Monday, March 31, 2008

Welcome back, old friend

Man it's good to have baseball back.

From Kosuke Fukudome's dramatic debut in Chicago to Jake Peavy dealing in San Diego, opening day 2008 was beautiful.

Forget the early morning wake-up calls to watch the Red Sox-A's series in Japan or the ESPN manufactured one-game homestand to open up Washington's new ballpark -- Monday was what opening day is all about.

A full day of games -- some good, some not so good. Baseball from noon till midnight. America's past time back where it belongs -- in the spotlight.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Reflections of Memphis

I'm back from a short sojourn to Memphis for the Civil Rights Game between the Chicago White Sox and the New York Mets.

Let me start by saying Auto Zone Park is a true jewel. It's the third "new" Triple-A park I've been to. The others are Zephyr Field in New Orleans and the Dell Diamond in Round Rock.

Auto Zone Park is at the top of that list, and not just because of the recent visit.

It's location probably makes it that way. It's situated in downtown Memphis. There are apartments overlooking center field and right field where residents can take in a game from their porch -- similar to the Wrigley Field experience.

The architecture is a mix of modern and throwback styles. I could go on, but onto the game.

It was a spring training game, but many regulars played most of the game. The Mets won 3-2, but the umpiring was in midseason form.

After new Mets right fielder Ryan Church tipped a ball off his glove and clearly off the top of the wall and a fan, it was ruled in play. That loaded the bases for Chicago, which, instead of having a three-run home run, settled for a two-run single and lost the game.

All in all, it was quite an experience. I'd love to head back to Memphis sometime this summer when it's not cold, rainy and depressing and really see the city's jewel of a stadium shine.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Hitting the road

Look out, Elvis, here we come.

Me and two buddies are headed to Memphis tomorrow to take in the Civil Rights Game between the Chicago White Sox and the New York Mets.

Road trips, as a rule, are enjoyable. Mix in a baseball game and I'm in heaven.

I know it's an exhibition game, but I don't care. I haven't seen the Mets in person and I've only seen the White Sox in two games. Of course, those were Games 3 and 4 of the 2005 World Series in Houston.

So let the 2008 season being -- a couple of days early.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Polk will leave a hole

Somewhere at the NCAA corporate headquarters, someone is smiling.

That's because Mississippi State head baseball coach Ron Polk (pictured) announced his resignation, effective the end of this season.

Polk was as eager to go to verbal battle with the NCAA as he was successful on the diamond -- and that's saying something.

A couple of seasons ago, when Mississippi State came to Ruston to face Louisiana Tech, I interviewed Polk. The best parts, of course, came off the record.

One rant of his that day centered around Alabama's new women's crew team.

Given that program had a full complement of scholarships, Polk was rightly peeved.

My favorite (cleaned up) line from that conversation: "Alabama didn't even have a lake. They had to build a lake for the team."

Polk is one of a kind in college baseball. When Skip Bertman left LSU to become the AD there, it took away one of the SEC's most colorful -- and quotable -- rivalries.

So, happy trails, coach Polk. The Left Field Lounge, Dudy Noble Field and SEC teleconferences won't be the same without you.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Centenary breaks through

Centenary's 5-1 vctory over Arkansas is important for several reasons.

One, even thought it is a midweek win, it's a midweek win over an SEC school. College baseball is probably the one sport where, at times, it helps to be a mid-major. For instance, the majority of players who sign with SEC-type schools stand a legitimate chance of being drafted and never seeing a college field.

Secondly, this will give the Gents confidence they hopefully can carry into the Summit League season. Coach Ed McCann said this was the year the Gents could make it happen, possibly reach an NCAA regional.

That remains to be seen, but Wednesday's win was a serious step in that direction.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

BPCC doing something right

Aaron Vorachek has done something right at Bossier Parish Community College.

Once T.J. Forrest signs with Arkansas on April 9, it will give the Cavaliers a pair of pitchers who have signed with Division I schools.

