NCAA Regionals

2014 NCAA Regional Tournaments. McKethan Stadium, in Gainesville Florida, is the home field for the University of Florida Gators baseball team and, once again, they host an NCAA regional tournament this year, the “Gainesville Regionals.” All eyes were fixed on the road to Omaha, Nebraska and the site of the NCAA Div. I Baseball Championship, the final destination for college baseball teams across the country. During the regionals, a total of (64) schools qualify to compete in pools of 4 teams. (30) teams are automatically given a birth for winning their respective conferences. NCAA committee is tasked with selecting the (34) other seats at large based on rankings, records, etc. They all have a tangible path to the College World Series. NCAA has used this regional format since 1975. During the Memorial Day weekend, there are (16) regional tournaments altogether. The winner of each regional tournament advances to the super regionals, a best of three series. And, those winners punch their ticket to Omaha. The College World Series is a 2-week event and only (8) can go. There are 299 Div. I baseball programs across the country.

In Game 1, it was #3 University of North Carolina vs. #2 Long Beach State, a fundamentally sound game through the (4) innings until Long Beach State broke through with a 6-run rally. It all simply started with an infield grounder and a batter outrunning the throw to first, a little hustle and a not so clean play by the shortstop undid what would’ve been a routine putout. Before the game, Tar Heels had concerns about their short stop Michael Russell’s absence on regional day. He had been sidelined with back spasms. Long Beach State Dirtbags beat University of North Carolina Tar Heels 6-1.

The other (2) teams in the “Gainesville Regional” were College of Charleston and University of Florida. The Florida Gators were heavy favorites but were upset in double elimination without winning a single game. The least likely to advance, the Charleston Cougars, did what the Florida Gators were heavily favored to do. Anything can happen in baseball and it usually does. The upsets continued when the Florida State Seminoles also went home early. They were hosting the “Tallahassee Regional” and did not win a single game. In fact, the Miami Hurricanes were the last team standing to possibly represent Florida in the College World Series. They hosted the “Coral Gables Regional.” Texas Tech Red Raiders would stage another upset at “the U” to eliminate the Miami Hurricanes as well. The Charleston Cougars went on to meet those Texas Tech Red Raiders in the “Lubbock Super Regionals.” The Raiders would host it, sweeping the best of 3 series. They won both games with a final score of 1-0, a true battle of underdogs. By advancing, Texas Tech was (1) of the Omaha (8). In 2014, the “Road to Omaha” ended with the Vanderbilt University Commodores meeting the University of Virginia Cavaliers in the best of (3) series 2 games to 1. Unbeknownst to anyone, these two teams would face off again in the final series of the 2015 College world series and this time University of Virginia Cavaliers returned the favor and won 2 games to 1. As they say, baseball can humble you in a hurry.

Long Beach State Dirtbags @ University of North Carolina Tar Heels

Major League High School

2012 Central Florida Spring Break Slam was a nationally recognized 16 team tournament held at 3 schools in the greater Orlando area; Dr. Phillips High School, Wekiva High School, and West Orange High School. It gave these scholastics athletes a genuine opportunity to show what they had to professional scouts and college coaches. The premiere event was scheduled to be televised on the local Bright House Sports Network.

The first game of this weeklong tournament was played at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Florida. Fun fact, there is a little high school located on Turkey Lake Road, behind the main entrance to Universal Studios, where some MLB players first chased their dreams to play in the big leagues. Those Dr. Phillips Alumni are Dan Miceli, A.J. Pierzynski, and Johnny Damon. They are among the numbers retired in right field of the Dr. Phillips Panthers home field. Alongside them, you will also find the number 19 for the late Scott James Muhlhan who played for the Dr. Phillips Panthers in the early 1990’s. Orlando Sentinel reported that Scott James Muhlhan died from cancer on Sunday January 11, 1998 at the age of 23. “It was Scott James Muhlhan’s cool composure and fiery determination that helped him succeed both as a baseball player and a businessman.” wrote Martin Comas of the Sentinel staff. After leading his team to the state play-offs, he went on to attend University of Central Florida where he also played and received a degree in Business Management. After which, he followed in his father’s foot steps as a pharmaceutical salesman. This is the Scott James Muhlhan Baseball Complex.

City of Windermere’s Olympia Titans faced Satellite Scorpions from City of Satellite Beach. Starting shortstop for the Olympia Titans was sophomore Nick Gordon. He is the son of Tom “Flash” Gordon who pitched in the big leagues for 21 years. He was also on hand for support. From a distance, Nick’s hopping silhouette at shortstop slightly resembled that of Ernie Banks. That may be an unfair comparison but it was my first thought. His brother Dee Gordon has been an MLB player since 2011. In 2020, he was an infielder for the Seattle Mariners. This year, he signed a minor contract with the Cincinnati Reds and has been in their spring training camp. He’s remembered for hitting that most unlikely home run in the “Jose Fernandez Game” of 2016, the first game after the said pitcher’s tragic death. Brother Nick Gordon would be drafted out of Olympia High School in the first round of the 2014 MLB draft by the Minnesota Twins. He’s been in their minor league system since then. Last year, he tested positive for Covid-19 followed by being in career jeopardy as every other minor league player found themselves in. This year he was in spring training for depth and was recently optioned back to the minors.

