Report To The Principal’s Office- When Baseball Players Fib To Win

tombarday Recently, controversy surrounded Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the rest of the New England Patriots after they supposedly deflated their footballs in the AFC Title Game.  The deflated footballs gave the Patriots an advantage because they were easier to catch and throw.  Whether you believe the Patriots really cheated or not, we have to remember that lying and cheating to win is not a good thing and ruins the character of the game.  But the pressure to win (and cheat) isn’t only found in football. Baseball also has had cheaters every once in a while. Here are some of the most notorious cheaters in baseball (that were caught) and their punishments. (Roger Goodell, if you are reading this, take note. You may get some ideas at the end.)

New York Giants, 1951, Huge But Sly

In the same year that Russ Hodges made his famous call “The Giants Win The Pennant! The Giants win the pennant!,” the orange and black may have earned their win in a sneaky way. Several Giants players later admitted that they were stealing signs from opposing teams during their National League Pennant-winning season in ’51.  This gave them a clear advantage because the hitters knew which pitch they were going to get.  Even though the Giants lost to the Yankees in the World Series that year, the team still played really well all season.  The stealing signs story was confirmed 50 years after their Pennant winning season, but the team was never punished.

Baltimore Orioles, 1996, The Bird PED

One of Baltimore’s most controversial sports figures was Rafael Palmeiro.  After MLB instituted their new drug policy in 2004, which included random testing and mandated sentences for steroid use, Palmeiro was the first major baseball player to be caught by the rules in August 2005.  He was suspended for 10 days for his first offense.  Although in public hearings and in newspaper reports Palmeiro strongly denies that he actually did take them, his former Rangers teammate Jose Canseco said in his 2005 book Juiced that Canseco personally injected Palmeiro with PEDs.  Its hard to know who is telling the truth, but the fact remains that Palmeiro tested positive for illegal substances.

Chicago White Sox, 1919, Nine Men Out

During the early 1900s, baseball was huge. The World Series, a brand new thing, was as popular as the Super Bowl is now, and young American children looked up to stars like Babe Ruth and Joe Jackson. That’s why this scandal was so disappointing to many Americans.  In the 1919 World Series, the White Sox played against Cincinnati, and Cincy won the Series.  It was later revealed that 8 of the White Sox players purposely played poorly to lose their games.  They threw the games to get money from gamblers.  After the bet was figured out, nine men were kicked out of baseball for life, 8 White Sox and 1 St. Louis Brown. They were: Eddie Cicotte, Oscar “Happy” Felsch, Arnold “Chick” Gandil, “Shoeless”Joe Jackson, Fred McMullin, Charles “Swede” Risberg, George “Buck” Weaver, Claude “Lefty” Williams for Chicago, and Joe Gedeon for the Browns.

Cincinnati Reds, 1989, He’s Wagering, But Not Playing Jeopardy!

The Pete Rose situation is what most people think of when thinking about cheating in baseball. Pete Rose is one of the all-time best baseball players.  He is the all-time leader in hits and games played, among other titles.  He won 3 World Series rings, 3 batting titles, 1 MVP Award, 2 Golden Gloves, and Rookie of the Year in 1963.  However, his reputation was ruined when it was discovered that he had bet on baseball games while he played for and managed the Reds in the mid-late 1980s.  Pete Rose was permanently banned from baseball in 1989.  Because of his ban from baseball, Rose is not allowed to be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  This is one of the most controversial subjects in baseball history.

Cleveland Indians, 1994, You Have To Work To Take The Cork

Albert Belle was a slugger for the Indians back in the 1990’s. On July 15, 1994, the Indians were playing the White Sox at Comiskey Park. In the first inning, Sox manager Gene Lamont got a tip that Belle was using a corked bat.  Lamont then challenged Belle’s bat and it was sent to the Umpire’s Dressing Room. The Indians knew that Belle’s bat was corked so they sent reliever Jason Grimsley to get the illegal bat and swap it with a legal one.  In a scene straight from a movie, Grimsley tunneled, with a flashlight in his mouth, through a false ceiling to get into the Umpire’s Dressing Room.  He was able to make the switch.  The team was caught, though, when the umpires noticed that the bats were different and saw pieces of ceiling on the floor.  MLB gave Belle a 10 game suspension for using the corked bat.  Grimsley’s part in the story wasn’t revealed until 1999.

Seattle Mariners, 1982, Doctor, Doctor, Give Me The News

After the spitball was banned in 1920, there was a nice long period of time where pitchers relied on fastballs, breakers, and changeups. That changed when Gaylord Perry came around. Perry used Vaseline to doctor his baseballs.  The real mystery is that he didn’t get ejected for doctoring a baseball until his 21st season of playing baseball in 1982. Either he was really sneaky or the umpires didn’t care.

 

After that, it’s time for a question. Who do you think is going to win the Super Bowl? Answer this poll to give me your take. I have to say, Seahawks all the way!

Matt’s Bats Chat with Washington Post’s James Wagner

Until the past couple of weeks, it had been a quiet offseason for the Washington Nationals.  1 jwwpThen, they made a couple of big splashes with the Tyler Clippard-for-Yunel Escobar deal and the Max Scherzer signing. That also meant a lot of work for the newspaper writers on the Nationals beat–although not as much as once the season starts in and they start writing about the games every night.

