Derek Jeter is known not only for his skills on the baseball diamond, but also for his smooth, even-keeled demeanor.  The New York Yankees captain stayed cool as a cucumber during his recent appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.  

Jeter, who is back on the disabled list, spent two segments on the show discussing his battle with the injury bug, funny stories about he and Fallon (it looks like the two are buddies in “real life”) and he even addressed teammate Alex Rodriguez’s steroids scandal.  The interview segment is must-see TV for any sports fan.

One bit in particular had Jeter cracking up and the studio audience going wild.  Yes, Jimmy (a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan) and The Roots gave Jeter a few suggestions for a new at-bat song.  The schtick had Derek Jeter Number Two being introduced with the classic Bob Sheppard recording before he promptly walked up to home plate in the middle of the Late Night stage as The Roots and Jimmy played each ditty.   

The fact that Jeter agreed to appear on the show when A) the Yankees are having a bad season B) he’s injured and C) A-Rod and a few of his other teammates are swimming in scandal, is really impressive.  Most celebrities pull out of public appearances when faced with far less controversy than that.  

Jeter’s alleged parting gifts for lady friends gave him first-ballot entry into the Cool Athletes Hall of Fame, so this Late Night appearance is just bonus points.  

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If there’s one thing minor league baseball is good for, it’s hilarious ballpark promotions.  

The San Francisco Giants AA affiliate Flying Squirrels (located in Richmond, VA) is getting in on the fun with “Salute to Scandal” night during the Squirrels home game against the Portland Sea Dogs, a Boston Red Sox affiliate.  

What exactly does this “salute” entail? $1 hot dogs at the ballpark’s concession stands.

Why hot dogs, you ask?  Allow this press release from the team website to explain…

“‘Scandal night is meant to be a fun, tongue in cheek night and what hotter of a scandal right now than Anthony Weiner,’ said Flying Squirrels Vice President and COO Todd “Parney” Parnell. ‘His scandal just couldn’t have come at a better time in regards to the Flying Squirrels promotional calendar.’”

The fun doesn’t end with dollar wieners though does it?  Oh no, absolutely not.  

"Fans in attendance will be invited that night to tweet pictures enjoying their $1 hot dogs to @GoSquirrels for the chance to win prizes. Other select fans will be invited to participate in contests between innings that pay tribute to certain celebrities who have been in the spotlight for their scandals. Some examples include the “Brett Favre Football Throw” and the “Tiger Woods Closest to the Pin Challenge”. To end the night with a bang, the Flying Squirrels will have a postgame fireworks extravaganza courtesy of Coventry Health Care and Your Local Ford Dealers.”

To end the night with a bang… of course.  

I salute you, Flying Squirrels, primarily because the flying squirrel has to be one of the top five coolest animals on earth, but also, for your creativity in bringing inappropriate debauchery into the family-friendly, wholesome happening that is minor league baseball.  Bravo.  

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The personality and intrinsically entertaining human being that is Ozzie Guillen tweeted an interesting photo Sunday.  The Miami Marlins manager posted the pic (above) of he and his wife having dinner in Madrid with some friends.  The caption reads, “dinner in madrid yes we having good time, stanton, ricky and petey. cenando en madrid que bueno.”

Ozzie’s three pals are Giancarlo Stanton, Ricky Nolasco and Bryan Petersen, who just happen to be players on the Marlins’ roster.  How many times have you seen a coach or manager either vacationing with his or her players, or meeting up with them for dinner while abroad?

After I saw this tweet, the story below seemed less shocking. 

One of the several issues plaguing the Marlins concerned pitcher Heath Bell, who was none to pleased with a lot of things in Miami.  The Marlins unloaded Bell, shipping him off to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and seemingly with barely both feet out the door, the Miami Herald published these secrets from the inside:

"Unhappy with his diminished role, the bitter Bell was openly critical of pitching coach Randy St. Claire, the training staff, Marlins catchers, sportswriters, and even the Showtime production crew that filmed The Franchise. Bell said he was portrayed too negatively during the reality series.

"For the Marlins, the final straw might have come the final week of the season when Bell, in a live radio interview, said it was "hard to respect" manager Ozzie Guillen.

"The following day, Bell’s teammates, in a show of support for Guillen, turned on the manager’s weekly radio show inside the clubhouse, raised the volume, and made Bell listen to Guillen state that he no longer respected Bell "as a person."

Upon reading this anecdote, I was immediately transported back to the 8th grade where stuff like this happened all of the time.  Picking sides, bullying, humiliating your peers, etc.