Chad Poe inked a letter of intent with Southern Mississippi in November.

Pitching coach Jason Stephens told me Tuesday he expects a couple more players to sign with D-I schools.

Couple that with the way the Cavaliers are playing and it looks like Vorachek, the Cavaliers head coach, is building a solid program.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Busy day for locals

Good news and bad for some major league pitchers with local ties.

First the good. Minnesota gave former Shreveport Captain Joe Nathan, the Twins' All-Star closer, a four-year contract extension, setting him and his family up financially for life.

Now the bad. It looks as though former Airline High star B.J. Ryan's comeback from Tommy John surgery will be delayed a couple of weeks. Ryan is dealing with elbow soreness and will not break camp with the Blue Jays.

Instead, he will stay in Florida and continue to work out at the team's spring training complex in Dunedin.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Weekend wrap

Another weekend of college baseball is in the books. What did we learn?

* We learned LSU isn't in quite as bad a shape as we thought. Granted, the Tigers aren't where they expected to be, but they're in better shape than Arkansas.

* We learned Louisiana Tech still struggles on the road in Western Athletic Conference play.

* We learned Northwestern State is a legitimate threat to climb back into the top spot in the Southland Conference after winning a series at Southeastern Louisiana, beating Lions' ace Wade Miley in the process.

* We learned Centenary has improved to the point where back-to-back doubleheaders with Chicago State mean four victories. That wasn't always a guarantee.

* We learned Barret Ray at Grambling is keen on beating his former employer. The Tigers won a SWAC series against perennial league power Southern, proving GSU is for real in Ray's second season at the helm.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bad news for Ryan

It hasn't been a good week to be a local pitcher in a big league camp.

Earlier this week, Scott Baker, a former Captain Shreve star, was battling the flu, which caused him to miss a couple of bullpen sessions.

Now, former Airline standout B.J. Ryan is experiencing soreness in his surgically repaired left elbow.

I'm not sure how bad the soreness is, but you can bet Toronto will play it safe with Ryan this time after his elbow began to give on him last spring training.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Fantasy Times

It's that time of year here at 222 Lake Street.

We're about 5 hours from our automated fantasy baseball draft and I couldn't be happier.

It means baseball season -- real baseball season -- is right around the corner.

Not sure if I'll be assigned any players with connections to this area, but we'll wait and see.

If I'm not mistaken, you can check our fantasy league at The league name -- Downtown Shreveport Baseball Inc

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wild, wild WAC

Nothing has been decided in the Western Athletic Conference and, yet, tempers are boiling over.

Fresno State coach Mike Batesole was arguing with the Indiana coach over the weekend when both dugouts emptied.

Batesole was hit with a two-game suspension.

The weather hasn't warmed up completely and, yet, teams already are fighting.

Should make for a heck of a season in the WAC.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bad news for Baker

The best spring of Scott Baker's major league career has hit a snag

And it's one that has the Minnesota Twins worried.

Baker is fighting the flu and the bug has caused him to miss his last two bullpen sessions. According to's Kelly Thesier, Baker has thrown only a light bullpen session since his last start.

Manager Ron Gardenhire isn't sure if Baker will be able to stretch his pitch count enough to be ready to go opening day when the Twins face the Los Angeles Angels.

That's really a shame because Baker looked to be one of the favorites to take the ball in that game.

Monday, March 17, 2008

End of an era

I'm much too young to know -- or even pretend to know -- all the history behind Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla.

But I read Roger Kahn's "The Boys of Summer." That would be about the Brooklyn Dodgers, who helped make Vero Beach famous.

Anyway, I digress. Dodgertown closed its doors Monday as Los Angeles lost 12-10 to Houston in a spring training game.

Assuming all goes well with the team's new complex in Glendale, Ariz., the Dodgers ended their relationship with the small Florida town it turned into a tourist attraction each March.

