I am excited to reveal my Holiday Gift Guide for 2015-2016!
Every year, so many people ask me what presents they should get for their baseball-loving kids, grandkids, nieces, and nephews for Christmas, Hanukkah or birthdays. So I started making a list a couple of years ago. The Gift Guide post is now an annual Thanksgiving and Black Friday tradition and one of my favorite and most popular posts of the year. I like to feature new things on my gift guide every year, but everything on my 2014 Gift Guide and 2013 Gift Guide would still be really good choices to buy for the people in your life this year! So start on this post, but be sure to click through previous years posts too for other great gift ideas.
The books, games, baseball equipment, and other fun things on my Holiday Gift Guide have been updated for 2015-16. These are all things that I have, use, or really want myself, so I know whoever you buy these presents for, he or she will love them. I made sure to include something for everyone’s budget, from about $10 – $300, and there are links in here where you can buy them right through Amazon.com or other websites. There are things on my list for kids and adults! Some of the companies who made these products have given me some to give away for free to Matt’s Bats readers. Look for links in this post to raffles and I’ll also tweet out information on how you can win (Follow me on Twitter @MattsBats)!
So here we go…!
TOYS AND GAMES
What kid doesn’t want to build his or her own ballpark, and play imaginary games with toy figures who look just like their favorite major league baseball players? That’s the whole idea behind OYO Sports. The OYO minifigure is the first building-block toy based off real baseball players and are officially licensed by Major League Baseball. Each OYO has bendable knees, rotating forearms, and the ability to hold a ball, bat, or glove. You can get minifigures that look like all of your favorite players from every team. If the person you are getting the gift for is a serious builder, you can try their ballpark sets. I was able to build a replica of the Giants’ AT&T Park and Blue Jays’ Rogers Centre! One of the coolest OYO sets I’ve seen is this set of Derek Jeter giving his final curtain call at Fenway Park. In addition to MLB, you can get figures and sets for NFL, NHL, MLS, and college sports. OYO minifigures make great stocking stuffers, and I even have some to give away, including NL ROY Kris Bryant and both the AL and NL MVPs, Bryce Harper and Josh Donaldson. Enter here to win a raffle for your choice of one of these figurines (other raffles by Twitter). I think that OYO figurines are really cool, and I know the gift-getter will love this one. Trust me. Start your OYO Sports shopping here!
Here’s a one-of-a-kind gift: a small start up company called BobbleHouse Industries in Ashburn, VA, run by a Washington Nationals super-fan, has created a memorabilia display stand designed to hold and display your bobbleheads, baseballs, tickets, or other sports giveaways. All products are hand made, painted, numbered, and signed. Custom colors and personalized options are available, so you can get a custom made bullpen or dugout in the colors of your favorite team, even if it’s the Mets. There are 16″ and 24″ wide models to fit most bookshelves or desktops and they’re offering free shipping for Matt’s Bats readers through the end of the year! (Just tell them you heard about it from me!) BobbleDugouts and BobblePens are available now with other products being offered in the near future. It’s always neat seeing local companies (and Nationals fans) make cool things. Check out BobbleHouse.com and help control the homeless bobblehead population.
Other toys and games you should check out:
- One of my best friends got me an Easton Pro Stix bat for my birthday and we play with it all the time outside in my front yard. It’s a plastic bat that you can use for training or whiffle ball games. It’s one of the most classic kids baseball toys, but the thick plastic bat allows you to hit the ball pretty far and is much better than those thin plastic bats you may see at the toy store. It even looks like the real thing with a wood grain texture.
- I’ve gotten into hockey this year too. Now my brother, sister and neighborhood kids all come over to play hockey in the driveway using my Mylec Jr. Hockey Goal set. It comes with a net, 2 sticks and a street hockey ball. Lots of fun!
- Like Strat-o-Matic, but geared more for kids, I enjoyed playing MLB Full Count. You’re the manager playing against your division rivals, selecting pitches, organizing batting lineups, and planning strategy. Each at bat begins with a 3-2 count, and what you decide to do next can affect the outcome of the game.
SPORTING EQUIPMENT AND APPAREL
Ask a professional baseball player what’s the best thing about being a major leaguer and you may hear him say a “crispy New Era cap right out of the box,” like what Ian Desmond tweeted just last week. New Era makes the official on-field cap for every major league baseball team. They also make hats for teams from the Akron RubberDucks to the Zephyrs of New Orleans (both minor league baseball teams). There is a New Era cap for absolutely any team you are a fan of! Start your shopping for New Era caps right here. They come in both fitted and adjustable and in almost every color combination you can imagine. And great news for Matt’s Bats readers–I have a whole bunch of New Era Nationals caps to pass out as giveaways: the official Nationals red and blue Away cap, and the Nationals Black and Gray Heather Action 59FIFTY Cap. Here’s a raffle to win one of the 2-tone fitted caps using the giveaway code CAPS.
For baseball players, the best way they can show their creativity and individuality is with the equipment they use. In the majors, there are all sorts of rules about the kinds and colors of bats and gloves players can use. So many players show their colors using their batting gloves. Superstars Robinson Cano, David Ortiz, and Miguel Cabrera are a few of the many hitters who choose Franklin batting gloves. Franklin batting gloves have Shok-Sorb technology. When I don’t wear batting gloves, my hands sting after getting a hit. That’s why Shok-Sorb is so cool- it reduces the shock you feel in your hands from hitting the ball. They’re also so soft and thin. The gloves comes in all varieties of colors, sizes and prices, but obviously the coolest ones are the authentic ones the players wear on the field. Franklin recently sent me a pair just like the ones Robinson Cano wears for the Mariners. They also gave me a pair in Nationals red to give away to a Matt’s Bats reader. Click here to enter the raffle and use giveaway code GLOVE. For anyone who plays baseball, a nice pair of colorful Franklin batting gloves will make a great gift.
