What the 2016 Nationals Should Learn from the 2015-16 Capitals

ovi499goalDuring the baseball off-season, I have been paying attention to the Washington Capitals.  If you don’t follow hockey, the Caps are the team to beat in the NHL. They are currently a whopping 15 points ahead of the second-place New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division.  Every sports fan dreams of their team having a season like the one the Caps are having right now, especially in Washington, where it’s been one Bryce Harper-lifetime since the city has won a major sports championship (Washington Redskins 1992 Super Bowl). Just like in baseball, there is a DC-New York rivalry in hockey the past couple of seasons.  As the Capitals contend for this year’s Stanley Cup, I have been wondering how can our beloved Nationals be more like the Capitals in the 2016 MLB season.

Well, one thing the Caps are doing well this year is scoring, obviously. The Caps have the highest goals scored per game rate (3.32) in the NHL.  Similarly, the Nats did fine scoring last year.  They were third in the National League in total runs scored (703), and averaged 4.41 runs per game (compared to the Mets’ 4.23).  Where they need to play more like the Capitals is in defense.  The Capitals have given up the fewest goals in the NHL, and are about 30% below the league average in goals against.  Compare the 2015 Nationals, who gave up many late innings runs.  Over the season, they gave up more runs than they scored.  The bullpen blew 23 saves, which resulted in a below-league-average 64% save percentage. That’s why the Nats totally remade their bullpen this off-season, taking four guys off the roster and bringing in four new players.  On the field, the team committed a huge number of errors (90), and to the eye didn’t really command the field like they did in prior years.  You need to score runs to win games, but your defense has to be good enough to not let your opponent score more than you.

I am a fan of the additions the Nationals made to the team: Shawn Kelley, Trevor Gott, Oliver Perez, and Yusmeiro Petit to replace Drew Storen and Craig Stammen (both of whom I hated to see go), Casey Janssen, and Matt Thornton in the bullpen.  I’m especially optimistic about Petit.  In 2013, as a Giant, Petit came one out away from a no-hitter. He also got the win in the crazy Giants-Nats 18 inning postseason game in 2014, with a 6 inning performance, shutting down the Nats.

In terms of other off-season moves, I expect that when Danny Espinosa moves over to shortstop we’ll see errors decrease.  I like the addition of Daniel Murphy (not my first choice due to his defensive weakness) and Stephen Drew as left handed bats in the lineup. Ben Revere gives the Nats a solid outfielder who can play everywhere.  In the starting rotation, the Nats lost Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, but they added Bronson Arroyo and his crazy leg-kick, who I think has a good chance of making the team.  Tanner Roark will probably get a nod in the starting rotation.

So how’s this for a lineup:

Revere/Taylor

Rendon

Harper

Zimmerman

Werth

Murphy

Espinosa

Ramos/Lobaton

Pitcher

I think that the Nationals are a playoff contender again this year.

Last year, the baseball team from New York took the NL East and eventually made it to the World Series.  And in the hockey world last year, the New York Rangers won the Metropolitan Division and made it to the third round Eastern Conference Finals.  Look how 2016 is already shaping up: the Caps are ahead of New York Rangers in the Metropolitan, and I expect the same from the Nationals over the Mets this season.  Pitchers and catchers is only 16 days away!

My Top 5 Favorites From Nationals Winterfest

2015-12-11 Natsfest

The Washington Nationals introduced something new this season- a two-day holiday-themed fan fest called WinterFest. That means that there was double the activities and double the fun! The Nats also introduced some new games, like the “Slider” which is basically a tubing slide, and the “Snowball Run” which is where you run in a large inflatable ball. I have some personal favorites from this year’s WinterFest, and I want to tell you about them. I think that the Nationals did a great job with Winterfest this year, and I especially like the new 2-day setup.  I attended the first day with my family and the second day with a friend’s family.

So without further adieu, here are my to 5 faves from Nats Winterfest!

5. Baseball Exhibit

The Nationals brought some items originally shown at the Nats at 10 exhibit at the Newseum. For people who did not get the chance to visit the Newseum when the exhibit was open, the Nationals let the people have an opportunity to see the historical baseball artifacts. Also, the exhibit had New Era hats from each minor league team in the US and Canada. I liked the Everett AquaSox hat.  Minor league teams have such great names and logos.  I also liked the Vermont Lake Monsters and Las Vegas 51s.

4. 2-Day Format

The new 2-day format of Winterfest made it so much less crowded and nice to visit. In past years, when there was only 1 day of NatsFest, there were much more people on that day, therefore making it a hour investment to get an autograph. It was much nicer with an emptier Convention Center, and made it more enjoyable for the fans.

