Monday, August 29, 2011

Thinking about things

I have been gone for over a week and just did not have much to say.
I did not miss the grind much of working on this and really took a long look at things here.

I have always said that when this was not fun and/or had nothing to say that things would cease and this break did not start that way.
At first,I just got busy,but then it progressed to having nothing to say (mainly because I just was not seeing Pirate games due to going to games myself or late starts due to time zones) and moved on to just not wanting to write.

This summer has been a brutal one on me.
Way too much work to grab the greenback dollar has cost me time with my family and hammered my time going to the ballpark.
I had become a "grapher" more than a baseball fan this year due to my work commitments.
I am not complaining about that for the most part,but I simply did not get to see as much baseball for the season as I usually do and that did not make me very happy during a demanding time that saw me just beaten down by the time spent at a place that ranks lower on the list than family,sports,and recreational time.
Sadly,that does not end for the final homestand for the Suns either with three workdays,an added workday for a friend and a family engagement on Labor Day.
I am hoping that will change next season,the money was nice,but the lack of fun was not.

How does that relate to this blog?
At first,not much as long as I had time to write,but over the last week,I reevaluated things as far as the blog goes and here is what I basically decided-I like doing this,but I am going to make one small change.
A change that that may not even occur that much.
The one thing that becomes the least fun for me at times has been the daily game recaps and mainly that is the Pirates as that is the daily grind that most resembles work.
I have never wanted to take the shortcut of writing about games that I did not see because I am basically recapping other writers work or going by strictly the box scores and there is far more to the game than what one can glean from that.
Considering that,I am not putting as much pressure on myself for Pirate recaps.
The other teams that we cover are not as time sensitive as the Pirates and I have more time in the other sports seasons to add game coverage.
I really do not think that things will change that much,but in an attempt to keep things enjoyable,this is a decision that I have made.

I hope to get back into the routine later today with some thoughts from the inbox and I hope to add a "Signing Front" post soon (too many stacks of cards sitting around here!) along with an Ohio State preview with the Buckeyes opening against Akron on Saturday...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Are early extensions a good idea?

The Pirates are working on long term extensions for Jose Tabata and Neil Walker.
Is this a good idea in these cases or in general?

I recall John Hart and the Indians doing this in the early 90's and for the most part,the players did not flourish with a few exceptions and the Neal Huntington connection to Cleveland makes sense that he is beginning to consider a similar strategy.

Jose Tabata seems to be going for guaranteed money and the money seems reasonable to lock up Tabata long term,but why the rush?
Pittsburgh has many players in the system similar to Tabata (Alex Presley and Starling Marte spring to mind),players with speed and not a ton of power,at least presently.
The proposed deal would lock Tabata up through his arbitration seasons and take away his first year of free agency.
The contract could also improve Tabata's eventual trade value with his being under contract at a reasonable rate.

Neil Walker is a little older than Tabata,but plays a premium position for his bat,which adds to his value.
However,Walker is not a plus defender and being that the proposed deal for Walker would run into his early 30's,there is at least an average chance that Walker would not be a second baseman at that stage of his career.
Walker's value at another offensive position would decrease significantly and brings questions of whether a long term contract would make sense for him.
Neil Walker also is more valuable to the Pittsburgh Pirates than to any other team with his being a hometown player and his value in the community/fans is higher than it can ever be elsewhere.Can you place a value on such issues?
Yes,if used as a tiebreaker among two or three players for a spot,but it should not come into play for the Pirates.
It may even work for the team,as Walker could give the Pirates breaks that he would not others as far as contracts go.

Would I do these contracts,if I were running the Pirates?
No,but I do not think either are worth screaming about.
I would rather chance a young player breaking out than pay a Lyle Overbay big bucks for sure.
I can see why the Pirates are thinking about these things,but I would not be hasty in making these calls,unless say Andrew McCutchen were interested.
Then,I race to the table and see what type of a deal can be hammered out.....

Cleaning out the Inbox

The inbox is quite full and some of this stuff is less than timely,but in any event,it needs dumped...

The Pirates appear to close to signing Jose Tabata and Neil Walker to contract extensions.
Later tonight,I hope to have time on why this could be a good idea for one and maybe not for the other....

Thanks to the rain and resulting delay,I only was able to see a few innings of the Pirates loss to the Reds,so not going to bother with coverage.

To those of you that have written about the lack of pre-season football coverage,it does not look any better as I just cannot stand the stuff for the most part.
There will be pre-season previews for both the Browns and Seahawks before the opening Sunday.
Look for more Seahawk talk this season,although not to the level of the Browns.
With my work schedule allowing Sundays off,I will be able to devote more time to the late game than last season and no,I do not plan on working a lot of Sundays during the season,either!