I’m not saying Bell is a nice guy who got the shaft in this situation, but that sure seemed like a catty move for a group of adult men.  Then again, pro athletes as a whole, aren’t necessarily considered the most mature population segment of adult society. 

But this begs an important question.  Should a manager or coach be that close to his or her players? Can you properly discipline your employees and garner respect while on or close to their “level?” 

In Ozzie’s first season as manager, the Marlins finished dead last in the NL East with a 69-93 record and 19 games back of the division-winning Nationals. 

Yikes.

In my few stints as a manager, I found the line between friend and boss incredibly difficult to draw since I really liked most of my employees and considered them friends.  Depending on each individual, some listen to you and do what you ask as their boss because they respect you as a friend, while others do the opposite, undermining your authority because they consider you an equal. 

Terry Francona did the impossible, breaking the curse and bringing multiple World Championships to Boston.    Once his tenure as Red Sox skipper came to an end, various reports revealed that he had allegedly become so close with his players that he rarely disciplined the group when necessary and because of that, he “lost” the team.

Could Ozzie’s close-knit relationship with his players be one of the many reasons why the Marlins absolutely sucked last season?  I don’t know the answer, but I think it is a topic worth exploring. 


The Kings went from trying to make happy history by winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in the franchise’s 45-year existence to possibly ending up on the wrong side of history with a hockey collapse of epic proportion. 

In a seven-game series, a 3-0 lead looks insurmountable regardless of the sport.  A deficit of that magnitude has never been overcome in an NBA playoff series.  The Boston Red Sox were the first to break the barrier in their legendary ALCS win against the New York Yankees en route to the World Series title in 2004. 

Compared to baseball and hoops, Hockey teams are entitled to have hope when down 0-3, albeit just a tiny sliver.  Three times in NHL playoff history has a team climbed out of the huge 3-0 hole to win the series.

As a No. 8 seed ripping through the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Kings have not only taken the hockey community by surprise, but it’s own home city of Los Angeles has been transformed from a collection of beach-going basketball and baseball fans to a population of people warmly embracing the cold ice of hockey along with the excitement and edge the fight for the Cup creates. 

Winning 10 consecutive road games in this year’s playoffs (12 dating back to last season) en route to series victories over the 1, 2 and 3 seeds out West had the media and most fans crowning the Kings invincible heading into the Cup Finals against the also surprising New Jersey Devils.

Beating the Devils twice in Jersey only continued the clamor for the Kings, despite both games being decided in overtime and the Devils actually outplaying L.A. in Game 2.  But Game 3 in L.A. was all Kings as the home team crushed the visiting Devils 4-0 making the sweep look pretty realistic. 

The Kings had twice led three games to none in these playoffs and lost the fourth game at home, so it shouldn’t have shocked anybody that a desperate Devils team staved elimination with a Game 4 victory, sweeping the brooms aside.  But the Kings are better on the road than on home ice making a Game 5 win all the more difficult for the Devils.

The Kings have vastly improved over the last few months (after a trade and coaching change) as the players have become so in synch with each other that L.A.’s lines seem to move in flawless formations with each man knowing exactly what each of his teammates is doing and where on the ice he’s doing it. 

L.A. has won games while being outplayed because the Kings players have consistently been in the right place at the right time for rebounds, redirects and deflections near the net, on faceoffs, etc.  Despite playing extremely well in Game 5, the Kings lacked their usual “right place, right time” magic.  Missed shots that lingered deliciously close to Martin Brodeur and were ripe for the taking went untouched by the Kings who were often times nowhere near position when it came to rebounds and second chances.  The Kings were off-kilter while the Devils were carried on the back of Brodeur. 

With Bryce Salvador’s shot deflecting off of L.A.’s Slava Voynov and into the net, along with captain Zach Parise’s goal, the Devils found themselves with the “right place, right time” style typically fit for the Kings. 

With the 2-1 victory, the Devils became the first team to force a Game 6 after losing the the first three in the Stanley Cup Final since 1945 and only the third team ever (out of 26) to do so since adopting a seven-game series format in 1939. 

Only the 1942 Maple Leafs have overcome a 0-3 deficit in the finals to win Lord Stanley’s cup.  33 years later, the New York Islanders turned the 0-3 upside down on the Penguins, beating Pittsburgh in seven games in the 1975 quarterfinals. 

But what has me worried is what I watched with my own two eyes while I lived in Boston in 2010 as the Philadelphia Flyers became only the third team (in 167 tries) in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a series.  The momentum shift was palpable in that series, like a ship swaying back and forth on choppy waters.   The ship finally settled in Philly’s favor after the Flyers took Game 5.  That was the turning point, the halfway mark. 

