Posted on 4 Comments

Day 48 “Between the Ears”

Huntington Beach vs Edison!
Huntington Beach vs Edison!

I went to see Huntington Beach High School take on cross town rival Edison High School yesterday. Two excellent baseball teams in the area. I picked this game, from the MaxPreps website, since it was in Huntington Beach and I wanted to see the ocean after. I got to the game a little late and walked around the large high school campus. Their sports complex was impressive along with two fields for the different sports. I saw tennis, basketball, baseball, lacrosse, track, softball  being played and/or practiced. The high school was a-buzz with activity.

I sat behind home plate, in front of the concession stand, and noticed a few scouts at the game. They are easy to pick out and I had to wonder who they were there to watch.  I have become pretty adept at picking out the talented players, my favorite position to watch is catcher. In watching a few players on both teams, those could be the players of interest.

A young guy sat next me and I started talking to him about the two teams. In our conversation, I found out he was just breaking into the “scouting” business and was interested in one particular player. We talked baseball and the different stadiums we had been to. He had a passion for the game and I enjoyed him because he was talking my language.  He told me that he was trying to get into law school to learn about contracts, his dream is to be a sports agent.  He loved the game of baseball and wanted to be connected to it some way. He is learning about scouting and his favorite part is dissecting the pitchers.  He is working with an agency to learn more about what to look for in the skill set of the players.

The game was close and I was into it. The scout told me about the Huntington Beach (HB) Little League being the 2011 champions. I remembered, vaguely, the kid on the mound in the 6th and 7th inning was Hagen Danner. He was pitching in the low 90’s and was one of the stars of the 2011 championship team.  Some of the kids on that team are now freshman, Hagen being one of them. I was more impressed with his poise than his nasty curve ball. As I watched him, he got into a jam in the top of the 7th, bases were loaded with 2 outs, HB was up 3-2.  The kid has it “between the ears” is what I thought. He seemed calm, he was playing varsity baseball as a freshman and he was the go to guy – he got the out!  I shook hands with the young scout, he said he was going to “follow me”.  I saw later that he did on Twitter. I read today that Hagen has already committed to UCLA. The kid knows what he wants.

Walking back to my car, I was thinking about the Snowbird Baseball Classic, UConn vs Auburn game when I sat and talked to a Washington Nationals’ scout. I had asked him if kids have an advantage playing in South Florida and Southern California. He had told me the only advantage they have is learning the proper technics from top notch coaching at a younger age. They will be able to dominate the northern teams at the national tournaments because of the proper mechanics and the fact that they will have more “dirt time”.  He went on to tell me that it becomes a level playing field after high school. Coaches and teams see the kids with the raw talent and know who can be developed. What they look for is what is “between the ears”.

The Nationals’ scout talked about Jordan Zimmerman, who went to a small northern school in Wisconsin. He said that Jordan definitely has it “between the ears”, saying that “when he came into camp, he didn’t care who you were. He went after you and doesn’t get rattled when he was in a tight spot.”

Hagen Danner was like that on this particular night. He should go far and I will keep an eye on him.

If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014”, which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help at  Please, also ,share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!

Posted on 4 Comments

Day 30 “College Baseball Classics”

phillies footI started the “Baseball in America Tour 2014” at the Snowbird Baseball Classic in Port Charlotte, Florida.   I have attended 15 NCAA D1 & D3 games at this event, it was started by Steve Partington and his wife Shannon.  Steve is a retired college baseball umpire who has been involved with baseball all his life.  He was a college baseball umpire for over 30 years. This event started on February 14th and runs through March 22nd.   The last 3 games I have watched were at the Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic in Fort Myers, Florida and runs the entire month of March, teams in this event are D3 and NAIA schools.  The Lee County Parks and Recreation Department has run this classic for the past 24 years.

These events offer Men’s NCAA and NAIA Baseball teams an opportunity to participate in regular season games during their schools spring break.  Approximately 500 teams come from many of the cold winter climate states and represent NCAA D1, D2, D3 and NAIA schools.  If you like college baseball, Florida is the place to be during the February and March.  There are these types of “classics” all over south Florida and bring in millions of dollars to the local economies. I just want to clarify that these are not tournaments, just a way for the schools to get some “dirt time”…

Well I am going to end this post on that note, I need a few days to mentally recuperate from the first 30 days of daily blogging, I wanted to give a quick shout out to these events where I have spent a lot of time.  I did find an interesting story for tomorrow at todays game, so look for that!

If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014”, which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help .  Please also share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!

Posted on 1 Comment

Day 24 “Go Jacks!”

I headed back to the Snowbird Baseball Classic to watch some college ball yesterday and was able to watch 3 games. I was going to just sit and watch a game before I found a story.  As I was setting up my chair and getting situated at the South Dakota State Jackrabbits game against the Georgetown Hoyas, someone asked me if I was the “Baseball Buddha”, I said I was. My ego got the best of me in that moment also. I asked her if she followed me, she looked at me kind of confused and said “no but I can read”.  She pointed to my shirt and hat, I laughed at myself…  she then yelled, “Come on Gumby”, she startled me a little at her intensity but I loved her enthusiasm for the players and the game.

Lori Machbitz
Lori Machbitz

Lori, 48, mother of Aaron Machbitz the starting 1st baseman for South Dakota State (a SDSU senior who will be an athletic trainer when he graduates) was willing to talk to me to get some exposure for the Jackrabbits baseball program. I explained to her what I do and that I am more interested in her story than what is happening on the field.  She jokingly told me she didn’t want to talk to me then. I looked at her to see if she was serious. She smiled and then looked at her husband Marc whom she has been married to for the past 24 years, he shrugged his shoulders as if to say “why not”. Again I got my story with very little effort.  As we spoke Aaron was batting and her intensity picked up. Her foot started shaking, I didn’t realize it was Aaron at the time. “They pitched him inside and he turned on it and grounded to shortstop. They have him scouted to death. He hasn’t seen a fastball in years,” Lori said in frustration. I apologized to her for talking as Aaron batted, she laughed and said it was her fault. She should have been up and walking around, she isn’t used to just sitting and watching the game.