Before these two big headlines broke, I got a chance to speak with James Wagner, the head beat writer for the Washington Post about how he thought the Nationals’ offseason had been going.  He also shared a little bit about how he came to the Post and what it’s like covering a professional baseball team for 162 games.  This was another chance to go behind the scenes to see how baseball works off the field.

So, here is my Matt’s Bats Chat with the Washington Post’s own James Wagner.

Matt’s Bats: Tell me a little bit more about yourself and how you got to be the Washington Post’s Nationals reporter?

James Wagner: I grew up in Northern Virginia, but my dad used to work for the State Department so we moved around a lot when I was growing up. I was born in Alexandria, Virginia, lived in Springfield, Virginia, and then moved to the Philippines, Venezuela, Peru, Belgium and then back to the States. I finished high school at Lake Braddock. I went to the University of Virginia and studied Sociology.

During college I knew I wanted to be a journalist and I worked at the school paper and had internships in news and sports. My first job was with the LA Times and I worked there for a few months before getting laid off. Then I worked for a small local newspaper in Los Angeles County for a year covering local news. I then moved to the Washington Post and covered high school sports for two years. I moved to cover the Nats in 2012 and I’ve been covering them ever since.

MB: You spent a lot of time growing up overseas, how did you get interested in baseball? Was it the influence of Latin American sports?

JW: The two most popular sports in Latin America are baseball and soccer. My mom is from Nicaragua, which is a baseball playing country, so I had that baseball influence from my grandfather. Baseball was also always a connection to home for me. Living overseas I was exposed a lot to baseball, but I would feel American when I watched and read about baseball, the NFL, and college sports. Naturally I think I gravitated more to baseball because I played Little League overseas and back home and it was supported by my family and my culture.  I speak Spanish, which helps a lot when covering baseball.

MB: So you played Little League and I notice your Twitter picture is of you in a uniform? Did you play for a lot of teams?

JW: I played little league. I wouldn’t write home about it, but I played third base, caught, a little bit of outfield. Overseas it could be a little tougher to find leagues to play in, but every time I moved back to the United States in elementary school I would find a league to play in. I played little league and in high school. I even played for my high school team in Belgium, which played other international schools. I don’t think I was that good and I only had one career high school home run. But it was fun to play overseas.

MB: So you’ve been covering the Nats since 2012 after covering high school sports before that. How did you get up to speed on the team and the issues they were facing?

JW: While I was covering high school sports at the Post, I would always read up on the Nats and I watched games. I wasn’t as knowledgeable as I am now, but I had a general sense of what was going on. Sometimes while I was covering high school sports they would send me over to Nats Park to help out, maybe Opening Day or help out when someone took some days off. I would also sometimes get sent over to Nats Park to speak to a Spanish speaking player. So I was a little familiar with the team when I was added to the Nats beat with the great Adam Kilgore mid-way through the 2012 season. It’s not easy getting up to speed on a team, but if you ask questions people can help you out. It also helps to be around it every day.

MB: Chelsea Janes, the new Nats reporter, also covered high school sports before joining the Nats beat. Is that something reporters need to do before they go to the Nats?

JW: That’s a good observation. No, I don’t think you have to start out covering high school sports, but many people in the sports journalism world start there. It’s just the way you move your way up. You start somewhere, show your talent and ability and then move your way up. You don’t have to do it, but I bet most sports reporters started covering high school sports at the beginning of their careers.

MB: What’s the hardest part of your job, being the beat reporter for the Nationals?

JW: It’s hard to have enough time for the job – it’s a lot of work. It’s a huge time commitment, 162 games and 30 spring training games, plus the playoffs.   Baseball is a grind and everyone knows it, for the players, the coaches, and the people around it every day. No other pro sports team has that many games. On a personal level, it’s tough to manage the stress, but that’s the nature of the job. There’s a lot of things that happen during the baseball season, you try to make sure you don’t get beat on a story, you make sure you write something well. You get pulled in a lot of different directions and there’s a lot to keep track of. As you get more experience you learn how to deal with it better, but there’s a lot to keep track of. But that’s the beauty of the sport: the everyday nature of baseball.

MB: Can you explain your normal day as a reporter during the season?

JW: During a normal regular season, 7pm game, I try to get to the stadium at 2:30pm to see the lineup go up, catch up on what I’m going to write for the day, get interviews, talk about what’s going well or not going so well with the team. Then I go down to the clubhouse and talk to the players for 30 or 40 minutes. We talk to Matt Williams around 4pm for his press conference – he talks to reporters before every game except on Sundays. Then we go to the field to watch batting practice and talk to some players there and watch the guys hit. There we talk to team officials. I then go up to the press box around 5:30pm to write the pre-game post. After that I watch and cover the game. I write the game story as it’s going on, so I can send it in to my editor right when the game ends, obviously without any quotes or anything. Then I go back down to the clubhouse and talk to the players and get some quotes. Then after that, it might be 11pm or midnight, I write a morning post too. The next morning I work on the longer feature story ideas, maybe transcribe interviews or work on some other longer form stories. I also take advantage of the mornings to keep in touch with the wide range of baseball contacts, everyone from agents to other people affiliated with the team, and things going on with other teams. Some days are really long, especially when we are traveling from city to city.