The championship game was held at West Orange High School baseball field in Winter Garden, Florida; home of the West Orange Warriors. Olympia Titans beat the Rockledge Raiders (City of Rockledge) to take the 2012 Central Florida Spring Break Slam title. This game made it 18 wins and 0 losses for the Olympia Titans. They went on to finish the regular season with a perfect 25-0 record in 2012, the first school to do so in Central Florida history. Olympia High School baseball coach Randy O’Neal is also a former MLB player. He holds something unique in his career. On September 12 of 1984, he was called up from the minors and debuted with the Detroit Tigers, pitching in the game to clinch the 1984 AL East Division Pennant. He had the experience of enjoying his debut game with his new teammates and the champagne celebration in the clubhouse.

MVP Jesse Winker was on the national prospect radar. He was also a first-round selectee in the 2012 MLB draft out of Olympia High School and has worked his way up the ranks to finally be promoted to the Major League team on April 14, 2017. Despite his injury and performance setbacks, he continues to hold a job as an outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds. At the start of 2021 Spring Training, Jesse Winker found himself sharing Cincinnati Reds camp with Dee Gordon who was competing for the shortstop position, the brother of his old high school teammate. You would think that Nick Gordon’s ears must be ringing. With all the negative impact on the game these days, baseball is one big family that continues to find a way to deal with the adversity. Hitting the ball 3 out of 10 times is still the mark of success and lesson number one has been to learn from failure.

Spartans at Phillies

University of Tampa Spartans @ Philadelphia Phillies

2016 Spring Training Philadelphia Phillies hosted University of Tampa Baseball with an impressive resume best described by the analogy of their mascot, the Spartans. They are the best kept secret in baseball; reigning in the shadows of college baseball. As in the 2006 film “300,” this Division II college baseball program has “stood and fought” with the highest level of competition.  In January of 2014, the Spartans went to Cuba on a good will tour and went undefeated with a 3-0 record. The intent was a cultural exchange. Nonetheless, they played tough teams. Spartan later won the 2015 NCAA Division II National Title. That tournament was held at the USA Baseball National Training Center in Cary, North Carolina. Since their first NCAA Division II National Championship in 1992, they’ve gone on to win (8) total; (5) of those titles in the last (15) years. Spartans have been on the good side of winning baseball; playing .500 since its 1978 season. During that same time, there have been over 50 MLB Amateur Draft Picks who came from University of Tampa.

In 2015, 2016, and 2017, Spartans were invited by the Philadelphia Phillies to play an exhibition game, kicking off Spring Training at Bright House Field (currently renamed Spectrum Field), the Florida home of the Philadelphia Phillies. These invites are not unique to the Phillies. Other teams have done the same. The New York Mets have played University of Michigan Wolverines and the Boston Red Sox have played Boston College. This was the second invitation for the Spartans. Just the year before, Spartans beat the Philadelphia Phillies 6-2; their inaugural game in the Grapefruit League. Andrew Amaro, the nephew of General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was on that Spartans team. It goes without saying that Ruben Amaro Jr. received ongoing questions about the upcoming 2015 Regular Season. For the most part, Spartans were playing with players at the Triple-A level. Of course, any given MLB team will send invitations to their prospects at varying levels of player development and can have a roster with as many as (45) players in camp. Clearwater, Florida, is “Phillies Nation.” The city has hosted the Philadelphia Phillies Spring Training since 1947.

There’s no doubt that these young Phillies were playing like their life depended on it. Yet, the mutual respect and overall friendliness between the two teams was very noticeable. The Phillies were on the right side of winning on this day, beating Spartans 8-3. For the 2016 regular season, Phillies would go on to win (15) games in the month of April.

Winter Meetings

2013 Baseball Winter Meetings held at the Dolphin Resort in Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Among other things, there was also a job fair and trade show, an important time of year for many in the industry who are looking for advancement. It runs from Monday morning to early Thursday afternoon and its usually set in a different city every year. Headlining Monday morning was the news that Pitcher Roy Halladay would retire. There was also a press conference to announce the Hall of Fame induction of Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, and Tony La Russa, a combined 93 years of managerial experience. They were elected by a special “Expansion Era Committee.”