Love of baseball started at an early age for Lori. She grew up in an all male family and they moved around a lot. She was born in Sacramento, her family moved to St. Louis when she was two, New Orleans after the 4th grade, and during 8th grade moved back to Northern California.  She told me that she and her brothers were San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals fans, depending on where they were living. Now she is a hard core Texas Rangers fanatic! She goes to 20-25 games a year with her husband and always has it on the TV, or radio, when not at the game. That is on top of the games that they see Aaron play with SDSU. She said, “last year it was about 25 games and also traveled up to Milwaukee to see him play for the Lakeshore Chinooks of the Northwood’s League.” (one of the top summer leagues for college underclassmen).

She graduated high school and went to San Jose State where she got her degree.  She owned and operated 2 women’s shoes stores and also taught 2nd grade for a few years.  Her passion is her kids and decided to become a full time mom when her daughter Rachel was in the 4th grade and Aaron in 2nd.  Marc retired from Chevron, where he worked for 30 years, and they decided to move to Dallas after figuring out where the best schools, sports and overall opportunities lie for their kids. Lori had to get up while we were talking. She was getting nervous and started pacing behind the bleachers. On occasion I would hear her yell, “Come on Jacks” or “Lets go three three”. Lori was blaming her not walking around on Georgetown coming back from a 4-0 deficit.  As all this was playing out, Aaron made a excellent play at first base, catching a line shot, then tagging the bag at first to double up the runner. Lori came over to tell me that “Aaron was just as good as Mitch Moreland (Texas Rangers, first baseman) defensively, not quite as good with the bat “yet”, but he will be better than “Goldie” (Paul Goldschmidt, first baseman, Arizona Diamondbacks), not as good as Mike Trout (Outfielder for the LA Angels). I am realistic”, she said with a laugh.

As Lori was walking around I talked to her daughter, Rachel, who was down at the game because “its a free trip” according to her mom (she said it with a chuckle). Rachel is a senior at UT-Arlington and is set to graduate this December with a degree in Industrial Engineering.  Rachel said she wasn’t as big a fan of baseball as her mom, dad or brother, but enjoys supporting the team and her families passion for it. Her mom has always supported whatever her kids wanted to do.  Rachel started her own business selling comic books and art online a year ago, She is very ambitious as her website states, “We are striving to become one of the first comic book and commissioned art retailers online. Not only do we sell back issue comics, we are also proud to offer unique commissioned art. As members of the “Nerd” culture to which many films, comics and media forms are created for, Mash Up Comics and Art will be able to reach consumers on their level, with their level of excitement and commitment.”  Please check out her site, I don’t think you will be disappointed!

Lori and I talked about what it was like when Aaron played elite level baseball in Texas. Since Aaron was passionate about the game, Lori encouraged him and made sure that he had the correct pitching and hitting coaches. “To succeed at all the levels most parents did that”‘ she said.  “It was tough because you had to be realistic of where you put your money.” Lori put it towards the camps, showcases, and had him on 2-3 teams at a time. Lots of teams would travel to Georgia or Florida for the different tournaments and it cost a lot of money. She didn’t do that much preferring to stay around Texas to save money. Lori said, “she would have done more of that type of stuff but she’s just very grateful that she got to spend a lot of time with Aaron growing up because of baseball.”  Lori says, “you must play a lot to be a good baseball player, it is a smart man’s game.”  She says that “Aaron is a real student of the game”. Some pro scouts have taken a look at Aaron and he wants to move on to the next level after college. I was impressed with what I saw and I remember him when he played for the Chinooks last summer in Milwaukee. He went 2 for 4 against the Hoyas in a losing effort, 7-4. His dad told me, “he also went 2 for 4 in the morning game they played against Maine”.

I got a real kick out of Lori’s intensity, her passion for her kids and the game of baseball. I also want to mention that the other South Dakota State fans were some of the friendliest I have come across.  I definitely will be keeping an eye on Aaron and the Jacks!

If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014” which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help .  Please also share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!

Posted on 2 Comments

Day 14 “Bonnie Frank!”

Original Fenway Scoreboard
Original Fenway Scoreboard

“Do you know who Bonnie Frank is?” Bob asked,  “Bonnie Franklin?” I said to clarify what he was saying, “Yeah, Bonnie Frank”, he stated again, I looked at him kind of confused, why is he asking about Mrs. Romano from “One Day at a Time”, Todd started laughing and said, “he thinks you are saying Bonnie!” and then said to me, “he is saying Barney Frank”, Bob looked at me with that, “what are you an idiot expression” and said forget it and laughed, whatever he had to say about the former US Senator from Massachusetts must not  have been too important.  I was sitting in Bob’s seats with him and Todd at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers for a doubleheader the Boston Red Sox are playing.  For the last 10 years they have started their spring training games against Northeastern University and Boston College to celebrate baseball in the City of Boston, 10 years prior to that it was only Boston College.  The Red Sox have won every game they have played against the 2 universities.

Bob invited me to come to these games, after I met him and Todd at Woody’s on Monday to discuss a project that they were going to help me with, he wanted me to see where he spends the month of March with his baseball family.  He told me that they are a cast of characters that he has come to love and looks forward to seeing them all.  Bob is a detective with the Cape Coral Police Department, Todd calls him the “unofficial” mayor of Cape Coral.  When I was with him and Todd at Woody’s, it seemed that everyone that walked in the door knew him and came over to say hi, he is one of these guys were you feel like he is your best friend within 5 minutes, very out going and gregarious.  I felt at ease with him immediately, I met Todd a couple weeks before at one of the Starbucks where I do a lot of writing, I was writing Day 1 “Lonnie Burton” at the time and Todd saw the 2014 Snowbird Baseball Classic program and inquired to what I was doing, we talked for about 2 minutes, he gave me his card, started following me and eventually emailed me with an idea that I will share at a later date.