MB: Now that you’ve visited all of the NL ballparks and most of the AL ballparks, what is your favorite press box to work in and why?

JW: I haven’t been to all of the ballparks, but I’ve been to most. Citizens Bank Park in Philly has a pretty great press box to work in. Nats Park is really comfortable too, but the only complaint most people say is that you’re pretty high up in the air and its tough to see the game and specific pitches some times. I like AT&T Park in San Francisco, even though the space is a little tight. Coors Field and Marlins Park are also pretty nice.

MB: The hitting in the postseason wasn’t great, other than Harper and Rendon. Have you talked to Matt Williams about why he didn’t move Harper up in the lineup to, like, where Adam LaRoche was hitting, and what do you think he’ll do this season?

JW: Based on what Matt Williams has said, I think you will see Harper this season hitting probably 3, 4, or 5, but it depends on which pitcher they are facing. Guys on the team said they felt Harper turned the corner during the playoff series, even though it was only a couple of games. It was a good jumping off point for next season.

Matt said that the reason Harper was hitting so low in the order, which was puzzling to some people, was that Harper was injured and struggling at the plate and it made more sense to put him in a lower pressure situation. You can argue with that or not, but I think that in time, based on what Matt has said, that Harper will move back up next season.

MB: The Nats traded Zach Walters, a possible second base candidate, for Asdrubal Cabrera at the deadline last season, but now since Cabrera signed with the Rays, the Nats don’t have anything left from the deal except playoff losses. Do you think the Nats would have been better off trading Ryan Mattheus or Ross Detwiler?

JW: That’s one that in hindsight the team might be thinking “shoot, we’d like to have Walters back.” They had a chance to play Walters at second, a position that wasn’t that familiar to him, but the team didn’t play him there too much. Zach was really bounced around. He played some second base at Syracuse. At one point the Nats even played Walters in left. Walters had a really strong arm, but he made a fair number of defensive errors when he was playing the middle infield in the minors. Zach’s strengths are a really strong throwing arm, power bat, and a physical player. The team gambled that at the trade deadline they needed a veteran contact hitter more than Walters in that moment. When you’re in the heat of the pennant race and you have a hole in your lineup and a need for someone to fill a position, you kind of have to make the move and then worry about the consequences later. At the time the Nats needed someone to solidify the infield with Zimmerman’s hamstring injury, especially with the playoffs looming. That trade was probably one of Mike Rizzo’s most “win now” moves. He traded for a guy for two months, where most of the time Rizzo trades for guys under control for more than just that season. In the moment you can’t really worry about it, you need someone now to win. In hindsight, the team didn’t get past the first round in the playoffs and you almost wish you still had the prospect. But at the time, that’s what you needed to do.

MB: Have you heard about any extensions of Jordan Zimmermann or Ian Desmond?

JW: Last I checked in it didn’t sound like anything was really brewing. Jordan Zimmermann’s agent and Mike Rizzo talked during the Winter Meetings, but it was more just to catch up and see where things stand, rather than working on a deal. So it doesn’t sound like anything is happening there. With Desmond it doesn’t sound like anything is happening on that front either. Reports keep mentioning Desmond’s name in trade rumors and possibilities and it’s kind of hard to imagine that extension talks are going on at the same time as they are engaging other teams in potential trades for him. It seems like there was more going on last offseason to extend Desmond than this off season.

MB: What are you expectations for the Nationals in 2015? Do you think they will win the NL East and get past the divisional series in the playoffs? {This was before the Scherzer signing}

JW: That’s tough. The playoffs are so hard to predict. And I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but it really is a crapshoot, you don’t know where it’s going to go, especially in the short series first round of the playoffs. You play 162 games and then the season comes down to 5 games. The talent that got you through 162 games might not always come up in 5 games. Look at last year’s offense – they did better all season than they did during the 4 games against the Giants since it’s such a small sample size. You can’t really predict how you’re going to do in the playoffs. You need a plan, and then just hope you can get there. Once you get to the playoffs, you hope that your stars, the guys with the really stand out talent like Jordan Zimmermann and Bryce Harper, shine. You’d think the Nats are the favorite to repeat the NL East title, but nothing is a given. The Marlins are a better team. The Mets, you can be unsure about their offense, but their pitching is good. The Braves and the Phillies haven’t really gotten any better. You think the Nats have a good chance at repeating in the division but beyond that, who knows. The Cardinals got better in the off-season, with Jason Heyward. You have to think with the window they have to win, the Nats are really going to go for the World Series and try to win with this group.

Thank you again to James Wagner who spent his time during the bustling offseason to do this Matt’s Bats chat. I can’t wait to read what he and rookie Chelsea Janes have to say this season in the Washington Post about the Nats. The good news is we have less than three weeks to wait for Spring Training baseball to start!

 

Max Scherzer Signs A 7-Year Contract With Washington

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins On Sunday night, a rumor came out of nowhere that Tigers ace Max Scherzer was interested in signing with the Nationals and one other unnamed team.  According to multiple reports, Scherzer will be heading to DC. In the wee hours of the morning, Scherzer apparently agreed to a seven-year contract with the Nationals, but there has been no official announcement by the Nationals or Scherzer yet.  Ken Rosenthal reported about 20 minutes ago that:

 

 

The Nationals’ rotation, already featuring Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Doug Fister, made the Nats favorites to win the NL East in 2015,and by adding Scherzer, the team bolstered its pitching the max (ha ha. Get it?).

