Saturday, April 28, 2012

We've Missed Ya Huddy!

Tim Hudson last pitched for the Braves on September 28, 2011.  Fredi Gonzalez had wanted to save him for the post season but it was a do-or-die game.  Win-or-go-home.  The Braves went home. 

Two months later, Huddy underwent back surgery to to repair a herniated disk.  He had been suffering from back pain throughout the previous two seasons and the pain began to affect him while trying to complete even the simplest tying his shoes or getting out of bed.  He had hoped to be ready for spring training and in the starting rotation for the Season Opener but his recovery took a bit longer than expected.

Tim Hudson will make his 2012 debut on Sunday versus the Pirates.  Arrggghhh!!  He made four rehab starts, the last two in Gwinnett, where he went 2-0 with a 0.84 ERA.  He pitched 5 and 5 2/3 innings respectively and in his last rehab start on Tuesday, he threw 110 pitches.  His fastball sat right at 91 mph.

Huddy says his back feels great, he's getting his legs under him and his arm strength is improving.  The direct quote? 

                   "I'm ready to go," Hudson said. "No problems at all." 

This is exactly what we all want to hear and by the looks of him in the dugout, Tim Hudson is antsy to get back on the mound and he's more than ready to add to the thrills we're experiencing during this amazing April!

Last season and again this year, the Braves have had a fantastic ad campaign featuring many of the players.  I got a HUGE kick out of this one, which just began airing.  It includes Huddy, David Ross, Kris Medlen and Peter Moylan.  And if you weren't too sure, at the end Huddy reminds us where his college loyalties lie...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It Was A Very Happy Birthday!!

What does one give Chipper Jones for his birthday?  Martin Prado knows.  In fact, according to Chipper, Martin Prado's birthday present totally rocked! 

            "Martin Prado gave me my birthday present, that was the
                                        best one of the day."

A two-out, RBI triple in the top of the ninth, giving the Braves a 4-3 lead and an eventual victory.  That turned out to be the perfect gift for Chipper Jones. 

After sitting out the previous two games, Chipper was ready to roll.  He grounded out in his first plate appearance.  In between the third and fourth innings, a very classy Dodgers organization wished him a Happy Birthday and thanked him for his contributions to the game.  Chipper's response?  In his next at bat he hit a solo home run that went deep into the Braves bullpen!

With stellar pitching performances from Mike Minor and Craig Kimbrel and strong plate appearances from Tyler Pastornicky, Jason Heyward and Martin Prado, the Braves handed the Dodgers their first loss at home this season.

Chipper summed up his night like this. 
 "You always want to do something special on your birthday and it doesn't get any more special than that." He went on to say, "All three of the homers I have hit this year have been really cool. I hit my first one in Houston with my parents in the stands. My second one was my home opener and then this one was on my birthday."
 Yes Chipper, we think that's really cool too!


Chipper's birthday by the numbers:

In 19 seasons, Chipper has played on his birthday 13 times.

Chipper's birthday batting average is .429, going 21-for-49.

Chipper has five career home runs on his birthday.  The only other active    players with five birthday home runs are Todd Helton and A-Rod.

Chipper is one of five players in Major League history to hit a home run on his 40th birthday.

Who can tell me the other four?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

West Coast Road Trips Wear Me Out!

First, I want to wish a very Happy Birthday to Chipper Jones!!  The Braves #10 is celebrating #40!  I won't make any bad jokes as Joe Simpson already took care of that with his comments about our third baseman being eligible for early bird specials and free desserts.  Ouch!!  I'm hoping that Chipper's knee is behaving and he'll be back in the lineup tonight.  Historically, his birthday numbers are great and I really want to see him back on the field tonight.  It makes the world feel right.

Secondly, and no less important, a huge congratulations to Freddie Freeman for being named the National League's player of the week!!  Freddie had a tremendous week and it's about time that he's recognized nationally.  He so deserves this!

