Longest Winning Streak – 29 Games to Celebrate Independence

Cooperstown - home to 1987 Salt Lake City Trappers memorabilia.

Cooperstown – home to 1987 Salt Lake City Trappers memorabilia.

When the Single A (Rookie) Pioneer League Salt Lake City Trappers topped the Pocatello Giants 12-6 on June 25, 1987, no one – including the Trappers themselves – could have predicted it would be more than a month before they would taste defeat.  The Trappers would, in fact, go on to win a total of 29 consecutive games – in a winning streak that ran from June 25 through July 26 and remains the longest unbeaten streak in professional baseball.

The Trappers – an independent team in a rookie league that featured teams affiliated with the Reds, Dodgers, Brewers, Blue Jays, Braves and Giants – were made up of players who went undrafted or unsigned by baseball’s major league franchises.  Despite the fact that major league franchises had the inside track on signing the best players (deeper pockets, advanced scouting, more opportunity) and in spite of the support from their major league parent clubs enjoyed by most of the Trappers’ competition, the Salt Lake City team enjoyed considerable  success and, in 1987,  were on their way to a third consecutive Pioneer League championship.

The team stocked its roster through relatively open tryouts, but there seemed to be an emphasis on former college players who felt they had something to prove to the MLB franchises that had “rejected” them in the draft or during the signing period.  (Some argued that the Trappers, despite going unsigned, were older and more experienced than many of their developing competitors.  However, the team’s average age was only about eight months older than the overall Pioneer League average.) While 13 members of the 1987 Trappers’ squad eventually signed with major league organizations, none made it to the major leagues.

During the 29-game winning streak, the Trappers outscored the opposition 255-122.  The streak included 15 road and 14 home games, three extra-inning contests, four one-run victories and a doubleheader sweep.  Notably, the Trappers went on to record a 49-21 season, finish first in their division and beat the Helena Brewers in the League Championship Series.

The Trappers relied on their bats to carry the day, scoring the most runs in the eight-team league (543, with their nearest rival – the Helena Brewers – trailing by 92), while giving up the fifth-most runs.  The Trappers’ .320 team batting average led the Pioneer League, while their 4.65 team ERA was fourth (the Great Falls Dodgers had the league’s lowest ERA at 3.48).

Here’s a bit of background on some of the 1987 Trappers’ key players:

Adam Casillas (OF) … Casillas played in 60 of the Trappers’ 70 games in 1987, putting up a .385-1-44 (avg.-HR-RBI) line. Signed by Reds after playing with the Trappers (also later played in Royals’ system and the Mexican League), Casillas had the longest professional career among the 1987 Trappers. In nine minor league seasons, he got as high as AAA. He hit over .300 in five seasons, including .307 for the AAA Omaha Royals (89 games) in 1992.  Notably, his minor-league resume includes three batting titles:  1989, Midwest League – .327 for the Cedar Rapids Reds; 1990, Southern League – .336 for the Chattanooga Lookouts; 1994, Mexican League – .367 for Monterrey Industriales.  In 4,109 minor league at bats, Casillas struck out only 190 times.

Frank Colston (1B) … Hit .397-1-46 in 52 games for the 1987 Trappers. Signed by the Mariners, Colston lasted two seasons, never playing above Class A. He hit .209 in 67 games for the Wausau Timbers (Mariners’ affiliate) in the Midwest League in 1988. He finished his pro playing career in 1989 with the unaffiliated Miami Miracle.  Colston played college ball (1985-86) for Louisiana Tech, where he was an All Southland Conference player both seasons and was later selected to the 1980’s Southland Conference All Decade Team.  He went .352-20-98 in 105 games for Louisiana Tech.

Jim Ferguson (SS) … Hit .327-3-40, while holding down SS position in 65 games for the 1987 Trappers. Ferguson then signed with the Cardinals, where he reached High A, hitting .251, with one homer and 30 RBIs in 126 games (1989) for A-Level Savannah Cardinals. His  last professional season was 1990.  Ferguson was an All New England player for University of New Haven (1983-86).

Eddie Citronelli (OF-C) … Citronelli hit .303-10-57 in 67 games for 1987 Trappers, in what was his only professional season.

Mike Malinak (OF) … Malinak played 69 games for the 1987 Trappers, hitting .321-12-57 (the 12 home runs led the league). Signed by the Reds, Malinak hit .232-17-66 in two seasons in their system, both for the Class A Cedar Rapids Reds (Midwest League).His last pro season was 1989.  Before joining the Trappers, Malinak had been a star for Baylor University and his career record for hits was broken in 1996.

Mathis Huff (OF) … Huff hit a Pioneer League-leading .417 (48 games) for the 1987 Trappers, with 7 home runs and 37 RBI. The six-foot-seven, Samoan-born Huff played one more season – for the unaffiliated Miami Miracle (A level), hitting .239-4-31.

Kent Hetrick (RHP) … Hetrick went 9-2, 4.84 for 1987 Trappers (26 walks/63 strikeouts in 70 2/3 innings). Signed by the Reds, Hetrick played two seasons in their system, getting as high as the AA El Paso Diablos of the Texas League.   Hetrick went 11-14, 3.71 in those two seasons in the Reds’ system.

Tim Peters (RHP) … Reliever Peters appeared in 38 of the 1987 Trappers’ 70 games, going 9-3, 2.10 with 11 saves (29 walks/83 strikeouts in 87 innings). Signed by the Expos (also played in Indians’ system), Peters went 11-9, 2.15 with 37 saves in three seasons with MLB affiliates.  1990 was his final professional season.

Michael Humphrey (RHP) … In 1987, went 5-2, 3.29 for the Trappers (after a 5-3, 4.17, Trapper season in 1986).  1987 was his last pro season. Humphrey played his college ball at Indiana University, leading the team in victories (10) in 1985 and still holding the IU career record for complete games (22 …1982-85).

While the players from the 1987 Salt Lake City Trappers may not have made it all the way to the show, they did make it to the Baseball Hall of Fame – which includes memorabilia from that 1987 29-game winning streak.

 

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30-30 Club … Bobby and Barry “Bonding” at the Top

With approximately 30 games left in the 2014 season (give or take a game or two depending on the team), it appears 2014 will not see any new members of the 30-30 (HRs-SBs) Club.  At this point, the player with the best chance at 30-30 is the Brewers’ Carlos Gomez (.286, with 21 home runs and 28 steals). Only one other player is even at the 20-20 mark – Twins’ second baseman Brian Dozier (.236, with 20 homers and 20 steals).  MLB’s last 30-30 seasons were achieved in 2012 by Brewers’ outfielder Ryan Braun and Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout.

Here are few facts about the 30-30 club.

Bobby Bonds notched an MLB-record five 30-30 seasons - matched only by his son Barry.