3. Season Ticket Holder Autograph Session

Before Nats Winterfest started, the team allowed 2015 Season Ticket Holders to get autographs from their favorite Nats stars. We were lucky enough to get Stephen Strasburg, Matt Grace, Oliver Perez, Shawn Kelley, Mike Rizzo, Dan Kolko, and new pitching coach Mike Maddux’s autographs. While there was a long line to get the autographs, it was really cool that the Nats did the autographs for STHs this year.

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2. Snowball Run The Nationals designated an area for the “Snowball Run” this year. The Snowball Run is where you get into a giant inflatable ball that looks like a snowball. You could walk or run in the snowball, making it really fun for everyone. The main target for this event was children, and if you saw the line, you could tell that it was doing its job. Conveniently, it was located close to the kids area, batting cage, video pitch tracker, carnival game, and Stage, so it was easy to get to.

Before we get to my number 1, I wanted to remind you that there is still time left to enter the final round of FREE GIVEAWAYS from my 2015 Holiday Gift Guide.  You win get cool things like toys, books and a personalized Louisville Slugger bat.

1. Lip Sync Battle I mean, who attended Nats Winterfest and DIDN’T watch this! It was hilarious seeing the players lip sync to different songs, and it was nice that the players got to pick fans to lip sync with them. For instance, on Saturday, Anthony Rendon put on a great performance of “Bad To The Bone,” and on Sunday, Bryce Harper serenaded a young fan while singing “My Girl.” But the funniest performance was also by Harper and the rest of his team. He sang “Wannabe” by The Spice Girls, which made it amusing to watch. I think that this takes the cake, without a doubt.

Now, this was REALLY the best part of Nationals WinterFest:

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Listen to what it sounds like:

 

Check out some selfies below I took with some of the players after the event.

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MORE Giveaways From the 2015 Holiday Gift Guide!

With just a few shopping days left before Christmas, you may still be wondering what to get for the baseball fan in your life.  That’s where my 2015 Gift Guide comes in. There are lots of great ideas for kids and adults.

A couple of weeks ago, I ran some giveaways for some of the items on my gift guide.  Now, I have a few more things to give away, including a personalized Louisville Slugger bat! So if you missed out on the giveaways the first time or didn’t win anything last time around, you have a second chance to win these awesome prizes and gifts. So here is the 2nd round of the giveaways!

SECOND CHANCE- MAP YOUR TRAVELS POSTER

mapyourtravelsThe Map Your Travels poster was the most popular giveaway item the first round, getting almost 100 entries! I have a couple more more to give away. The Map Your Travels MLB Ballparks Map is a map where you can mark every stadium in the MLB you’ve been to. If you have a traveler who is also a big baseball fan, this is absolutely the most perfect gift to get them! Enter the giveaway today by using the giveaway code BALLPARKCLICK HERE TO ENTER THE RAFFLE.

 

SECOND CHANCE- SMARTY MARTY BOOK and SCOREBOOK

For any young basesmartymartyball fan wanting to know how to score the game, the Smarty Marty book and scorebook is the perfect gift. Written by the San Francisco Giants reporter Amy Gutierrez (“Amy G”), it gives kids a real-life example of a kid learning how to score a baseball game. The book was also a very popular giveaway last time and one of my favorite things on the Gift Guide, and you can take home an autographed book today by using the giveaway code SCORINGCLICK HERE TO ENTER THE RAFFLE.

 

SECOND CHANCE- OYO MINIFIGURE

OyoThe ultimate stocking stuffer, you can take home a minifigure of the hottest stars from MLB and other college and professional sports. You can build football fields, hockey rinks, baseball diamonds, and much, much more. I think that Oyo minifigures are a great gift for the aspiring architect. Sets are affordable, and they fit in the stocking. But you can enter to get one of the MLB’s best FOR FREE! Just use the giveaway code MINIFIGURE and enter to win one– your choice of Mike Trout or Buster PoseyCLICK HERE TO ENTER THE RAFFLE.

SECOND CHANCE- SPORTS ILLUSTRATED COOKBOOK

SIThe Sports Illustrated “Food, Football, and Fun” cookbook is a great resource to use when you are stumped on what to make for dinner one night. It uses sports themed recipes, like football shaped whoopie pies. If you know anyone who loves to support their team and loves to cook, enter the raffle for this cookbook. I guarantee that the results will be scrumptious! Use the code RECIPE to enter.  CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE RAFFLE.