It’s easy to say, “boy, it sure is hard to beat a team four straight times.”  Heck, I thought there was NO WAY that after winning 20 straight games, the Spurs could lose four in a row to the Thunder.  It just didn’t make sense.

But it does make sense, especially in a sport like hockey where one mistake can cost an entire game.  The first two games in this series could’ve gone either way.  The series easily could have returned to L.A. with the Devils leading 2-0.  That’s why it is so hard to predict “if the Kings lose Game 6, they’re done.  The momentum will be clearly on the Devils’ side and it’s over.”  All of the momentum in the world can’t stop one guy from making one mistake, turning the tide.

If the Kings do lose Game 6 at home, Game 7 will prove to be one fierce battle for the crown as it will truly be anyone’s game.  I say Kings in six, or Devils in seven. 

A stellar 24-hours of baseball began with a star-studded, Hollywood-esque birthday party for Fenway Park as the Red Sox (and Yankees) celebrated the historic landmark’s centennial.  The festivities were all flash and no substance as New York handily beat Boston 6-2, the visitors leaving not as much as a party favor for the host team.  As many of us watched pitcher Felix Dubront and the Red Sox seemingly redeeming themselves by ripping the Yankees a new one with a 9-0 lead in the fifth inning in the second game of the series, perhaps we assumed Boston had the game in hand, playing at home and using Fenway’s birthday blowout from the day before as some added motivation.

When Mark Teixeira hit a solo home run in the sixth inning putting the Yankees on the scoreboard 9-1, barely an eyelash was batted.  Still a 9-1 ballgame in the seventh inning, before any of us had time to contemplate a New York comeback, Fox switched it’s live coverage over to the White Sox game in Seattle as a perfect game was in the making. 

Those of us watching live were lucky enough to catch the last few outs as White Sox pitcher Phil Humbert threw a perfect game, only the 21st such feat in the history of major league baseball.  The last perfect game was thrown by the Phillies’ Roy Halladay back in 2010.

The drama unfolding on the television was palpable at home on the couch as perfection seemed to be in jeopardy when Michael Saunders, leading off for the Mariners in the ninth, got ahead in the count 3-0.  The 29-year-old righty remained composed, coming back from the deficit to eventually strike out Saunders en route to a masterful perfect game. 

What ended as a joyous, historic occasion marked by the Mariners home crowd giving the visiting pitcher a raucous roar and standing ovation in Seattle morphed into a historic swing of a different kind across the country in Boston.

A mere 11 minutes after Fox completely switched its coverage, taking the White Sox-Mariners game full-screen, the network returned to Fenway Park where the game was still in the top of the seventh inning, yet the scoreboard looked noticeably different.  In those 11 minutes, the Boston bullpen allowed New York to load the bases giving Nick Swisher ample opportunity to hit a grand slam, which is exactly what he did. 

The comeback was officially on as Swisher’s slam put a dent in the lead (9-5), but no, the Yankees didn’t stop there.  A three-run homer from Teixeira put the Yankees right back in the game as the visitors had clawed their way out of a 9-0 hole, scoring seven runs in the seventh inning, trailing only by one run, 9-8. 

I’m sure you know where this is going. 

Things only worsened for the home team in the eighth inning as the Yankees scored ANOTHER SEVEN RUNS to complete an epic comeback. 

The dichotomy of Humber’s perfection in Seattle and the perfect storm resulting in Boston’s unfathomable collapse was an emotionally bipolar experience. 

Contrary to popular East Coast-belief, the entire universe doesn’t care about your average Yankees-Red Sox series.  If you don’t live out East, aren’t a fan of either team,  or aren’t a baseball nut, a New York-Boston series a few weeks into the regular season isn’t that enticing.  But a comeback from a 9-0 deficit is.  And so is a perfect game, no matter the name or face of the pitcher. 

On one hand, we saw nine strikeouts, five groundouts and 13 flyouts on 96 pitches, good for a 4-0 White Sox win and perfect game, dog pile and Gatorade bath included.

On the other hand, we watched the Yankees score a mind-boggling 15 runs in 23 at bats leaving the crowd ruthlessly booing the home team and its new manager Bobby Valentine. 

After the layers of cheering teammates were peeled off from on top of him, Humber was quickly ushered to the dugout area and a headset draped atop his head as the world was ready to hear from the pitcher immediately following his dominating display.  Shaking and unable to grasp what he had just accomplished, Humber, coming off of Tommy John surgery, told the television audience, “I’m just so happy.  There are so many good things that are happening right now…I’ve got a little boy on the way, I just want to say hi to my wife back home, and you know I love you baby. That’s for you.”