Lots of good news, followed by some not so good news.  Jair Jurrjens was sent down to Triple-A after last night's horrific performance.  Truthfully, I'm glad this happened.  Something isn't right and JJ needs to work it out.  During the first half of the 2011 season JJ was nothing short of spectacular and it was a crime that he wasn't named the All Star Game's starting pitcher.  However, in the second half of the season he did a complete 180 and he played a key role in the Braves epic collapse.  Unfortunately, 2012 is picking up right where 2011 left off.  Last night JJ didn't make it past the third inning.  To quote an old friend, it was absolutely horrifying.

A pitcher was slated to be sent down to make way for Tim Hudson's return.  At the start of the season, it was expected to be Randall Delgado.  But then a funny thing happened.  Delgado out-pitched Jurrjens.  In fact, he way out-pitched him.  I thought that Randall still might be sent down as he would get more starts on a regular basis in Gwinnett.  But with JJ pitching as horribly as he is, well, the choice was obvious for Fredi Gonzalez.

It's Minor versus Harang tonight with the first pitch around 10:10.  These west coast games kill me!  To quote another old friend, I'm just so tired!


Congratulations to Jamie Moyer for becoming baseball oldest winning pitcher (49 years old, 151 days) with his 5-3 victory over the Padres last week.

And congratulations to the White Sox Philip Humber for pitching a perfect game versus the Mariners last Saturday.  It only the 21st perfect game in baseball history.

Be on the lookout for Derek Lowe's 2004 World Series ring.  It was stolen from his Fort Meyers home sometime early last week. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Good Old Fashioned Whoop Ass!

A couple of Sundays ago, I was watching the season's first Sunday night baseball game.  The Chicago White Sox were visiting the Texas Rangers.  A few innings in, I had an epiphany.  Robin Ventura, the new manager of the White Sox, was facing a team who's president is Nolan Ryan.  I chuckled and wondered if anyone else saw the irony here.

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, let me fill you in.  Robin Ventura and Nolan Ryan were involved in one of the most famous (or infamous) bench clearing brawls of the modern era.  It was August of 1993 and Ventura was a 26 year old All Star, the hot shot third baseman for Chicago's south-siders.  Ryan was 46 years old, baseball's timeless, living legend and undoubtedly the most revered man in all of Texas.  He was still pitching effectively and for Ryan, the voting for Cooperstown would be but a mere formality.

Ventura was at the plate when Ryan's pitch stuck him in the back.  Ventura charged the mound.  Can you imagine the fear that struck in the hearts of all those watching as these events unfolded!?!  This young guy was not only going after the face of the franchise, but a man 20 years his senior.  Some one get out there and protect poor Nolan!!

Um, Nolan Ryan didn't need anyone to protect him and he basically opened up a can of Texas whoop ass on Robin Ventura.  Check it out.

Not only is this clip funny to watch, but it's also fun to see who else was playing in that game.  If you look closely you'll see a young Ozzy Guillen and a pretty feisty Bo Jackson.  Nolan's catcher/bodyguard is the just-retired Pudge Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro was in the melee too. 

A clip of this fight is one that is oft showed a the Ballpark in Arlington, always to the delight of the crowd.  However, the Rangers decided that it wouldn't be shown while the White Sox were in town.  And curiously, Ventura and Ryan had never spoken since that August night 19 years ago.  That all ended a few Sundays ago.  Away from the cameras, Ryan met Ventura in the tunnel to say hello and wish him luck in his first game as a manager.  There's no animosity or hard feelings.  There never really was.  After all, it's baseball.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Happy Birthday Fenway!!

One of baseball's most hallowed and treasured ball parks turns 100 years old today.  Congratulations Fenway Park!  You look mahvelous!!

