Baseball is America’s pastime. It is also a reflection of America. Anyone can rise to the top of the game. It doesn’t matter where you come from, only your ability on the field. You can be born the son of a saloon keeper in the Pigtown section of Baltimore, Maryland and grow up to become Babe Ruth. You can be born to poor African-American parents in Mobile, Alabama and grow up to break Babe Ruth’s home run record and establish yourself as Hank Aaron, the Home Run King. You can grow up in Commerce, Oklahoma and become Mickey Mantle, arguably the greatest switch hitter of all time. You can be the son of Italian immigrants and grow up in The Hill, St. Louis, Missouri and become Yogi Berra, one of the greatest catchers of all time. You can grow up in beautiful San Diego and become the greatest hitter of all time, as Ted Williams did. You can be a kid living in The Bronx, listening to the radio, wishing you were at the game and grow up to be Vin Scully, the greatest broadcaster ever.
Baseball can give people so much, yet it also has a shameful past. The exclusion of African-American players is indefensible. It will forever be a stain on the game. The resulting Negro Leagues are the truest American response to injustice. When faced with hatred and ignorance, players created their own leagues. Baseball in the Major Leagues and the Negro Leagues was never perfect. However, African-Americans fought for their rightful place as equals in America with every pitch, hit, catch, and throw. The Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, Missouri continues to ensure this history, good and bad, is not forgotten.
Baseball is a reflection of what is good in America, but it can also reflect what is not good in America. (www.si.com)
Baseball, like America, is a melting pot. People from all over the world come here to play the game. Ichiro crossed the Pacific and become a legend in Japan and America. One of the greatest right handed hitter of all time, Miguel Cabrera, left his native Venezuela to leave opposing players and fans in awe at his skills with a bat. Peter Moylan had a second chance at baseball after working as a pharmaceutical salesman in his native Australia. Gift Ngoepe continues to create a path for other African born players, as the South African became the first African born player to appear in a Major League game. Baseball and America takes players from everywhere in the world as Ed Porray proved, he was born at sea.
America is a true melting pot. We are not a perfect nation. We have done horrible things to our own people, from the Native Americans to African-Americans to religious minorities to the LGBTQ community. We fight and argue for what we think is right, just like in baseball. The rules that govern how we play the game and live together need updating from time to time. Change is never easy, but it is necessary. We are stronger together when we are willing to judge people by their abilities on the field and in life, and not on preconceived ideas based upon where they are from, what language they speak, or what god they worship. The wonderful thing about being an American is there is no mold to follow. Only a select few of us, when you trace your family back, are from here. Instead of telling our teammates and fellow Americans to conform, why not listen to them and learn from them to make yourself better, and by extension our team and country better.
Happy Independence Day!
The time has come once again to shake off the cold of winter and rejoin the Boys of Summer. While it may be strange to have Opening Day for the 2014 Major League Baseball season in Australia, it is with great joy that another season starts. As with every season there are countless questions to be answered, unexpected achievements to be witnessed, and a World Series Champion to crown. Opening Day gives hope to every team. Cubs fans know this year is the year. Marlins fans know they can win another World Series this year. The Astros try to avoid losing 100 games again. Robinson Cano expects to lead the Mariners resurgence. Vin Scully returns to the air ways. Derek Jeter trots out to shortstop. Mike Trout looks to win his first of many MVPs. Families and friends go through the turnstiles and take their seats. The home plate umpire adjusts his mask to make sure it is nice and tight. Spring Training is winding down and the regular season is about to heat up. Baseball is back. Let’s paint the foul lines. Cook the hot dogs. Pour some beer. Sing the Star Spangled Banner. Cheer the home team as they take the field. Listen for the home plate umpire declare, “PLAY BALL!” Watch as the pitcher winds up and with the release of the ball from his hand let’s get this season started.
In the past week numerous players in Major League Baseball and in the minor leagues have not been offered a contract for the 2013 season. While not being tendered a contract can seem like riding through a desert for some players, for others it can create new opportunities. These players are usually not the Josh Hamilton’s or the Prince Fielder’s of the world, but they can be the key pieces of a team which help lead them to the playoffs. The blockbuster trades and the big free agent signings grab the headlines, but it is the lesser publicized signings that often play a major role in the success or failure of a Major league team.