More baseball equipment:
- Another piece of baseball equipment for the young baseball player in your life is the Louisville Slugger Youth 2016 Prime 916 Baseball Bat. This is a kids bat, but isn’t for the average rec league player, because it’s pretty expensive. Designed for the best amateur players, the Prime 916 has Fused Carbon Structure composite handle and barrel, patented TRU3 Explosive Power Transfer technology and three-piece construction, which give it a lighter swing weight to ensure maximum control, and Lizard Skins Grips.
FOR THE HOUSE
Know someone on a mission to visit all 30 MLB ballparks? Or maybe you just like to travel and watch baseball on the road. If so, then this is for you! The Map Your Travels MLB Ballparks poster is one of my favorite discoveries of this year, and it is a highlight of my room. I love this poster. Officially licensed by Major League Baseball, the poster shows the logos of all the major league teams on a map of the USA. It comes with stickers that you put on acknowledging that you have visited that team’s stadium. It’s a good way to show off how many different ballparks you have been to. I love mine and the people at Map Your Travels have given me a few to give away to Matt’s Bats readers. I think this is a great gift for the avid baseball traveler and costs less than $30. Click here to enter the raffle, and use giveaway code MAP.
Play with your food with this baseball themed mug invented by a young entrepreneur and sports fan named Max. The baseball shaped mug with a glove attached to its handle is perfect for tossing marshmallows into hot chocolate, cereal into milk, crackers into soup or even toppings onto ice cream. Max came up with this idea during art class at his school. He pitched his idea at a product innovation contest held at Fenway Park and won the community vote! His sports mug collection now includes patent pending mugs for baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer and his play with your food sensation is sweeping the globe! Max’s story highlights the upside of dyslexia and he is donating five percent of his profits to charities that support dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Max’s mugs retail for $24 and are available on Amazon. Check out Max’s story at www.maxiscreations.com.
Major league baseball players play over 160 games over the course of the six month season– the world’s longest sports season. That takes a toll on everyone from the players, to their families, to the people who make the team run off the field. If you have ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a MLB team, then the Barry Svrluga book “The Grind” is perfect. Svrluga, a Washington Post reporter, writes about how the baseball season affects everyone involved in the Washington Nationals organization. But this book isn’t just for Nats fans; everyone who has ever wanted a look at what goes on off the playing field would like it. You learn about how the game affects the players and their families, equipment managers, scouts, and others. Have you ever wanted to know how the players travel from city to city every few days? Svrluga tells you. I recommend this book to all baseball fans- kids and adults- who would like to know how a baseball team is run.
- If you like The Grind, you’ll probably also like this other nonfiction baseball book that I read this year about the history of the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals) called Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos. Written by Grantland’s Jonah Keri, it’s about the history of the Expos, marking the 20th anniversary since the last strike thrown in Montreal.
For the past few years, I have been looking for a book to recommend for kids who want to develop their understanding of baseball. Finally I found the perfect one! Amy Gutierrez (“Amy G”), the San Francisco Giants sideline reporter for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, has written a children’s book to teach kids how to watch and understand baseball and how to score a game. “Smarty Marty’s Got Game” is a story about a kid, Mikey, who doesn’t like baseball. Mikey’s older sister Marty, who is known as “Smarty Marty” to her friends at school because she knows more about baseball than most grown-up baseball fans (kind of reminds me of myself “Matt’s Bats”) teaches Mikey the ins and outs of baseball, the lingo, and strategy using real-life examples. This book has great illustrations, but the best part is that it also teaches kids how to score the game! Gutierrez also has an interactive scorebook, Smarty Marty’s Official Gameday Scorebook, that goes along with the hardcover book and teaches kids how to score, while giving kids the opportunity to have fun with the game by doing things like drawing in the team’s logo. You really should buy them together. If you have aspiring baseball fans in the family, these two books are definitely the perfect gifts for them. Really! This might be my favorite item on the Gift Guide this year! Plus, I have a couple of autographed copies to give away! To win one of the books and scorebooks, enter the raffle and use giveaway code MARTY.
Some other books for kids I would recommend include:
- Screaming at the Ump by Audrey Vernick: A “coming-of-age novel about baseball, divorce, friendship, love, and compassion challenges its readers to consider all the angles before calling that strike.”
- Food, Football, and Fun!: Sports Illustrated Kids’ Football Recipes: More than 60 recipes that kids will like to keep your hunger in check this football season. Enter a raffle to win a copy using giveaway code FOOD.
- The Only Game by Mike Lupica: Bestselling author and sportswriting legend Mike Lupica wrote this baseball book about a young baseball star who has to figure out how to maintain his love of the game after the loss of his brother.
