June 2015

Baseball Summer Reading List for MattsBats.com

Imagine you as a kid, waiting for the bell to ring on the last day of school. In your head, you count down the time. 2:45, 2:46, 2:47 until the teacher assigns summer reading to the class. The class groans. Well, if your school year just ended and you did get assigned summer reading, I’m sorry.

I’ve decided to take the same concept and switch it up a little. Here is the MattsBats.com Baseball Summer Reading List! It is a list of books about baseball that I lover or that I will be reading this summer!

There are books on here for adults and kids.  So if you happen to be flying somewhere far away this summer or just sitting on the beach, here are a few books to check out.

HIT AND MISS- DEREK JETER AND PAUL MANTELL

hamHit And Miss is the 2nd book in Derek Jeter’s series for young readers. It is about a young Derek who meets a boy from Beverly Hills named Dave, who has a personal driver and a Mercedes, so everyone thinks he is a stuck-up rich kid. He turns out to be best friends with Derek. Buy your copy here.

 

 

TY COBB: A TERRIBLE BEAUTY- CHARLES LEERHSEN

tcAtb This book by former SI sportswriter Charlie Leerhsen is a biography on the Georgia Peach, Ty Cobb. This is a great biography on the league’s most interesting player ever. This is a book mainly for adults and asks whether Cobb’s reputation as a racist is true.  Click on the link above to learn more about Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty.

 

 

1 iut fr thor OUT AT HOME- CAL RIPKEN

Out At Home is a book by Cal Ripken about a guy named Zoom who is an arrogant player who tries to fit in with the rest of his team.  They try to defeat the mighty Yankees to win the championship and readers get to see a transformation in the main character.  It’s a great light reading book for kids.  Buy your copy at the link above.

 

THE CLOSER- MARIANO RIVERA

The Closer: My Story by former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is an autobiography of 1 mbMariano’s storied career as the closer for the New York Yankees, and the last active player in MLB to wear #42. It takes you through Mariano’s career through the Minors and as a fisherman in Puerto Caimito, Panama. There is also a children’s version, available here.

 

 

THE LAST NATURAL- ROB MIECH

TheLastNaturalThe Last Natural is a book by Rob Miech about Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and his journey as a baseball player at the College of Southern Nevada. Rob followed Bryce through his college years, so he was able to write about his baseball career and his personal life at the same time. Click on the link above for more details.

 

 

 BALLPARK MYSTERIES- DAVID A. KELLY

fenwayfoulup David A. Kelly writes a series called Ballpark Mysteries, where 2 kids named Mike and Kate go to different ballparks around the country to solve mysteries. Although the next book doesn’t come out until February 23, 2016 (The Rangers Rustlers), you can enjoy the other books. They are: The Fenway Foul-Up, The Pinstripe Ghost, The L.A. Dodger, The Astro Outlaw, The All-Star Joker, The Wrigley Riddle, The San Francisco Splash, The Missing Marlin, The Philly Fake, The Rookie Blue Jay, and The Tiger Troubles.

 

These books are some of my favorite baseball books. If you read them too, tweet me @MattsBats on Twitter and tell me what you think.  I hope you have a good summer!

Max Scherzer’s Near Perfect No-Hitter: Bring On The Chocolate Sauce!

scherzchocolatesauce Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer tossed a no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates yesterday.  It was amazing, because last week against the Brewers he went 7 innings without giving up a hit, and the only hit of the game was a blooper just over Anthony Rendon’s head that might have been catchable.

Yesterday, he was 1 strike away from perfection, as he had a 2-2 count on Jose Tabata. In a perfect game, a pitcher has 27 straight outs without allowing a batter to reach base.  That means no walks, errors, hit by pitch, just 27 up and 27 down.  Scherzer took his perfect game into the 9th inning with 2 outs.  The outcome was like the squirrel in the Phillies game this week– it all came falling down.

Tabata obviously leaned in on Scherzer’s slider and broke up his perfect game. As you can see in this Vine, it’s obvious that Tabata leaned in to get the HBP and end the bid for perfection.