Bobby Cox played a couple of years for the New York Yankees as a backup infielder. He found his real calling while managing in the Yankees minor league system and in Venezuela. He was a first base coach for the 1977 World Champion New York Yankees. That all set the tables for his first MLB Manager job in 1978 with the Atlanta Braves. 32 years later he would lead his teams to 16 Division Titles, 5 Pennants, and 1 World Championship.

Joe Torre was a player for 18 years and was an All-Star, a Gold Glove, an MVP, & a Batting Champion. But, never anything in the post season. He actually started managing as a player manager for the New York Mets in 1977. Ironically, his second manager job was to replace a fired Bobby Cox with the Atlanta Braves. 28 years later he would lead his teams to 13 Division Titles, 6 Pennants, and 4 World Championships. His legendary run with the New Yankees gave him something he never had as a player.

Tony La Russa played between 1962 and 1977. I good part of that time was spent in the minors as he injured his shoulder early on while playing a game of softball. His last Major League appearance was one game in Chicago with the Cubs in 1973, where he scored a run. His first Manager job was also in Chicago with the White Sox in 1979. 33 years later, he led all organizations he managed to the post season with 12 Division Titles, 6 Pennants, and 3 World Championships.

 There were also wild card births that all three managers took advantage of in post season competition. The expansion era of baseball is marked from 1973 to present. And, when you talk about the changes of the games since, it’s impossible to leave these three names out of the conversation. Frank Thomas, Greg Maddox, and Tom Glavine were added to this Hall of Fame Class of 2014 a couple of weeks later (January of 2014) through the regular ballot voting.

A buzz was in the air from the schedule of events and the big names in baseball roaming around. Owners, front office executives, general managers, and coaches from all 30 MLB teams were all on hand here. You know you’re at the epicenter when you see baseball insiders John Heyman and Ken Rosenthal zipping through the hallways of the lobby.

CBS Sports Writer Mike Axisa reported the deals listed below on Wednesday December 11, 2013.

Extensions

  • Pirates: Signed RHP Charlie Morton to a three-year, $21 million extension. The contract includes a $9.5 million club option for a fourth year.

Signings

  • Mariners: Agreed to a one-year deal worth $5 million with 1B/OF Corey Hart. He can earn another $8 million or so in incentives.
  • Mets: Agreed to terms with RHP Bartolo Colon. It’s a two year $20 million deal.
  • Pirates: Agreed to a one-year deal worth $5 million with RHP Edinson Volquez, adding to their pitching depth.

Trades

  • Astros: Acquired RHP Anthony Bass and either a player to be named later or cash from the Padres for a player to be named later or cash, the team announced.
  • Mariners: Acquired 1B/OF Logan Morrison from the Marlins for RHP Carter Capps.
  • Nationals: Acquired LHP Jerry Blevins from the Athletics for minor league OF Billy Burns.
  • Yankees: Acquired minor league RHP Kyle Haynes from the Pirates as the player to be named later in last week’s Chris Stewart trade, the team announced.

Overall, this was a relatively quiet meeting of the minds, nothing earth shattering or game changing. Yahoo Sports reported on a fight in the parking lot outside between a couple of agents that got into a scuffle over a player, one accusing the other of stealing a prospect. A small 22 second video clip from the phone of an witness showed the two taking their swings. It briefly went viral but was not enough to identify them. According to witnesses, one even threatened to burn the other’s house down. With a slow week came a side-story with more excitement on the parking lot outside then in the hotel reservations.

USA Baseball

USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina, develops young talent from around the country. Aside from its role in the Olympics, USA Baseball continues its matrix of developing talent by participating in international competition, around the world, throughout the year, in all age categories. Their mission to is to grow the game through youth programs, player development, as well as safety and education initiatives. This place is the epicenter of those endeavors. The Town of Cary, North Carolina was selected to be to home of USA Baseball in 2002. It opened in 2007. Bill Coleman, the former Town Manager of Cary who helped to bring this complex here, passed away in September of 2014. In his honor, the main diamond was named Coleman Field. Stadium seating was set at 1,754 and 250 for grass seating. Located within the 221 acres of Thomas Brooks Park, it has all the specs. of your normal spring training facility. I visited in the USA Baseball National Training Complex in 2014 & 2015, while working and living in the Carolinas. Aside from Coleman Field, there are (3) other training fields. All four field are maintained at MLB standards.

Visit (1) was during the16U and 17U Tournament which was held August 21-24 of 2014 for the selection of the National Teams. Close to 50 games were played here over the weekend. It’s a launching point for USA Baseball to select players for National Team programs. Throughout the year, this place is host to many other tournaments and invitationals. Although there is currently no MLB team here, this part of the country is a hot-bed of baseball activities with competition in the high school and college ranks. Minor League baseball also thrives here.

