Category Archives: Baseball
by TIM SCOTT
The glory of winning Olympic gold, the pride of representing your nation, and the dreams of success on the international stage are the driving forces behind anybody’s Olympic aspirations. Whether it be in the summer, or in the winter (like this year’s Sochi Olympics), many athletes share the same passions, bonding on a platform of athletic ingenuity while participating in the competitive atmosphere of sports.
However, like many removed Olympic sports before, baseball players around the world have not had the opportunity to revel in those dreams for many years. Ever since the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to remove baseball and softball from the Olympic Program after the 2008 games in Beijing, supporters of the sport have feverishly tried to restore the sport’s status on the Olympic stage. Despite strong advocacy from many supporters, baseball and softball were not selected by the IOC for the 2020 Olympic program, instead choosing to reinstate wrestling.
Baseball was first played in the 1904 Summer Olympics, and after many years of intermittent competition, became an official Summer Olympic sport in 1992. The popularity of baseball at the Summer Olympics spanned globally, as eight teams and 160 athletes were able to participate in the Summer Olympics. Cuba may have won the most medals during the five Olympic tournaments (3 gold, 2 bronze), but it was the global appeal of baseball (each populated continent had representation at some point during the five tournaments) that made the Olympic tournaments more unique, and intriguing to watch.
However, in the grand scheme of Olympic planning, baseball was fighting a losing battle against other globally-defined sports, such as golf and rugby sevens (the two sports voted into the London Olympic Program). In an interview with MLB.com in 2008, former IOC head Jacques Rogge stated that in order for baseball to rejoin the Olympic program, “you would need to have a sport with a following, you need to have the best players and you need to be in strict compliance with WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). And these are the qualifications that have to be met. When you have all of that, you have to win hearts. You can win the mind, but you must still win the hearts.”
Essentially, Rogge argued that professionalism, globalism, and clean competition are the three main factors behind baseball’s inclusion into the Olympic program. The first problem affecting nations such as the United States is the fact that professional athletes should compete in the Olympic Games. In the past, the United States sent minor leaguers and Major League free agents to the Olympic Games, and have finished with mediocre results (1 gold, 2 bronze). The obstacle for the United States is trying to convince America’s best baseball players to step forward from their comfortable confines, and represent the nation on the international stage. This would mean trying to tamper with the Major League season, which runs during the traditional Olympic calendar. A proposal that resonated throughout the MLB was to suspend the season one month while professionals played in the Olympic tournament. Although that could lead to international success, most players and fans would not be in support of that policy, due to the notion that fans would miss watch their teams for a month (similar to the NHL and their Olympic guidelines) and that players would have to interrupt their training regimens and pitching cycle in order to join the American team on the international stage.
Countering the removal of baseball from the Olympic program, the major professional baseball leagues created a tournament sanctioned by the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) known as the World Baseball Classic. There, 16 teams would be grouped into pools, and the best teams from each pool would have the opportunity to compete for the championship. Despite successful tournaments in 2006, 2009, and 2013, the support for the tournament in the United States has been minimal, due to the lack of big-name players participating in the tournament. Despite having players like Ryan Braun, Giancarlo Stanton, Joe Mauer, and David Wright in the fold, most people did not take to the excitement of the tournament, simply because high-profile players (Justin Verlander, Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, etc.) did not elect to participate in the tournament. Although the sport of baseball has tried to recapture its glory on the international stage, the rapport for international support for the United States baseball team has struggled due to the lack of big-name professional players donning the red, white, and blue with the aim of winning the championship.
Alongside professionalism, globalism is another issue that baseball has to work out in order for its Olympic status to be renewed. On the surface, this issue seems minimal, as 51 countries have sent players to play in the Major Leagues since 1876. However, the depth of this international passion, as evidenced by the lower number of Major Leaguers in some countries, seems to be a concerning factor for the IOC. Despite a large contingency of Major Leaguers from the Dominican Republic, Japan, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela, many countries that participated in the Olympics and World Baseball Classic did not have many Major League players to their name. For example, Italy, a team that has been a consistent participant in the World Baseball Classic, has no active players in the Major Leagues. In order to maintain their competence, players with Italian descent chose to play for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, a policy that can’t be carried over in the Olympic Games. Since some countries have to depend on international mercenaries to fill out their rosters, it may be alarming for the international support system that most countries can’t field teams of talented players to compete against the likes of professional juggernauts (USA, Japan, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, etc.).