The previous items are great for kids you’re shopping for, but the next item is great for adult baseball fans. One of the best baseball biographies to come out the past year was Charles Leerhsen’s Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty. Cobb’s lifetime batting average is still the highest of all time and he was the first member elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But after he died, Ty Cobb became one of the most controversial figures in the history of baseball. He became known as a racist who also hated children and women, and was in turn hated by his peers. This book looks back at Cobb’s life to see if the reputation is true. This is a good, serious book for fans of baseball or biographies, and was a New York Times Best Seller. It’s almost 500 pages long, which means it would be great to download as an ebook. Which brings me to…
This one is not specifically baseball-related, but it is a great gift for kids or adults. This year, Amazon released a Fire tablet for under $50, so there is no reason that each person in your family can’t have his or her own tablet. The Black Friday price of only $35 makes this probably the best deal on my Gift Guide! I have a different model Fire tablet, but this one may be even better. It has a 7 inch screen and 8 GB of storage. You can get so many free apps in the app store, like Netflix, Twitter, Pandora, Skype and Facebook. Plus, if you have Amazon Prime you can stream Amazon Prime movies, TV shows and get books for free. It’s so inexpensive that you can even buy multiple for home or work (in fact, if you buy 5, they give you a 6th for free!- Use code FIREPACK6). For $99 ($85 for Black Friday), there is a Kids Edition for little kids that has a free year of FreeTime Unlimited, a Kid-Proof Case, and a 2-year guarantee that if your kids break it, they’ll send you a new one. I think that it is very important for kids to have electronics in their lives, and the Amazon Fire is a great way to expose kids to technology. But the truth is, anyone you know would want a Fire tablet.
- The other cool Amazon product this year is the Echo. You just talk to it and it gives you news or weather information or plays music. My grandmother bought one for my great-grandmother to read audio books to her. If a 90 year old can do it, so can you. It’s $30 off on Black Friday.
One of the best gifts you can give anyone– children or adults– is the gift of a museum membership. For those of you who live in or visit my hometown of Washington, DC, this year I’m recommending a membership to the Newseum. Located right on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Newseum is an interactive museum that allows visitors to experience the stories of yesterday and today through the eyes of the media while celebrating the freedoms guaranteed to all Americans by the First Amendment. I like it because I’m interested in journalism, and this summer they hosted an exhibit on the 10 year anniversary of the Washington Nationals. It closes on November 29, so you still have time to see it if you go this weekend! I have 2 free passes to give away. Check out the video I made with them in July previewing the Nats At 10 Exhibit.
Buying a Newseum press pass gives you free admission for a year and invitations to special events. If you don’t live in DC, find a museum close to where your gift recipient lives and buy them a membership.
So these are my top recommendations for baseball and sports-related presents for 2015-2016.
Make sure you check out more great items on my 2014 Gift Guide and 2013 Gift Guide.
All giveaways listed on this page start on 11/27/15 at 12:00am and last 1 week. They’re all free to enter. Operators of MattsBats.com have full discretion to select winners based on successfully completed entries, 1 prize winner per raffle. Winners may need to pay S&H costs if alternative delivery cannot be arranged. There is no affiliation with MLBAM or MLB.com. If you have any questions, contact us. Other giveaways via Twitter.
Tonight I was present at the White House when President Obama awarded Hall of Fame baseball player Willie Mays the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor. President Obama said, “It’s because of giants like Willie that someone like me could even think about running for President.”
I will have more about this amazing experience tonight in a later post.
Follow on Twitter at @MattsBats as President Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Willie Mays, Yogi Berra (posthumous) and other legendary Americans. It’s streaming live at www.whitehouse.gov/live
The White House has invited me to cover the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony today. I am so excited for this amazing opportunity. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
This year, President Obama is giving the Medal of Freedom to two baseball Hall of Famers. The first winner is former San Francisco/New York Giants outfielder Willie Mays, best known for “the catch” in center field during the 1954 World Series. Second, the award is being given to former New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, who died earlier this year. Both are legends of baseball, and both served in the military.
The other medal recipients include Bonnie Carroll (founder of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors), Shirley Chisholm (posthumous) (first African-American woman elected to Congress), Emilio Estefan (music producer) and his wife Gloria Estefan (singer), Billy Frank, Jr. (posthumous) (advocate for Indian treaty rights), Lee Hamilton (former congressman and vice chairman of 9/11 Commission), Katherine G. Johnson (NASA mathematician), Barbara Mikulski (longest serving female US senator), Itzhak Perlman (conductor and violinist), William Ruckelshaus (environmentalist), Stephen Sondheim (composer), Steven Spielberg (movie director), Barbra Streisand (singer), James Taylor (singer), Minoru Yasui (posthumous) (human rights leader).
The ceremony will be streamed live from the East Room of the White House at 5:00 today (Tuesday, November 24) at www.whitehouse.gov/live. I will be posting pictures on Twitter (@MattsBats) and my private Instagram account of the same name.
I had some big, life-changing news exactly one month ago today. For a couple weeks before, I wasn’t feeling right. I was eating less, drinking more, and losing lots of weight. At school, I needed to take frequent bathroom breaks and go to the water fountain. When I wasn’t drinking anything for a while, my mouth got as dry as infield dirt on a hot sunny day. I had no energy and it was really hard for me to do the things that I could normally do with ease, like walk to and from school. All I wanted to do was sleep. Even my teachers noticed that my color was a little off and thought that I wasn’t right. We didn’t know it at the time, but these are all symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes.