Visit (2) was the 4th Annual National High School Invitational held at USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina. San Clemente Tritons (San Clemente, California) met College Park Falcon (Pleasant Hill, California) for the final game on Saturday March 28, 2015. 16 high school baseball teams from 10 states were invited to compete for a national title at the scholastic level. 8 of the 16 teams were ranked in the nationwide pre-season top 25. Some teams are reigning state champions in the respective homes. This new venue allows an opportunity to determine a, “National Champions” and gives high school players added exposure to both collegiate recruitment and MLB prospect lists. Tritons won 8-3 to take the trophy home.

“Our Pastime’s Future” is the USA Baseball slogan. Nothing else can better describe what happens here. The program has served as an institute to player development. It’s had a heavy influence on talent at all levels. Here is a list from USA Baseball of current MLB players who have been a part of USA Baseball.

Arizona Diamondbacks

  • Jon Jay 2005 Collegiate
  • Carson Kelly 2010 16U; 2011 18U
  • Mike Leake 2008 Collegiate
  • Daulton Varsho 2019 Professional
  • Luke Weaver 2013 Collegiate

Atlanta Braves

  • A.J. Minter 2014 Collegiate
  • Drew Smyly 2011 Professional; 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Dansby Swanson 2014 Collegiate
  • Touki Toussaint 2011 16U
  • Kyle Wright 2016 Collegiate

Baltimore Orioles

  • Thomas Eshelman 2014 Collegiate
  • Rio Ruiz 2007, 2004 14 U
  • D.J. Stewart 2014 Collegiate

Boston Red Sox

  • Christian Arroyo 2012 18U
  • Matt Barnes 2010 Collegiate
  • Jackie Bradley Jr. 2010 Collegiate
  • C.J. Chatman 2019 Professional
  • Bobby Dalbec 2015 Collegiate; 2019 Professional
  • Robert Stock 2004, 2005 16U
  • Alex Verdugo 2010 14U

Chicago Cubs

  • Albert Almora 2007, 2008 14U; 2009, 2010 18U; 2015 Professional
  • Kris Bryant 2012 Collegiate
  • Nico Hoerner 2011 14U; 2012 15U
  • Craig Kimbrel 2013 Professional
  • Dillon Maples 2010 18U
  • Kyle Ryan 2009 18U
  • Kyle Schwarber 2013 Collegiate

Chicago White Sox

  • Zach Burdi 2015 Collegiate
  • Gio Gonzalez 2013 Professional (WBC)
  • Yasmani Grandal 2009 Collegiate
  • Nick Madrigal 2011 14U; 2012 15U; 2014 18U; 2017 Collegiate
  • James McCann 2011 Professional
  • Carlos Rondon 2012, 2013 Collegiate
  • Blake Rutherford 2012 15U; 2014, 2015 18U

Cincinnati Reds

  • Trevor Bauer 2009 Collegiate
  • Nick Castellanos 2009 18U
  • Kyle Farmer 2012 Collegiate
  • Sonny Gray 2009, 2010 Collegiate
  • Ryan Hendrix 2015 Collegiate
  • Michael Lorenzen 2008 16U; 2010 18U; 2012 Collegiate
  • Mike Moustakas 2006 18U, 2010 Professional
  • Mark Payton 2019 Profesional
  • Lucas Sims 2010 16U
  • Jesse Winker 2011 18U

Cleveland Indians

  • Francisco Lindor 2009 16U; 2010 18U
  • Tyler Naquin 2011 Collegiate
  • Adam Plutko 2012 Collegiate

Colorado Rockies

  • Nolan Arenado 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Daniel Bard 2011 18U
  • Davis Dahl 2011 18U
  • Mychal Givens 2006 16U; 2007 18U; 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Garrett Hampson 2015 Collegiate
  • Peter Lambert 2014 18U
  • Daniel Murphy 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Dom Nunez 2011 16U; 2012 18U
  • Tony Wolters 2008 16U; 2012 18U

Detroit Tigers

  • Daz Cameron 2014 18U
  • Kyle Funkhouser 2014 Collegiate
  • Grayson Greiner 2013 Collegiate
  • Casey Mize 2017 Collegiate
  • Christian Stewart 2014 Collegiate
  • Troy Stokes Jr. 2010 14U

Houston Astros

  • Alex Bregman 2010 16U; 2011 18U; 2013, 2014 Collegiate; 2017 Professional
  • Chase De Jong 2011 18U
  • Lance Mc Cullers 2010 18U
  • George Springer 2010 Collegiate
  • Kyle Tucker 2012 15U
  • Justin Verlander 2003 Collegiate

Kansas City Royals

  • Danny Duffy 2010 Professional; 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Cam Gallagher 2015 Professional
  • Alex Gordon 2004 Collegiate
  • Matt Harvey 2006 18U
  • Ian Kennedy 2002 18U; 2004, 2005 Collegiate
  • Bubba (Derek) Starling 2010 18U