For 60 years, the team and the town were synonymous with spring baseball. I regret never making the trip down to see even a practice there.

The bottom line here is baseball lost another piece of its innocence, one of the few it has remaining. The Dodgers' new complex cost $80 million to build.

Gone is a stadium with no dugouts. Gone is the proximity to fans. Gone are the boys of spring from that Florida town.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Weekend wrap

The first weekend of conference play is in the books. What did we learn?

* We learned LSU is a long way off from where it wants to be. The Tigers were swept for the first time in history by Tennessee. And, mind you, this is a Tennessee team with a first-year coach.

* We learned Northwestern State is happy at home. A three-game sweep is the perfect start to Southland Conference play for the Demons.

* We learned Grambling, in its third weekend of SWAC play, is definitely a contender. The Tigers are 6-3 in conference play.

* We learned Louisiana Tech, which hasn't started conference play, can roll up Tennessee-Martin. The Bulldogs got healthy against the visiting Skyhawks. Tech starts Western Athletic Conference play Thursday at Nevada. The WAC has moved to four-game conference series this year.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Huletts making strides

I ran into Evangel baseball coach Tim Hulett for the first time in a while Friday at the Loyola Diamond Classic and he had good news to report on all three of his baseball-playing sons.

Tug Hulett is hanging in there in his first spring training with Seattle. Tim said Tug played some early then sat for a few days which drove him crazy. Befitting the nickname he shares with late Phillies closer -- and father of country music star Tim McGraw -- Tug McGraw, the oldest Hulett son is a ball of energy so sitting on a bench is as close to torture as it can get.

Middle son Jeff has caught on with the Texas Rangers and is working out in their spring camp after spending last season with the Pensacola Pelicans of the American Association. He has scrapped his way out of the independent leagues and into a potential spot in organized ball. Kudos to him.

Finally, Jeff, the Huletts' youngest son, is "tearing it up" at Okaloosa-Walton (Fla.) Community College after spending his freshman season at Texas A&M. OWCC is one of the region's top junior college programs annually and should give Jeff a good shot at catching on with a Division I program next season, or opting for the MLB Draft in June.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ryan on the way back

B.J. Ryan's comeback officially is under way.

On Friday, Ryan, a former Airline High star, worked a perfect inning in Toronto's 8-4 spring training loss to Tampa Bay.

Ryan started the game, which was delayed by rain, and struck out a pair of batters.

“I kind of went out there anxious and nervous, not really knowing what to expect because it’s the first time being back out there, and I didn’t want to feel my way around the way like I did in those simulated games,” he told reporters afterward.

Ryan is less than a year removed from Tommy John surgery. He missed most of spring training a year ago and then struggled before being shut down April 14 because of his balky left elbow.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dougie's gone

Shed a tear, Shreveport.

The Boston Red Sox released Doug Mirabelli, a former Shreveport Captain, on Thursday.

Mirabelli leaves Boston with two World Series rings and the never-ending love of Red Sox fans. In fact, the worlds folk hero should be attached to Dougie's name.

Do a google search for "Dougie's Diary" to see how much larger than life the personal catcher for Tim Wakefield has become in Boston (Warning: Most of that is NOT intended for children.)

So another Shreveport tie to the big leagues is gone, which means another tear has fallen from area baseball fans' eyes.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Beauty of baseball

Baseball, in its purest form, is an everyday battle.

There are few off days during a Major League Baseball or a minor league season. And, now, with a more compressed college schedule, it's becoming that way for NCAA student-athletes.

Said schedule now allows for more two-game midweek series instead of the more common single-game matchups.

In turn, that allows for the beauty of what happened in New Orleans on Tuesday and Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Northwestern State and Tulane played a taut, 11-inning thriller with Tulane winning 4-3. On Wednesday, however, it was time for the bats to take over.