 

NEW!- LOUISVILLE SLUGGER PERSONALIZED BAT

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Maybe I saved the best for last.  If you win this raffle, you get a CUSTOM Louisville Slugger wood bat, personalized the way you’d like!  Kids and baseball fans everywhere dream of being like Major Leaguers and having their names or signatures on Louisville Slugger bats. That’s why giving a personalized Louisville Slugger bat this holiday season is the perfect gift.  They make great focal points in offices, dens, bedrooms and man-caves.  Enter to win using the giveaway code SLUGGER, and you can win a one-of-a-kind bat to have.  You may not want to take your personalized bat to the cages, and that’s where you may want to invest in the Louisville Slugger Youth 2016 Prime 916 Baseball Bat.  It’s a powerful bat designed for the best amateur players.  CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE RAFFLE.

I hope you enjoyed these giveaways, and good luck! Thank you to all the companies that sponsored giveaways on my gift guide, like Louisville Slugger, New Era Caps, Franklin Sports, OYO Sports, Map Your Travels, SI Kids, and author Amy Gutierrez.

Check out all my recommended gifts for the 2015 Holiday season.   And there are more great items on my 2014 Gift Guide and 2013 Gift GuideClicking on the links not only helps show the companies that you like my recommendations, but it helps me too!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Raffles for all giveaways listed on this page start on 12/17/15 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 must be willing to pay S&H costs if alternative delivery cannot be arranged.  Delivery before Christmas 2015 is not guaranteed and unlikely.  There is no affiliation with MLBAM or MLB.com.  If you have any questions, contact us. Other giveaways via Twitter.

My Coverage of the Presidential Medal Of Freedom Ceremony

IMG_5413Last week, I had one of the most amazing experiences since I started MattsBats.com.  I had the chance to visit the White House to attend the Presidential Medal of Freedom award ceremony as part of the press pool.  On November 24, 2015, President Barack Obama awarded the medal to 17 Americans who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.  I was invited to cover the event because the President awarded the Medal of Freedom to baseball Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Yogi Berra, who died in September.

Willie Howard Mays, Jr. was born in segregated Alabama in 1931.  He made his major league debut in 1951, and became one of the best baseball players in history.  President Obama said, “we never saw an all-around five tool player like Willie before and haven’t seen one since.” He stepped into the history books as a 2-time MVP, with 660 career home runs, a .302 lifetime batting average, 12 Gold Glove awards, and 24 All Star appearances.  In awarding the medal to Mays, President Obama said: “It’s because of giants like Willie that I even thought about running for president.”

Mays

Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra was one of our country’s most beloved and memorable sports heroes. “What could be said about Yogi Berra that he couldn’t say better himself?” President Obama remarked.  He was one of the greatest catchers in the history of baseball and had “the winningest career in the history of American sports.”  He was a 15-time All Star, winner of 10 World Series championships, and a three-time league MVP.  He is also a veteran of the U.S. Navy during WWII.  He fought on D-Day at Omaha Beach and came home with a Purple Heart.  President Obama presented Yogi’s award to his son Larry.

Berra

In addition to Mays and Berra, this year’s awardees included: Bonnie Carroll (founder of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS), Shirley Chisholm (posthumous) (first African-American woman elected to Congress), Emilio Estefan (music producer), Gloria Estefan (Latin music singer), Billy Frank, Jr (posthumous) (advocate for Native American treaty rights), Lee Hamilton (former Indiana representative), Katherine G. Johnson (NASA mathematician), Barbara Mikulski (longest serving female senator) (Maryland), Itzhak Pearlman (violinist), William Ruckelshaus (environmentalist), Stephen Sondheim (composer), Steven Spielberg (movie director), Barbra Streisand (singer and actress), James Taylor (singer), and Minori Yasui (posthumous) (human rights leader).

ceremony

 

Now, let me let you in on what it’s like to go to the White House as credentialed media for an event like this.

The event did not start until 5:00p.m., but you obviously need to be there early.  I left school very early: at 11:50 a.m. After running home and getting dressed in a suit, my mom and I hopped on the Metro to head downtown to the White House.

IMG_5380We arrived at the Northwest gate of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue a little before 2:00 p.m., which was the time press could start pre-set.  The Secret Service checked our IDs and made sure we were on the list, and then we had our bags screened and walked through a metal detector like at an airport.

Once we were through security, we walked on the driveway to a courtyard between the West Wing and the Residence. While on that walk, we saw the stations where the cameras and news reporters are stationed to report from the North Lawn.

While waiting there, we saw the most famous dogs in America, Bo and Sunny! They were coming in after their walk.

 

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When all the press members arrived, we went up into the White House, through the front door.  We made a left into the East Room so all the reporters could claim a spot and set up equipment.

