Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Yankees PA Announcer Bob Sheppard Remains Ill: A Tribute to "The Voice of God"

Bob Sheppard has been the voice of the New York Yankees since 1951, and has been referred to as "The Voice of God" for equally as long.

His smooth voice has announced virtually every single Yankee immortal, and his eyes have witnessed most of the stadium's greatest moments.

Sheppard will be forced to miss another timeless moment in Yankee history, as an illness will prevent him from doing on opening day what he has done for over 50 years.

Listed at 98 years old, Sheppard's enormous heart keeps beating, and he intends to return to the microphone sometime in April.

I say "listed at 98" because he had gone to great lengths in order to maintain the secrecy of his age. It was only disclosed as a result of an ex-Yankee employee's testimony.

Sheppard has unfortunately struggled through a bronchial infection for quite some time now, and is unsure of a finite recovery date.

As much a symbol of the Yankee organization as George Steinbrenner, Sheppard has been given the honor of a dining area being named after him in the new stadium.

One of my first Yankee Stadium memories was Sheppard announcing my childhood idol Don Mattingly batting third and playing first base:

"At first base...No. 23...Don Mattingly...No. 23."

Sheppard is so beloved in the Bronx that Derek Jeter refused to be announced by anyone else following his departure due to illness.

The Yankees subsequently played a recording of Sheppard's voice introducing the Yankee shortstop, as if "The Voice of God" had never left:

I had the great pleasure to attend the final game ever played at the old Yankee Stadium on September 21, 2008.

During the farewell ceremonies, Sheppard made a surprise appearance on the outfield video screen.

The stadium grew silent, and every fan in the stands that day waited with baited breath to hear what he had to say.

Appearing in better shape than most had feared, Sheppard read a short poem about the stadium he loved and the franchise that looked up to him:

The new stadium will feel like an alien planet when fans show up on April 16 to watch the home opener. However, it would have at least sounded like home had Sheppard's voice carried over the stadium's speakers.

We will all miss hearing him for our own selfish reasons as the season begins, but all we can hope for is his speedy and complete recovery.

Here's to you, Mr. Sheppard.

You are the game's best PA announcer, but most of all you are a great man.

Tigers Release Former Yankee Gary Sheffield with 499 Home Runs


The Detroit Tigers have released Gary Sheffield today, just one home run shy of a hallowed milestone.

Sheffield was hoping to become just the 25th member of the 500 home run club.

It is a feat which once automically enshrined a player in Cooperstown before the backlash of the steroid era.

A fiery competitor who is menacing with a bat in his hand, Sheffield was one of the league's most dangerous hitters for well over a decade.

It is uncertain what logo Sheffield will have displayed on his helmet when he jogs the bases for the 500th time.

However, there is a part of me that hopes it is with the Cleveland Indians on April 16.

What better way to kick off the legacy of the new Yankee Stadium than with a milestone home run in its first regular season game?

It would be interesting to see how an abuser of performance enhancing drugs would be received in Yankee Stadium after reaching a respected power landmark.

Sheffield could perhaps help to foreshadow the reaction of Yankee fans on the day Alex Rodriguez hits No. 763.

I'm sorry, but i couldn't resist.

Jonathan Albaladejo Beats Out Tomko, Aceves for Roster Spot

According to Yankees manger Joe Girardi, Jonathan Albaladejo has earned himself a spot in the bullpen and on the 25-man roster.

Acquired in a trade with the Washington Nationals last offseason for pitching prospect Tyler Clippard, Albaladejo is now in his second season in pinstripes.

Though he has certainly earned his place after posting a 0.93 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in nine appearances, the reasoning is a bit of an enigma.

By selecting Albaladejo for the roster, the Yankees cannot find room for Brett Tomko, Alfredo Aceves, or Dan Giese.

This leaves the team without a long relief option, which becomes an issue as a result of Joba Chamberlain's perceived innings limit.

While Giese and Aceves struggled for most of the spring, Tomko pitched with the poise and consistency expected of a veteran pitcher.

Tomko pitched to a 1.17 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. He also produced a 6:1 strikeout/walk ratio, and showed the ability to spot start in the event of an unexpected injury.

I understand that Tomko's numbers occurred in spring training games, and should not be taken too seriously.

The problem is, Albaladejo's did as well, and he does not have the experience or polished mechanics of a veteran like Tomko.

In just seven appearances with the Yankees last season, Albaladejo walked six batters. This is a quality in a reliever that does nothing but raise a manager's blood pressure.

It will be interesting to see how the bullpen is affected by Girardi's decision, but I would not be surprised if Albaladejo's stay is shorter than he had hoped.

Adjustments can be made at any time, and a long man from the minor leagues is just a phone call away.

Monday, March 30, 2009

UPDATE: Andy Pettitte Dominates in Final Spring Tune-up

Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte was spending most of his spring pitching against Minor League talent in Florida.

Pettitte tested his progression against the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday, and appeared in midseason form.

In facing the majority of the Blue Jays opening day lineup, Pettitte was given a reliable barometer on where he stood.

In giving up five hits and one run over 6 2/3 innings, he proved to be more than ready for his first start of the big league season.

Pettitte recorded a remarkable 15 of his 20 outs on ground balls or strikeouts.

This shows how much movement his pitches generated, and how consistently he threw on a downward plane.

Pettitte's best pitch, the cutter, was giving Blue Jays hitters daymares throughout the early afternoon.

He walked no one on the day, displaying the mastery of his command.

Pettitte will make his Yankee Stadium debut in an exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs, which should be a very exciting weekend in the Bronx.

He is currently scheduled to make his first regular season appearance on April 10 against the Kansas City Royals.

The Yankees will be in excellent shape if Pettitte's arm is in good enough condition to pitch for a full season the way he began 2008.

After beating the Boston Red Sox on Jul 26, Pettitte had accumulated a 12-7 record and 3.76 ERA.

Arm fatigue caused him to lose velocity and command, and he finished the season 14-14 with a 4.54 ERA.

There seems to be some magic left in Pettitte's clutch left shoulder. Let's just hope he saves some for September and October.

Xavier Nady, George McFly from Back to the Future: Separated at Birth?

Whenever I watched a pregame or postgame interview involving Yankees outfielder Xavier Nady, something seemed familiar.

In an odd instance of déjà vu, I was given the notion that I had seen this all before.

After months of pondering, the thought completely slipped from my mind. It was not worth analyzing something so trivial any longer.

Then I met with a few of my friends to watch the cult classic film Back to the Future.

The movie of course starred Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, but another prominent actor caught my attention.

Crispin Glover, otherwise known as George McFly, gave me that same strange feeling of déjà vu.

Bearing a distinguished family resemblance, Nady and Glover must at worst be distant cousins.

Add a helmet to Glover’s head and shave Nady’s facial growth, and the likeness becomes even more alarming.

Perhaps the similarity also stems from the way the two enunciate their words, particularly the “s” sounds.

Ironically, I was also able to get my hands on Crispin Glover giving a sports report with exclusively baseball updates. It is the perfect tie-in to getting my point across.

If VH1 were to do a Where Are They Now?: Crispin Glover episode, they would not have to look far to find his whereabouts.

Glover is in fact posing as a backup right fielder on the Yankees 25-man roster.

If he is in fact Xavier Nady, we can all thank Michael J. Fox for Glover’s increased confidence.

By knocking out bully and Back to the Future nemesis Biff Tannen, Glover (McFly) got the woman of his dreams.

Glover’s newfound confidence and swagger led him to the baseball diamond, where he now felt untouchable.

The days of swinging through breaking balls and cowering away from hard fastballs had finally ceased to exist.

Glover could now realize his full potential, eventually being drafted by the San Diego Padres in the second round of the MLB draft.

He clawed his way into the Padres lineup in 2003, and the rest is history.