Here are some thoughts about the historic almost perfect no-no:

  • In the last 57 batters faced (28 yesterday, 29 last week), Max Scherzer has only allowed 1 hit.  He has gotten 2 hits himself during that span. He’s had more hits than he’s allowed. 
  • Jordan Zimmermann, who threw a no-no to end the 2014 season, doused Scherzer with chocolate sauce during the postgame interviews. Anthony Rendon did the Gatorade, and Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth dumped more chocolate sauce on him. Werth hit sideline reporter Dan Kolko with sauce too– read about Kolko’s reaction to getting doused in my Matt’s Bats Chat with him.

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  • Scherzer’s no-hitter put the Nats back in first place in the NL East. 
  • This was Scherzer’s third complete game.  His second was last week.  His first was last year.In both Jordan Zimmermann and Max Scherzer’s no hitters, the second out of the 9th was caught by the centerfielder and the third was caught by the left fielder.
  • The last perfect game in MLB history was thrown by Felix Hernandez in 2012.  Armando Gallarraga almost threw a perfect game in 2010, but umpire Jim Joyce called the 27th batter safe at first when he was actually out.  He later apologized for the missed call that broke up the perfect game and no-hitter.  This led to baseball adopting instant replay.
  • I asked on Twitter who Nats fans are going to hate more: Jose Tabata for breaking up the perfect game by leaning into the pitcher, or Pete Kozma, who scored the go-ahead run against the Nats in the 2012 NLDS.  My readers overwhelmingly picked Kozma, mainly because the stakes were higher in the playoff game.  Still, 8 people thought Tabata is the bigger jerk.
  • The Pirates gave Scherzer and the Nationals a nice tip of the cap on Twitter

 

  • Do you think Tabata, who’s in the starting lineup, or the best Pirates player, Andrew McCutchen, will get intentionally hit by the Nats today?  I don’t think he should. Read why here.
  • Can you imagine what the reaction would be like if Bryce Harper broke up a perfect game by leaning into a pitch?  Baseball would be going crazy with the hate! #OverHated
  • This was the 5th no hitter in WSH/MON franchise history.
  • After almost pitching a no-hitter last week, and almost pitching a perfect game this week, what is he going to do his next start? Will he be the next Johnny Van Der Meer (the only pitcher in MLB history to throw back to back no-hitters) and throw 2 straight no hitters?  Will he pitch an immaculate game– 27 straight strikeouts?  Or maybe a 27-pitch perfect game!

 

The Washington Nationals’ Triple Crown Winners

This was originally published yesterday on MASNsports.com  To see all of the posts I have written for MASN, visit my Archive.

If you’re like me, you were glued to the TV on Saturday evening, watching the Belmont Stakes to see American Pharoah win the Triple Crown. In horse racing, the Triple Crown means that a horse wins the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes in the same year. American Pharoah was the first Triple Crown winner since a horse named Affirmed did it in 1978. American Pharoah’s win on Saturday ended a 37-year drought for thoroughbred racing’s biggest prize. (It was also more fun to watch than the Nationals games this weekend.)

The race got me thinking about another hard to achieve prize – baseball’s Triple Crown. In baseball, winning the Triple Crown means leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs. The last major leaguer to win the hitting Triple Crown was Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012. Miggy was the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years. He was the first to do it since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

There’s also a lesser-known Triple Crown for pitching. To win that, a pitcher needs to lead the league in ERA, wins and strikeouts. The last time there was a pitching triple crown was in 2011, and it was shared by Detroit’s Justin Verlander and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.

As the Nationals celebrate their 10 year anniversary, are there any players in Nationals history good enough to be declared Triple Crown winners? I looked at the players over the 10-year history of the Nats who had at least one year playing with the team.

When it comes to batting stats, we have a clear Triple Crown winner – Ryan Zimmerman. The Nationals’ face of the franchise, Zimmerman leads all of the Nationals in all three hitting categories, and like American Pharoah, he wins this category by several lengths. Over the course of Zimmerman’s career, his batting average is .282, he’s driven in 744 RBIs, and hit 189 homers. So far this year, he is batting .213 (well below his career average), and has five home runs and 34 RBIs. He averages about 24 homers and 96 RBIs a year over his career, so about one-third of the way into the 2015 season, he’s a little behind pace there, too.