In order to fill this international void, the Major Leagues has established many initiatives to rally international support for the sport in many countries. Most teams have established training programs in countries such as China and Aruba in order to develop talented players. Also, teams have traveled to nations where baseball hasn’t prospered to find raw talent. One example occurred in India, where the Pittsburgh Pirates signed two Indian pitchers after their participation in the reality TV Show Million Dollar Arm. Although Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel have not broken into the major leagues yet, their influence and admiration throughout India has helped the nation develop a following for baseball that was barely present in prior years. In effect, the programs established by the MLB has developed an international admiration for the game, spreading the game’s popularity worldwide, and helping its case to restore its Olympic status.
In addition to professionalism and globalism, clean competition is needed in order for baseball to thrive as an Olympic sport. Due to the recent scandals involving performance-enhancing drugs that have rocked the Major League community, many initiatives have been taken by Major League baseball to protect the pureness of the game. In compliance with WADA and other drug prevention programs, the MLB has suspended numerous Major and Minor League players for 50 games or more for drug violations. The effects these initiatives as the translate to the international level are a major factor towards the sport’s inclusion as an Olympic sport. The IOC, who has had to endure many drug scandals throughout its tenure, wants to ensure the purity of sport during their Olympic competitions, and believes that baseball should clean up before it is reconsidered as an Olympic sport. If many players comply with the drug policies set forth by Major League Baseball and WADA, then that would significantly affect the prognosis of baseball as an Olympic sport.
If baseball can emphasize its professional, global, and pure standards that have made it a popular game throughout the world, then it should be reinstated as an Olympic sport simply because of its international support. Nationalism and dedication, which are the heart and soul of the Olympic competitions, are two things that baseball brings to the table effectively. Ever since 1992, three countries (Cuba, United States, and South Korea) have been able to tout themselves as the strongest baseball nations on the Olympic stage. Being able to call oneself the best in something is a feeling that is rarely duplicated, making the nation and its people feel confident and stronger in the process. If the IOC wants to have nationalism and loyalty thrive within the confines of their games, then they should definitely reconsider bringing baseball back to the Olympic Games. Whenever baseball is restored into the Olympic Program, it will return stronger than ever before, capitalizing on the opportunity to repair the mistakes made in the previous five Olympic baseball tournaments.
by PATRICK CAVANAUGH
The day is finally here. Tonight marks the annual Granite State Baseball Dinner at Radisson Hotel Expo Center in Manchester, NH. The head table was filled with twenty-ones guests of honor, and some of the names on the list were easily recognized by New England sports fans.
As soon as the doors opened, fans fingered through their programs trying to scout out where to start on their hunt for autographs. Popular signatures included Chris Carpenter, a New Hampshire-native who just announced his retirement this week after playing in the Major Leagues for fifteen years, as well as Jonny Gomes, one of the key contributors on this year’s MLB World Champions, the Boston Red Sox. The line for these particular VIPS were packed with people for the entire autograph session.
Other former players in attendance included Fred McGriff, Bernie Carbo, Jim Beattie, and Scott McGregor. There were also some up-and-coming talent at the head table, as players like Brad Zapenas (Cubs minor-league system), Jordan Cote (Yankees minor-league system, and Joey Maher (Yankees minor-league system) show up every year to the dinner. It is always great to see players (both young and old) representing the game of America’s pastime.
For live updates thoughout tonight’s event, you can follow @pcava12 on Twitter as he will be posting insight and pictures throughout the evening.
After an exciting, come from behind win yesterday, the Pawtucket Red Sox were back in action Wednesday night looking to take a commanding two games to none lead in the Governors’ Cup Final. The PawSox again would have to face a tough pitcher, as the Durham Bulls starter would be J.D. Martin, the I.L. Pitcher of Year. The Sox countered with Steven Wright, who pitched well and got the win in his last start against the Red Wings. In another low scoring game, the Bulls would even the series by the final of 2-1.
After the first two innings were scoreless for both sides, the bottom of the Pawtucket’s order started the first rally of the game. Dan Butler lined an opposite field single and Justin Henry followed with a single to right. After a Heiker Meneses sac bunt put two runners in scoring position, Jonathan Diaz drove home a run on an RBI groundout to make the score 1-0 PawSox after three innings of play.
While this was one of the only opportunities they had on Martin, they were able to grind out at bats and work his pitch count high. Through five innings he threw 79 pitches despite just giving up the one run. Wright and his knuckleball kept Durham hitters off balance, but his pitch count was also high by the fifth inning. The Bulls best early chances came in the 3rd and 5th innings in which they stranded two runners. Wright was able to wiggle his way around any trouble he got into, which was often as he failed to record a clean inning.