Todd and Bob have only been friends for the past 4 years, I would have thought that they knew each other for their entire lives by the way they interact with one another, both are actively involved with baseball, when I say actively I mean that it consumes them.  They heavily participate with their sons baseball teams, one of Todd’s sons plays at Bethune Cookman, where he is a freshman catcher and has another that is 14 and plays with Bob’s 14 year old son on an elite baseball team.  I was excited to meet these 2 at the game to just sit and talk and get to know them a little bit, I met them at the front gate of JetBlue, since Bob had tickets and Todd had 2 extras, Bob hunted down a few Red Sox fans to give Todd’s tickets too.

When we went to our seats, one of the Police Officers working saw Bob and gave him a hug, she was standing next to an usher that also shook Bob’s hand, he laughed and chatted with ease with these 2 like he did with all the others I met at Woody’s, Todd looked at me and smiled and shook his head as if to say “I told you”, we saw Peter Gammons from ESPN and Bob squeezed his arm like he knew him, I didn’t ask if he did, when we got to our seats some of his spring training crew was there and he proceeded to hug and shake hands, while inquiring about personal things.  He asked Dan if “90 year old Mary” was there, she wasn’t, Bob looked over at me and asked if I needed a beer,  everyone in the section yelled, “Bobs buying!”, I declined, he called me a lightweight, Todd was yelling to the lower level to see what kind of beer they needed, Dan and his crew were yelling their order, even the guy who was wearing shorts that had the Red Sox “red socks” all over them, the type of shorts that most guys really won’t wear but this guy was a fan and he was showing off his Red Sox pride.

As we sat there Bob pointed out different people to me and said that the story will write itself…  I met Donald who moved down to Fort Myers 10 years ago with his brother Ronald after his wife of forty two and half years divorced him, Ronald looked at me with those perplexed eyes if to say “can you believe it”, I of course could believe it since this was the first time I met Donald.  Donald and Ronald are fraternal twins (check my Day 6 “Magical” post for the definition of what the difference is between fraternal vs identical), they are about 75 to 80 years old, when Donald went into the Army after high school he was an inch taller than Ronald, when he got out and saw Ronald after he had to look up to him since he was 6’4″; Ronald at 5’8″ asked what happened, Donald said that he could finally eat when he left, Donald laughed…

An usher came up to Bob and informed him about the death of another usher that the crew has gotten to know over the years, “Dan the Man” sat next me and shook his head and said that was sad, the guy was always here and we will miss him.  Dan has a condo in the area and spends all of spring training  there, entertaining different groups of guy friends every week, they come out to all the games and have a great time, Dan is like Bob, he seems to know everyone, he is constantly laughing and entertaining with ease, he is in his element, the guys with him this 1st week are the guy with the sweet shorts and 2 guys he grew up with, on the same block in fact.  One is a Yankee fan, a good one, if there is such a thing Dan’s boyhood friend says of the other, they laugh.  Dan tells me the story of his son and his reaction to Aaron Boone’s walk-off home run in the 11th inning during Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, which gave the New York Yankees a 6–5 victory over the Red Sox. The Yankees won the game and the series on the home run, thus prolonging the Sox’ “Curse of the Bambino” for one more year. After the loss Dan went downstairs to blow off some steam and get over the disappointment, he heard his son crying in his room, he was proud, he knew his son now knew what it is like to be part of Red Sox Nation and told him he was an official fan.

Dan asks if I ever watched a game Fenway Park, I haven’t, he promises to get me a ticket for a game when I am in Boston, he describes to me the chills he gets when he goes up the walkway and sees the green, it is a hair raising experience, I share with him the story of Dotty and Ralph, Day 7 “Red Sox Love” post, he says he knows what they feel. Dan has lived in North Carolina for years and converted numerous fans into Red Sox loyalists, most cheered for the Atlanta Braves prior.  Dan looks at Bob and says I need to meet “90 year old Mary”, they both nod.

The Red Sox beat both schools 5-2; I thank Bob and Todd, they take off, I talk to a few more people.  I found some life long friends, I think to myself.  I will be sharing more about Bob and Todd in future posts and their passion for this beautiful game. “Bob’s Baseball Crew”  will also get a lot more mentions, we have something planned that I am extremely excited about “INDEED” (inside joke between Todd and Bob, I hope they inform me sometime).  Baseball made me extremely happy on this day!

If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014” which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help .  Please also share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!

Posted on 3 Comments

Day 12 “All American”

John Taylor
John Taylor

One of my biggest worries everyday when I get up is writing this blog from the story I found the day before, once that is done I start fretting about finding a story for the next day, so far it has gone pretty smoothly and when I arrived at the Snowbird Baseball Classic in Port Charlotte, yesterday, I immediately ran into John Taylor walking to watch his son Clayton play.  As we walked to the field, I explained to John what I was doing and if he would like to be my subject for the day.  He smiled and agreed, my worry and fretting was for naught again, I think I do it because I think that if I don’t I will have a problem finding someone to interview or profile…

John, 51, had this easy going nature that I really like, he wasn’t super laid backed and he didn’t have an outward intenseness but I could tell that it was there and what seemed like to me an unbelievable focus (my initial guess was he, like his son, was a very good ball player) he smiled sincerely and had a comfortable way about himself.  He was down in South Florida to watch Nebraska-Omaha, Clayton is their starting 1st baseman this year, first time he has played 1st base regularly since he was around 8, he played shortstop last year but he bulked up and grew some in the last year, now standing 6’4″ and weighing in at 215.  When we sat down to watch the game another Omaha parent or grandparent came to John to tell him about the monster home run Clayton hit in batting practice that hit the concession stand at the other field.  John said calmly, “Clayton is a very good hitter”, I had no doubt.