Good news,bad news for me on one of our favorites-Kathryn Tappen,who is leaving NESN and her job as studio host for the Boston Bruins.
But the better news is that she left for NHL Network,which could give her more time on a network that could use some zap on a less than interesting studio bunch.
If NESN lost Jack Edwards,they would be perhaps the best local coverage in the league!

I am glad to see hockey return to Winnipeg and I certainly do not think Atlanta could make a solid case to keep their team,but I do feel for the hardcore fans there that lost the Thrashers.
This article looks at some of the jilted Atlanta hockey fans that there just were not enough of.
Between the Flames and the Thrashers,Atlanta's chances of ever having NHL hockey again looks very dim.

The Iowa-Iowa State football game has always been played for the "Cy-Hawk" trophy,which makes sense as a name,but a new trophy for the series has been designed.
Check this out and tell me that despite it being a fine piece of artwork,what exactly it has to do with the Cyclones,Hawkeyes or even football?
Sometimes change for the sake of change is not the best idea.

Finally,the obscure parking garage that Bob Woodward met "Deep Throat" Mark Felt in for information on the Watergate scandal has been marked with a historical marker in Rosslyn,Virginia.
I have always been a casual observer of the scandal and it is nice to have the marker raised.

Photo Credit:WTOP/Paul D. Shinkman

Thursday, August 18, 2011

On the signing front-

Time for a short version of the signing front as I simply have far too many cards piling up,so a quick post will help that a bit.

I did the Wilmington Blue Rocks in Frederick and the Lexington Legends along with the Lakewood Blue Claws in Hagerstown in late June,which shows you just how much stuff has accumulated when that is the bottom of the pile!
Nice additions for the Blue Rocks and their team set were Jake Odorizzi in his final visit to Frederick before a promotion, Cuban defector Noel Arguelles and pitcher Tyler Sample on a team that had more pitching prospects than hitters.

Both Lexington and Lakewood had yet to release their team set,so I was not loaded for either team.
Ben Heath and Delino DeShields Jr were the top players for Lexington.
DeShields is very nice,signs whatever you have for him,chats and seems like he enjoys signing.

Lakewood pretty much featured Jesse Biddle and Domingo Santana (Now with the Astros) signing the SAL top prospect card along with Anthony Hewitt signing his Bowman top 100 card.
Cameron Rupp also signed his Topps debut card.

Time for a few thanks-

to Tom O'Brien for his help with the Altoona Curve that featured Starling Marte and the Harrisburg Senators and slugger Tyler Moore on his Bowman.
Tom also helps me on the Indy circuit with former Blue Jay Willie Upshaw and added Brandon Pinckney on his 2006 Kinston card,which finished the set!
That rarely happens folks!

Thanks to Mike Peterson for his help with the Columbus Clippers.
Mike added some stuff for me,most notably Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall,both are now with the Indians.

From the mail version
Former White Sox pitcher Fred Howard
Former Twins shortstop Lenny Faedo
Former Rangers and Indians pitcher David Clyde
Former Indians pitcher Rich Yett
Former Red Sox and Expos pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee....

This barely scratched the surface,but enabled me to put one stack away without dumping them on the floor!!!!

Forgotten Superstars-Eddie Gilbert

I usually do not use professional wrestlers in the Forgotten Superstars segments, but I decided to make an exception for "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert, who would have celebrated his 50th birthday a few days ago.
Eddie Gilbert was a solid wrestler that had one thing going against him-size and that is what hindered him the most in the wrestling business.
One often hears about wrestlers being born too early for the modern era (the name you hear the most on this topic is Superstar Graham), but Gilbert might have been the opposite as he likely would have been a far larger star in the 1970s with the territorial version of wrestling being in vogue.
I could easily imagine Gilbert at the top of most territories (except for the big man favoring WWF) as the smart mouth, undersized, whatever it takes to win type heel in a time that size was not at such a premium.

Eddie Gilbert always wanted the slot of Jerry Lawler as the king of Memphis and that was a position that was not going to be available, so Gilbert had to settle for being one of the King's top opponents during his various comings and goings into the Memphis territory, but was able to make his mark elsewhere besides Memphis.
Gilbert was a star in the Mid-South territory, although more as the manager of "Hot Stuff International" than as a wrestler, although Gilbert was a better bump taker than most of his proteges and had a decent run as an underneath fan favorite in WCW, holding the United States tag team straps with Rick Steiner, who had been managed by Gilbert in Mid South/UWF wrestling.

Eddie Gilbert's wrestling style was heavily influenced by Jerry Lawler and Terry Funk and watching a few Gilbert matches, those influences are pretty clear to most observers.
From the bump-taking to the "fire throwing", the argument could be made that Gilbert was the best combination of two of the best that the business has ever seen.