I'm not even going to try to give y'all a history lesson on Fenway.  I have way too many friends who are Red Sox fans and I don't want to embarrass myself!  I will tell you that Fenway is the oldest working ball park in the major league and it represents one of the things that I love most about baseball, the game's respect for its own history.  Fenway is sacred ground.  When fans step through the gate, they are almost stepping back into another era.  They may be sitting in wooden seats, but they are looking onto a field where Babe Ruth actually played.  Fans in New York can't say that anymore.

Think of the players who played on that very field and called it home!  Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Bobby Doerr, Carlton Fisk, Johnny Pesky...and those are just the Hall of Famers.  Dennis Eckersley, Pedro Martinez, Luis Tiant, Nomar Garciaparra, Mo Vaughn, Tony Pena, Lee Smith, Roger Clemens, Dom DiMaggio, Dwight Evans and Wade Boggs. 

Fenway came close to being no more on two occasions.  Both times it was saved.  Sure it's small and it doesn't have the amenities that many of the newer parks have.  But what it does have is a very unique and special feel that the newer parks are desperately trying to recapture.  Fenway never lost it. 

How did it start?  On April 20, 1912 the New York Highlanders (later called the Yankees) visited the brand new ball field called Fenway Park.  There were 24,000 fans in attendance.  The game went 11 innings and the Red Sox won 7-6.  There were some amazing players on the field that day, including Tris Speaker.  Cy Young was in attendance.  According to the Boston Globe, "There was no time wasted in childish parades" and "Mayor Fitzgerald dignified the occasion by tossing out the new ball."  My how times have changed! 

Today both teams wore the 1912 uniforms and I believe this is the first time the Yankees have worn throw backs.  That shows a lot of respect for Fenway.  The pre-game ceremony included over 200 former Red Sox players and it was a who's who of Red Sox greats.  Unfortunately for the Red Sox, they didn't get the W in this one.  The final score was 6-2. 

But that's the great thing about baseball.  There's another game tomorrow!!

Fenway Park 1912

The Trifecta Complete!

It came as a surprise to no one when the Atlanta Braves announced that John Smoltz will be inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame this summer and his #29 will be retired and take it's rightful place high above left field with the team's greatest and most beloved players.  One of baseball's greatest pitching trilogies completes it's first full circle in the city where they created so much magic.

The three hurlers complemented each other perfectly to create one of the greatest pitching rotations in the history of the game.  Tom Glavine, the stoic finesse pitcher who made his living on the outside corner, confusing batters with his deceptive style.  Greg Maddux, the professor and artist who painted around the strike zone in a fashion that would have made Monet and Matisse jealous.  And John Smoltz, the tenacious, fiery and fiercely competitive power pitcher who dominated and overwhelmed batters time and time again.  He remains one of baseball's greatest post season pitchers and he is the only one of the three to be in a Braves uniform for the entire  14 year run as division champs.

John Smoltz never shied away from a challenge and he loved proving his critics wrong.  While Glavine and Maddux were each only on the DL once, John spent significant time there with multiple elbow and shoulder surgeries. He missed the entire season in 2000 due to Tommy John surgery.  Upon his return in 2001, he wasn't pitching effectively and he was incredibly frustrated.  Not one walk away from adversity, John moved to the bullpen.  Let me take you back there. 
It's the bottom of the ninth inning. The sound of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" is shaking the steel beams of Turner Field to the deepest part of its foundation.  In all caps, every video screen within sight flashes and spins one word...SMOLTZ!  Every Braves fan is screaming at the top of their lungs.  The door in right field opens and John Smoltz confidently runs to the mound.  Your spine tingles and chills run up and down your arms, even though it's a 95 degree night.  In your heart of hearts you know it.  The game is already won.  The poor schmuck in the batters box doesn't stand a chance...and he knows it.  Game over.  Yes, in 3 1/2 seasons John Smoltz earned 154 saves.
John liked closing but he knew he was born to be a starting pitcher and he wanted to go back.  The critics said he couldn't do it.  After all, no one had done it before.  But, there is only one John Smoltz.  And yes, he did it.  Fueled by the negative words of his detractors and naysayers , John Smoltz became a starter again and he stayed there for three more seasons.  