My parents took me to the pediatrician and he quickly realized I was in a state called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). We rushed to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington. They put IVs in me, and I was in the ER for about 4 hours. We then moved to the ICU, where there were lots of kids who were very sick for different reasons. It was very stressful. I was barely able to sleep, and I had not eaten a single thing since a small dinner the night before. I was really, really hungry, but the medicines they were giving me had to work before I could eat. The nurses gave me movies to watch and checked in on me every half hour or so. In the middle of the night, I was able to move to a regular room, where I would stay for the rest of the weekend. I felt good knowing that I was being taken care of by doctors from one of the best pediatric endocrinology departments in the entire nation.
Type 1 diabetes (sometimes called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes) is a chronic condition where your body stops creating insulin and you cannot get energy from the food you eat. Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease where your body attacks the cells in your pancreas that produce insulin, the hormone that is needed to allow glucose (sugar) to enter the cells to create energy.
Type 1 diabetes is not caused by a bad diet or getting too little exercise. Actually, nobody knows why some people get Type 1 diabetes, but it has something to do with genes and something in the environment like a virus. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent Type 1 diabetes, and there is no way to cure it. Until scientists find a cure, I will have Type 1 diabetes all my life. (Read facts about Type 1 Diabetes at the JDRF website).
However, the good news is that Type 1 diabetes is pretty easy to control, but it takes a lot of work. Because you no longer make insulin in your body, you have to give yourself injections of insulin before every meal (and also one other time a day to make sure you always have a little bit on board). It’s also important to check your blood glucose several times a day. You do this by pricking your finger before mealtimes and before going to bed. The shots and blood tests are annoying, but they really don’t hurt, and you just get used to it. (Kids, if you’re nervous about getting a shot at the doctor, imagine doing it 4 times every day). Once you have your insulin, there’s nothing you can’t do or eat. Actually, the problems you can have from your blood sugar going too low are worse than having your sugar too high (I carry sugary snacks and an emergency glucagon shot in case I pass out from hypoglycemia).
There is a difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is much, much more common, and most people don’t know the difference between the two. You may see commercials on TV for diabetes medicines or special foods for diabetics. Those all refer to Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 means the body still produces insulin but the cells don’t use it as well as they should. At first, the pancreas makes more insulin to try to get glucose into the cells. But eventually it can’t keep up, and the sugar builds up in the blood. Type 2 can be treated with changes in diet and exercise, as well as other medications you see on TV, but it’s still not a good thing to have and there can be dangers if it’s not treated.
In America, there are 27 million people with Type 2 diabetes and another 86 million who are “pre-diabetic.” However, only 1.25 million have Type 1 (about 200,000 people less than 20 years old). 40,000 people are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes each year in the U.S.
Many famous people have Type 1 diabetes, including a number of pro baseball players. The most famous baseball player with Type 1 diabetes was probably Jackie Robinson. So, Robinson broke more than one barrier in becoming a major leaguer! Other Hall of Famers include Catfish Hunter and Ron Santo. Today, Sam Fuld of the Oakland Athletics has Type 1 diabetes and is very proud of it. (I am hoping to meet him next season and bring you a Matt’s Bats Chat). There also was a Toronto Blue Jays Type 1 diabetes club this past season (although some have moved to other teams): Mark Lowe, Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan all have it! Other celebrities include Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler and pop singer Nick Jonas. It’s pretty neat knowing that many baseball players and Hall of Famers have to go through what I go through.
Now, I am back to normal and learning how to manage my Type 1 diabetes. I can give myself my own injections now. I have to say that everyone at Children’s National Medical Center was great. Here’s an amazing fact: the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation donated the facility at Children’s National, so I will continue being treated at the Washington Nationals Diabetes Care Center. Knowing that these people were taking care of me made me feel much better. I’m also glad I have school nurses who can help me with all of my injections, and there are other kids at my school who also have Type 1 diabetes. I look forward to hopefully working with the Washington Nationals Diabetes Care Center at Children’s National Medical Center to do fundraising and raise awareness, and also with the JDRF, which is an international foundation that is all about research and treatment of Type 1 diabetes. Click the links above if you want to learn more about them or make a donation. In the past, I have used my blog and Twitter to raise money for other charities that are important to me, including over $30,000 for a lung cancer charity over the past few years.
I am the same person I was before this. You don’t have to treat me any different than before, but it’s important to me that everyone know about Type 1 Diabetes.
On Wednesday, November 4, I attended the third annual Bob Feller Act of Valor Award Ceremony at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C. This year’s recipients were George Brett, Hall of Fame 3rd baseman for the Royals; MLB catcher from the Milwaukee Braves Jonathan Lucroy, and Navy Chief Petty Officer Genell Cody. The Foundation also honored Staff Sergeant Rene Segura of the US Marine Corps with the Jerry Coleman Award and the USS Carl Vinson’s CSADD Chapter and the HOPPER Information Services Center’s CSADD Chapter with the Peer-to-Peer Award. Among the VIP guests at this year’s ceremony was last year’s winner Tommy Lasorda, Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin, John Dalton, the 70th Secretary of the Navy , Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ron Green, and Force Master Chief C.J. Mitchell. It was so exciting to be there again this year (also be sure to check out the posts from 2013 and 2014).