Los Angeles Angels

  • Jo Adell 2019 Professional
  • Hoby Milner 2011 Collegiate
  • Noe Ramirez 2010 Collegiate
  • Anthony Rendon 2010 Collegiate
  • Max Sassi 2006, 2007 16U; 2008 18U
  • Matt Thaiss 2015 Collegiate
  • Mike Trout 2010 Professional
  • Justin Upton 2004 18U
  • Tayler Ward 2014 Collegiate

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Walker Buehler 2014 Collegiate
  • Joe Kelly 2007 Collegiate
  • Clayton Kershaw 2005 18U
  • Jake McGee 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • A.J. Pollock 2011 Professional
  • David Price 2005, 2006 Collegiate
  • Corey Seager 2010 16U

Miami Marlins

  • Logan Forsythe 2007 Collegiate
  • Sean Rodriguez 2001 16U
  • Ryne Stanek 2011, 2012 Collegiate

Milwaukee Brewers

  • Brett Anderson 2004 16U; 2005 18U; 2008 Professional (Olympics)
  • Ryan Braun 2009, 2013 Professional (WBC)
  • J.P. Feyereisen 2019 Professional
  • Josh Hader 2015 Professional
  • Keston Hiuri 2016 Collegiate
  • Corey Knebel 2011 Collegiate
  • Mark Mathias 2014 Collegiate
  • Corey Ray 2015 Collegiate
  • Bobby Wahl 2012 Collegiate
  • Christian Yelich 2017 Professional (WBC)

Minnesota Twins

  • Tyler Clippard 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Brent Rooker 2019 Professional
  • Caleb Thielbar 2019 Professional

New York Mets

  • Gerrit Cole 2009, 2010 Collegiate
  • Erik Kratz 2010, 2019 Professional
  • Giancarlo Stanton 2013, 2017 Professional (WBC)

Oakland Athletics

  • Skye Bolt 2013 Collegiate
  • Matt Chapman 2013 Collegiate
  • Robbie Grossman 2007 18U
  • Daulton Jefferies 2015 Collegiate
  • James Kaprielian 2014 Collegiate
  • Mike Minor 2007, 2008 Collegiate
  • Sheldon Neuse 2010 16U
  • A.J. Puk 2015 Collegiate
  • JB Wendelken 2015 Professional

Philadelphia Phillies

  • Jake Arrieta 2006 Collegiate; 2008 Professional (Olympics)
  • Alec Bohm 2019 Professional
  • Zach Eflin 2015 Professional
  • Carson Fulmer 2011 18U; 2014 Collegiate
  • Bryce Harper 2008 16U; 2009 18U
  • Adam Haseley 2010 14U; 2013 18U
  • Tommy Hunter 2006 Collegiate
  • Cole Irvin 2011 18U
  • Andrew McCutchen 2004 18U; 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Mickey Moniak 2013 15U; 2015 18U
  • Davis Roberton 2017 Professional

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Anthony Alford 2008 14U
  • Adam Frazier 2012 Collegiate; 2015 Professional
  • Ke’Bryan Hayes 2014 18U
  • Derkl Holland 2013 Professional (WBC)
  • Cody Ponce 2019 Professional
  • Bryan Reynolds 2014 Collegiate
  • Jameson Taillon 2009 18U
  • Cole Tucker 2013 18U
  • Trevor Williams 2012 Collegiate

San Diego Padres

  • Jason Castro 2009 Professional
  • Jake Cronenworth 2019 Professional
  • Zach Davies 2007 14U
  • Trent Grisham 2014 18U
  • Eric Hosmer 2007 18U 2010 Professional; 2013, 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Manny Machado 2009 18U
  • Drew Pomeranz 2009 Collegiate
  • Ryan Weathers 2017 18U

San Francisco Giants

  • Tyler Anderson 2010 Collegiate
  • Tyler Beede 2013 Collegiate
  • Trevor Cahill 2008 Collegiate
  • Brandon Crawford 2006 Collegiate; 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Alex Dickerson 2010 Collegiate
  • Kevin Gausman 2009 18U; 2011 Collegiate
  • Evan Longoria 2007 Professional; 2009 Professional (WBC)
  • Buster Posey 2004 18U; 2017 Professional (WBC)

Seattle Mariners

  • J.P. Crawford 2009 14U
  • Marco Gonzales 2012 Collegiate
  • Tim Lopes 2010 16U
  • Tom Murphy 2011 Collegiate; 2015 Professional
  • Justus Shefield 2012 18U
  • Evan White 2016 Collegiate

St. Louis Cardinals

  • Jack Flaherty 2013 18U
  • Dexter Fowler 2008 Professional (Olympic)
  • Paul Goldschmidt 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Andrew Miller 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Brad Miller 2009, 2010 Collegiate
  • Lane Thomas 2013 Collegiate
  • Matt Wieters 2005 Collegiate
  • Kolten Wong 2009 Collegiate