Bobby Bonds notched an MLB-record five 30-30 seasons – matched only by his son Barry.

In MLB history, there have been sixty 30-30 seasons – achieved by 38 players (13 players have recorded multiple 30-30 seasons).  Of those 38 Club members, 26 have been outfielders, four have been shortstops, three second baseman, three third baseman, two first baseman and zero catchers.  This count is not precise, as Alfonso Soriano is counted among the second baseman, although he achieved 30-30 as both a second baseman (three times) and as an outfielder (once). In addition, Joe Carter is listed among first baseman – having played the majority of his 1987 30-30 season at that position (84 games), while also logging 62 games in the outfield.

The 30-30 Club includes 26 right-handed hitters, eight who hit from the left side and four switch hitters.  

Saint Louis Browns’ left-handed hitting outfielder Ken Williams became the first-ever member of the 30-30 Club in 1922 (at age 32, in his seventh MLB season), when he hit .332 with 39 home runs and 37 steals – while also leading the AL in RBI with 155 (still the most RBI ever in a 30-30 campaign). Williams struck out only 31 times that season, which remains the lowest strikeout total ever in a 30-30 season.

In 1956, New York Giants’ center fielder Willie Mays became the second member of the 30-30 Club (.296, with 36 homers and 40 steals) and the first right-handed hitter to have a 30-30 season.  Mays also became the first player to log consecutive 30-30 seasons – with a .333, 35-home run, 38-steal campaign in 1957.  The current record for consecutive 30-30 seasons is three (Barry Bonds, 1995, 1996, 1997).  Other players with two consecutive 30-30 seasons are: Ron Gant (1990, 1991), Vladimir Guerrero (2001, 2002), Alfonso Soriano (2002, 2003 and 2005, 2006) and Ryan Braun (2011, 2012).

Bobby Bonds broke into the 30-30 Club in 1969, his first full major league season (he had been called up by the Giants in late June of 1968). In 1969, Bonds put up 32 homers, 45 steals and a .259 average.  Bonds went on to set the record of five 30-30 seasons (1969, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1978).  The record was later tied by his son, Barry Bonds, who notched 30-30 seasons in 1990, 1992, 1995, 1996 and 1997. Currently active, Alfonso Soriano has four 30-30 campaigns (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006).  Next on the list with three 30-30 seasons is Howard Johnson (1987, 1989 and 1991).

Bobby Bonds also achieved 30-30 seasons with more different teams than any other player: The Giants (1969 & 1973), the Yankees (1975), the Angels (1977) and the White Sox/Rangers (1978). In the process, he became the first player to log a 30-30 season in both the NL and the AL (later to be joined by his son Barry and Alfonso Soriano with that distinction), as well as the first player to log a 30-30 campaign while playing with two teams. In 2004, Carlos Beltran became the first player to log a 30-30 season while playing in both leagues (69 games with the Royals and 90 with the Astros).

In 1970, Tommy Harper recorded MLB’s sixth 30-30 season and the first by a non-outfielder (Harper played 128 games at third base, 22 at second and 13 in the outfield).

The first season to see more than one 30-30 player was 1987, when Joe Carter, Eric Davis, Howard Johnson and Daryl Strawberry all reached the milestone. Johnson and Strawberry, both with the Mets, also became the first teammates to achieve 30-30 status in the same season.  Ellis Burks and Dante Bichette of the 1996 Colorado Rockies are the only other teammates to put together 30-30 seasons in the same campaign.  Four remains the single-season high for 30-30 players, accomplished in: 1996 (Dante Bichette, Ellis Burks, Eric Davis, Barry Larkin); 1997 (Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Raul Mondesi, Larry Walker) and 2011 (Ryan Braun, Jacob Ellsbury, Matt Kemp, Ian Kinsler).

Jose Canseco - first member of the 40-40 Club.

Jose Canseco – first member of the 40-40 Club.

In 1988, Oakland A’s outfielder Jose Canseco started a new, even more exclusive, club – the 40-40 Club – when he hit .307, with 42 homers and 40 steals.  Giants’ outfielder Barry Bonds joined Canseco at 40-40 in 1996, with a .306 season, featuring 42 home runs and 40 steals. Alex Rodriguez (then handling shortstop for the Seattle Mariners) went 40-40 in 1998 (.310, with 42 homers and 46 stolen bases).  The most recent member of the 40-40 club is Alfonso Soriano (Washington Nationals, outfielder), who hit .277, with 46 home runs and 41 steals in 2006. Notably, Soriano earlier joined the 30-30 club as a second baseman (2002, 2003, 2005).  Note: In 2011, Dodgers’ outfield Matt Kemp made a run at the 40-40 club, finishing with 40 steals and 39 home runs.

In 1996, Barry Larkin become the first shortstop to log a 30-30 season, with a .298, 33-home run, 36-steal year.  (Note:  Howard Johnson, primarily a third baseman, did play 30+ games at shortstop in both his 1987 and 1989 30-30 seasons.)

Before we get to a list of 30-30 seasons, here are a few more factoids:

  •  Fewest at bats in a 30-30 season:  437 – Barry Bonds (1992)
  •  Highest average in a 30-30 season: .366 – Larry Walker (1997)
  • Lowest average in a 30-30 season: .251 – Ron Gant (1991)
  • Most HRs in a 30-30 season: 49 – Larry Walker (1997)
  • Most steals in a 30-30 season: 52 – Barry Bonds (1990)
  • Most RBI in a 30-30 season: 155 – Ken Williams (1922)
  • Fewest RBI in a 30-30 season: 67 – Hanley Ramirez (2008)
  • Most runs scored in a 30-30 season: 143 – Larry Walker (1997), Jeff Bagwell (1999)
  • Fewest runs scored in a 30-30 season: 83 – Joe Carter (1987)
  • Most strikeouts in a 30-30 season: 187 – Bobby Bonds 1969), Preston Wilson (2000)
  • Fewest strikeouts in a 30-30 season: 31 – Ken Williams (1922)

 