Braves fans don't like the remember the way Smoltzie left Atlanta.  It wasn't pretty and there were bad feelings everywhere, the locker room, the front office and all over Braves country.  But as the adage goes, time heals all wounds and John Smoltz is back with his Braves family. 

June 8th will be a very special night at Turner Field and every true Atlanta Braves fans should be there.  It will be a night to remember!!


John Smoltz's career by the numbers?  It's impressive. 
213 Wins.  154 Saves.  3,473 Innings Pitched with a lifetime 3.33 ERA.  John had 41 post season appearances and is second in the record books in post season wins.  He had 27 starts and 5 saves in the post season with 15-4 record and a 2.67 ERA.  He was an 8-time All Star, the 1992 NLCS MVP, the 1996 NL Cy Young Award winner.   He won the Silver Slugger Award in 1997, the NL Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award in 2002 and the Branch Rickey Award in 2007.  And one his proudest achievements?  Receiving the 2005 Roberto Clemente Award.

Congratulations Smoltzie!!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

This Is Why We Chop!

I loved everything about the Home Opener and this year, me and 50,000+ of my closest friends would have blown the roof off the Ted, if it had one!  "This Is Why We Chop" is the Braves new slogan and the chop worked it's magic again Friday night!!

Without checking stats, I would swear that every player got multiple hits.  Yes, those bats woke up with a vengeance!  Brian McCann became only the sixth Braves catcher to have a four-hit game.  It would have been five had it not been for a stellar fielding play by Ricky Weeks.  The fifth, which started with a Michael Bourn triple and included Matt Diaz's first home run since 2010, had the team batting around and they seemingly had the game in hand.  But the Brewers chipped away and tied it back up.  If not for a brilliant leaping catch by Jason Heyward, the Brewers would have taken the lead.  Jason even got the Superman music for that catch!  Dan Uggla sealed the deal for the Braves in the bottom of the eighth with a two run single.  Whew!

The only downside of the evening was that Chipper was scratched from the lineup.  I heard it on the way down to the ball park and I was so bummed.  I really wanted Chipper to play his last Home Opener.  From everything I read and I heard, he was extremely disappointed.  Knees are a tricky thing and I think this may happen a few more times throughout the season.  That said, Chipper was definitely shown a lot of love and appreciation during the
pre-game ceremonies.

For player intros, the team took the field from centerfield, amidst a flurry of fireworks, balloons and thunderous cheers.  In a sign of respect, the players let Chipper lead the way.  There's no way he didn't have a lump in his throat.  I know everyone in the stands did.

As is customary on Opening Day, everyone got a red foam tomahawk.  Before the game there was a presentation on the jumbotron, telling the tale of the tomahawk chop.  It was really fun to watch and hear players like David Justice describe how the chopping and chanting gave them that extra push when the tank was almost empty.  He said it gave him chills whenever he heard it.  He even mentioned how it helped the team during specific games...especially versus the Dodgers!  Chipper said whenever he hears it, it still makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up.  I don't know if watching that jacked the crowd up even more, but I haven't seen and heard chopping and chanting like that in a very long time.  In the post game interviews both Dan Uggla and Brian McCann commented on how great the crowd was and how much we helped the team come back.  Let's remember that folks!

I was very curious to see how Ryan Braun would be received.  In general, Braves fans aren't big booers.  Sure, put a Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa on the field and you'll hear some boos but I have never, ever heard anything like I heard Friday night.  And caps off to those who let their feelings be known.  They were loud and very creative!  The jeers lasted the entire plate appearance for each of Braun's five at bats.  In fact, they got louder and stronger with each at bat.  I believe there was a direct correlation between the quality of jeering and the amount of alcohol consumed!

So after a somewhat disappointing start to the season, the Braves are turning it around and sitting at .500.  The bats are awake and hopefully the starting pitching will go further into the game.  If Mike Minor's performance last night is any indication, we're in good shape!  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

W Is For "Whew"!