The Act of Valor Award honors Bob Feller, a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Cleveland Indians from 1936 to 1956. Feller was the first American professional athlete to enlist in the military after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Feller threw no-hitters in 3 different years, including the only no-hitter ever thrown on Opening Day. “Rapid Robert” Feller was also called “The Heater from Van Meter” after his hometown of Van Meter, Iowa because he threw some of the fastest fastballs in baseball history. He pitched 3,287 innings, threw 44 shutouts, and rang up 2,581 strike outs in his career, which was interrupted by serving 3 years as a gun captain on the U.S.S. Alabama in the Navy during World War II.
The Act of Valor Award is given out to three people who share the characteristics of Bob Feller: an active MLB player, a member of the Navy, and a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
They also gave award new awards: the Jerry Coleman Award, named after legendary San Diego Padres broadcaster and former Yankees 2nd baseman Jerry Coleman, who passed away in 2014. Coleman served as a colonel in the Marines during WWII and Korea, the only MLB player ever to serve in both wars. He is also a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a Ford Frick winner. The Jerry Coleman Award honors a US Marine Non-commissioned Officer who has shown unyielding support for the Marines and the United States of America.
The Foundation also awarded the first Peer-to-Peer Award to the USS Carl Vinson’s CSADD Chapter and the HOPPER Information Services Center’s CSADD Chapter. Both honorees are groups of sailors ages 18-25 who demonstrate honor, courage, and commitment. They also encourage peer-to-peer mentoring and to reduce personal destructive decision making. The award was given to teams of sailors who participate in the Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions.
George Brett is the Hall of Fame former 3rd Baseman of the Kansas City Royals. Brett played for the Royals from 1973 to 1993. He won a World Series in 1985, and his number 5 is retired at Kauffman Stadium. Brett was honored for his actions visiting veterans in the Kansas City Area and taking part in ceremonies at Ft. Riley and Ft. Leavenworth in the state of Missouri. Because his Kansas City Royals won the 2015 MLB World Series, Brett was not able to attend the ceremony in DC this year.
Jonathan Lucroy is a catcher for the Milwaukee Brewers. Lucroy was honored for his participation in the Honor Flight, which sends WWII and Korean War veterans to DC to visit the war memorials, and Fisher House Wisconsin, which builds houses for sick and injured veterans at the Milwaukee VA (Veterans Affairs) hospital so they do not have to rent out a hotel. When asked what it feels like to win an award named after Bob Feller, Lucroy said “It’s humbling. I think that it’s a huge honor considering the other names nominated for this award.” Lucroy was selected as an MLB All-Star in 2014.
Chief Petty Officer Genell Cody is a Chief Hospital Corpsman in the United States Navy of the Naval School Explosive Ordinance Disposal at the Eglin AFB in Florida. She has performed many lifesaving EMT treatments and multiple combat deployments. Chief Cody is active in serving the wounded warriors and disabled veterans. She also is very active in memorializing 9/11 victims. “It feels both exciting, overwhelming, and I’m honored that my fellow Chiefs thought so highly of me to nominate me,” Chief Cody said.
Staff Sergeant Rene Segura is the inaugural recipient of the Jerry Coleman Award. Sgt. Segura joined the Marines in May 2003, and he is stationed in Okinawa, Japan. In his free time, he helps the homeless and seniors there. When I asked Sgt. Segura what winning this award feels like, his response was one word: “Awesome.” He received his award from Sergeant Major Ron Green of the Marine Corps.
The other MLB nominees for the Award this year were San Diego Padres pitcher Ian Kennedy, Minnesota Twins 2B Brian Dozier, Kansas City Royals reliever Wade Davis, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Steve Cishek, Cleveland Indians P Trevor Bauer, Boston Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia, Baltimore Orioles P Darren O’Day, Pittsburgh Pirates P Charlie Morton , Arizona Diamondbacks P Brad Ziegler, New York Mets OF Curtis Granderson , Cincinnati Reds OF Jay Bruce, Oakland A’s P Sean Doolittle, Chicago White Sox 1B Adam LaRoche, and Washington Nationals P Craig Stammen.
As this week we celebrate Veterans Day, I dedicate this post to the service men and women who risked their lives and made personal sacrifices. Thank you for your generosity to the country. Learn more about the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award at http://www.actofvaloraward.org/
Last month, I had the great opportunity to interview Orioles relief pitcher Darren O’Day. In the first part, I interviewed O’Day about his community service to military service members and family as a nominee for the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award. In the second part, I talked to him about baseball topics, like how he developed his signature sidearm delivery. Here is the 2nd part of my Darren O’Day interview!
Matt’s Bats: When did you start playing baseball?
Darren O’Day: I first played organized baseball when I was five. I’m 32 now. I guess that makes me old! I’ve been playing for a long time. I took one year off in high school. Its been the one constant in my life as long as I can remember.
MB: What values can baseball teach kids?
DOD: First of all, it keeps you out of trouble. If you’re busy practicing and you’re busy playing catch and hitting batting practice, you’re not going to be out doing things you shouldn’t. The game teaches you to get to know different personality types. If you play athletics you know how to get along with other people. You’re not going to succeed in athletics unless you work hard. That’s proven – the higher up you go the harder you have to work. There’s not many lazy Major Leaguers. There’s a lot of applicable things you can learn in sports.
MB: You’re going into the off-season as a free agent for the first time. What is that like?
DOD: You’re right, it’s the first time I’ve been potentially a free agent. I’ve been on four different teams already so I kind of know what its like to be in different places. You never really know what’s going to happen. It’s tough because I have a wife and a child and two dogs, so there’s a lot of things to consider, like where they would be happy. I might come back here [to Baltimore], I might go someplace else. You never know!
