Monday, September 20, 2010

Turning the page

Now that hockey season is approaching, it's time to close the books on our 2010 Summer of Baseball. For the second season in a row, Colin and I made the most of his summer vacation taking in games, primarily within the Florida State League.

Though we like to show off the fruits of our labors, this seasonal blog is more than a brag book. It's a chronicle of a father and son forming another deep bond over our national pastime. It's eating hot dogs and Cracker Jack. It's chasing foul balls. It's teaching him the game.

More than anything else, though, it's simply hanging out.

For the record, here are three things that made our time together special:

~ Teaching Colin how to keep score in baseball;
~ Making a big hit with the Tampa Bay Rays' Rocco Baldelli; and
~ Colin scoring team-signed balls from all 12 FSL teams.

As always, thanks for stopping by. God willing, we'll be back next spring.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Better than autographs

In the grand scheme of things, getting autographs really isn't all that important. There are times, like last Saturday night, when it's more important to just sit back and enjoy the moment. Besides, you never know what will happen.

Sure, an hour-long rain delay before a Florida State League game between the Tampa Yankees and Dunedin Blue Jays was a bit of a factor to keep the Sharpies and ballpoint pen tucked away. I didn't want to expose any baseballs or cards to the elements. So, too, was that we've hounded both the Blue Jays and Yankees this season.

As the 2010 Summer of Baseball nears its end, it was time to simply be a fan. I didn't want to spend an inning trying to identify unfamiliar signatures scribbled on a baseball. I didn't want to think about where Colin and I would have to go, at game's end, to snag a handful of signed cards. All I wanted to do was watch a baseball game -- all nine innings -- and enjoy an evening with the family.

Before the game, as well as the rain delay, I found that I wasn't the only one with that goal in mind. Minutes before the Dunedin Stadium gates opened, I gave away some of our remaining ticket vouchers. A pair went to a couple who made the trip to Dunedin to cheer on the Yankees. Their trip, however, has far longer than a ride from Tampa. In fact, it started in Nebraska.

The Vendittes, Pat Sr. and Janet, were attending the game to watch a son, Pat Jr., possibly pitch in the game. Some of you may have heard of Pat Venditte Jr. , as he's an ambidextrous pitcher, something of a rarity in baseball.

As you would expect, the parents are very proud of their son. Even if the FSL is only at the Advanced-A level, it still must be something to watch a child, even if he's an adult, perform in a professional setting. Before the game, I spent time talking with Pat Sr., soaking up his stories about his son, his career and living in Nebraska.

During the game, The Missus and Colin walked over to the Vendittes and gave them a couple of FSL balls that we'd brought to the game. Their souvenirs, however, got better. Pat Jr. entered the game in the seventh inning and, ultimately, earned his fourth win of the season.

After the game, we saw the Vendittes. Their smiles, understandably, were a mile wide.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Grinding it out

If there was any disappointment during our 2010 Summer of Baseball, it was the inability to complete a significant portion of the 2010 Florida State League Top Prospects set.

Give the developmental nature of the FSL, it's easy to understand that players move on. This season, the July release eliminated many autograph opportunities.

A couple of weeks ago, Dunedin's Travis d'Arnaud and Anthony Gose, part of a Phillies-Blue Jays deal that brought him from the Clearwater Threshers, added only the fifth and sixth cards of the 24-player set.

Just last month, Gose, an outfielder, was featured on the Threshers' game programs.

Not all minor leaguers

I'm sure I said this last summer, but it's possible to find former big leaguers serving as coaches and managers in the Florida State League. Just a couple weeks ago, Dunedin Blue Jays pitching coach Darold Knowles, a 15-year big-league pitcher and a member of the 1973 World Series champion Oakland Athletics, was nice enough to sign these four cards as well.

Paper work

For the most part, we haven't placed much of an emphasis on getting cards signed this summer. That changed a couple weeks ago, when we made a dent in the 2010 Dunedin Blue Jays team set.

With at least two more games (weather permitting, it's been raining most every evening lately), we should come close to completing the set, save for those who moved up or along.

Kicking off this season's set were:

Top: Travis d'Arnaud, Chuck Huggins, Mike McDade; and
Bottom: Brad McElroy, Mark Sobolewski and the ever-obliging D-Jay on a 2006 team set card.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Disney over D-Jays

At first, we were seriously considering taking in this Saturday's game between the Clearwater Threshers and Dunedin Blue Jays. Now, though, as our trip to Orlando rapidly approaches, I'm thinking our time would be better spent with another day at Disney World rather than rushing home for a Florida State League game.