What does this mean for Jordan Zimmermann, who only has one year left on his contract?  Will he be traded this offseason or is he to stay with Washington?  My opinion is that the Nationals are in it to win it, so I think that DC is going to keep JZ for 2015.  I hope they will sign him to a long term deal.  If the rumors are true, Scherzer is already signed until 2022, which is when I will be leaving for college.  Crazy what happens in 7 years, right!.

As I asked on Twitter yesterday, what would the rotation look like if all the starters stayed?

I think Scherzer, Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gonzalez and Fister.  People can disagree with the line-up of #1, 2 and 3.  I think Scherzer should go first because he is the newest addition, and he has a Cy Young Award.  Strasburg is kind of the face of the Nats pitching franchise and is already a star and getting better.  Zimmermann is a fan favorite and his last 2 appearances he went 9 scoreless innings (Game 2 of NLDS and no-hitter on last game of the regular season).

Another question is what number will Scherzer wear on his jersey.  He currently wears #37 with the Tigers, but that’s Stephen Strasburg’s number.

36 was Tyler Clippard’s number, but he was traded to the A’s, so it’s available.  One of my Twitter followers suggested he wear #73 (37 backwards), or that he take 39, which is what he wore in Arizona and which I don’t think currently belongs to anyone.

I think a lot of people are surprised by happy by the signing.  The Nats didn’t need to improve their starting pitching, but this would set Scherzer up for a long career with the Nats, where he can mentor guys like Lucas Giolito and others as they come up through the system.  While Fister and Zimmermann are only on short-term contracts, Gonzalez and Strasburg are around for long enough to keep the Nats a dominant pitching franchise for years.  We saw how important starting pitching was in the playoffs, so this is a good long term move.  You might as well just put 15 AL team names in a hat, pick one, and there you go– World Series time.

I want to hear from you– who do you think should be the Nationals’ Opening Day starter (assuming they keep everyone). Vote in the poll or you can comment on the post or tweet to me @MattsBats.

 

My Thoughts on Tyler Clippard’s Departure

Clippard On Wednesday night, the Nationals announced that they traded 8th-inning set-up man Tyler Clippard to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for Yunel Escobar.  Escobar is a short stop who will probably become the Nationals’ second baseman.

Clippard is a fan favorite and probably one of the best late innings relievers in baseball now.  He was the Nationals’ only representative at the 2014 All Star Game, and had the fan’s choice bobblehead in 2014 too.

While losing Clippard in their ‘pen in 2015, this may be a good trade for Washington. Here’s why. Clippard would have been paid $9 million this year and will become a free agent at the end of next season.  With the trade, they get a starting infielder whose contract doesn’t expire until after the 2017 season.  That’s trading 1 year of Clippard for at least 3 years of Escobar.  Also, if the Nationals either trade Ian Desmond or lose him to free agency when his contract is up next year, they have some flexibility at that position. They also will have Trea Turner from the Souza deal, Danny Espinosa, Kevin Frandsen, prospect Wilmer Difo, and Dan Uggla, who can all play the middle infield positions.  My guess is that Desmond will stay for at least the first half of this year (maybe he would get traded for a prospect at the trade deadline to a team that thinks it needs a short stop to contend) and Escobar will be the starter at second.  The A’s only get a year of Clippard, but maybe Billy Beane thinks he’ll be to re-sign him at the end of the year. Or maybe it’s what Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post said:

 

 

The biggest question for me now is who are the Nationals’ late inning relievers.  I think Drew Storen will be the closer, but maybe it will be Heath Bell, who they signed to a minor league deal this offseason.  Remember, since October, the Nationals have lost Rafael Soriano, Ross Detwiler, Ryan Mattheus, and now Clippard from their bullpen.

Was Escobar my first choice for the Nats second baseman?  No.  If the Nats were going to get a new player I would have picked Ben Zobrist.  I also thought would be a good choice would be Brandon Hicks. I gave this opinion in an interview with Red Porch Report in December.

As much as we welcome Yunel to DC, you really have to think about what Tyler Clippard has done for our city. He is a great guy, an All-Star, and a person that we will always remember him in the Nationals history books. Good luck in OAK, Tyler!

#FearTheGoggles

clippard

 

Matt’s Bats Chat with Aaron Barrett

barrett1Nationals reliever Aaron Barrett, from Evansville, Indiana, was a rookie in the 2014 season who made the Nationals major league team out of spring training.  A 27-year old from Evansville, Indiana, Aaron was drafted by the Dodgers in 2006, the Twins in 2008, and the Rangers in 2009 before signing with the Nationals in 2010 out of Ole Miss. A right-handed late reliever, he got the Opening Day win for the Nats and made his postseason debut at the end of the season.  His nickname is “The Bear.”  In his rookie year, he posted a 3-0 record with 49 Ks and a 2.66 ERA.

Aaron Barrett was at NatsFest, and I got the chance to catch up with him. Here is my Matt’s Bats Chat with Aaron Barrett.

Matt’s Bats: What are you going to do this offseason?