Humber altered the record books, his performance the 18th no-hitter in White Sox franchise history and the third perfect game for Chicago. 

A few thousand miles away, the scene at Fenway couldn’t have been more opposite as the heinous loss dropped the Red Sox to 4-10 on the season leaving those in the New England region frowning while those in Chicago, and even Seattle, smiled. 

The Yankees 15-9 victory also required a re-write of the record book as it marked the fifth time in franchise history in which New York has overcame a 9-run deficit, the third time against Boston alone.   The last time the Sox surrendered a nine-run lead to the Yanks came in June, 1987.  Saturday’s game tied the biggest comeback in Yankees history as well.  The pitching line for the Boston bullpen?  3 IP, 12 H, 14 R, 13 ER, 5 BB, 2 K.  YIKES.

Reports out of Boston claim a closed-door meeting with Valentine, GM Ben Cherington and team owner John Henry took place after the game.

The knockout combo of a perfect game and epic failure couldn’t be more perfect for the game of baseball at this moment as the start of the season had yet to deliver substantial drama.  Ironically, the Red Sox were the first team to provide any real regular season intrigue as Valentine got the pot to a slow boil after publicly criticizing Kevin Youkilis, but that was small potatoes compared to Saturday’s stunner.

The fire and ice we experienced Saturday left fans wanting more, which is exactly the kickstart baseball needed in April. 

           
Do you ever wonder why professional soccer isn’t popular in mainstream America? Nearly all of my friends and classmates played the sport as kids, either in school or on a club team, yet somewhere between childhood and adulthood, a disconnect happened, leaving soccer - everyone’s once favorite sport to play - in the dust;  soccer uniforms and tube socks end up in the back of the closet or in a bin at Goodwill while parents are out buying cool NFL or NBA jerseys for their kids instead. 

I’ve never understood why soccer can’t seem to stay relevant beyond the youth years for us Americans, but after a recent flurry of negative international soccer news,  I’m not losing any sleep over soccer’s lack of recognition here in the United States.

Usually the only soccer news to hit my ears and eyes (outside of World Cup coverage) comes in the form of random highlights on SportsCenter or the occasional fùtbol folly on ESPN’s SportsNation.  Over the last decade, the focus has steadily migrated from the game itself to fan violence, racism and other ugly aspects of soccer than have nothing to do with the fundamentals of the sport. 

From the ridiculous, such as Argentine soccer star Ever Banega who was lost for the season with a broken leg after accidentally being run over by his own car in a freak accident at a gas station, to more serious situations involving hate speech and deeply rooted world issues, it’s seems like soccer can’t get anything right these days. 

I remember being profoundly horrified a few years ago after watching a feature on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumble about how soccer stadiums had been transformed into neo-Nazi protest and recruiting platforms.  Video footage showed massive sections of stadiums being bought out by neo-Nazi groups as thousands filled the seats and chanted en masse, saluting Hitler, and hurling obscenities at ethnic players throughout the entirety of professional soccer matches. 

Because of the hate-filled mobs in the crowd, certain teams in Europe have been forced to either play their home games in an empty stadium without any spectators or play scheduled “home” games on the road, away from raucous and racist fans . 

Sadly, the madness has spread from the stands onto the field itself.  The recent “Handshake-Gate” incident at a Liverpool-Manchester United match gained international attention, and was so outrageous that it made top headlines here in the U.S. 

Here’s a quick summary from CBSNews.com:

"Players from both teams had to be separated in the tunnel at halftime after Liverpool’s Luis Suarez refused to shake the hand of United’s Patrice Evra before kickoff. Suarez was making his first start since serving an eight-match ban for racially abusing Evra in October."

Yes, in a moment that was meant for Suarez (a Uruguayan national) to make peace with Evra (who was born in Senegal and raised in France) after he had previously taunted the Man U player with racist remarks, Suarez instead opted to keep the feud alive with the dramatic handshake snub. 

Does Suarez really hate Evra because he’s Black, or is he just fueling the fire to increase the drama in order to sell tickets and gain publicity? Both possibilities are deplorable. 