Of course, weather and a certain someone's behavior will dictate whether or not we spend an extra day in Orlando. I'm sure he'll be on his best behavior. Besides, we still have a game Aug. 28, when the D-Jays hold their fan appreciation night, as well as at least one playoff game Sept. 8.

Using the noggin

Not content to score team-signed balls from all 12 Florida State League teams, we stumbled upon another project for our 2010 Summer of Baseball with a trip to the souvenir shop at Dunedin Stadium.

Normally an air-conditioned respite from the heavy summer air, we also find it useful for getting cards sets and checking in with friendly staff. One trip, though, we happened upon some Dunedin Blue Jays game-used batting helmets. At $25 a pop, I figured why not. One helmet would make for a good summer project.

It took Colin a few trips since mid July, but he's added 31 players to the helmet. I'm thinking, too, there's room for a couple more.

Another thing, too. That blue paint pen pops, doesn't it? Some of the D-Jays players thought so, too.

Boomer Potts, from middle left, Darrold Knowles (pitching coach), Brad McElroy, Matt Daly and Mark Sobolewski; and

Unidentified, from lower left, Shawn Hill (in Dunedin on a rehab assignment), Mike McDade, Brian Van Kirk, Justin Mashore (hitting coach), Welinton Ramirez, Joel Carreno (way up top), Chris Hopkins and Yan Gomes; and

Travis d'Arnaud (above logo), Clayton McCullough (manager, on brim), Frank Gailey, Ryan Page (lower right, on brim; and

Ross Buckwalter, from left, Chad Jenkins, Jon Talley and Chuck Huggins; and

Dan DeLucia, from left, Ryan Goins, unidentified, John Tolisano, Justin McClanahan and Tyler Pastornicky (now in Atlanta's organization).

Monday, August 9, 2010

There's more work left

Just because Colin completed his Florida State League team-ball project, it doesn't mean we're done hounding during the 2010 Summer of Baseball. Nope, we're far from it.

There are a few other projects and tasks to keep us busy, as we cash in the rest of our ticket vouchers at Dunedin Stadium over the next month:

~ we'll put the finishing touches on the Dunedin Blue Jays team-signed batting helmet;
~ we'll try to knock out the D-Jays' 2010 team card set; and
~ Colin wants to do a team sheet for the D-Jays.

Mission accomplished

It may have only 16 signatures -- the minimum requirement for a team-signed ball (in my opinion,) -- but it represents a summer's worth of effort. When Fort Myers Miracle pitcher Brad Tippett signed this Florida State League baseball, it capped Colin's main project for our 2010 Summer Baseball -- getting a team-signed ball from all 12 FSL teams.

Starting in late May, with a team ball from the Dunedin Blue Jays, we've used our near-weekly boys' nights out to chip away -- team by team -- at the project. And, as of July 28, with five weeks left in the season, Colin fulfilled the project requirements.

Granted, FSL players, for the most part, are willing signers. That alone made the project easy. The hard part, if you will, was the logistics, making sure we put ourselves in front of every team this season.

We attempted this project last season, but fell one team short. This summer, however, it was an entirely different story:

Jake Mauer (manager); and

Brian Dozier, Shooter Hunt and Tippett; and

Jonathan Goncalves, Chris Herrmann, Nathan Hanson and Steven Blevins; and

Deibinson Romero, Allan De San Miguel, Evan Bigley and Matthew Williams; and

Nicholas Romero, unidentified, Ramon Santana and Angel Morales.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A big hit

As former Tampa Bay Rays player Rocco Baldelli begins his comeback with the Charlotte Stone Crabs, there are certain milestone along the way. Getting his first Florida State League hit was one of those moments.

Thanks to good luck and a quick finger on our camera's shutter, we were able to capture that moment on July 22 when Baldelli, serving as a designated hitter for the Stone Crabs, cracked a double against the Clearwater Threshers.

Not content enough to simply capture the moment, we wanted to get Baldelli to sign the photo. In the process, we also wanted to share a copy of the photo with him.

Last Thursday, with the Stone Crabs in Tampa to play the Yankees, we succeeded in both aspects. Not only did Baldelli sign one of the 8x10s, but he also gave Colin a wide, warm smile and a rock-solid fist bump when Colin gave him a copy.