The Bulls would catch a break in the 6th inning to tie the game at one a side. After getting the first two men on, Brandon Guyer grounded into a double play that moved Belnome to third. A passed ball by Butler allowed him to score the game tying run.
Again, Durham would capitalize on a Pawtucket mistake in the 7th inning. Craig Albernaz got to second base with one out after Meneses threw a routine grounder into the Bulls dugout. Wright was left on the mound to face Kevin Kiermaier, and he promptly launched an RBI double to left to give the Bulls a 2-1 lead.
Pawtucket’s offense continued to be quiet against Bulls pitching late in the game. The PawSox were able to get hits but weren’t able to string anything together, a trend that has become a theme in these playoffs. Another troubling theme for Pawtucket has been a lack of production from the middle of the order, as the combination of Alex Hassan, Mark Hamilton, and Bryce Brentz have combined to hit under .200 through 7 playoff games. It was this combination that led off the 9th inning down one, but could not muster up a run against closer Kirby Yates.
Martin recorded a no decision in his 6 innings of work, allowing 1 run on 4 hits, a walk, and 3 strikeouts. C.J. Riefenhauser earned the win in relief, pitching 2 perfect innings with 4 strikeouts. Wright was tagged with the loss despite not allowing an earned run in the game. He went 6.2 innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits, 3 walks, and 6 strikeouts.
Both teams will have Thursday off before returning to McCoy Stadium for Game three of the series. Matt Barnes will take the hill for the PawSox while Matt Buschmann will go for the Bulls. Game time is 7:05.
by PATRICK CAVANAUGH
(MANCHESTER, N.H.)—It was a cat-and-mouse type of battle between the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and the Portland Sea Dogs on Monday night at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. With both teams fighting for a playoff spot, there was a lot on the line, and both teams definitely fought hard, but Portland rallied late in the game.
The Sea Dogs were the first team to get on the scoreboard, and the Fisher Cats sure fought back. New Hampshire plated three runs in the fourth, one in the fifth, and one in the sixth, but in the end it just wasn’t enough. Portland rallied late in the contest and got them on top for good. The final score was 10-5 in favor of the Sea Dogs.
Marcus Walden, Fisher Cats right-handed starter, threw 6.2 innings, gave up eight hits, three runs (two earned), walked two, and struck out five runs. Walden was later relieved by Randy Boone and Matt Wright. Boone was the pitcher who was charged with the loss.
Although the Fisher Cats lost tonight’s game, they have to look ahead to the next seven games. The postseason is on everyone’s mind, but first the Fisher Cats must pass the Trenton Thunder to earn the Eastern Division Wild Card. It will certainly be an interesting finish.
by PATRICK CAVANAUGH
(MANCHESTER, N.H.)—The New Hampshire Fisher Cats only have eight games left in the regular season and if they have hopes of making the postseason, they better get to
work. They play their final four home games at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium against the arch-rivals, the Portland Sea Dogs, before finishing the season on the road with a four game series against the Binghamton Mets at NYSEG Stadium.
The Fisher Cats, who sit below .500 in the standings with a record of 66-67, need to be successful in these next eight games. Coming into tonight, they remain three games behind the Trenton Thunder for the Eastern Division Wild Card. The Thunder have nine games left to go in their regular season (a series against New Britain and a series against Portland). It will certainly be an interesting run to the playoffs in the Eastern Division.
Looking at the Portland series that starts tonight, the Fisher Cats are certainly going up against some top talent. The Sea Dogs have players like 3B Garin Cecchini, who is a .315 hitter with a .415 OBP in his three-year pro career. They also have quite a few pitchers who throw exceptionally well, such as Henry Owens, Matt Barnes, and Keith Couch (all of them will pitch against the Fisher Cats).
As mentioned, these final games are crucial for New Hampshire. Tonight in game one of the four-game series against Portland, the Fisher Cats will start RHP Marcus Walden (6-13, 3.67). He will be opposed by the Sea Dogs LHP Mickey Pena (0-0, 0.00).
by CAMERON MERRITT
WILLIAMSPORT, Penn.- The boys from Westport, Connecticut sealed another victory in the Little League World Series Sunday when they defeated the Northwest champions Sammamish, Washington 9-7.