To make matters worse, Suarez was strongly defended by his team -which is owned by the parent company of the Boston Red Sox - publicly.  It looks like Suarez was preaching to a fairly large choir as the Greater Manchester Police reportedly, “confiscated 7,500 copies of United’s ‘Red Issue’ fanzine, which featured a cutout Ku Klux Klan-style mask bearing the words, ‘LFC Suarez is innocent,’” according to CSBNews.com

An American soccer star who played professionally in Europe once told me of the confusion he felt he first time he took the field there and heard thousands of fans in the stadium making a strange noise he couldn’t quite decipher.  Once bananas started flying out of the stands and onto the pitch, he realized the sounds coming from the crowd were monkey noises, directed at a Black player on the opposing team.  The player told me he was shocked and had not been warned of such behaviors when he agreed to play in Europe. 

While British law enforcement has involved itself in certain race-related soccer incidences - like in the case of Chelsea player John Terry who was formally charged with “racially abusing” Anton Ferdinand during a game last October- intervention is the rare exception to the rule. 

"After years of pretending racism wasn’t a serious issue, the Italian league is finally making teams pay for their fans behavior," according to an ABC News article from last July.  "They get fined or forced to play home games on the road. But the police are still afraid or unwilling to go into the worst sections of the stadiums to make arrests."

As if this behavior isn’t bad enough on its own, confined to a soccer stadium on any given game day, the truth is that conduct like this is never an isolated incident, but instead, a sign of something much bigger, a hate-filled school of thought deeply rooted in an ugly place that we, as Americans, would like to pretend doesn’t exist anymore.

Simon Kuper, author of “Football Against the Enemy” told ABC News, “As these racist and anti-Semitic chants become tolerated at football grounds, it becomes more tolerated in the rest of society to say racist and anti-Semitic things.  And that creates a nasty atmosphere.”

The governing bodies of professional soccer may not be able to police the thoughts of players and fans, nor should they.  But officials do have the responsibility of condemning and punishing offensive actions like verbal abuse before such displays eventually escalate to physical violence inside and outside of the stadium. 

I see a sad irony watching a sport with the greatest global tournament of all, filled with such hate and intolerance.  Until international soccer begins to change the culture from the grassroots level all the way up to the fans and players of Liverpool and Manchester United, I for one, will not be watching, and am encouraging you at home to do the same. 

 
I’m looking at the National League leaders from last season where names like Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols pop up in the top five nearly every offensive statistic.  Fielder and Pujols are about to find themselves in a different column all together after a wild off-season sent the heavy hitters to the American League, changing the MLB landscape.

Aside from the money (both Fielder and Pujols signed multi-year contracts worth over $200 million… yes, 200 MILLION DOLLARS), it shouldn’t come as a shock that guys hitting 37 and 38 home runs (Pujols and Fielder, respectively) are leaving the NL for the AL, home of the designated hitter.  Between Fielder’s weight (275 lbs. on a 5’11 frame) and Pujols’ age (32), it would make sense for both guys to make the switch to full-time batter within the next few years. 

I don’t understand why baseball has allowed each league to have different rules, especially considering it was not always that way.  I love to see pitchers at the plate.  Even though most pitchers stink at hitting, I think there is something to be said for every single man on the roster being responsible for throwing and hitting the ball at some point in every game.  I find it fascinating watching a pitcher pitch to his fellow hurler, and when a pitcher does get a hit (or a home run, which I watched my hometown Dodgers fall victim to four times last season), the reaction of his teammates and fans is usually priceless. 

On the other hand, I get that a guy hitting 30-something home runs in a season is much more exciting.  Despite his struggles in the first few months of the last few seasons, the roar of the Fenway Park crowd each time David Ortiz takes the plate is something special.  Sure, Big Papi was instrumental in Boston’s World Series titles, but there’s just something about a big guy like that at bat.  No need to worry about him trying to catch a runner in the outfield, or make a big play at third, just enjoy him doing what he does best.

The designated hitter position has required the AL to stack the deck with the best pitchers in the game, although the top five guys in each league were all spectacular last season. 

If Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia , Jered Weaver and James Shields thought they had their work cut out for them last season staring down the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson and a slew of others, now they get to add Fielder and Pujols to that list.  YIKES.

The AL West alone looks ridiculous!  The two-time World Series runner-up Texas Rangers added Yu Darvish to the lineup and the the new-look Pujols-infused Anaheim Angeles should improve mightily on top of already owning a fantastic pitching staff. 

In the AL Central, the division-winning Detroit Tigers will only get better, now with Fielder, Cabrera and Peralta in the same lineup. 

As further evidence of a power swing, I just typed an entire blog about the AL  without mentioning the Yankees or Red Sox.  Saying nothing about New York or Boston says a lot about the direction in which the American League is heading.