"What's this?" Baldelli asked Colin as he handed him the photo folder.

"It's your first FSL hit, a double against the Threshers last week," Colin replied.

"Really? That's cool," Baldelli said before delivering the fist bump. "Thanks, buddy"

Star attraction

Every so often, a Major League Baseball player heads down to the Florida State League for some sort of rehabilitation assignment. As you can expect, the player's presence not only piques our interest, but he also draws a crowd.

Take Tampa Bay's Rocco Baldelli. After spending the first part of the season serving as a roving instructor throughout the Rays minor-league system, Baldelli, one of the Rays most popular players ever, began a comeback attempt with the Charlotte Stone Crabs, the Rays Advanced-A affiliate.

We caught up with Baldelli in his first week with the Stone Crabs, when the team was in Clearwater to play the Threshers. Though a crowd gathered near the visitor's dugout before the game, Baldelli told us that he'd signed after the game. Last week, we saw Baldelli again, this time in Tampa. Again, he said he'd sign after the game.

In both instances, Baldelli kept his promises. Not only did he add to our single-signed baseball collection (above), but he also signed an 8x10 of his first FSL hit for Colin as well as our work-in-progress Rays mini helmet (at left).

The old standby

Regular readers of our hockey-hounding exploits know just how much stock we place in Colin's team sheets. Colin likes drawing them. The players like signing them. And, in the grand scheme of things, they're true 1-of-1 items.

With that in mind, as well as the completion of his Charlotte Stone Crabs team ball, Colin decided to use a tried-and-true favorite for the Florida State League club before last week's Florida State League game against the Tampa Yankees.

The results, as in signatures on the sheet, showed it was well worth Colin's effort. Among the 15 players and coaches who signed were Stephen Vogt, Reid Fronk, Kyeong Kang and Tim Beckham, the Tampa Bays Rays' top pick in 2008.

Besides all of the autographs, Colin also said three Stone Crabs complimented him on his artwork. Going forward, I wouldn't be surprised to see Colin use a couple more team sheets before the end of our 2010 Summer of Baseball.

Three-trip ball

For the most part, Colin tries to knock out a Florida State League team-signed ball in a single visit. This one, from the Charlotte Stone Crabs, took three visits.

It all begin in early July, when we made the trip to Bradenton. After loading up on a team ball from the Marauders before the game, Colin turned his postgame attention on the Tampa Bay Rays' FSL Advanced-A affiliate. That first effort landed nine signatures.

A couple weeks alter, we caught the Stone Crabs in Clearwater. There, Colin added a significant number of autographs, including one from former Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli, who was just beginning his comeback attempt. Still, there was one signature lacking.

Last Thursday, in Tampa as the Stone Crabs played the Yankees, we got the final signature from Tim Beckham, the first overall pick in 2008 by the Rays.

In all, the three trips netted 22 autographs:

Jim Morrison (manager);

Tim Beckham, Joseph Cruz, Shane Dyer and Marquis Fleming; and

Chris Andujar, Neil Schenk (we believe, though it could be Nick Barnese), Michael Sheridan, J. Stranz (whoever that is) and Greg Sextion; and

Stephen Vogt, Matthew Moore, Kyeong Kang, unidentified, Frank De Los Santos and Rocco Baldelli; and

Jake Jeffries, Christopher Murrill, Matthew Hall, Anthony Scelfo, Reid Fronk and Frank De Los Santos (yes, twice).

Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer sizzler

Earlier this year, as I was planning our 2010 Summer of Baseball, taking in a matinee game wasn't high on the list of priorities. It's usually Summer Camp Day, meaning there's a couple hundred kids, and what all that means, in attendance. And, living down here in Florida, it gets awfully hot during summer afternoons.

As our plans took shape, though, Colin's goal of snagging signed team balls from all 12 Florida State League teams meant attending a matinee game would be necessary. And, wouldn't you know, none of our local FSL clubs play in a domed stadium.

Last Wednesday's game between the St. Lucie Mets and Clearwater Threshers at Bright House Field in Clearwater certainly didn't disappoint. Yes, there were hundreds of kids. Save for a handful, most were well-behaved and respectful.

And, yes, it was hot. Very hot. Three-bottles-each-of-Powerade hot. Running-out-of-Italian-ice-in-the-fifth-inning hot. It's amazing, I say, we saw no eggs frying on the concourse.