Though obviously intended to generate a few laughs and poke fun at Nady, I certainly would love to have a No. 22 Yankee jersey with “McFly” written across the back.

First Personal Look at the NEW Yankee Stadium: April 2nd

After purchasing tickets to the Yankees April 22 game against the Oakland Athletics, I was excited to guarantee an April visit to the new stadium.

Today, I was given the opportunity to enter through the stadium's gold-labeled gates three weeks earlier.

Prior to their scheduled exhibition games with the Chicago Cubs on April 3 and 4, the Yankees will hold a private workout on April 2.

A season ticket holder graciously gave me two tickets to the workout, ensuring that I witness the first ever team workout across the street from "The House that Ruth Built."

If I am able to get my hands on a quality digital camera sometime this week, I hope to bring back some great shots to share with all of you.

Stay tuned, as I will at the very least be writing about my experiences.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

R.I.P. Yankee Stadium: A Picture Truly IS Worth 1000 Words

Here lies "The House That Ruth Built" (1923-2008):

(Picture Courtesy of This Purist Bleeds Pinstripes)

At this time of the year, Yankee Stadium's grass typically appeared as green and fresh as a warm summer day.

It was almost time for baseball season, and the Bronx would once again be alive with chants, rants, cheers, and boos.

In 2009, however, the tradition will be carried across the street to the new Yankee Stadium.

It is otherwise referred to as "The House That Steroids Built", "The Eighth Wonder of the World", or "Steinbrenner's Last Gasp"; depending on my mood.

The concept of a picture being worth 1000 words is a severe understatement in this case.

The above photo is worth a never-ending novel filled with timeless memories, reflections, and the disbelief that it is truly over.

Symbolic of a grave site for a fallen hero, the shell of the original Yankee Stadium appears more similar to the ruins of the Roman Coliseum than a place just six months removed from game action.

If not for the rounded outfield fence and sharp contrast in color between the dirt and lifeless grass, it would be difficult to determine what sport was played here.

It is truly depressing to see how a structure that provided the heartbeat for an entire city could decompose so quickly without care and a watchful eye.

It is fitting that the brightest section of the stadium lies beyond the outfield wall, where countless home runs landed off the bats of the game’s greatest players.

The Yankees will ensure that new storybook endings are created as soon as possible. However, it will take decades to recapture the essence of history and tradition that the old stadium represented.

This photo symbolizes the rapid fall of the most recent Yankee dynasty. All that remains from the best of times are Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte.

Even the great George Steinbrenner has lost the ability to make his mark on the proud franchise.

The new stadium is as much a tribute to all that Steinbrenner represented as it is to the greatest team in sports history.

I eagerly anticipate the day that I first walk through the gates across the street, and officially become a part of the dawning of a new legacy in the Bronx.

Either way, seeing what has happened to what I once called my second home, it is hard not to succumb to the growing urge to wear black.

Fantasy Baseball Draft #2

This time I was involved with a 14-team live draft with Bleacher Report editors and writers.

The extra teams diluted the rosters, but it should make baseball knowledge and value picks more important.

I drafted from the 6th position. My fantasy roster is as follows:

C - Chris Iannetta
1B - Derek Lee
2B - Mike Aviles
3B - Miguel Cabrera
SS - Orlando Cabrera
OF - Jason Bay
OF - Matt Holliday
OF - Adam Dunn
Util - Pat Burrell
Bench - Jason Giambi
Bench - Akinori Iwamura
Bench - Mike Lowell
Bench - Taylor Teagarden

SP - Josh Beckett
SP - Dan Haren
RP - Jonathan Broxton
RP - Matt Lindstrom
P - John Danks
P - Jair Jurrjens
P - Joe Saunders
Bench - George Sherrill
Bench - JJ Putz

Considering the amount of teams in the league and my draft position, I feel that I acquired enough superstars and value selections to have a successful year.

While my offense is a blend of seasoned veterans and young players oozing with potential, the pitching staff is comprised of virtually all juvenile arms.

Danks and Saunders are coming off of breakout seasons, and are poised to improve in their progressions. The two left-handers combined for a 29-16 record in 2006, and both exhibited excellent control.

Rookie closers Broxton and Lindstrom consistently throw 95-98 with excellent depth on their breaking pitches. It remains to be seen if they can truly stomach the pressure of the 9th inning.

I have just realized that i have only drafted a total of one Yankee in my two drafts (Robinson Cano).

Their big names usually cause them to be taken above their valued draft slots, or are chosen in the first few rounds before I am given a chance to select them.

Don't worry, my confidence is still high regarding the 2009 New York Yankees...even if my fantasy roster does not reflect it.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bern Baby Bern: Williams’ Burning Desire for Baseball Relit

According to reporters, former Yankee outfielder Bernie Williams is mulling over a return to the game he once could not live without.

Apparently he is finding it harder and harder to stay separated from baseball still to this day.

Claiming that he is in playing shape, Williams firmly believes in his heart that he can help a Major League contender as a role player.

At 40 years of age, Williams’ body and energy levels have clearly seen better days. However, his will and desire appear to be as strong as ever.

Williams originally intended to use the World Baseball Classic as a gauge for his condition and skill set.

Playing for team Puerto Rico would be an audition for his own ego, proving that he still had something left in the tank.

Though Williams was only able to collect two walks during an 0-5 tournament run, he felt increasingly confident each time he stepped foot onto the field.

Swinging a bat that appeared to be 5 oz. heavier than he once remembered, he looked every bit of 40 years old in the batter’s box.

Bat speed would slowly return as a result of increased repetitions and workouts, but there is a larger problem that Williams must face and accept.

The legs that once made him the most fluid first to third baserunner in a Yankee uniform have long since abandoned him.

While attempting to score from second on a base hit during the WBC, Williams was embarrassingly late sliding into home.

He simply looked like a man who belonged in a coach’s box next to first base as opposed to leading off of it.

Williams was a player any father would be proud to have his son or daughter look up to. He represented all that was right with the game of baseball, and seemed to never take a false step.

As clutch a playoff performer during the dynasty years as any player in pinstripes, Williams deserves a better finale than a failed comeback in his 40s.

Rumors of an abusive interaction with a female at a Puerto Rican nightclub should make his decision much easier.

Disappear from the bright lights of Major League Baseball. Disappear from the constant media scrutiny that has swallowed up countless of your teammates in the past.

Williams is a brilliant musician, and is anticipating the release of his new album on April 14th entitled “Moving Forward”.

Ironically, this is exactly what Williams himself needs to do with regards to his playing career.

Keep moving forward Bernie. Leave baseball in the past. Keep moving forward.

The Bronx Is Burning on MSG

The hit mini series The Bronx is Burning will once again return to your television sets.

Premiering on April 5 on MSG, fans will get a second chance to view the turbulent rises and falls of the 1977 'Bronx Zoo'.

From Billy Martin's outbursts to Reggie Jackson's three home run World Series game, the series captures the true essence of what Yankee baseball was like during the Summer of Sam.

The re-runs will include the addition of new interviews and reactions from players that experienced the memories first hand, and will give a further glimpse into the era.

Below is the show's introduction, beginning with a small teaser of what to expect within the volatile relationship of George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin:

I would certainly suggest tuning in at 9 PM on Sundays to check it out. It truly is an excellent program, and the new interviews are sure to be intriguing.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Derek Jeter to Lead Off: Manager Joe Girardi Makes an Interesting Switch

Derek Jeter has always been No. 1 in the hearts of every Yankee fan in the Bronx and across the globe.

However, he has always been associated with No. 2 in scorecards and anything associated with a baseball diamond.

Proudly wearing No. 2 on the back of a pinstriped jersey, he has also hit second in the Yankee lineup for seemingly his entire career.

In this tough economy, apparently even The Captain needs to ‘set the table’.

The move further hammers home the concept of Brett Gardner winning the center field spot.