MB: Another new thing for this year was your first All-Star Game selection. Congratulations on that!
DOD: Thanks for that. I never knew if I was going to be in the Major Leagues, first of all. And I never thought I would be an All-Star! But it was a really cool honor and I’m glad I did it. I had a lot of fun.
MB: You throw side-arm, one of the few baseball pitchers that does that. But every coach I’ve ever had has encouraged us not to throw side arm. How did you start throwing side arm?
DOD: You have good coaches, then. You don’t want to screw around throwing side arm until you figure out you’re not very good at overhand. I threw overhand my whole life, all the way through high school. I tried out for my college team and didn’t make it throwing overhand, so I thought I was done with baseball. But I screwed around throwing side arm, figured out I would try out again, and this time I made the team. I played for four years in college and its been an interesting career.
MB: How did you master the side arm?
DOD: Everybody can throw side arm, but not everybody can throw strikes. Its like anything else. If you tried throwing left handed, you wouldn’t be very good at first. But if you kept practicing and practicing you’d get pretty good. I know it seems hard, but you could do it. I’ve also had some good coaches along the way. I’ve been doing it so long I probably know the side arm motion better than a lot of the coaches now. Its been a lot of hard work, a lot of video, a lot of repetition. And I learn as I go.
MB: When the Orioles were down in Washington, you witnessed the incident between Jonathan Papelbon and Manny Machado. [Jonathan Papelbon was ejected from the September 23 Nationals-Orioles game for throwing chin music at Manny Machado]. What are your thoughts on the big dugout fight between Papelbon and Bryce Harper?
DOD: Baseball is a funny game. Different people have different interpretations about what is right and what is wrong. It’s unfortunate the Papelbon-Machado incident is what came out of that series, instead of the news being us [Orioles] sweeping the series. Sweeping the series was the big story for us and for our team. It shows that guys care and that they love what they do and they are passionate about it.
As for what’s going on between Harper and Papelbon, I can’t speak with any authority about what’s going on there.
Thanks for reading the latest Matt’s Bats Chat. I will have some more posts coming out in the next couple weeks. Next week, I will be covering the third annual Bob Feller Act of Valor Award, where I expect to bring you another Matt’s Bats Chat with Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy and other celebrities. ALSO, stayed tuned for one of my favorite posts of the year: my Holiday Gift Guide around Black Friday. If you are buying gifts for kids or adults who like baseball, you will definitely want to read this before you buy anything. And some companies have given me some giveaways for readers, and you could win some really cool things. So stay tuned to MattsBats.com throughout the off-season!
Last week, I had a great opportunity to go to beautiful Orioles Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland to interview Orioles closer Darren O’Day about his nomination for the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award. O’Day was honored for his award nomination at a pre-game ceremony. During our interview, I also asked him a few questions about other topics, including his upcoming free agency and his unique submarine delivery, which will I will publish in a later post. This Matt’s Bats Chat with Darren O’Day is about and his work helping military charities and his nomination for the Bob Feller Act of Valor award.
The Act of Valor Award is given out to three people who share the characteristics of Bob Feller: an active MLB player, a member of the Navy, and a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Award winners are selected because they are dedicated to serving our country and share the values and integrity of Bob Feller. In addition to the Orioles’ O’Day, other MLB nominees this year included Brad Ziegler of the Diamondbacks, Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox, Adam LaRoche of the White Sox, Jay Bruce of the Reds, Trevor Bauer of the Indians, Jonathan Lucroy of the Brewers, Wade Davis of the Royals, Steve Cishek of the Cardinals, Brian Dozier of the Twins, Curtis Granderson of the Mets, Sean Doolittle of the A’s, Charlie Morton of the Pirates, Ian Kennedy of the Padres, and Craig Stammen of the Nats. The winners will be honored at an award ceremony at the U.S. Navy Memorial in downtown Washington, DC in November.
I asked O’Day what it means to him that he is nominated for an award named after the great Bob Feller. “It’s truly an honor. When I heard I was being nominated for this award, I went and researched him. The more you learn about him, the more in awe you are of his decision to take time off from Major League Baseball to serve in the Navy. He gave up four years of his career to potentially get hurt or die in the line of duty. Like I said, it’s a great honor to be associated with an award in his name.” O’Day told me the story about the opportunity he when he was 6 or 7 years old to meet Bob Feller at a minor league baseball game in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. O’Day handed Feller a pen to sign an autograph for him, and it exploded on him!
O’Day has done many terrific things that earned him this nomination. One of the things O’Day and his wife, FOX News reporter Elizabeth Prann, have done is organize a “Barbecue for the Troops” event that helps support the USO. O’Day explained the whole process to me. He told me that he sponsored the event at Camden Yards and guests brought donations for the USO. In the event’s inaugural year in 2013, O’Day raised $17,000. The USO is great because it helps deployed troops and their families.
Another activity O’Day and some other Orioles help out with is the Military Sunday Suite. Orioles players donate money to buy a suite every Sunday at Orioles Park for active military members, and they get to meet some players during batting practice, get a t-shirt, and are recognized during God Bless America and the 7th inning stretch. “The sacrifices they make and the things they have to forgo to serve in the military, we couldn’t make up for that. Tickets to a game pale in comparison to that. We couldn’t really make up for that, but we try to do something small and do something nice,” O’Day told me.