The 30–30 Club – 40-40 seasons in red

Year                 Name                                       HR       SB

1922                Ken Williams,   Browns             39        37

1956                Willie Mays, Giants                   36        40

1957                Willie Mays, Giants                   35        38

1963                Hank Aaron, Braves                 44        31

1969                Bobby Bonds, Giants               32        45

1970                Tommy Harper, Brewers          31        38

1973                Bobby Bonds, Giants               39        43

1975                Bobby Bonds, Yankees            32        30

1977                Bobby Bonds, Angels               37        41

1978                Bobby Bonds, CWS/Texas        31        43

1983                Dale Murphy, Braves                36        30

1987                Joe Carter, Indians                   32        31

1987                Eric Davis, Reds                       37        50

1987                Howard Johnson, Mets             36        32

1987                Darryl Strawberry, Mets           39        36

1988                José Canseco, A’s                    42        40

1989                Howard Johnson, Mets             36        41

1990                Barry Bonds, Pirates                 33        52

1990                Ron Gant, Braves                     32        33

1991                Ron Gant, Braves                     32        34

1991                Howard Johnson, Mets             38        30

1992                Barry Bonds, Pirates                 34        39

1993                Sammy Sosa, Cubs                  33        36

1995                Barry Bonds, Giants                 33        31

1995                Sammy Sosa, Cubs                  36        34

1996                Dante Bichette, Rockies           31        31

1996                Barry Bonds, Giants                 42        40

1996                Ellis Burks, Rockies                  40        32

1996                Barry Larkin, Reds                   33        36

1997                Jeff Bagwell, Astros                  43        31

1997                Barry Bonds, Giants                 40        37

1997                Raúl Mondesí,  Dodgers           30        32

1997                Larry Walker, Rockies              49        33

1998                Shawn Green, Blue Jays           35        35

1998                Alex Rodriguez, Mariners         42        46

1999                Jeff Bagwell, Astros                  42        30

1999                Raúl Mondesí, Dodgers            33        36

2000                Preston Wilson, Marlins            31        36

2001                Bobby Abreu, Phillies               31        36

2001                José Cruz, Jr., Blue Jays          34        32

2001                Vladimir Guerrero, Expos         34        37

2002                Vladimir Guerrero, Expos         39        40

2002                Alfonso Soriano, Yankees        39        41

2003                Alfonso Soriano, Yankees        38        35

2004                Bobby Abreu, Phillies               30        40

2004                Carlos Beltrán, KC/Hous          38        42

2005                Alfonso Soriano, Rangers         36        30

2006                Alfonso Soriano, Nationals       46        41

2007                David Wright, Mets                  30        34

2007                Jimmy Rollins, Phillies              30        41

2007                Brandon Phillips, Reds             30        32

2008                Grady Sizemore, Indians           33        38

2008                Hanley Ramírez, Marlins           33        35

2009                Ian Kinsler, Rangers                 31        30

2011                Matt Kemp, Dodgers                 39        40

2011                Ryan Braun, Brewers                33        33

2011                Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox         32        39

2011                Ian Kinsler, Rangers                 32        30

2012                Ryan Braun, Brewers                41        30

2012                Mike Trout, Angels                   30        49

 

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MLB’s Most Oddly “Even” Game

On this date (August 13) in 1910, major league baseball saw one of its most “oddly even” games ever.  It was part of a double header played in Brooklyn between the Superbas (Dodgers) and the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The first game of the double tilt had been a close contest, with the Pirates emerging with a 13-inning, 3-2 victory.   The last half of the double header, however, would prove an even tighter contest – and the time used in completing game one’s 13 innings would come into play.

First, here is the line score of Game 2, August 13, 1910

Pittsburgh         0 1 1    0 5 1   0 0 0      8   13   2

Brooklyn           0 0 0   3 3 0   0 2 0      8   13   2

The two-hour and five-minute game ended in an 8-8 tie, called due to darkness.  As you look at the line score, you’ll notice it was pretty even.  Each team scored eight runs on 13 hits and each squad made two errors.  But, when it came to an “evenly” played game, that was just the tip of the iceberg.  Each team recorded 27 putouts (that’s, of course, pretty much a given for a complete nine innings).  Each team, however, also recorded: 13 assists; three walks; five strikeouts; one hit batsman; and one passed ball.  Further, the hitters collected their 13 safeties apiece on an identical 38 at bats and were awarded an identical five RBI per team. In addition, the pitchers on each team not only gave up eight runs for the game, each set of hurlers gave up seven earned runs over the nine innings.   So, we end up with two teams with identical totals for: runs scored; earned runs; putouts, assists; errors; at bats; hits; runs batted in; walks; strikeouts; hit batsmen; and passed balls.

Pirates' right fielder John Owen "Chief" Wilson hit the only home run in, arguably, MLB's most evenly contested game. Wilson hold the MLB record for triples in a season (36 in 1912).

Pirates’ right fielder John Owen “Chief” Wilson hit the only home run in, arguably, MLB’s most evenly contested game. Wilson holds the MLB record for triples in a season (36 in 1912).

Each team also collected one double – and each started a future Hall of Famer in LF (Fred Clarke for the Pirates and Zack Wheat for the Superbas).  Pittsburgh, however, had three additional extra base hits (two triples and a home run), while Brooklyn’s only additional extra base hit was a triple. In addition, the Pirates had a second future HOFer in the lineup (Honus Wagner at SS). As an aside, Nap Rucker, the starting pitcher for Brooklyn ended his career with 134 wins and, of course, 134 losses.

 

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The Last Best League – Coming of Age in the Cape Cod League

Last BestThe Last Best League – One Summer, One Season, One Dream

Tenth Anniversary Edition

Da Capo Press, 2014

$15.99

 

“On the Cape, we meandered one evening down Route 28 to the Village of Chatham, and watched the Chatham A’s play the Falmouth Commodores in a Cape Cod League baseball game.  The soft June air carried wisps of fog over the dark brown dirt and lush grass. The field glowed under the lights, seemed alive.  The players, smooth, graceful, beautiful, drew my eye. I felt old longings rise. I recognized the players in an instant.  They weren’t dispassionate, nearly robotic, major leaguers. Nor were they hard-edged minor leaguers fighting for survival.  These were kids, full of life – some of them laughing, some scared, some swaggering with the absolute sureness of invincibility. And they were phenomenally talented.”

            Author Jim Collins, describing the events that inspired The Last Best League”

 

A decade ago, Jim Collins gave life to the story of the 2002 Chatham A’s of the Cape Cod Baseball League – considered by many (most) to be the premier amateur baseball league in the county.  His book … The Last Best League – One Summer, One Season, One Dream … has been re-released (10th Anniversary Edition) with a follow-up on what happened to its principal characters over the ensuing decade. (Forty-seven of the young men who played in the Cape Cod Baseball League in the 2002 season eventually made it to the major leagues.)

The Last Best League is, in many ways, a coming-of-age story.  In this case, the stories of some of the nation’s most talented collegiate baseball players coming of age in a league in which many of the them, for the first time, no longer boast the fastest bat, liveliest arm or quickest feet on the field – where the bar has been raised and the competition intensified.  And, while their skill sets may vary, they do (as the subtitle suggests) nearly all share one dream – earning a trip to the big leagues. They also have all chosen (actually been chosen) to pursue that dream in the Cape Cod Baseball League – the last and best amateur league on the road to determining if they possess the talent and determination to bring their major league dreams to reality.