Joe Girardi can now break up the back-to-back lefties of Gardner and Damon as the lineup turns over.

Jeter has generally had a much higher on-base percentage during his career than Damon. Jeter has posted a career .387 OBP in comparison to Damon’s .354 OBP.

Damon’s power numbers also add a greater dynamic to the No. 2 hole, as he can better protect Mark Teixeira.

Another interesting stat which helps to tell the story is the risk of the double play.

During their careers, Jeter has grounded into 195 double plays as opposed to only 73 for Damon. Both have played 13 full seasons in the Major Leagues.

These numbers are staggering, and have gone overlooked for quite some time.

Damon’s leadoff prowess and propensity to generate walks was being compromised by Jeter’s inability to avoid killing rallies with a ground ball.

An alarming 45 of his 195 double plays were created during the last two seasons alone.

Joe Girardi is attempting to ensure Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez (when healthy) as many RBI opportunities as possible in 2009.

Jeter strikes out at a higher rate than the typical leadoff hitter, but his savvy baserunning and ability to get on base should help to counteract that.

Fans and scouts had been calling for Jeter to be moved for quite some time now.

However, they had their sights set on the outfield, DH, or first base as opposed to the leadoff spot in the batting order.

Jeter’s range has declined in recent years, and the World Baseball Classic seemed to emphasize the point as athletically gifted Jimmy Rollins outshined him drastically.

Girardi has done a very smart thing here, and it should help to maximize the productivity of the revamped Yankee lineup.

As the Captain and unquestionable face of the franchise, no one else should step to the plate first in the new Yankee Stadium other than Jeter:

“Now batting…for the New York Yankees…number two…Derek Jee-tah…number two.”

It will be nice to hear Bob Shepherd announce New York’s opening day leadoff hitter.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Brett Gardner: Your 2009 New York Yankees Starting Center Fielder

According to Alden Gonzalez of Yankees.com, FOX Sports is reporting that Melky Cabrera is once again being dangled as trade bait across the league.

Widely considered a step behind Brett Gardner in the race for the center field job for 2009, Cabrera is apparently no longer considered worthy of a roster spot.

This guarantees Gardner the permanent role for the upcoming season, as the team seems very reluctant to turn to Nick Swisher for the position.

Performing admirably thus far in the spring, Cabrera hit .295 with an impressive .392 on-base percentage in 17 games.

Though his confidence appears restored, he has been dwarfed by Gardner’s torrid performance.

Hitting .409 with a staggering .469 OBP, Gardner has also shown consistent gap power. He has collected seven extra base hits, while leading the team with a .750 slugging percentage.

Gardner’s speed has already changed the entire dynamic of the Yankee lineup, and has added a dimension not available since Rickey Henderson manned New York’s outfield.

I am by no means carving Gardner’s bust for Cooperstown, or comparing his skill set to that of Henderson’s.

In terms of pure speed, however, Gardner has a similar ability to completely disrupt a battery’s rhythm and comfort level.

If the reports are accurate, it can only be assumed that the Yankees have become enamored with the play of “center fielder of the future” Austin Jackson this spring.

Jackson was sent back to the minors hours after hitting a monstrous grand slam against the Red Sox on Tuesday, but a quote from Yankees manager Joe Girardi after the game was telling.

Girardi essentially stated that he would not at all be surprised if Jackson was back with the ‘big club’ in 2009. Jackson’s 3 HR and 10 RBI spring was enough to turn heads fast enough to create whiplash.

If his accelerated progression has given the Yankees confidence in his post all-star break status, Cabrera is even more expendable.

The question now is…will anyone bite on Cabrera? His spring renaissance should result in a few nibbles, but what should the Yankees honestly expect in return?

Girardi seems committed to Cody Ransom at third base while Alex Rodriguez rehabilitates his surgically ‘repaired’ hip.

However, if a package of Cabrera and an ‘Alan Horne type’ could net the Yankees a proven setup reliever, it would be difficult not to accept.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, and what Girardi and GM Brian Cashman’s reactions to the report will be.

Cabrera’s time in the Bronx may soon be over, but it appears that center field has been left in good hands for 2009 and beyond.

Yankee Stadium's Food Menu

  • Bazzini nuts

  • Carl's Steaks

  • Carvel Ice Cream

  • Cracker Jack

  • Famous Famiglia Pizza

  • French's Mustard

  • Hebrew National

  • Heinz Ketchup

  • Mike's Arthur Avenue Italian Deli, featuring zeppoli and antipasto

  • Nathan's Famous, serving hot dogs in natural casing

  • New York Pretzel

  • Premio Sausage, serving grilled coiled sausages

  • Poland Spring Water

  • Tyson chicken

  • Utz Potato Chips

Stadium Debuts:

  • Boar's Head made-to-order deli sandwich stand, including soups and salads

  • Brother Jimmy's BBQ

  • Dunkin' Donuts Coffee

  • Highlanders traditional ballpark food with a New York flair, including hot dogs with sauerkraut and "pushcart" onions

  • Johnny Rockets

  • Lobel's of New York

  • Moe's Southwest Grill

  • Otis Spunkmeyer

  • Pepsi Cola Products, including Lipton Iced Tea, Tropicana Lemonade and Gatorade

  • Tommy Bahama's Bar serving mixed drinks

  • Turkey Hill Ice Cream

New Cuisine:

  • Garlic Fries stand, a staple of West Coast ballparks

  • Latin Corner, serving hot-pressed Cuban sandwiches, nachos and burritos

  • Noodle Bowls stand with other Asian-inspired items

  • Soy Kitchen sushi and salads

  • Triple Play Grill, offering beef and chicken sliders, and Lobel's steak sandwiches

Healthy Alternatives and Specialty Items:

  • Melissa's, a traditional farmers market, carrying fresh fruits and vegetables

  • Various Glatt Kosher options

Child-Friendly Options:

  • The Big Apple stand, offering candy, caramel and chocolate-dipped apples

  • Dale and Thomas popcorn stand

  • Kids Cart with school-lunch favorites and smaller-portion items, such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, milk, small hot dogs and Kozy Shack Pudding

Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry: Avis Commercial

There has been nothing better than commercials presented by Major League Baseball in the last few months.

Dustin Pedroia's MLB '09 commercial, Tim Lincecum/Randy Johnson's MLB 2K9 spot, and Jimmy Rollins' classic Dick's Sporting Goods ad have all been featured on this blog.

While watching the YES Network last night during the Yankees-Red Sox spring training telecast, I was reminded of another instant classic from a year ago:

That is absolutely priceless. A perfect representation of how sports rivalries can spill over into work and one's personal life.

The look on the struggling Red Sox supporter's face when he realizes what is happening is nothing short of hilarious.

Thank you to YES for bringing back an oldie to make me laugh just as hard as last season.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A.J. Burnett Nearly Perfect Against Red Sox

In a game that may be forgotten before writers' heads hit their pillows tonight, A.J. Burnett showed Boston no spring training mercy.

Consistently pounding the strike zone with an eye-popping breaking ball and 95 MPH heater, Burnett made sure that the Red Sox lineup will not sleep quite as soundly.

Boston's socks began to take on a shade of green by the end of Burnett's outing, as they became envious of the Yankees new flamethrower.

Tim Wakefield was equally as impressive for the Red Sox, whose knuckleball is the hardest pitch to center during the spring.

This is of no concern to New York, as they have historically roughed up Wakefield over the years.

Burnett's 2008 dominance over Boston has spilled over into another masterful performance on Tuesday night.

Though I have stated countless times that spring results are as useless as the Atkins diet, Burnett has been as consistently solid as any starter in the league.

He was able to spot fastballs on either corner, bend his curve against the laws of gravity, and keep all of his pitches down in the zone.

Burnett tired as his pitch count rose up to and above the night's anticipated total of 75, but he did everything expected of him and more over the first 5+ innings.