Though the center field scoreboard showed temperatures in the mid 90s, our readings, taken by a digital thermometer placed along the right field wall, didn't fall below 109 degrees from the time we started hounding (about 11:15 a.m. for a noon start) until the final out (about 2:45 p.m.). We hit the hot spot in the middle of the eighth, when it reached 113.4 degrees, nearly 3 degrees warmer than last summer's game.

If it was that hot near the field, I can only imagine how hot it got standing at shortstop or out in center field.

Because this wasn't our first "How Hot Does it Get" rodeo, which, amusingly, involved the same two teams as the inaugural effort, we were prepared. Besides staying hydrated, we wore hats, used 85 SPF sunscreen and, for the most part, didn't stay in the sun for extended periods of time.

Here's a breakdown from the brutally hot afternoon:

Pregame hounding: 112.2 degrees
First pitch: 110.6 degrees
Middle of first inning: 110.6 degrees
Middle of second inning: 109.4 degrees
Middle of third inning: 110.4 degrees
Middle of fourth inning: 111.4 degrees
Middle of fifth inning: 111.6 degrees
Middle of sixth inning: 112.6 degrees
Middle of seventh inning: 112.2 degrees
Middle of eighth inning: 113.4 degrees
Middle of ninth inning: 112.2 degrees

Average temperature per inning: 111.5 degrees

Nineteen on No. 10

After getting 26 autographs on an overloaded team ball from the Lakeland Flying Tigers a couple weeks ago, there was only one direction to head in Colin's latest effort -- down. I'll tell you what, though. We have no complaints.

Colin's more than happy to score 19 autographs from the St. Lucie Mets last Wednesday, completing his 10th team ball out of the 12-team Florida State League. It took quite a bit of effort, too. Not only did Colin add signatures before and after the game, but field-level temperatures also topped 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

Don't worry, though. We were prepared. Lots of sunscreen, floppy hats, sunglasses and plenty of Powerades to stay hydrated in the sizzling summer sun. The ball and Colin's pen held up pretty well, too:

Hector Pellot, Eric Beaulac, Nicholas Carr and Joey August; and

Eric Turgeon, Rafael Fernandez, Scott Moviel, Stefan Welch and Rhiner Cruz; and

Kyle Allen, Scott Moviel (yes, again, twice, from before the game), Wilmer Flores (shown above signing for Colin) and Edgar Alfonzo (manager); and

Brandon Moore, Jose Bierd, Elvin Ramirez, Jeurys Familia, unidentified and unidentified.

Taking what I can get

Any time we hound at a Florida State League game, I play the supporting role in Colin's bid to complete another team ball. Basically, I keep an eye out for players, let Colin know and thank them for their time.

Every so often, I remember that we carry extra items for signing. Or, like last Wednesday, I hear from two people that I really ought to get a player on a single-signed ball. Well, that's exactly what we have here.

St. Lucie's Wilmer Flores, a top shortstop prospect within the New York Mets organization, accepted the sweet spot honors on a FSL game-used ball. Teammate Jeurys Familia, the game's starting pitcher, signed the 2010 FSL Top Prospect card.

Monday, July 19, 2010

In the name of science

In what's becoming a tradition during our Summers of Baseball, we'll conduct our second annual "How Hot Does it Get" matinee experiment this Wednesday. And, again, it'll involve the St. Lucie Mets and Clearwater Threshers.

Last year, the first time for this experiment, the hottest temperature we recorded in the stands was 110.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Thankfully, we were sitting in the shade during the Florida State League game. Still, though, it was a real broiler.

We'll take it a step further this year. Instead of placing our digital thermometer on a seat a few rows in front of us, we'll set it as close to the field as we can get. Readings will be taken every innings, when the teams switch positions.

Of course, we'll brave the likely heat and sun -- with shady hats, sunglasses, SPF 50 spray-on sunscreen and ice-cold Powerades -- to work a team ball for the Mets before the game. Conditions, hopefully, will be better Thursday night, when Colin will try to complete his Charlotte Stone Crabs team ball before a game against the Threshers.

Even better, from our point of view, is that Tampa Bay Ray Rocco Baldelli is attempting a comeback and is on the Stone Crabs roster. I think we might have a few items for him.

Running out of room

The pitchers for the Lakeland Flying Tigers must have gotten a late start on the off-day workouts recently. For the first time over the past two Summers of Baseball, we found the group still on the field when the Dunedin Stadium gates opened. Usually, the pitchers are in the clubhouse by the time we arrive, scour the stands for batting practice balls and find a prime hounding spot.