Was it because they were facing a righty on the mound?  Was it because a team simply can't lose 162 games in a row?  Or was it because the team needed a spark?  A spark like having Chipper Jones back in the line up?  Whatever it was...praise the Lord, the Braves won their first game of the season!

The Braves definitely seemed more confident and aggressive with Chipper back in the line up.  And what a game the Braves most senior of citizens had, both offensively and defensively.  The Astros tested Chipper early with a Jordan Schafer bunt.  Chipper made an A+ on the test with a bare-handed catch and throw to first for the out.  He followed that with a single up the middle during his first at bat.  His second at bat?  A two-run homer!  I don't know what was more fun to watch, Chipper's smile as he headed back into the Braves dugout or the reaction of his parents in the stands.  And that didn't complete Chipper's Opening Day.  He saved a run with a stellar fielding play and quick throw to get Carlos Lee out at home plate and then snuffed out the Astros final hope by fielding a rocket shot down the left field line and firing it across the diamond to Freddie Freeman for the final out of the game.

But it wasn't just the Chipper Jones show.  Tyler Pastornicky hit the first home run of his young major league career.  To make it even better, the ball was tossed back on the field to eventually end up in Tyler's trophy case.  Tommy Hanson pitched five strong innings (even though he said his fastball "sucked")  and his final totals included eight strike outs.  To cap off the night, Craig Kimbel earned his first save of the season.  All in all, a very good outing.

The comment of the night?  It belonged to Fredi Gonzalez.  In referring to Chipper being back he said, "I’m glad we didn’t make him go on that rehab assignment.”  So are we Fredi.  So are we.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A New Tradition

The Braves final Spring Training game was played at the ball park in Gwinnett at it was a total blast!!  The Atlanta Braves played a team consisting of Braves future stars, all currently playing within the organization.  The players came from Gwinnett, Rome, Mississippi, Lynchburg and Danville.  One of the biggest highlights was that the Futures team was managed by the one and only Bobby Cox!  It was great to see Bobby in a Braves uni again!  Coolray field had their biggest crowd ever and it was a fantastic night!  The only downside was that the game was cut short by rain.

We had almost seven full innings of great baseball, a MONSTER home run from Dan Uggla, very impressive pitching from the futures, Phil Niekro singing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" during the 7th inning stretch and Chipper taking BP before the game.  There was a great chemistry between both teams and it was easy to see how much fun all the players were having.  That said, the Futures played a very, very strong game and in fact, they lead for most of it.  Who knows, they may have come back if it had gone the full nine innings.  I really hope this game becomes a new tradition for the end of Spring Training.  

The Braves future stars looked incredible and yes, the future does look very bright! 

The packed house gave Futures Manager Bobby Cox a HUGE welcome!

Chopper and Homer the Brave assisted in the player introductions.  It was a cool touch that the Future Stars wore the uni of their current team.

Brian McCann greeted his former skipper during the Braves player intros. In fact, all the Atlanta Braves players gave Bobby a warm greeting.  Even Michael Bourn...remember, Michael never actually played for Bobby! 

Dan Uggla at the plate, right before his massive home run.  I feel very good about Dan's first half of the season!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

It's My Favorite Day Of The Year!!


I can already feel the ticket in my hand.  I can hear the vendors shouting out, I can smell the hot dogs and I can taste that cold frosty beer!  Oh wait, there's that wonderful voice, that wonderfully booming voice saying "Hello Braves fans and welcome to Turner Field!" 

I'm so excited I can't stand it!!

I want to wish all of you a very happy Opening Day!  This is one of my favorite days of the year because it's the start of an avalanche of spring, summer and fall excitement for all of us baseball fans!