If he was able to stay healthy for 30+ starts in 2009, it is easy to see why the Yankees are so excited about their rotation.

A pitching staff is as strong as its weakest links, and the Yankees only potential speed bump may be ligaments and tendons as opposed to ERA and WHIP.

In case you were wondering, center field candidate Brett Gardner continued his scorching spring by collecting yet another triple.

Gardner went first to third like he was shot out of a cannon, and reminded yet again of what his speed brings to the Yankee lineup.

Seconds later, he read a chopper off the bat of Johnny Damon in order to score from third base. Virtually any other Yankee would have been gunned down by 15-20 feet.

It is truly a shame that it is only March 24. The Yankees are playing fantastic baseball, and appear ready to start the games that count.

Xavier Nady: Your 2009 Yankee RF? Or Simply Being Showcased?

According to Yankees Manager Joe Girardi, Xavier Nady has a leg up for the starting job in RF.

Coming as a surprise to many including myself, Girardi has appeared to have gone against his heart by not sticking with personal favorite Nick Swisher.

Instead, the Yankees brass decided to think in terms of July 31 as opposed to April 6.

Swisher is the more dynamic offensive player, possessing more power and the ability to hit successfully from both sides of the plate.

Defensively, Swisher has greater range and the tendency to get dirty to make an inning-changing play.

Nady is more than adequate as a defensive outfielder, but lacks the hard-nosed mindset to commit to sacrificing his body. He has always been perceived as a glider as opposed to a sprinter.

It is clear that 2008 was a season Swisher could not have cooked up even in his worst nightmares.

He managed to hit just .219, and seemed lost at the plate in his first year in Chicago. He generated just 69 RBIs and 21 doubles, the lowest such totals of his career.

However, Swisher still managed to post a higher American League OBP than Nady in 2008.

Nady had a .320 OBP in New York, as opposed to Swisher’s .332 OBP in Chicago. This is a telling stat considering the abnormally low batting average Swisher carried.

Nady was able to capitalize off of one superb half of baseball in Pittsburgh in order to skyrocket his worth.

The Yankees are now hoping he can do the same in the first half of 2009.

With Swisher under contract through the end of 2011, Nady is the expendable piece in a crowded Yankee OF puzzle.

If the Yankees are to receive solid trade value in return for Nady, he will have to play on a consistent basis.

By handing him the starting RF job before the end of spring training, they will hope to jumpstart his confidence heading into April.

The Yankees would have traded Nady months ago had the right opportunity presented itself.

However, the discounted prices teams received for Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, and Raul Ibanez severely crippled their chances of finding interested suitors.

A salary dump is always available, but GM Brian Cashman is in no hurry to give away a valuable player for nothing more than minor league journeyman.

If Nady is hitting .300 or above heading into July, teams will come calling in droves for his services. Cashman will be ready to listen, likely in search of ML-ready bullpen help for the stretch run.

Perhaps Girardi is making sure a lineup without Alex Rodriguez does not become left-hand dominant. Swisher has always generated much more power from the left side.

Ironically, Nady struggled last year against left-handed pitching. He hit only .262 against lefties in 2008, while his season average stood at .305.

If this trend continues, the Yankees may be left wondering what advantage Nady holds over Swisher.

Do not be surprised if this “victory” is no more than a marketing campaign for Nady’s services come July.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hughes Gives Minnesota Twins Their “Phil”

In cementing his place as the opening day starter for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in AAA, Phil Hughes gave Minnesota all they could handle and more.

Hughes lowered his spring ERA to an impressive 2.19, while limiting the Twins to just four base runners in 4 1/3 innings pitched.

Though he has struggled with the command of his fastball for much of the spring, the results and progression have been exactly what the Yankees have been waiting for.

Touted as the unquestionable “Ace” of the future, Hughes showed nothing but frailty and control problems in 2008.

It is nearly impossible to commit to memory that Hughes is just 22 years old. His name has been on the tip of all our tongues for seemingly a decade.

There is plenty of time to develop into what his vast potential foreshadows, but I wonder how long the impatient New York demographic will be willing to wait for him.

If Hughes is able to master his improving changeup, there is no telling how high his ceiling can rise.

His velocity may never reach the 95-96 that caused fans to salivate after reading internet reports, but it may not have to.

If he can spot a 91-92 MPH fastball on the corners while throwing his above-average curveball for strikes, he can blossom into a No. 3 starter.

Mixing in the command of a deceptive changeup could make the difference in Hughes eventually becoming a top of the rotation starter.

If nothing else, Yankee fans can have confidence in their current No. 6 starter. In the event that AJ Burnett or Andy Pettitte misses a string of starts, Hughes could fill in without a major drop-off in production.

Hughes may not be ready to pitch a full season at the Major League level, but he seems more than adequate to act as an injury replacement for a handful of turns.

Another highly-regarded Yankee prospect had a memorable moment on Friday. Center Field prospect Austin Jackson crushed his second home run of the spring.

He average currently stands at .303, and he has started to show why New York thinks so highly of him.

Like any young hitter, Jackson has struggled with pitch selection and top-notch breaking pitches. He added two strikeouts to his team leading 11 thus far this spring.

Jackson has struck out in one-third of his plate appearances, while also working only two walks.

He has a lot of work to do, but has shown the tools to develop into a solid everyday player by 2011.

The media will focus on the big names and even bigger contracts associated with them, and rightfully so.

However, it is exciting to see the minor league pipeline begin to tease us all with its talent pool.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Burnett NOT a Control Freak After All

AJ Burnett had not walked a batter during spring training entering Thursday night's action.

That all changed once he was forced to pitch against his former Toronto Blue Jay teammates, as he walked three batters and ran deep counts to many others.

Burnett struggled mightily with his location all night, managing to escape jams with fortunately placed ground balls.

He ran his pitch count up early, forcing himself out of the game after just 3 1/3 innings.

He has always been a pitcher with a solid strikeout/walk ratio, though it was due to his typically impressive strikeout totals more than his control.

Burnett was typically a pitcher that was described as "wild within the strike zone". This is a phrase usually reserved for pitchers with great stuff that never figured out how to spot their fastballs.

Alterations to his mindset and mechanics have changed that stigma, and he has been much more effective at hitting corners.

Burnett had been displaying pinpoint accuracy reminiscent of David Wells and Mike Mussina thus far as a Yankee.

Every pitcher has a bad day.

Burnett's was minimized by some leftover Irish luck and a decimated Blue Jay lineup. The middle of their order is without Alex Rios, Scott Rolen, and Vernon Wells, unquestionably their three best hitters.

Burnett was able to struggle and work on adjustments without the embarrassing finale of walking off the mound to a 6-0 deficit.

It is very rewarding to keep your team in the game without dominating stuff. Some pitchers will say that they are the most rewarding victories of all.

Burnett may not be a control freak, but he will be fine in NY as long as he manages to control his unpredictable injury history.

Hideki Matsui Throws Final Wrench in Yankee Lineup Options

The New York Yankees came into 2009 with more depth on offense than any year since Darryl Strawberry came off the bench.

With the acquisition of Nick Swisher and the emergence of Brett Gardner in CF, Joe Girardi had countless ways to mix and match a powerful offensive attack.

The signing of Mark Teixeira, however, was the first spark in an eventual flame out of Girardi’s plans.

It is impossible to question the signing of a dynamite offensive leader in his prime who also possesses top-notch defensive prowess.

Teixeira will exponentially improve the Yankees, and is everything Brian Cashman looks for in a potential signing.

The problem is not in his ability. The problem lies in the position that he plays.

By bringing in a 1B that absolutely must play every day for the Yankees to reach their full potential, they in turn eliminated their lineup flexibility.

Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada will no longer be able to cling to 1B as a security blanket, ensuring themselves 75-100 extra at-bats.