Alex Reiner, who’s been seldomly called to the rubber this tournament, helped seal a victory for the New England regional champions by tossing two scoreless innings, giving up an inherited run off a single, but for the most part dominating his opponents and keeping those who reached scoring position at bay.
“I came just trying to throw strikes,” Reiner told local paper the Stamford Advocate. “We have good fielders behind me. They make a lot of plays.”
His coach, Tim Rogers, was also very pleased by the performance.
“Alex just did a tremendous job. The one thing you can always count on from Alex is his strikes. That’s what we needed at the time.”
The New England team did the bulk of it’s scoring in the top of the second, totaling seven of their nine runs on the afternoon, with the other two coming in the fourth. The Northwest squad tried to claw their way back with a few runs at a time, but ultimately came up short and took the loss.
Another loss for the Sammadish team was pitcher Jacob Dahlstrom, the starter who was involved in a scary moment when he took a line-drive by Tatin Llamas off of his right knee, and was eventually carried off the field by his coaches and staff. He was seen on crutches following the game, and his coach Rob Chandler described the injury as a “deep bruise.”
New England starter, and the man taking the win, Harry Azadian, proved very valuabloe for his team. Azadian went 3 1/3 innings giving up two runs while having himself a three hit afternoon, including a two-run homer, and driving in five RBIs.
After he left the mound, the Northwest started to stage their small comeback, scoring twice in the fourth and four times in the fifth, until finally be halted by Reiner.
By having Azadian only throwing 50 pitches, it means that he’ll be available to go again Wednesday, along with fellow star pitcher Chad Knight, as they’ll take on the red-hot West champions ,Chula Vista, California, who are coming off a four inning, 15-3 victory over the Mid-Atlantic winners, Newark, Delaware. Having both of his top pitchers, Rogers said, they “could not have asked to be in a better position.”
The Northwest champs move to the losers bracket, and will have to defeat Midwest winners Urbandale, Iowa in order to advance in the tournament.
by CAMERON MERRITT
WILLIAMSPORT, Penn.- The boys from the Westport (Conn.) Little League continued their winning ways Thursday night, in their first game of the Little League World Series, coming from behind to beat the Southeast champions, South Nashville (Tenn.) LL, 3-2.
New England came back from a 2-1 deficit in the bottom of the fifth when shortstop Ricky Offenberg sent a solo shot to center to bring the two even, then pitcher Chad Knight, who lead his team to victory in the regional final, did it again with the go-ahead RBI double with two outs.
Offenberg, who had only hit one home run previously this season, was very surprised by his own burst of power.
“When I think I hit one out, I almost don’t believe it’s going to go out because I don’t do it a lot,” he said following the game.
Knight had another dominant night for his team on the mound, going 4 1/3 innings (85 pitch maximum), giving up one run and no walks while striking out eight. His replacement, Hank Azarian, gave up the other run in the top in fifth, a solo homer by Ben Pickman, which gave the Southeast the 2-1 lead, but would follow it up by retiring five straight and getting the win.
“We got down, but we’ve been in tough spots several times this year. The kids always find a way to battle back,” said New England manager Tim Rogers.
With the win, New England enters the winner’s bracket, and will return to action Sunday to take on the Northwest champions, Sammamish, Wash., while the boys from South Nashville enter a must-win situation to stay alive as they’ll face the Southwest champion, Corpus Christi, Texas. While the winner will move on, the loser has one final conselation game against an eliminated team from the International pool, then will head back home.
Despite the disadvantage handed to them by the loss, the man at the helm of the Southeast champions, Chris Mercado, wasn’t too worried.
“Every tournament we’ve played, we’ve lost the first game. Our team doesn’t like to lose, but with our back against the wall … we’ll see if there’s one more miracle in there for us.”
by CAMERON MERRITT
BRISTOL, Conn.- On Saturday night, the boys from the Westport (Connecticut) Little League achieved the dream of every youth baseball player around the world; a chance to play in the Little League World Series.
The Connecticut state champs defeated their counterparts from Rhode Island, Lincoln Little League, 1-0 as star pitcher Chad Knight tossed a complete game shutout, allowing only one hit while striking out 14, including five in a row at one point,to book his team a ticket to Williamsport, Pennsylvania to represent New England in the 2013 Little League World Series.
“I was so happy. It’s a dream come true. The last four years it’s been my dream,” said Knight on the win.
