del nino, mericone" which means "You have the penis of a small boy you faggot."  The batter heard me, swung and missed, and then conveniently let go of the bat and let it race toward my face! Then there was the night in 2010 when, also against the Mets, I had the entire Mets team heckling me from their bench.  They were more concerned with me than with what the Marauders were doing on the field and that night the Marauders won 8-1.

Below is the heckler information data sheet I put together for tonight's game between the St. Lucie Mets and the Bradenton Marauders.  Following it are lists of heckles that I use against opposing batters and with great gusto against the umpires. Some purists do not approve of heckling but it is a part of the game just like hitting a ball is a part of the game.  If players can't handle our small cadre of Marauder fans who engage in heckling here then they will be putty in the hands of major league hecklers in places like Philadelphia, New York and Cincinnati.  To paraphrase the late comedian Sam Kinison, "we're letting them off light" at this level.

St Lucie Mets Player Heckling Information
August 8 2013

BOYD, David. #15, 1B. Catonment FL,  FSU. 2nd year in minors.  Brooklyn in Short Season in 2012.  Recent promotion in 2013 from Savannah Sand Gnats (Low A) where batted .361.  Now batting 283 with 20 K.  Maybe a return to Low A is your best career move at this point?  Batting only 207 over last 10 games.  0-3 last night.

DE LA CRUZ, Yacabert.  #1, 2B.  Santo Domingo DR.  We need to get you a new name, Bert.  5th year in minors and batting only 191 with 45 Ks.  Hitting only 133 over last 10 games and went 0-4 last night.   I think the numbers tell the message Bert.  Time to go home.

GOMEZ, Gilberto.  #17  CF.  5th year in minors.  68 K’s at Low A Savannah last year. .212 batting average this year with 90K. Team leader in Ks. Average dropped 48 points since May.  Batting .143 over last 10 games.  Gil things are not looking good.

LAWLEY, Dustin #38 LF.  Adger Alabama3rd year in minor leagues.  0-3 last night.   Batting .264 this year with 86Ks. 2nd on team in Ks.   Average was .284 in Rookie League at Kingsport.  Maybe that’s your calling Dustin?  Northeast Tennessee is pretty this time of year.

MARON, Cammy  #7 C.  Huntington Long Island.  5th year in minors!   .238 Batting Average  44Ks this year so far.  Batted .300 in Low A Savannah last year.  Maybe its time to return?

PLAWECKI, Kevin. #35, C.  Carmel Indiana,  Purdue.  First round pick in 2012.  Number 17 Mets prospect in 2013.  Sort of a dubious honor given the team. Batting .315 with only 14K since promotion from Low A earlier this year.  Dangerous. 

REYNOLDS, Matt.  #23. SS.  Tulsa.  2nd year in minors.  .259 at Low A Savannah last year.    Batting .229 this year. Down 40 points since May.  Went 0-3 last night.  68Ks this year 3rd on team

RIVERA, Tom. #2  SS.  Da Bronx.  3rd year in minors.  Do you have one of those funny accents?  “Wok da dog on lawn guylund?”  Batting .289 with  63Ks this year so far.    4th on team

SANDOVAL, Ryan.  #5  2B.  Hayward, CA.  4th year in St. Lucie!  Some kind of a record?  Just not getting the hint are you Ryan.  Handwriting is on the wall.  Batting .286 this year. Hasn’t played since July 27.  Why are they keeping you around?

SHIELDS, Bob.  #4 2B. Dade City Florida.  5th year in minors.  Third round pick in 2009 and here you sit in A ball!  Batting 233 with 55K this year.  Must be keeping you around to promote to bat boy?

THURBER, Chuck.  #20 RF.  Elmira, NY. 3rd year in minors.  Batted .223 at Low A Savannah last year and still promoted to high A?  How does that work?  Batting 203 this year with 57Ks.  Hasn’t played since July 7.  I think they’re sending you a message Chuck.  

Batter Heckles

§  DH? Does that stand for Don't Have talent?
§  I wish my golf score was as good as your batting average.
§  Your hostess will seat you!! (following a strikeout)
§  Designated What?
§  I've seen better cuts at a deli!
§  Why'd you even bring the bat?
§  Here comes the Human Strike-Out!
§   (After fastball) If you think that was bad, you should see his fastball.
§   (After a swinging strike) Whew! Feel the breeze.
§  Think you can get this one past the pitcher's mound?
§  Do your parents know you do this for a living?
§  I've seen better bats in a cave!
§  You should get two called strikes for that swing!
§  This guy couldn't hit a shift key
§  You want some pepperoni on that slice?
§  How did you make the team?
§  The ball is that thing the catcher has!
§  Drop your purse and pick up a bat!
§  Save that swing for the mailbox league
§  You call that a swing?
§  Everybody move in!
§  Its the hit less wonder!
§  You're more of a batting practice hitter!
§  Know what a batting average is?
§  Do they have the strike out sign on?
§  Use your bat next time!!
§  Pitch him underhand!
§  DH means Doesn't Hit?
§  Take the donut off! (late on a pitch)
§  Swing Hard! Just in case you hit it!
§  Try the other side of the plate!
§  Just put the stick down and nobody gets hurt! (ugly swing)
§  Do you guys actually practice or do you just show up for the games?
§  I thought you were the team mascot!
§  I hope you paid to get in!
§  Go start the bus!
§  Do you think you'll like this game once you catch on?
§  It's time to hang up those spikes
§  Does your husband play too?
§  Biggest contribution you could make to this team is to go on the DL
§  Try breathing through your eyelids, meat!!! (Bull Durham)
§  What position do you play?, left bench?
§  Maybe you're left-handed and you don't know it
§  The steroids aren't working

Umpire Heckles

§  I thought only horses slept standing up!
§  Is your rule book written in braille?
§  Hey Ump, how can you sleep with all these lights on
§  If you're just gonna watch the game, buy a ticket
§  Flip over the plate and read the directions
§  You couldn't call a pitch out right
§  How about some Windex for that glass eye!
§  Hey ump, diarrhea has more consistency than your strike zone!
§  You need to go to confession after that call!
§  Mix in some consistency once in awhile!
§  How do you sleep at night?
§  I was confused the first time I saw a game too
§  I've gotten better calls from my ex-wife!
§  Admit you lied!
§  When your dog barks twice, its a strike!
§  Kick your dog, he's lying to you!
§  Hey Blue, were you looking for the curve?
§  So which one of you is the designated driver?
§  Look through the mask, not at it!
§  You couldn't call a cab!
§  The circus is in town and the clowns are wearing blue!
§  It’s a strike zone, not an end zone!
§  You really shouldn't be in the game until you get warmed up!
§  You can go home blue, we'll take it from here!
§  Ump – did you flunk out of tollbooth school?
§  It sure sounded like a strike!
§  You can open your eyes now!
§  Do you get any better or is this it?
§  You're blinking too long!
§  Do you feel guilty?
§  If the pitcher is throwing too fast for you, we can ask him to slow it down
§  Your strike zone is a moving target
§  You're getting better, you almost made the right call that time
§  Punch a hole in that mask, you're missing a good game
§  You're like a bat without sonar!
§  If you need the money this badly, get a paper route!
§  You flipping coins?
§  Is that your final answer?
§  Take off that welding mask
§  Open your good eye!
§  Can I buy you another beer?