In something resembling a typical midweek game, the Green Wave finished the two-game sweep with an 18-11 game in which one Green Wave hitter went 6-for-6.

Such is the beauty of an everyday game -- one day it's all about pitching and defense, the next is an offensive onslaught.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What is MLB thinking?

At this rate, I may forgo my summer vacation tradition of catching a Major League Baseball game in a park I've never been to.

The reason: MLB is trying to strong-arm the Cape Cod Baseball League into paying up.

That's right, a multi-million (at least) dollar conglomerate is trying to force a not-for-profit eight-team college league into coughing up 11 percent of its revenue because six of the eight CCBL teams use MLB nicknames. Oh, the horror.

Seriously, MLB donates a whopping $100,000 a year to help fund the league, which is the premier summer league for college players and a launching point for players such as Albert Belle, Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell and Jason Varitek.

Now big bad MLB wants to take it all away. The games in the CCBL charge no admission. The league subsists on donations and, should MLB take its away, the league would be in dire straits.

It may be trite to say, but the Cape Cod League is a bit of an American tradition. It's been memorialized in movies (Summer Catch) and books (The Last Best League).

Let's hope MLB looks in the mirror and sees the ugly, vicious corporate giant it has been acting like in this dispute.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Taking a piece of Tech to China

Brian Myrow likely won't break camp with the San Diego Padres, but he will be a part of MLB history later this week.

The former Louisiana Tech Bulldog is traveling with the 26-player San Diego contingent that will face the Los Angeles Dodgers in a pair of exhibition games in Beijing.

For Myrow, a career journeyman, it is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see China and bring a little piece of Tech to the Far East.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Weekend Wrap

Another weekend of college baseball is in the books. What did we learn about our local teams?

* We learned LSU still is in the market for a Sunday starter. Blake Martin took the loss against Stetson, the Tigers' second loss in three Sundays. Paul Mainieri will want to make sure that position is solidified before conference play begins.

* We learned Louisiana Tech is not infallible when it comes to facing Southland Conference competition, but the Bulldogs still won the series.

* We learned Centenary can still beat up on schools who haven't seen an outside workout since May.

* We learned Northwestern State's starters are in midseason form, but the bullpen certainly is not.

* We also learned LSUS is not, at this time, the class of the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference. That honor belongs to Mobile, which took two of three from the Pilots this weekend in Alabama.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Ryan makes progress

Say what you will about B.J. Ryan, but he apparently is a quick healer.

Ryan, 10 months removed from Tommy John surgery, expects to make his spring training debut Tuesday for the Toronto Blue Jays.

And he plans to let it all hang out. After a pair of bullpen sessions Wednesday and Saturday, Ryan said he is ready to get on the mound and pitch in a game situation.

With the money the Blue Jays have invested in the former Airline High star, Toronto should hope Ryan indeed knows his body better than anyone else.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Tulane's Hunt makes a name

When your first name is Shooter -- well make that a nickname -- it's hard to live up to the cliche about making a name for yourself.

So, in that respect, give Tulane right-hander Shooter Hunt credit.

The last two Fridays, Hunt, a pretty strong draft prospect in his own right, has drawn the assignment of facing two of the nation's top pitchers.

Hunt took a no-decision last week in a 4-2 loss to Pepperdine and Waves ace Brett Hunter.

Hunt then outdid himself Friday night.

Facing Seth Gorgen, the hero of UC Irvine's memorable CWS run a year ago, Hunt tossed seven shutout innings, beating Gorgen and the Anteaters 2-0.

It's still early, but right now, Hunt has what one publication likes to call "helium" when it comes to June's draft.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Baseball full of hidden gems

I was over at my parents' house last night and my mom says, "Hey I've got something for you."

Turns out, it was a book called "The Treasures of Major League Baseball."

I opened it up and found quite an impressive collection of memorabilia -- facsimiles of course -- that included, among other things, World Baseball Classic media credentials and the original blueprints for Comiskey Park.

