Friday, February 29, 2008

Character builder for Tech

Remember when you were a kid and didn't want to eat your vegetables or finish that daunting summer-reading list? Remember your parent's standard reply?

If you're like me, it probably was along the lines of, "It will build character."

Louisiana Tech's 2008 baseball team endured its first character-building moment of the season Friday when it lost to Arkansas 9-8.

Tech was down early before rallying to take an 8-7 lead into the ninth inning. Arkansas' Aaron Murphree ended the game with a two-run home run with one out in the ninth.

A loss like this shows how far the Tech program has come. Not so long ago Tech would have been thrilled to play the Hogs to within a run.

Now, however, Tech has grown up to the point where the Bulldogs aren't playing the big boys just to play. They're playing to win. And when they don't, they need to take lessons away from games just like Friday's.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

More ink for Baker

OK so I guess it's technically not ink since it's on the Internet, but Scott Baker is generating plenty of buzz at Minnesota Twins spring training this year.

The latest installment paints him as a quiet leader -- one who reminds manager Ron Gardenhire of longtime Twins ace Brad Radke.

Radke was an All-Star pitcher and, apparently, one of the quietest men in the clubhouse. Baker hasn't yet reached All-Star levels on the mound, but he appears to be in line to start Opening Day for the Twins.

As opposed to a year ago, it looks like Baker's spring training is a much happier go-around.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Big weekend ahead

So I caught the ninth inning of LSU's 6-1 victory over Southern on Cox Sports Television tonight.

During the time I was watching, CST flashed a graphic stating it would air four college baseball games this weekend from the Texas A&M-hosted tournament.

Among the competing teams are Arkansas, Louisiana Tech and, of course, Texas A&M. The compressed schedule made some wonder if tournaments like this would happen anymore.

The answer is yes. Along with the A&M event, the Houston Astros College Classic is once again taking place at Minute Maid Park.

Looks like we have a great weekend of college baseball ahead.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Choo-se wisely your path

For those of us like me who missed the days of the military draft, it's interesting to see what other countries are doing militarily.

Take South Korea for instance.

According to this story on, every able-bodied South Korean male is required to serve between 24 and 28 months in the country's military prior to turning 30.

Why bring this up and what does it have to do with baseball? Easy.

Ask Shin Soo-Choo of the Cleveland Indians, who may have his professional career interrupted by military service.

There is, obviously, precedent for this in America. Heck, a good number of major leaguers in the 1940s missed time to serve in our armed forces.

In this day and age, however, it is a rarity. In Choo's case, here's hoping whatever happens to him does so for the best -- as a ballplayer and as a person.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Weekend wrap

The first weekend of college baseball season has come and gone for Division I teams and here's what we have we learned:

* We learned Louisiana Tech can beat up on Southland Conference pitching -- and hold down SLC hitting. Tech dominated McNeese State in all phases of the game in a weekend sweep.

* LSU is back on the upswing, but not nearly where it used to be. In the good old days, LSU would have swept Indiana in much the same way Tech did McNeese.

* NSU has made strides. The Demons dropped a game to Grambling, but that's going to happen. Not all win streaks -- no matter how long -- last forever. Just ask Notre Dame and Navy football.

* Centenary is much improved. The Gents closed out a solid opening weekend with a one-run win over Northern Iowa, something that dogged them a year ago.

* Finally, LSUS keeps rolling along. The Pilots roughed up LSU-Alexandria over the weekend in a step outside of Gulf Coast Athletic Conference play.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Jones back on track at Tech

It's only one start, but Louisiana Tech's Jericho Jones seems to be over the dreaded sophomore slump that plagued him a year ago.

Jones was one of three Tech pitchers who combined on a three-hitter in Saturday's win over McNeese.

It was almost two years ago when Jones burst on the college baseball scene, earning Freshman All-America honors from Baseball America magazine. He then, like numerous other athletes, suffered through a less productive sophomore season.

Injuries and game plans designed to not let him beat the opposition took their toll on Jones.

In his first pitching appearance of 2008, however, Jones looked like he was on his way back to being the two-way standout Wade Simoneaux so desperately needs if his Bulldogs are to break their regional drought.

Friday, February 22, 2008

College baseball arrives in earnest

Not to take anything away from LSUS or BPCC, but college baseball season started in earnest Friday.

And for all in involved in our area, it started with a bang.

Louisiana Tech hammered McNeese, 14-5; Centenary took down Northern Iowa, 6-2; and LSU beat up on Indiana 7-1.

Grambling State and Northwestern State join the fray Saturday when they face each other.

That being said, area Division I schools had a stellar opening day.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Howard's the big winner

The baseball owners are no longer perfect. In 2008 arbitration cases that is.