Looking for a sports reporter?  I think I know of one…

I established a solid routine when working Rex Sox games during the sweltering, humid Boston summers.  Dressed to impress with high-def TV makeup firmly caked on, I’d put on my backpack (filled with notes, a laptop and high heels), slip on my flip-flops and leave my apartment for the local T stop about four blocks away from my place. 

I’d hop on the train and get off a few blocks from Fenway Park.   By the time I would arrive inside the press box, I’d be sweating, but hiding it well of course.  I would find my seat, unpack my notes and laptop, then finally, before heading down to the clubhouse (still several hours before first pitch), I would exchange my comfortable black sandals for those pesky and painful (but necessary) heels. 

After the game ended and I had completed my final TV hits, I would run the same routine in reverse, feeling such relief when taking off the heels and putting on my trusty flip-flops.  I would say my goodbyes to my coworkers and do a few chat-and-waves with coaches, players and stadium workers as I left Fenway for the train ride and walk home, arriving back at my apartment around midnight. 

Those days are long gone now with news of Major League Baseball becoming the first major sport in North America to create a dress code for the media.  Ben Walker, a baseball writer for the Associated Press, explains the basic idea with help from an MLB press release:

"The media should dress ‘in an appropriate and professional manner’ with clothing proper for a ‘business casual work environment’ when in locker rooms, dugouts, press boxes and on the field, the new MLB rules say."

Here is the MLB’s list of what not to wear:
-Sheer and see-through clothing
-Tank tops, one-shouldered or strapless shirts
-Clothing exposing bare midriffs
-Skirts, dresses or shorts cut more than 3-4 inches above the knee
-Visible undergarments
-Team Logos
-Flip-flops

These new guidelines didn’t fall out of the sky and land in Bud Selig’s lap.  They were carefully constructed by, “a committee of executives and media representatives,” according to Walker.  “The panel included female and Latin reporters and there was input from team trainers, who had health concerns about flip-flops in clubhouses and bare feet possibly spreading infections. Such footwear is no longer permitted.”

The AP article quotes an MLB spokesperson as saying the policy wasn’t adopted because of any one, specific incident but that baseball was aware of a situation involving the New York Jets and female TV Azteca reporter Ines Sainz at a practice in 2010 (read about that incident here:  http://bit.ly/sqClSF ).

It looks like the new guidelines are geared more towards women’s apparel, which, as a female reporter, raises a red flag.  BUT, this dress code is absolutely reasonable and is really more of a reminder to use common sense than anything.

I’ve had plenty of reporters come up to me and say something like, “did you see what he was wearing?  Cargo shorts, a Hawaiian shirt and flip flops? This isn’t the beach!”  Yes, men hate on each other’s wardrobes.  Who knew?

I think using the language “business casual” is the league’s way of sending a message to male media members that the dress code isn’t only for the ladies. 

Just as the MLB took notice of the incident in the Jets locker room, there is no doubt the NFL, NBA and NHL will keep an eye on baseball’s new policy going forward.

"MLB said it would consider appropriate actions if the guidelines were broken," wrote Walker.

From now on, I guess I’ll have to rock sneakers and a dress before slipping on the heels.  It won’t exactly be fashionable, but hey, at least my feet won’t hurt, I won’t endanger the health of professional athletes and I’ll be within the new rules of baseball.  I wonder if the league will use video replay when assessing possible violations?  Just a thought. 

To read Ben Walker’s AP article about the MLB’s new media dress code, click here: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5heIzPhQdHGiKc3v4aFwGqokboMUA?docId=3749bb1d25eb4ce0b9849db3c830493b

Breaking up after 10 years together would be tough, regardless of the circumstances, and Theo Epstein’s split with the Red Sox was just the icing on a cake which had already melted into a big, ugly mess in previous weeks.  Despite a disastrous situation by sports standards, the former Red Sox general manager and executive vice president  left Boston with a classy, parting gift as he heads to Chicago.  Take a look at this full-page ad the native son took out in Sunday’s Boston Globe, thanking the fans, players, coaches and front office staff of the team he dreamed of working for as a kid.



After assembling two World Series Championship teams and ending an 86-year drought, any competitive, driven, perfectionist would jump at the chance to take on the Cubs’ North American sports team-record 103-year drought; especially given the way things unraveled with the Red Sox.

But Epstein isn’t just any competitive, driven, perfectionist.  He is a graduate of Brookline High School, just a few miles away from Fenway Park.  Epstein’s family roots run deep in the Boston community and his son was born in the city that haled him a hero and miracle worker for what he helped accomplish within the confines of the Green Monster and famous red clay. 