The Last Best League is driven by Collins’ ability to deliver the human side of the Cape Code League story.  Yes, he explores the vaunted history of the Cape Cod Baseball League – which promotional materials indicate has produced one of every six major leaguers and which boasts among its alumni such MLB players as Frank Thomas, Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Bagwell, Robin Ventura, Tommy Davis, John Franco, Mo Vaughn, Craig Biggio and, more currently, Josh Donaldson, Jacob Ellsbury, Mark Tiexeira and Buster Posey. (For a complete list of former Cape Cod League players who made the major leagues click here.) Collins also provides insight into the science and statistics of the game, into the cold objectivity of what it takes to “measure up.”   He also gives us the prerequisite pennant race and game action – the big plays and big games that shape a season and determine a champion.  However, he balances all of this with a very personal look the people behind the Cape Cod League experience – the players who make up the league rosters, the volunteers who keep the league running, the host families who take the players in for the summer and the employers who provide them jobs on the Cape (the NCAA does not allow the players to be paid for their baseball activities.)

The players, of course, are at the heart of the book and Collins looks into their lives with both passion and compassion.  He lets us in on what it feels like enjoy the euphoria of a confidence-building hot streak, to feel the angst of an unbreakable slump, or to deal with the anguish of a dream-ending injury or a season-ending family tragedy.  Collins introduces us to players who come into the league supremely talented and supremely confident, as well as those who face an uphill battle with grit and determination (one of whom has made the phrase “Against All Odds” his personal mantra) or who try to hide personal doubt behind an attitude that seems to say “I don’t care.”  We are treated to very personal stories of success that exceeds expectations and devastating failure that catches players by surprise.   And, all of this takes place against the back drop and beauty of a New England summer.

Going back to that Chatham/Falmouth game that started Collins on The Last Best League journey, he tells readers in the Preface what to expect on the book’s pages, “I saw a human story at every position. I wondered what it must feel like to be a twenty-year-old all-star on Cape Cod. To spend ten weeks around the sun and sand and blue water, standing out among the finest college players in the country. Or to be in that same bucolic landscape, but struggling, doubting yourself for the first time and suddenly questioning whether you had what it took to make it.”  Collins took it upon himself to find out and, fortunately, he decided to share what he learned.

Ultimately, The Last Best League tells a tale (in this case tales) worth telling and – for those who hold a place for the national pastime in their hearts – one worth reading.  And, Jim Collins is the right person to tell the story. As a native New Englander, former college baseball player (Dartmouth) and former editor of Yankee Magazine, he understands what makes playing on “The Cape” special – it’s that understanding that also makes The Last Best League a special piece of baseball prose.

I’ll close this review with one quote from Collins’ book that made a particular impression on me as life-long fan of the national pastime.

It ended too early. But that’s true no matter who you talk to – whether it ends in high school or after a Hall of Fame career. It’s a kid’s game and none of us wants to grow old.

Colt Morton, former major-leaguer (19 games in two seasons with the Padres) and Cape Cod Baseball League alum, describing his professional baseball career.”

 

 

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July Wrap – Trading Deadline Past

My early-August distraction.

My early-August distraction

The “Dog Days of August” are here, so it’s time for BBRT to reflect on MLB’s month of July. (BBRT apologizes; the July wrap is a few days tardy due to a busy schedule around my Car Club’s Annual – first weekend in August – Cruise and Car Show.) As usual, let’s start with a look at who stood where at the end of the month, with all statistics being as of end of MLB (Major League Business) July 31.  If the season had ended at the close of play on July 31, the play-off teams would have been:

 

 

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Division Leaders: Orioles, Tigers and A’s – The Orioles, thanks to a 17-8 month, displaced the Blue Jays (15-11 for the month) at the top of the East, where everyone except the Red Sox had a .500+ July.

Wild Cards: Angels and Blue Jays. The Blue Jays dropped from the AL East lead, but held on to a WC spot.  The Mariners dropped out of a WC spot with an 11-14 July.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Division Leaders: Brewers, Dodgers and Nationals – The Brewers and Dodgers held their spots, while the Nationals road a 14-10 record to a 1 ½ game lead over the Braves, who played .500 ball (13-13) in July.

Wild Cards: The NL Wild Card race saw the Giants holding one spot (despite a 12-14 month), with the Cardinals and Braves tied for the other, and the Pirates just ½-game behind.

Full standings and each team’s July won-lost record can be found at the end of this post.

July's hottest team.

July’s hottest team.

July’s Hottest Team – Tampa Bay

July’s hottest team was the Tampa Bay Rays, who played .739 ball (17-6).  The Rays capitalized on pitching, recording MLB’s second-best ERA for the month (2.71), while finishing 19th in runs scored.  (Surprisingly, despite their strong July, the Rays ended the month “sellers” in the trade deadline market – parting with 2012 Cy Young Award David Price.   More on that later.)

The only other team playing at a .700+ pace for July was the Angels (19-8, .704), who still found themselves chasing the A’s, who went 15-10 (.600 for the month) and are the only team playing .600 or better ball on the season (66-41, .617).  The Angels took a more balanced path to .700 than the Rays, leading all of MLB in runs scored in July (132), while boasting the fifth-best ERA (3.11). There were a few surprises during the month, like the Mets (15-10, .600) and Orioles (17-8, .680 and new AL East leader).

July Deep Freeze in Texas and Rocky Mountain Low in Colorado

July’s coldest teams? Both came from the West.  In the AL West, the Rangers put up the worst numbers 6-20 (.231), and closed July a whopping 23 ½ games off the pace in the division. The Rangers’ pitching is the primary cause for their continued problems.  In July, their 5.74 ERA was baseball’s worst (they finished 19th in runs scored for the month).  In the NL West, the Rockies had the worst June showing (8-17, .320).

Some Tid Bits

Powering Your Way to Success – Not So Much

Home runs did not spell success in July.  The AL leader in round trippers for the month was the Astros (32 homers), who won only eight games (8-19). Over in the NL, the July home run leader was the Cubs (29 HRs), who went 10-16 for the month.

Tough Month for Davis

The Orioles’ climb to the top of the East is even more surprising when you consider the problems first baseman – and key power hitter – Chris Davis faced in July.  Davis (.286-53-138 in 2013) hit just .167 for July (13-for-78) and led all of MLB with 38 strikeouts. Davis closed July hitting .205-17-53, with 124 whiffs.

Red Sox roller coaster ...worst-to-first-to-worst?

Red Sox roller coaster …worst-to-first-to-worst?

Worst-to-First-to-Worst?