Aaron Barrett: I’ve been pretty busy.  I’ve been traveling a little bit.  My wife and I lived in Florida and just moved back to Atlanta and we’re in the process of getting a house in Atlanta.  We went to an Ole Miss football game where they lost to Auburn, unfortunately, but we had a good time at Ole Miss.  I’ve been training and hanging out and getting ready.

 

MB: The playoffs ended in a disappointing manner for the Nationals and you probably weren’t happy with your Game 5 performance.  How do you think you’re going to bounce back and what are your expectations for the year?

AB: The season didn’t end the way we wanted it to.  But, I’ve been put in that situation all year long.  I was put in the game with the game on the line and sometimes you succeed and sometimes you fail.  That’s the good thing about being a professional baseball player – you know you’re striving to be perfect, but you’re not going to be perfect every time.  That outing and that experience I gained in the playoffs is only going to make me a better player and prepare me for the future.  Hopefully this season I’ll get another shot at it and this time I’ll succeed.  I’m ready to go!

MB: Why did you decide to choose #30 as your jersey number?

AB: I grew up being #30, not by choice, I just wore it.  Ever since high school and college baseball it’s a number that stuck.  I was fortunate when I got put on the roster, that was one of the numbers available.  So I chose #30 and I like it!

MB: What’s it like watching a game from the bullpen with guys like Craig Stammen, Tyler Clippard, and Drew Storen?  It seems like a lot of fun.

AB – It’s a lot of fun.  The first four innings you’re just watching the game.  They are good guys and I’ve learned a lot from them.  I learn from their experience because they have been pitching for a long time in the big leagues.  Being around them and hearing what they have to say is a cool experience for me.

MB: Speaking of the bullpen, how do you feel about the new bullpen seating at Nats Park? [Earlier this year, the Nationals built bleachers for the relief pitchers in the bullpen.  Before that they sat on folding chairs]

AB: I love it!  It allows us to actually see the game!  Instead of having to look through the wire fence, we’re elevated and we have a beautiful clear view.

MB: Who was your favorite player growing up?

AB: Albert Pujols.  I grew up a Cardinals fan and he was my idol.  I didn’t turn out to be a hitter like he is but I grew up wanting to be like him.

MB: What’s your favorite ballpark to play in?

AB: Obviously Nats Park is number 1.  I love the feel of the stadium and the fans are great.  I really enjoyed Pittsburgh – the skyline makes it a beautiful stadium. [Check out my post about my trip to the radio broadcast booth at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park and the post I wrote comparing PNC Park to Nats Park]

In conclusion, I want to wish Aaron Barrett a happy 27th birthday.  He just turned 27 on January 2.  I also want to thank him for doing the interview with me and taking time out of his busy NatsFest schedule.  I hope he has a great rest of his offseason.  I look forward to seeing updates from Viera when pitchers and catchers report on February 19.  I’m also looking forward to Opening Day and seeing his sophomore season in DC.

 

 

The Firsts of the Year

1 bill nye the science guy bill nye the scienc guy bill bill bill bill bill nye the science guy inertiaToday, we celebrate the turning of the calendar.  Since it is the first day of 2015, I whipped up a post about different firsts that happened during the 2014 MLB season.

Lots of different “firsts” happened this year. No-hitters were thrown, home runs were hit, and milestones were made. I could only choose a few of the many historic moments of 2014 for my list. If you have any recommendations or events I missed, please comment on this post or tweet me @MattsBats. Here we go!

First Player to play in both the College and MLB World Series in the same year!

This was a special one. Brandon Finnegan, drafted by the Kansas City Royals, 17th overall, out of Texas Christian University, played in the 2014 College World Series before getting drafted.  After the Vanderbilt Commodores won the series, Finnegan quickly rose through the Royals system until he was called up to the majors on September 1. Of course, the Royals had an amazing run through the Postseason, and during the World Series Game 3, Finnegan made his World Series debut and became the first baseball player ever to make both the the College and MLB World Series in the same year.  Check out the video below of his debut in the majors against the Yankees.

First game where both the pitcher and catcher hit grand slams!

Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants made history on July 13.  During the 2014 season, Bumgarner and Posey may have been the best battery in baseball. Posey is a great defender behind the plate and also is known as a talented hitter.  The same with Bumgarner, who won the World Series MVP with his amazing pitching performances and took home a 2014 Silver Slugger Award for hitting 4 home runs during the season. So the duo decided to end the first half of the season– the last game before the All-Star Game– with a bang. The Giants pitcher and catcher each hit grand salamis in the same game, sparking a second half winning streak that eventually took SF to the World Series.

Debut Homers!

Jorge Soler and Javier Baez of the Cubs and Oscar Taveras of the Cardinals started their careers by each hitting a home run in their major league debuts.  For Baez, it was a game winner in Chicago. Taveras’ homer came on his second at-bat in his 1st game.  Sadly, Taveras would only go on to hit two more home runs in his career…and his life.  The superstar prospect died in a car accident during the World Series.

First Major League Home Run for Ben Revere of the Phillies!