The Braves are playing the dreaded New York Mets at Citi Field today with Tommy Hanson on the mound.  I'm sure the Mets fans will give Chipper his usual warm welcome during the player intros!  We'll start the season in Atlanta a week from Friday versus the Milwaukee Brewers.  I swear, for me this is better than Christmas!! 

See y'all at the Ted!!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

We Lost A Good One

"A really good umpire you don't even notice.  He's almost invisible."  That was the mindset of Harry Wendelstedt. 

One of baseballs most respected umpires passed away on March 9th.  He was 73 years old and had been battling a brain tumor. 

Harry spent 33 years as an ump in the National League.  He was know for being pitcher-friendly as he had a wide strike zone.  He officiated in more than 4,500 games, participated in five World Series, five All-Star Games and eleven Championship playoff games.  He was honored five times as the Major League's top umpire and was named the best ball and strike umpire in the National League in a players poll done by Sports Illustrated.  Harry also served as the President of the Major League Umpire Association for four terms. 

Harry retired in 1998, getting to spend one year calling games with his son Hunter.  Harry's lasting legacy, outside of some of the pivotal calls he made, is the Wendelstedt Umpire School in Florida.  Harry devoted his professional life to being a fair umpire and helping to created more of the same. 

One of Harry's most famous calls (or infamous, depending where your loyalties lie) was on May 31, 1968.  It was his third year as a major league umpire and Dodgers legend Don Drysdale was working on his fifth consecutive shutout.  The Dodgers were facing a bitter rival in the San Francisco Giants and catcher Dick Dietz was at the plate.  It was the top of the 9th, the bases were loaded with no outs.  Drysdale threw an inside pitch.  It hit Dietz on the left elbow.  The streak was seemingly over.

But then Wendelstedt did the unthinkable!  He called the pitch ball three and wouldn't let Dietz take first base which would have let a run score.  He said that the batter made no attempt to evade the pitch.  The Dodgers went on to win the game.  Drysdale went on to break Walter Johnson's record of 56 innings of shutout baseball.  His 58 2/3 inning record stood until 1988 when it was broken by Orel Hershiser.

I listened to an interview with Hal Bodley and he pointed out an extremely eerie and disconcerting fact.  In 1980, the Phillies and the Royals played in the World Series.  Five men who were on the field for that series have died from brain tumors.  Dan Quisenberry, Tug McGraw, Ken Brett and John Vukovich and now Harry Wendelstedt. 

Here's a classic photo from 1964.  I'll title it "A Legend Tossing A Legend".  For the Phillies manager Gene Mauch it was a short day at the office..

Sunday, April 1, 2012

AARP? Not Just Yet!

A professional athlete's career is not one that lasts a lifetime.  It can segue into another sports related gig, but an athlete's time on the field of play is limited.  That said, there are always those who defy the odds.  This season it's Omar Vizquel and Jamie Moyer.

On Wednesday, Omar Vizquel was named to the Toronto Blue Jays roster as a backup infielder.  This will be his 24th major league season.  Omar will celebrate his 45th birthday in April.  He's had a very productive spring and he'll definitely provide excellent leadership in the Jay's clubhouse all season long.  Since his days with the Indians, I've always been a big fan of Omar even though he was a big threat to the Braves in the 1995 World Series.  Omar has played 2,908 games for six different teams.  He has a career .242 batting average with 2,841 hits, 944 RBIs and 11 Gold Glove Awards.

The other wonder-kid is 49(!) year old Jamie Moyer.  Jamie's just been named the Colorado Rockies #2 pitcher.  He sat out last season due to Tommy John surgery and he took his rehab very seriously.  The result?  So far he's looking good.  In a game versus the Giants last week, Jamie threw four perfect innings with just 45 pitches.  His first start will be April 7th versus the Astros.  If he gets the W he will be the oldest pitcher to win a game in the majors.  Jamie has played for nine teams over 25 seasons, pitched 4,020 innings with a lifetime 4.24 ERA.

Braves fans, don't miss your chance to see both of these players at the Ted this summer!