My first exposure to Gilbert outside of the wrestling magazines was what  I called a "tough loser" on WWF TV in the early 80s when that was the only wrestling show that we could see.
Gilbert along with another young star in the company to gain exposure and experience, Curt Hennig with Special Delivery Jones were the stalwarts on the "good guy" side (The "bad guy" or my preferred side featured Johnny Rodz, Jose Estrada, and Charlie Fulton)
The three would be given more competitive matches on television against the top heels, giving the illusion that they just might pull the huge upset on any particular Saturday and the occasional television victory to keep them lifted above the average television wrestler in the pecking order.
The match below is a battle of "tough losers" from each side of the ring

Gilbert was in a serious car accident while in the WWF and missed a long stretch of time to recover and was eventually brought back to the territory for a short time as then-champion Bob Backlund's young protege to set up a challenge to Backlund from the Masked Superstar, who "injured" Gilbert and the angle allowed Gilbert to return to the Memphis company.

Eddie Gilbert might have been known for his mind inside the wrestling business as much as for his in-ring skills and he showed it with his work for the Alabama promotions, the short-lived GWF out of the Dallas area, and his work in taking another independent in Philadelphia named Eastern Championship Wrestling and taking it down the road to be eventually refined as "ECW"-the most recognized promotion outside the mainstream of the 1990s.
Gilbert clearly had demons outside of the ring as he followed a pattern of taking over slumping territories, turning them around in a hurry, and then exploding over a slight and quitting.
Gilbert also was famous for behavior that was slowly making him a pariah in the business such as "shoot comments" on the live Memphis show and announcing in the middle of a Japanese match that he was loyal to another company as he lifted his character mask to reveal his face.

Eddie Gilbert's last match in the USA was in a television taping for Smoky Mountain Wrestling after which he quit to become the booker for one of the Puerto Rican companies.
It was a blessing in disguise,I thought for the wrestling fan as it enabled Al Snow to have his big break and one of the best programs in the final year of SMW with Snow and Unabom (WWE's Kane) against the Rock N Roll Express.

Eddie Gilbert left too soon, but he was rapidly running out of bridges to burn in wrestling.
Had he not passed, he likely would be just another old grappler
Ironically, Gilbert's passing might have raised his status among fans as all of us like to play "What might have been"......

Brain dead defense

The Pittsburgh Pirates made mental errors and allowed Allen Craig to look like Albert Pujols as the St.Louis Cardinals scored three runs in the first inning and never looked back in a 7-2 win.
Paul Maholm lost his fifth game in a row and dropped to 6-14.
Jose Tabata's two run homer (4) provided all the runs for the Bucs.
Pittsburgh is off today before a weekend series against the Reds.

Pirate Hooks

1) Ronny Cedeno is brain dead.
With the score 4-2 and a runner on third,Clint Hurdle plays the infield in.
A grounder to Cedeno,who does not even look home and allows the run to score,making the play at first.
Why even play in,if you are not going home?

2) That was bad,but as that was,Brandon Wood topped it with this "gem".
Wood grabbed a grounder and attempted to beat the runner to third for a force play.
Wood would have done that,IF he would not have MISSED the bag!
Wood then attempted to get the runner at first,but threw the ball down the first base line allowing a runner to score.

3) Paul Maholm struggled in a three run first,that could have been worse,but settled down before being pinch hit for with a runner on in the fifth.
Maholm was visibly upset,but should not have been.
Pinch hitting was the proper decision.

4) Jose Tabata started in right,which is a big deal to him due to the Roberto Clemente factor.
I was more impressed with his homer to right,showing opposite field power.

5) If someone offers you anything for Paul Maholm,do you take it?
To me-yep.The Pirates should not pay nine million dollars (Club Option) for a average pitcher,if someone offers something interesting-Good Bye
Photo Credit-AP

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Indians ink Lindor and Howard

The Pittsburgh Pirates got all the publicity for their difficult signing of Josh Bell and deservedly so,but the Cleveland Indians quietly signed a tough to sign second rounder in their own right in pitcher Dillon Howard at the signing deadline.
Howard's signing for 1.85 million combined with the 2.9 million deal that was reached with first round shortstop Francisco Lindor made the Indians draft a successful one.

It is always important to sign your first round selection,but in many ways,the Indians needed to sign Howard just as much after the deal with Colorado that cost the Indians their two top pitching prospects in Drew Pomeranz and Alex White along with another prospect on the mound in Joe Gardner.
Howard instantly becomes the top pitching prospect in the system and the Indians almost had to reel Howard in.
The Arkansas commitment was noted to throw in the low to mid 90's and his strength is the command of his fastball as he is reputed to be able have excellent location of the heater on both sides of the plate,according to Tony Lastoria,the guru of the Indians minor league farm.

Lindor is a switch hitting shortstop that is thought of as a player that should stay at shortstop.
Many times,players are drafted as shortstops even though they wind up being moved to other positions.
Lindor is projected to stay at short and should be a similar,but slightly below version of Orioles prospect Manny Machado.