After that, we went to the Press Briefing Room to wait while the White House staff got the room ready for the event.  To get there, we walked back outside the White House.  It’s along the corridor connecting the Residence to the West Wing.  The Briefing Room is the room you see when President Obama or White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest is giving a press conference on television.

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We were waiting in the Press Briefing Room for a while and decided to explore.  Located behind the room are puny offices for the White House Press Corps.  There are also some vending machines there. It was very cool to see behind the scenes of how news is made. Everyone was really nice to me and showed me around the space.

After waiting for a while, they called for us to return to the East Room.  We entered the White House again, this time to music played by the White House Marine Band. Guests trickled in, including some famous guests like will.i.am, James Brolin, former attorney general Eric Holder, Rep. Steny Hoyer, DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, and former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who has a cane made out of a baseball bat.  At around 5:10, the honorees were introduced, followed by a sudden crescendo in the music. Hail to the Chief started playing.  Everyone stood up, and President Obama and Michelle Obama entered the room.  He welcomed the crowd and spoke.

I knew about some of the honorees, like Berra, Mays, and Spielberg, before, but I had never heard about people like Shirley Chisholm, Katherine Johnson and Minori Yasui. When President Obama introduced them and spoke about their lives and accomplishments, it was so interesting. Each person who received the award did something really great to help our country.

After the ceremony, some of the honorees came over to the press for interviews. I was hoping to be able to see Willie Mays, but unfortunately, he went home early so I didn’t get the chance to interview him. But I was able to take a picture with Steven Spielberg, and get close to some of the other award recipients, including Barbara Streisand, James Taylor and Itzhak Pearlman.

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The whole ceremony lasted about a hour.  When it was over, the invited guests stayed for a reception, and the Marine band played music relevant to the honorees, like the theme song from E.T. and Don’t Rain on My Parade.  They took the members of the press out of the building through a back way out the East Wing.  We saw a portrait of Hillary Clinton and a bust of Henry Clay, yes, made out of clay.

It was really amazing being able to take in this ceremony firsthand from the historic East Room of the White House and to be in the same room as some of the most famous and celebrated Americans in politics, music, sports and science.

LansdowneBONUS COOL FACT: In the East Room, there is a famous portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart called the Lansdowne Portrait. When I saw it, I recognized it and asked my mom if that was the original. She said yes because it’s hanging in the White House!  Well, later that week, we went to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. While walking through the Presidents exhibit, we saw the exact same portrait of Washington! I was confused. How could it be in two places? Here’s the explanation: The National Portrait Gallery has the real, original one, not the White House!  My mom was wrong.  The one at the White House is a replica, but painted by the same artist. There are, in fact, more replicas by Stuart in the Old State House in Hartford, Connecticut and the Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts Museum in Philadelphia. Also, copies not painted by Stuart are located at the US House Chamber and the Rayburn room of the Capitol. How can you tell the copies from the original?  “In the copies, the book at the lower left hand of the picture has “UNITED STATES” intentionally misspelled as “UNITED SATES.” I wish I had known that when I was in the White House so I could check it out for myself!

2015 Holiday Gift Guide (with Free Giveaways to Win!)

UPDATED (12/17/15): CLICK HERE for the Second Round of Raffles

I am excited to reveal my Holiday Gift Guide for 2015-2016!

mattsbatslogo-hiresEvery 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

OyoWhat 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!

bobblehouseHere’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

DesmondtweetAsk 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 CapHere’s a raffle to win one of the 2-tone fitted caps using the giveaway code CAPS.

FranklinFor 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

mapyourtravelsKnow 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.

MaxisPlay 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.

BOOKS

grindMajor 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.

smartymartyFor 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 smartymarty2has 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:

cobbThe 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…

 

MISCELLANEOUS

fireThis 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.

newseumOne 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.

President Obama Awards Medal of Freedom to Willie Mays

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.”

MaysI will have more about this amazing experience tonight in a later post.

Live blogging from White House

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   
 

Live Today from the White House!

DSC_0225The 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.

My Recent Diagnosis

IMG_4347I 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.

 

Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes from Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund (jdrf.org)

Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes from Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund (jdrf.org)

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.

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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.

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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.

3rd Annual Bob Feller Act of Valor Award Honors Jonathan Lucroy, George Brett, and Many Others

Screen_LucroyOn 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. MitchellIt was so exciting to be there again this year (also be sure to check out the posts from 2013 and 2014).

Lasorda

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.

AWARD WINNERS

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.

Lucroy

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.

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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.

Segura

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/

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