Ben Revere, an outfielder acquired by the Phils a few years back, went through years and years of major league at bats without ever hitting a home run. After 1,465 at bats, he got his first on May 27.  Playing the Rockies and Boone Logan, Revere hit a meek pop fly that barely cleared Philadelphia’s tiny right field fence. What is even more priceless is that in the dugout, Revere got the silent treatment. That is always fun to watch.

First Combined No-Hitter in Phillies History!

On September 1, the Phillies helped the Nationals in a big way. With the Nats out in L.A. to play the Dodgers battling for the best record in the National League, the Phillies went down to the Big Peach to play the Braves. For six strong, Philadelphia’s starter Cole Hamels went no-no. Next, Jake Diekman threw a scoreless seventh. Ken Giles was up next, and he struck out the side. Jonathan Papelbon got a flyout and a groundout, and then he got Phil Gosselin to line out to Darin Ruf and the Phillies made history.  This was the first time in their long, long history that the Phillies pitchers (starter and relievers) combined to throw a no-hitter.

First MLB Hit After Thousands Of Minor League Games!

Congratulations to Guilder Rodriguez of the Texas Rangers.  After 13 years in the minor leagues, he was called up to the majors for the first time in September and made his major league debut on September 9.  Rodriguez played a total of 1,095 games in the minors, making him the person who had played the most games in the minor leagues before being called up to the majors.  With with his parents watching in the front row, Rodriguez singled and got his first MLB hit in his major league debut. Even more special, later in the game he hit a go-ahead RBI that gave the Rangers the win.  Rodriguez got a well-deserved Gatorade shower.

First No-Hitter in Washington Nationals history!

The first no-hitter in Nationals franchise history, thrown by Jordan Zimmermann, happened on the last day of the 2014 season.  On September 28, the Nationals played the Marlins and Henderson Alvarez, who coincidentally threw his first no hitter one year earlier against the Detroit Tigers on the last day of the 2013 season.  In the 9th inning, with Zimmermann with his first career no-hitter on the line, Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a deep fly ball, inches from a homer, into the glove of rookie center fielder Michael A. Taylor. Two outs.  On the final out, Christian Yelich hit a laser out to left field that Zimmermann later said he thought was a sure double.  Instead, rookie outfielder Steven Souza, Jr made an unbelievable acrobatic catch to end the game and give Zimmermann and the Nationals their first no-hitter.

Happy New Year!

2014 Collage2014 was an exciting year for me, as you can see in the picture above.  I visited Marlins Park, PNC Park, Wrigley Field, Petco Park and Citizens Bank Park.  I interviewed a bunch of players, like Stephen Strasburg, Nick Swisher, Wilson Ramos and Ross Detwiler.  I reviewed Derek Jeter’s first two books and had my review published on his Facebook page.  I also went to the Nationals vs. Giants NLDS Game 1 at Nationals Park and was interviewed on live TV.  There were many more cool things.

I can’t wait for a great 2015 year and many more historic firsts. The return of baseball is inching closer. Pitchers and catchers report in only 42 more days, and there are only 96 days until Opening Day!

 

My “2015” NatsFest Review

stageThe Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC was all decked out in red on December 13 for NatsFest. Because NatsFest was held in December this year, it was actually the second one in 2014! (Last season’s NatsFest– the first one in 2014– was held in January 2014).

The “2015” NatsFest was fun, start to finish. Twenty-eight players, coaches, broadcasters and team officials were at NatsFest, including National League Manager of the Year Matt Williams, “Face of the Franchise” and new first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, Nats owner Mark Lerner, and the National who threw the first no-hitter, Jordan Zimmermann.

NatsFest is always fun because you get to see and interact with your favorite Nats players in a more relaxed environment off of the field.  There were fun games like “NatsFest Feud” and a gingerbread house making contest, where players competed against each other in fun games on stage.  There were also new features, like the MASN #SwagGrab where you could win autographed items by players like Denard Span, Jordan Zimmermann and Matt Williams, plus old favorites including the player photo opportunities, Q&A sessions, and autograph stations.

 

It was a fun filled way to spend a Saturday, and I want to tell you all about it.

As Nationals season ticket holders, we got in an hour early, right at 10am.  This is a great benefit because the convention center is basically empty and you can do whatever activities you want without waiting on line.  As soon as I got into the room, I headed straight to the MASN #SwagGrab claw machine because it was a new event and I wanted to win an autographed ball.  Unfortunately, the claw at NatsFest was just as tricky to use as the claw games at the boardwalk, so I didn’t win. My brother was the first kid to run the “Stealing Home” game, and he did it over and over probably 30 times the rest of the day.

Then I headed to the line for my first player photo of the day.  Lucky for me, I was taking a picture with pitchers Doug Fister and Aaron Barrett!

FisterBarrettfam

Double lucky for me, that wasn’t the last time I ran into them that day.

Next, we went into the autograph line of Matt Thornton and Doug Fister.  I got Fister’s autograph on a ball and I got Thornton’s autograph on a mini bat I have signed by lots of other Nats.

thornton

After a quick lunch, I went backstage to interview Nationals reliever Aaron Barrett.  I asked him what it’s like to experience NatsFest from a player’s point of view.  “This is my first NatsFest.  I did not go last year.  I think this is a pretty cool ordeal.  I like seeing how much the fans get to interact with the players, and I think it’s really neat for us to try to connect one-on-one, whether it’s a picture or an autograph or interview.  I think it’s pretty neat.”  He added, “I think it’s something we hopefully continue to do and give back to the fans for years to come.”