As a result, Xavier Nady and Swisher must battle for playing time on a game to game basis.

Swisher seems to have won over Girardi with his attitude and work ethic, leaving Nady uncertain of his ultimate role.

The flexibility issues have magnified themselves with a hip injury to Alex Rodriguez, as well as reports that Hideki Matsui will be unable to play the field until at least June.

The Yankees now have three of their best power threats in Rodriguez, Matsui, and Posada nursing injuries that could leave them in need of temporary DH duty.

While Swisher or Nady losing playing time should not knock fans out of their recliners, losing one of the keys to Yankee success each night would be a crushing blow.

All signs are pointing to Rodriguez being the most likely to return to his everyday role.

If Posada is unable to catch consistently when the season opens, or at any point before Matsui can return to the outfield, the Yankees should be concerned.

With Rodriguez out, Matsui becomes the Yankees only true everyday option at cleanup hitter.

Matsui is able to drive the ball, work the count, get on base, and drive in runs. He has also done it before in the cleanup spot very successfully in New York.

He is simply too good to keep out of the lineup when healthy.

There were clear signs that his knees felt strong as he rotated on them to crush a deep home run into the night on Tuesday. He also ripped a double down the right field line.

Matsui’s importance leaves the Yankees in a terrible spot in the event Posada cannot catch 120 games.

It appears that the same issues that haunted the lineup in 2008 could affect this year’s team.

The Yankees could be left trying to fit squares pegs into a round hole if they cannot successfully heal from injuries.

The pitching staff should be able to hold the Yankees afloat until the summer months, but the pennant race will require them to be firing on all cylinders.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fantasy Baseball Roster

I drafted my first roster of the year about a week ago in a league of OPEN Sports employees.

Some of you may not know players on my team, but likely every player you don't know is/was playing in the World Baseball Classic.

It specifically opened my eyes to some solid and unknown relievers.

I was drafting from the 9th position in a 12-team league.

Here it is:

C - Geovany Soto
1B - Kevin Youkilis
2B - Robinson Cano
3B - David Wright
SS - Troy Tulowitzki
OF - Alfonso Soriano
OF - Mark DeRosa
OF - Justin Upton
Util - Carlos Delgado
Bench - Joey Votto
Bench - Melvin Mora
Bench - Orlando Cabrera

SP - Brandon Webb
SP - Jon Lester
RP - Jonathan Broxton
RP - Joel Hanrahan
P - Roy Oswalt
P - Ted Lilly
P - John Danks
Bench - Fausto Carmona
Bench - Brad Ziegler

I am counting on the continued progression of Danks, Soto, Broxton, Votto, and Lester to develop from very good into great.

I am also expecting big bounceback seasons from former stars Robinson Cano and Alfonso Soriano.

Fausto Carmona and Troy Tulowitzki were drafted as solid value picks in very late rounds considering their 2007 breakout campaigns.

If Justin Upton can follow in his brother BJ's footsteps and fully realize the vast potential he showed during parts of 2008, he could prove to be a big wild card for my roster's success.

Four-Leaf Closer: Mariano Rivera Starts Strong on St. Patrick’s Day

St Patrick’s Day is a celebration filled with green top hats, clovers, leprechauns, pots of gold, and plenty of Guinness for those over 21.

The Yankees received none of this, but were able to follow up four dominant innings by CC Sabathia with the debut of their best “re-leaf” pitcher.

Rivera’s entrance was exactly what we would all expect from a man whose only weaknesses are kryptonite and Edgar Martinez.

Coming off of “minor shoulder surgery”, which should be a term outlawed when referencing pitchers, Rivera was nothing short of spectacular.

He cruised through a 1-2-3 inning while collecting two strikeouts, looking prepared to close the first save opportunity at the new Yankee Stadium.

More importantly, Rivera was clocked anywhere from 90-92 MPH on most pitches. He is still building arm strength, and a velocity in the vicinity of last year’s during his first outing is fantastic.

Rivera’s mechanics were smooth as always, proving that he did not need to overexert himself to reach the 90s.

Although Sabathia may not allow Rivera to finish some of his games this season, it was exciting to see the two pitch back-to-back.

They are both strike throwing machines, without being wild within the strike zone. They can spot their fastball virtually anywhere they want, and will rarely go deep into counts.

It is Sabathia’s ability to control his pitch count that may lead to a few extra days off for the Yankees immortal closer.

Rivera is the lifeblood of the Yankee pitching staff, and has been for a decade. Any re-injury of his pitching shoulder could result in a lost season for New York.

However, the Yankees contingency plan in the event of losing Rivera is seemingly set in stone.

Citing three Yankee officials, the New York Post reported that Joba Chamberlain would again vacate his rotation spot to play savior.

Although it is the logical response following two untouchable years in the bullpen, it is interesting to attempt to dig into the Yankee mindset.

Does this mean that Joba will permanently become the Yankees closer once Rivera retires in a few seasons? Would an eventual trade or free agent signing be their preferred path?

There is one more inquiry that is even more intriguing.

Would the Yankees thrust Joba back into the rotation if AJ Burnett, Sabathia, Chien-Ming Wang, or Andy Pettitte also missed any significant time?

Joba needs to know where he stands.

He needs to be confident once and for all whether he is destined to be the next Curt Schilling or Mariano Rivera. He needs to know if he is a starter or a closer.

Joba is a starter heading into 2009, and Rivera knows it is up to him to keep it that way.

“Mo” has never let us down before, and he does not see a reason to start now.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

CC Sabathia Looks to Capture Luck of the Irish on St. Patrick's Day

CC Sabathia's previous spring training start was nothing short of a disaster.

He lasted only 1 2/3 innings while surrendering five earned runs on six hits.

This included a long home run off the bat of former Yankee slugger Gary Sheffield.

Luckily for Sabathia, spring statistics are as useless as a salad to him.

He will have two chances to find gold tonight on the mound, whether it be from a leprechaun or from his Pirate opponents.

Sabathia will pitch in his first televised game as a Yankee via a YES Network spring training telecast.

He will ironically do so on a day filled with almost as much green as is now overflowing from his wallet.

The results may not mean much of anything, but it will be exciting to finally witness Sabathia firsthand in pinstripes.

This could be the start of a beautiful relationship.

Robinson Cano Felt Pressure Stretching Far Beyond Baseball

Without the Yankees, Robinson Cano never would have had the opportunity to represent the Dominican Republic.

Cano conceded as much after it was learned that he concealed an injury from Joe Girardi to play in the World Baseball Classic.

He appears remorseful. He appears above all else to have learned his lesson.

However, Cano pointed to an interesting catalyst for his secrecy: PRESSURE.

Pressure is a word commonly associated with sports and its prized athletes, but it is a word that takes on a much different connotation within the context of international competition.

Cano was not feeling pressure to perform for a stadium of 50,000 fans. He was not pressured to play for a large contract to support his family for generations to come.

Cano was feeling the weight of approximately 9.5 million Dominican citizens on his shoulders. They are citizens as passionate about the game of baseball as anything else in their lives.

Cano is not only an example and role model for Dominicans. He also represents countless black and Spanish-speaking cultures throughout the United States.

It is hard for many of us to understand what he is going through. The United States is not as focused or committed to the WBC as other countries.

This disconnect is similar to recent years of international basketball competition, before a powerful rebirth of pride and nationalism during the Beijing Olympics.

While sports in the US are a form of entertainment or a means of escaping life’s problems, they take on a more powerful message outside of our borders.

In many countries, professional athletes symbolize the freedoms that their societies one day hope to achieve.

Sports are much more than entertainment here; they are a means of escaping a lower quality of life or a government that persecutes them.

Does this sound at all familiar to readers? It should remind you of what occurred in our own country during times of segregation and race wars.

Sports became much more than entertainment from the 40s through the 60s here as well.