It's not that we're complaining, though, as Colin made good use of our fortune to put together a 26-signature team ball, the ninth of our 12-team Florida State League project this season. Usually, the team-signed balls average 19 signatures each.

Brent Wyatt, Rob Waite, Jared Gayhart, Jacob Turner, Luke Putkonen and Daniel Fields; and

Jose Ortega, Billy Alvino, Jon Kibler, Brandon Douglas (shown above, signing for Colin), Jon Kibler (yes, we know, that's twice), unidentified and Gustavo Nunez; and

Tyler Conn, Erik Crichton, Joe Coleman (pitching coach), Ben Guez, Wilfredo Ramirez, and Alexander Moreno; and

Brayan Villarreal, Bryan Holaday, John Murriam, Carmelo Jaime, Chris White, Larry Herndon (hitting coach) and Billy Nowlin (signed sideways).

Worth a Google

Here's the reason why any hound worth his or her salt should do homework before any hounding visit. You can get a single-signed, game-used Florida State League baseball from a top-rated prospect.

In this case, it's from Lakeland Flying Tigers pitcher Jacob Turner, taken ninth overall in 2009 by Detroit. In January, Baseball America ranked him as the Tiger's top prospect and 26th best

Hard to fill

As much as I like working these Florida State League Top Prospect sets during our Summers of Baseball, there's one improvement that I'd like to suggest: Issue the set quicker.

By the time the set's released in late June or early July, some of the players have been promoted, rendering the task of a signed set to my "never-get-done" list. To me, there's no reason -- technological, financial or legal -- why this set couldn't be published by mid to late May.

It's no surprise, then, that Detroit Tigers pitcher prospect Luke Putkonen, pitching for the FSL's Lakeland Flying Tigers, is the only player I've been able to have sign a card over the past few weeks.

There's still time left. Let's just hope the remaining players are still around.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Didn't even have to ask

Want to know what's neat about the Florida State League? Sometimes, players like Dunedin's Travis D'Arnaud walk up to a kid and hand him a bat. That's what happened Saturday night after the Blue Jays beat the Lakeland Flying Tigers.

Hitting the road

At 39 miles away, old-school McKechnie Field, the home stadium of the Bradenton Marauders of the Florida State League, was the farthest we'd travel during our 2010 Summer of Baseball. Thanks to mostly highway miles and the Sunshine Skyway, it really was nothing more than a hop, skip and a jump.

After last Thursday's visit to watch the Marauders, the Pittsburgh Pirates Advanced-A affiliate, play the Charlotte Stone Crabs, the Tampa Bay Rays' FSL club, I'm expecting we'll make a few more trips to Manatee County in the years ahead.

Though it would have been nice to get top Pittsburgh prospects Tony Sanchez and Starling Marte, this 20-signature team ball, the eighth of the 12-club FSL team ball project, works just fine:

Nathan Adcock, James Skelton, Aaron Pribanic, Jeff Locke, Melkin Laureano and Brock Holt; and

Robbie Grossman, Adam Davis, Jose De Los Santos and Adenson Chourio; and

Quincy Latimore, Casey Erickson, Wally Whitehurst (pitching coach), Brian Leach and Jordan Newton; and

Erik Huber, Greg Picart, Austin McClune, Milver Reyes and Eric Fryer.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Nice job

You have to give the Tampa Yankees staff a well-deserved round of applause for salvaging what could have been a bad night. A band of strong thundershowers soaked George M. Steinbrenner Field, rendering the outfield unplayable in the eyes of the umpires, on the Florida State League club's pre-Fourth of July Night.

Rather than sending fans home damp in disappointment, the team had the players line up across two dugouts for an autograph session, allowing fans to easily work a team item. In Colin's case, it was 21 autographs (albeit in three different inks) on his seventh team ball of the 2010 Summer of Baseball.

Shaeffer Hall, who signed before the game was rained out; and

Myron Leslie, Zoilo Almonte, Jose Pirela and Dellin Betances; and

Mitch Abeita (I believe), Melky Mesa (I believe), Ray Kruml and Adam Olbrychoski; and

Walter Ibarra, Corban Joseph (shown above, signing for Colin), Ryan Baker, Trent Lockwood, Jonathan Ortiz and unidentified and;

Manuel Banuelos, Jack Rye, Trent Lare, Bradley Suttle, Noel Castillo and Juan Marcano.