The book itself is incredible, breaking down baseball's history decade by decade, but the scorecards, credentials and other interesting artifacts (Ty Cobb's diary for instance) make it a gem.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Take your money and be happy

What do Cole Hamels and Prince Fielder have in common?

They're both unhappy about having their contracts renewed.

Under MLB's collective bargaining agreement, players prior to their abitration-eligible years are under control of their respective teams and generally have little to no say about what they will be paid.

The players know this when they sign their contracts so why whine about it? You don't see teams shedding tears over million-dollar signing bonuses for unproven talents.

Both Hamels and Fielder are true talents who will make plenty of money down the road. Why they are whining about not making it now is beyond me.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Hawpe finds security

Former LSU star Brad Hawpe knows where he belongs -- with the Colorado Rockies.

Hawpe signed a three-year, $17-plus million contract extension to stay with the only organization he's known since being drafted in 2000.

It's a move that should be mutually beneficial. By signing the deal, Hawpe gets financial and professional stability.

By locking Hawpe up, it gives the Rockies stability and payroll flexibility.

It certainly looks like the Rockies don't want to be one-year wonders. They've been aggressive with their free agents and young players, re-signing Hawpe, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, outfielder Matt Holliday and closer Manny Corpas to multi-year deals.

Only time will tell, however, if last year's run was a mirage or the start of something special in the Rocky Mountains.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Telling it like it is

Sports editor Scott Ferrell and I were riding around DeSoto Parish today shooting mug shots for the Campus Faces part of the DeSoto Preps pages and we were listening to spring training baseball.

Most people know early in spring training, the late innings of the games are subject to mass substitutions. Most of those players will not be in the big leagues to start the year, if at all during the season.

That situation gave us the line of the day. From the Florida Marlins broadcast of their game against Boston, the play-by-play announcer, whose name escapes me, said, "Here we are in a low-run, one-run game and it's basically Carolina (the Marlins Double-A affiliate) and Portland (Boston's Double-A franchise.)"

Yes, an announcer who told it like it is. It wouldn't surprise me to see said announcer get chewed out royally by the Florida marketing department.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Weekend wrap

The second week of college baseball is behind us; what did we learn.

* We learned LSU is capable of beating up on weak northern schools' pitching. The Tigers hearkened back to the "Gorilla Ball" days this weekend in a three-game demolition of Duquesne. LSU ripped 13 home runs in the three-game sweep.

* We learned Tech is almost there -- but not quite. Faced with its toughest competition of the young season, the Bulldogs dropped all three games at the Texas A&M tournament. Not the best of signs for Wade Simoneaux's squad, but it remained competitive in all three losses to BCS conference teams.

* NSU followed the LSU pattern -- beat up a northern school in three games. NSU's pitching is a work in progress, but right now the offense is making up for the staff's shortcomings.

* Grambling opened SWAC play with a doubleheader sweep of Texas Southern on Saturday. That's good news for Barret Rey's team, which hopes to once again make noise in the SWAC like they did in the late 1980s and early 1990s under coach Wilbert Ellis.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

MLB's initiative a worthy one

For those who say Major League Baseball isn't doing enough to make inroads into the black community, check out the Urban Invitational MLB hosted Saturday night.

Historically black colleges Bethune-Cookman and Southern traveled to Los Angeles to face UCLA and USC, respectively. Additionally, the event, started by MLB executive Jimmie Lee Solomon, included a job fair for the players.

Part grass roots, part commercial act (the games were televised by ESPN2), the Urban Invitational helped spotlight MLB's Urban Youth Academy in Los Angeles. The games were played there in what approximated a minor-league setting.

For all MLB has done wrong, and there's a laundry list of that, this is something that, if kept alive, could steer at-risk inner-city kids away from drugs and gangs and onto a path to become the next Eric Davis, a survivor of Los Angeles' inner city who went on to become a household name during his MLB career.