Tampa Bay Rays

  • Austin Meadows 2011 16U
  • Brett Phillips 2015 Professional

Texas Rangers

  • Koby Allard 2014 18U
  • Derek Dietrich 2008 Collegiate
  • Joey Gallo 2011 18U
  • Kyle Gibson 2008 Collegiate
  • Lance Lynn 2007 Collegiate
  • Jeff Mathis 2005 Professional
  • Jose Trevino 2012 Collegiate

Toronto Blue Jays

  • Cavan Biggio 2012 18U
  • A.J. Cole 2001 16U
  • Randal Grichuk 2007 16U
  • Robbie Ray 2009 18U
  • Tanner Roark 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Matt Shoemaker 2011 Professional

Washington Nationals

  • Sean Doolittle 2013 Collegiate
  • Erick Fedde 2005, 2006 Collegiate
  • Josh Harrison 2017 Professional (WBC)
  • Howie Kendrick 2005 Professional
  • Stephen Strasburg 2008 Collegiate; 2008 Professional (Olympic)
  • Kurt Suzuki 2006 Professional
  • Trea Turner 2012, 2013 Collegiate
  • Ryne Zimmerman 2004 Collegiate

The USA Baseball DNA is found throughout the Major Leagues. JP Raineri of Valley News reported 2021 will prove to be another busy year for USA Baseball. Programming will cover opportunities to qualify for the Olympics, compete for world championships. “This year has given us a chance to learn and develop as an organization and we are excited for the opportunities presented to us to get back into action in 2021 and continue developing young athletes both on and off the field.” said Paul Seiler, executive director and CEO of USA Baseball.

Los Industriales

2013 was the 50th Anniversary of the Industriales from the Cuban Baseball National Series League, representing the country’s capital of Havana. Within that span of time, Industriales have won 12 Serie National Championships, an event held every February in Cuba. They are considered the New York Yankees of the island. Their blue uniforms are as iconic as the pinstripes in the Bronx. “Somos Cuba Entertainment Group” organized a reunion to celebrate the 50 years of winning baseball history.

A group of invited Industriales Legends traveled from their home in Cuba to Miami, Florida; arriving on Monday August 12, 2013. They were reunited with old friends and relatives, including ex-patriots who also played for the Industriales. They made television appearances. In addition, they also took part in a guided tour of Little Havana’s Marlins Park and paid their respects to the Virgin of Charity in the Coconut Grove Shrine. Also, on the itinerary was a meeting with LA Dodger Yaseil Puig who was in town to play the Miami Marlins.

Cuban Legend Lázaro Vargas, also took the short flight to Miami. But he was anxious to get back to his team. He was once again selected as the Manager for the current Industriales team in Cuba. He would return to lead them into the new Fall Season. BBC News reported that, once in his prime, Laura Vargas refused a $10M offer to leave Cuba for the U.S. Also, on hand, was Enrique Díaz, an ageless Cuban baseball player that played in the Cuban League for more than 25 years. Although he never played for the Cuban national team, He was the all time hits leader in the Cuban League.

Decisions are life changing for a Cuban ball player; some have defected to play Major League Baseball and others have stayed in Cuba to excel at international competition. Since the Revolution, players have defected to the U.S. for an opportunity to play professionally, with some 108 reaching their goal to play Major League Baseball. In the 2014 All-Star Game, there were 5 Cuban born ball players on the roster; Yoenis Cespedes (Boston Red Sox), Jose Abreu (Chicago White Sox), Alexei Ramirez (Chicago White Sox), Yaseil Puig (LA Dodgers), and Aroldis Chapman (Cincinnati Reds). Many others have followed and have become highly touted players.

Florida International University (FIU) was originally set to host a Legend’s game between the visiting invitees and the former Industriales who now reside in the U.S. They formed a squad called the “Miami All Stars.” On that team was Chicago White Sox and 2005 World Series Champion Jose Contreras. Within the pompous circumstances, NBC Miami reported that FIU caved in to pressure from a local exile group. With anticipated hostility at the park, the school backed out of the deal, due to another “contractual situation.” The political group in the Cuban-American community of South Florida demanded to not sponsor anything involving the Cuban Government.

Without a baseball field, no one was sure where they would play the exhibition games. Instead, they played a couple games here on the field of Alonzo High School in Tampa. Cuban born Miami Marlins Pitcher Jose Fernandez once crafted his pitching skills here, winning the 6A State Baseball Championship twice. He debuted in April of 2013 with the Miami Marlins. Unlike other Cuban born players in MLB. Jose Fernandez came to the U.S. at a young age and learned the game of baseball under the instruction of Orlando Chinea, a legendary Cuban coach living in Florida. Jose Fernandez was a rising star but tragically lost his life, at the age of 24, in a boating accident in September of 2016.