Zimmerman leads the Nationals in almost every career hitting category. He has the most runs scored, highest slugging percentage, most hits, longest hitting streak and most extra base hits. He has the most career home runs in Nationals history, and also most singles and doubles. The record for most triples, interestingly, belongs to Cristian Guzman, with 28.

When it comes to pitching, there is no single player who wins the ERA, strikeout and wins categories. Jordan Zimmermann wins in two categories, and Stephen Strasburg wins in one, but it is a very close race.

Zimmermann has the most wins of any pitcher in Nationals history with 62. Strasburg has 46. Zimmermann easily wins this leg of the Triple Crown.

On the other hand, Strasburg leads in strikeouts, with 791. Zimmermann is right behind with 787. It’s Strasburg by a nose!

At the end of last season, Strasburg led the ERA category with a career average of 3.02. This year, however, his ERA is up to 6.55, which increased his career number to 3.25. Zimmermann now sports a slightly better 3.23 ERA. This category is also a photo finish!

Keep in mind that Zimmermann joined the Nats a year earlier than Strasburg, and has pitched 38 more games in his career than Strasburg. Zimmermann came back from his Tommy John surgery before Strasburg went on the DL for his. The comparison between them may be a little bit unfair, then. Although it’s not part of the Triple Crown,

Zimmermann did pitch the first no-hitter in Nats history, so he gets a special recognition for that achievement.

It’s easy to declare Zimmerman the American Pharoah of the Nationals. The race for the pitching Triple Crown is a very close one between Zimmermann and Strasburg, and it will be interesting to see which horse wins.

First Time At Fenway!

IMG_4200As many of you know, I visited Boston, Massachusetts over Memorial Day Weekend. I had a great experience at Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox since 1912. It is the oldest baseball stadium in the MLB. Keep reading to see some of the pictures and hear about my amazing encounters with Mike Trout, Hanley Ramirez, Mike Napoli and others.

Before I tell you about my experience, I’ll tell you about the history of Fenway Park.  James E. McLaughlin, a builder from Boston, Massachusetts, got a plot of land in between Ipswich and Lansdowne streets in downtown Boston to build a ballpark in 1911.  Construction finished in 1912.  Now, 103 years later, Fenway Park is one of the most popular spaces in Boston.   The Red Sox won the World Series in the first year they played at Fenway Park, then not again for 86 years, in 2004, the year I was born.

The largest crowds in Fenway History came not in 2013 (when almost 37,500 fans watched the Sox win the World Series), but in 1914, when 50,000 people came to watch three elephants parade though the streets on their way to the Franklin Park Zoo!

IMG_4229One of the most unique parts of Fenway Park is the Green Monster, the highest wall in a MLB ballpark.  It is 37 feet tall and 240 feet long and looms over left field.  Balls hit off the Green Monster are in play, so you’ll often see outfielders set themselves up to play the ball off the bounce.

The Green Monster holds the only ladder on a major league field of play and a manual scoreboard. For the first 91 years of Fenway Park, you couldn’t sit on the Green Monster, but starting in 2003 you can now sit and watch a game from seats built into the top.  For die-hard Sox fans, you can actually buy the exact same paint they use at Fenway at Benjamin Moore stores in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

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The deepest part of Fenway Park is in straight-away centerfield, at 420 feet from home plate. Fenway is tied with Comerica Park in Detroit for the 2nd longest distance from home plate to center field, more than Marlins Park in Miami and 15 feet smaller than Minute Maid Park in Houston.

A lot of people compare Fenway to America’s other iconic baseball stadium, Wrigley Field, which I visited last year on its 100th anniversary. Fenway has the Green Monster, but Wrigley has the ivy covering their brick outfield walls.  I think Fenway has a little more charm to it, but maybe that’s because they’ve spent a lot of money renovating it and making it a comfortable place to watch games.  They have built in displays of memorabilia in the walls, so you can learn about things at the game.

One of the museum-like displays around Fenway Park.

One of the museum-like displays around Fenway Park.

Wrigley is starting to go under construction now, so it’s probably more fair to compare Fenway to Wrigley in a few years from now.  Wrigley has added a couple of videoboards, but Fenway added three jumbotrons in 2011.