This draft is exactly what Cleveland needed on the surface-a shortstop that the team thinks will be the long term replacement to Asdrubal Cabrera and an excellent pitching prospect to rebuild the depth that was dealt away for Ubaldo Jimenez.
The Indians needed an impact draft after all of their dealings and they may have gotten it....

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pirates spend the bucks!

The Pittsburgh Pirates are the talk of the baseball world along with the Washington Nationals as the story of the amateur draft deadline as the Pirates were able to not only sign the top overall pick Gerrit Cole of UCLA,but their second rounder Josh Bell,a Texas high schooler,who was expected to be a Texas Longhorn after a supposedly firm commitment.
Cole was the elite power arm of the draft (although not the most polished) and Bell was ranked as the top power hitting prospect of the high school ranks and the Pirates inked both!
Gerrit Cole features a three pitch mix with the fastball,slider and change that shows the potential of being a number one starter.
Trevor Bauer may be the faster arrival to the big leagues,but Cole has the superior gun.
Bell is the rarity of outfielders-a switch hitter with plus power that was drafted by a team in a massive need for power hitters in their system.
Bell instantly became the top power prospect for the Pirates as soon as he agreed to a contract.

Cole was signed to a minor league deal,which was somewhat unexpected and a bonus of eight million dollars,while Bell cost five million,which was a smaller deal than most experts thought that it would take to sign the Texas product.
The two deals in addition to the signing of ninth rounder Clay Holmes to a deal earlier in the day with a bonus over one million again places the Pirates at or near the top in draft spending.
The hulking 6'5 230 pound Holmes was a nice sign,although the Pirates must have liked him far more than other teams as the bonus given to the Auburn commitment set a record for a ninth round selection.

The Pirates signed all of their top ten picks and eleven of their top twelve with the final day signings and showed some commitment to adding elite talent to their still struggling system.
As much as I have liked the plan that Neal Huntington has charted in rebuilding the system,even the most ardent supporter realizes that many of these signings will not even come close to seeing Pittsburgh as a Pirate.
Josh Bell looks the part with his switch hitting for power future,but who was not somewhat fooled by the more proven Pedro Alvarez a few years back?
There are no guarantees in evaluating talent and Bell was smart to take the millions to play now.
College can be paid for quite easily later,when you sign for that kind of money.

The draft is filled with gambles and teams like the Pirates have finally figured out that in order to compete,the financial commitments need to be made to the minors as teams like Pittsburgh,Cleveland and Cincinnati will never be able to battle the massive checkbooks that populate the American League East.

The Indians made some moves as well and I will try to make time for those tomorrow as I will again miss the Pirates game tonight due to work commitments.
The Pirates sent the struggling Pedro Alvarez to Indianapolis in order to activate Jose Tabata off the disabled list.
It is food for thought ,as excited as I am about the Pirates draft, that the most heralded Pirate pick in years has been such a disappointment thus far with the parent club.
That truly is what makes the baseball draft perhaps the toughest of all major sports to evaluate talent in....

Monday, August 15, 2011

Still busy

I have missed a lot of Pirate games and with time short on another 12 day work run,the blog has suffered.
I will not see another until the Wednesday game against the Cardinals.but I did see yesterday's loss in Milwaukee.
I am not going to do a recap,but will offer a few Pirate hooks below.
Tonight at midnight is the signing deadline for the drafted players,so I hope to have some thoughts tomorrow on the last minute signings by the Pirates and Indians.
Again,I apologize for the lack of posts this week,this run ends next Monday morning and then things should (no promises) get back to normal.

Pirate Hooks

1) Charlie Morton deserved better than a no decision as Morton was able to dominate the Brewers and allowed just one run and four hits in seven plus innings.
Morton has gone back to the fastball as his pre-dominant pitch,it seems as I would guess that he throws 75-80 percent fastballs and when he does that,his sinker becomes the change of pace pitch that he needs.

2) This one belongs to Michael McKenry,who could not stop strike three on Nyjer Morgan allowing Morgan to reach first and give Ryan Braun the chance to tie the game,which he did,sending the game to extra innings.
The official scorer gave Joel Hanrahan a wild pitch,but I clearly thought that the onus was on McKenry.

3) I dislike Miller Park,but the Pirates must hate it more.
The loss was 12th straight there and the Pirates are a glossy 2-34 over their last 36 games in Brew Town.

4) One housekeeping note as Derrek Lee was placed on the DL with an injured wrist.
Josh Harrison was recalled from AAA Indianapolis to take Lee's place on the roster.

5) The Pirates reportedly signed ninth rounder Clay Holmes with a bonus of over a million dollars.
Both first rounder Gerrit Cole and second rounder Josh Bell are unsigned and will go to the wire tonight.
Bet on Cole signing and Bell not,although my hopes are up for the signing of both....

Friday, August 12, 2011

Where have all the flowers gone?

Forgive the interruption of the usual topics and if you are not interested in any personal non sports opinion,you might want to skip this post.