“Somos Cuba Entertainment Group” also managed to organize a game at Fort Lauderdale Stadium on short notice. Ironically, that was where the New York Yankees once held their spring training between 1962 and 1995. Baseball succeeds when politics and religion fail to bring people together.   

The Spirit of Mr. Padre

Tony Gwynn 1989 Topps Baseball Card.

Six years ago, Tony Gwynn passed away (June 16, 2014), losing his battle with salivary gland cancer. He gained so much in the time he was here with us. His celebrated 20 year career requires the voiceover of James Earl Jones who declared “the one constant in all the years is baseball” in the film “Field of Dreams. The life of Tony Gwynn was short, yet so well lived, a life that represents that same constant through all his years. In his MLB service time, Tony Gwynn won 8 NL Batting Titles, 5 Gold Gloves, 7 Silver Slugger Awards, 15 All-Star appearances, ultimately being inducted into the Hall of Fame (Class of 2007) with fellow legend Cal Ripken Jr. His baseball stats will be talked about 100 years from now. On the field, he was a superhero among mortals. He made a name for himself at Long Beach Polytechnic High School and later San Diego State University, played his entire career with the San Diego Padres for 20 years, then later came back to San Diego State University as Head Baseball Coach for 12 years. He left us at the young age of 54 with a zest for life. The loyalty for those he loved is unforgettable. The lives he touched can attest that Tony Gwynn’s message was constant. “Respect others, respect the game, do things right, & do it with class.” he said. Through his rise to stardom, he was apparently the same guy, Mr. Padre.

Among all his baseball milestones, records, and feats, his favorite moment at the plate was hitting a home run in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series at the Old Yankee Stadium and hearing Bob Sheppard announce his at bat on the intercom. Before his death, Tony Gwynn made it clear when asked. He wanted to be remembered as someone who played the game the way it’s supposed to be played. Yet, reporters, kids, and fans remember him by how important he made them feel, that their voice mattered. He was a Teacher.

Tony Gwynn’s last game was on October 07, 2001 at Petco Park. The Colorado Rockies smoked the San Diego Padres 14-5. As Tony Gwynn’s teammate on the San Diego Padres, Ricky Henderson hit his 3,000th career hit. In typical Tony Gwynn fashion, he did everything he could to avoid being a distraction to Ricky’s Moment. But, over 60,000 fans were there to say goodbye to their favorite son of San Diego, along with many other important people in Tony Gwynn’s storied career. Attending were his family and friends, including his brother Chris Gwynn and son Tony Gwynn Jr. who both played for the San Diego Padres as well. When you’re good, you tell people. When you’re great, people tell you.

Tony Gwynn’s memorial also took place here at Petco Park on June 26, 2014, the week after his passing. John Boggs, his agent and friend for 30 years, spoke about Tony Gwynn’s life among other dignitaries on hand. Balancing the mourning of his loss while celebrating his life, John Boggs pointed out four things about Tony Gwynn;  

  • Great laugh, contagious sense of humor.
  • Kindness, always found time for others.
  • Strong work ethic, his hitting approach changed the game forever.
  • Humility, found happiness in the simpler things.

The lessons he shared live on in the hearts of the lives he touched. So, when you walk the halls of Petco Park, you may feel the Spirit of Mr. Padre, he is Baseball.

Ricky the Great

Ricky Henderson 1991 Topps Baseball Card.

Ricky Henderson was in his native Oakland, California on May 1, 1991 when he broke Lou Brock’s all time stolen base record of 938 total lifetime. He would go on to a 25 year career with 1406 total stolen bases, among many other contributions. Originally born in Chicago, Ricky’s family moved to Oakland when he was 2 years old. Actually, he was born in the back of an Oldsmobile, on the way to the hospital. This is one of his many running jokes. When asked about the incident, “I was already fast, I couldn’t wait,” says Ricky. As a three sport athlete in Oakland Technical High School, Ricky grew up idolizing Muhammad Ali. His lifetime commitment to athletics was connected to his admiration of Muhammad Ali and wanting to achieve that same greatness. So, after he made that head first slide at third base, then pulling the base from the ground and hoisting it victoriously over his head, there was no second thought. He would proclaim greatness in his speech, moments after, and with Lou Brock (the old Stolen Base King) nearby. “I am the greatest of all time.” he said. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjan reported that, in the days leading to the historic day, Ricky Henderson and Lou Brock became close friends and wrote a speech together. But, Ricky was so caught up in the moment that he forgot about the speech in his back pocket and went on impulse.

At the time, it looked like he snubbed Lou Brock. But, in hindsight, nothing could be further from Ricky’s intentions that day. The rest is history, its just another one of Ricky’s running jokes. There is no doubt that Ricky’s long and prolific career set the bar for todays superstars.