The Boston Red Sox continued to take their fans on a roller coaster ride.  In 2012, the Red Sox finished at the bottom of the AL East (26 games out). Then in 2013, Boston rose from “worst-to-first,” beating the Cardinals in the World Series.  In 2014, the Sox are threatening to do a “worst-to-first-to-worst” turn around.  As of July 31, Boston sat at the bottom of the AL East with a 48-60 record (12 ½ games out of first and five games out of fourth).

More on Why I Hate the DH

On July 13, in the sixth-inning of a game against the Diamondbacks, San Francisco pitcher Madison Bumgarner hit his third home run and second grand slam of the 2014 season. Bumgarner is the first pitcher to hit two grand slams in a season since the Braves Tony Cloninger became the first NL player (at any position) to hit two grand slams in a game (July 3, 1966).

In addition, Bumgarner’s slam followed a fifth-inning grand slam by Giants’ catcher Buster Posey, making the Posey/Bumgarner combo the first battery-mates in MLB history to “batter” the opposition with four-run blasts in the same game. The two long balls accounted for all of the Giants’ runs in an 8-4 victory.  (Also of note, Bumgarner was on base – after hitting a double to deep left field – when Posey went yard.) Bumgarner, who got the win, ran his season totals to 10-7, 3.47 on the mound and .275-3-12 at the plate.  Who says pitchers can’t hit?

Yasiel Puig - triple threat.

Yasiel Puig – triple threat.

A Couple of Unique Moments

On July 25, the Dodgers topped the Giants 8-1 in San Francisco and, although their Giants lost, the fans saw some rather unique baseball accomplishments.  First, the Dodgers rapped five triples in the contest – and three in one inning (a five-run fifth).  Second, Dodger center fielder Yasiel Puig collected three three-baggers in the game (the others belonged to second baseman Dee Gordon and right fielder Matt Kemp). Notably, none of these were MLB records. Puig’s three triples did, however, match the post-1900 MLB high (reached 47 times). Only George Strief (Philadelphia Athletics, 1885) and Bill Joyce (New York Giants, 1887) achieved four triples in a game.

One record was reached in the game, however. In the third inning, Dodger starter Zack Greinke tied an MLB record (shared by many) with four strikeouts in an inning and became just the third MLB pitcher to record multiple four-strikeout innings. Greinke started out the inning by fanning Giants’ catcher and number-eight hitter Hector Sanchez swinging (2-2 count); pitcher Tim Lincecum then went down looking (2-2 count); lead-off hitter and right fielder Hunter Pence swung and missed on a 3-2 count, but reached first on wild pitch; and center fielder Gregor Bianco ended the inning with a swinging strike out (3-2 count). It was the second four-strikeout inning in Greinke’s career.  Only Chuck Finley (three times) and A.J. Burnett (twice) also have multiple 4K innings.

Trades, Trades, Trades

Lots has been written about July’s trades, particularly the deadline rush, so BBRT will just look at two teams who seem to be gearing up for the post-season – the Oakland A’s and Detroit Tigers.

Jeff Samardzija - goes to Oakland in first salvo of July trade wars.

Jeff Samardzija – goes to Oakland in first salvo of July trade wars.

On July 5 (deal agreed to July 4), the Oakland A’s – with baseball’s best record – fired the first salvo in the 2014 trade wars, acquiring starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs for minor leaguers Addison Russell, Billy McKinney and Dan Straily.  Samardzija was only 2-7 with the Cubs, but sported a 2.83 ERA and 31 walks versus 103 strikeouts in 108 innings. Hammel, in his ninth MLB season, was 8-5, 2.98 for the Cubs.  This clearly looked like a move by Oakland to both hold off the fast-charging Angels and bolster their starting pitching for the post-season – perhaps for a match-up with Detroit.

The A’s also made one of the last deals of July, shipping power-hitting outfielder Yeonis Cespedes and a player to be named later to the Red Sox for pitcher Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes. This move by the A’s is clearly aimed at the post season, when pitching is considered premium.  Lester, a free agent at season’s end (and rumor has it the Red Sox are intent on bringing him back), is a three-time All Star and was 10-7, 2.52 at the time of the trade. He also boasts a 6-4, 2.11 record in 13 post season games, and went  4-1, 1.56 in the 2013 post season. Boston got a power-hitting outfielder who should further increase his HR and RBI total moving into cozy Fenway.

David Price - Tigers make big trade just before the deadline.

David Price – Tigers make big trade just before the deadline.

If the Samardzija and Lester pickups were shots across the bow of the seemingly pitching-rich Tigers (Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez), Detroit was fully prepared to return fire.  The Tigers pulled off a July 31 deadline deal of their own, acquiring Tampa Bay starter David Price – the AL’s 2012 Cy Young Award winner and 2014 AL strikeout leader. The July 31 deal involved three teams, with the Seattle Mariners getting Tigers’ outfielder Austin Jackson (an upgrade in center field for the Mariners) and Tampa Bay receiving Mariners’ prospect (shortstop) Nick Franklin, Detroit left-handed hurler Drew Smyly and Tigers’ shortstop prospect Willy Adames.

Detroit also strengthened its bullpen corps during the month, with a July 23 trade that brought them veteran reliever Joakim Soria (a two-time All Star with 177 career saves) for a pair of pitching prospects (Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson). Soria was the Rangers’ closer this season (17 saves and a 2.70 ERA at the time of the trade), but is serving as a set-up man in Detroit.

Clearly, both the A’s and Tigers are “arming up” for the post season – and, should they face off, we can expect some quality competition.

A few other moves that BBRT believes will impact the pennant races and post season:

  • Angels’acquiring Padres’ closer Houston Street;
  • Giants picking up starter Jake Peavy from the Red Sox;
  • Cardinal signing A.J. Pierzynski and trading for Red Sox pitcher John Lackey;
  • Yankees trading for Diamondbacks’ infielder Martin Prado.

Now let’s look at the “numbers” through July.

Batting Leaders – July 31 Close of MLB (Major League Business) and for the Month

Batting Average

Tulo on a Rocky Mountain high - leading all of MLB in average (July 31).

Tulo on a Rocky Mountain high – leading all of MLB in average (July 31).

Rockies’ SS Troy Tulowitzki led the NL (and MLB) in batting average at the close of July – hitting .340 (with 21 HRs and 52 RBI. Tulo was trailed by Dodgers’ right fielder Yasiel Puig (.319) and Cardinals’ first baseman Matt Adams (.314). Tulo continued to feast on “home cookin’” – hitting .417 in Colorado and .257 on the road.

Over in the AL, the Astros’ 5’ 5” second baseman Jose Altuve held the batting lead at .339 – hitting a steady .339 both at home and on the road.  Trailing Altuve were Seattle second baseman Robinson Cano (.328) and Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre (.323).