The more that I think about the problems that our country faces currently,the more that I think man never truly learns anything.
Think about this-we still fight wars over territory and religious beliefs just as they have since time began to be kept.
Have we really changed all that much?
Not to me as this things still occur,just using more modern weapons and ways of attack than in those past days.
Does war really need to be continued as a way of settling things?
Well,as adults-we constantly teach our children that violence solves nothing or at least little,yet entire nations and cultures still result in fighting to solve battles.
I am far from a pacifist and I have been noted to toss the fists on past occasions,but there is a huge difference in defending oneself and being offensive.
I am all for defending our country,but is it really needed for our military and the fine people that defend our nation to be involved in offensive matters other than on the extreme occasion?
Last I checked,the term is the National Defense,not National Offense.
I am not a person that wants to eliminate defense spending or remove our military entirely,but I would like to see wars that are someone else's business be fought by the people that are involved,not my country all the time,for both reasons of fiscal and human varieties.
I would rather see money used to shore up borders that can be used to hurt our country on land,air and sea to keep dangerous people out and where they belong than fighting wars that kill some of our most courageous young people in a place that often does not affect the average American.
Imagine the good that could be done with a small reduction of funds in a world that has become even a bit more harmonious.

But I suppose my main point is this-shouldn't man have evolved past this by now and figured out a better way?
That may be Utopian thinking and I will concede that after so much talking,it does not do a whole lot of good at times,but last I checked,generations of terrific people did not pass away due to talking and negotiating.
Perhaps man is too flawed to ever truly figure a way to decide things that do not involve which side has the bigger arsenal or which side has the crazier leader.
For all the things that man has improved on,he has yet to figure out one thing-how to get along with man......

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

On the signing front-Non Baseball Mail edition

A short post to clean the massive pile of cards that has built over the last month or so.
This is the time of year that the cards build up quickest with a team set being worked on every occasion that I go to a ball park,
So I decided to do a small post on the non-baseball arrivals through the mail to put a few away at least!

Former Pistons and Timberwolves guard Lance Blanks
Former UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian

Former Vikings and Chargers running back Darrin Nelson
Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar-If you missed this one,you can read about it here.
Former Steelers running back Merril Hoge
Former 49ers offensive lineman Randy Cross
Former Cardinals and Redskins corner Pat Fischer-added a note thanking ME for remembering HIM!!
Former Broncos safety Steve Atwater
Former Bengals wide receiver David Verser
Former Ohio State and Eagles quarterback Bobby Hoying
Former CFL and Rams quarterback Dieter Brock-I sent the card in an old soft plastic with a 15 cents sticker on it,Dieter wrote a note that said "Hope it is now worth more than that"!
When ESPN showed CFL games in the early 80's,I was a huge Dieter Brock fan.
Former CFL quarterback and current Packers QB coach Tom Clements
Former Cowboys fullback Robert Newhouse-Another player that I was a huge fan of as a kid.
I hated the Cowboys,but loved Robert Newhouse and Randy White.
Former Ohio State and 49ers tight end John Frank
Former CFL quarterback Tracy Ham,who not only signed the cards that I sent,but signed and added two more of him with the Baltimore Stallions!
Ham and Matt Dunigan were my favorite CFL passers of the 90's along with Damon Allen.

Day 3-Salem

Our trip concluded with the ride home with some time to kill before the Salem Red Sox hosting the Potomac Nationals.
We decided to hit a shopping area across the street from Smokies Park that had a Bass Pro Shop,but more intriguing to me was The Beef Jerky Outlet that featured jerky,hot sauces and more,let's say interesting items such as mealworms,ants and larvae.
I'll pass on most of that,but the jerky samples were tasty enough to buy the hottest that they had (me) and spicy (think Slim Jim flavored) to bring home for Rachel.
The cost was pricey,but the quality of the meat was excellent as Rachel devoured hers quickly after my return.
Corey wanted to hit Bass Pro Shop,I was not really interested as an avid non-outdoorsman,but agreed to tag along.
How wrong I was as I was surprised to actually find fat guy clothes that fit,I spent almost 90 bucks there and could have spent more.
Trust me,I'll never turn away from Bass Pro Shop and its other competitors again....

As we began to the trip to Salem,we took a side trip to Greeneville TN,home of the Appalachian League affiliate of the Astros.
Pioneer Park was beautiful and blew away the Muni by miles.
The park had a smaller capacity than the Muni,but I would wager it held its people much better than the often backed up Muni.
We even met someone from Hagerstown as we looked for an employee to allow us into the team shop,where I picked up an Appalachian League top prospect set,although the Astros set was yet to be released.
I considered a stop at Kingsport to see their Appy League park,but decided one out of the way stop was enough for me on this leg of the trip.
After a stop for lunch at the local Long John Silver's,where the manager was nice enough to give us a few samples,we drove straight to Salem,where we arrived a bit early.