I can only imagine that for him to leave his hometown and life as he knows it, Epstein must have thought there was no way he could repair his Red Sox, and that perhaps, they weren’t even his anymore.

There will be no more five minute cab rides to FuGaKyu Restaurant on Beacon Street.  No more sitting in the seats of an empty Fenway Park, the same seats in which he sat as a child rooting for his home team, soaking up the summer sun while watching the guys practice in the afternoons before night games. 

Chicago is a wonderful city, and the Cubbies have their own fantastic traditions and folklore.  But as friendly and iconic as the ivy may be at Wrigley, it will never be like home. 

(For a less-fuzzy look at the ad, click here: http://www.boston.com/sports/baseball/redsox/extras/extra_bases/assets_c/2011/10/609Theo_thank_you-thumb-609x1100-53948.jpg )

       


Have you ever set foot in an MLB dugout? I would rather lick a city sidewalk then walk barefoot in a dugout.  I’m not kidding.  The dirt, water, Gatorade and sunflower seeds aren’t so bad, but puddles of brown chew spit with floating pieces of tobacco, mucus, and bits of food that only one’s dental floss should see is what really gets me. 

The truth is that disgusting dugouts doesn’t even make the list of important reasons why a group of senators and health officials from St. Louis and Dallas are asking the players union to agree to toss the tins and play a tobacco-free World Series. 

In April of this year the U.S. Congress held hearings on banning smokeless tobacco in Major League Baseball and even MLB commissioner Bug Selig supports the idea.  With the players not on board (we’ll get to that in a minute), all that a group of senators could do was send letters to the players union urging them to consider the impact that chewing tobacco and dipping during the nationally televised World Series, which begins Wednesday, could have on millions of children. 

The Associated Press obtained the letters sent by Democrat senators from Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut and Iowa to union head Michael Weiner,  which read, in part, “when players use smokeless tobacco, they endanger not only their own health, but also the health of millions of children who follow their example.”

Baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement expires in December of this year so putting the pressure on at this time is a strategic move in hopes of implementing a ban through the next CBA.  In June, Weiner said the union would make an effort to address the issue in negotiations, but a few months earlier when the issue came up on Capitol Hill in April, the Major League Players Association said it discourages players from using smokeless tobacco but would not encourage a ban on the practice. David Prouty of the Players Association said at the time, “We will educate players as to why they should not use it. There is a tension here, because many players do not think they should be banned from using a product which congress has so far, deemed to be legal.”

Flawed logic my friend.  Alcohol is legal, yet not allowed to be consumed on the baseball diamond (don’t feel bad for these guys, as we now know, some are drinking during the games inside the clubhouse instead of on the bench, so no biggie there).  Cigarettes are also banned from stadiums, and are even outlawed from being smoked on city streets in places like Calabasas and Santa Monica, California, yet are still legal to purchase and use elsewhere.  In fact, smokeless tobacco has been banned in both collegiate and minor league baseball for decades. 

A few months ago, HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumble did a story on smokeless tobacco in baseball, claiming nearly one third of MLB players use it.  Ike Davis of the New York Mets, who started the habit at age 16 said, “why would you want to start that? It dissent make sense.”  Reporter Jon Frankel followed up asking, “so why do you keep doing it?” Davis replied, “it’s called addiction.”

Many baseball players who dip or chew will tell you it’s a disgusting habit they wish they never picked up.  So why would you want to expose others to that same fate? In his piece, Frankel interviewed a dentist and professor of public health at Harvard University who studied the topic.  The New England native conducted a study using the 2004 World Series featuring his hometown Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals.  The study found nine whole minutes worth of public use, as in, noticeably seeing tobacco on screen (chewing, spitting, bulge in the mouth, etc), and that five million children between the ages of 12 and 17 years old were watching. 

While many players feel like an official ban is too much policing for their liking, I would argue that they are already policed in just about everything from daily schedules to the uniforms they wear.  The AP article about the tobacco-free World Series plea says that some players are open to the ban on smokeless tobacco, which is great.

Athletes and entertainers alike often say that they shouldn’t be our children’s role models, but that we, as parents should be the ones setting examples for our kids.  I agree, in large part, which is all the more reason why I think smokeless tobacco, which is a proven cause of several cancers, should be banned from major league ballparks.

As a reporter covering the Boston Red Sox, not one day went by where I didn’t see several canisters of chewing tobacco in almost every locker in the clubhouse.  Those shiny tins were always the first things on the shelves to grab my attention for some reason.  I wonder if the same was true for now 7-year-olds D’Angelo Ortiz and little Victor Martinez, both of whom would come to work with their daddies, David and Victor, donning little uniforms and all, nearly every single home game.  I hope Cardinals and Rangers players consider their own children before scooping some dip into their mouths on Wednesday night. 