John was there with his with Denise who he met in 1981 on a blind date his cousin set up, he said his cousin owed him since he set her up with a ballplayer friend of his, John smiled and tapped my leg and then laughed remembering that Denise worked at Bakers, a grocery store chain that had a restaurant counter where you ordered your food via a phone and then Denise would deliver it.

Denise and John actually went to the same high school but didn’t meet until college, they dated for awhile but John got transferred to North Carolina by the construction management firm he was working for at the time and Denise wasn’t ready to move from Omaha, after a short stint there he came back and they were married in 1988, then moved to  St. Louis, Des Moines, Franklin, MA and then back to Omaha.  Besides Clayton who is 20, they have 2 other children; Meredith, 22, a pharmacology student at Creighton and  Jackson, 18, a senior in high school and who is also a baseball player.  John said he was a “farm kid”, he was required to work on his uncles farm that his mothers father started and the way to get out of doing chores was to get involved with sports, he loved competing in football, wrestling and baseball, which ever one he was playing at the time was his favorite, he was given a scholarship to play baseball at Nebraska-Omaha, where he was one of the top hitters, they wanted him more for his bat, he humbly states that he was an average center fielder.  He continues to play 25 baseball games a year in the men’s 50+ MSBL senior league, he batted .375 and thinks he leads the team in that catagory, 3 or 4 of the guys he played with in college are also on the team.

As we were talking Clayton hit a home run, it was a line shot and got out of the park in a hurry, when I looked down at Denise she had a big smile on her face and gave me a thumbs up!  I asked John and Denise if they get nervous when they watch Clayton play, he said not that much, he did more when he pitched but now he trusts Claytons game (Clayton was placed on the All American Freshman Team chosen by Louisville Slugger 2013), Denise on the other hand says she tries to stay even keel on the outside but underneath it is a different story.  John said he does more with Jackson since he coached his select baseball team, but states that there is a fair amount of apprehension with watching your kids he said and then slaps my leg.  Clayton and Jackson both played in select/elite/traveling baseball, Meredith did so in softball, John said that they are a baseball family and even has a building in their back yard with a batting cage and pitching mound, so he could work with the kids.  He coached Jackson’s baseball team and Clayton’s basketball team and makes sure to point out that it wouldn’t have been to much fun for the boys if he coached everything.

John says that he really doesn’t pay attention to major league baseball until playoff time, his favorite team is the Kansas City Royals; he laughs and says that is maybe why…  but quickly states that the Royals did well last year.  He said that they are busy with baseball, Clayton played college summer ball last year in the Jayhawk League for the El Dorado Broncos, so they tried to get down to watch him play a few times, Jackson played and with John playing in the Men’s league it is hard to take time to watch the MLB.  He said that he has taken the family to Chicago on occasion to catch a Cubs and White Sox game when the kids were growing, does root for the Boston Red Sox since they did live in Franklin, Massachusetts for a little while and it was exciting watching them win the World Series.

We talked a little bit about select baseball and what it was like coaching and watching your kids compete at that level, he said parents could get a little out of control  and when he was choosing his team he tried to recruit the best parents possible and not necessarily the best players, he figured he could work with the players if he had the support of the parents.  He stated the parents that were the most overbearing are the ones that never competed and really don’t understand what it takes for a kid to be successful at a high level, they seemed to be living vicariously through their child.  He said when he watched Clayton play on one of his elite teams it was hard to watch games with other parents because some would be rooting against his kid, even when on the same team, since he was taking playing time away from their child.  He said as you move up through the different levels of play that kind of behavior falls off, but acknowledges that it can get frustrating since it is a game it should be fun for all.

I could go on about John and his family, if I write a book about this experience I will share more about them, they are “All American”, I enjoyed watching the game with him and hearing how passionate he is about baseball, his gentleness and sincerity came out and I was comfortable sharing things about my life with him, at one point we were showing pictures of our beautiful daughters.  This is what makes me love this game so much, the people you observe all have a story and have a love of the game that runs deep, some people will never understand, “The people that don’t get it, I don’t get”, John said shaking his head, I agree fully!

If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014” which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help .  Please also share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!

Posted on 3 Comments

Day 11 “Gratitude”

Baseball is Happiness!
Baseball is Happiness!

I am sitting at Starbucks right now, if you didn’t know, this is where I spend a lot of my day writing this blog, I am reviewing the past 24 hours.  I am feeling a lot of gratitude, I thought I really messed this thing up yesterday, but it had the exact opposite affect (or is it effect).  More people read, “Big Mistake!” than any other post.  My intent was to apologize sincerely, figure out how to reestablish my credibility, make sure to not make that mistake again and put it behind me.  The support I received was incredible, a friend of my mine has stated to me on numerous occasions; if you are suppose to do something, be somewhere or live your life a certain way the universe will conspire to make it happen, I believe this is happening to me.  At some point I will do a blog on all the little things that have happened and continue to happen that make all this possible for me, it blows me away, you might think that finding these stories has been hard, not at all, these are the first people I have asked in most cases, the one time it wasn’t, the guy I asked found someone for me to talk too…

Yesterday was a day I thought I had figured out, I was suppose to meet a couple guys (Bob and Todd) at Dunkin Donuts at 7 am, I totally forgot about it, my excuse was that I was up until 4 am working on the website which I was, but the thing was it didn’t even occur to me until 11 am that I forgot!  We agreed to meet later that night and grab a bite to eat.  I had to get my brakes replaced on my car in the morning by this guy named Ivan, he came to where I was staying and did the job, he was incredible and very affordable.  I went to Starbucks later than normal, wrote and posted the “ill fated” blog and then went to CrossFit Salvation.  When I checked my email and got the email from my subject, I scrambled to remove it and figure out what to do, I had to get to Woody’s to meet Bob and Todd, also!  I sent an apology to her, a couple actually because there is something you always forget to state or want to clarify.  Remembered that I was suppose to go to a Little League game at 7, it is now 6:30 when I got to Woody’s, I checked to see if there was a later game, there wasn’t but realized the game at 7 was only a practice.  Met Bob and Todd, had a great time talking with them and made future plans on a project we will be doing together, raced home to write, “Big Mistake!”, saw the response through out the evening and then realized that the day unfolded as it was suppose too.