LewisGale Field was nice enough,but reminded me of a smaller major league park.
Nothing really special,but clean and nice enough with two decks.
Autographing was unusual for the high A level as you were up in the air and had to reach down to the player.Corey did well with the Salem stuff that he had and I was on the Potomac side,where I saw some former Suns and chatted a bit with Destin Hood,who has always been very nice to me.
I missed most of the pitchers though,as I found out later,the pitchers can reach the bullpen by a back entrance and that cost me those,although Potomac returns to Frederick soon.
We only watched a few innings and headed home to make up some time.
Great trip and thanks to Corey for coming and for all his help as well.
I hope to be back to normal soon with Pirate coverage,things I have missed and a long overdue On the Signing Front!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Day 2-Asheville

After the latest Pirate disaster,I wanted to write about something fun and other than the return of Megyn Kelly to Fox News today,there is not much fun other than the trip day two to Asheville.

I had been to Asheville a few years back,but this time we had an entire day to kill before the game.
We started by going into Knoxville to shop to stores and looking for Tennessee Volunteers items.
Even though it seemed that there were lots of people wearing Vols stuff,there was not as many places selling items in Sevierville,so we traveled to the scene itself.
Knoxville was not tough to navigate,but it was tough to find parking in.
We passed both the Tennessee football stadium and basketball arena,but were unable to find parking to take pictures of them.
I also came up empty on a few stores near campus,although we were greeted in one from a fellow Marylander that had heard of Hagerstown because he had a friend "In the penitentiary for a minute".
Corey informs me that means a long stretch of prison time.
After a trip to the local mall,where Corey had his name put onto his Tennessee Smokies hat,but saw me spend no money,a stop at the staple for me-Sonic.
Generally,if I see a Sonic,I try to stop and Sonic delivered their usual quality with a Chicago Dog and burger.

We left Knoxville and returned to Sevierville,where we shopped at some stores that saw one bargain that I grabbed for the lovely Cherie's either birthday or Christmas present.
This one was a slam dunk for me and should be a popular present.
Asheville is roughly 90 minutes away and featured a beautiful drive through the winding roads of the Smoky Mountains.
We arrived in Asheville earlier than expected and decided to grab some food at Fuddruckers before the game.I generally shy away from ballpark food,if I can between the taste and cost,I often become disenchanted.
Upon arriving at McCormick Field,the gates were already open as the parking attendant told us "The gates are always open 90 minutes before the game for all".
So much for that SAL rule that I have heard so often through the years on 60 minutes.
I worked on the Charleston Riverdogs,while Corey did the home Tourists.
I was able to get most of the Riverdogs except the one everyone wanted most-Dominican catcher Gary Sanchez.
Sanchez said one word "after".
Notable gets included Garrison Lassiter,who signed eight,Tommy Kahnle,Anderson Feliz and Kelvin DeLeon.
I didn't see manager Aaron Ledesma,who either was not there or was wearing a different number.
Corey did well with the home squad getting Kyle Parker and Peter Tago on multiples of their SAL top prospect cards along with outfielder Corey Dickerson among others in the team set.

The two players that we had the most cards for were the aforementioned Sanchez and Asheville pitcher Tyler Matzek.
Matzek is a top prospect that missed Hagerstown twice in two years.
In 2010,Matzek was called up to Asheville a week after their only trip to Hagerstown and was demoted to the Tourists a week after their visit this season.
So Corey asked Matzek to sign and it went like this-
"Tyler,do you have time to sign some?"
"How many will you sign?"
"About five or six"
"How about 15?"
Corey then played the Maryland card and got Matzek to sign them all in a great piece of work.

McCormick Field had not changed much since my last visit,still a older,but well kept park and the game was nothing special,but Corey made a new friend-his name was Andrew and Andrew was the entertainment for the evening.
Andrew was about 11 and with the middle forties "cool dad" that allowed him to act like an ass as long he did not interrupt dad and his buddies.
Andrew's routine included loud screams,pounding on the kids with him and my personal favorite,walking from the bleachers top to bottom row and then back on top of the rail,just asking for a fall.
Which eventually happened-straight down onto his "parts" in what certainly was the funniest part of the evening,if not the best!

As the game ended,we attempted to get Gary Sanchez to see if his word was good.
He was the last player out and I tried to talk to him a bit,the reply was "no speak English".
Well,that ended that-either he was going to sign or not.
He signed all that Corey and I had,so no complaints at all.
After a short time,getting a few of the Asheville players after the game,we started the drive back.
Now this was awesome to watch-a thunderstorm was taking place on the Tennessee side of the mountains.
The mountains blocked all but the flash at first and as we climbed the mountains,we saw more and more as as a part of it until finally the spectacular lightning and bolts crashing against the backdrop of the mountains.
Breathtaking would be my word for it.

All and all,a terrific and productive day with one more to go before returning home....