For the month of July, Cubs’ left fielder Chris Coghlan topped NL hitters (.376/32-for-84), while White Sox’ first baseman Jose Abreu led the AL (.374/37-for-99). A pair of speedy outfielders also excelled in July. The month’s batting average runners-up were Rajai Davis (Tigers’ left fielder) and Denard Span (Nationals’ center fielder) – both at .368.

Home Runs and RBI

In the power department, White Sox rookie first baseman Jose Abreu led the AL with 31 home runs and 83 RBI – followed closely by Baltimore left fielder Nelson Cruz with 29 home runs and Detroit first sacker Miguel Cabrera with 81 RBI.

As of July 31, the NL home run lead was shared by Marlins’ right fielder Giancarlo Stanton and Cubs’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo with 25. Stanton also led the league in RBI with 73 (to go with a .293 average). Dodgers’ first baseman Adrian Gonzalez was second in RBI with 71.

For the month, three players reached eight home runs: the Astros’ DH Chris Carter, Indians’ first baseman Carlos Santana and Cubs’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

The July RBI leaders were and Nationals’ right fielder Jayson Werth (26) and Boston’s veteran DH David Ortiz (25)

Stolen Bases

The speed lead went to Dodgers’ second baseman Dee Gordon (48 steals) in the NL and Astros’ second sacker Jose Altuve in the AL with 42.  “Running” second were Reds’ center fielder Billy Hamilton (42 steals) in the NL and Yankees’ center fielder Jacob Ellsbury (28 steals) in the NL.

MLB’s stolen base leader for July was the Royals’ center fielder Jarrod Dyson, with nine steals in nine attempts. Three players reached eight steals for the month: Dyson’s teammate Lorenzo Cain, Dodgers’ second baseman Dee Gordon and Reds’ center fielder Billy Hamilton.

Pitching Leaders YTD (Through July 31) and for the Month

Clayton Kershaw - aiming for another Cy Young?

Clayton Kershaw – aiming for another Cy Young?

Wins and ERA

In the NL, the names Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright dominated mound stats through July.  The Dodgers’ Kershaw and the Cardinals’ Wainwright were tied for the lead in wins at 13 (Kershaw 13-2/Wainwright 13-5) and also stood one and two in ERA (Kershaw 1.71/Wainwright 1.92). The NL boasted a host of 12-game winners: Madison Bumgarner (SF); Johnny Cueto (Cin.); Zach Greinke and Hun-Jin Ryu (LA); Wily Peralta (Mil.); and Alfredo Simon (Cin.). Notably, the Dodger top three starters contributed 37 victories through July 31 – best in baseball.

The AL lead in wins (as of July 31) was owned by Detroit’s Max Scherzer (13-3) followed by 12-game winners:  Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir (Oak.); Rick Porcello (Det.); and Masahiro Tanaka (NY).  The AL ERA leaders were the White Sox’ Chris Sale, who had a 10-11 record despite a league-low 1.88 ERA, and the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez (11-2. 2.01).

For the month of July, only two pitchers reached five wins and both were American Leaguers. Oakland’s Sonny Gray went 5-0, 1.03 in five starts, while David Price (traded at the deadline from Tampa Bay to Detroit) went 5-1, 1.74 in six starting assignments. Nine NL hurlers notched four wins in July.  July’s ERA leaders were the White Sox’ Chris Sale in the AL (0.85 while going 3-0 in four starts) and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw – what a surprise – in the NL (1.04, while going 4-0 in five starts).

The strikeout leader (as of July 31) in the AL was new Tiger (former Ray) David Price, with 189 whiffs in 170 2/3 innings, while the NL was headed by the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg (167 in 144 1/3 innings).

For the month of July, the Padres’ Tyson Ross led the NL in strikeouts, logging 48 in 41 innings (while putting up a 4-2 record with a 1.10 ERA). In the AL, the whiff leader was (here’s that name again), Tampa Bay’s (now Detroit’s) David Price with 45 K’s in 46 2/3 innings.

Trtevor Rosenthal - tied for MLB saves lead (July 31).

Trtevor Rosenthal – tied for MLB saves lead (July 31).

Saves

As of July 31, the NL saves lead was shared by the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel and Cardinals’ Trevor Rosenthal at 32 – with the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen and Brewers Francisco Rodriguez close at 31.

In the AL, the saves leader – at 30 – was Seattle’s Fernando Rodney, followed by Greg Holland of Kansas City at 29.

For July, Zack Britton contributed to the Orioles’ surge with an MLB-leading 11 saves in the month, while the NL leader was Steve Cishek of Miami with nine June saves.

 

 Standings as of July 31 (close of play)

 AL EAST

TEAM                W        L          PCT     GB       (July)

Baltimore          60       47        .561                  (17-8)

Toronto            60        50        .545     1.5       (15-11)

NY Yankees     55        52       .514      5.0      (14-12)

Tampa Bay       53       55        .491      7.5       (17-6)

Boston              48        60        .444    12.5    (10-15)

 

AL CENTRAL

Detroit              58        47        .553                 (13-13)

Kansas City      55        52        .514     4.0       (12-13)

Cleveland         53        55        .491     6.5       (14-12)

Chicago WS     53       56        .486     7.0       (14-12)

Minnesota        48       59       .449     11.0       (11-15)

 

AL WEST

Oakland           66        41        .617                 (15-10)

LA Angels         64       43        .598     2.0       (19-8)

Seattle             56        52        .519    10.5       (11-14)

Houston           44        65        .404   23.0       (8-17)

Texas              43        65        .398   16.0       (6-20)

 

NL EAST

Washington      58        48        .547                 (15-13)

Atlanta             58        51         .532    1.5       (13-13)

Miami                53        55        .491     6.0       (14-12)

NY Mets           52       56        .481      7.0         (15-10)

Philadelphia     48        61       .440      11.5       (12-15)

 

NL CENTRAL

Milwaukee        60        49        .550                 (9-16)

St. Louis            57        50        .533     2.0      (13-11)

Pittsburgh         57        51        .528     2.5       (15-11)

Cincinnati         54        54        .500      5.5      (11-15)

Chicago Cubs  45        62        .421     14.0     (10-16)

 

NL WEST

LA Dodgers      62        47        .569                 (14-10)

San Francisco  58        50        .537     3.5       (12-14)

San Diego        48        60        .444   13.5       (12-13)

Arizona            48        61        .440   14.0       (13-12)

Colorado          44       64        .407   17.5       (8-17)

 

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Joel Youngblood – A Tale of Two Cities MLB-Style

Joel Youngblood - two hits, two teams, two cities, two Hall of Fame pitchers - all in a day's work.

Joel Youngblood – two hits, two teams, two cities, two Hall of Fame pitchers – all in a day’s work.