That’s not all O’Day does to support the military. He also supports a cause called Luke’s Wings, and for the past three years he has donated money for every strikeout he records. Luke’s Wings helps families travel to be with injured service members during their hospitalization and rehabilitation. “I like their mission. When somebody decides to serve in the military, it not only affects them, it affects their whole family.” “When a service man or woman is injured, they have a lot to deal with, and their families also have a lot to deal with. Luke’s Wings takes care of their families and provides funding to get them flown out whereever they need to go to see their injured family member. It makes it a lot easier on the family to take a lot of the financial burden off them.” In 2013, O’Day raised over $2,300; in 2014 he raised over over $3,600, and this year he will donate over $4,000. “I wish I would have raised more, because that would’ve meant more strikeouts,” he joked.
Finally, once a year when the Orioles face their interleague rivals the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, O’Day and other Orioles players make a visit to Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda to meet with some Wounded Warriors in the rehab center there. Most of the patients are going through physical therapy after serious injuries. “Some of the baseball players can relate on a much smaller level”, O’Day told me, “because we have also had injuries.” “They have just had a huge change in their life, so we like to go down there and hang out with them for a day. We get to know them a little bit, and a lot of them are baseball fans, and hopefully get to make one day a little bit better for them.” He added, “there’s a lot of good men and women who pass through there and I have actually developed relationships where I keep in touch with some of them who passed through there.”
The Bob Feller Act of Valor Award foundation just announced the winners of this year’s awards. This year they are celebrating Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, Hall of Fame Royals 3rd Baseman George Brett, and Navy Chief Petty Officer Gennell Cody. Although O’Day didn’t win this year, he still has done many great things and I hope to see him nominated again next year. I will attend the awards ceremony again this year and have interviews with Lucroy and Brett.
In addition, look out for the rest of my Matt’s Bats Chat with Darren O’Day, coming soon. We talk about more about his baseball career.
In case you missed my MASN Nationals Buzz guest blog post this week, I wrote about some of the good things the Nationals have accomplished in the past few years, even after a disappointing 2015 season and an ugly finale at Nats Park.
It’s been a weird couple of days to be a Nationals fan. I am used to being excited after a walk-off win, or sad after a big loss. But the past couple of days I have felt a feeling that I have never felt before as a Nationals fan – embarrassment. I was embarrassed by the way Jonathan Papelbon bullied the best player on the team and best player in baseball, Bryce Harper. I was embarrassed that the Nationals coaching staff let Papelbon play after the attack. I was embarrassed all around that no one on the team seemed to care about the things that made fans feel such outrage. This was the worst display of bad sportsmanship on the Nationals since I started following the team. Worse than Nyjer Morgan’s hissy fit when he threw his glove and left a live ball sitting in the outfield. This involved one teammate fighting with another over something meaningless, and then management doing very little to make it right. All on Fan Appreciation Day! I never want to see this happen again.
To top it all off, the Mets clinched the National League East on Saturday, and the once-admired Nationals officially are out of the playoffs when the season ends on Sunday. It’s been an up-and-down (but mostly down) year for the Nationals, capped off by the lowest incident for fan morale that I can remember. But it is still worth acknowledging how far the team has come in 10 years from their inaugural season in D.C. The team made a huge transformation and became a national story in just a couple of years. They have gone from a bunch of Expos players whose names no one really remembers to a team featuring a rotation with the likes of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. We get to cheer for Harper, the 2012 Rookie of the Year and likely 2015 National League Most Valuable Player.
Since 2012, the Nationals went from a weak team that the Phillies or Braves liked to play to harden their lead in the division to a team that is always fighting to play in the postseason. It used to be that Phillies fans outnumbered the small number of Nats fans at the ballpark, but now Nats Parks hosts 2.6 million fans a year. So even though this year fell well below expectations, and things definitely will need to improve in the offseason to win back fan support, it is worth taking a look at how well the Nationals have done in the past few years and some accomplishments from this year.
When the second Washington Senators left town to go to Arlington, Texas, after the 1971 season, there was vaguely any baseball being played in the Washington, D.C., area. In fact, the Redskins were the only major professional sports team in Washington for two whole years until the Bullets (now Wizards) and the Capitals arrived. More than 30 years passed without Washington having its own professional baseball team. And then, just a month after I was born, the announcement was made: after considering northern Virginia, Washington, Portland, Oregon, Las Vegas, Norfolk and Monterrey, Mexico, Major League Baseball decided that the nation’s capital was worthy enough for their own baseball team.
I’ve written on MattsBats.com about how I became such a huge baseball fan. I think there are a lot of kids like me who have fallen in love with baseball, since my generation is the first one to have a hometown major league team in 33 years. I like the Nats; my siblings like the Nats; my siblings’ friends like the Nats. We have players like Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Harper and Scherzer, who the team signed for long-term deals, who we will be able to root for all through our childhood. It’s great that little kids are able to actually go to a Nationals game in their hometown, and not just watch it on TV or listen on the radio. I love seeing a kid get a foul ball and holding it up as their most prized possession, because that is how I became a fan. At the same time, the Papelbon incident from Sunday is a good lesson that all of that positive energy can dry up very quickly. No one wants to see the villain beat up the superhero. The Nationals need to make sure they play baseball well on the field, but also that their roster includes players that fans want to root for, not against.