Mike Trout roaming centerfield at Oakland Coliseum in Alameda County. Oakland Athletics beat Los Angeles Angels 10-0 on Wednesday September 19, 2018. Photo by Miguel A. Sanchez.

Money is a paradigm in todays game. The 2011 Film “Moneyball” is the story of the 2002 Oakland A’s and their General Manager, Billy Bean. It depicts the struggles of a team trying to compete with billionaires funding millionaires. Billy Bean champions the concepts of Bill James, a Baseball Historian who used statistical data to forecast individual performance and to determine why teams win or lose. In todays game, Analytics drives team building decisions, now more than ever. It’s ironic how technologically advanced the game has evolved to being, yet it struggles to transcend to the next generation. With the groundswell of so much young talent, attendance lags behind and the fan in the stands gets older. There is more than one reason for this. Hard to compare today’s superstars. Ricky Henderson was a once in a lifetime player. One Opening Day in “The Land,” Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum was renamed Ricky Henderson Field in a dedication ceremony on April 03, 2017.

Opening Day Amid COVID-19

Yesterday was Opening Day. It was a beautiful day for a ball game. But, “there was no joy in Mudville.” For anyone who looks forward to Opening Day every year, this has to be a surreal feeling of suspense deferred. Although we’ve been without Baseball for a couple of weeks now. On Wednesday March 11, “USA Today” reported The World Health Organization declared that the spread of COVID-19 has become a pandemic after the disease was first detected in China during December and quickly spread to more than 100 locations around the world.

Within 48 hours, virtually every major sports event, concert, and every other mass gathering in the U.S. started to announce postponements. As MLB made its news the following afternoon, there were three 1:05 PM games underway. Adding to the suspended animation were announcers that didn’t really acknowledge suspended regular season and there were players doing elbow bumps in the dugout, instead of hand shakes and high fives.

Vin Scully was the voice of the Dodgers for 67 YEARS (1949-2016), starting very young in Brooklyn and outlasting so many others in Los Angeles. He came back with a message with “LA Times” on You Tube. After hearing his perspective on what we’re all living today, you can’t help walking away with a sense of hope. In the mean time, the game of life is playing itself out on the bigger stage. Something as minuet as a virus has taken hold of every aspect of our daily lives.

We’re sorting through this new day that has us rethinking what essential is, discovering what vulnerable means. Its ironic that we watch athletes and artists perform and at the highest level in a test of the human spirit. Now, the spectator is tested in social distancing as an act of saving others, a more significant test of the human spirit.

No one really knows when Baseball resumes. The COVID-19 will tell us. Of course, the quarantine leaves a lot of room for speculation. ESPN’s Jeff Passan first reported yesterday of an agreement with some guidelines for the 2020 Season. Players would be given credit for a full season. The length of the season will entirely depend upon recommendations from the both sides. They hope to play a minimum of 100 games. Weekly doubleheaders, regular-season games in October and neutral-site World Series games in November, COVID-19 permitting.

Baseball Woke

Roberto Clemente 1959 Topps Baseball Card.

My love for the game motivates me to travel in a pilgrimage to further understand what baseball means to people and its role in American Culture. Certain things in baseball remind me of certain parts of my life. And, I can trace it back to my childhood, when I first knew about this perfect game. I call it my baseball awakening. I can clearly remember games that were played decades ago. But, for me, it feels like it happened last week. “There are places I remember. All my life though some have changed” – The Beatles. 

Baseball means different things for different people. Yet, its never failed to bring peace and joy to all, regardless of what happens outside the lines. For me, its more than just a sport. It’s a dream that never dies, an everlasting thread. But, when you unravel it, you discover it leads to something greater than any one person who ever played the game. It tells the story of us. For me, It transcends time. In the Ken Burns Baseball Documentary, He depicts baseball in a ride through American History, just as he did with his films on the Civil War and on Jazz. The mother of Ken Burns died when he was 11 years old. He recalls that there never was a time when he did not know that his mother was sick. His father in law, a Psychologist, once told him his work was an attempt to make people long gone come back to life.

Beneath statistics and game observations, there is the universal story of a boyhood dream to play in the big leagues. My childhood hero was Roberto Clemente. I was 6 years old when he died in that airplane accident. In the study of human behavior, a child’s self awareness, meaning the ability to tune into one’s emotions, thoughts, and actions, begins to develop from the time of birth to the age of 4-5 years old. I’ve had baseball dreams for as long as I can remember. Roberto Clemente is one of my first memories. His passing left a huge void in the millions of lives he touched. I’m one. My sense of loss has grown over the years. I reach to know more about him, also in an attempt to bring him back to life. He left us all way too young. But, his 38 years in this world contains volumes of lessons in life that are timeless. “Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth,” – Roberto Clemente.