On this day (August 4) in 1982, outfielder Joel Youngblood made MLB history by becoming the only player to collect a base hit for two different major league teams in two different cities – on the same day.

He started the day with the Mets, playing an afternoon game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Youngblood opened the game in center field, batting third in the order.  After striking out in the first inning, Youngblood drove in two runs with a single in the top of the third.

Youngblood was then replaced in centerfield by Mookie Wilson in the bottom of the fourth – told by Mets’ manager George Bamberger that he had been traded to the Expos (for a player to be named later), who were scheduled to play in Philadelphia in Philadelphia that night.  Youngblood set off for Philadelphia, where the Expos were playing that night.

Youngblood immediately set out to join his own team – catching a 6:05 flight to Philadelphia – eventually arriving at Veterans Stadium with the game in progress. To his surprise, there was an Expos uniform, with his name already sewn on the back, waiting for him.  And, the Expos wasted no time getting there newest player into the game. Manager Jim Fanning sent Youngblood into right field and the number-two spot in the batting order (replacing Jerry White) in the sixth inning. In the top of the seventh, Youngblood singled in his first Expos’ at bat.

Two hits, for two different teams in two different cities in one day – an historic accomplishment.  Youngblood’s day was even more amazing when you consider the pitchers he touched for his two safeties. In Chicago, it was future Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins, while in Philadelphia, it was future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton.

Youngblood, by the way, was a true utility player, manning every position except pitcher over his 14-season MLB career (right field – 455 games; left field – 237; third base – 218, second base – 173; center field 107; first base – 7; shortstop – 3, catcher – 1). In 1,408 games, he hit .265, with 80 home runs, 422 RBI and 60 stolen bases.  He made one All Star team (in an injury-plagued and strike-shortened 1981 season, when he hit .350 in 43 games for the Mets).  He best season was 1983, when he hit .292, with 17 homers and 53 RBI in 124 games (at four positions) for the San Francisco Giants.)

Coming soon, the monthly BBRT MLB review for July.  (Been a little busy here.)

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

 

One final note, for BBRT’s Minnesota followers; Current Twins manager Ron Gardenhire played in the August 4 game for the Mets – coming in as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning – after Youngblood head already “left the building.”

Ed Linke – Getting a Head Start on his Best Season

April 15, 2006: BaseballWhen Ed “Babe” Linke took the mound for the Washington Senators on this day (July 26) in 1935, he had no idea he was soon to start a unique double play – with his head.  In the bottom of the second, with one out, Yankee lead-off hitter and left fielder Jesse Hill smashed a line drive off Linke’s forehead.  The ball hit the right-handed hurler with such force it ricocheted back to Senators’ catcher Jack Redmond, who caught it on the fly and fired to Senators’ shortstop Red Kress, catching a surprised Ben Chapman (Yankee center fielder) off the bag for a 1-2-6 double play – completed as Linke lay semi-conscious on the mound.  Linke was carried off the field on a stretcher and spent two days in the hospital before returning to the Senators – to begin the most successful pitching streak of his six-year MLB career.

At the time of the beaning – including that game – Linke’s record on the season was 3-6, with a 7.52 ERA. (He would complete his MLB career at 22-22, 5.61.) However, for the remainder of 1935, after being felled by the Hill liner, Linke went 8-1, 3.03 in 11 starts and three relief appearances.  During that time, he also threw seven of his 13 career complete games – including a ten-inning, two-run (one earned) performance against the Indians on August 18 and a twelve-inning, three-run (two earned) outing against the Tigers on September 11.

The 23-year-old Linke finished up the season 11-7, 5.01. (The following year he would go 1-5, 7.10; and would be out of the major leagues by age 27.) The knock on the noggin’ didn’t seem to hurt Linke’s batting eye either, Hitting .259 at the time of the injury, Linke finished the season at .294, with one home run and nine RBI.  Clearly, Linke got a head start on his best season on this date 79 years ago.

 

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Hall of Very Good Announces 2014 Inductees

hOVGThe Hall of Very Good (HOVG) – a fine baseball blog that appeals to BBRT’s taste for the game and its history – recently announced its 2014 inductees: Luis Tiant, Tony Oliva and the San Diego Chicken. The trio joins 2012 HOVG inductee Tommy John and 2013 inductees Dale Murphy and Steve Blass.  (I had the chance to chat with both Oliva and Tiant at the 2014 All Star Fan Fest. They are great ambassadors for the game.)  BBRT readers should enjoy the full story on the 2014 HOVG inductees and you can find it here.  And, while you’re at the HOVG blog, take a look at some of the other posts.  I think you’ll find them entertaining and informative.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT.

BBRT’s Favorite (sm)All Stars

Undersized until a teenage growth spurt (when I was twelve-years-old, I was usually guessed for eight or nine) brought me up to average size, I have always had a special place for the major league’s smaller (or smallest) players. This affinity for (sm)All Stars was fueled in part by my Dad’s 5’ 1” stature.  In our household, we always rooted for the little guy.

Jose Altuve

Jose Altuve - Houston's (sm)All Star -  alongside Manny Machado.

Jose Altuve – Houston’s (sm)All Star – alongside Manny Machado.

Being nothing if not consistent, BBRT’s favorite 2014 All Star is MLB’s smallest player – 5’ 5”, 175 lb. Houston Astros’ second basemen Jose Altuve.  Altuve, a sparkling fielder, came into the All Star break leading all of baseball in base hits (130), number-three in average (.335, second in the AL), number-two  in stolen bases (41, leading the AL, with only three caught stealing). The shortest player in the major leagues, Altuve has inspired a new unofficial unit of measure to document how far a home run has traveled (a 400-foot home run travels 73.8 Altuves).  See the website at www.howmanyaltuves.com for an Altuve calculator.

Altuve, overlooked by many teams because of his size, was signed by the Houston Astros as an undrafted free agent in 2006. Right from the start, he showed solid defense, a quick bat and speed on the base paths. After rapping .343 in the Venezuelan League in 2007, Altuve came to the U.S. and proceeded to hit .284-.302-.301 in three minor league seasons (2008-10), while also showing “plus” defensive skills.

Then in 2011, Altuve had a breakout season.  He started the year at High-A Lancaster, hitting .408 with five home runs, 38 runs, 34 RBI and 19 stolen bases in just 52 games.  That performance earned him a promotion to AA Corpus Christi, where he hit .361 with five home runs, 21 runs, 25 RBI and five stolen bases in another 35 games. His next stop was Houston (in July) and he finished up the season with 57 major league games, a .276 average and seven steals in ten attempts  – and that was just the beginning. In 2012, Altuve hit .297 (with 33 steals), earning his first All Star berth.  He came back with .283 and 35 steals in 2013 – before his sterling start to 2014.