Ryan Howard got what he was asking for Thursday, winning his arbitration case with Philadelphia and earning himself a nice chunk of change ($10 million) for the 2007 season.

Win or lose Howard was going to enjoy a huge raise from the $900,000 he earned a year ago, but this gives him some stature.

And I'm guessing he won't end up in the same situation Todd Walker was in a year ago when he won his arbitration case against San Diego.

Walker was released shortly thereafter and was done with the game by May of last year.

It's hard to see Philadelphia treating the 2006 NL MVP that way.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Astros ink Chacon

We now know what winning two arbitration cases can land a team.

One year of Shawn Chacon.

At least if you're the Houston Astros.

Houston inked the longtime swingman to a one-year deal Wednesday using its savings from winning arbitration cases with Jose Valverde and Mark Loretta.

Houston had better hope it lands the Chacon from his first season with the Yankees and not the last couple with the Pirates.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Thoughts on Pettitte

As someone who grew up watching and rooting for the Houston Astros, one would think I would have jumped through the roof when they landed Andy Pettitte as a free agent in 2004.

Wrong. About the only good thing to come from that, in my mind, was Roger Clemens tagged along and signed with the Astros.

I always viewed Pettitte as a snobby, aloof, whiny, soft pitcher. There's no denying Pettitte is one of the game's biggest Christian athletes, but I did not think highly of him between the lines.

Now, in light of his inlcusion in the Mitchell Report, and his confession to using HGH, I'm seeing a whole new side of Pettitte that, gulp, I actually like and respect.

Pettitte sat through an hourlong interrogation by the New York media and patiently answered every last question. He even took time to ask reporters if his answers were sufficient.

Pettitte may be the one player this side of Barry Bonds to come out of the Mitchell Report and it's fallout smelling like a proverbial rose.

What a change.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Strange opening day

Baseball season got cranked up for local high schools Monday, but something was missing.

Make that someone.

As soon as I walked into Captain Shreve's baseball field, I saw longtime bird dog Bob Festervan standing near the screen. I exchanged pleasantries with him and we chatted for a minute or so before former Parkway, Byrd and Shreve coach Ronnie Coker walked in.

There was only one problem -- no James Farrar. Call him James, call him Coach, call him whatever, Farrar was baseball in the Shreveport area for a long time.

First as a coach and then as a scout and, for me, the person I'd always turn to if my story needed the right piece of wisdom or advice.

So, Coach, even though you're not working for the Astros anymore, come back to the ballpark. As good as it is, it will be a better place with you there.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Great news out of Minnesota

So here we are a couple of days into spring training and what is the Associated Press' big story out of Minnesota Twins' camp?

The rise of Scott Baker.

Yep, the same Scott Baker who was pitching at Captain Shreve eight years ago. The same Scott Baker who began last season at Triple-A.

Anyway, Baker could open the season as the Twins opening day starter, capping a roller-coaster ride that began when the Twins broke camp 11 months ago.

Before we put the cart before the horse, however, just know the Twins have Francisco Liriano back from arm surgery. For those who forgot, Liriano was the second left-handed buzz-saw that propelled the Twins to the 2006 playoffs.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Another bad day for Clemens

Paul Lo Duca's admission of his inclusion in the Mitchell Report has dire consequences for one person -- Roger Clemens.

Yep, even though Clemens hasn't done anything since leaving Capitol Hill, seeing another player ask for forgiveness for his past transgressions makes Clemens look even worse.

Clemens was in a no-win situation from the time the report came out. When he was quiet, people wanted him to talk. When he talked, those same people said he went too far.

This one, however, is hurting Clemens through no fault of his own. Lo Duca, Matt Herges and the rest who have copped to using performance-enhancing drugs and HGH have done Clemens no favors.

Of course, neither has he.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Funny who you see at the ballpark

I showed up at Captain Shreve's baseball field Thursday afternoon looking to shoot a couple of mug shots of the Gators baseball team and talk to new coach Todd Sharp about the upcoming season.

I got a lot more out of that.

While Sharp was mowing the infield, he yelled at me to "interview the big leaguer." Well given that said big leaguer was at the opposite dugout I had no idea who was hanging around.

Turns out it was Michael Aubrey and Sean West. The two were getting ready to hit in the cages, putting in some last-minute work before heading to spring training.

Aubrey needs a good season and we talked about his history of bizarre injuries. His mind-set is clear -- stay on the field and build off an excellent Arizona Fall League campaign.

For West, who somehow is even more reserved than the soft-spoken Aubrey, spring will start a little later as the former Captain Shreve left-hander is still recovering from surgery.

Still, a good spring for both would mean a sunny start to 2008.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day, baseball fans

Finally, a reason to get happy about Feb. 14.