That was my day yesterday, so here I sit trying to figure out what to write about today!  I have some things I am working on but they need more time to develop, so I just want express my gratitude to everyone that has helped me get to this point in my journey, without all the encouragement and support, be it kind words or financial, you don’t know how much it means to me, it just reinforces that I am doing what I am suppose to be doing, it helps when I get anxious at night thinking about if I am going to find a story the next day or if I will run out of money before this is completed, etc…  An example of how things work out, before I left Milwaukee I thought my strut on my car was going bad, I got it checked out and it was confirmed that it “could” be a strut, was told that it shouldn’t be an issue driving to Florida.  On the way to Florida my exhaust seemed to be getting louder, so I started getting worried that I was going to blow a lot of money on car repairs right off the bat.  I knew that I needed to get my brakes done, but wasn’t counting on the other stuff, I got estimates on everything that “I” thought needed to be done, about $1,500.  When everything was fixed my total bill was $475, things just worked out, so hard to explain.

I will leave it at that for the day, I need to get on the road and get to a ball game and find a story for tomorrow!  Today it is going to be the “Snowbird Baseball Classic”, St Bonaventure against Nebraska-Omaha at Noon in Port Charlotte, baseball season is getting into full swing and it shouldn’t be as hard to find a game everyday, MLB Spring Training games start on Thursday, it is a rough life at the moment but hey someone has to live it!  Have a great day everyone!

If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014” which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help .  Please also share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!

Posted on 2 Comments

Day 9 “Lots of Laughter”

As I was walking into the North County Regional Park sports complex to watch Iowa take on St. Bonaventure, I saw a couple of Iowa fans and I yelled, “Go Big Ten!”  They looked at me and smiled in that comforting and approachable way, I immediately asked how Iowa did in basketball, I was hoping they said that they lost since they were taking on my Wisconsin Badgers, “They lost!” he said and shook his head, I, of course, said “Go Badgers”, they looked at me and laughed and I explained who I was and what I was doing.  John and Donna Negro are from Cedar Rapids, Iowa according to John, Donna said no, Marion, John didn’t correct her.  They were at the game to meet up with their friends Ron and Karen Foster and to cheer on and support the Hawkeyes.

Donna & John Negro
Donna & John Negro

You could tell immediately that the Negros and Fosters had been friends for a long time, 40 years John stated, there was a lot of laughing and joking and a real sense of ease with each other. John, 65, is an electrical contractor and owns Nelson Electric back in Cedar Rapids, he bought it from a guy named Nelson in 1977; thought it best to keep the name, as not to confuse people.  Ron is an electrical engineer  and designed a lot of  projects that John “had” to make work, he said with a chuckle.  When I inquired about baseball, John was quick to point out that he played softball from age 20 to 45, “…it was a great excuse to drink beer”, he said with a laugh, Donna quickly added that it was a family affair, stating that her 2 oldest sons were born on Wednesdays and were at the ballpark the following Monday.  Donna says that they basically raised their 7 kids at the ball diamond,(yes they are Catholic), Becky, Barb, Joe, Beth, Mike, Brenda and Jim along with 11 grandkids which she said she hoped I didn’t ask to name..  Karen Foster was a Nurse in the Obstetrics Department and was working when Donna gave birth to 3 of her kids, there was some chuckling and nudging about her having to kick John out one time but I think it was an inside joke, but I couldn’t help but laugh along with these 4.

John and Donna made sure that all their kids were involved with some kind of extra curricular activities during the school year be it sports or music, didn’t matter what it was as long as they were out of the house; Donna needed a break she said jokingly, there was always something going on with the 7 kids and John would call after work and just say, “Who do I pick up and where do I take them?” he said in way that you knew that he would do it all over again if given the chance.

When John retired to South Florida at the urging of the Fosters his passion for softball was reignited and he joined a 60+ softball league, to his surprise they played games in the morning, so the beer drinking would have to wait until the afternoon when Ron and John play golf.  John plays for End Zone, a bar I am guessing; Ron plays for Beyond the Sea, yep a restaurant. I was confused why they didn’t play on the same team, more laughter and then John looks at me seriously and says that there is a draft, he looks at Ron again and they chuckle. The league consists of 10 teams each with 14 players, 11 players play, 5 infielders, 4 outfielders, a pitcher and a catcher.  They do it this way John says so you don’t have to move too fast he adds with a smile, Ron points out that there are a few players that get a bit competitive and need to simmer down, they do play to win but as John says it really is to just have some fun.  However, some of the players are not very good and both John and Ron laugh pretty hard when they try to suggest that they move on to the 70+ league, they laugh harder when it is suggested that those guys probably wouldn’t want them…

John is an avid Chicago Cubs fan, his brother is a Chicago White Sox fan, they have a standing bet whichever team has the worst record that brother has to buy dinner, John of course smiles and says he has been buying a lot of dinners.  John and Donna love going to Chicago and try to make it to Wrigley a couple times a year, it is ideal when the Iowa Hawkeye football team plays the Northwestern Wildcats in the fall, that way they can catch the Hawkeyes on a Saturday and head to Wrigley Field on Sunday.  He has had season tickets for Iowa basketball and football for years, and quickly makes sure to add that he attends Iowa wrestling matches, a perennial powerhouse because of their legendary coach Dan Gable who won 16 NCAA team titles from 1976–1997.

