October 2008

Another classic World Series, at least in the press box

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Every year, I get melancholy the day after the baseball season ends. Today, I’m grateful. I had a great time covering the World Series.

It didn’t turn into a seven-game classic, but I got to see the home team clinch for the first time since 2002. It was a fun story to cover with the intrigue surrounding Game 5. The best part, though, was getting to see the scribes.

In Philadelphia, my press box seat was right between John Lowe (Detroit Free Press) and Richard Justice (Houston Chronicle), two distinguished gentlemen.

Between games, I got to hang with Dave Sheinin (Washington Post) and Dan Connolly (Baltimore Sun), two friends from my time on the Orioles beat. I got to see my college buddy Todd Zolecki (Philadelphia Inquirer) in his element. Zo and I were colleagues on the same sports staff with our own Michael Rand at the Minnesota Daily.

Our business is changing. The number of papers sending writers to these national events is shrinking.

So I never took it for granted, sitting there in the presence of writers who have won the Spink Award, which is presented each year at the Hall of Fame, including: Rick Hummel (St. Louis Post Dispatch), Tracy Ringolsby (Rocky Mountain News) and Peter Gammons (ESPN).

Among the esteemed columnists at the Series were Mark Whicker (Orange County Register), Ray Ratto (San Francisco Chronicle) and Joe Posnanski (Kansas City Star).

I could go on and on. Click on any of the above links to get a feel for the talent in that press box.

With around-the-clock highlights and the Internet, there are countless ways to follow the Series, of course. But there is still value in sending local writers.

There were former Twins everywhere, for example, and I hope you got a sense of that from our coverage. I found J.C. Romero holding his daughter on the field, 45 minutes after Game 5. He had just picked up his second win of the Series.

“You’re going to laugh,” he said. “But I told my wife I was going to win tonight. And it just happened that the good Lord answered my prayers, and he gave me that ‘W.’ I’ll take it with a humble heart.”

Then there was Charlie Manuel’s postgame press conference. He was Cleveland’s manager from 2000 to 2002, and things didn’t end very well. With the national media assembled, Manuel saw longtime Cleveland Plain Dealer beat writer Paul Hoynes and didn’t even wait for the question.

“Hoynsie, I’ll ask you something,” Manuel said. ”Why don’t you go back to Cleveland and tell them we won the World Series, all right? OK?”

Hoynes, who had a hard time controlling his laughter, said, “Do you think you proved anything to the people back in Cleveland?”

“I wasn’t working on trying to prove nothing,” Manuel said. “Don’t take this in a cocky way: I already knew how good I was.”

A few thoughts heading (back) into Game 5 of the World Series

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — The clouds are breaking here at Citizens Bank Park, and while there’s a 20 percent chance of rain through the evening, according to weather.com, it does look like the Phillies and Rays will resume Game 5 tonight.

It’s already cold and windy out there, and the “Feels like” temps are expected to drop below freezing during the game.  

(*) If the Phillies win, it will snap Philadelphia’s 25-year drought without a championship in any of the four major sports.  Philadelphia’s last championship came with the 76ers in 1983. That’s been well-documented.

But did you know which four-sport markets have the next longest droughts? Both of them claimed their last championships in 1991.

Minnesota and Washington, D.C.

The Redskins defeated Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVI and the Twins defeated Atlanta in the 1991 World Series. So technically Washington’s drought is longer.

(*) Armchair managers, let’s hear your predictions for how things start (or, I should say, resume) tonight.

It’s the bottom of the sixth inning. Grant Balfour is pitching for Tampa Bay. Cole Hamels is due up for Philadelphia.

I predict David Price will be warming in the bullpen for the Rays. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel will send lefthanded hitting Geoff Jenkins to pinch-hit, but Rays manager Joe Maddon will stick with Balfour.

Balfour will face Jenkins, switch-hitter Jimmy Rollins and the right-handed hitting Jayson Werth. Then, we could see Price face Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.


Listening to Maddon and Manuel at the pregame (in-game?) press conference, I gleaned the following: 1) Balfour will start the sixth for the Rays, 2) Ryan Madson will start the seventh for the Phillies, 3) Price will likely be a factor and Manuel expects to see him, 4) Maddon sounds hesitant to burn Price in the sixth because the pitcher’s spot is due up fourth for the Rays in the seventh.