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Day one-Tennessee

Well,when I left town,the Pirates were on a four game losing streak,when I returned they had just lost number seven in a row and then this mess followed last night.
Since no one wants to read about that,let alone the fact that I don't want to write it and that one of our readers wants trip posts (!),I decided to get started.
I'll add a picture or two to this later when the official trip photographer sends me his shots.

It takes roughly seven and a half hours to hit Sevierville,Tennessee,which is a town built around tourism,about twenty miles outside of Knoxville,which is the capital of Rocky Top Nation (more on that later).
The trip down was pretty uneventful,filled with conversation that ranged from autographing,baseball and a lot of fantasy football talk.
We did not even eat anything major as we kept to snacks from the car to go with the occasional gas stop.
Tennessee is a massive state and I imagine a trip from Bristol on the eastern tip to Memphis on the western might take forever.
By driving distance,Bristol is just sixteen miles closer to Memphis than to Philadelphia!
If you are driving to Sevierville off of I-81,you have to be a real nitwit not to find it as you drive down I-81,get off at I-40 Knoxville,15 miles and you arrive,even the most flustered driver could find it from the I-81starting point.

From the interstate,you could see Smokies Park,home of the AA Tennessee Smokies and it was right off the exit,no urban parking pains here at all.
After a check-in at the Days Inn,we were given free tickets to the Smokies game as they are the official hotel of the Smokies and the visiting Birmingham Barons were staying there as well.
Had I known that,I would have purchased a Barons team set,live and learn.
I have had less than great experiences with Days Inn before,but this one was clean,well kept on the outside and the staff was very nice.
If you ever want to hit this area,between the cost,the free Smokies tickets and the staff,I would recommend it!

After a trip to Krystal for a late lunch (Think a Southern version of White Castle),it was off for the game,where we hooked up with Bill Cover.
Bill was in the area for his son's diving meet and had worked the game the night before,so we got a scouting report from him on the layout.
Corey was doing the lesser amount of the graphing on this day with the Birmingham Barons,so I was with Bill doing the Smokies.
Both teams enter the field from the dugout,so you should be down the line a bit for your best chance at getting things signed.
I did passably with a really less than memorable evening as I got the main guys that I was looking for a few cards,but far from finished.
I did manage to get the starter Trey McNutt on 2 of 4,which is pretty good considering,Josh Vitters,who I had the most for signed two and Brooks Raley signed four as he charted.
Raley was one that I really wanted on his Donruss Elite in his Texas A&M jersey as I am a real mark for those cards.
Corey meanwhile wiped out the Barons,getting every card for me,him and everyone else signed before the game.

Smokies park is a nice place to watch a game,I thought that it reminded me most of Bowie's park that I had been to.
The seating was nice and the ushers helpful and friendly and made this a nice place to watch a game.
IF you dislike the whole "Rocky Top" thing,you might want to remember this-the song is everywhere!
Before,after and between innings-it doesn't stop.
I did not mind it as much as Corey,but it was a bit much.
Other than that.the place was like visiting Chicago for the night-from the Chicago beef sandwiches,to the White W flag flying to the Cubs theme song playing after the win,the evening felt like visiting a Southern Chicago and I enjoyed it greatly!
Corey met another local grapher named Corey,who agreed to help us with the Smokies after the game.
Corey and others proved very helpful with tips on Trey McNutt and Ja-hoon Ha,who like to leave through a different exit.
Mariano Duncan will sign and he did for us,but he is known by the locals to avoid,if he has his bluetooth in.Former Lakewood Blue Claw Matt Spencer signed,but was easily known to be the least popular player despite his being from nearby Morristown,due to his less than friendly nature.
Ha was sprinting to his car and after a stop was run down by Corey to sign one card which was not even ours.
By the end of the trip,I was calling Corey-"The Closer'!
We were really waiting for Josh Vitters to come out and time began to drag.
The local graphers were beginning to dwindle one by one and Vitters still had not come out.
We had about 15 cards for Vitters for me,Corey and others and we wanted to get those finished.
The Cubs never send teams to this area and Vitters cards had built up.
Here was a chance to take care of it,but the locals had told us that he usually signed just two or three.
Finally when Vitters arrived,we played the "Maryland Card"-drove eight hours,never see the Cubs,you will never see us again etc.
Vitters signed them all,spoke with us and could not have been more gracious.
In the end,a successful evening into morning as we left Smokies Park at 12:40 that night and prepped for a long day before the game and into Asheville for the Tourists and the Charleston Riverdogs.

Come back for pictures that I'll post here as soon as I get them!!

Photo Credit-Tennessee Smokies

Friday, August 5, 2011

Back with catching up soon

Back from Tennessee and it seems I have missed very little with the Pirates,who were losing when I left and continued to lose while I was gone.
In any event,I hope to use the next few days to write about the trip,some on the signing front and other things as well.....