In case you couldn't tell, I'm extremely cynical when it comes to National Greeting Card Day, oops, I mean Valentine's Day.

But this year there was reason to be happy. Valentine's Day was also the day spring training began in earnest around Major League Baseball.

We're still six weeks away from games that matter, but for the first time since the Red Sox joyously bounced around Coors Field, baseball is back on the field instead of in the court room.

And that's reason to be happy -- and even feel a little loved.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Theater of the absurd

I'm not watching the Roger Clemens-Brian McNamee showdown on Capitol Hill.

Instead I'm following along on Jayson Stark's blog. I did speak to Times sports editor Scott Ferrell as he was watching along and we both were shaking our heads.

This is the ultimate no-win situation for anyone involved not named Andy Pettitte. After hearing some of the stories, I'm very surprised the entire roster of the 1999-2001 Yankees weren't subpoenaed by Congress.

Clemens may get what he wants -- taking McNamee down, but The Rocket will go down as well. Perhaps when this never-ending day of testimony wraps up, it will mark the end of baseball's self-imposed flagellation at the hands of Congress.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Astros take stab at credibility

Last week the Texas Rangers introduced Nolan Ryan as the team's new president. Now the Houston Astros have added another familiar face to the nonplaying side of the organization.

Less than six months after his retirement, Craig Biggio rejoined the Astros, signing a three-year personal services contract.

This is not the first time the Astros have signed a former player to a PSC. They did the same with Roger Clemens and Jeff Bagwell.

Given the slip in perception the Astros have suffered this offseason, pulling in Biggio, who was generally respected within the game, was paramount. The Astros had Clemens and Andy Pettitte mentioned in the Mitchell Report and traded for Miguel Tejada who had his own chapter in the report.

The Astros have the Roger Clemens Elite Pitchers Camp and the Jeff Bagwell Elite Hitters Camp already. I'm not sure what the logical step is for something involving Biggio as far as that goes, but maybe they'll start the Craig Biggio Elite Grinders Camp.

Nothing else could be more appropriate for the little guy who did it all in a big way for the Astros.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Rocker rears his head

Just when you think you've seen the last of John Rocker, he appears out of nowhere.

Nearing the end of baseball's most sordid offseason, Rocker decides its time to make an appearance.

Face it, this guy has been less than an afterthought since he flamed out of the big leagues in a wave of incendiary, racist and sexist comments published in Sports Illustrated.

After that story appeared in SI, Rocker met with commissioner Bud Selig. According to Rocker, Selig then knew Rocker was on steroids and did nothing about it.

There could be plenty of credence to Rocker's claim. His appearance was one of the "typical" steroid user. Bulked up; given to fits of wild rage, etc, etc.

Baseball has enough trouble to deal with already without this guy sticking his nose back in it. Listen, John, go join your good friend and fellow steroid user Jose Canseco on another season of "The Surreal Life" and leave the rest of us alone.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Big names still available

We're less than a week away from spring training and there remains a whopping number of free agents.

Eighty-four to be exact and some of the names are stunning in stature.

Included among those still looking for work as the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues draw ever near are Barry Bonds, Bartolo Colon, Kenny Lofton and others.

It's strange in some ways the number is that grand. In others, it's not.

Several teams stood pat in this offseason and those who did not weren't forced to deal the number of players many expected them to in order to land marquee talents.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Tech has an All-American

Baseball America makes no bones about its relationship with baseball scouts.

Never is it made more prevalent than in the preseason All-American teams picked by the magazine. The magazine certainly makes it known it prefers tools over production.

Case in point -- Louisiana Tech's Luke Burnett.

Wins and losses probably are more misleading in college baseball than at any other level. That said, Burnett's 5-8 mark probably wouldn't land him second-team All-America mentions anywhere other than Baseball America.

His tools, however, are unmistakable. Burnett is an imposing physical specimen at 6-foot-8. Factor in a high-octane fastball and you can bet not many college hitters are lining up to face the Carthage, Texas, native.

However, Burnett has yet to translate those tools into production. With numerous scouts likely staring down his every move this spring, there could be no better time for him to do that than now.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Bedard deal done

The second-longest running drama of Major League Baseball's offseason is over as Baltimore has traded Erik Bedard to Seattle.

Bedard's saga was slightly shorter than the one of Johan Santana, who was traded last week from Minnesota to the New York Mets.

The trade should benefit both teams -- Seattle in the short term, Baltimore in the long run. The Mariners now have a stellar 1-2 punch atop their pitching rotation while Orioles landed five young players for their (perpetual) rebuilding phase.

As a bonus, local fans will have more chances to catch Bedard, one of the game's most underrated pitchers, as the Mariners will make three trips to Arlington to face the Texas Rangers.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

I'm feeling old

I stopped by Calvary on Wednesday for Khiry Cooper's signing ceremony with Nebraska.