Along with a solid performance on the mound, Knight also drove in the game’s only run in the top of the fifth off a fielder’s choice grounder to third, allowing shortstop Ricky Offenberg to score. Westport, the favorites going into the tournament, finished a perfect 6-0, at times all-out dominating their opponents, as they did on their way to the state title, where they also went undefeated at 17-0.
This was not the case in the regional championship, however, as Lincoln, who finished at 4-2, put up quite the fight, only to come up just short in the end.
“(Knight) was dominating,” said Lincoln manager Matthew Netto. “He was incredible. Knight is an amazing athlete. His curveball looks exactly like his fastball. I told (Westport) that’s the greatest baseball game I’ve ever seen.”
Dominic Cunha pitched one of his best game’s of the tournament despite taking the loss, as he went 4.1 innings, throwing the maximum of 85 pitches, giving up only two hits and a run while striking out 10. He retired all but one of the last eight batters he faced, then was replaced in relief by Stephen “Big Country” Andrews.
“(Cunha) really brought the heat; his curve was alright, but his fastball was overpowering. Our kids are rarely overpowered, but that kid did it to us,” said Westport manager Tim Rogers. “It’s a shame someone had to lose that game. I had seen (Lincoln) Rhode Island play before, and to think we would’ve shut them out? I never would’ve believed it.”
In regards to his own team’s victory, Rogers called it “just amazing.”
“It’s amazing how many good teams we’ve had to beat along the way. Some of those close games, to pull them out and get every single one along the way is just amazing.”
While obviously disappointed by the final result, Netto said that on the way home, “I thought about how proud I was of every one of our kids, and what they had accomplished.”
Westport wasted little time in travelling, arriving in Williamsport Sunday and receiving their New England uniforms. They are the third team from Connecticut in the past four years to win the New England title, and the only four teams from New England to win it all all hailed from the Constitution State, the last coming in 1989 when Trumbull National defeated Kang-Tu LL (Kaohsiung, Chinese-Taipei) 5-2, where pitcher Chris Drury, who would go on to have a successful hockey career playing four seasons at Boston University and 13 seasons in the NHL, tossed a complete game, giving up only five hits and two runs, while driving in two runs of his own to clinch the title.
Wesport will open up their 2013 LLWS Thursday, when they’ll take on the Southeast champions, South Nashville (Tennessee) LL.
by PATRICK CAVANAUGH
(MANCHESTER, N.H.)—The New Hampshire Fisher Cats gave some of their biggest fans a chance to show off their skills at the annual Ticket Package Holder Batting
Practice, which took place on Saturday at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
Although the Fisher Cats didn’t offer any fans a spot on the roster, there were plenty of athletic men and women on the minor league playing surface on Saturday morning. Whether it was shagging fly balls in the outfield or stepping up to the plate, you could clearly see the talent behind the die-hard fans.
After all ticket holders got a chance to hit, the day got even batter as the Fisher Cats provided a lunch in the Samuel Adams Bar and Grille in left-field. The players were even in attendance at the luncheon, and fans had a chance to mingle with some of there minor league icons. Upon entering the stadium, fans were given a raffle ticket for each seat they purchased for the season. During lunch, tickets were drawn for various raffle prizes that included everything from gift cards to restaurants, to passes at the local ski area.
From there, ticket holders got to take part in another great experience! They were then lined up in groups and had the opportunity to get their picture taken on the field with the team. These pictures make great souvenirs for the loyal fans.
Events like this just showcase how an organization like the Fisher Cats and its players can easily interact with the fans that show up to almost every game. It is certainly a one-of-a-kind experience unlike no other, and it really separates New Hampshire from the rest of the pack.
by PATRICK CAVANAUGH
(MANCHESTER, N.H.)—Kyle Drabek is back in the Queen City at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium for the first time since he was named Eastern League Pitcher of theYear back in 2010. He is rehabbing with the Double-A ball-club as he is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Drabek, 25, had his season cut short last year after it was announced in June that he would undergo surgery. Fast-forwarding to this year, the right-handed ace started his rehab assignment with the Dunedin Blue Jays (Advanced-A affiliate) back in late June and is slowly moving back towards the Majors.
Tomorrow will be Drabek’s second start in a Fisher Cats uniform this season. Last Friday (8/2), Drabek got a no decision against the Richmond Flying Squirrels. He threw four innings, gave up one hit, one earned run, walked one, and struck out three batters.
Drabek’s appearance tomorrow should draw a lot of fans out to the ballpark. The game will be the series finale between the Fisher Cats and the Bowie Bay Sox. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05.