Now, let me tell you a little more about my amazing day.  We got to the stadium about 4 hours before the game because the Red Sox left pre-game field passes for me.  First, though, we walked around the ballpark and took pictures.  We went to the top of the Green Monster and went in the seats up there. I tweeted it to #myFenway and my picture ended up on the Fenway Park videoboard during the game.

I also sat in the red seat in right field, which is where Ted Williams hit the longest home run in the history of Fenway Park. 

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Then we went down to the field in the nearly-empty stadium.  It was really cool that I was stepping on the same dirt that Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and George Herman “Babe” Ruth stood on in years past.  There were tour groups that were there for the majority of BP. If you ever visit Boston, you can join a Tour Group that gets you on the field and up to the Green Monster.

Some highlights from batting practice: Mike Napoli tossed me a baseball, which I later got Hanley Ramirez to sign when he was mingling with the fans.  That night during the game, Napoli hit 2 home runs.  Ramirez didn’t hit any during the game, but during BP he hit a series of humongous homers, some of them clearing the Green Monster and landing on Landsdowne Street.

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While the Angels were taking BP, bench coach Dino Ebel came over to the sidelines.  I saw he was holding Albert Pujols’ glove, and he let me try it on.  Pujols is a future Hall of Famer, so this was an incredible opportunity.

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The biggest highlight was when one of the best players in baseball, Angels outfielder Mike Trout, came over to me to sign autographs. I was lucky enough to get his signature on my baseball, and I was really excited.

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I also got to meet the broadcasters for that day’s game, Joe Buck and Harold Reynolds. They were both interested in hearing about my blog.

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Around 7:15pm, the game started.  We had fantastic seats, thanks to a family friend. Four of them were right in front of the on-deck circle– Section 34 Row 1–and the other 4 were near the batters box in the front row– Section 38. It is so awesome sitting so close.  David Ortiz photobombed us in the background! I got another baseball from sitting so close.  We were on TV a bunch of times, and it was a nationally-televised Fox game.

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It was also a good game.  Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun opened the scoring with a double off the Green Monster, scoring Albert Pujols and Erick Aybar in the 1st inning off Boston’s knuckleballer Steven Wright. But in the 2nd, Mike Napoli cut the lead in half with a liner over the wall for a home run. The funniest part is that the ball landed just short of a sign that said “HIT IT HERE”.

The view from our seats

The view from our seats

The next inning, Shane Victorino was pulled out of the game with an injury, and Mookie Betts replaced him. Betts singled in a run.

There wasn’t any more scoring until the 6th inning, when Mike Napoli creamed a CJ Wilson pitch over the Green Monster and onto Landsdowne Street for a huge homer. That was his second of the game.  After the home team homers, the John Hancock sign above the videoboard in straightaway centerfield blinks and is lit up.

In the middle of the 8th inning, the Red Sox play Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. The lyrics have nothing to do with baseball, but it became a Fenway tradition to sing in the 8th inning.

The Red Sox didn’t end there, getting RBI hits from Xander Bogaerts, Blake Swihart, and more from Mookie Betts.  Mike Trout also recorded an RBI. The final score after Koji Uehara struck out Johnny Giavotella was Red Sox 8, Angels 3. Knuckleballer Steven Wright got his 2nd win and C.J. Wilson got his 3rd loss. Alexi Ogando got his 4th hold. There was no save situation.

I want to thank the Red Sox and Abby from the Media Relations department for giving me this opportunity to go on the field at Fenway Park.  I also want to thank our friends who got us the tickets. It made a special day much better.  I felt like a superstar, and it wasn’t just because a lady asked me to autograph a ball for her!

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This is the 11th MLB ballpark I’ve visited.  Fenway Park may not contend with the exterior beauty of places like PNC Park in Pittsburgh or AT&T Park in San Francisco.  It may not have as many activities as Petco Park in San Diego, and certainly is not as modern as Marlins Park in Miami.  But it is definitely one of the best places in the world to watch a baseball game and feel both a part of the history and all the conveniences of the 21st century.  I am glad that I had a great experience at a great ballpark, and got to see the home team win.