Minor Leaguer’s Movie: Not Your Typical Baseball Flick…

The dog days of a baseball summer can be especially rough on minor league players.  The monotony of a baseball season in general… plus long bus rides for away games, little money and living in smaller towns creates a recipe for rambunctiousness among the young men who play a child’s game for a living.  

Luckily for the San Diego Padres organization, 26-year-old Cody Decker is making great (and  trouble-free) use of his down time in Tucson, AZ with the AAA Tucson Padres.

Decker, a Los Angeles-area native, brings a bit of Hollywood to the desert with his short comedic film entitled, “Brad.,” referring to long-time big league catcher Brad Ausmus. 

I grew up making movies with my friends. They were awful,” Decker tells PepperOnSports.com.  

"It wasn’t until high school that I started taking acting and filmmaking more seriously."

Written and directed by Decker, the film was shot primarily in the Tucson Padres facility and stars Decker, along with several other team staffers, including manager Pat Murphy (you may remember him as one of the more successful college managers during his time at Arizona State University), whose cameo steals the show in my opinion.  

"Everyone in the film works at the stadium. I just asked and everyone seemed pretty on board. TJ (clubhouse manager) was a big help. And he really was perfect."

In his fifth season with the organization that drafted him in 2009, Decker is yo-yoing between first base and catching after moving from the outfield to start the 2013 season.   

Did Decker ask for the Padres’ permission to shoot the film? 

Uh…. I didn’t,”  Decker says.  That probably explains why the film is actually funny. 

Despite limited action on the field this season (playing in 98 of the team’s 124 games thus far), Decker leads the entire Padres organization in home runs with 16 (two of which came during a brief stint with the AA affiliate San Antonio Missions) and recently hit his 100th career homer .  Home runs aside, Decker is best known for his alter ego (“AntiHero”) and his sense of humor which he proudly displays via Twitter, earning him the title of the #1 Minor League Player to Follow on the social media site. 

As far as making Brad Ausmus the subject of the film, Decker and Ausmus met last year when Ausmus served as Team Israel’s manager in the World Baseball Classic. Decker was a member of the team.  

In transitioning to the catcher position, Decker can learn a lot from Ausmus, a 3-time Gold Glove winner.  Ausmus, who works in the San Diego Padres front office, told Decker that he laughed while watching the film. 

But ohhh no, this is not the last you’ll see of Decker and Ausmus’ on-film relationship.  Enough scenes ended up on the cutting-room floor to make another short film, which Decker plans on doing soon.  For now though, it’s back to baseball, as usual.  

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. 

Cloudy With A Chance Of Laughs: World Series Pitcher Crashes Local News Broadcast

We are used to seeing athletes make the transition from sports star to media member after retirement, but rarely do we meet current players who came into the pros already equipped with a journalism or broadcast background. 

Derrick Holland is the Chupacabra of athletes.  The Texas Rangers pitcher is great at his day job, studied journalism and broadcasting in college and has a fantastic sense of humor.  Covering a guy like him in a baseball clubhouse must provide some comic relief for reports since American’s pasttime might be the toughest sport to cover for a variety of reasons (clubhouse culture, number of games, seemingly endless hours of media availability, etc). 

The national audience got its first peek at the lefty’s wacky personality during game five of the World Series last season when Holland broke out his impressions of Harry Caray and Arnold Schwarzenegger on air. 

A few months after the Rangers gut-wrenching game seven loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, Holland was back on television laughing and having a good time as he crashed the weather set at WFAA Channel 8 in Dallas.  Check out Holland as he relived his college news channel glory days in front of the WFAA cameras.  As someone who once attempted to do weather on the morning show at my old station (KIDK, CBS in Idaho Falls, ID), I can confirm what Holland makes quite clear…it isn’t as easy as it looks!  Enjoy. 

Game On In Texas: Rangers Purposely Built Visitors Bullpen To Be A  Pain In The…?

The World Series has played out like a soap opera thus far, with Monday’s game five win by the Texas Rangers serving up the strangest script yet.  A series of blunders by the St. Louis Cardinals certainly helped lead the home team to a 4-2 victory and a 3-2 series lead, leaving many wondering how such an experienced skipper like Tony La Russa could allow so many miscues when the stakes were so high. 

A bit of inside information from one of TV’s more notable sports writers might help explain part of the snafu, as well as lend some credibility to La Russa’s seemingly silly explanation. 

La Russa explained his mismatches on the mound as bullpen bloopers of sorts, citing poor communication between the dugout and the bullpen.  The Cards manager said that the bullpen coach misheard his instructions over the phone, probably due to the high volume of the crowd noise. 

Shout out to Tony Reali, host of ESPN’s Around The Horn for posting an outtake from Tuesday’s show (posted above) where guest Tim Cowlishaw of The Dallas Morning News said that the visitors bullpen’s sketchy placement and set-up was purposely built that way, putting the away team at a disadvantage.  Rangers Ballpark in Arlington was built in 1994 and has often been criticized for not having been built with a retractable roof, considering the sweltering Texas summers. 

From multiple camera angles on the TV broadcast, it looks like you can’t see inside the bullpen from the dugout, which, I’d bet, the visiting team finds slightly annoying. In an ABC News article, La Russa addressed previous bullpen incidences at other ball parks, saying, “Yeah, smoke signals from the dugout.  There are times, like what happened in Philadelphia (during the first round of the playoffs). The phone went out, and so we used cell phones. And then the Phillies brought down walkie talkies, and they fixed the phone.”

I’ve heard of stadiums and arenas undergoing renovations and purposely leaving the visitors locker room untouched for that same reason; to keep a bunch of big, strong, tough athletes in a small, confined and uncomfortable space before games.  Within reason, I say it’s a pretty solid display of gamesmanship on the part of home team management and ownership.  This kind of stuff shouldn’t affect great teams anyway.  Rangers Ballpark in Arlington did undergo renovations heading into the 2011 baseball season, clearly, none of which included the visitors bullpen.  I fully expect the Busch Squirrel to exact revenge on the Rangers in St. Louis, completely chewing through the Texas dugout-to-bullpen phone line all together!

Click here for ABC News’ story on Bullpen-gate.  http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/wireStory/cardinals-bullpen-relief-game-14807061

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/