They became a symbol of progression and equality. They provided a medium for viewing blacks and whites working together to achieve a common goal.

The bravery and determination displayed by Fritz Pollard, Earl Lloyd, Jackie Robinson, and Larry Doby may have been as instrumental in forcing change as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X’s efforts.

Black athletes were able to reach white audiences regardless of their beliefs. If whites wanted to support the Brooklyn Dodgers, they had to watch Jackie Robinson.

Now imagine if Doby, Willie Mays, or Robinson chose not to play on a roster composed of black stars.

The fans and culture that turned to them for hope would be left wondering how much they truly meant.

Athletes are never left wondering how much they mean to their international fans.

Watching the passion resonate throughout the stands during the Venezuela-Puerto Rico matchup was as exciting as the game played on the field.

Venezuelan fans even forcefully booed their own countryman Magglio Ordonez for his support of Hugo Chavez’s regime.

Athletes are more than role models in foreign countries; they can represent an influence and a powerful voice for the people of a nation in flux.

Cano was faced with much more than letting down his Dominican teammates. He was running the risk of turning his back on a nation that depends on people like him to make change.

It is very difficult for me to agree with Cano’s thought process in hiding an injury from the Yankees.

However, I find it even more difficult to fault him for following his heart.

Monday, March 16, 2009

UPDATE: Yankees Receive Good News on Cano, Marte Following MRI Exams

Enter Sandman.

No, not Mariano Rivera jogging to the mound to dominate another 9th inning.

Not the sounds of Metallica blasting throughout the stadium as fans scream song lyrics in unison.

I am talking about the other Sandman.

"The Sandman" has disguised himself as two very important MRI exams taken on the ailing shoulders of RP Damaso Marte and 2B Robinson Cano.

The entire Yankees organization will be able to sleep peacefully again tonight, as positive news was returned regarding both players' statuses.

Marte has simple inflammation in his pitching shoulder, and should be able to return without any long-lasting effects.

Cano has been diagnosed with shoulder bursitis, and is expected to take anti-inflammatory medication while rehabilitating. He could return to action as early as Friday.

It is very intriguing that Cano said he felt pressured to participate in the World Baseball Classic.

He felt discomfort in the arm dating back to before he left Tampa for the Dominican roster. However, he never mentioned it to the Yankees in order to avoid being perceived as backing out.

Cano has promised to be forthright in the future regarding his injuries, and understands that the Yankees hold first priority.

The secrecy is alarming, but I trust that Cano will not make this same mistake twice.

Cano and Marte to be Re-Examined Today

Robinson Cano and Damaso Marte returned home as damaged goods from the World Baseball Classic last week.

After their Dominican squad lost two gut-wrenching games to the Netherlands, the Yankees were informed that both players required medical examinations.

Initial reports claimed that Cano's throwing shoulder and Marte's chest were to blame for the concerns. It was later determined that Marte's own throwing shoulder was the body part in question.

While neither injured Yankee seems overly worried about their eventual diagnosis, it is never comforting to hear about arm injuries during spring training.

Players tend to exert themselves too much early on, causing injuries such as Cano's "shoulder tendinitis".

His throwing arm is his lead shoulder at the plate, and lingering tendinitis can affect his swing in the months to come.

In Marte's case, the reasons for concern any time a pitcher experiences arm trouble are self-explanatory.

He is vital to the Yankee bullpen success in 2009, especially with Joba Chamberlain's permanent switch over to the starting rotation.

After doctors determine the timetable for Cano and Marte's healthy returns, the Yankees will have a much better idea of how worried they truly should be.

Too many prolonged injuries before opening day could be a crushing blow to the team's confidence and hopes of achieving a 27th World Series title.

Replacing Cano with Angel Berroa would further shorten the depth of the lineup and widen the gap between the Yankees and their division rivals.

Let's hope it never comes to that.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Derek Jeter's Top 10 Yankee Moments Part 2: Countdown #5 - #1

5. Jeter Dives into the Stands

On July 1, 2004, Jeter made one of the most courageous defensive plays in Yankee history against the rivaled Red Sox.

He went on a full sprint toward the 3B line on a Trot Nixon popup, and made an excellent backhanded grab.

His momentum carried him three rows deep into the stands as Alex Rodriguez looked on as if to wonder, “How can a player be so selfless? He already got his big contract”.

As he emerged from the stands bloodied and bruised, Jeter won over even the most hateful of Boston fans.

4. Jeter Wins the 2000 World Series MVP

In capturing its fourth World Series title in a span of only five years, the Yankees defeated the New York Mets 4-1 in an overly hyped “subway series”.

Jeter hit .409 with a .480 on-base percentage, while also hitting two home runs and scoring six times.

“Captain Clutch” lived up to his nickname during the most important World Series victory of the dynasty years. If they won it was anticipated. If they lost, it was unforgivable.

3. Jeffrey Maier

During Game One of the 1996 ALCS, Jeter lifted a fly ball deep to right field.

It appeared to be headed for the stands. Then it appeared that Orioles RF Tony Tarasco had a beat on it.

Luckily for the Yankees, 12 year old Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier had brought his glove to the game that day.

He reached over the wall and pulled Jeter’s fly ball into his lap. After much protesting and deliberation, it was ruled a home run.

The Yankees continued their storybook season on their way to capturing they first title in 18 years.

2. “Mr. November”

Due to the September 11 attacks on New York City, the baseball season was stretched out longer than originally anticipated.

As a result, the World Series entered a month it had never seen before during a magical Game Four in the Bronx.

As the clock struck midnight during an extra inning game, it had officially become November 1, 2001.

Jeter then deposited an offering from Diamondbacks closer Byung-Hyun Kim over the right field wall for a walk-off homer.

Forever earning the nickname “Mr. November”, Jeter then tied the series at 2-2 and temporarily kept the team’s dreams alive.

1. “The Flip”

Jeter made his greatest defensive play as a Yankee during Game Three of the 2001 ALDS against the Oakland Athletics.

After a double down the right field line, Yankees OF Shane Spencer badly overthrew the cutoff man while attempting to stop a critical run from scoring.

Jeter came out of nowhere to scoop up the errant throw, and ultimately saved the Yankees from elimination by shoveling it to Jorge Posada for the out.

He had no business being in the area as a SS, but his instincts and playmaking ability took over.

FOX announcer Thom Brennaman's play-by-play:

"That is fair, down the right field line. Giambi on his way to third, and they're gonna wave him around! The throw misses the cutoff man—shovel to the plate! Out at the plate! Derek Jeter with one of the most unbelievable plays you will ever see by a shortstop!”

Derek Jeter's Top 10 Yankee Moments Part 1: Countdown #10 - #6

Derek Jeter has been one of the most beloved professional athletes in New York’s illustrious sports history.

He has also been one of the most respected athletes in the history of sports in general.

Jeter has been involved in countless moments that will live on forever, and be told to sons and grandsons for generations.

Though it is virtually impossible to break down Jeter’s 14-year career into just “The 10 Greatest Moments”, I will attempt to shoulder the burden as best I can.

There are many more that have slightly fallen short of the list, and may have even touched fans enough to make it their personal favorite.

Starting of course at #10 and counting down to #1, here are some of the moments that helped Jeter to capture our hearts (or ripped yours out and stomped on it):

10. Jeter Collects His 2000th Career Hit:

On May 26, 2006, Jeter chopped a slow-roller down the 3rd base line off of Royals SP Scott Elarton.

He beat it out for an infield single, and became the 8th Yankee to achieve the milestone.

It was fitting that Jeter did not reach 2000 hits with a home run, but in fact a soft single.

I was luckily and thankfully at the game.

9. Jeter Becomes “Captain” of the Bronx

On June 3, 2003, Jeter was crowned the 11th captain in New York Yankees history.

He was the only possible replacement for the beloved Don Mattingly, who vacated the position upon retirement in 1995.