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Smashing debut

Derrek Lee's Pirate debut was an excellent one with three RBI generated from two homers,but he was the entire offense as the Pirates dropped their fourth game in a row,this one to the Cubs 5-3.
Paul Maholm was the loser and fell to 6-11.
The series continues tonight and ends on Thursday before the San Diego Padres arrive in Pittsburgh on Friday.

Pirate Hooks

1) Derrek Lee's homers were both smashed and Lee seems to like hitting PNC Park,but keep in mind that it was the Cubs-the team that he spent so much time with and knows the pitchers so well..

2) Paul Maholm pitched five strong innings before the sixth,but even Maholm denied this,it could have been he was mildly shaken up by being hit by Garrett Jones' line drive as Maholm stood off first base in the bottom of the fifth..

3) Worst thing about the game to me?
The amount of bad ball swings and misses by the Bucs.I counted about five of the eight strikeouts on breaking pitches far off the outside of the plate.
Maybe it was the Cub pitchers,but it sure looked like a lot of guys were fooled..

4) Ryan Ludwick started in left field for the Pirates and looked good there.Ludwick almost threw out Jeff Baker at third and may have done that if Pedro Alvarez had been on the bag.
Ludwick has always been a right fielder,but with the rash of injuries,the need is in left for now...

5) Lyle Overbay was designated for assignment before the game.
Most thinking baseball people could have seen that Overbay was shot before the signing and why the Pirates did not see that is a huge question.
I also love the baseball cliche's on when big signings get released-"X was a great guy who just didn't perform the way we thought he would".
Well,Most did,just that YOU didn't!!

Photo Credit-Getty Images

Monday, August 1, 2011

Pure Bunk???

The trade appeared on the NFL transaction wire,the Philadelphia Eagles announced it,so it was more than speculation,but in the end Brodrick Bunkley is not a Cleveland Brown.
Instead,he will be a Denver Bronco as the Eagles sent Bunkley there instead of Cleveland.
There has to be more to this story as Bunkley never showed at either Eagles or Browns camp and the trade was nullified although the Browns never announced the deal,yet approved it to the league.

The Browns had hoped to add Bunkley to Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor for a three man rotation of run stoppers at defensive tackle,but things were not to be.
I'll have some thoughts once,I have more information on just what happened with this,but the Browns took a hit today and now need to redouble their efforts on landing a veteran defensive lineman from somewhere.

I hope to be back with a post on tonight's Pirates-Cubs game,but no promises.
Please keep in mind that I will be on hiatus for a few days on a baseball trip,so no updates unless I am able to from the road....

Swept out,Ryan Ludwick in

After a 6-5 extra inning loss completed a three game sweep in Philadelphia,the Pittsburgh Pirates had to do something as they began to sink in the standings.The answer was a deadline deal with the San Diego Padres for outfielder Ryan Ludwick in exchange for either a player to be named later or cash considerations.
Ludwick has struggled in Petco Park,but could be given new life in Pittsburgh.
Ludwick enters the Steel City hitting just .238 with 11 homers and 64 RBI.

As far as the game goes,Lyle Overbay homered (8) in what might be his last start for a while with Tony Watson getting the loss (0-2) in relief.
The Pirates return home tonight with the first of a seven game homestand against the Cubs and Padres.

Pirate Hooks

1) The Pirates could not retire Raul Ibanez and that was the difference maker.
Ibanez hit two homers and knocked in the game winning run.

2) The Pirates are fading and fast,but there is still hope.
The road trip against tough teams is over and the next seven games are against weaker foes in Chicago and San Diego.
Contrary to popular opinion that thought the road trip would tell the tale for the Pirates,I believe that it is this homestand against two bad ball clubs that will decide if the Pirates are contenders...

3) Twelve strikeouts against the Phils continues to show the lack of contact among the Pirates.
If this was the type of team with several power hitters,I could live that a little better,but considering that it is not the case,I think it shows a glaring weakness why the Bucs might not be true contenders.

4) Of course strikeouts are to be expected with a lineup that starts Pedro Alvarez and Brandon Wood.
As I said above 25-30 homer hitters can be lived with the whiffs,10-12 guys hitting .210 and for Alvarez that would take a good run cannot.

5) Onto Ryan Ludwick,who looked all day to be headed to the Indians before becoming a Pirate.
Usually when the player is a "PTBNL" the player is a marginal prospect,but the link here shows that Cleveland was concerned about the asking price.
That makes me think that perhaps the prospect could be a better one than some think...

6) Ludwick will help the Pirates,but will not be the answer that most are looking for.
Ludwick and Lee are an upgrade over Garrett Jones and Lyle Overbay,but are not going to make anyone forget about Pujols and Berkman anytime soon.I like the fact that the Pirates tried to add some parts,but not at a huge cost.
The Pirates are still a project in the making and I would hate to see the Pirates attempt too much soon at the cost of the future.

Photo Credit:Getty Images