For the Associated Press article with all of the details of the senators’ efforts to have a tobacco-free World Series, click here  http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ivlkZ-nWu3Um7FF-xOcWDxhf91Jw?docId=833af3149044498e8e6a6d05a26974f7

To watch the Real Sports with Bryant Gumble story on tobacco in baseball , click here  http://tobaccofreeaz.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/hbo-real-sports-looks-at-potential-smokeless-tobacco-ban-in-baseball/

                    

I was scared s**tless the first time I met Terry Francona. 

The day was Thursday, January 14, 2010.  I had just moved to Boston that past November and this was my first Red Sox event; several players and coaches held a media session in the conference room at the Westin Waterfront Hotel a few hours before the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers Association Of America held its annual awards dinner.  It was the first legitimate media availability of the off season, a few weeks before spring training was to begin in Fort Myers, Florida.

Since arriving in New England, all I had heard about the Sox from my new media buddies was how difficult the team was to cover as a reporter.  How volatile particular personalities were in the clubhouse. 

Another theme remained consistent.  I had been fairly warned by many; do NOT piss off Tito.   Ask Francona a dumb question, and he’ll make you pay.  When he smells new blood, he’ll test the waters to see how tough you are. 

There I was, a few months on the job, and terrified of what should have been a cushy, hobnobbing, handshaking, fun and lighthearted assignment.  But damn, was I nervous. 

The day before the event, I was talking to someone at my office about my Francona fear.  At some point in the conversation, I mentioned that Tito and I are both University of Arizona alumni.  He said, “Use that!  That’s you’re in.  You’ll be fine.”  I thought, it can’t be that easy, but hey, it’s worth a shot. 

It couldn’t have been more than 40 degrees the next day as the wind coming off the water hit me right in the face when I stepped out of the news van at the hotel.  Wearing a dress didn’t help my cause either.  I wore a red dress.  Red for the Sox, red for Arizona (I know, that is such a girly thing to do). 

The room was filled with media from every outlet in Boston and everyone was working the room, catching up with old pals.  Casey Kelly, a pitcher in the farm system fielded questions, as did new acquisitions Jeremy Hermida and John Lackey, both grinning from ear to ear, excited to call Fenway Park their new home (my my, how things have changed, right?). 

As guys gave interviews in different spots around the room, in walked Terry Francona donning a full length tan coat, probably wool (it  was quite sheik, I must admit) and wearing his signature round spectacles.  He had a Don Corleone vibe working in full force.

I walked over and joined the large group of reporters huddled around him with microphones, cameras, tape recorders and iphones.  I stuck my little arm in between necks and shoulders to get my mic as close to the Red Sox manager as possible.

In a great mood, Tito answered every question thrown his way, sprinkling in some fun anecdotes, joking around with different reporters and talking baseball.  That’s where I would stay for the next hour; looking, listening, taking notes and keeping my mouth shut.  I went from covering the KC Royals’ rookie ball team, the Idaho Falls Chukars, to the freakin’ Boston Red Sox in one fell swoop, therefor, my confidence was shaky.  I wouldn’t be made an example of on day one.  I wasn’t going to ask any questions of the man who led the Sox to two World Series titles after an 86 year drought until I was properly informed and knew exactly what the heck I was talking about. 

After a while, my videographer took my mic and the camera and went elsewhere.  I stayed put, making eye contact and scribbling info in my notepad, getting an impromptu lesson on the Red Sox from the best professor in school and hoping that he noticed my effort.  Eventually, as everyone had their questions answered, it was just the two of us standing there.  Me and Tito. 

Anxious and shaky, I stuck out my hand, and spat out, “Hi Terry, I’m Jackie Pepper, I’m new.  I work for Comcast Sports Net.  I went to the University of Arizona.  So did you.”  So smooth, so smooth. 

He shook my hand, introduced himself and told me that he heard there was a new Wildcat in town and that he was glad we got to meet.  We chatted, but of course, it’s all a blur now.  I know we discussed sports, Tucson, where we used to live, but that’s about all I remembered after the fact.  You know how that goes, when your mind turns to mush after being in such a neurotic state.  Vague topics, devoid of details.


We wrapped up our conversation after a few minutes and Tito said he was happy that I introduced myself.  So was I.  Walking away with a s***-eating grin on my face,  a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.  In an instant I went from a scared rookie reporter to knowing that I belonged in the big leagues.