Now, at just 24-years-old, the diminutive Altuve has made two All Star teams and his cleats are in the Baseball Hall of Fame – honoring a late-June streak during which notched multiple stolen bases in four consecutive games. Altuve was just the third player since 1900 to achieve that feat and the first in 97 years.

For Trivia buffs, on May 1, 2012, when Altuve faced New York Mets’ 6’ 11” reliever Jon Rauch (MLB’s tallest player ever), the 18″ height difference between hitter and pitcher was reported to be the second largest ever – exceeded only by the 25-inch difference between 3’ 7” Eddie Gaedel (sent to the plate on August 19, 1951 by the St. Louis Browns in a Bill Veeck publicity stunt) and Detroit Tigers’six-foot tall pitcher Bob Cain.

Bobby Shantz

SHnrtzAltuve, however, is not BBRT’s favorite (sm)All-Star. That recognition goes to a player my dad often  referred as “Little Bobby Shantz.”   The 5′ 6″, 139-pound southpaw side-arming hurler was not an imposing figure on the mound.  He was, however a three-time All Star who, in 1952, went 24-7, 2.48 for the fourth-place Philadelphia Athletics – leading the AL  in wins and winning percentage and capturing the MVP award (making Shantz the smallest-ever MVP winner – the lightest and tied with Phil Rizzuto for the shortest).

In his 16-season MLB career, Shantz moved between starter and reliever (171 starts and 366 relief appearances) and went 119-99, with a 3.38 ERA. He pitched for the Philadelphia/Kansas City Athletics (1949–1956), New York Yankees (1957–1960), Pittsburgh Pirates (1961), Houston Colt .45′s (1962), St. Louis Cardinals (1962–1964), Chicago Cubs (1964) and Philadelphia Phillies (1964). In 1957, he helped the Yankees finish atop the AL, going 11-5 and leading the AL in ERA at 2.45 (21 starts and nine relief appearances).

An agile athlete, Shantz also won eight consecutive Gold Glove Awards (American League, 1957–60; National League, 1961–64).  In our household “Little Bobby Shantz” was always a favorite (sm)All Star, who held out hope for the little guy.

 

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T-Mobile All Star FunFest – My Volunteer Stint

Yesterday, I completed my first five-hour shift as a volunteer at the T-Mobile® All Star FanFest – a 400,000+ square foot “playground” for baseball fans; part of the Twin Cities All Star Game activities. Today, I can hardly wait to get back for my Monday and Tuesday shifts. Billed (accurately) as “the world’s largest interactive baseball them park, FanFest is open July 11-15 (9 a.m.-8 p.m.) at the Minneapolis Convention Center.  (Tickets: $30-$35.)

Plenty of shopping opportunities - but lots of give-aways and free activities.

Plenty of shopping opportunities – but lots of give-aways and free activities.

FanFest features more than three dozen attractions – and offers something for baseball fans of all ages.  There are numerous historic displays (National Baseball Hall of Fame, Negro Leagues, Women in Baseball, World Baseball Classic, Hometown (Minnesota) Heroes and more.  There are also plenty of interactive displays. Attendees can take part in clinics and test their skills at fielding, hitting, pitching and base-running. For more sedentary activity, there are trivia competitions and you can “picture” yourself on your own Topps baseball card or behind the MLB Network news desk (both for free). You can collect free autographs from past, current and future baseball stars (in my first hour, I garnered Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Fergie Jenkins and Louis Tiant).  Giveaways abound, ranging from souvenir baseballs to foam fingers to balloon hats. In addition, attendees can purchase official All Star Game souvenirs (MLB Clubhouse Store) and visit a host of dealers offering baseball memorabilia from all eras and baseball-related products of all kinds.

I’d like to share a little bit about my first day as a volunteer at FanFest.  I’ll also include a link at the end of this post that will take you (if you are interested) to the story of how I came to be an on-the-floor volunteer for this All Star event.

July 11 – My First Actual Work (fun) Day

With my Friday shift starting at noon, I decided to arrive at FanFest early (about 9:30) and take in some of the activities.  It was a wise choice.  Before I had even worked my first shift, I:

  • Had a great conversation with Jim “Mudcat” Grant (we discussed his excitement not only over winning game six of the 1965 World Series for the Twins, but hitting a home run in that game);
  • Collected autographs from Grant, Fergie Jenkins and  Louis Tiant;
  • Purchased a trio of pins from the Pin Man, who offers one of the most complete selections of baseball-themed pins I have ever seen – and at reasonable prices. (I collect pins from ball parks or baseball events I attend and was able to fill in a couple of pins from events I attended before I started the collection).
  • Visited displays focused on the Negro Leagues, Women in Baseball, the Baseball Hall of Fame and Minnesota Baseball Heroes.

I also had one of the best hot dogs I’ve ever tasted  – a Kansas City Royal Dog (pulled pork at the bottom, a layer of spicy relish, an all-beef hot dog, three pickle slices – all topped with coleslaw – messy, but delicious).

My assignment was at the MLB Network booth.

My assignment was at the MLB Network booth.

Then it was off to my assignment (led there by self-announced Yankee fan and Zone Supervisor Jim Barletto).  My first duties were at the MLB Network exhibit, where fans (for free) could get a photo of themselves at the MLB Network news desk (by themselves or with the MLB Network’s Harold Baines or Twins’ Mascot TC the Bear.) My job was pretty simple, moving chairs behind the news desk (to accommodate different size groups – from one to four) and ensuring people exited on the correct side of the “set.”

Other volunteers at my attraction worked to bring people into the exhibit or help them into one of the many different-sized MLB Network blue blazers for their picture.  In my five- hour session, we had fans of all ages (from as young as eight days to more than 80 years) – but they all seem to have one thing in common, smiles.  Everyone was having fun.

The people watching was pretty good.  While the majority of attendees were sporting some type of baseball apparel (with just about every major league city represented), there were also those in suits and ties, dresses and heels, and even a Goth look or two. There were also lots a freshly painted faces – everything from butterflies to baseballs – foam fingers and balloon hats. Again, the visitors to  our activity still had plenty in common – baseball, a spirit of fun and anticipation over how their photo souvenirs would turn out.

I scored a few top-notch autographs

I scored a few top-notch autographs

After finishing my shift, I took another hour to tour the FanFest floor (you really need to devote several hours to truly take it all in.  I had a personal Topps baseball card made (free), as well as a Greetings from Minnesota photo (in an American League All Star Jersey with Target Field as the backdrop – also free).  That, by the way, is one of the great things about FanFest, once you get in, there are a host of free activities and giveaways.

As I said, I have two more shifts to work and plenty more to see, so I’m anxious to get back.

Now, if you are interested, here is a link to the story of how I came to be a FanFest volunteer.