Stay tuned for the rest of my interview with Barrett, which will be in a separate Matt’s Bats Chat coming soon!

After talking to Barrett, I did a few of the games, like the batting cages and the kids games in the Family Fun Zone.

battingcage

pitch

I also played the Bingo game sponsored by the Nats Archive, and took a picture with some of the Archivists.

 

I also watched the end of NatsFest Feud, which had relievers Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard face off against each other in a Family Feud style game with two fans.  Storen killed Clip in the game.

I then watched the Curly W Challenge, where shortstop Ian Desmond and his son Grayson, Aaron Barrett, and now-Tampa Bay Ray Steven Souza, Jr. teamed up with fans for a gingerbread house building competition.  It was very competitive, and Ian and Grayson pulled off a win.

After that, I played a game of RBI Baseball 14 on a Xbox One with Tyler Clippard and another fan.  We played Nationals versus Nationals.  At one point, I had the bases loaded and hit a grand slam.  Well, it was Stephen Strasburg who hit the grand slam.  Clippard remarked, “oh, well that’s never going to happen in real life!”

rbibaseball

clippard

This was a really cool experience, and funny enough, the second time I got to play Xbox with a Nationals player!  The other time, you may remember, is when I squared off against Stephen Strasburg.  (Read about it here).

Stephen Strasburg and I "bowling" in a game of Kinect Sports Rivals on Xbox One.

Stephen Strasburg and I “bowling” in a game of Kinect Sports Rivals on Xbox One.

Actually, that brings me to one of the highlights of my day.  A few of the many, many people who brought toys for underprivileged kids got the opportunity to meet Strasburg and Matt Williams.  I asked Strasburg if he remembered me from our Xbox adventure earlier this offseason.

 

After our game, Jerry Blevins came over to play against Clippard.  It was a fierce game.

My family went back over to the MASN booth to take a picture on the couch with Ryan Zimmerman.

zimmerman

It was really cool to meet him again, and when I told him I was the kid interviewed his wife Heather a few years ago, he remembered me. That was really cool. I hope to bring you a Matt’s Bats Chat with Ryan Zimmerman soon.

We ended NatsFest by watching The Last Out, hosted by Kevin Frandsen. He was really funny. His guests were Jordan Zimmermann and Craig Stammen, and Steven Souza, Jr. It was a funny Q&A where they talked a lot about Zimmermann’s no-hitter and Souza’s amazing diving catch with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th to save it.

After that, all the players came on stage to say a final farewell.

players

As fans filed out of the convention center, we walked over to the JW Marriot Marquis, which is connected by tunnels, for the unofficial after-party.  Who walked over with us?  Ryan Zimmerman! That was sort of AWESOME! He was walking pretty fast because I think he didn’t want to get swarmed by other fans who may have seen him.  But we did get to talk a little as we walked.

The after-party is usually the best part of NatsFest.  A few celebrities usually show up, like F.P. Santangelo, Charlie Slowes and a few players.  This year, I got to talk to Mike Rizzo and actually got a news scoop from him!  (Read about it here).  Bottom line, I broke the news Nationals that Rizzo wasn’t going to consider leaving DC to join the Toronto Blue Jays, as was rumored earlier that day.

 

That was the end of NatsFest, and I was tired after the day.  We ended up being at the convention center for about 11 hours– from 9:30 in the morning to about 8:30 at night.

I just wanted to end by saying HAPPY HOLIDAYS! to everyone.  I also wanted to remind you that if you haven’t finished your shopping for your kids, you should check out my HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE FOR KIDS, which has ideas for the kinds of presents to get for kids who like baseball and other sports.

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo Will NOT Be Going to Toronto

During NatsFest yesterday, the rumor started that the Toronto Blue Jays were considering hiring Mike Rizzo to be their CEO.  This caused a lot of concern for Nationals fans, because Mike Rizzo has built the Washington Nationals into a great team that has won the NL East two out of the past three years.

I saw Mike Rizzo after NatsFest and asked him about the rumor:

 

 

This was breaking news to a lot of Nationals fans.

 

 

 

 

 

It seems that Nats fans can have some relief.  The man who has traded Steve Lombardozzi, Zach Walters, Mike Morse, Tommy Milone, Matt Capps, Alex Meyer, and Cristian Guzman for Doug Fister, Asdrubal Cabrera, A.J. Cole, Gio Gonzalez, Wilson Ramos, Tanner Roark, and Denard Span will be staying here in DC.

Winners of My Gift Guide Giveaways and NEW Contest!

IMG_0006When I published my Holiday Gift Guide with recommendations for presents to buy for kids who like baseball, I also announced that I would be giving away some items from the gift guide.  I’m happy to announce the winners of the Giveaways from my Holiday Gift Guide. They are:

I will email the winners soon about how to get the prizes.

And now for a new Giveaway contest!

I also am excited to announce that I am giving away a Fathead decal with a value up to $100!
I included Fathead decals on my 2013 Gift Guide and 2014 Gift Guide because they are really cool.
CLICK HERE TO ENTER TO WIN THE FATHEAD GRAPHIC

You can get Fathead decals for all your favorite Nats, mascots, logos, and movie characters.