While there, I ran into former Parkway and Captain Shreve coach Ronnie Coker, who immediately made me feel way too old.

Turns out Coker told me he had someone playing for his Gametime Academy Under-17 team this summer that I knew.

No big surprise, I thought, given the volume of phone calls I've taken over the years and the fact my mother is a teacher in the Bossier Parish school system.

Then came the kicker. I know this person through his father, who I worked with in college.

Yep, Louisiana Tech head baseball coach Wade Simoneaux's son Thomas is old enough to play
on an under-17 team. To understand how old I felt, I first met Thomas when he was 5 or 6 years old, running around the then-USL baseball facility.

Now there's a chance I'll get a phone call this summer and ask for highlights from a travel team and hear "Thomas Simoneaux, 2-for-4" or something of that ilk and immediately feel much older than I am.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Rangers try to buy credibility

So the Texas Rangers have a new president you may have heard of.

His name: Nolan Ryan, as in Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan.

Color me confused about Ryan's hiring. During his 10-year personal services contract with Houston, he never held a significant position in the organization.

He did build Round Rock and Corpus Christi into two of the best organizations in minor league baseball, but there's a major difference in running a minor league team and having a major say in a big league organization.

If there is someone who can bridge that gap, it's Ryan. Here's hoping, however, the Rangers, who have rebuilt their once-barren farm system through shrewd drafting and trades, don't sacrifice their reputation for it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Clemens is on the Hill

Roger Clemens took to a different kind of hill Tuesday -- Capitol Hill.

The right-hander gave a five-hour deposition to members of Congress regarding his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Frankly, as I've said before on this blog, I'm sick of baseball and steroids. More to the point, I'm sick of baseball dragging itself through the proverbial mud while other sports get a free ride.

Take the NFL. In a bit of poetic justice, New England's Rodney Harrison, who was suspended this year for proven HGH use, was beaten by New York's David Tyree for perhaps the greatest Super Bowl catch in history during Sunday's game.

This is the same Harrison who dodged questions all week about how differently he was treated than some of the Major League Baseball players who have been implicated by the Mitchell Report.

Makes me sick.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Rangers looking to the (recent) past

Kevin Mench remains unemployed, but maybe not for long.

The former Texas Ranger with the nickname Shrek could be making a return trip to Arlington. Texas traded Mench and closer Francisco Cordero to Milwaukee in 2006.

Mench would be in the mix as a backup outfielder and apparently is entertaining the same type of offer from the New York Yankees.

The personable Mench was a fan favorite in the Metroplex for his work on and off the field. He was a stand-up person in the locker room and a big reason the clubhouse was one of the loosest in the league.

With what's left on the free-agent market, the Rangers could do a lot worse than brining back Mench.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Astros eye Colon

Ed Wade continues to amaze.

Wade has been the Astros general manager for about six months and he continues to have Astros fans scratching their heads. His latest free-agent foray -- a look at Bartolo Colon.

This isn't the Colon of 2000-2005 either. This is a worn-down, overweight Colon, who reportedly has struggled to hit 84 mph in winter ball.

I know the Astros' farm system is thin -- much thinner now since Wade dealt several players to Baltimore for Migue Tejada -- but you have to think someone, anyone, would be more worthy than a washed-up Colon.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Smith makes a rookie mistake

Now that the Johan Santana trade is official, let's review.

The Minnesota Twins received a package of four players from the Mets for Santana and only one, Carlos Gomez, looks to have major staying power in the big leagues.

Two months ago, Twins GM Bill Smith was looking at trade packages from the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox that centered around players who have had success in the big leagues.

Most industry experts figured the Twins would be in a bit of a tough spot when Terry Ryan stepped down as GM. What many probably didn't count on was Smith's first big move would be this shockingly short-sighted.

Instead of landing someone like Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Phillip Hughes or Ian Kennedy, the Twins landed Gomez and three fringy prospects.

Hopefully for Twins' fans, this is a rookie mistake on Smith's part and not the start of a downward trend.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Time to make a move on Bedard

Now that Johan Santana is securely in Queens, N.Y., for the next seven seasons, it's time for another long-rumored, long-talked-about deal to go through.

That trade is the Erik Bedard move from Baltimore to Seattle.

This rumor hasn't had the shelf life of Santana's myriad destinations, but the actual trade, which would send Bedard to Seattle for Mariners top prospect Adam Jones and a handful of other players, has been in an on-again, off-again cycle more suited to a high school relationship.

Whatever the holdup is, the teams need to work through it and either get the deal done or squash it once and for all. And if temperamental Orioles owner Peter Angelos is behind this deal not going through, woe be unto all Orioles' fans, including The Times' Teddy Allen and Lee Hiller.