The list of non-tendered players has plenty of solid Major League veterans on it, all of who are capable of helping teams win in 2013. Every player takes a different path once they reach the end of their contract. Let’s look at three: Wil Nieves, Peter Moylan, and Mark Reynolds.
Wil Nieves, C- Age: 35; 2012 with Rockies and Diamondbacks: BA .301, OBP .330, SLG .410; Career Average BA .229, OBP .274, SLG .301
Wil Nieves played for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondback in 2012. In 32 games he hit .301 and had a .987 Fielding Percentage; both respectable numbers in limited action. Nieves has been a backup catcher for the Padres, Yankees, Nationals, Brewers, Rockies, and Diamondbacks during his nine year career. His playing time has decreased as he has gotten into his thirties, but this does not mean his value to a team has decreased with it. His knowledge of the game and his ability to work with pitchers should enable him to remain on a Major League roster for a few more years. The number of catchers who have gone on to become Major League managers, 11 current managers were catchers, gives Nieves a blueprint to follow if he wants to manage.
Peter Moylan, RHP- Age: 33; 2012 with Braves: Innings 5.0, ERA 1.80; Career Average: Innings 260 2/3, ERA 2.59
Australian Peter Moylan established himself as an excellent relief pitcher for the Atlanta Braves since he signed with them after the 2006 World Baseball Classic. In his three full seasons Moylan averaged 84 games, 75 1/3 innings pitched, 61 hits allowed, 59 strikeouts, 34 walks, and a 2.46 ERA. The numbers and his effectiveness for the Braves have never been questioned. The battles for Moylan have been with his own body. In 2008, he appeared in only seven games before having to have season ending Tommy John Surgery. In early 2011 Moylan underwent back surgery. After recovering, he pitched well in 13 games before needing to have rotator cuff and labrum surgery. So long as Moylan can remain healthy he will continue to provide tremendous relief for a Major League team. Most likely Moylan will sign a minor league contract with the Braves and report to the AAA Gwinnett Braves to begin the season. This would enable Atlanta to keep a deep bullpen if injuries arise during the season and to bolster it once rosters expand in September. Every team wants a Mariano Riveria, however closers would not get as many opportunities to save games if it was not for the middle relievers like Moylan bridging the gap between the starting pitcher and the closer. These pitchers as critical to every teams’ ability to win games.
Mark Reynolds, 1B- Age: 29; 2012 with Orioles: BA .221, OBP .335, SLG.429; Career Average: BA .235, OBP .332, SLG .475
Mark Reynolds was non-tendered by the Baltimore Orioles after he hit .221 with 23 home runs and 69 RBI in 2012. The problem which the Orioles, and many other teams, have with Reynolds is his strikeout total. In 2012, he struck out 159 times which is his lowest total since his rookie season in 2007. Reynolds led the National League in strikeouts in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and the American League in 2011. In the four year time span between 2008 and 2011, Mark Reynolds had more strikeouts (834) than Barry Larkin (817), Lou Gehrig (790), Ralph Kiner (749), and Wade Boggs (745) did in each of their entire careers. Power hitters sell seats, but few people want to pay their money to see a hitter strike out during nearly a third of his at bats. As he ages, Reynolds needs to work on making more contact with the ball instead of swinging for the fences every time. Power hitters rarely grow old gracefully in the post steroid era, thus the one year contract Reynolds has signed with the Cleveland Indians should serve as a wake up call to work on building himself into an all-around hitter, not just a power hitter.
The plight of the non-tendered player is different for every player. Wil Nieves, Peter Moylan, and Mark Reynolds should all be on a Major League roster in 2013. Mark Reynolds is the only one of the three to have been signed by a team this off season. He has found his way out of the desert, although his one year contract may only serve as a brief oasis. Nieves and Moylan will each be an important part of the team they play for in 2013. Their signings will likely not elicit the media coverage that Josh Hamilton and BJ Upton did, but Nieves and Moylan will help their team win in 2013.