You can get Fathead decals for all your favorite Nats, mascots, logos, and movie characters.

(I am using a website called Rafflecopter to help run the giveaway)

Fathead LLC is the industry leader of graphics products for large & small spaces – led by authentic, officially licensed sports & entertainment graphics. Fathead gives fans the opportunity to feel passion For Real by bringing their favorite inspiration to life. Based in Detroit, Michigan, Fathead manufactures all products in the USA and Canada for purchase worldwide.  Fathead carries thousands of images and maintains over 500 license agreements with leading consumer brands across many industries and professional sports leagues.  For more information, visit www.Fathead.com.  Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Fathead. FOR REAL.™

 

“Microstras”: My Adventure Playing Xbox with Stephen Strasburg

IMG_3248Have you ever wondered what its like to play Xbox with Nationals fireballer (and famous gamer) Stephen Strasburg?  I was lucky enough to be one of the few Nats fans to have this cool experience when I went to the Microsoft Store opening at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda on November 22.  Two hundred lucky fans were allowed to take on Strasburg as part of the grand opening celebration, and Microsoft gave me a press pass to cover the event, interview Strasburg, and play game against him on Xbox.

The Microsoft Store chose the game.  We played Kinect Sports Rivals, a game that allows you to choose from a selection of sports game. The cool thing about Kinect is that you use your body to control the action, not a controller.  Stras and I played bowling. Here’s no surprise: he was very competitive.  I saw him throw down perfect strikes to kids younger than me.  That, too is no surprise, that Strasburg can throw strikes.

Strasburg was so fun to play against.  It was awesome to see the determination and effort he put into every game he played with the fans.  But here’s the surprising part of my day – I pulled out an unexpected win against him! He is well-known to be a huge fan of video games, so I was totally expecting that I would go in and lose big against him.

Stephen Strasburg and I "bowling" in a game of Kinect Sports Rivals on Xbox One.

Stephen Strasburg and I “bowling” in a game of Kinect Sports Rivals on Xbox One.

It made me feel so good to win. I definitely didn’t expect it! Stephen took the loss pretty well.  If you ever find your self playing Stras in Xbox, here’s a tip  – just stay calm. I did, and I won.

I asked him what skills video games can teach that can be useful in baseball and in life.  “Being able to talk to each other and collaborate and work together as a unit,” he said.  “Playing Call of Duty, playing online with my buddies, people I’ve played on teams with in the past, you have to rely on communication and teamwork to go out there and not get destroyed.”

I was really lucky we didn’t play Call Of Duty or some other action game Strasburg usually plays because then I definitely would have lost.  Strasburg definitely would have had the advantage if we played a driving game too.  I once played Forza 5 – I’ll just say that I owed a lot to the fake body shop.

In past seasons, Strasburg has brought his game system on the road with him.  “Last year I didn’t bring it. We have a little girl now and once you have kids you don’t play games as much. But before, I’d play games with the other players. We would play Tiger Woods… I hope there’s another PGA game coming out this year.”

 

The Bethesda Microsoft Store showed their dedication to the area by making technology grants to organizations like the Wounded Warriors Foundation, the YMCA Bethesda-Chevy Chase, the National 4-H Council, and the Imagination Stage, and others.  The store has a variety of Windows 8.1 laptops, desktops, tablets, Xbox One and Xbox 360 consoles, games, controllers, and Kinect sensors, Microsoft smart bands, and Windows phones with a improved camera and Cortana. photo4

Earlier that morning. they cut the ribbon and officially opened the store for business.  I happened to be the first non-Microsoft worker to set foot in the new store, which I think is amazing.

I took advantage of the store opening special to buy myself an Xbox 360 using my allowance money from taking in and out the trash cans each week.  They had Xboxes and Toshiba tablets on sale for only $99 that day!  Even at full price, the 4GB Xbox 360 costs only $199, and Microsoft’s newest system, Xbox One, is $399 (although both are on sale for the holidays).  I included them on my 2014 Holiday Gift Guide for Kids.  Microsoft Store manager Tiffany Traynum explained why the Xbox One makes a great gift for kids: “First of all, Kinect. You can also play online with your friends. You can access social media like Facebook. You can access your One Drive. You can even search the internet on Xbox One, so I think that makes it a wonderful gift for kids.”

Also as part of the store opening celebration, there were lots of raffle prizes.  Some people won an Xbox One, a Jambox, and lots of gift cards to the Microsoft Store.  I was lucky enough to win the one thing I wanted most: a signed Stephen Strasburg baseball!  Stras signed it right smack on the sweet spot!

It was an amazing way to open the Microsoft Store at Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. Definitely check it out next time you are in the area, although hanging out with Stephen Strasburg is not guaranteed to happen again!

IMG_3263

 If you’re still deciding what to buy the kids in your life for the holidays, check out my 2014 Holiday Gift Guide http://mattsbats.com/2014/11/26/black-friday-holiday-gift-guide-for-2014-slash-2015/.  I wrote it myself, so kids will definitely like it.  Also, I am giving away a lot of cool products.  The first round of giveaways is here: http://mattsbats.com/2014/11/28/giveaways-from-my-2014-holiday-gift-guide-for-kids/ and there are more to come!

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