Needless to say, he has lived up to his title time and time again.

8. Passes Lou Gehrig for Most Hits in Yankee Stadium History

Jeter passed Gehrig’s longstanding Yankee record on September 16 of last season by collecting his 1270th hit in the stadium.

He singled off of Chicago White Sox starter Gavin Floyd to reach the milestone.

The “Iron Horse” has grown accustomed to his hallowed records being broken, as the consecutive games played streak that earned him his nickname was surpassed by Cal Ripken in 1995.

7. Jeter's Girlfriends: Jealousy Personified

Jeter has proudly held New York’s “Most Eligible Bachelor” title for over a decade.

During that time he has dated some of the most beautiful girls to walk the Earth.

In order to save space and time, I have only selected six of the most famous and well known love affairs.

This picture collage includes Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Alba, and Vanessa Minnillo on the top row. The bottom row includes Jessica Biel, Mariah Carey, and former “Miss Universe” Lara Dutta.

Some may argue that this does not belong on Jeter’s top moments. Others may argue that these people are envious and bitter at Jeter’s ability to close.

6. Yankee Stadium Farewell Speech

No one else could have possibly delivered the final speech at “The House that Ruth Built”.

This stadium had seen some of the most memorable speeches in sports history, including Lou Gehrig’s emotional goodbye in which he stated he was “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

Jeter tapped into fans emotions during the speech, and gave over 80 years of memories their justice.

Providing a second home to many fans for their entire lives, the original stadium will never be forgotten.

Jimmy Rollins: Dick's Sporting Goods Commercial

It is a very rare occasion when the material on this blog is not Yankee related. However, this is one of the best advertisements on television right now.

Jimmy Rollins, starting SS of the World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies, is the star of a new Dick's ad campaign.

Whoever was the mastermind of this commercial is deserving of a Tom Cruise-like high five.

Without further adieu...I give you Jimmy Rollins. Watch and enjoy:

That absolutely never gets old. Now I know why the Phillies are my National League team. Well that, and because my great-grandfather pitched for them.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams Become 24-Hour Adversaries

During twelve magical seasons as Yankee teammates, Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams reached six World Series and captured four titles.

In a combined thirty seasons in pinstripes, they have become as much a symbol of Yankee success as the immortal superstars that preceded them.

Jeter and Williams's friendship and fame even landed them a guest appearance on Seinfeld:

On Saturday night, the two will have to put aside their storybook past in order to compete against each other. At stake is a leg up in the World Baseball Classic’s second round.

Williams’ Puerto Rican team will match up against Jeter’s USA squad in a game that could go a long way in determining the eventual champion.

With both rosters littered with talent, it could become a captivating game dripping with intensity.

It is well known that the tournament is compromised as a result of hitters working through mechanical flaws, and pitchers developing arm strength and velocity. Mandatory pitch counts have also been implemented for safety purposes.

However, it is clear that nationalism and pride have become as much a part of this tournament as balls and strikes.

It is surprising how much the WBC means to the players involved, but it has heightened the level of play. Fans outside of the United States have been as passionate as an Olympic competition.

There are solid Major League pitchers ready to go for both countries, so it could come down to who is able to manufacture a run or deliver in the clutch offensively.

If the outcome is decided in the final innings, it would be exciting to watch Jeter and Williams given opportunities to win the game.

In his first professional action in over two years on Monday, Williams naturally looked uncomfortable at the plate.

Williams was able to work a walk, but seemed incapable of catching up to or turning on the inside fastball.

He was thrown out by a mile in attempting to score from second base on a single, showing that his 40 year old legs still need a little conditioning.

It will be strange for Jeter to stare across the field and see Williams in the opposing dugout. He was also forced to face his Yankee teammates in an exhibition game two weeks ago.

Saturday will represent the most important game that both will be a part of since Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS against Boston.

Let’s hope the outcome is slightly more positive and competitive this time around.

Cody Ransom: Athletic Freak? Damon and YouTube Say Yes

New York Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon barely hesitated long enough for the reporter's question to be completed before he tossed his answer forward.

When asked to name the most athletic player on the entire Yankee roster, Damon emphatically answered, "Cody Ransom."

After the reporter seemed slightly taken aback by his response, Damon added, "Have you been to YouTube yet?"

Well, I certainly hadn't spent my free time searching for all the available Cody Ransom video footage, and I'm sure many of you haven't as well.

Here is some of the video evidence that Cody Ransom is in fact a freak of nature:

5 Foot Jump Without a Running Start:

4 1/2 Foot Jump:

Ransom is not just jumping five feet high off of one step; he is actually landing on top of a five foot high platform.

With the aid of a running start and the ability to kick his legs out to maximize height, who knows what he is capable of.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cano Returns Home: Dominican WBC Ride Ends in Heartbreak

After a second straight mind-blowing upset at the hands of The Netherlands, the roster of the Dominican Republic returned home with their tales tucked between their legs.

The Dominican team held the weight on their shoulders of a nation as passionate about the game of baseball as any other in the world.

The looks on their faces told the entire story as Netherlands outfielder Eugene Kingsale crossed home plate for the winning run in an epic extra-inning affair.

The Dominican Republic was not supposed to simply beat the Dutch team; they were supposed to annihilate them.

The loss left them with an eerie feeling of déjà vu, and sealed their fate as the second and final team eliminated from Pool D.

The Netherlands has become an instantaneously ally of the “Evil Empire” in the Bronx, making sure that 2B Robinson Cano and lefty Damaso Marte can return to spring training.

Although it appears that United States SS Derek Jeter will remain busy for a while, the Yankees can reunite the right side of their infield.

Cano struggled with the rest of his Dominican teammates, posting a .231 batting average and stranding five men on base in the team’s final game.

The Yankees will be excited to place Cano back under the instruction of hitting coach Kevin Long.

They worked tirelessly together during the offseason to fine-tune Cano’s swing. Their ultimate goal is producing results more similar to 2006 and 2007 than 2008.

Without a healthy Alex Rodriguez for at least the first month of the season, Cano will play a major role in the success of the Yankee lineup.

Cano has the potential to perform at a level equal to the best hitters in the American League. It is up to him to channel the work ethic necessary to achieve his goals.

Joe Girardi Is Learning from the Tom Coughlin Instruction Manual

Two seasons ago, Tom Coughlin sat in a dark office, wondering what he could possibly do to save his job.

He had ultimately lost his locker room, and the veteran presence was beginning to shut him out.

The implementation of a leadership council, coupled with the brightening of a stern personality only a soldier could love, eventually paved the Giants path to a Superbowl title.

After similarly losing touch with the countless stars in the Yankee dugout, Girardi watched as his team finished six games out of the AL Wildcard race.

Even more concerning were reports of Derek Jeter’s displeasure with the locker room and coaching situation in the Bronx.

Permanently stuck within the league’s strongest division, Girardi knew that cosmic changes were necessary during this past offseason.

While $423.5 million of expenditure seems cosmic enough in itself, it has been the changes Girardi has made with his own attitude that may loom even larger.

Enter Tom Coughlin playing the role of Socrates, and Joe Girardi trying out for the role of his finest pupil Plato.

Actually, with as much talent as is present within the Giants and Yankees locker rooms, it is more so a revised copy of Coaching for Dummies.

Girardi’s job is even more simplistic than Coughlin’s. Coughlin needed to show a team’s core how to win, while Girardi needs to remind his core how to win.

Girardi’s “leadership council” has already been in power for fourteen years. By allowing Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera to handle their business, the Yankees will be far better off.

This is what Joe Torre always did best. He knew that he had the keys to a Ferrari, and he set it on cruise control. He never belittled his players, nor attempted to fix the unbroken.

Girardi has cancelled practices for team social gatherings, attempting to create a unified dugout. His relaxed demeanor has also been very well received by his players.