World Series Game 5 postponed until Wednesday

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — There’s a steady rain coming down here today. I looked at the hour-by-hour forecast on weather.com, and it calls for rain through the evening, stopping overnight, resuming in the morning but stopping by mid-afternoon Wednesday.

The guess here is Game 5 will resume on Wednesday night, when the forecast calls for partly cloudy skies, temps dropping from 43 to 39, with a west wind blowing at about 15 mph.

As I wrote last night, Major League Baseball took a chance last night, and it turned into a debacle. What was Fox’s influence? No one will say, of course, but by getting the game in, that would have left tonight open for “House,” which could still happen because of the weather.

The conditions were playable at the start, but I think the game should have been called in the fourth inning. As a fellow scribe told me last night, Carlos Pena’s RBI single was one of the most important hits in the history of baseball.

Update (12:15 p.m.): Game 5 was indeed postponed until Wednesday.

Nieto returns as Twins’ Class AA manager

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Tom Nieto, a catcher on the Twins’ 1987 championship team, has returned to the organization to manage their Class AA New Britain affiliate after spending last season as the New York Mets’ first base coach.

The Twins released their minor-league staff assignments today. Among the notable developments:

(*) Stan Cliburn will return for his fourth season as manager for Class AAA Rochester.

(*) Bobby Cuellar, who managed New Britain last year, returns to Rochester as pitching coach.

(*) Stu Cliburn, Rochester’s pitching coach the past three seasons, returns to New Britain as pitching coach.

(*) Jeff Smith returns for his second season as manager for Class A Fort Myers. Steve Mintz, who was pitching coach for New Britain last year, will be the Fort Myers pitching coach.

(*) Nelson Prada returns for his second season as manager for Class A Beloit, with Gary Lucas returning as the team’s pitching coach.

(*) Ray Smith returns for his 16th season as manager of Rookie-level Elizabethton.

(*) Jake Mauer returns for his second season as manager for the Twins’ Gulf Coast League affiliate, and he’ll also run the team’s extended spring training.

(*) Joel Lepel returns for his fourth year as the Twins’ minor-league field coordinator, and Eric Rasmussen was promoted to replace longtime minor-league pitching coordinator Rick Knapp, the new pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers. Rasmussen had been the Fort Myers pitching coach for 10 seasons. Bill Springman returns for his fourth season as minor-league hitting coordinator.

(*) Also, Paul Molitor, will continue his role as minor league infield/baserunning coordinator. The Twins are very lucky to keep him, with the Brewers and Mariners both looking for managers.

Heading into Game 4, this World Series shaping up as a classic

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — Speed. Power. Pitching. Defense. Drama.

This World Series has it all, folks. I know last night’s game ended ridiculously late. My head touched the pillow at 3:30 a.m. (Eastern). But I hope you’ve been following it.

Sometimes it seems like the former Twins are everywhere. Matt Garza stepping into the gauntlet last night, in front of those Philly fans*. Jason Bartlett making a terrific play behind second base. J.C. Romero pitching a 1-2-3 ninth inning for the win.

Grant Balfour throwing a wild pitch (when Shane Victorino was trying to bunt), intentionally walking the bases loaded. The Rays bringing their infield in, and then Carlos Ruiz bringing home the game-winner on that do-or-die play down the third-base line.

(* A veteran scribe seated next to me said the noise rivaled the Metrodome from the 1987 and 1991 World Series. And that scribe knew that’s the highest compliment a baseball crowd could be paid. The fans were into every pitch, twirling those white towels.)

“We’re [ahead] 2-1 and actually we could have been 3-0 or basically Tampa Bay could have been 3-0,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said, at about 2:10 a.m., in the East. “The games have been close, and there’s been chances for both teams to win all the games. So far, it’s been an outstanding series.”

Game 4 is tonight, and the weather here is beautiful today. So far, the three games have been decided by a total of four runs. Can’t wait to see what these evenly matched teams bring us next.