When John was a kid his dad took him and 2 brothers along with a family friend and his son on a baseball road trip to Chicago to watch the White Sox at Comiskey Park on Friday night, the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Saturday, then they camped along Lake Michigan and went to a Milwaukee Braves game at County Stadium on Sunday.  As John recalls it, they got to watch Warren Spahn of the Braves pitch; what was funny to him was that Spahn participated in a cow milking contest before the game, what a great childhood memory to have!  I had a good time laughing along with John, Donna and their friends the Fosters as we watched Iowa defeat St. Bonaventure 2-0.  I loved their sense of humor, it is a sign of a life well lived and I wish everyone the happiness I felt and saw with them.

If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014” which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help .  Please also share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!

Additional Information,

To learn more about Dan Gable and what he accomplished at Iowa click here:

Warren Spahn cow milking contest:,3122533.

Posted on 2 Comments

Day 8 “Iron Pigs”

I was sitting at North County Regional Park in Port Charlotte, Florida watching Ball State put a beat down on Mississippi Valley State in the last game of the day, I was going to head out early since the game got out of hand quickly, I packed up my gear, needed to stop to use the rest room and then hit the road.  As I walked from the restroom I noticed a little league practice going on at another field (this was a big complex with 5 fields, I think there is even more), the kids seemed young but looked like they could play ball, there was a man sitting on the bleachers watching the kids and their coach, I assumed he was a dad so I went to talk to him.  I have a fascination with “the parents” that get their kids involved with sports at a very high level at a young age, so I wanted to “pick this guys brain”.  Besides after a day of hearing, “”Everyone hits”, ‘Let’s roll one”, “Stay hot kid”, “Lets go one- two”…  I needed to interact with someone, people who have been around baseball know the sayings and no “Lets roll one” doesn’t mean what you think, it means to turn a double play, if you don’t know what that means… I am honored that you are reading this blog about baseball.

Wayne Harrell
Wayne Harrell

Wayne Harrell, 41, is a parent of 3, a boy and 2 “girly” girls he said with a laugh, I asked if I could use “girly” and he said they wouldn’t be offended.  He wasn’t a parent to any of the boys practicing, he was just watching, the team he and now we were watching was a 10U “select” team from North Port.  Wayne pointed out the 10 year old shortstop we were watching who was impressively handling all the balls being hit his way, that is the coaches kid and he is talented for a kid his age. Wayne has 3 “select” teams he runs with a partner, the Iron Pigs, he has two 13U teams and one 10U team.  Wayne said he likes to keep an eye on what is happening with other teams, plus it makes good business sense, he is President and Coach of the Top Prospect Sports Academy in Port Charlotte which he and his partner opened this past June.  He also runs IBC baseball tournaments.

In 1991 Wayne graduated from Fort Piece Westwood High School where he was a catcher on the baseball team, former 10 year MLB veteran catcher Charles Johnson also went to Westwood (class of 1989)  and played with Wayne.  Wayne started ahead of Charles as catcher, he said with a wry smile, then admitted that Charles didn’t start catching until he attended the University of Miami.  After high school Wayne attended Brewton Parker Junior College in Mt. Vernon, Georgia and played baseball for one year, he said that his playing days ended there, “I didn’t have the talent to continue”, he stated with a shrug.  He has loved the game since he was a kid and it is just a part of him, he never intended to make it his livelihood, it just happened.

He met his wife Nena at church and got married at a young age and quickly started having kids,  his “girly” girls, Kylee (21) and Alise (19) and son Cody (18), all 3 participated in sports growing up. Wayne says he wasn’t too overbearing as a father but quickly stated that if they joined a team they had to finish the season.  He got into coaching when his son Cody was young and it has evolved since then into what it is today.

The Iron Pigs have 2 seasons, the first season runs from the 2nd week of January until June, then they take a 6 week break, the 2nd season starts in the the middle of July until December and then another 6 week break.  Kids try out for the teams every season, last try out there was 47 kids for the Iron Pigs elite 13U team of which only 12 make the team.  The commitment is a large one, there is a weekend tournament 3 out of 4 weeks and practice twice a week. Wayne said that the cost to the parents is a concern and he try’s to keep it as low as possible but admits that it is getting out of control.  This past season the Iron Pigs had 50 wins with 9 losses and are rated the 6th best 13U program in Florida by USSSA. (United States Specialty Sports Association).  The Iron Pigs name was chosen by the kids over 2 other names a few years ago when Wayne and his partner combined 2 select programs, the Florida Curve and the Fort Myers Bandits, the Iron Pig name comes from one of the Philadelphia Phillies minor league affiliates the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.

One issue that Wayne says is problematic is that elite or select teams are getting water downed the past 3 to 4 years, competition isn’t  as good because parents want their child playing a certain position or think that their child possess a skill set that they really don’t have, these parents become overbearing and then might get insulted when you try to tell them as diplomatically as possible that their child’s best possible success is at a position that might not be as glamorous  as shortstop or pitcher.  There have been many times that parents have gotten offended and have decided to start their own select team, this way their child gets to play where they want them to play, Wayne says that you feel bad for the kids because you are only setting them up for failure.  Wayne’s head coaches currently don’t have any kids on the teams and he hopes to keep it that way, he wants to develop the kids talents and utilize the kids at their natural positions and not because of favoritism.