Aside from Girardi’s own behavioral changes, the Yankees have brought in an excellent compliment of personalities to the clubhouse.

Nick Swisher has already been dubbed the Yankee jester, making sure there is never stale air in the room.

He also works as hard as anyone on and off the field, showing a normally businesslike roster how to work and play. Damon will finally have a partner in crime.

CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira are two of the true fun-loving players in the league as well, and will deliver as many smiles and laughs in the dugout as they will victories on the field.

Even AJ Burnett has already made an impact on the Yankee roster. His relentless recruitment of Andy Pettitte during his contract negotiations made him realize how important he could become as one of the final pieces to the puzzle.

The likes of Brett Gardner and Cody Ransom will bring a toughness and gritty intensity from its role players that have been missing since the dynasty years.

The Yankees are a long way from following the Giants road to a championship. However, it appears Girardi has learned some important lessons in dealing with a big market sports franchise.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Joba Looks to Regain Confidence Tonight Against Cincinnati

Joba Chamberlain has been hailed as the future Ace of the Yankee pitching staff.

At the very least, he is considered the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera’s closer role.

Chamberlain has burst onto the scene in his first two big league seasons, capturing the hearts of the Bronx and haunting the nightmares of the league’s hitters.

The start to spring training in 2009 has not quite been as kind to him.

In two appearances thus far, Chamberlain has pitched only one inning as a result of his failure to retire a batter in his second outing.

He has given up seven runs on four hits and four walks. Also yet to strike out a hitter, his struggles have resulted in a dreadful 63.00 ERA and 11.00 WHIP.

There is absolutely nothing to worry about as of yet, as no injury news has surfaced. He has simply been unable to rediscover the mechanics and control that helped him reach the top of his sport.

The most important things for a pitcher to obtain during spring training are progress and confidence. Chamberlain’s regression with his location is more of a concern than his actual results.

His confidence has been far from swayed, however, and he claims that he “felt great” in his last start.

So long as he understands that the sky is not in fact falling, then the whispers of panicked and irrational fans will not affect him.

Chamberlain hopes to rebound tonight against a young and aggressive Cincinnati Reds team. Their lack of patience at the plate should help compensate for Joba’s lack of control.

While there is no reason to worry about the Bronx’s latest phenom, it would certainly be nice to see a much more ‘tidy’ performance out of him tonight.

It will only be a matter of time before we again see the fist pumps and tribal screams that have helped make Joba an immediate celebrity in New York.

MLB '09: The Show and 2K9 Win Big in Ad Campaigns

I do not even own a Playstation 3, nor have i played any other video game system in quite some time.

In fact, the most recent baseball game collecting dust on my closet floor is MVP Baseball 2004. It proudly displays Albert Pujols on its cover.

However, after watching the marketing campaigns presented by MLB '09: The Show and MLB 2K9, maybe we all should give them a shot.

In their two recent commercials, they feature players such as Dustin Pedroia, Tim Lincecum (in human form as well as CGI), and a beautiful cameo by newly acquired S.F. Giant Randy Johnson.

While the Lincecum commercial is clever and entertaining, the Pedroia piece is clearly the pick of the litter.

Even as a die-hard Yankee supporter, i grow more fond of the reigning AL MVP on a daily basis.

Check them out for yourself if you haven't already. Presented to you for your viewing pleasure:

Dustin Pedroia vs. Playstation

Tim Lincecum & His Animated Clone

Now if that does not make a baseball fan want to own these games, i am not sure what will. Short, sweet, and to the point...yet very funny and eye-catching.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Bernie Williams Makes His Return to Baseball Tonight

Beloved Yankee star Bernie Williams will be a part of the Puerto Rican lineup in tonight's World Baseball Classic game against the Netherlands.

After 16 solid seasons in pinstripes, Williams let his pride get the best of him in turning down an invitation to spring training.

Still in excellent shape considering being 40 years of age, he hopes to help lead Puerto Rico into the second round of the WBC tournament.

If all goes well for Williams, he may consider a permanent baseball comeback in a DH role in the American League.

I wish Bernie the best tonight and in the weeks and months to come, regardless of whether he is playing baseball or his guitar.

It would be nice to hear John Sterling yell "BERN BABY BERN!" one more time over the radio waves during a Yankee season.

He is and will forever be a symbolic reminder of the dynasty years.

Double Your Luck: A-Rod's Surgery is a Success on Two Levels

Dr. Marc Philippon, the surgeon who performed Alex Rodriguez’s hip surgery this morning, had only positive things to report.

The procedure “went as planned” and he encountered “no surprises” while completing the arthroscopic repair.

While this is to be expected from one of the top hip surgeons in the United States, it was simply the tip of the optimism iceberg.

Dr. Philippon added that there was “no doubt” that “this was the best option for Alex and the Yankees.” He earlier believed that this procedure gave A-Rod a 90-percent chance of lasting the entire season without incident.

The concern over an obligatory second surgery on Rodriguez’s hip in the offseason was also vastly reduced by Dr. Philippon’s diagnosis.

He strongly believes that A-Rod will not only be ready for opening day in 2010, but will also be able to join the team in Tampa for spring training in February.

Dr. Philippon was so encouraged by the success of the initial repairs, as well as what he saw within the hip joint, that he foresees little chance of complications arising.

Rodriguez’s rehabilitation is set to begin today with range of motion work on an exercise bike. The ability for such immediate activity is a telling explanation for the shorter recovery process.

The Yankees must be ecstatic to hear good news amidst a wave of negativity and misfortune. They can now focus of treading water through April without their best hitter.

So long as Boston or Tampa does not run away and hide with a lightning face start, it appears that the Yankees will soon be back on their heels.

Chipper Jones: The Yankee That Never Was

In many cases, it is difficult to truly appreciate greatness until long after a player has left the game he loves.

As a result, many stars end up epitomizing the “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone” philosophy.

This has never been an issue for Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves. Widely considered the best third baseman of his generation, Jones has displayed god-like ability and poised leadership.

While watching Jones collect over 400 home runs and a career .408 on-base percentage, it has been impossible not to imagine him wearing an interlocking NY on his cap.

Third base has been a position that the Yankees have struggled to fill since the departure of Graig Nettles after the 1983 season.

Nettles was acquired by New York in 1973. He was a Yankee legend eleven seasons later after producing six All-Star appearances, two World Series titles, and countless defensive gems.

Since that time, the Yankees have used the likes of Mike Blowers, Tom Brookens, Wayne Tolleson, Jim Leyritz, Randy Velarde, Wade Boggs and Charlie Hayes at the position.

There have been timeless contributions made by Scott Brosius and Aaron Boone during the dynasty years. However, there has never been a mainstay whose number could be retired amongst the greats in Yankee history.

Jones was born to wear pinstripes. He has always been valor and class personified, and would have had no trouble fitting the highly scrutinized “True Yankee” identity.

Jones showed time and time again that he could be counted on as a clutch performer, hitting .364, .345, .344, .333, and .321 in five of his postseasons. He collected 13 home runs, 47 RBI, and a .411 OBP in his many years of playoff baseball.

Jones’ Braves made the postseason a remarkable eleven straight years from 1995-2005, nearly matching the Yankees own dynasty years.

Always a thorn in his division rival Mets’ side, Jones has displayed his ability to perform in New York as well as on the game’s biggest stage.

Watching him sit with Derek Jeter in the Team USA dugout has only rekindled my past fantasies of Jones rocketing souvenirs to the “bleacher creatures” on a nightly basis.

What Jones was able to do last season at 36 years old is no less extraordinary than the culmination of his entire career.

Jones’ future induction into Cooperstown is merely a formality. He has already been a Hall of Fame lock since 2000.

The dreams of Jones reuniting the Bronx with a World Series ring will never die. Unfortunately this is one dream that it appears will never come true.
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