Turning back to baseball, even though the Nationals didn’t win the division, it’s not like they’re at the bottom of the standings. They will finish second, likely with a winning record, which is a huge accomplishment when you think back just to the 2011 season, when .500 was a huge milestone. In 2008 and 2009, the Nationals were a terrible team, and they lost more than 100 games. (Usually they say a team will win 60 games, lose 60 games, and whether you make the playoffs depends on how you do in the third 60 games. In those years, the Nats didn’t even win 60 total).
Being that bad had one good side: good draft picks. In 2007, the Nats drafted Jordan Zimmermann, who has gone on to be, in my opinion, the best pitcher in Nationals history. In 2008, they got Danny Espinosa and Tyler Moore, both of whom have been keys to the Nationals bench. Earning the top pick in the draft in 2009, they picked Stephen Strasburg, then Drew Storen and Michael A. Taylor in later rounds. A year later, the draft got them Harper. So without the poor performances of the 2006-2010 Nationals, we wouldn’t be at the spot we are at right now. Zimmermann brought the Nats their first no-hitter. Strasburg has had four consecutive 10-strikeout games this year (and was one strikeout shy on Saturday of tying the franchise record of 14 established earlier this year by Scherzer). Storen has had his dark times, but he is probably the second-best closer in Nats history after Chad Cordero. Moore and Taylor have been great guys off the bench.
There’s a lot to celebrate in the recent years, but part of why this year feels like a letdown is that everyone thought this was the last chance to make a playoff run before Zimmermann, Ian Desmond and other key players leave in free agency. It feels bad not to win the division when in the past couple years you’ve had the best record in the National League or all of Major League Baseball. But this team is still very talented, and this is definitely not the end of the Nationals being playoff contenders. Everyone in the front office knows what needs to be improved, and I can guarantee they’ll be working on fixing the bullpen, adding a big bat (maybe in the outfield) and looking at management over the offseason. Maybe the Nats, like the San Francisco Giants, just do well in even years. If so, there is nothing to worry about.
Congratulations, Mets, on winning the NL East, but we will get you next year. So even though we won’t be raising a championship banner this year, as Brooklyn Dodgers fans always said, “There’s always next year.”
Today in my MASNSports.com Nationals Buzz column, I wrote that if the Nationals aren’t going to make it to the playoffs, maybe DC fans should think about rooting for the Rangers (American League) or Cubs (National League). Read below or click HERE to see why. Personally, I think the World Series will come down to Blue Jays versus Cardinals, and obviously I would want the Jays to win.
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With the Nats 6 1/2 games out of the National League East with 13 games to go, it looks a lot like the New York Mets are going to pull away with the division title. There still is hope, though. The Nats are 6 1/2 games out, and the Mets are coming off a series loss against the New York Yankees. If the Nats can make up enough ground to roll into New York next week within three games of the division lead, they could pull of an end-of-season upset. As much as I would love to see that happen, it is still unlikely. So I have been thinking a lot about who I will be rooting for in the postseason if the Nationals aren’t going to be in the playoffs.
From the American League, I am going with the Texas Rangers, who have a 1 1/2 game lead in the West division in front of the Houston Astros as of Monday night. One reason for my picking of Rthe angers for Nats fans to root for: They used to be the Washington Senators team. In 1960, after the original Washington Senators moved up to Minnesota to become the Twins, MLB awarded two expansion franchises. One of them was awarded to Anaheim, Calif., which became the Angels, and the other went back to Washington. Confusingly, that team was also called the Senators. They played for 11 years at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Northeast Washington. In 1971, the Senators got shipped out to Arlington, Texas (between Dallas and Fort Worth) and became known as the Texas Rangers.
In addition to being originally from D.C., the Rangers are a good team to root for in the postseason. This year, the Rangers, like the Nationals, started off slow. In mid-May, the team was sitting in fourth place. But within a month, they found themselves 2 1/2 games behind the Houston Astros for first place. At the trade deadline, the Rangers acquired pitchers Jake Diekman and Cole Hamels from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Matt Harrison and five prospects. That boosted the team. The Rangers soared, eventually overtaking the Astros in early September. They have a good chance to make the playoffs by winning the division or the wild card, so if you need an AL team to root for, this may be a good one (and an underdog) to take an interest in.
In the NL, if the hometown Nationals aren’t in it, then you should join me in throwing your support behind the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs have some of the most supportive fans in baseball, and this year, most of Chicago is on their side. Cubs fans have been waiting even longer than Washington baseball fans to see their team win the World Series. The last time Washington had a champion was in 1924. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series title since 1908, 107 years, and it’s never happened since the Cubs have occupied Wrigley Field. The closest they came in decades was in 2003, but Cubs fan Steve Bartman famously reached over the fence an interfered with ball that could have put the Cubs within four outs of a division championship.
This may be the year of the Cubbies. In the 1989 movie ‘Back to the Future 2’, which was set 30 years in the future, it was predicted that the Cubs would win the World Series in 2015 (but over Miami, which definitely isn’t going to happen this year). If it does happen, it’s going to be because of their amazing young talent. Star third baseman Kris Bryant has been leading the way, with Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber also being big forces in their success this year. These guys remind me a lot of Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon. This is a fun team to watch, and I hope that they can make it into the postseason through the wild card. It’s hard not to root for the Cubs if they make it to the playoffs.
Obviously, I want the Nationals to make it into the postseason. But if they don’t, it’ll be fun to root for some of the underdog teams that have a lot in common with the Nationals.