It used to be hard find games for the kids in the past but with all the water downed competition he said it is very easy since there is a tournament going on every weekend. I asked what he does for vacation, he laughed and said it usually involves baseball, he has taken a team to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown; recently he took a team to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for a tournament in the Cal Ripken Experience.  At the tournament the Iron Pigs dominated the skills competition as well as winning it all, I think I saw a sparkle in Wayne’s eye when he said this, I understand that it has to be sense of accomplishment when you see all your hard work pay off.  He has a talented team, he called over one of his players that was hanging around the Snowbird Baseball Classic, Kyle is a first baseman and pitcher who said his fastball has topped out at 70 miles an hour, I was impressed for 13 that is fast. Wayne said that he has 2 other players that can throw in the mid to upper 70’s.  I asked if he was concerned that the kids would get burned out with baseball or that they are overstressing their bodies at such a young age.  Wayne says it is always a concern but you have to be careful how you condition the kids, he never uses weight training  and keeps up with all the best techniques such as resistance training with bands.

Some of his training is specialized to explosive movements that simulates baseball moves, he proudly says that he has a Vertimax machine at the Sports Academy. Vertimax is an athletic training device to maximize speed, vertical jump and overall athletic performance, a lot of places including colleges don’t have one according to Wayne.  He wants his kids to get as much repetition and he focuses on the fundamentals which he thinks a lot of coaches overlook.  When he feels that the kids need a break or are lacking focus he will shut practices down for a week.  During the 6 weeks between seasons he doesn’t want any of his players throwing a ball, just utilizing the resistance bands, he says their bodies need a break.  He is lucky to have access to the Tampa Bay Rays minor league hitting instructor Wuarnner Ricones, who works with the kids from time to time to make sure that their form and technique is not over burdening their bodies.

Thanks for sharing your story with me Wayne, I will now be keeping an eye on the Iron Pigs from afar, you sound like you have a good grasp on the realities of select youth baseball and how to develop the kids in a skillful manner, I might just show up at one of your practices.  Stay passionate about the game.

If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014” which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help .  Please also share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!

Additional Information click on the links.

Top Prospects Sports Academy:,  IBC Baseball:, Charles Johnson:, USSSA:, VertiMax:

Posted on 2 Comments

Day 4 “Scott Steen”

I wandered over to the Indiana State – Ohio State baseball game that was being played on Field #6 at North County Regional Park where the Snowbird Baseball Classic is being held, I just finished up listening to the UConn Broadcasters who were calling another game against Auburn on Field #3.  The day was gorgeous and perfect weather for baseball, slight breeze and 74 degrees without a cloud in the sky, I was feeling satisfied that I was off to a decent start with my first 2 stories and had a good idea for the UConn students.  Now to find another story because this week, baseball games are spotty until Friday and I need to make sure I had a story for Tuesday.  I wanted to find someone from Indiana State since I did someone from the other 3 teams that were playing each other this weekend.  Problem was that I was a little mentally tired and I was hoping that someone or something would present itself.  I walked  down the first base side and behind Indiana States bench and onto a mound where some parents were watching the game, I set my lawn chair up almost at the end of the parents next to a guy who was probably a dad to one of the players.

Scott Steen
Scott Steen

“As a parent you are constantly nervous,” Scott stated, ” It wasn’t like that when I was playing, there was always butterflies but you had a sense that you had little bit of control over the game.”   I was sitting next to Scott Steen, a 49 year old, salesman for a steel company, who married a North Dakota girl, as he put it.  Scott is the father of Taylor Steen, a sophomore catcher for the Indiana State Sycamores (if you just thought Larry Bird, I did the same thing).  Scott has been married for 23 years he has 3 other kids, Logan, Alexi and Jada.  His wife Carla and he brought their family down to watch Taylor, it worked out great because a friend just moved down to this area 2 weeks ago and they had a place to stay for the weekend; until they head down to Marco Island for the rest of their vacation, the plan there is to relax on the beach and have a few cocktails.

I asked Scott if he played baseball and I was surprised by his answer, he was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the first round, 15th overall of the January draft back in 1985, as a third baseman out of Ventura Junior College in Ventura, California where he grew up and cheered on the LA Dodgers. Scott was the youngest boy of the 5 his parents had along with his 2 sisters, his brother Rick also pitched in the minor leagues for the San Francisco Giants.  His parents are originally from Grand Forks, North Dakota but were “California Dreaming” and moved to Ventura in 1956.

Click on this link to see who was drafted before and after Scott in 1985(

Brook Jacoby who played 3rd base in the major leagues from 1981 until 1992 for the Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Oakland A’s and is currently the Cincinnati Reds hitting coach was a family friend and had a major influence on Scott. He worked with Scott to develop his hitting and fielding.  Scott got to play all over the south for 3 years in the Carolina and Florida State Leagues, he said there was always pressure to preform since there was a new crop of prospects coming in every year. Arm trouble forced him to reconsider his future, he said it was very hard emotionally when that dreamed died, but would love for his son Taylor to have the opportunity to play pro ball just to experience it but he does stress to him to get his education so he has something to fall back on.

After baseball Scott went back to college at the University of North Dakota where he played basketball for 2 years, while there he met his wife Carla, got married and had the 4 kids, all of which participate in sports.  Scott said he worked with Taylor a lot as he was growing up, especially on work ethic, Taylor was a 3 sport athlete.  I asked him if he is a laid back dad or an overbearing one when it comes to the kids and sports, he said he falls somewhere in between, he told me he was giving Taylor some fatherly advice after Taylor struggled in a hockey game, Taylor shot back at him, “How many years did you skate?”, Scott said that hit home with him since he never did skate and he realized it is easy to criticize when you don’t know what it is like, he tries to just enjoy watching his kids but like he said, “you are constantly nervous because you want them to do well.”  Scott said that it was quite different when he grew up playing compared to today with regards to kids sports, there wasn’t as much specialization and  pressure to preform at the younger ages when he grew up, he doesn’t know if it is good or bad just that it is different.

I enjoyed watching the game with Scott which Indiana State came back to win against Ohio State in a very exciting finish 8-6, it has been great just being out in the crowd listening to the moments of excitement that this game brings, it makes me happy, enjoy your time on Marco Island Scott you have a beautiful family!

If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014” which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help  Please also share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!

Posted on 3 Comments

Day 3 “UConn Baseball Broadcasters”

“You’re listening to UConn baseball on 91.7”, I heard this when I walked under the tent that was positioned behind the back stop, I was looking for a story for my third day and the first 2 stories were easily found and I was hoping that the 3rd would present itself quickly, I was running a little late for the game between Indiana State and UConn so I was hoping I didn’t jinx myself.  When I noticed the broadcasters from UConn I thought they were quite young and that they had to be students.  I set my lawn chair up behind them under the media tent, I did have a “Press Pass” for the Snowbird Baseball Classic and I was going to use it, I felt important.

Jeff & Chris
Jeff & Chris

As I sat and listened to the 2 broadcasters from UConn, I thought how easily they went with the flow of the game, how they described the pitch location, what was happening in the field, were all the players were positioned, and how they kept up with all the statistics. I kept thinking how I would freeze up when I had to do some public speaking, but these 2 described the action of the game and interjected facts at random, I was impressed, I found my story hopefully…

I went up to them between innings and gave them my card, I said I wanted to talk to them after the game which was currently going into the bottom of the 3rd inning, they both looked at me like, “okay dude”, shrugged their shoulders and went back to broadcasting, I was nervous choosing these 2 because I had to wait to the end of the game to interview them and I didn’t know how much time they had and my goal is a story a day during this trip and I wanted interesting stories and these guys were interesting to me.  Plus they could just say they didn’t feel comfortable doing it.

As the game ended and UConn lost to Indiana State 3-0, I went over and introduced myself and explained what I was doing regarding Baseball Buddha; they introduced themselves as Chris and Jeff.  Chris is the head of the sports department at UConn for the radio station and has been calling UConn Baseball since he was a freshman, Chris is currently a senior majoring in Journalism with a minor in business.  According to Jeff, Chris is the “baseball guy” at the radio station, he did every game last year and is doing the same thing for this season and he also decides who covers what sports and who goes on what trips. Don Orsillo who is the play-by-play announcer for Boston Red Sox games on the New England Sports Network has been a big influence, of late, to Chris along with Gus Johnson (see below).

Jeff who is only a freshman, is a double major in Journalism and Communications, while growing up in East Lyme, Connecticut, he enjoyed listening to Gus Johnson and was a major influence on why he wanted to get into broadcasting.  Johnson is known primarily for his enthusiasm and excitement that he shares with the game. He often uses signature phrases “Oh my goodness!”, “Rise and fire… Count it!”, “Here comes the pain!”, “From the parking lot!”.  For those that don’t know who Gus Johnson is and want to know more click here,

Both Chris and Jeff come from very supportive families of 4, their parents try to listen to the games they call when they are able to, Chris grew up in Crystal Lake, Illinois, where he cheered on the Chicago Cubs, he obviously knows what it is like to be a hard luck fan, I forgot to ask him about Steve Bartman… Jeff on the other hand is a Boston Red Sox fan and since he is only about 19 has no idea what it was like to cheer for Boston prior to 2004 and the “Curse of the Bambino”, but I am sure if you ask his parents about the Bill Buckner error in the 1986 World Series, they will give him a long dissertation.  They are very lucky to be able to cheer on their favorite MLB teams in the 2 most historic stadiums, of course that is my opinion but I am sure they will agree.

On the broadcast I observed them doing, they were very professional neither one cracked any jokes or said anything that they’d take back. Usually their broadcasts go smoothly without any errors, and they try to stay loose and have fun on the air as much as they can.  It comes down to preparation they say, which usually takes about 2 hours (give or take). Names for players on UConn are easier to get down because they’re more familiar with them and see them play more often, but as the game goes on they usually are able to figure out and consistently get opposing team players names right as well.

I asked Chris if he gets frustrated or if he is biased when calling a game when it isn’t going UConn’s way, Chris stated “We try not to voice any negativity when we’re on the air. With UConn especially, no matter how the games going, we try and be as optimistic as possible. Also, we pride ourselves on respecting the opposing teams and giving them credit when it’s due.”

I asked if there were ever times where they just blank out and don’t know what to say, “Sometimes there are moments when we don’t talk on purpose, especially if we want the crowd’s reaction to carry over across the airwaves. Even though it’s going out to a lot of people, we feel like at the game we’re basically having a simple conversation between two people and that makes it much easier to share our thoughts and such on the broadcast,” Jeff stated this in his very relaxed and unassuming manner that I really admired for being so young.

I was curious about the stats they used for the games and I was surprised that they had to keep their own for baseball.  According to Chris it is important because they need to write down things for every pitch, there are game note packets and things online that schools put together that have all of the historical data in them, and that’s what they look at when they do their preparation. As I watched them they were checking things on-line and seamlessly working those facts into the game.

Both call other sports for the school radio station and they say that it doesn’t take away from school or the social aspects too much.  They say that if they could continue their careers; working for one of the big networks would be the dream. Jeff says that he is shooting for ESPN, NBC, CBS, or whoever will take him. As long as he can continue to do this as a job and do it for the rest of his life that’s all that really matters. If he could cover either basketball, football, or baseball professionally that would be fantastic.

Chris and Jeff call the games on 91.7 FM which is UConn’s student radio station, and if you would like to tune in, a lot of people stream them online at, I enjoyed listening to these 2 guys and I believe that they will go far in the broadcast business.

If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014” which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help  Please also share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!